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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr COLEMAN (Reid) .- This committee has now been sitting for twenty-nine hours continuously, and I do not intend to take up much time with my remarks because, personally, I am completely exhausted, and I marvel at the physical endurance of many of my colleagues on this side of the chamber. The time allotted for the discussion of the Estimates is wholly inadequate. These proceedings savour of a glorified farce with the Prime Minister in the leading role. In the circumstances, it makes one doubt the usefulness of an institution conducted as this Parliament is at the present time. One of the chief duties of Parliament is to exercise control over the finances of the nation, but on this occasion we are not being given an opportunity to perform that duty. Dozens of the items included in the Estimates call for explanation by Ministers, but no explanations are forthcoming because there is not sufficient time. As the Health Estimates are now under discussion, I suggest that some allocation should be made to compensate honorable members for the physical injury they have sustained in the course of this endurance contest, which has now lasted for 29, and will extend to 35 house. There are old men in this House, and some young men suffering from disabilities of various kinds, and the present procedure resembles that of the sweat shops of Flinders-lane in the way in which members and officials of the House, including the Hansard staff, have been kept in attendance during this prolonged sitting.

Had time permitted I intended to deal with the question of war service homes. The advances for these homes are limited, for general purposes, to £800, but in special cases it is possible to Secure advances of £950.. Even that amount is totally inadequate. The War Service Homes Commission's report practically admits that the advances are not sufficient. The Minister should give some indication of the Government's policy in this regard, and should state whether there is any intention to increase the adcances. If time permitted, I should move that the item be reduced by £1 in order to draw attention to the inadequacy of the advances.

Then there is the subject of repatriation. The Returned Soldiers' Conference which recently met, has urged the Government to institute a War Service Appeals Board. Such a board would, in my opinion, remedy a great many of the difficulties which have arisen in the administration, of this scheme. It has been impossible in the time at our disposal to give proper consideration to the Estimates. The discussion so far has been mostly confined to the trade balance, unemployment, and our languishing industries, in accordance with the terms of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition. The restriction of debate on the estimates is a political outrage calculated to reduce the prestige of this Parliament in the eyes of' the people of Australia. May I direct attention to the attitude of the Prime Minister when, in his elegant style, with his best Cambridge manner, and in the tone of a grand seigneur, he asked us to point out where economy could be effected in the administration of the nation's affairs. Yet when the Estimates are under consideration, no time is afforded us in which to make the very suggestions for which he asked. Many honorable members have left to visit their States on urgent public business, believing that a reasonable time would be allowed, in accordance with the established practice, to discuss the items of the Estimates, but no such opportunity has been given.

Take one item in the Estimates from the department of the Minister for Works and Railways- that dealing with the Governor-General's establishment. That item was £11,3SS in 1926-27, but estimated expenditure for 1927-28 is £15,470. There is also a suggestion that the Governor-General is to acquire a residence in Melbourne. Already reference has been made in this chamber to the enormous waste in the re-construction of Yarralumla. I am casting no reflection on the Governor-General ; the responsibility belongs to the Government. At Yarralumla there has been erected a tworoomed, weather-board bungalow, with an iron roof, at a cost of £5,500, and the value, at the very outside, is not more than £2,500. Some explanation should be given of that item. The Estimates for the two most important departments, those of the Prime Minister and of the Treasurer, were rushed through the House in the early hours of the morning with hardly any discussion. Such a proceeding is absolutely preposterous.

Reference has been made in the course of this debate to the new tariff schedule. Honorable members on this side of the House are always prepared to give credit to the Minister for Tradeand Customs (Mr. Pratten) for trying to do whatever he can, surrounded as he is by obstructionists in his own party, tohelp Australian industry. Nevertheless, his action in varying the incidence of' Imperial preference calls for an explanation. Where factories have been established here, whether for the manufactureof motor cars or other articles, andwhether by American or other interests, they should be placed on a fairer basisthan will be possible under the incidence of the new customs duties. The- new tariff schedule is a specimen of anaemic fiscalism. The mountain has been a long time in labour, and has brought forth a mouse. Instead of the progressive tariff policy for which we were looking, we have been given a pernicious compromise based on the conflicting demands of the free-traders and the protectionists in the ranks of the Government's supporters. It will earn the condemnation of all sections of industry

I rose principally to protest against these farcical proceedings. They are farcical even in the minds of honorable members opposite, who themselves have suffered because of the application of the guillotine, and should at least assist honorable members who sit on this side to see that our debates are conducted in a rational manner, under decent conditions. The Lord High Executioner should he prevented from applying the guillotine. Next week we shall be called upon to consider the tariff and other controversial matters. It is positively unfair to expect honorable members to return' to Canberra on Monday, after this exhausting experience, and discuss tariff proposals, no matter how meagre they may be.

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