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Wednesday, 12 May 1920

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) . -I appeal to the Committee to pass this proposal in the form in which it is presented. All that the Government have sought to do since we last met is to try to give shape to certain safeguards that are necessary if this is to be a workable scheme.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - The Government have safeguarded it all right.

Mr.Tudor. - So that not one man will be able to get a penny.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Such observations are perfectly idle; no fairreading of the alternative clause would justify any such language. The idea of the honorable member for Capricornia, as originally proposed, is retained in this alternative proposition. All that it is proposed to do is to frame a set of workable conditions under which that idea can be carried into effect.

Mr McDonald - Could not that have been done by regulation under the original clause?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - That is precisely what the Committee objected to. The Committee said that it desired to know exactly what was proposed to be done. Here is an effort to satisfy the Committee, and yet it meets with objection. I hope we shall get back to the consideration of this matter on reasonable lines.

Mr Gibson - It is only fair that we should have time to consider the Government's alternative proposal.

Mr Hill - Give us an opportunity to digest it.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - The honorable member knows that there is nothing novel in it.

Mr Gibson - It makes provision for only 1,666 men.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I propose, if I may, to deal with that matter. It is time that something was said of the finances of the Commonwealth. The House itself seems to me to be getting into an irresponsible mood regarding finance. We have ever so many economy propositions, yet every day I hear from all round the. House suggestions, the carrying out of which would involve an expenditure of millions of pounds. And these suggestions come from, the very men who are most clamant for economy. I would remind the Committee that the financial outlook is very serious.

Mr McDonald - Why did not the Minister say so at the outset, instead of coming down with this alternative scheme?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I am saying so, and this further amendment says so in the plainest terms. It says in effect that there is a limit to which we can go, even in connexion with so desirable an objective as the repatriation of our soldiers. The Government would' like to go quite as far as would any honorable member in that direction. This Sill is not necessarily a law of the Medes and Persians. It can develop just as the whole scheme of repatriation has done. This Bill represents a stage in the evolution of the scheme. As experience shows more and more to be necessary, more and more can be done. The Bill imposes upon us quite enough financial obligations for the immediate outlook, and these limitations are imposed so that we may know exactly what we are facing. That is necessary in the interests of the financial position of the country.

Mr Fenton - The best way to relieve the financial position is to produce more.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I am perfectly certain that my honorable friend, sitting just where he is, could cause millions to come out of the ground instanter. I am quite unable to do that. I could speak as the honorable member has done, but that would not give us the cash; it would not help us to face the liabilities outstanding at the present time.

May I remind honorable members that the Bill as it stands is far more liberal than the soldiers themselves expected, a great deal more liberal than any promises that were made to them at the general elections, when a specific limitation was placed on the amount to be devoted to the purposes of this Bill. The Government cannot allow itself to be committed to an unlimited expenditure in regard to this Bill, or any other. The financial outlook is too serious for that.

Mr Hill - Do you not think that the limit that has been fixed is too low?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - No; though if it proved too low, proposals to increase it could be made later. I ask my honorable friends to get this scheme into operation, and if it is proved that more money can be usefully and reproductively .spent on these lines, the Government can always be asked for it. The Bill is much more liberal than was intended. According to the Prime Minister's pronunciamiento to the country, the expenditure under it was to be £650,000, but the increase in war pensions alone, for which it makes provision, will run into at least £1,250,000, and there are many other increases. We must pull up somewhere. Certain proposals may be justified on their abstract merits, and when regarded apart from their relation to the Bill as a whole; but I beg honorable members to consider what the measure involves financially, and I ask them to say whether it does not make a generous contribution for the welfare of the soldiers.

May I remind honorable members of a few of the commitments of this new Parliament? It may seem to some honorable gentlemen a small thing to ask for an increase here or there, but if they ever have to find the money for the whole, they will experience great difficulty in doing so. 'The War Gratuity Bill will increase our interest expenditure next year 'by £1,500,000, and we shall want another £1,500,000 to- meet other increases in interest on expenditure on behalf of soldiers or their dependants. In this Bill the war pensions are increased by £1,250,000; the slight increase that has been made in the old-age pensions will add £750,000 to the bill for next year and it looks as though the awards of the Courts would increase our expenditure by another £750,000. It is estimated, too, that the expenses of the Repatriation Department will run to another £1,000,000 next year.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - But there is the money that you will get through the Customs House next year.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - We shall need it all, and a great deal more. I have enumerated only four or five of the outstanding increases of expenditure. They will magnify our expenditure for next year by between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000. Then there is a clamour for an increase in the postal expenditure. What that increase will be I cannot pretend to say. Again, the cost of running all the Departments will increase, because of the rise in the price of materials, upkeep, and everything else that makes living more expensive. Will honorable members tell me where we are to get all the money that we shall need?

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - -From the profiteer.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - All we have been able to get from the profiteer this year is about £2,000,000.

Mr Tudor - The honorable member is referring to the war-time profits tax, but that has ceased now.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It really lapses at the end of this year, but we shall get some revenue from it next year. Apparently next year our expenditure may be anything between £7,000,000 and £9,000,000 more than this year, and the increase will be due nearly entirely to the war and the consequent repatriation of the soldiers. Yet I am told by honorable members that we should spend still more heavily. Dp not they see that our financial condition will nob permit us to do so? We must keep within our means and resources. No doubt were I in Opposition, I could criticise the Pill as effectively as its opponents are doing, because it is easy to criticise and to say that this and that should be done. But we have to make up our minds as to what is a fair thing under all the circumstances, and having regard to the difficulty of getting the money that will be needed, I cannot regard proposals for expenditure as though they related to water-tight compartments. I have to consider them in relation to the finances generally; and our expenditure is mounting to a figure that is becoming appalling. This year, in connexion with repatriation, we shall spend something over £8,000,000 on land settlement, £5,000,000 on housing, £500,000 on postal arrangements, and another £500,000 on advances to the States to provide employment.

Mr Hector Lamond - That wants looking into.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - It all want3 looking into. Vocational training, sustenance, furniture, tools, medical treatment, &c, will cost nearly £5,000,000. Altogether we shall have to spend about £19,250,000 upon the soldiers and their dependants.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How much is spent in sustenance?

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - I think about £2,000,000.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When I put clown the amount at that figure last week, Senator Millen said that mine was an overestimate.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Well, it may be incorrect. I cannot tell the honorable member the exact amount now. The item given to me covers vocational training, sustenance, furniture, tools, medical treatment, and so forth, and runs into £4,700,000 for the year.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - Never mind sustenance - never mind details. The outlook for next year is £21,000,000 for those same purposes, and for war pensions next year our liability is between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000, and it is more likely to be nearer £7,000,000. I invite honorable members to keep these facts in mind when they so readily make proposals for expenditure of one kind or another. We have to '' bring up " somewhere - there is some limit - if we are to keep within our compass and our means. I suggest strongly that to-day we arc doing a fair and generous thin,; by 'these men. We cannot possibly do what honorable members suggest by the implications of their speeches. We cannot set every man up in business, or give him chances, other than his own calling affords. No country could afford to do that, and no country has attempted it. In these respects we have done more than any other country on the globe.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - That is a question; the Australian insurance was a fraud in comparison with that in America.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - There is no question about the matter.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - I should like to see the data placed on the table.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for the Navy) - There is no manner of doubt, in my judgment, and the honorable member will find that what I say is right. We have the prospect of having to raise, in addition to revenue, about £30,000,000 in fresh loan moneys during next year. Altogether, I tell honorable members the financial outlook is just as serious as it can be. Our revenue is coming in well, and our financial position is sound, but it requires careful handling. We can -just as easily make a mess of things as not, unless we stiffen ourselves to meet the financial obligations which are peaking up at so rapid and acute a rate. This year we are coming to the apex; we have been steadily climbing up year by year, and to-day we are getting to the top. I therefore suggest to honorable members that they do not push their proposals any further, for we cannot afford to carry them out until we shape ourselves differently, and see what the outlook is likely to be in the near future. We have as big a load as we can conveniently carry, and I beg honorable members to accept the Bill as it is - to accept it as a fair and generous contribution on the lines promised at- the elections and since. On the whole, it is a Bill and a proposal which I believe fairly satisfies the soldiers as a whole. I hope honorable members will do nothing to-day, or at any other time, to jeopardize our proposals or overload them in any unreasonable way, having regard to the obligations we have to face in the near future.

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