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Tuesday, 13 October 1931

Mr PROWSE (Forrest) .- I congratulate the Government on bringing down these two bills, but I cannot support the amendment of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) that the committees be abolished. I am not, at present, a member of either committee, but I have been a member of one, and I recognize the value to this country of the work they do. I notice that those who have most to say against the committees, and are most in favour of their abolition, know least about them. The mover of the amendment said that he knew nothing about them, so that, on his own admission, he is totally unqualified to criticize them. The honorable member for Warringah heartily supported the sale of the Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers, because they were costing the country £500,000 a year. The proposal for their sale was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee, which reported in favour of it. The honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman) referred to that matter. I agree with the statement of the case submitted in this House by the present Chairman of the Accounts Committee. When I was a member of that committee, we had occasion to inquire into matters pertaining to war service homes. If all the facts regarding that matter were known, honorable members would admit that, as a result of the inquiry, hundreds of thousands of pounds were saved, particularly in regard to tim ber contracts. It is impossible for the Government, without the assistance of such committees, to examine as closely as is necessary, the expenditure of large sums of money. These committees are the cheapest machinery the Federal Parliament possesses. The sum of £2,000 a year allocated for their expenditure is a mere bagatelle compared with the good they accomplish. The committees are appointed on non-party lines, being selected from all parts of the House and, because of their constitution are able to prevent log-rolling in connexion with contracts. They have a most steadying effect, and any sensible government should be glad to have the advice of a body of men who are able to call before them the most able witnesses in the Commonwealth, and who can make a close inquiry into the books and accounts of firms with which the Government is concerned. The work of these committees is of inestimable value to the people of Australia. The proposal that the membership of these committees should be reduced to seven is a reasonable one. Occasionally, a member may abuse his privileges by attending merely for the sake of the fees to be collected; but, during the eight years for which I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, I saw little evidence of such conduct. I have noticed neglect of duty, on occasions, by members of this House with regard to their ordinary parliamentary work. While I hope that the Government will devise means of bringing to heel any member of a committee who makes use of his position for personal gain, I consider that a member who serves on a committee in the interests of his country is entitled to have his expenses defrayed.

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