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Tuesday, 13 October 1931

Mr GABB (Angas) .- As the debate proceeds I am more than ever convinced that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) providing for the abolition of the Public Works Committee should be agreed to. Two exMinisters have, in giving their experiences, thrown some light upon the subject. We have been informed that three undertakings which should have been referred to the Public Works Committee were practically completed before they were referred to that committee for investigation.

Mr M CAMERON (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is not the fault of the committee.

Mr GABB - No; but it shows that the work can be efficiently carried out without such an investigation.

Mr.Fenton. - If the construction of the Canberra-Goulburn road had been referred to the Public Works Committee, the proposal might have been rejected.

Mr GABB - That may be so. I have heard so many ex-members of that committee tell us how much money it has saved that I am wondering how this country has got into its present financial mess. If there are so many experts in our midst one wonders why Canberra has been foisted upon the people of Australia. I ask the right honorable the Prime Minister to answer the questions submitted to him by the honorable member for Darwin ( Mr. Bell) as to the duties being performed by the staff of this committee. The honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) said that, in his opinion, automatic telephone exchanges were the only public works inquired into by the committee which have been proceeded with during the last five years. According to the Estimates for the present financial year, the Public Works Committee employs a secretary at a salary of £750, a clerk at £300, and a messenger at £300 per annum. The secretary and the messenger - I do not know the clerk - are efficient officers. The messenger is an obliging and able man. The point I wish to make is that this unnecessary expenditure is being incurred by a government which claims that it has put into operation a financial plan under which drastic economies arc being effected. Is this a fair example of the economics being exercised throughout the Public Service of this country? If this is a sample, no wonder taxpayers' organizations are protesting against the expenditure in the Public Service. 1 can hardly believe that the Government will permit a secretary of a committee that has no work to do to continue to draw a salary of £750 a year. I ask the Prime Minister if the Government intends to continue such a system. In this instance £1,350 is being paid annually in salaries in order to keep in existence a committee which has no work to do. There is no need to dispense with the services of these officers, as quite a number of public servants are reaching the retiring age, and their positions will have to be filled. There are other avenues in which the clerical officers could be engaged, and particularly the secretary, who I consider is one of the most able officers in the Commonwealth Public Service. If the secretary were placed in the Taxation Department investigating the cases of those who are evading income taxation his services would result in a more satisfactory return than is at present being received from this source. If the Government allows this system to continue, its administration is likely to be criticized from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. Those of us who assisted in cutting old-age pensions should not permit this committee to remain in existence merely to enable certain officers to receive their salaries. If we do, we are not playing the game with the old-age and invalid pensioners and the taxpayers of this country. I supported a reduction in pensions because I thought such a reduction necessary in the interests of the Commonwealth, and of the pensioners themselves, but I cannot support this unjustifiable expenditure. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said that the services of such a committee would again be necessary; but, if so, the committee could be reconstituted. As we have been reducing pensions and making drastic cuts in other directions, we should not allow a committee which has no work to do to remain in existence.

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