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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) . - The Development and Migration Commission was appointed some time back, and we have now its first annual report. I have great respect for the members of that commission I recognize that they are able men ; but I think they are taking on more than they can perform. If the commission goes on as it has begun, it will, in a year or two, . be costing as much as all the other departments put together. For its first year's operations it has already cost over £99,000, and this year £143,000 is on the Estimates. Its first report is before us now, and there is no justification for issuing a report of that kind. There is hardly anything new in it, and it is not right to add to thecost of the department by printing stuff like this. Much of the information has already been before Parliament in other reports, and has been discussed by honorable members. The whole report could have been compressed into three or four sheets. It sets out the purpose of the commission, its personnel, powers and functions, and contains a general survey of the word it proposes to do. But then it goes on, and gives great quantities of information, such as the position in regard to the home markets, dried fruits, &c, with which honorable members are already familiar. Here is an article in the Age of the 24th November, 1927, dealing with this commission. The article refers to the presentation of the commission's first annual report for the period ending the 30th June, 1927, and then comments adversely on the report. The article goes on to say -

They claim that a perusal of their report will disclose " the many and varied phases of Australia's problems which they have been called upon to investigate." In that remark, they unwittingly lay their finger on the supremely weak spot. The commissioners may investigate Australian problems ad infinitum. But to make substantial contributions to the solution of all of them is bound to be beyond them. . . . This report will deepen rather than dispel the conviction that the Development and Migration Commission is spreading itself far too widely out. It threatens to overflow into other departments where it has no right to interfere. The report includes a mass oi minutiae relating to matters which are strictly none of its business. As a commission, however, it is now with us; it is an integral part of the nation's administrative scheme. But it will be a monument of futility unless it applies itself much more concentratively.

I agree with what is stated in that article. At the time this Commission was appointed I said that, while we were opposed to migration until we could provide work to absorb the new-comers, we did not object to the appointment of a commission, provided it did the work set out, namely, to discover means by. which we could absorb the people coming from overseas. The commission has recommended schemes which will cost, about £5,000,000, and already nearly £3,000,000 worth of work has been approved; but the commission has not been instrumental up to the present in bringing one immigrant to Australia. Commissions of this kind start in moderate way, and then often extend their operations to every part of Australia, and even to Great Britain, so that in a few years we find that they are costing the country hundreds of thousands of pounds. There would have been just as many migrants arriving in Australia if no commission had ever been appointed, and under this agreement, by which we are spending £34,000,000, it is costing more per head to bring migrants to Australia than it did before. We are not justified in allowing migrants to come to Australia while we have thousands of our own people unemployed. The commission should evolve schemes whereby the new-comers might be absorbed without adding still further to the prevailing unemployment. The Labour party is not opposed to bringing people to Australia. We think it necessary to have more population; but the first necessity is to ensure that there shall be work for them to do when they arrive. The commission should be instructed to prepare a practical land settlement scheme, by which something could be done within the next year or two. I have nothing to say against the chairman, or the other members of the commission, personally, but we must take care that they do not run riot with public funds. The expenditure is growing too rapidly.

Mr Coleman - The test of their usefulness is the number of persons they place on the land and the extent to which they increase production.

Mr CHARLTON - That is so. Some time may elapse before concrete results are obtained. The commission should concentrate on two or three specific undertakings, and get them done, so that it will have something to show for its heavy expenditure. At present it seems to be attempting numerous tasks which threaten to cause overlapping, and none of them will be completed within the next four or five years. I am inclined to think that we gave this body too much power. Immediately a board or commission is appointed, it grows into a department,, and there is danger of extravagance. I hope that the members of the commission and the Government . will heed .what I have said. The commission should try to accomplish something useful before it roams all over the globe. It may be doing good work at the present time; but it should complete some of its investigations. If it is desired to absorb more migrants, let the commission provide work for them. While I have a high regard for the members of that body personally, I shall not hesitate to draw attention to the danger of their involving the Commonwealth in very heavy expenditure.

Mr Coleman - The commission will probably cost £1,000,000 in another five years.

Mr CHARLTON - If it goes on at the present rate it will be as expensive to maintain as this Parliament.

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