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Wednesday, 29 August 1906

Mr McCOLL (Echuca) . - I was surprised to hear the Minister say that if honorable members will give him an opportunity he will explain his position. If he has an explanation ready,I wonder that he has allowed the afternoon to be wasted. After the discussion which took place on Friday, I expected him to give honorable members information directly the Bill got into Committee in regard to the various questions which were then raised. I have no sympathy with the direct opposition to the measure, which I shall support, and try to make as perfect as possible, although it is not quite as I should like to have it. The Minister asks us to place at his absolute disposal, without any check at all, the sum of £500,000. That is virtually the meaning of the clause, read in conjunction with clause 7. But, as trustees for the public, we have a right to see that expenditure is properly safeguarded, and we should not be fulfilling our obligations to those whom we represent if we did not ask how it is proposed to distribute the bounties. The honorable members for Darling and Moira say that it is reasonable to assume that such and , such things will be done, to which the Minister assented, but why does he not tell us what is to be done. I should like to ask him a few questions in regard to this matter. In the first place, what is to be his system of administration? Has he any scheme in his mind ? Who is to supervise the proposed expenditure? Is it to be done by the Customs officials or by the officials of the States Departments? If it is to be done by the latter. I should like to know whether they have been consulted as to the lines to be followed? And I desire information as to the probable division of duties between Commonwealth and States officials ? To-day the Minister resented very strongly an allusion to a promise made by him to consult the Victorian Minister of Agriculture on a certain matter, saying that he would not consult any State Minister.

Sir William Lyne - I did consult him.

Mr McCOLL - I know that the Minister showed resentment when the matter was mentioned. Have the authorities, of the States been consulted in regard to these proposals, and, if so, have they promised to work in harmony with the Commonwealth Government? Furthermore, we should know, what are the conditions under whichthe bounties will be paid. It is all very well to say that these are things to be arranged hereafter; but we should have some information before voting the money. Judging from their attitude towards the measure, the Government do not care whether it passes or not. On Friday last the Minister of Trade and Customs left it in charge of a colleague who, although ready to meet the Committee, knew little about the details concerned, and had not the necessary authority to commit the Government in any direction. I was a member of the Victorian Legislature when £250,000 was voted for the encouragement of agriculture in various ways, and as the greater part of that sum was absolutely wasted, only the bounties for the encouragement of dairying being a success, the experience makes me cautious on this occasion. I deprecate the action of the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General, and others in referring to those who have asked for information in regard to the Bill as being actuated by the desire to waste time and to postpone the passing of the measure. Tf the Government had given honorable members a fair statement of their intentions in regard to the measure it would have been passed without trouble. Nine out of every ten honorable members are in favour of the Bill, and yet we have been discussing it for several days, because of the crude, unprepared manner in which its proposals have been submitted to us.

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