12th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. W. Kingsmill) took the chairat 3 p.m., and read prayers.
The following papers were presented : -
Statement by the Prime Minister regarding the closing of the Government Savings Bank of New South Wales.
High Court Procedure Actand Judiciary Act - Rule of Court - dated 1st October, 1931 (Statutory Rules 1931, No. 123).
Customs Act and Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1931, No. 125.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Prime . Minister’, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow: - 1 and 2. I am aware’ that, as the result of an industrial dispute which is confined within the limits of the State of Victoria, several meat exporting works in that State are reported to have been closed. It is hoped that the efforts thatare being made by the Premier of Victoria, to bring about an early settlement of the dispute, will be successful.
asked the. Leader of the Governmentin the Senate, upon notice -
Whether William Patrick Foley, of164 Belmore-Road,- Hurstville, Sydney, an’ applicant, as notified in the Commonwealth Gazette, for an hotel licence, Jervis Bay, Federal Territory, is known at the present time as William Patrick Foley,’ of 164 Bel more-road, Hurstville, Sydney, by occupation paid organizer of a political party, known as the Federal Australian Labour’ Party?
– It is not proposed to take steps to obtain the information desired by the honorable senator, as the granting of hotel licences in the Federal Capital Territory is a matter for determination solely by the Licensing Court of the Ter ritory.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Markets, upon notice -
– It wasnot possible to’ give effect to the Wheat Advances Act” 1930, which1 provided for a guaranteed price of’ 3s. per bushel, f.o.b. for’ wheat of the 1930-31 season, as theCommonwealth Bank stated that it was unable to make the necessary ‘ finance available Because- its legal adviser’ expressed doubt’ as to theconstitutional power of the Federal Parliament to protect the bank’ against any loss which might be incurred in. connexion with’ the payment of the guaranteed price.
Bill read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives and’ (on motion by Senator Daly) read- afirst time.
Debate resumed from the 16 th October (vide page 794), on motion by Senator Dooley-
That the bill be now read a second time.
.– When speaking to this bill on Friday last, Senator O’Halloran emphasized that the reports presented by the Public Accounts Committee had been of very great service to this Parliament, and that that body had been instrumental in saving the expenditure of considerable sums of money on various Commonwealth activities. I do not suggest that good work has not been done by either the Public Accounts Committee or the Public Works Committee, nor do I wish in any way to detract from the value of the services rendered by those bodies to this Parliament, but I feel bound to say that Senator O’Halloran claimed altogether too much for them when he stated that their reports were entirely free from party taint.
– I specifically stated that party considerations have not been evidenced since I have been a member of the Public Accounts Committee.
– I commend the honorable senator for the speech which he delivered on Friday last in support of this committee; but 1 must differ from him on the point which I have mentioned. The personnel of both parliamentary committees indicates that their reports would be, to some extent, governed by party considerations, because it has always been the rule for the Government of the day so to arrange the representation as to ensure the appointment of a majority of members approving of its policy. Prior to the 1929 election the majority of members on the Public Accounts Committee were supporters of the Bruce-Page Administration. Immediately after the appeal to the people, the present Government, being returned by a substantial majority, took steps to appoint a majority of members in favour of its policy. I do not assert that members of the committee commence an inquiry with the deliberate intention of coming to a party decision, but undoubtedly they are influenced, perhaps unconsciously, by their political views, and whenever they make an investigation into a question that is above party considerations, it is not unusual to get a unanimous report because the political differences of members are not such as to prevent their coming to an agreement. Invariably when the political policy of either party may be affected, we have a majority and a minority report, so that investigations carried out by the committee are of no value whatever. I do not know how we are to overcome this difficulty in the representation of our parliamentary committees, but it is a matter to which attention should be given by the Senate. On many occasions both the Public Accounts and Public Works Committees have received instructions to make investigations into subjects which, because of the party representation on those committees, should have been referred to some other body. The inquiry conducted by the Public Accounts Committee into the sale of the Commonwealth Shipping Line was a case in point. Prior to the investigation by that body there was a distinct line of cleavage between the policies of the then Government and that of the Opposition with regard to the future of the line. It was, therefore, no surprise that the committee, comprising, as it did, representatives of the two political parties, presented a majority and a minority report. That costly inquiry was of little value to the Commonwealth, because supporters of the Government of the day had made up their minds that the ships must be sold, and members then in opposition were as emphatically in favour of their retention by the Commonwealth. In the circumstances, the future of the line was not a proper subject for inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee. The same may be said of the inquiry into the disabilities of Tasmania. Long before the committee was instructed to make that investigation, members of the Opposition, who, during the election in 1929, had been returned to power, had declared that the previous Administration had not. dealt generously with Tasmania, so, to give some semblance of honouring a promise, the newly elected Government instructed the Public Accounts Committee to make an inquiry into a subject which had been thoroughly investigated on many previous occasions. The evidence taken by the committee did not bring to light any fresh information as to the financial position of Tasmania, and after the report was presented the Government, referred the subject back to the committee, which was instructed to determine, if possible, how far Tasmania’s disabilities were due to federation. It is, I think, clear to most honorable senators that in view of their constitution our parliamentary committees cannot be expected to submit impartial reports. The position of South Australia was on all fours with that of Tasmania. For no other purpose than to satisfy, or attempt to satisfy, and perhaps, in the end, fool the people into the belief that something was to be done, when as a matter of fact, nothing was intended to be done, this Government instructed the Public “ Accounts Committee to inquire into the finances of South Australia, despite the fact that a few months previously a royal commission had investigated the whole subject.
– The honorable senator is not quite accurate there.
– The royal commission over which Sir Joseph Cook presided made its inquiries only about, eighteen months earlier, and the position had not materially altered in the meantime. No fresh information had become available. It was quite clear to the people of South Australia and Tasmania why the inquiry was ordered. It was a case of “ he who runs may read Everybody knew that the disabilities from which those two States were suffering were such that some additional assistance was needed, and that the Government was not in a position to grant it. I mention these facts not to reflect upon the committee, but simply to show that such a body is not the proper authority to be charged with the duty of making such inquiries. Certain subjects are suitable for reference to a body like the Public Accounts Committee - such, for instances, asare directly connected with government undertakings and government departments. The Public Accounts Committee could deal effectively and efficiently with matters in which honorable senators and the members of another House are directly concerned.
– The honorable senator surely recognizes that the AuditorGeneral has authority to make recommendations in regard to any government department?
– If that is so, it would seem to be a substantial reason for entirely abolishing this committee. The method of the presentation of the budget to Parliament is a suitable subject for the attention of the committee. I do not believe that such an inquiry could be satisfactorily undertaken by the Auditor-General. It is not within his province to makean investigation like that.
Coming to the committee itself, I am of the opinion that in regard to its personnel, the first consideration should be fitness to discharge the duties of membership. I consider that only those members of Parliament who are properly qualified to examine and report upon questions of accounts should be appointed to the committee. If the Senate had to elect, say, two members to the committee, it should select the two honorable senators best fitted to do that work. I believe the number of the committee could be reduced to five with advantage. I would suggest that three members be appointed from another place, and two members from the Senate. That, I believe, would give fair representation to this chamber. One member could be selected from the Government side, and one from the Opposition side of the Senate. I believe the committee should be requiredto investigate and report upon only such subjects as are without political significance. There should be no political taint about it. If there was any suggestion of a political character about an inquiry which the Parliament desiredto have made, it should not be submitted to the Public Accounts Committee.
– To what extent would the cost of the committee be affected by reducing the number of members to five?
– 1 am not looking at the matter from that point of view, although, of course, cost is a consideration. The difference between the cost of a committee of seven members and a committee of five members would not be great. It certainly would not seriously affect the balancing of the budget. To suggest such economies with the object of balancing the budget, is like suggesting that a man should give up smoking in order to save himself from the insolvency court. A committee of five members would not be unwieldy, and would be able to fulfil all the duties which devolved upon it. Now that we are considering the future of this body, -we should review every aspect of its activities. If we decide that it if not to be disbanded, we should also determine what shall be the scope of its work and the number of its members. We could try a committee of five member; for the next two or three years.
In regard to the Public Works Committee, I would say definitely that it could be disbanded for two or three years. No new public works are being put in hand at present, so there is no need for us to bother about the maintenance of the committee. No doubt it has done useful work, but there is now no work for it to do.
Under existing conditions, a Public Accounts Committee of five- membersthree for another place and two for the Senate - is all that we require.
– Before honorable senators make up their mind to cast a vote along the lines suggested by Senator Herbert Hays, they should read the Public Accounts Committee Act. To my mind, the advocates of the disbandment of the Public Accounts Committee are likely to make the Senate look ridiculous. Under an act of Parliament, passed after due deliberation,, very important work is given to this committee to do.
– Cannot we amend the act?
– Of course we can. But it seems to me to be somewhat inconsistent for honorable senators to advocate the abolition of the Public Accounts Committee, seeing that very recently they advocated the establishment of a committee to consider and report upon regulations and other matters.
– The honorable senator said a few minutes ago that the Auditor-General could do the work that the Public Accounts Committee is doing.
– If Senator Herbert Hays understood that to be the meaning of my interjection, he was mistaken, The honorable gentleman said this committee should confine its activities to inquiries into public accounts and public departments, and I interjected that that was one of the functions of the AuditorGeneral. As a matter of fact, that officer has full power to inquire into the whole of the administration of the Commonwealth. In some instances, his authority is like that of the Public Service Board.
– But he can only suggest?
– That is all that the Public Accounts Committee can do. The Auditor-General has been given certain specific duties, one of which is to submit periodical reports to Parliament.
SenatorFoll. - And he can only re port to Parliament.
– The committee can do precisely what could be done by standing committees which a majority of honorable senators wish to constitute. It can undertake investigations in a way which would otherwise be conducted by honorable senators, and submit recommendations to Parliament which can be accepted or rejected. Having adopted the legislation under which this committee is functioning, we should not, unless there is good reason, repeal it or drastically amend it. The principal act provides that the duties of the committee shall be-
To examine the accounts of the receipts and expenditure of the Common wealth, and to report to both Souses of Parliament any items in those accounts, or any circumstances connected with them, to which they think that attention should be directed.
– That has not been done.
– Yes, on numerous occasions. Senator Herbert Hays suggests that the operations of the committee should be suspended.
– I did not suggest that; but that the Auditor-General could perform many of the functions now undertaken by the Public Accounts Committee.
– The Auditor-General can conduct certain investigations; but not in the way in which they can be undertaken by a committee consisting of members of both branches of the legislature.
– The Auditor-Genera) can undertake any investigation which can be carried out by the Public Accounts Committee.
– Generally speaking, that is so. Parliament, in its wisdom, thought it advisable to appoint a body, not for providing “ perks “ for political parties, as some suggest, but to carry out functions such as the standing committees suggested by Senator Colebatch and other honorable senators would discharge. The object of such committees would be to assist Parliament in more efficiently governing this country. As it is impracticable for every member of Parliament, to closely study public accounts, it was thought that a committee of experts, selected from members of both Houses, should be set up to conduct the necessary investigations, and to submit recommendations to Parliament.
– Did the Minister say exports ?
– The party to which Senator Payne belongs appointed Senator J. 33. Hayes to represent the Nationalist party on the committee, and I supported the appointment of Senator O’Halloran to represent the Labour party, because I considered that that honorable senator was the most suitable member of the party to undertake the work. Another function of the committee is -
To report to both Houses of t!ie Parliament any alteration which thu committee think desirable in the form of the public accounts <>r in the method of keeping them or in the mode of receipt, control, issue or payment of the public money.
– The committee has never made any inquiry on those points.
– Until a few weeks ago no such investigations had been undertaken by the committee, but it is now making a most searching inquiry into the system, of budgeting, which will he of great benefit to honorable senators.
– Not. 10 per cent, of its reports are read.
– That may be so. Unfortunately, not one-tenth of the reports published by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research are studied by honorable senators in the way they should be. Members of Parliament cannot be compelled to read such documents; but those who have done so have benefited. If we have to test the value of the committee by the extent to which its reports are studied, we should also have to assess the value of parliamentary deliberations by the extent to which Hansard is read. If we adopted that basis it would possibly be found that Parliament should be abolished.
– It would be a good thing if Hansard were abolished.
– The honorable senator makes that suggestion prior to the commencement of the tariff debate; he realizes the disadvantage of some of his utterances being on record. The Public Accounts Committee lias also power -
To inquire into and report upon any questions -in connexion with the public accounts which are referred to them by either House of the Parliament.
As Senator O’Halloran pointed out, governments in the past appointed royal commissions to inquire into different subjects. “We know what those commissions have cost, and I venture to suggest that the reports of such bodies, which have cost taxpayers a good deal of money, are not more extensively read than are the reports of the Public Accounts Committee. The act also provides that the committee shall undertake -
A113’ other duties assigned to the committee by joint standing orders approved by both Houses of the Parliament.
This Government knows of no more economical and thoroughly efficient method of having work such as I have enumerated undertaken than by a committee such as that which has been in operation for some time. The Government is of the opinion that the efficiency of the committee will be’ impaired if the number of .its members is reduced from seven to five.
– A committee of five would be able to deliberate as effectively as a committee of ten.
– That is a matter of conjecture. States and political parties must be represented. The State which 1 represent usually has to take what is left.
– South Australia has always had a representative on the committee.
– There may not. be any occasion for New South Wales to be represented on such committees as that State usually has three or four members in the Cabinet.
– The Government of which the Assistant Minister is a member kicked Senators Dunn and Rae, who represent New South Wales, off the committee.
– My Government did nothing of the sort; it would not kick anyone. This matter has been given the fullest consideration, and so far nothing has been said which would justify honorable senators in either- voting against the second reading of. the bill, or moving for its amendment in committee.
– Why is the Minister stone-walling?
– I deny that I am stone-walling. I do not. wish the Senate to take any action that would lead to the suspension of the operations of the committee. As the honorable senator’s interjection now suggests that he is notan opponent, but a supporter of the Government’s proposal,I shall add nothing to whatI. have already said.
. - I am glad that the last clause of this measure makes it imperative for the present committee to be abolished and a new committee to be appointed after the bill becomes law. because those honorable senators who are members of the present committee are thus free to express themselves frankly regarding it. I intend to support the bill as it stands. I have given the matter a good deal of thought, and would agree to the number of members being reduced to five, which would probably be ample, but for the fact that they are drawn from States as far apart as Queensland on the one hand and Western Australia, on the other, and sometimes it is extremely difficult to secure a full attendance. When the matter is not. vital, the practice now is for those who are conveniently situated to hear the evidence. The fact that . I live in Tasmania involvesme in some expense in attending meetings of the committee, and in the case of the inquiry that we are now prosecuting, I was not present when evidence was taken in Sydney and Melbourne. I did not make the trip, and thus saved the expense. As the evidence was largely technical I read it later. If I had been one of a committee of five members it would have been necessary for me to attend these meetings, with consequent increased expense. A reduction of the number of members to five would increase the cost of conducting inquiries, because members would have to attend from far distant States. I have been a member of this committee for some considerable time, and know its value. It functions at a small expense compared with the work that it does. I do not know of any other method that would give the same results for anything like the present, cost. The most expensive inquiries have been those that have been conducted at the request of different governments, or into matters in which governments have taken a very keen interest. The inquiry into the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Line was not actually instigated by the Government of the day. but the committee was asked to extend it so as to cover a certain phase, and to complete the investigation at as early a date as possible. Evidence was obtained that would not have been available otherwise to either the Government or its officers. Neither members of the Ministry nor government officials can conduct an examination on oath of managers, clerks and officers. If this committee were abolished we should be dependent either on a Minister’s observations or on his opinions, formed on departmental inquiries, which would not be so sound as those : it which the committee can arrive after hearing evidence. The outofpocket, expenses paid to members of the committee are not more than are necessary, and at. the present time are being substantially curtailed. Expenditure on matters that are outside their parliamentary functions, and visits to distant States, should not be required of members at their own cost. At the request of the last Government, the committee held an inquiry into the question of island shipping. I did not make the trip to the islands, because it was urged that the cost of the investigation should be kept as low as possible. There was no other way than that adopted of obtaining the information desired. The members of the committee, who are men of common sense, were able to see everything for themselves, and present a useful report to this Parliament, through the Government. Recently, the committee has inquired into the disabilities of Tasmania and South Australia, and had it not been interfered with, would have presented reports which, if acted upon, would have gone a long way towards rehabilitating those States.
– Did not some members of the committee state that they were duplicating what had already been done in South Australia?
– I have not heard that said. If a Royal Commissioner makes a report, and another body is deputed to undertake an investigation into the matter, it is only natural that some of the same ground will be covered. In both of these cases the committee was nearing the completion of its task when it was instructed to confine its attention to the disabilities due to federation. Tasmania and South Australia are mainly agricultural and pastoral States, and there are on the committee men who, had they been allowed to do so, could have made recommendations that would have been of very great value to the Government. I do not believe that any member received more than what his outofpocket expenses amounted to. At the present time the committee is engaged on in inquiry into the method of presenting Commonwealth accounts, and it has been commended by scientists, economists and members of governments, upon the manner in which it is conducting the investigation. This matter would have been inquired into long ago but for the pressure of other work, due to inquiries having been submitted to the committee by the Commonwealth Government. The value of the committee must be highly rated in some quarters, otherwise the matters that have been inquired into would not have been referred to it. If the committee were allowed to carry out the work of examining public accounts, for which it was first created,I believe that it would be very well worth the relatively small amount of money it costs. It would certainly be a backward ste p if by any mischance it were abolished. I do not know that I should not vote to reduce the number of its members to five. Even with seven it will bo found that scarcely more than four or five will find it possible to see any inquiry through. I hope that the committee will be allowed to continue in the way it has been going. My experience has shown me that, the work it is doing could not be done by any other body at anything like the same low cost.
– My complaint in regard to parliamentary standing committees is that too little notice is taken of the reports made by them. I have been privileged to serve on both the Public Accounts Committee and the PublicWorks Committee. I was chairman of the former for a while. Both committees have made very full reports in regard to various phases of governmental activities, but little notice has been taken of them.I was a member of the Public Works Committee, which made a very full inquiry into the cost of build ing wooden ships in Australia. The committee put in an almost unanimous report, there was only one dissentient; but it was disregarded by the Government of the day, and arbitrators were called in at great expense to adjudicate. They brought in a verdict which was almost identical with the report of the committee. You, Mr. President, were a member of the Public Accounts Committee whilst I had the privilege of being a member of the committee, and you will recollect that, with the consent of the Government, wo inquired into the manufacture of power spirit in Australia, and the development of the shale oil fields. We spent a good deal of time and money on making a thorough investigation into the subject, bur so far as I am aware, no action was taken by the Government us a result of our inquiries. The committees have not had the recognition from governments to which they are entitled as parliamentary bodies.
Inthe past, the Public Accounts Committee has roamed practically all over the Commonwealth, investigating matters which ought not to have been referred to such a body. A Commonwealth Public Accounts Committee, if it means any thing, means a body that should be investigating Commonwealth accounts, but while I was a member of the committee it investigated matters that had very little to do with the manner in which public accounts are kept. Senator Daly has pointed out that the committee is now engaged in an inquiry into the manner in which budgets are presented. In that respect it is really coming back to the function for which it was originally appointed.
I agree with Senator Herbert Hays that it is ridiculous not to expect party division among the members of these committees. I think it was Senator O’Halloran who said that no party aspect enters into the deliberations of the Public Accounts Committee. We know that when a question of general policy crops up, there is just as much party division in a committee as there is on the floor of the Senate or in any other sphere of political life. WhenI was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, we investigated a proposal to sell the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers.
– I was not a member of the committee at that time. I spoke of what had been happened during my membership of the committee.
– It was shown to the committee that the dead loss to Australia for the maintenance of the seven vessels of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers was something like £600,000 a year, yet when the committee came to consider its report, our opponents said: “ The fact that the Line loses £600,000 a year docs not weigh with us. We believe in the nationalization of shipping, and in the Stats ownership of a Commonwealth shipping line.” They, therefore, submitted a minority report urging theretention of the Line.
– For the benefit of the wheat and wool-growers of Australia.
– It was clearly shown to the committee that wheat was mostly carried by tramp steamers, and that the Australian Common wealth Line of Steamers had actually refused wheat cargoes. The wheat-growers of Australia received ho benefit from the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers.
It is a lot of nonsense to say that a committee appointed from the various parties of this Parliament will enter into some sort of harmonious agreement, and put in a unanimous report, even upon vital points of difference between the various political parties. We know that the report signed by you, Mr. President, as chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, urging the sale of the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers, was based on the evidence put before the committee, but if a report on the same subject, were submitted now, with the present Government having a majority on the committee, do we imagine for a moment that it would be the same as that signed by you? As a matter of fact, a man who is serving on a parliamentary committee does not change his policy because of any investigations he may have made as a member of that committee.
I believe, as other honorable senators have said, that the form of investigation by standing committees of this Parliament is much more economical than that of a royal commission. The cost of the standing committees has been only a fraction of the cost of some investigations by royal commissions in Australia. I think that when a royal commission is appointed, a sum of money should be provided for its investigation, and that when the vote has been exhausted, the commission should seek a further appropriation from Parliament, as every public department is obliged to do. 1 do not believe in giving a royal commission the right to go on spending money year after year as some commission? appointed by governments in recent years made it a practice of doing.
It is ridiculous to say that, because a parliamentary standing committee i.-“ set up, its members will drop their political principles for the purpose of submitting unanimous reports. All I urge is that the Public Accounts Committeeshould limit its inquiries to Commonwealth public accounts, and that, its reports should receive more recognition from the Government than they have been given in the past.
Senator THOMPSON (Queensland; [4.0]. - Other honorable senators have really expressed so well the views I hold, that it is only because I have hud some experience as a member of the Public Accounts Committee I am impelled to say anything on the subject at. all. Senator O’Halloran has not stated the position correctly by his reference to the absence of political bias. When I first served on the committee, an investigation was in progress, relating to questions affecting the Public Service. Strictures were made concerning senior allowances and travelling allowances, a matter to which Senator Pearce had drawn very stringent attention, but when 1 desired that certain references tothe subject should be included in the report the committee was submitting, I found that the Labour members of the committee rolled up andvoted to a man against the proposal. I invited the committee to show some intestinal fortitude on the matter, but certain members of the committee refused to do anything against the interest of their friends in the Public Service. When a change of government came along, I was the one pushed off the committee for a Labour senator. But I am not worrying about that.
– Would a committee, which the honorably senator describes as largely composed of unqualified men, be fitted to make such investigations?
– It does not require a great deal of knowledge of accounts to recommend an amendment of the method of keeping the railway accounts. The committee would do much more valuable work if the membership were reduced to five. I. appreciate the remarks of Senator J. B. Hayes, but, in the past, the standing committees have been chosen without reference to State representation.
– Why should there be State representation?
– According to Senator J. B. Hayes, it is desirable that the different States should’ have representation on these committees. It certainly is not the practice, nor is it desirable. My idea is that we should get: better work done by a smaller and more efficient committee. I shall therefore support an amendment to reduce the membership to five. At first, Senator Pearce’s suggestion for the suspension of the committee for some time appealed to me. But the Public Accounts Committee is not in the same category as the Public Works Committee. There: is always work for the former, and 1 think it should be kept in existence; with a reduced number it would give more efficient service than it has in the past.
– I am grateful to the Government for having introduced this bill, because it, gives honorable senators an opportunity to express their views with regard to both the Public Accounts and the Public Works Committees, which I regard as excrescences on our system of responsible government. This proposal, we are informed, is an attempt on the part of the Scullin Government to effect an economy. I regard it as a “ shandy gaff “ measure, because, apart from the trifling expense allowances to be deducted, it will not effect any economy. There is to be no interference whatever - at nil events, I can find no reference in the bill - with the total expenditure allowed under the amending act of 1920.
– Under the Financial Emergency Act the expenditure is to be reduced by 20 per cent.
– I can find in the bill no reference whatever to an economy in the total expenditure by the committee. I have no fault to find with that body, and I was rather impressed with the speech delivered by Senator O’Halloran in defence of it, but I do object, and have always objected, to the appointment of any particular body, merely to enable the proper authorities to escape their responsibility. If the heads of our departments, and our expert officials, are inefficient, they should be dealt with by the Ministry, or by Parliament, as the case may be. It seems to me that this bill is an attempt by the Ministry to burke its responsibility. These committees have become a sort of cushion to ease down criticism of public departments. An investigation intopublic accounts, which properly is one of the functions of this committee, requires trained minds. Members of this Parliament, drawn as we are from one calling or another, are not competent to deal with these intricate matters. We should not submit to this political “ eye-wash “ which parades in the guise of economy; we should either adopt the suggestion of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce), or that made by Senator Colebatch, because the people outside are demanding economies in governmental expenditure. Senator Daly lias argued that the allowances drawn by members of the Public Accounts Committee are not really “perks” for the representatives of the various parties appointed to these committees, but J suggest to him that this is the view taken by the general public, and it is time that we intimated clearly that we will not tolerate a continuance of this business in any shape or form. Senator O’Halloran has reminded us of the good work done by the Public Accounts Committee when it inquired into the financial disabilities of the various States, including South Australia. I have, on other occasions, declared, and ] repeat, that that was an improper use to make of the committee, constituted as it. is. One of its functions is - la) ii> examine thu accounts of tlie receipts and expenditure of the Common wealth, «.nd to report to both Houses of tin: Parliament any items in those accounts or any circumstance connected with them to which they think that attention should he directed:
– And the committee’s report should be presented to Parliament with the budget.
– Yes, or with $he Auditor-General’s report. This is the primary object of its existence, and yet such a report has never been presented.
– Yes it, has.
– I should like to have my attention directed to any such report.
– One was presented in 1915-10.
– Who is the person responsible to this Parliament in connexion with the public accounts of the Commonwealth? The Treasurer is responsible in a certain way to the Government, and members of another place, which has the making or unmaking of Ministries; but the person who deals with expenditure, the person whose duty it, is to point out irregularities in the public accounts, is the Auditor-General. That official does so from time to time, hut I know of no occasion upon which the Public Accounts Committee has discharged this particular part of its functions. On numerous occasions we have had reports from that body relating to expenditure on public works, in Canberra and elsewhere, and without wishing to cast reflections upon departmental officials, I can say that any criticism in those reports was due to the fact that the officials responsible for the design or the making of contracts were at fault. I agree with Senator J. B. Hayes that there is very little in the bill, but there is an important principle involved. It purports to reduce expenditure, when, in truth, and, in fact, it does not. The second of the functions of the Public Accounts Committee is -
If ever there was a function that required the attention of experts, it is the one which I have just described. I profess to know a little about balance-sheets and the examination of accounts, but I should hesitate to question the accuracy or propriety of entries made by skilled officials of the Treasury. I suggest, therefore, that if wc are to expect a useful examination and criticism of treasury accounts, we cannot get it from the Public Accounts Committee as at present constituted. The amending act of 1920 gives its members power to take expert evidence on these matters in order that they may inform their minds upon them. The third function of the committee is -
It is also authorized to discharge any other duty assigned to it by both Houses of the Parliament; but I do not know what other duties have been assigned to it. I understand that the committee is at present making an investigation into the form in which treasury accounts are presented to Parliament, and there is provision in the bill authorizing the committee to complete that inquiry. In my judgment, the committee is not the proper tribunal to determine that matter, and, in view of the fact that, it is not likely to have any work to do within the next two or three years, the Senate should strongly urge the Government to suspend its operations. This bill is merely a gesture of economy.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that the £2,000 allotted to the committee should be divided among the lesser number?
– As the bill stands, . I see no alternative. I am not complaining of the amount of the expenses drawn by members of this committee, probably, they make nothing out of it. But there is,I contend, an important principle at stake in this matter - due regard for economy in administration. This should be our watchword. Moreover, it is demanded by the people of this country. In inquiring into the disabilities of certain States under federation, the committee, in my view, acted outside its proper functions. Apparently, its members also realized this, because they confessed that they had no principle to guide them. The submission of those references to the committee was due to the fact that Parliament had failed to retain the Interstate Commission which was the properly constituted body to protect the interests of the smaller States. That commission, being entirely independent of Parliament, was free to act upon certain principles. In this respect, it differed very materially from the Public Accounts Committee which, as we know, is reconstituted following the election of a new parliament. I agree with Senator Herbert’ Hays that the partisan political element has been associated with nearly all of its inquiries. We see evidence of this in the reports which it has presented from time to time. As the people are calling aloud for governmental economies in every direction, we should not stop at merely reducing the number of members to be appointed to this committee. Something more than a mere gesture of economy is necessary. Senator O’Halloran has just told us that there is to be a reduction of 20 per cent, in this expenditure. The officers connected with the committee could, for the present at all events, be absorbed in some branch of the
Public Service, where they could render useful service.
– Is the honorable senator aware that last year the Public Works Committee returned to the Treasury. £1,100 of the £2,000 voted to it?
– That was, doubtless, because the committee had no work to do.
– Last year the members sat on many occasions without drawing any fees.
– I am glad to hear it. I suggest that the members of the Public Accounts Committee might do similarly. If it is not possible to abolish these two committees, I shall certainly vote for the amendment foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce). That will throw upon the Government the responsibility of indicating whether it is earnest in its declared desire to effect economies in this direction, or whether what has been said in that connexion is so much political eyewash.
– I shall not, detain the Senate many minutes, for I wish to speak on the Public Works Committee Bill. I am a member of the Public Works Committee and know something about it. It appears to me that honorable senators who have shown opposition to the maintenance of the Public Accounts Committee and the Public Works Committee are those who know least about the subject. It is rather pitiful that they should have shown appalling evidence of colossal ignorance on the subject.
– I hope that the Senate will pass the bill in its present form. The proposal to reduce the number of members of the committee from ten to seven has been very carefully considered. It was felt, that it would be dangerous to limit the number to five. It would also make it, difficult to secure a quorum. My principal reason for speaking is to reply to some remarks by Senator McLachlan in regard to fees, which may create a wrong impression in the minds of honorable senators. I have had no personal experience on the Public Accounts Committee, but I point out that the committee is entitled to draw fees to the extent of £2,000 per annum. To my knowledge that limit has been reached on but one occasion. Hitherto the inquiries made by the Public Accounts Committee have been in pursuance of references to it from the Government of the clay. Of course, when there are members of two or three political parties on the committee, there is always likely to besome political colour in the committee’s deliberations; but my experience on the Public Works Committee entitles me to say that politics do not enter atall largely into the committee’s deliberations. In my opinion, the committee system is absolutely essential for the satisfactory working of our present system of government. It is impossible for the members of cabinets or parliaments to make themselves conversant with all details of public questions which arise from time to time. It is necessary to have some independent body which may be called upon to make investigations into such subjects. If the number of members of the committee is reduced a definite economy will be effected.
– Why not abolish feesal together?
– The fee, 25s. a day, practically only covers travelling expenses. I hope that the motion for the second reading will be carried.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Rill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
This act shall commence ona date to be fixed by proclamation.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [4.26]. - In order to test the feeling of the committee as to whether the operations of this committee should not be suspended for twelve months, I move -
That the words “ but such date shall not beearlier than the first day of October, 1982” beadded.
I listened carefully to the debate on the motion for the second reading of the hill and feel that a case has not been made out for the maintenance of the operations of the committee, for the next twelve months at any rate. Not even the present members of the committee could show that there wasa real need for the committee to continue its work. If my amendment is agreed to, the matter can be re-considered twelve months hence.In dealing with this bill we are either attempting to effect a real economy or we are not. It has been said that the proposal to reduce the number of members of the committee from ten to seven will be an economy. In this connexion, I point out that section 10 of the principal act reads as follows: -
Notwithstanding the provisions of the sections8 and 9 of this act the total amount chargeable on and payable out of the consolidated revenue fund under those sections shall not during any financial year exceed £2,000.
There is no proposal in this bill to reduce that amount . It must be apparent, therefore, that even if the number of members of the committee is reduced from ten to seven, the seven will be entitled to draw just as much in fees as the ten may do at present. Another point must be considered. There is associated with this committee a secretary who, doubtless, has some staff to help him. So long as the committee is maintained under existing conditions the members of the staff must be retained in their positions, even though these maybe no work for them to do. If the operations oft hecommittee were suspendedfortwelve months a definite economy could be effected in regard to staff. We should have regard, not merely to the saving that may he made in the payment of fees to the members of the committee, but also to that which may be effected in dispensing with the staff. The staff can only have a very limited amount of work to do at present. There cannot be any work for the Public Works Committee staff to do. In the circumstances, I invite honorable senators to indicate by their vote on my amendment whether they desire a real economy to he made by the suspension of the work of the committee for twelve months. I am not sure that the amendment is couched in the correct legal phraseology - it certainly does not give full effect to my desires - but if it is carried the Government can accept it as an expression of the Senate’s opinion and make any oilier necessary amendments to the bill.
– I rise to a pointof order.I ask whether it is competent for the Leader of the Opposition to move an amendment which he confesses will not be effective in giving expression to his intention? Surely the right honorable gentleman docs not desire to place in an invidious position the honorable senators who wish to support him. If the amendment is agreed to, no reduction can be made in the number of members of the committee, because the operation of the measure will be suspended. The pith and substance of the right honorable gentleman’s proposal - I am pirating an expression used by Senator Brennan last week - is that the operations of the Public Accounts Committee shall be suspended for twelve mouths. I suggest that the amendment has no relevancy to the bill.
– Speaking to the point of order, 1 invite the attention of honorable senators to the fact that the clause which I desire to amend provides for the issuing of a proclamation. My amendment provides that the proclamation shall not be issued until after the expiration of a specified period. If it. is competent for the committee to decide that a proclamation shall be issued it is surely competent for it to decide when it shall be issued. There can be no doubt about my amendment being in order. The merit of.it is another matter.
– I rule that the amendment moved by the right honorable senator is in order.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.It is quite possible that, under a legal interpretation of my amendment, the committee’s operations would not be suspended for twelve months. It is difficult to frame an amendment to suspend the operations of this measure, and of the Principal Act.
– Could we not achieve the same object by declining to make appointments to the committee?
– If a majority of this committee supports my amendment it will be an intimation to the Government that a suspension of the committee’s operations is desired. The amendment could then be put into proper legal form. At this juncture it does not seem to be of much consequence whether the form in which it is drafted is or is not legally accurate. I suggest that the Assistant Minister should give reasons why the committee should continue to function at present. This is the time when Parliament should show that in matters under its control it is willing to exercise the same economy which, under legislation it has already passed,it has enforced upon others. The Public Accounts Committee, which consists of members of Parliament is under our control, and an opportunity is now provided to save not merely the sum which under the Principal Act is annually appropriated for the payment of the expenses of members of the committee, but the other incidental expenses which it incurs so long as it is in existence.
– It is idle for the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) to suggest that the adoption of the amendment would convey to the Government and to the public that it is the desire of Parliament to suspend the operations of the committee; it would simply mean postponing the operation of the amending legislation for twelve mouths. If the Leader of the Opposition feels that the time has arrived when inquiry by committees should be discontinued, he should adopt the course which is being followed by Senator Colebatch in connexion with the Customs Act. If he desires a test vote on the question of whether we should return to a system of government exclusively by Parliament, he should move for leave to introduce a bill to repeal the Public Accounts Committee Act, or to suspend the operation of that act for twelve months.
– We can do it in another way.
– I suppose the honorable senator suggests the method of direct action, which he has so frequently deprecated, should be adopted in this instance. If, regardless of party consideration, we desire to express our opinions, we should do so in an intelligible manner. The adoption of the amendment means only what it provides - that the operation of the committee be suspended for twelve months. I suggest that as there are other means by which the Leader of the Opposition can bring his intentions before Parliament and the people the amendment should be negatived.
– SenatorRae andI cannot see our way clear to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pea rce) the object of which is to suspend the work of the Public Accounts Committee for twelve months. If the Leader of the Opposition will withdraw his amendment it is my intention to move an amendment which J. believe will result in effecting real economy, such as the right honorable the Prime Minister, and other members of bis Government, have frequently advocated. Under the Financial Emergency Act, recently passed by this Parliament, invalid, old-age and war pensions were reduced by 20 per cent., but there has been no suggestion of suspending the operation of that act for twelve months. The principal act provides that the sum of £2,000 shall be annually appropriated from the ConsolidatedRevenue to provide the committee with funds, and it is my intention to move to reduce that amount to £1,000. It is a wonder that individuals of the type of the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, and others, jokers who are going around the country preaching economy, reducing pensions and slashing wages, do not embrace this opportunity to curtail expenditure. We cannot support the amendment, because it only means suspending the issue of the proclamation for twelve months, and the £2,000 appropriated would still be spent by a committee consisting of seven members. If the Leader of the Opposition will withdraw his amendment an opportunity will be given to honorable senators to show how real economy can be effected.-
– As an amendment can be moved to clause 3, to more effectively do what I desire, I ask leave to withdraw my amendment.
Clause agreed to.
Section two of the principal act is repealed and the following sections inserted in its stead : - “2. - (1.) As soonas conveniently practic able after the commencement of this section, and thereafter at the commencement of the first session of every Parliament, a joint committee of seven members of the Parliament to be called the Joint Committee of Public Accounts (in thisact referred to asthe Committee’), shall be appointed according to the practice of the Parliament with reference to the appointment of members to serve on Joint Select Committees of bothHouses of the Parliament. “ (2.) Two members of the committee shall be members of, and appointed by, the Senate and five members of the committee shall be members of, and appointed by, the House of Representatives. “ 2.AA. Any four members of the committee shall form a quorum competent to exercise all powers and authorities and to incur all obligations conferred or imposed by thisact upon the committee.’’.
Section proposal to be repealed. 2. - (1) . As soon as conveniently practicable aflerthe commencement of thisact. and thereafterat the commence- ment of the first session ofevery Parliament a joint committee of nine members . . . shall he appointed ….
Three members of the committee shall be mouthers of, and appointed by the Senate, and six members of the committee shall be members of and appointed by, theHouse of Representatives.
Amendment (by Senator Dunn) proposed -
That the word “ seven proposed new section 2, subsection1, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “five”.
– I trust that the committee will not accept the amendment moved by Senator Dunn. This matter has been very carefully considered by the Government, and honorable senators have had an opportunity to follow the remarks of SenatorJ.. B. Hayes and Senator O’Halloran, members of the present committee, who have candidly told us that for the effective functioning of the committee a reduction in membership of from ten to seven is justified. Why has the amendment been moved? It has been submitted in. a fit of pique, and as a means to defeat legislation introduced by this Government.
– On a point of order, I object to the assertion of the Minister that the amendment has been moved in a fit of pique, and merely with the object of defeating the legislation of this Government. I ask that the expression be withdrawn..
– I withdraw it.I cannot see what clause 3 has to do with either Mr. Theodore or Mr. Scullin.It was the introduction of their names which impelled me to say that the amendment had been moved in a fit of pique. I am pleased if that is not the case.
– You are preaching economy.
– Of course I am, and so is everybody else. But there can be no economy without efficiency.
– And unless it is practised.
– Efficiency is inseparable from the practice of economy. What the committee has to decide is, whether the efficiency of this committee will be impaired by the reduction of the number of its members from seven to five.
Hon o k ab le Sena to r s. - No .
– The “ noes “ come from those who have been on, and are now off, the committee, or those who have never been on it; the “ayes” from those who are still on it, and run the risk of losing their positions. The Labour party came into power strongly opposed tq government of the people by committees or commissions. Had it done nothing else, the fact that it had been able to educate the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber (Senator Pearce) to the stage of believing that government, by committees is a fallacy, would have enhanced its credit. We have to take the conditions as we find them. It is necessary to maintain this committee; therefore, the only question to be decided is, what should be its numerical strength? There is no proof that the reduction of the number of its members to five would effect economy. T appeal to honorable senators not to indulge in this pin-pricking. The Government has reduced the allowance of the members of this committee, and its numerical strength from ten to seven. I urge honorable senators not to go beyond the point where efficiency might be impaired. Never before in the history of Australia has it, been so essential for a continuous and close scrutiny to be made of public expenditure, and the application of the Premiers’ plan, in which honorable senators opposite are partners with the Government. Certain honorable senators opposite now suggest that, five supermen can carry on the work, although they were agreeable to a membership of ten in normal times when there appeared to be no necessity to worry about public finance. Instead of giving an exhibition of its strength by carrying an amendment of this nature, the Opposition should accept the proposal of the Government, and pass the bill in its present form.
– I hope that the committee will agree to the amendment. The argument that has been used by the Minister in charge of the bill destroys his own case. He has said that the efficiency of the committee would be impaired if its numerical strength were reduced to five. The States of Tasmania and Western Australia are represented in another place by five members, while in the Senate the representation of each State t3 six. Does theMinister suggest that the functions discharged by this committee are more important than are the duties of those representatives of the States? Wow that we are recasting this legislation, a trial for twelve months ought to be given to the proposal embodied in the amendment.
– The Senate would have greater representation than it was entitled to if it had two members on a committee of live.
– I disagree with that contention. The function of this committee is largely that of taking evidence, and practically the whole of the work of preparing its reports is done by three or four members. I am nOt reflecting for a. moment on the usefulness of the committee; but I believe that Parliament can best be served by a careful selection of men who have the highest qualifications for examining accounts. If only five members had to bc elected, every member of the Senate would be careful to see that only those who were properly qualified were chosen. If after twelve months it was found that the committee was not effective or efficient, the number could be enlarged.
– I support, the amendment. My honorable friend, Senator Daly, has stated that it was moved out of a feeling of pique against the Government. Personally, I believe that we have every justification for feeling very much aggrieved at the actions of the present Government. 1 offer no apology for feeling disgusted at some of its actions. The Minister has argued that with a membership of five the efficiency of the committee will be impaired. With the membership at its- present strength, a quorum consists of five members. Obviously, therefore, that number is sufficient to carry out the work. Unless on account of some very grave emergency, no member should be absent from the meetings of the committee, and any who continued to do so ought to be replaced by others who were prepared to devote themselves to the work. No reasonable excuse can be offered for frequent absences. In the case of royal commissions, and a number of permanent bodies, it is a common practice to appoint only three members. In the State of New South Wales, there are three railway commissioners, and on occasions the work has been done by’ only one.. The duties of such bodies are quite as important as are those that are discharged by this committee. Senator Daly has said that on account of the present financial position it is absolutely necessary to have a committee of this nature functioning. If the importance of the committee has been increased by the prevailing conditions, the Government ought logically to retain its existing strength, or even add to the number of its members. It must be admitted that the reduction in cost under the proposal of the Government will be fragmentary. A very substantial reduction, however, could be effected under this amendment, and another that is to bo introduced later. The Government has descended to the greatest meanness conceivable in some of the methods that it has adopted to effect economies. A government that is prepared to attack oldage and invalid pensions, and the pensions of soldiers’ dependants, is capable of any meanness and we cannot be accused of exhibiting revengeful feelings if we mete out a small measure of justice.
– Do not indulge in that cheap sort of stuff. We have had enough of it.
– I think that my socalled stuff is just as good as any that has fallen from the lips of the honorable senator. If the Government is capable of descending to such mean and dishonorable methods of effecting economies-
– I rise to a point of order. I take strong exception to the term “ dishonorable “ as applied to this or any other government.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator. Plain).I ask the honorable senator to withdraw the word “ dishonorable.”
– If you instruct me to do so, I withdraw it most reluctantly; but I should like to say that it has all along been contended by this Government that it would be most dishonorable to go back on any contract that has been made, yet, in its attack on pensions, it has gone back on the contract which was made with soldiers’ dependants and soldiers generally. If that is not dishonorable, it is very close to it. It seems to me that, if we are to have economy, the Government is setting an example in bringing it about in little measures, and that this is such a diminutive measure that we can make it tolerable only by an amendment on the lines proposed. I trust that the amendment will be carried. Five members will be sufficient for the Public Accounts Committee. If in an emergency two members are absent, a quorum of three will surely be able to deal with any routine matters, subjects of major importance being postponed until the absent members could attend. No injury to the efficiency of the committee wouldbe effected by the amendment, and I trust that it will be carried with a subsequent amendment making a corresponding reduction in the maximum amount that can. be spent in the functioning of this committee.
– I think that the Senate is entitled to a bigger representation than two in a committee of seven, and I am, therefore, inclined to support the amendment to reduce the membership to five; but I am very much concerned as to how economy is to be effected. I understand that £2,000 a year is voted for allowances to the members of this committee. Does the Government propose to divide the £2,000 among the seven, or, if the number be reduced to five, will it be divisible among the five? Would the five, instead of getting £285 a year, receive £400? I should like to have the economy proportionate to the membership of the committee; but I should much prefer to see the allowance abandoned altogether at a time like this.
– What other allowance is paid to the members of the Public Accounts Committee?
– I understand that there is a travelling allowance of 25s. a day, in addition to the ordinary fee.
– The honorable senator is thinking of the Public Works Committee.
– No. The Minister can correct me; but I understand that the members ‘of the committee receive a travelling allowance in addition to the per diemallowance. If the allowance paid to the committee can be reduced in proportion to the reduced membership, I shall be disposed to vote for the amendment.
– This is nor a very big matter; but it involves a principle. Senator Dunn’s proposal is to cut down the numerical strength of the committee, and he foreshadows further action in regard to the wherewithal of finance for the committee. There is also a subsidiary proposal by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) to consign the committee to astate of suspended animation.
– I understand that that proposal has been withdrawn.
– The proposal of the Government, which is, perhaps, less defined than any of the others, is to reduce the numerical strength of the committee without in any way touching, as Senator Thompson has said, the remuneration provided for the financing of the committee. Very aptly, the Minister in charge of the bill has said that this is a time when government expenditure needs to be watched very carefully. The very fact that the Government has appointed a committee of experts to advise it. as to how the very much reduced revenue at its disposal shall be spent is an argument in favour of the continuation of the Public Accounts Committee. If the Government proposes to reduce the committee, or nullify its power for usefulness, it Stands to reason that it will not be as useful an instrument in govern-“ mental activities as it otherwise would he. That the committee has done good work in the past goes without saying and it is only because of the visitation of depression, which possibly will do us a lot of good, that we have this suggestion for retrenching. Put. if we look around us, we can see that the tendency everywhere is for representative bodies to appoint committees, of which the Public Accounts Committee isan example, to advise them as to howthey shouldor should not act. We have only to refer to the minor organizations of city councils. There is no suggestion to abandon the committees that advise municipal bodies. Yet there is a suggestion to abandon the Public Accounts Committee, or, if not to abandon it, at least to cripple it’s power for usefulness, which, I think, would be a retrograde step. If it is said that, on account of the resources of revenue drying up, on account of the present financial drought, this committee is to be handled in a way that will lessen its usefulness, we have to remember that this Parliament is still to be continued in its full numerical strength. If it be correct in principle to suspend the standing committees to reduce their membership Or to interfere with them in any way, why should we not at the same time do something similarto our own selves as a Parliament? When we know that the work of the Public Accounts Committee has been largely dictated and moulded by references from the Government relating to subjects that needed inquiry, we can see that the position is fairly well safeguarded. The committee is not free to roam at its own sweet will, but must be at the right hand Of the Government toinquire into those things which, in the public interest, badly need to be inquired in to, and which, in the absence of this committee, could not be as well inquired into its they are by it.
– The committee can undertake inquiries without requests from the Government.
-I admit it; but side by side with that discretionary power it is at the command of the Government. The Government’s control of the situation, together with the wise discretion which the committee brings to bear should remove any fear of extravagance which may Still linger in minds of honorable senators. Anything calculated to lower the prestige of the committee and render it unable to give the service that, it has been doing in the past is a backward step, and would suggest that we do not appreciate the work it has done. We have appreciated it. The very fact that discussions in this chamber are’ frequently based on the recommendations of the committee is substantial proof of the good work it has done in the past. It would be well to keep the committee going with a smaller numerical strength, and a remuneration reduced in proportion to that strength. Simply to maintain the old remuneration and reduce the number of divisors will not effect economy. We should appoint a committee with smaller numbers, and see to it that it is fairly well treated on the basis of the old rate of remuneration. Upon that point, however, the Government has remained silent. I am supporting Senator Dunn’s amendment in the belief that five is a sufficientnumber of members for the committee. Other honorable senators have pointed out that in the past commissions have not been dependent on their numerical strength for the value of their recommendations. The number should be five, and an amendment should also he moved to put the Senate in a proper relationship to the other chamber. To ask us to accept the proportion of two to seven is almost-
– It is contemptible. The number of senators could hardly be made less than two. Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. When the tin-pot gods of latter-day political parties want to destroy anything they first bring it into ridicule by reducing its strength, just as it is now proposed to reduce the Senate’s representation on this standing committee to a contemptible proportion, so that the public may be led to ask “ What is the use of having a chamber whose representation is only two to five in a joint committee of both Houses?” Witnesses who come before the Public Accounts Committee will meet the two senators and ask “Who are the other five?” And when told that they represent the other chamber, they will form no other conclusion than that the Senate must be a very insignificant body if the public conscience will not allow it; more than two members in a committee of seven. The time has arrived for us to demand either that the Senate representation on this committee be cut out altogether, or that the Senate be given a dignified representation upon it, and upon any other joint standing committee. Upon joint sessional committees the Senate has, equal representation with the House of Representatives, but upon committees for which there is any remuneration, its representation is reduced to a contemptible minority.
. - If we could make sure that five representatives would be able to attend all meetings, I should say that the balance of the argument was in favour of the amendment. I consider that five would be sufficient, but my experience on committee work has shown that it is extremely difficult for all its members to attend every meeting. For this reason, 1. believe it is desirable to appoint seven to the new7 committee in order to make sure of having five at its meetings.
– Three is a reasonable quorum.
– That is true, but if only five were appointed it would he difficult to ensure the attendance of three at all meetings, because sometimes members like to be relieved of certain inquiries. For this reason, I think, it is necessary to have a committee of seven.
– I agree with Senator J. B. Hayes that if we could make sure that five members would always be available, that would be the ideal number for the committee. But in the two years during which I have been a member of the Public Accounts Committee, the numerical strength of which is ten, rarely more than six have taken part in any particular inquiry. Sometimes, when a member wishes to attend in his constituency, he makes arrangements with other members to ensure the attendance of a quorum at. all the meetings. On many occasions, when an inquiry entails a certain amount of travelling, it is carried out by a smaller number of members, so that the cost shall be kept down. Some honorable senators appear to take the view that the committee on its own volition, undertakes inquiries which necessitate considerable travelling and expense. The majority of such inquiries, during recent years. have been referred to the committee by Parliament. Since J. have been a member of the committee, its members have always endeavoured to keep expenses down to the lowest possible limit. Last year, for example, £700 was returned to he Treasury, representing the unexpended balance of the £2.000 voted for the services of the committee. The allocation has been reduced by the present Government from £2,000 “to £1,650, and under the Financial Emergency Act, there has been a 20 per cent, cut in members’ travelling allowances. Formerly they received 25s. per day; now they get 20s. Probably this year between £500 and £600 will be returned to the Consolidated Revenue. The Hughes Government, iu 1!)20, authorized the payment of another allowance. I think this was the item of expenditure which Senator Thompson had iu mind. At about that time, members of other commissions and committees of inquiry were paid increased travelling allowances, so the Hughes Government agreed to a special payment of £1 per day to members of the Public Accounts Committee when travelling on committee work away from the seat of government. This special allowance also has been reduced substantially by the present Government. I do not know what is the exact amount because, up to the present time, the committee has not been engaged on any inquiry that entails travelling, so its members have not drawn travelling allowances. It is not correct to say that the total amount provided on the Estimates for the Public Accounts Committee is divided amongst its members. Under an amended scale, they are paid £1 per sitting, plus the other allowance to which I have referred, when engaged in an inquiry away from the seat of government. 1 am concerned about, the efficiency of this committee. Contrary to the belief held by some honorable senators, I am convinced that, at the present time, there is urgent need for the closest examination into all aspects of governmental expenditure.
– Has the committee ever reported on the public accounts ?
– Yes. Honorable senators opposite are ready enough to malign the committee, but, unfortunately, they have not taken the trouble to ascertain what it has done.
– Give us the name of that report.
– In 1915-16 tin; committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Charlton - I speak from memory and subject to correction - presented two important reports dealing with the presentation of Commonwealth accounts, and I. understand its recommendations were substantially adopted.
– I have never heard of that report.
– That, is not my fault, nor is it the fault of the Public Accounts Committee. The reports were presented and are filed iu the Library, f mention this matter because it has been argued that the committee has not been discharging its proper functions, and J am endeavouring t:o> show that the fault lies, not with the committee, but with successive governments, including those ministries that the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) was associated with for so many years, which referred so many important matters to it for investigation. Those inquiries took up so much of the committee’s time that it was unable to give its attention to those functions which are defined in the act as being within its proper sphere of investigations. It ought to be recognized, if this committee is constituted on the basis proposed by the Government, that its primary duty is the discharge of those functions, and that the Government should only refer to it other subjects for which the committee is specially qualified to deal, or matters the investigation of which would he more costly if referred to some other body. Senator Lynch is concerned about the rights of this chamber in its representation on these parliamentary accounts committees. As far as I can see, the representation proposed by the Government is as near as possible to the proportion observed when the committee was appointed in 1913. This Government is simply maintaining the ratio of representation of members of another place and the Senate. Under the original act, the Government of the day appointed more members from the other branch of the legislature. This Government is merely adopting the same course. If the constitution of the committee is wrong, that is not the fault of this Government, and this is scarcely the place to alter it. Since another place has the power of the purse, it is reasonable to assume that it should have a greater representation than the Senate on this committee, because the primary duty of the committee is to investigate matters affecting the financeof the Common wealth.
.- I support Senator Dunn’s amendment. Time after time I have said in the Senate that it is absolutely essential that public expenditure should be reduced wherever it can be done without sacrificing efficiency. I believe that we could reduce the [lumber of members of this committee and not. sacrifice its efficiency. Without refleeting in any way upon the present members of the committee, I am of opinion that we could select five men from the Parliament who would be able to do the work of this committee just as well as ten men can do it. There is something in the contention of Senator J. B. Hayes that it might be difficult to get a quorum at times if the committee consisted of only five members; but if we select the right tneri, and they have a real interest in their work, they will see that a quorum is present whenever it is needed. By limiting the number of members of the committee we shall, in my opinion, make for more expeditious and probably better work. Senator O’Halloran has cleared up one point by explaining that the amount of money spent in fees to the members of a committee is dependent upon the number of sittings held. The honorable senator also said that last year about £700 of the money voted for fees for members of the Public Account? Committee was not expended. T believe thru, the cost of the committee will be considerably reduced if the numerical strength of it is lowered. As this is one of the first opportunities that the Senate has had of bringing about a substantial reduction of expenditure in this direction without impairing efficiency, it is essenrial t.li at we shall take advantage of it..
– I ask hon- arable senators to reject the amendment for the following reasons: First, because the decision of the Government to provide for seven members was reached only after very careful consideration of the subject; secondly, because the setting up of a committee of five members will make it difficult to obtain quorums; thirdly, because the representation of all the States will not be practicable, even if it were desired, with a Gonimitt.ee of only five members. J am interested to hear some honorable senators on my right appeal for support, on the ground of economy. Do they realize that if their amendment is agreed to a reduction in the staff of the committee iriay be rendered necessary, and some one may be pushed out of a job? Surely that is not desired by the mover of the amendment, who has always posed as a friend of the workers. I believe that the committee will be tin workable if its membership is limited to five. If we Could be certain that it- would be possible to maintain a quorum with a, committee of only five members, it. would not be so bad; but I do not think that that would he likely.
SenatorRae. - With a large committee there are always some members away who could have made arrangements to be present
– Membersof tlie committee who are interested in its work do not willingly absent themselves from its meetings; bti.t sometimes circumstariewarise over which they have no con-1 tfol. T liad to miss a number of meetings of the Works Committee on account of sickness in my family. Honorable senators who have been members of other committees have had similar exoeriences. I believe that the members of the committee have always paid due regard to the need for economy. The. committee would be well-advised to defeat the amendment.
– 1 should not have participated in the debate had not the Assistant Minister used the argument that if only five members were appointed to the committee, it would not be possible f<> secure the representation of all the States. The fact is that all the States are not represented on the present committee of leu members. Wo-tern Australia, fnr instance, is not represented on it. Tins shows that it has not been the policy of the Government to have all States represented on these committees. I have another complaint to make. This committee has not been allowed to discharge its proper functions. Various governments have referred to it matters with which it was not competent to deal. Certain subjects should have been dealt with by a tribunal for the appointment of which provision was made in the Constitution. 1 refer to the Interstate Commission.
– I agree with the honorable senator that that body could appropriately deal with the subject of State disabilities.
– Another matter improperly referred to the Accounts Committee was the recent investigation into the wireless contracts. That was a subject which should have been referred to the law courts.
SenatorO’Halloran. - It was referred to the Public Accounts Committee by the previous Government.
– It was wrongly referred to it. I do not know whether I shall have an opportunity to vote for a proposal to suspend the operation of this committee, but I shall certainly take this opportunity of voting for a reduction in the number of its members, because a large membership is not necessary from the point of view of State representation. We have seen matters relating to the disabilities of one State referred to a committee which included three representatives from that State, whereas there was not one West Australian on the committee which inquired into the disabilities of that State.
– Is that intended to be a reflection upon the South Australian members of the Public Accounts Committee ?
-I am not reflecting on any one ; I am simply directing attention to an important fact. I shall vote for a reduction of the number of members of this committee, because I think that in present circumstances we should make every possible economy in public expenditure. I do not think that questions of a political character should be referred to a committee of members of Parliament who, with the best inten tions in the world, must be politically biased.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).I ask the honorable senator to confine his remarks to the amendment.
– It was an absolute farce to have nine members of the Works Committee travelling to Western Australia to inquire whether an automatic telephone exchange should be installed in the Perth metropolitan area. These committees have been wasting public money on a small scale, just as the Commonwealth Government has been wasting it on a large scale, by poking into concerns which they should have left alone.
Question - That the word proposed to be left out (Senator Dunn’s amendment) be left out - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment (by Senator Dunn) agreed to-
That the word “ five “, proposed new section 2, sub-section 2, be left out witha view to insert in lieu thereof the word “three”.
Amendment (by Senator Dunn) proposed -
That the word “ four” proposed new section 2aa, be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ three “.
– I think I am correct in saying that a quorum is not provided for in the Principal Act. At present a quorum consists of three members, so that in certain circumstances a sectional committee of that number may travel, take evidence, and thereby reduce expenditure. In these circumstances I think it desirable to delete the proposed new sub-section 2aa and allow the committee to arrange its own quorum. I believe the Government and the Deputy Chairman of the Committee are in favour of the deletion of this proposed new sub-section.
– The committee has practically destroyed the bill, and apparently no good purpose can be served by adopting this provision. The Government proposed to reduce the committee from ten to seven members, but now by one blow it has been further reduced to five. It would be unwise for the Government to proceed further with the measure until the Public Accounts Committee has had an opportunity to consider the position. I, therefore, move -
That progress be reported and leave asked to sit again.
Question - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Senator Plain.)
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 4 agreed to.
.- I move-
That the following now clause be inserted: - 4a. Section 10 of the principalact is amended by omitting the word “ two “ (wherever occurring) and inserting in its stead the word “ one “.
Section 2 of the principal act provides that £2,000 shall be set aside annually to meet the expenditure incurred by the committee. My proposal is to reduce the amount to £1,000. It is unnecessary for me to repeat what . 1 stated earlier in the afternoon with respect to the need for economy; but . 1 should like to reply to a statement made by the Assistant Minister (Senator Dooley), who, in attempting to carpet SenatorRae and myself, saidthat the result of our efforts would be to throw men out. of employment. Instead of indulging in cheap jibes concerning Senator Rae and myself, the Assistant Minister should have been honest and said that in fighting for the retention of a committee of sevenhe was merely obeying an ultimatum of caucus.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).Order !
– On a point of order, I wish you to rule, Mr. Chairman, whether it is competent for the committee to make the proposed alteration, seeing that the section affected relates to the annual expenditure. Should action not be taken by way of request?
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The amendment does not propose to increase a charge or burden on the people, and is therefore in order.
– If the provision for the committee has already been reduced from £2,000 to £1,600, should not the latter figure be halved?
.- I support the amendment. It would be of very little use to reduce the number of members if we did not effect real economy by reducing the amount expended. Any similar move aimed at effecting economy will also havemy support.
– I object to the time of the committee being wasted on such senseless futilities. During the last year that I was a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, the appropriation was £2,000. Although the committee held a greater number of sittings than usual in that year, because of the importance of the inquiries that were referred to it, £700 of the £2,000 voted was returned to Consolidated Revenue. With the mem- bership at five, the chances are that the annual expenditure willbe in the vicinity of £350 or £400: yet we are solemnly considering a proposal to limit it to £1,000 !
– That would he sufficient for the purposes of the committee.
– It would be more than sufficient. Judging by the attitude that is being adopted by honorable senators towards the committee, one would think that its members were a lot of political bushrangers, and that it was necessary to limit its activities in every way conceivable by honorable senators, irrespective of whether they have or have not any knowledge of its workings. The time that has been wasted on the debate this afternoon will probably cost more to the country than could be saved as a result of it on the working of the committee in the next ten years.
– The committee has definitely laid it down that the membership of this committee shall be five. We could discuss from now until 11 o’clock to-night the amount that was necessary to enable such a committee to carry on.
– If £2,000 was necessary to finance a committee of ten members, £1,000 ought to be sufficient for a committee of five.
– Not necessarily. The Leader of the Opposition is not quite consistent. He and other honorable senators have argued that, although there were ten members of this committee, all of them did not attend every meeting. The question that the Government has to decide is: What amount will be necessary for the future? I therefore move -
That progress be reported, and leave asked to sit again.
– On a point of order, I should like to know whether it is competent for the Assistant Minister to move that motion within a quarter of an hour of having moved a similar motion?
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The proviso to Standing Order No. 281 reads -
Provided that the senator in charge of a bill or resolution or a Minister of the Grown may at any time move to report progress and ask leave to sit again.
The Minister, therefore, is quite in order.
– I draw attention to the earlier portion of the Standing Order, which says -
Motions - That the committee do now divide,” “ That the Chairman do report progress and ask leave to sit again,” and “That the Chairman do now leave the chair,” shall be moved without discussion, and be immediately put and determined, provided that a vote on the question “ That the com mittee do now divide “ shall require at least thirteen affirmative votes, and no motion mentioned in this Standing Order shall be repeated within fifteen minutes of any of these motions having been negatived:
– The proviso governs the matter. According to it, the Minister in charge may move to report progress whenever he cares to do so.
Question - That progress be reported, and leave asked to sit again - put. The committee divided. (Ch a ir ma n - Senator Plain . )
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sitting suspended from6.15 to8 p.m.
– I should like to have” some information from the Government. It does not necessarily follow that if the membership of the committee is reduced from ten to five, the appropriation can safely be reduced from £2,000 to £1,000.
– I am pleased that Senator J. B. Hayes has asked for information. Ordinarily, when an amendment such as this is proposed, the courtesy is extended to the Government of allowing it to have progress reported so that it may make inquiries. This amendment was moved with no opportunity to the Government to check it up. Possibly the £1,000 will be sufficient to meet the requirements of the reduced membership of the committee; but it would have been courteous, if not considerate, on the part of honorable senators, to allow progress to be reported to enable Ministers to make inquiries. In the circumstances, I arn not in a position to give the honorable senator the information he requires.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [8.3]. - I do not know why there should be any attempt to create nu air of mystery. The original act provides that the total amount chargeable to and payable out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the payment, of an allowance to the Public Accounts Committee shall not in any financial year exceed £2,000. Fees or expenses can be paid up to £2,000, but not exceeding that amount. If the £2,000 is reduced to £1,000, fees and expenses cannot be paid tei hh amount exceeding £1,000, and as there are now to be five members instead nf ti-n, a limit of £1,000 should be sufficient for five. Provision is made on the general Estimates for the secretary and clerk to the committee.
– That is the information I required.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
– I move -
That the following; new clause he added - “ ti. The operation of this act and of the Committee of Public Accounts Act 11)13-1020 shall be suspended for a period of one year “.
I need not repeat the arguments I advanced on the second reading, except to say that this Parliament, and particularly the Senate, should indicate to the public that it is taking definite steps to curtail expenditure in every direction. I understand that it may be necessary to have some saving exception with regard to the work in which this committee is at present engaged, but that position is safeguarded by virtue of the fact that this act will not. come into force until it is proclaimed. This clause will test the sincerity of the Government.
– I must admit that the air of mystery referred to by Senator Pearce certainly enshrouds me. I cannot understand this latest move - that we should pass a bill reducing the number of members of the Public Accounts Committee to five, and then, in order to prove or disprove the sincerity of the Government, tell it that we propose to suspend the measure we pass for twelve months. I have no doubt that if a resolution were passed by the Senate and forwarded to the Government, asking for the suspension of the committee for twelve months, the Government would give it due consideration. But what does Senator McLachlan propose? We introduced a bill for an act to amend the Committee of Public Accounts Act by reducing the number of members of the committee from ten to seven. The Senate has further reduced the number to five and has added what, in the circumstances, is probably a perfectly proper provision fixing the maximum amount to be spent under the principal act. Yet the honorable senator is now asking that its operation be suspended for twelve months. If that is the way legislation is to be passed, I do not think there is very much in the contentions of Senator Colebatch relating to legislation by regulation.
– The position is perfectly obvious. The Government has brought in this bill as a measure of economy. Wo shall now see whether it intends the economy or not. In whatever way we amend the existing legislation, I suggest that we should say that for twelve months after finishing its present inquiry the Public Accounts Committee should not operate. That would be real economy. The officers of the committee could be transferred to other branches of the Service in which I understand some of them are at present engaged. It was only on the Prime Minister’s assurance that something in this direction would he done, that the estimates for the Public Accounts Committee passed another place. This clause provides an opportunity for the Government to declare its sincerity in regard to economy and reform.
– If this amendment is to have any legal effect, it will mean that the principal act and this measure will be suspended. But if this measure is suspended, bow can a proclamation be issued? And if we cannot issue a proclamation under this measure, how is the committee, which is at the present time functioning, going to function?
– The Minister has not read his bill.
– I have. It is provided in the bill that the act shall commence on a date to be fixed by proclamation. If, in the final clause of this bill, we declare, “ This act is suspended for a period of twelve months,” obviously, during the period of suspension, the proclamation cannot be issued.
– A proclamation can be issued. The act is not suspended until a proclamation is issued.
– I prefaced my remarks by saying “ if this amendment is to have any legal effect.” Presumably, the Senate does not wish to pass anything which has no legal effect. The proposed new clause obviously suspends the operation of this measure and the principal act.
– The clause could have no effect until the act was proclaimed.
– All that I can say to the Senate is that if it is anxious to suspend the operation of the Committee of Public Accounts, the bill in its present form should be passed, and representations should be made to the Government, which the Government would consider. Furthermore, there is nothing to prevent the Senate from passing a bill to amend the principal act to give effect to Senator McLachlan’s wishes. I cannot accept the amendment in its present form, because I. disagree with Senator McLachlan as to its legal effect. If it has the legal effect, which I suggest it has, itwill create chaos, and will considerably hamper the Government in carrying out its functions.
.- The Senate would be well advised not to go any further in the direction of amending this bill. After all the position remains in our hands. Even if the amendment be withdrawn or defeated and the act is proclaimed something else is wanted. The members of the committee have to be appointed: otherwise the committee cannot sit. It is not necessary to provide that the operation of the act be suspended for any fixed period. At any time, the Senate can refuse to make appointments to the committee. Twelve months is a long period and conditions are rapidly changing in Australia. During the twelve months it may be essential or advisable, at any rate, for this committee to meet in order to consider something that has arisen. If this clause were agreed to, it would be necessary before the committee could meet for the Government to bring in a bill repealing this provision. In view of the fact that the future remains entirely in the hands of the Senate, I feel that we can rest upon whatwe have already dons in the amendments which we have inserted.
– The present, committee will have leave to finish the inquiry upon which if. is engaged. As it is likely that the Senate will not then be sitting - we shall probably be in the throes of a Senate election in May of next year - it seems tome that it would be uselessto do anything further in this matter, because there will be a new Senate in July next. If the Government will give us an undertaking that nothing will be done in the interim, there is no occasion to embarrass it by insisting upon the amendment.
SenatorRAE (New South Wales) [ 8.17]. - I offer my congratulations to Senator McLachlan for having introduced an element of humour into this rather prosy assemblage. The honorable senator’s suggestion reminds me of something which I have read in connexion with the Hindoo faith. Insome quarters, it is,I understand, believed that the souls of mortals progress through a number of different bodies, until eventually they reach the stage of sublime nothingness. It appears to me that, after having made the measure perfect from the point of view of the Opposition, the honorable senator is now endeavouring to persuade the committee to destroy it absolutely. I congratulatehim, and suggest that atsome future date his next life insurance bill if it. is on the same lines as the one which he piloted through ill’s chamber some time ago, may meet with the same fate as that which he now proposes for this bill.
– I appeal to Senator McLachlan not to press hisamendment, which will have the effect of destroying the bill. The committee has sat on the face of Senator Daly’s “baby,” and has altered it out of all recognition. Naturally, Senator Daly is not pleased with our handiwork. I, therefore, urge Senator McLachlan to withdraw the amendment. Having made a considerable number of amendments, we should now pass the bill, and give our attention to the accompanying measure, the Public Works Committee Bill.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [8.20] . - I do not know what, is causing all the hilarity in the ranks of Government supporters. There are two positions to be considered in connexion with this bill. First of all, as I said on the motion for the second reading, I believe it would be an act of real economy to suspend the operation of both parliamentary committees for twelve months at least, hut possibly a majority of this committee is not in favour of that course. If so, I am in favour of the bill as amended. The two positions are quite reconcilable. Senator McLachlan’s amendment enables me and other honorable senators, who are in favour of the suspension of the committees, to vote for both. There is nothing illogical in our actions, and certainly nothing to cause hilarity among Government supporters. The bill in its present form is a measure of partial economy. This amendment, and also the suggestion which I made, are both measures of real economy. Senator J. B. Hayes put his finger on the weak spot in the bill when he said that the only economy which it would effect would be in the amount of fees paid to members of the two committees. But there are other expenses in connexion with these bodies, namely, the salaries paid to the secretaries, and for clerical assistance.
– Are those officials outside the Public Service Act?
– No; but, if the commitees are allowed to function, obviously provision must be made for the salaries of their officials, whereas, if they were suspended, those officers could be transferred to other positions in the Public Service.
– Was there ever justification for these committees?
– I fail to see what thathas to do with the amendment. I am informed that one of these secretaries is in receipt of a salary of between £700 and £800 a year. Because I wish to effect a real saving, for the next twelve months at all events, I intend to vote for the amendment, and J see nothing inconsistent in doing so, after having supported the amendment moved by Senator Dunn.
– I fail to understand the argument employed by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) with regard to the salaried officials of these committees. Since they are public servants, obviously if the committees are suspended, they will be transferred to some other positions in the Public Service, and displace other officers.
– Is the secretary of one of these committees wholly engaged in the work of that committee?
-He would not be now.
SenatorGuthrie. - Could notthese officials take the place of others who are retired on account, of the age limit?
– They may be eligible for such positions, but I doubt that that would be done. Theywould be taken into some other branch of the Public Service and, as I. have said, would displace other officers, so that the economy would be more apparent than real . Surely honorable senators donot wish to push any official out of his employment.
– If they were merely transferred, the work already being done elsewhere in the Service would be distributed and each officer would do a little less.
– The logical effect of the amendment would be to dispense with the services of these officials. Honorable senators opposite have not always been so insistent upon economy, otherwise they would have urged thecurtail- ment of expenditure some years ago, when the government which they were supporting was in office. The Government’s proposal was to reduce the number of members of the Public Accounts Committee to seven. The Senate committee has decided to reduce the number to five, and it is now proposed to abolish the two committees entirely. If this is done, the secretaries and staff will have to he provided with employment elsewhere in the Public Service or discharged.
– Then, is the Government bringing down these bills merely to keep officials in their positions?
– Certainly not. If ever there was justification for the existence of a public accounts committee it is to-day, when there is such urgent need to watch public expenditure. No one can say that either of the committees has been extravagant, and certainly no honorable senator has complained of the personnel or ability of their officers. I hope that the committee will not support the amendment.
– It is easy to understand why SenatorRae should be a mused at the extraordinary line of reasoning adopted by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce), who endeavoured to reconcile his attitude to the bill with his support of the amendment submitted by Senator McLachlan. The Senate, in agreeing to the second reading, re-affirmed the principle contained in the parent act. After considering the measure, clause by clause, and making a number of amendments, the committee is now invited to suspend for twelve months a principle which it has just re-affirmed. If honorable senators opposite feel this way about the measure, the best course is to re-commit it, strike out the clauses one by one, thus leaving the existing legislation in its present form, and then puss a motion to suspend the operation of the act for the term mentioned in the amendment. We could then . declare that we had not re-affirmed a certain principle only to suspend it. On the contrary, we could claim to have been perfectly consistent and to have acted in strict accord with parliamentary proce dure. We have spent many hours in discussing this bill, and have decided unanimously in favour of the retention of the Public Accounts Committee, but with a reduced personnel. It would now be absurd to pass an amendment to suspend its operation. It is difficult for the Government minority in this chamber to direct honorable senators along what, in our opinion, are the right lines. However, I appeal to honorable senators opposite not to humiliate themselves, even if they desire to humiliate the Government. Could any form of humiliation be worse than for this chamber, after having given the fullest consideration to the question whether we should or should not have a Public Accounts Committee, and having decided to continue the committee, to say calmly, as an afterthought, that the operations of the committee shall be suspended for twelve months? Although Senator Dunn and his colleague have, no doubt, obtained a certain amount of satisfaction from the defeat of the Government on certain proposals in this bill, I do not know whether other honorable senators wish to defeat the Government simply for their own satisfaction. But I suggest that if the amendment is agreed to, we shall be furnished with one of the most glaring examples of inconsistency in parliamentary legislation that Australia has ever witnessed.
– I cannot help but feel that there would be a certain inconsistency in accepting the proposal of Senator McLachlan. If t his amendment is agreed to, clause 2 of the bill will provide for the issuing of a proclamation fixing the date of the commencement of the operation of the act, while clause6 will provide that such a proclamation may not be issued, at least until after twelve months have expired. There would be considerable difficulty in construing those two sections. I feel, with my colleague, Senator Duncan, that we have already made amendments to the bill which will result in very substantial economies. Everything in this world must be looked at relatively, and relatively substantial economies have already been provided for. If we carry the process of economizing too far we may trywe Government beyond its strength, lt may decide to drop the measure on the plea that the Senate would not allow it to pass. Although it has been said by Senator Duncan that the matter is in the hands of the Senate, in that the committee cannot be called into existence until the Senate nominates two members of! it, it is in the hands of the Government in a very much more real sense. If we make too many amendments, the Government may simply say that it will not proceed further with the bill, lt may not even inform the Senate that it intends to insist upon its original proposals. If the measure is dropped, no economies whatever will be made. I can understand the solicitude of Senator Dunn and Senator Uac for their joint offspring, but. I. am not interested in that aspect of the subject. We have already provided for substantial economies to be made, aud we have not given the Government a serious grievance. I. agree with the opinion of Senator Daly, although he did not adhere to it, that this matter should be discussed without heat. There is no reason why heat should be imparted into the debate. Tu a time when economics are necessary, wo are proposing certain economies to the Government, iu a perfectly respectful and non-party way; and we are justified in doing so. But I cannot accept Senator McLachlan’s amendment, first, because it is a contradiction of the provisions of clause 2 of the hill; and, secondly, because it will be an invitation to the Government to drop the measure altogether.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH (Western Australia) [S.36]. - I am entirely at a loss to understand how the Minister in charge of this bill can say that the Senate has practically unanimously approved of the principle of maintaining the Public Accounts Committee. What opportunity have we had of expressing any opinion whatever on that principle? If there has been such an opportunity, I confess that I have missed it. Had it been possible for me to record a vote in opposition to continuance of the Public Accounts Committee, I should certainly have recorded it.
– It could have been done on the motion for the second reading of the bill.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.That is not so. If we had voted against the motion for the second reading of the bill, we should thereby have rendered impossible any economy. We should have left ourselves high and dry with the present very expensive committee. Themotion for the second reading did not. give us the opportunity to vote on the principle of the continuance of this committee. We have not had an opportunity of expressing our opinion on that subject.
– The Senate could, also have ‘ expressed its opinion on that subject by defeating the earlier clausesof the bill and passing the clause now under discussion.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.I am not now arguing as to which would’ be the better way of expressing an opinion on the subject; I am merely refuting the statement of the Minister that we havepractically unanimously approved of theprinciple of maintaining the committee. The only course that we can adopt is toaccept the bill, but reduce the cost of the committee as much as possible. Curiouslyenough, although we have been told bow much of the £2,000 per annum voted for this committee has been unexpended, we have not, been told what the committee has cost the country. That is information which we should have.
– It cost the country an expensive trip to Tasmania.
Senator Sir HAL COLEBATCH.That is so. L entirely object to the maintenance of the committee for two or three reasons. I believe that it was originally intended that the committee should bc subject to the instruction of Parliament; but it has never been subject to such instruction. It has, at times, conducted inquiries on its own initiative, and it has often made investigations at the request of the Government. I do not believe that it was ever intended to function in that way. There is not a single thing that the Senate could do which would win greater approval from the taxpayers of Australia than to cut down governmental expenditure, and here is one way in which we can do that.
– The Senate should abolish itself altogether after the exhibition we have had to-day.
– If the honorable senator or any of his colleagues feel that they are under no obligation to attend here, or to draw their salaries, they can easily neglect to do so; but some of us feel that even our poor efforts may be of some service to Australia.
– Why not apply the same logic to Senator J. B. Hayes and Senator O’Halloran in respect of their membership of the Public Accounts Committee?
– I have no quarrel with those honorable senators. They are entitled to hold their opinion, and I surely am entitled to hold mine. I believe that the inquiries upon which this committee has been engaged recently have been of such a nature that it should not have been allowed to make them. Even though the committee was requested by the Government to make those investigations it should have refused to do so. Recently the committee made an inquiry into broadcasting contracts, but wc have had no report from it. In that instance, the committee was asked to determine something which could only properly be determined in a “law court. I should like to know what, that, inquiry cost. Probably the committee displayed great wisdom in refraining from making a report Inquiries have also been made into the disabilities of South Australia and Tasmania. I myself was asked to give evidence in connexion with an inquiry into the disabilities of Western Australia; but the committee also showed its wisdom by not proceeding with that investigation I do not think that there is any useful purpose that the committee can serve at present. I shall, therefore, vote for the amendment..’ I again refute the statement of Senator Daly that the Senate has in any way, in the course of this discussion, approved the principle of maintaining a Public Accounts Committee.
– Senator Daly and one or two other honorable senators have inferred that Senator Rae and» I have been actuated by a spirit of vindictiveness in moving amendments to this bill.
– I said nothing of the sort.
– The honorable senator inferred it. I wish to assure him that, having travelled to Canberra to-day through a beautiful and smiling landscape, we arrived here with the spirit of political benevolence absolutely oozing out of us. We have no desire to embarrass the Government. On the other hand we wish to assist it to balance its budget. There is no vindictiveness in our attitude. Senator Daly is in charge of this government baby. If we have felt it necessary to slap its face, we cannot apologize for doing so.
– The discussion in this chamber to-day has confirmed me in my opinion that not only the Public Accounts Committee, but other committees, are necessary in order to inform the Senate on public questions. Senator Sir Hal Colebatch has protested that no one knows the total cost of this committee ; but he may easily ascertain it by perusing the current estimates for any year.
– I ques tion that very much.
– Would we be able to find there the cost of the Tasmanian inquiry ?
– The figures given in the Estimates include all money voted for the Public Accounts Committee. That is one reason why the activities of the committee should be maintained. If honorable senators do not know the total cost of the Public Accounts Committee, is it any wonder that they do not know the total cost incurred by other larger departments in the Public Service.
– Can the honorable senator give the total cost?
– Not from memory, but I can, if necessary, supply the figures within a few minutes. Even after a perusal of the Estimates, the members of the Accounts Committee have discovered that it is almost impossible to ascertain the costs incurred by some government departments; but the expenditure of the Public Accounts Committee can be easily obtained. The amount paid in travelling allowances to members of the Public Service, &c, is more than £100,000, yet there is no consolidated item showing the actual total under this heading in the financial papers presented to Parliament. The Public Accounts Committee was -established in 1913 with the object of keeping a check on public expenditure, and that eminent statesman, the late Lord Forrest, who so ably represented the State which Senator Colebatch is now representing said, when introducing the original bill in another place -
In thu British Bouse of Commons it is thu practice to appoint a Committee of Public Accounts, and a great amount of work is done by it. There can be no doubt that its reports have greatly assisted iu understanding public ti nance as well as in providing certain economies. The Government thinks that the strongest-light should be brought to bear upon public finance and that the House should hi’ placed in the best possible position to deal with it.
– The Public Accounts Committee has not reported on Commonwealth finance.
– By making such a statement the honorable senator shows either a lack of interest in the work of the committee or ignorance in the matter, because, to my knowledge, at least, three reports dealing with different, aspects of Commonwealth finance have been presented to Parliament by the committee. As the result of inquiries conducted by the committee of which I was not. then a member, a large number of reports have been submitted to Parliament on different phases of Commonwealth finance. Speaking, subject to correction, I understand the previous Government caused an inquiry to be made by the Public Accounts Committee into the mail service to the Pacific Islands in connexion with which the Government pays a subsidy to Burns, Philp and Company. As the result of disclosures contained in the committee’s report, and the adoption of its recommendations, very substantial savings were effected. The committee is at present engaged in an inquiry which, as I indicated the other day, will result in substantial savings in several directions, but I am precluded from discussing the matter further at this juncture as the inquiry is incomplete. If honorable senators disagree with the opinions expressed by the late Lord Forrest, when piloting the principal measure through another place, they should give their reasons for so doing. Oau they say that a body moulded on the lines of the British committee has failed in its duties to the public? It is also to be regretted that honorable senators have Brennan made some attempt to ascertain the nature of the important work being done by a similar committee on behalf of the mother of Parliaments. When speaking on the second reading of this measure, I referred to the work entitled Parliamentary Grants, by Durell, but. as I did not anticipate any opposition to the passago of this bill. I did not quote from that publication. Durell is not an unknown authority, but a person of considerable standing. He held the responsible position of Chief Paymaster in the War Office.
– Who is this authority ?
– Colonel A. J. V. Durell, CB. In the work to which I have referred, he deals with the whole question of British finance, including initiation of appropriation, appropriation and expenditure of the public moneys of Great. Britain. He shows the various methods of control, cheek and audit, and ‘ throughout the whole of his book there are numerous favorable references to the British Public Accounts Committee. On page 136 he says -
Finally, the Public Accounts Committee possesses a most important function, the discussion of points of financial order and principle. The committee was designed in order to guarantee financial regularity: the financial regularity, as distinct from audit order. cun only he si-cured by a system of recognized principles. The detailed examination of questions involving principle and system has. therefore, been a leading, and recognized feature in the work of this committee.
After showing bow various departments are influenced by the recommendations of the committee, he states -
Similarly, the Treasury agrees that the opinion of the Public Accounts Committee on points of financial order ought, on every occasion, to receive the most respectful attention from the departments concerned. lt regards an expression of opinion of such importance that, even if unconvinced, it would generally defer t» the committee.
That is to say that the prestige of the committee in Great Britain is such that even if the committee, on the basis of evidence obtained, makes certain recom mendations which are unconvincing to the Treasury, the Treasury, by reason of the prestige of the committee, generally defers to it. He further states on page 138 -
The Public Accounts Committee lias now become ti permanent feature in our financial system. Comparatively early in its history testimony to its value was given by Disraeli, who declared that it was of immense utility in bringing the entire revenue and expenditure of the country under the control of the House of Commons.
On the following page, he says -
The results it has achieved have fully justified the foresight of those responsible for its original appointment. The opinion has even been expressed by a well-known authority that the control of Parliament exercised by the Public Accounts Committee and that great officer of Parliament who is known as the Controller and Auditor-General, is the onlyobstacle that stands between the taxpayer and the most unbridled extravagance.
He further states -
Striking testimony nf the value of the work nf the committee was borne in 18SS by the Assistant Controller and Auditor-General, who said that it had almost made the law. so to speak, upon financial matters under the. Exchequer and Audit Act. The decision of the Public Accounts Committee forms, in fact, a kind of common law which is binding on all departments in practice if not in theory.
I submit that in view of such arguments we should not interfere with the operations of the Public Accounts Committee, which was established to carry out the functions undertaken by a similar body in Great Britain.
– Are the functions identical?
– There is a great similarity between them.
– Is the personnel identical ?
– The members of the British Accounts Committee are chosen from the House of Commons, while the members of our committee are representative of both branches of the legislature. If the right type of men have ::o? been appointed to this committee, Parliament is responsible. If a mistake has been made in appointing me as one of its members the committee is not responsible. It is the responsibility of Parliament to appoint the most suitable persons to undertake the work. Although I am intensely interested in the work of the committee, I have no desire to be associated with it if it is thought that I cannot render efficient service. If the Commonwealth Public Accounts Committee does not fully discharge its duties, it is not the fault of the committee. I agree with the opinion expressed by Senator Colebatch that questions such as the financial disabilities of the States should not be referred to the Public Accounts Committee. The committee admitted that in its reports on the financial disabilities of Tasmania and South Australia, and repeated it in its second report with respect to Tasmania. The committee, having been asked to conduct an investigation, felt that in the interests of economy, it could not reject the reference. The report of the committee on the disabilities of South Australia was accepted by the Government, and adopted by this Parliament when it was embodied in an act. Surely that shows that the committee enjoys the confidence of the legislature. I repudiate any suggestion that ] am pleading for the officers of this committee. The secretary, Mr. Richardson, and his assistant, Mr. McKenzie, are two valued officers of the Commonwealth Public Service. Since I have been a member of the committee, they have worked unusually long hours, and I venture to say that the time they have worked in order to give of their best to the committee, has exceeded that of the average public servant by 50 per cent. The duties of these officers do not terminate when the meetings of the committee are over; the secretary is often deputed by the committee at a meeting which may last two or three hours to conduct an extensive research which may necessitate working unusually long hours in order to have the necessary material available by the time the committee next meets. Both these officers have given very valuable service to the Commonwealth as a result of a close study of the questions that have come before the committee from time to time. If its operations were to be suspended, and these officers were to be transferred to some other branch of the Public Service, the experience which they have gained in connexion with investigations undertaken by the committee would be wasted, and the Government’s efforts in effecting economies would be stultified. The committee stands as a warning post in the matter of public expenditure, and I sincerely trust that honorable senators will agree to its retention, since it is rendering a very valuable service to the community.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– One or two points have been made that I do not think have any substance. It has been suggested that, by our acceptance of the bill, we have affirmed the principle of the retention of this committee. Senator Colebatch has already dealt effectively with that particular aspect. I point out, however, that it was’ a case of either rejecting the bill on the motion for its second reading, and thus obtaining nothing, or of accepting it, and thus reaping the advantage of the little that was offered by the Government. Amendments have been carried which will reduce to a certain extent the expenditure on this committee, and there would be nothing inconsistent in suspending the operation of the whole machinery. That would be a gesture in the direction of economy which should be made in the interests of the people, and it would prove that the Senate was prepared to support a real reduction of expenditure. I disagree with the contention of Senator Brennan that there is an element of inconsistency in my proposal. I do not propose more than that there shall be a suspension of the operations of the committee for a period of twelve months. As the act would not come into operation until it had been proclaimed by the Government, ample opportunity would be afforded for completing the examination of accounts that is now proceeding. There is some substance in the point made by Senator Duncan, and it has to be met. It appears tome, however, that instead of taking the oblique way suggested by the honorable gentleman, of refusing to appoint senators to the committee, the direct method should be adopted. Do we intend to curtail the expenditure of the committee for the next twelve months, or are we to leave the matter in the air? It is provided that two members of the committee shall be members of and appointed by the Senate, and that three members of the committee shall be members of and appointed by the House of Representatives.
– The committee could function without any senators.
– The honorable senator has anticipated the point I was about to make. It is further provided that any three members of the committee shall form a quorum.
– When the committee has been constituted. But until the Senate had appointed its two members, the committee would not be constituted.
– I do not propose to take any risk. The machinery would be ready to spring into instant being, in the event of Parliament not taking any further action, at the end of twelve months, and meanwhile we should be able to see where we were. It is the duty of the Senate to see that economies are made wherever that is possible.
-What economy would there be if the course mentioned by Senator Brennan was taken - if the Government dropped the bill?
– We should have the satisfaction of having tested the sincerity of the Government. If it dropped this measure, which was promised when the Estimates were under discussion in another place, its introduction could be regarded as so much eyewash. If, on the other hand, there is a sincere desire to effect economy, let us suspend the operation of the whole of this machinery for a period of twelve months. Some savings will be effected by the action that we took this afternoon, but they would be very greatly augmented if the committee agreed to the amendment.
– I cannot support the amendment. At the second-reading stage I made certain observations, which have been confirmed by Senator O’Halloran, in relation to the matters that from time to time are the subject of inquiry by the committee. I then said that in my opinion the proper function of the committee was to deal with the public accounts.
– In Canberra.
– I believe that the biggest portion of those inquiries could be conducted in Canberra, thus substantially reducing the expenditure upon them. ButI went further, unci said that questions which involved a conflict of party interests ought not to be referred to the committee.If there has ever been any need for a public accounts committee that need exists to-day. My attitude throughout towards it has not been one of hostility, as Senator O’Halloran has suggested. All that I have said is that the number of members should be reduced, and that, provided a proper choice was made, a membership of five would be more efficient, and give better service, than the seven that is now proposed by the Government, or the ten that was formerly the case. The Minister (Senator Daly) has complained of interference with the Government’s policy. I cannot see where any item of policy has been interfered with. No big principles are involved. Those who have opposed the proposals of the Government have rendered very good service, not only to it, but also to the Commonwealth. The bill, as amended, will make passible the appointment of a better working committee than has previously existed. I have never said that the committee has not done good work; I believe that it has; but it, should confine its activities strictly to the public accounts, and, by watching closely the expenditure, learn where savings might be effected. Nothing could be saved by suspending the operations of the committee. In the case of the Public Works Committee there are different considerations, because, when no money is available for expenditure on public works, there is nothing for that committee to do.
– Senator McLachlan would jeopardize the bill for the purpose of effect- ing a saving for possibly only two or three months. I agree with Senator Brennan that it is quite likely that the Government will drop this measure if we pass the amendment. In existing circumstances there could be no fresh appointments until July or August next. Consequently, would it not be farcical to embarrass the Government to such an extent as to cause it to drop the bill? For that reason my vote will be given against the amendment.
– I am sorry that Senator O’Halloran appears to regard our move for economy as an attack on the personnel of the committee. 1 am prepared to admit that the committee has done very good work, and that Senator O’Halloran has been an excellent acting chairman of it. My only complaint against Senator McLachlan is that he has not gone far enough ; his proposal should be for a suspension of operations for two years instead of one. The Senate has had to agree to a number of proposals for economy that have caused a good deal of pain to the people concerned, as well as to ourselves. If there is one direction in which economy should be practised, it is in connexion with our parliamentary system. I amsure that the people will not stand for this expensive committee travelling all over Australia inquiring into matters that its members have no ability to investigate, and doing work that could be much better done by other tribunals. In those circumstances, I intend to support the amendment.
Question - That the proposed new clause (Senator McLachlan’s) be agreed to - put. The committee divided.
Majority . . . . 10
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed new clause negatived.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported with amendments.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time. lt is proposed in this bill to reduce the number of the members of the Public Works Committee to seven instead of nine, as at, present, and because at times there may be two or more proposed public works which are practically identical, provision is made in it for the exemption of works from investigation by resolution of both Houses of the Parliament, the object being to avoid duplication and consequent unnecessary expense. Of the seven members, it is proposed that, five shall be appointed from the House of Representatives, and two from the Senate.
This bill is practically on all fours with the Committee of Public Accounts Bill, and I do not need to explain its purpose at length. To show that the committee does not sit merely for the purpose of drawing fees, I may mention that for fifteen meetings held iu the last financial year, its members drew no fees and that of the £2,000 voted for the committee in the last financial year an unexpended balance of £1,100 was returned to the Treasury. The committee makes investigations only into works referred to it by the Government.
– It was not always that way inclined. On one occasion it paid a visit to Java without consulting the Government.
– !’ was not, a member of the committee then, lt is not functioning now because there has been no reference to it. It does not function unless a work is referred to it. From the date of its creation in 19.1.5 to the end of 1930, the total value of the works upon which it had reported was £26,5S6,000, upon which savings amounting to’ £5,000,000 had been affected. These included proposals to build a storage reservoir on the Queanbeyan river at, a cost of £100,000; to construct dams for ornamental waters at Canberra, at a cost of £912,481 aud to provide wharfage facilities at Darwin at a cost of £223,934. In many cases savings were brought about by the fact that after investigation the committee was able to suggest an alternative or an improvement to the proposed work. For instance, in respect of a proposal to carry a water supply to the Flinders Naval Base, the committee suggested a source of supply, which up to then, had never been men tioned by Commonwealth or State engineers. This suggestion was adopted, and the result was a direct saving of £61,000 to the Commonwealth.
Other savings affected were: - Remodelling of the Customs House, Sydney, £10,4S1; City West telephone exchange, Melbourne - by a modification of an air-conditioning plant - a capital cost of £3,000, and an annual saving of £300. A similar saving was brought about in the case of the automatic telephone exchange, Hobart. The committee’s report, delayed the work proposed to be carried out at the Henderson Naval Base, Western Australia, at an estimated cost of £4,529,109, and events since have shown that the work proposed to be undertaken was unnecessary. That amount is not claimed as an actual saving. Other instances of effected savings of from £300 to £400 help to make up a total in fifteen years of £5,000,000.
Apart from savings, valuable advice has been given to the Government of the day. Instances of this are the insistence on the disposal of the sewerage of Canberra at a point three miles outside the city, and an inquiry into a contract for the construction of wooden ships for the Commonwealth, which led to the discovery of certain structural defects, and at the same time relieved the Commonwealth of a liability of £135,200. Had the advice of the Public Works Committee in respect of many of the establishments in Canberra been followed the cost of this city would have been less. -Had the inquiry into the cost of roads recently constructed in Canberra been begun earlier thousands of pounds would have been saved to the Commonwealth in respect to construction alone. For this information I am indebted to the secretary of the committee.
Recently, a proposal to link Tasmania with the mainland by telephone connexion was referred to the committee, and a sectional committee was appointed to make inquiries, and report to the full committee. As a result of such economies, there was an unexpended balance of the special appropriation for the year of approximately £1,100. I was for twelve months or more a member of the committee, and I am satisfied that it does very valuable work. Take the case of the baths in Canberra. An honorable senator laughs, but he would not have laughed had the full £30,000 proposed to be spent on those baths been spent instead of some £11,000.
– That was a savi ng made by Mr. Christie when he was Commissioner.
– The reduced expenditure may have been suggested by Mr. Christie, but had the Public Works Committee not been functioning, Mr. Christie could not have placed his suggestion before it. Through the Public Works Committee alternative proposals were submitted, and as a consequence the Government saved something iu the vicinity of £20,000 on those baths. Much valuable work has been done by the committee. Of course, works not costing £25,900 are not referred to it. In connexion with Commonwealth works, there has never been the suggestion of graft that one occasionally hears rumours of in connexion with State works.
– No State has wasted money as it has been wasted in Canberra.
– While I do not agree with the idea of some honorable senators that Canberra has not justified its existence, the expenditure of money in Canberra is not a concern of the Public Works Committee.
I presume that the fate of this bill will be that of its predecessor, and that the activities of the committee will be stifled as much as possible, but the Public Works Committee is not in the same category as the Public Accounts Committee. Whilst the latter can decide what inquiries it shall make, the former cannot operate until it is instructed by the Government to make some investigation. It is possible that there may be a proposal in the committee stage to reduce the number of members from seven to five, and in that connexion, I point out to at least one honorable senator, that while there is a possibility of each State having representation on a committee of seven, that is impossible if the number of the committee is reduced to five. I trust that the bill will be passed without much alteration.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [9.30].- -In my judg ment, there was a poor case for the passing of the Committee of Public Accounts Bill, but there is none at all for this measure. The Assistant Minister (Senator Dooley) had a good deal to say about the expenditure of millions of pounds upon public works which have been inquired into by the Public Works Committee. If the Government contemplated heavy expenditure on works in the coming year, there might be some justification for the continuance of this committee; but, as we all know, it has no money to spend, so there can be no justification for the continuance of the committee, with the attendant expenditure for the secretary’s salary and clerical staff. The Minister has suggested that if we do not pass the bill some on ( will lose his job.
– That is not quite correct.
– If that is really the Government’s intention, let the Minister say so, and let us pass the bill, so that the Government can pay the secretary of this committee his salary of £750 a year less the percentage reduction effected under the Financial Emergency Act.
– The secretary is not without occupation to-day.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.Can the Minister say what particular work he is doing?
– He is doing other Commonwealth work.
– We heard the same vague statement in another place. I invite Ministers to be a little more explicit and tell us what work this officer is doing. As a representative of the taxpayers we arc entitled to this information before we vote for a bill to continue the payment of a salary of £750 a year to an officer who has no work to do in his present position. I do not propose to discuss the savings, in public expenditure which, it is alleged, have been effected as the result of recommendations made by the Public Works Committee.
– They are not alleged savings; they are actual savings.
– If the economies are not more substantial than the. alleged saving in connexion with the Canberra baths, then, I am afraid that the claim is somewhat lacking in substance. “We are asked to believe that there was a saving in expenditure on the Canberra baths, simply because the committee recommended an expediture of £11,000 instead of £30,000 ! And this at a time when essential public works iu the various States are held in abeyance because of the shortage of money. So serious is the position of the Commonwealth now that, if this committee is continued, it will not have an opportunity iu the coming year of recommending even such “ economical “ work as the Canberra baths, because the Government is without funds for expenditure on any public undertakings. In all seriousness, I ask that the committee be suspended for twelve months, so as to save the salaries of its officers.
– The Leader of the Opposition must admit, that if the Premiers’ plan is successful, we shall be able to spend money on public works before long.
Even the honorable senator is not s’i optimistic as to believe that the Commonwealth will be in a position to spend any money on public works within the next twelve months.
– I believe we shall.
– I am sure that the Government will not have money to spend on any public works for a long time to come. Assuming that the bill passes its second reading, I shall support Senator Dunn if he submits an amendment on lines similar to that proposed by him to the committee on the Public Accounts Bill, although I consider that, the right thing to do is to suspend the committee for twelve months.
, - I am not enthusiastic over the proposal that the committee should be abolished altogether, or that it should he given a holiday. Although I admit the force of the argument that its operations’should be suspended for the time being, there is much that can be said in favour of its retention. In considering a proposal of this nature, we should bear in mind the reputation of the committee in question, and give it credit for having rendered useful service to the Common wealth. No one can doubt that it has saved the taxpayers considerable expenditure on a number of public undertakings. This should be remembered in its favour. Also, if it is suspended, we shall get back to the dark days when a Minister simply issued his fiat that certain works were to b° undertaken, and nothing more could be said about the matter. If irewish to revert to that condition of affairs,, from which we emerged with a great deal of difficulty many years ago, then we should accept, the suggestion of- the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) and suspend or abolish this committee. But I do not. think that that should be done. If the Government has no money to spend on public works, the committee will not function, and its continuance will not involve the taxpayers in unjustifiable expenditure. In the circumstances, it would be just as well to retain the committee in its present form so that it may function normally again when, the finances of the Commonwealth improve. We might cut down its numerical strength, as was done with regard to the Public Accounts Committee, and save a certain amount of expenditure in that way. On the whole, I should be in favour of giving this committee a little more consideration than the Public Accounts Committee, because its responsibilities are much greater and of a different character. The Minister gave us some interesting information concerning the work of the committee, and spoke of the economies for which it has been responsible. I recall a substantial saving effected by it very many years ago in connexion with a water supply scheme for the Flinders Naval Base. I happened to be a member of the committee at that time, and I remember very clearly that, the original proposal involved an expenditure of £65,000. In those years money was flowing freely into the Commonwealth Treasury, so an expenditure of that amount Ava.s not considered out of the way; but upon examining the proposal iu detail, the committee considered that it would be difficult to justify that amount of expenditure, and at the suggestion of the present secretary, Mr. Whiteford, an examination was made of the water-shed which supplies the City of Melbourne. It was then ascertained that if a pipe line were laid from one section of the aqueduct to supply the intervening centres of population, it would he possible to give the Flinders Naval Base water without any capital expenditure at all on the part of the Commonwealth. A study of the scheme by Commonwealth and Victorian officials showed that it was not only feasible, but also most economical. Accordingly, as the result ofthe inquiry by the committee into that proposal, the Commonwealth was saved an expenditure of £65,000 - a sum sufficient to finance the committee for 30 years.Since we are entitled to judge the future by what has happened in the past, I suggest that, if the committee is permitted to function, it may effect similar savings on other proposals. I think we can reduce its numerical strength without impairing its usefulness, and thereby save a certain amount of expenditure. In these times we should take heed of what private enterprise is doing. Experienced business firms are retaining in their service a number of experienced employees, not because their employment is profitable, but because if they were dismissed after having rendered faithful service, it would be difficult to replace them when times became normal again. The Commonwealth should adopt the same common-sense procedure. It has been stated that the capita] value of works proposals examined by the PublicWorks Committee since its appointment amounts to £26,000,000. It is not too much to claim that the committee has effected substantial savings in that amount of expenditure.
– But is it likely to effect any saving in expenditure during the next twelve mouths?
– I do not suppose that it will ; but if it is allowed to function, it will be in a position to prevent the squandering of money on public works when we are in a position to undertake them. I fear that we may go to the other extreme in this insistent demand for economy. The people are not looking to this Government to save every 2½d. in its expenditure.
– Yes, they are.
– Not if such saving means a loss in some other direction. If that is the attitude of those honorable senators who favour the suspension of these committees,I think it is a penny wise and pound foolish policy. The Public Works Committee has rendered useful service to the taxpayers of this country. That being so, we should not lightly part with it, and get back to that condition of affairs when there was no check on ministerial expenditure. Above all, we should not get funky or get the “ creeps “ in this time of depression, nor should wo quail before the spectre that confronts us. On the contrary, we should buckle on our armour, clench our teeth, and go forward manfully to the work that is ahead of us. We should decide to keep this committee in skeleton form in the hope that, in the not distant future, it will again be in a position to give useful service to the Commonwealth.
– I wonder whether honorable senators opposite have ever heard of Satan reproving sin. The remarks that have come from some of them to-day have reminded me of the expression. To those who are familiar with its activities, the Public Works Committee needs no defence. I am not here to defend it, although I happen to be a member of it for the time being. On many occasions this committee has received the commendations of Parliament and the public. The committee consists of honorable members of both Houses, and usually includes representatives of every political party. It has done its work well in the past, and I am sure that it will do well any work given to it in the future. Membership of the Public Works Committee is no sinecure. I believe that the first Public Works Committee was appointed in 1913 or 1915, while I was doing a job on the other side of the world. In the light of the committee’s record - and I associate with it the Public Accounts Committee - I must say that the debate that has occurred in this chamber to-day has been somewhat childish. The Senate is trying to effect economies. I believe we all feel that economies should be made in public expenditure;but it is futile in the extreme to expect to make great economies in regard to these two committees.
I have said that the Public Works Committee needs no defence. If a defence were needed, one could find it in the history of the establishment of this city. I do not know who was responsible for the establishment of Canberra; I have never heard an honorable senator say a good word about the place. I have read the debates that occurred years ago in connexion with the establishment of the Federal Capital, and know something of how it .came into being ; but I also know that the Public Works Committee has been responsible for saving the Commonwealth many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pounds in connexion with the building 0f Canberra. I shall refer to only one or two instances in which savings have been made. It was proposed to build a weir across the Molonglo near Yarralumla, with the object of forming some artificial lakes, which were part of the original plan of the city. That proposal was referred to the officers of our public departments, and subsequently approved by Parliament; but when it was investigated by the Public Works Committee it was found to be unsound in many respects. Apart altogether from any financial consideration, it is a good thing for Canberra, that the weir was not built. Had the lakes been formed, it would have been necessary to maintain two or three dredges upon them in order to remove the silt brought down from time to time in the Molonglo. I also think that the lakes would have been the cause of a mosquito plague in Canberra. It is to the credit of the Works Committee that this scheme was not carried out.
It has been amusing to hear the remarks some honorable senators have made to-day. They have shown that they have very little knowledge of the subject with which they have been trying to deal. One would imagine from what has been said that the members of these committees draw enormous fees and live on the fat of the land. I have been a member of the Public Works Committee for two years, and I would willingly resign my position to-morrow in favour of any honorable senator who would like it. A sum of £2,000 is voted annually to provide fees and travelling allowances for the members of this committee. Last year the committee held five meetings in Sydney, probably four in Melbourne, and some in Canberra, which were attended - to use the language of the digger - “buckshee “, for funds had run out. The investigations on which the committee was then engaged had to be completed, and the members of the committee paid their own expenses in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. Last year no less a sum than £1,100 out of the £2,000 voted to the committee remained unexpended.
The committee, in making its investigation, obtains expert evidence from all available sources. This is very carefully considered before any report is made, i do not wish to make any derogatory observations in regard to the capabilities of Government, servants, but it is a good thing that the Public Works Committee has been able to obtain evidence from outside sources in regard to many projected public work3. I know that in consequence of its inquiries, very great actual, not fictitious, savings have been made. The members of the committee do not claim to be experts in any particular direction, but through the exercise of commonsense in the making of their inquiries they have been able to advise the Government to abandon certain projects, and to alter others with great advantage to the country. In these circumstances, I have been amazed to hear statements made to-day, which have been brim full of prejudice. A committee composed of nine or ten members is rather large. Probably a committee of five would be ideal ; but it would be difficult to give each House of the Parliament adequate representation on a committee of that size. A committee of six would make equal representation easy to give, but difficulties would be encountered iu regard to the chairmanship. It has been said that the chairman could he appointed by the Government, but that would not be very satisfactory. Unless the chairman had a casting, as well as a deliberative vote, the committee might become unworkable. In all the circumstances, I think a committee of seven should be appointed. We know from experience that sometimes it is difficult for members of the committee to attend meetings. Sickness, and duties elsewhere, make it awkward for members to leave their own district at times. Speaking from my experience as a member of the
Public Works Committee, I can say without hesitation that the object of the Committee is to do the very best possible for the country. Although we do not claim to be experts, we claim to bring commonsense to bear upon the subjects referred to us. We obtain expert evidence, weigh it carefully, and base our recommendations upon it. Parliament as a whole would not have the time to do work of this kind, and I say with all respect that even if it had the time it could not do the work with any greater ability than the members of the committee. The work of this committee is onerous and hard. An honorable member of another place said a few days ago that the fees drawn by members of these committees represented parliamentary perks. Speaking for myself, I say definitely that this year I have broken about even, balancing my committee fees against the expense which membership of the committee has involved me in. The year before last I was actually out of pocket, because of my membership of the committee. In these circumstances, I am quite willing to relinquish my share of the “ perks “ to whoever may wish to have them. I am sure that the criticism indulged in against this committee is based on defective information. Various references have been made by the Government to the committee, including the erection of automatic telephone exchanges. It has been suggested by an honorable member of another place that, a3 automatic exchanges erected in the different States are identical, there is no necessity to duplicate the inquiries. Those who make such a suggestion apparently overlook the fact that, although automatic exchanges may bc erected at North Sydney, Hurstville, Brunswick, Hobart, Maylands, in Western Australia, or in South Australia, the climatic conditions in the different centres vary to a remarkable degree, and an equipment which may be suitable in one State may be quite ineffective in another where the percentage of humidity is greater. The question of the most suitable air-conditioning and other plant must be, closely investigated. As a result of some of the inquiries which the committee has conducted, it has been able, notwithstanding the expert advice tendered by ©moors of the Postmaster-
General’s Department, to recommend savings amounting to from £200 to £300, and in others from £700 to £1,100. The committee has been able to justify its existence and has paid very fine dividends to the Commonwealth. -The last investigation which the committee conducted was in connexion with the establishment of telephonic communication between Tasmania and the mainland. The committee had to decide whether a wireless telephonic service or a submarine cable was preferable. In order to exercise economy, a sectional committee consisting of the chairman, the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Holloway), and myself, waa appointed. We visited Tasmania - unfortunately we did not call at King Island - and wo also sat in Melbourne. After an exhaustive examination of the propositions submitted to us by the departmental authorities, the sectional committee recommended to the whole committee a proposal which, in view of all the circumstances, it thought, was the most acceptable. The committee proved that such a service was necessary; but, unfortunately, it is at present beyond the financial resources of the Commonwealth. For the information of honorable senators, I may say that business men in Tasmania frequently find it more profitable to pay their return fare to the mainland, which costs £5 10s., to use the telephone rather than the cable to communicate with their agents in either London or Hamburg to obtain information, usually with respect to the fruit market. If they use the latter service, they have to send a code cable to which they receive a code reply, which may necessitate a further cable message. In the end it may cost more than a telephonic conversation, which amounts to some £9 for the first three minutes and £6 for each additional three minutes. Such conversations, to which travelling expenses between Tasmania and the mainland must be added, sometimes cost £20 or £30.
– I do not think the honorable senator is entitled to quote special cases of that nature in supporting the second reading of this bill.
– The information obtained by individual members of the committee with respect to the activities of the Common wealth, and departmental procedure, as well as personal acquaintance with the principal officers of Commonwealth departments which this involves, renders them more efficient to carry out their legislative work. Some honorable senators who are members of the party to which I belong have said that this is a wasteful and useless committee.
– Who said that?
– By inference, the right honorable senator did.
– No.I only said that no money was available to undertake works in connexion with which the committee could conduct an investigation.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) referred to this wonderful economy campaign, and as I said at, the outset, Satan reproving sin is not in it with those who have spoken to-night in the blessed name of economy. It would appear from what has been said to-day by some honorable senators that the members of the Public Works Committee and of the Public Accounts Committee occupy their positions for what they can get out of them. I wish them good luck. If they can show as good a dividend as did Denis Boy on Saturday last they are fortunate. I would be willing to resign my seat on the Public Works Committee to-morrow, because I have found that the work which membership entails seriously interferes with my duties to my constituents. As honorable senators are aware, the Public Works Committee must, under the act inquire into every public work the estimated cost of which exceeds £25,000. Parliament has neither the time nor the opportunity to conduct investigations such as those which are undertaken by the members of the Public Works Committee. Such committees are the eyes and ears of Parliament. The committee of which I have been a member for two years has adopted the practice of appointing sectional committees, consisting of three members, in order to reduce expenditure to a minimum. That system was adopted in connexion with two inquiries in Western Australia, and one in Tasmania. Although £2,000 was ap propriated to meet the cost of the committee last year, £1,100 of the amount allotted was not expended. From the remarks of some honorable senators, it might be inferred that the members of this committee are a hungry lot of sharks who, with mouths wide open, are anxious to take whatever is coming to them. That is absolutely incorrect, and shows the colossal ignorance of those who hold such an opinion.
– It is unparliamentary to refer to the “colossal ignorance “ of other honorable senators. It would be preferable to say that their information is inaccurate.
– It is inaccurate. I could, if necessary, show the extent to which the public revenue has been protected by the work of this committee. I have no wish to do that.Isuggest, however, that honorable senators should endeavour to make themselves conversant with the objects of these committees and the work that they do before setting out to slash them.
Debate (on motion by Senator O’Halloran) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator Dooley) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) [10.17]. - Senator Sampson just now spoke for a considerable time about some imaginary senator who had attacked the Public Works Committee, and who had accused its members of making money out of it and of various other things. I, by interjection, asked him to whom he referred, and his reply was that I had inferred such things.I trust that the honorable senator does not wish to misrepresent my attitude. If he is under any misapprehension, I shall be glad to furnish him with theHansard report of my speeches, and invite him to point to any utterance of mine which conveys that inference. The whole of my criticism of the Government’s proposal wasbased on the fact that, as there was no public money available for expenditure on works this year, there was no necessity for this committee.
.- Thisafternoon I asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Barnes) the following question : -
Whether William Patrick Foley, of 164 Bel- moreroad, Hurstville, Sydney, an applicant, as notified in the Commonwealth Gazette, for an hotel licence, Jervis Bay, Federal Territory, is known at the present time as William Patrick Foley, of164 Belmore-road, Hurstville, Sydney, by occupation paid organizer of a political party known as the Federal Australian Labour Party.
– Is that the Lang party?
– No; it is the Theodore-Scullin party. The answer that I received was not altogether to my liking. It was as follows: -
It is not proposed to take steps to obtain the information desired by the honorable senator, as thegranting of hotel licences in the Federal Capital Territory is a matter for determination solely by the Licensing Court o f the Territory.
I realize that. I understand that William Patrick Foley, who is a paidorganizer of the Australian LabourParty in Sydney, was the successful tenderer for the premises that he occupies, by virtue of the fact that he was the successful tenderer for these premises at Jervis Bay. Upon a perusal of the Commonwealth Gazette the other day, I found that the same William Patrick Foley was also an applicant for a licence at Jervis Bay. I am not making any accusation of graft. Foley is entitled to apply for a licence for any premises in respect of which he may be paying rent at Jervis Bay; but it is peculiar that a paid organizer of the political body which is known as the Scullin-Theodore Federal Labour Party, should be the successful tenderer for these premises at Jervis Bay, and should now be also an applicant for a licence at Jervis Bay.
.- In view of the success of the conversion loan that was raised in Australia, I should like to know what action the Government is taking with a view to obtaining the conversion of our overseas indebtedness. It is generally recognized that steps will have to be taken by the Government in the very near futureto obtain the conversion of our overseas indebtedness on terms similar to the conversion recently arranged in Australia. We know that, as a result of that conversion. Australian Mocks have risen considerably in London. The determined effort made by Australia to right its financial position has been witnessed with a good deal of satisfaction by our overseas creditors. A unique opportunity presents itself for representations to be made by the Australian Government, through either Mr. Collins, its financial adviser in London, or Sir Granville Ryrie, theHigh Commissioner.
– At what rate of interest?
– On the same basis as the conversion was recently arranged in Australia.
– The saving would be only one-quarter per cent.
– We may save only one-quarter per cent., but the period of repayment would be similar to that which now exists in Australia, and that is a far more important matter than the ram of interest which has to be paid. Australia’s internal finances having been put in order, not only by the Government, but also by the people, who have shown a commendable willingness to help Australia in her hour of need,the time is opportune to ask our creditors overseas to convert under similar conditions.I urge the Government not to allow the opportunity to pass without taking action.
– I assure Senator Foll that the question of our overseas indebtedness has not escaped the attention of the Government. The present Government came into office at probably one of the worst periods financially in the history of Australia. It was subjected to a good deal of criticism which, unfortunately, was not healthy from a financial point of view, cither internally or overseas; but it has worn down that criticism, and is extremely hopeful that as a result of the confidence displayed in it by the Australian people-
– It was not, a display of confidence in the Government.
– The success of the Premiers’ plan should not be jeopardized by such a suggestion. The Australian people showed their confidence in the Government by the manner in which they responded to the conversion loan.
– They showed confidence in their own country.
– Exactly; and in doing so, they took into consideration the class of men who were elected to govern them.
– The Senate saved the country from the Government.
– The Australian people attempted to assist the Government to save the country, but, unfortunately, a certain section of our community - in whose ranks, I regret to say, Senator E. B. Johnston is to be found - is prepared to wreck it.
– That is a shocking statement, and I ask for it to be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it. Although the Government is doing its best, it is given no credit by men like Senator E. B. Johnston. I assure Senator Foll that the Government is taking stops to right our position overseas. One of the most encouraging features-
– Is the Lang plan.
– The encouraging feature of that is that it assisted this Government to reduce interest. I am certain that, as the people overseas now realize that the Government has the confidence of the people in Australia, that it has been able to enter into an agreement with all political parties, and that with few exceptions all political differences have been settled, we shall be able to right our internal position, thereby beneficially affecting our external position. A conversion loan, or a righting of our position overseas by other means, I feel confident is absolutely assured.
– I entirely disagree with Senator Foil’s suggestion. I do not, think that the present is an opportune time to approach the British bondholders, and 1 certainly do not think that the method which he suggests is one which is most likely to prove of any great advantage to Australia. A reduction to 4 per cent. is not sufficient, and is not worth the trouble that would be involved in attempting to procure it. The British bondholders would probably refuse to subscribe to the proposed conversion loan unless strong inducements were held out to them in other directions. Consequently, we would get no great benefit in the long run.
As to Senator Daly’s statement about the results of the confidence created overseas by the Premiers’ plan, I am sceptical, because we shall stillbe millions of pounds behind the balancing of the budget. The much-boomed achievement.of the conversion loan have yet to bear the fruit which some people want to secure before it is ripe. I take this opportunity to say that the only reasonable method of securing a reasonable reduction in overseas indebtedness is not to plead with the British bondholders, but to put upto them what is known as the Lang proposal.
– That has already been done.
– It has been done bythe State, but it should be put up to them with the force of the Commonwealth behind it. We should say to them that unless they are prepared to convert our debt to a 3 per cent. rate of interest, or something close to that, we shall pay them no more interest until they come to terms. That would be-
– Call it what you like : we should accomplish our object with some substantial results instead of attempting to do it by means of the futile proposal put up by Senator Foll.
– How would we float our next loan ?
– I should not float a “next” loan. Excessive borrowing has been the curse of Australia, and has brought about its present position.
SenatorO’Halloran. - Why is Mr. Lang to-day borrowing to balance his budget ?
– These interjections are uselessly prolonging the debate and are out of order.
– Thank you, Mr. President. I am not concerned with what Mr. Lang is doing now. I am not fathering everything he proposes. I am simply stating that the plan he put forward to secure a lowering of the rate of interest payable to British bondholders is the only statesmanlike proposal which has been suggested in this connexion. I would never float another loan. If the credit of this country was handled on behalf of the country by the country, instead of by the rapacious private banks, we might secure the funds required without paying any interest. That, however, is a big question, and I do not intend to go into it any further to-night. But when honorable senators talk about repudiation they must admit that the proposals that have been made and carried into effect in Australia are repudiation. When we floated the so-called conversion loan we accompanied it with a threat.
– There was no threat.
– We accompanied it with a threat.
– It was not in the prospectus.
– Threats are not put in a bill. I wish the honorable senator would allow me to finish my sentence in my own way. When we floated this allegedly voluntary conversion loan we accompanied it with the implied threat that those who did not convert voluntarily would be made to do so. We have since taken steps to convert the implied threat into an actual fact. Whether that is justified or not is beside the point. It. is. I say, a measure of repudiation. If, when you agree to pay a certain rate of interest, you tell your creditor that you will not, do so, and that if he will not voluntarily lower the rate of interest you will lower it. for him, it is not repudiation, I do not know the meaning of the English language.
– Of course it is repudiation.
– That being so, why raise a cry at, a proposal to present an ultimatum to our creditors overseas who have already reaped a very large profit from the interest rates in past years, and who, with the fall in prices, have had the value of the interest they receive practically doubled? We shall be doing no more than getting back a little of our own by insisting on a reduction, as the Lang plan proposed, to the same rates of interest as was fixed by the American Government for the British war debt. I do not wish to pursue the subject any further beyond saying that the greater part of our overseas debt, other than the war debt, is the result of expenditure for other purposes, arising out of the war, for which we were compelled to borrow in other directions. In consequence, the greater part of our public debt overseas is virtually a war debt, or a debt incurred because of our share of the war expenditure, and I say that the Lang proposal would be not merely a justifiable proposition to put before the British bondholders, but one that would be prompt in its results, whereas we only shall be fooling with the subject if we adopt the suggestion put forward by Senator Poll.
– The point made by Senator Foll could quite usefully occupy the attention of the Senate. When we realize that every year over £40,000,000 leaves our shores for the payment of interest, including a big lump on account of the exchange position, and that, the rates of interest charged by our creditors in the Old Country are much above those which we are getting our local creditors to agree to, I think we should grasp an opportune time to place the position before the British bondholders. We should appeal to them as people interested in the welfare, prosperity, and development of Australia to share, to some extent as mortgagees of the country, in the same way that the ordinary mortgagee shares in every transaction. But we cannot appeal to them with any hope of success unless we can assure them that we propose to alter our ways completely and radically; that we propose to live within our income, intend to balance our budget, and get down to the successful working of this country without provoking those troubles that, in the past have led to a repression of production, and a stagnation and confusion such as existed in no other country but this. Let us, for an instant, compare the position of Canada with that of Australia. Canada, as a result of a different method of conducting public affairs, is in a most solvent and creditable position compared with Australia, which at one time in this respect was superior to Canada. To-day Canada can approach the Wall-street market and borrow at a little over 4 per cent., whereas Australia cannot be seen in the vicinity of that market. The reason is that Australia is now behaving differently. Until we canassure our public creditors that we proposeto alter our behaviour radically, I do not think we have very much chance of gettingthem to give us very much consideration. The responsibility rests on our shoulders, therefore, to assure them that we have learned a lesson as a result of what has happened in the past, and that we want to retrieve our credit by following the example of Canada, and living within our means, doing everything possibleto make production a maximum success.
– How can we do so when strike after strike takes place?
– That is just the point at, which I was aiming. Those who are occupying the Government benches to-day can help very much in this direction. I do not know any one who could wield so much influence as they can. When we on this side speak, our remarks are always subject to discount. We should not have fallen so low in the estimation of our creditors abroad if we had stood up to the job of developing this country properly and industrially aswe did until about 25 years ago. The late Lord Forrest floated a loan to complete the Coolgardie water scheme, and imme- diately the stock jumped to a premium of. The naked promise of a mere handful of people in Western Australia was better than gold. Why cannot the people of Australia get back to the habits and customs and industrious life of the people of Western Australia in those days, when their credit, stood so high?Until we get, back to those habits, and are not misled by people the result of whose efforts has been to bring the country to ruin, we shall rightly get no consideration from those who have lent us money in the past.
SenatorRae has said that our overseas indebtedness is due largely to the fact that we were obliged to borrow for purposes which would not have arisen if the war had not occurred. The war debt: of Australia overseas is only £80,000,000 to the Imperial Government. The balance of our overseas indebtedness is money which has been borrowed for the development of Australia. Much of it had been borrowed before SenatorRae entered the State Parliament in New South Wales about 40 years ago. for the construction of works, and at reasonable rates of interest. Those rates have not been reasonable lately, and they will not be brought down to a reasonable level until we put ourown house in order, or until we can assure the lenders that we intend to do so. It must be borne in mind that, when we borrowed this money, we badly needed it.I remember how Labour bars were thrown in the air when the first loan was raised by a Labour government. It was regarded as proof that the people had confidence in a Labour administration. And rightly so, too, because Labour was well behaved in those days. It had not launched upon that wild career which it has been pursuing in later years. In those days, its members did not give ear to those false prophets who, for so many years, have been preaching their doctrines in other lauds, and more recently have given their attention to this country. That is why our position in the London money market was once stronger than that of Canada ; that is why we are to-day far below the sister dominion in the estimation of financial authorities. We are in our present unfavorable position because we have not put our house in order. It is useless to ask for consideration until we do so, and prove to the world that we are worthy of it. Let us discontinue this beating of the air. Let’ us prove, by our behaviour as a nation, that we are justly entitled to consideration in the money markets of the world.
Senator E. B. JOHNSTON (Western entirely from the remarks made by Senator Daly.I did not make the statement which he attributed to me with regard to the conversion loan which was under discussion at the time. Its success was due entirely to the fact that the people of Australia had confidence in this country in spite of the present Government. If Ministers wish to ascertain the measure of confidence which the electors have in them, let them appeal to the people for an expression of opinion upon this subject. I not only invite, but I also challenge them to go before the people. If they accept this invitation, I suggest that they put before the electors their real political programme, which includes unification, high tariffism, the maintenance of the sugar embargo, and the abolition of the Senate. If they do this, 1 have no doubt as to the result. With regard to the Premiers’ plan, about which we have heard so much, the responsibility for its success or failure rests entirely upon the shoulders of the government that adopted it. I have no time for the action of Ministers who present a policy to members of another place, where they havea majority, and than when they find that it is beginning to fail, largely because they declined to accept the report of the economists in its entirety, endeavour to fix responsibility upon leaders and members of other political parties upon whom they really depend to put their policy into operation. If, within the last two years, the Senate has thwarted this Government, and prevented it from giving effect to its policy, why have they not appealed to the country? It is true that we have prevented the Government from bankrupting this country by refusing to adopt its financial policy, which meant an alteration of the currency system, and Ministers now endeavour to persuade the people that they would have been able to do much for them but for the action of this chamber. I repeat that if they feel so strongly against the Senate in the matter, there is open to them a proper constitutional course, namely, an appeal to the people by means of a double dissolution. The fact that they have not taken this course is proof that even they realize that the Senate was quite justified in its attitude towards those measures.
. -Senator J ohnston, who has twitted the Government with failing to appeal to the people in. support of its policy, may,to his surprise, be accommodated, and the result may not be quite to his liking. At all, events, the honorable senator will not be able to get away from the fact that he voted against the Government’s propositi to pay to our farmers a guaranteed price of 4s. a bushel for their wheat. Senator Dunn this morning submitted a question with reference to the granting of an hotel licence at Jervis Bay. He has just told the Senate that he was not satisfied with the reply given. I remind the honorable senator that members of the Ministry cannot run about from place to place to establish the identity of applicants. The honorable senator also made some reference! to “graft” in regard to the application for the hotel licence for Jervis Bay. No doubt the honorable senator, being well-informed of recent happenings in New South Wales, as most of us are, suspects “ graft “. If that was in the honorable senator’s mind he might tell us if that applied to the appointment of Mr. Kay to the New South Wales Meat Board. I can assure him that there has been no graft in connexion with the leasing of the Jervis Bay property.
– I rise to a point of order.I made noaccusation of graft in connexion with any Commonwealth department. I therefore ask that the Minister be called upon to withdraw that statement.
– IfI heard the honorable senator aright,he said that there was no graft.
– But, clearly, the honorable senator’s remarks contained that implication that there was some “ graft “ attached to the business. I know nothing about Mr. Foley. I approved of his tender because it was the highest. All the tenders are open for inspection. The LicensingBoard will decide whether or not he is eligible for a hotel licence. If Senator Dunn wishes to find out where Belmore-road is, I assume that he will have no difficulty in doing so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.55 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 20 October 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1931/19311020_senate_12_132/>.