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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) (4:17 PM) .- I endorse the concluding remarks of the previous speaker. There has probably not been during the last seventeen years one all-night sitting against which 1 have not uttered a protest.

Mr Coleman - This is the worst of the lot.

Mr FENTON - I believe that it is. I have always protested most vociferously, whether I have supported the Government or have been opposed to it, against all-night sittings. Unfortunately, governments appear to consider that it is absolutely essential, if business is to be put through, for the exhausting system of all-night sittings to be adopted. It is a great pity that millions of voters are not able to view the proceedings in this House during a protracted sitting lasting from 30 to 40 hours, such as Ave have had .on this and previous occasions. Members are physically and mentally weary, and almost fall asleep whilst they are transacting the business of the country. Unhappily, financial transactions are those which are most frequently considered during these very long sittings. It is time that some sensible person evolved a scheme that would not only obviate physical and mental exhaustion, but also enable the business of the country to be carried out in a manner commensurate with the emoluments which honorable members receive, and the opportunities they have to conduct their business. I am not accustomed to the use of strong language, but it is undeniable that during these fatiguing and protracted sittings men become easily irritated, and act in a fashion that is not conduce to the harmonious conduct of public business. I hope that the Government will have sufficient common sense to bring forward only a limited number of measures, so that they may be thoroughly investigated and discussed, and perhaps passed, before the Christmas vacation; and instead of adjourning for two or three months we might very well meet early in the new year and proceed Avith the legislative work that has been altogether too long delayed. It is a scandal, in a country like Australia, that the doors of Parliament should 'be shut, and the transactions of Ministers and departments be practically immune from a sensible investigation. Unless that procedure is altered, Ave shall have to go out among the electors and endeavour to arouse them to such a pitch of resentment that they will demand from parliamentarians efficient service in return for the emoluments they receive and the privileges they enjoy. In these unnatural conditions there is always the possibility of words being uttered Avith an effect similar to that which would be caused by the dropping of a spark in a powder magazine. Those who are usually most affable anc amiable are likely to act in a manner that is reminiscent of the vigorous physical combats that may be witnessed in some of our stadiums. We have had placed in our hands a volume containing 400 foolscap pages of figures that we are expected to analyse item by item. What opportunity have we had to do so ? Early this morning Ave were given an hour .and a quarter in which to consider two of the most important departments of State, those of the Prime Minister and Treasurer. We have long been clamouring for a reduction in expenditure. A perusal of the Estimates will convince honorable members that increases have been provided in practically every direction. I do not contend that some are not justified.

We are at present considering the Department of Trade and Customs. Complaint has been made regarding the manner in which the members of the Tariff Board have been meandering into preserves that are not theirs, although their investigations in relation to our industries are sufficiently comprehensive and farreaching to occupy the whole of their time. When we find them intruding in the domain of arbitration and reporting upon wages and conditions of labour, it is time we told them to mind their own business, and to carry out the work for which they were appointed. I testify to the wonderful service that was rendered to Australia by that very excellent customs officer who departed this life a few months ago. He was associated with quite a number of the tariff schedules that have been considered by this parliament. I am pleased that his place as chairman of the board has been taken by one of the most able men we have ever had in the Customs Department. The salary that is provided for the chairman of the board is £1,400 a year. Travelling expenses show an increase from £1,272 to £1,700. I believe there are four members, in addition to the chairman, and each receives fees totalling' £1,000 a year. In their report I understand that a request was made, or a hint given, that they be placed on a fixed salary, with expenses. I am not aware of the number of hours that they work, and do not wish to be unfair to them; but it appears to me that they are being very well catered for in regard to salaries, fees, and expenses. So long as they confine themselves to the duties for which they were appointed, not very much complaint will be made against them. We know that some industries are languishing, and that an inquiry ought to be made into their conditions. It would be far better if the board wore to investigate those conditions and make recommendations to the Minister instead of wandering into the industrial domain and interfering with matters that are not their concern. 7. hope that the new chairman will not. follow in the old groove. He is up to date in his ideas, and wonderfully alert. I expect the business of the board to be transacted in a much more expeditious way, and a thorough investigation made of our industries. I believe that he will keep his fellow members on the right track, and prevent them from treading upon dangerous ground.

I repeat .the complaint that I make annually, when the opportunity is afforded to me regarding the payment of over £75,000 for the rent of buildings throughout the Commonwealth. Surely it is time that the Commonwealth erected buildings in which the business of its various departments might be conducted! I understand that provision for the housing of many departments has been made in Sydney; but in the other capital cities it will be found that the Government is paying excessive rents. It should purchase its own sites and erect its own buildings. The amount which is now paid in rent would go a long way towards meeting the interest on the capital expenditure. The amount has been increased in one year from £58,393 to £75,715. The honorable the Minister appears to be fatigued, but it is his own fault. It is disgraceful that we should be called upon to sit continuously for 35 to 40 hours, and to rush through this enormous expenditure without adequate discussion. It is about time that disgraceful state of affairs was ended. Instead of setting an example to the' community, we are becoming a laughing stock, merely because of the tactics of this Government.

Sir Elliot Johnson - I have heard something like that before.

Mr FENTON - And the honorable member will hear it again. I remember the honorable member himself making similar complaints when he was in opposition. On pages 272 and 273 of the Estimates, provision is made for the expenditure of millions of pounds which will not be properly discussed by this Parliament.

The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) frequently complains about the levies placed upon our population by the tariff imposed by this

Parliament. Those levies are comparatively small when compared with the enormous amount of interest which our* people have to pay. The States and Commonwealth have to pay a combined annual interest bill of £25,000,000, which means, for the average family of three, an imposition of £S 12s. a head, or £43 for a family of five.

Mr Gregory - When the additional tariff is superimposed it represents a very big bill.

Mr FENTON - Many of us have protested for many years against this huge accumulated interest bill, which represents one of the biggest drags on the community. We should go through this expenditure, page by page, actuated by a non-party spirit, in the endeavour to remedy matters. If that were done, 1 am confident we should save the country millions of pounds, without imposing any handicap on any one.

Mr Gregory - Yet nearly every honorable member would continue to ask for more concessions.

Mr FENTON - The honorable member is in the same category. I did not hear him protest when this Parliament passed the special vote for Western Australia.

Mr Makin - Does the honorable member for Swan favour a duty on maize, potatoes, and onions?

Mr FENTON - If there is one man in political life whom I despise it is the one industry protectionist. The honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Seabrook) asks for a high duty on apples. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson) wants a prohibitive duty on onions, while the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Hill), who is a freetrader on every other item, wants a prohibitive duty on canned fruits: I remind the honorable member for Swan that we have done the right thing by the sugar industry of Queensland.

Mr Gregory - That is not so.

Mr FENTON - That country has been populated by white people who have created a magnificent industry. When it becomes necessary to support any similar effort, I shall stand behind it wholeheartedly. This Government is too prone to patronize the industry of foreigners.

Mr Hill - Will the honorable member quote an instance where we have patronized the foreigner.

Mr Makin - What about the £100,000 worth of radium, which was purchased abroad and the Australian industry overlooked ?

Mr FENTON - If the Government fails to set an example, how can we expect the rank and file to support our own industries? The present Victorian Labour Government has issued instructions to each of its departments that wherever practical and reasonable they shall purchase Australian goods. That policy will give employment to thousands of Australians, and will encourage our manufacturers.

I hope that the work-shops of the Postal Department will be extended to every capital city, and manufacture the requirements of the department. We have most of the raw material that is needed, and there are many young men in the department who have invented improvements better than those imported from overseas. They should be given additional scope. The trouble with this Government is that it is composite, and too frequently the tail wags the dog; but, notwithstanding its composite character, I trust that it will endeavour to foster Australian industries and ' so assist to create employment for our workers.

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