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Friday, 30 October 1931

Mr THOMPSON (New England) . - I strongly support the amendments of the Senate, and hope that the Government will accept them. Listening with interest to the speech of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Coleman), I learned a good deal about the working of the Public Accounts Committee, not all of which was to its credit. According to the statement of the honorable member for Reid, the committee was appointed originally to exercise a general supervision over the budgetary position of governments. I submit that it has entirely failed to discharge that function, because it was an impossible task for a committee of that calibre. It seems to me that the committee has come to be regarded, not as a necessary part of the machinery of government, to obtain a general and impartial surveillance of the finances by members of all parties, but more or less as an appurtenance of the party machine, and, to that extent, 1 think, it is no longer necessary. If it is to be retained, it should be given a, new constitution, and the matter of party representation should bc considered from an altogether new angle. The practice has been to appoint to the committee a certain number of Government supporters, and members of the Opposition. The Country party comes last.

Mr Archdale Parkhill - Appointment to this committee is a sort of political consolation prize.

Mr THOMPSON - Yes; and great heart-burnings are often caused in the party rooms. I am glad to say that, once the members of the committee are appointed, party considerations are swept aside. The honorable member for Reid said that the Senate had exceeded its rights in its amendment for the reduction of the membership of the committee to five - three from this chamber and two from another place. But there is nothing in the constitution of the Public Accounts Committee requiring that the representation of the Senate should be limited; and 1 contend that the other chamber has acted entirely within its rights in making iti amendment. There is practically no work for the committee to do at the present time, and no advantage is to be gained by maintaining it. Therefore, the other branch of the legislature is perfectly justified in trying to limit the expenditure on the committee to the lowest possible amount.

So far as I am aware, the activities of the committee have never proved very useful to the Government. It has admittedly failed to carry out the work, for which it was established, and that is probably because the job was too big for it. Having watched its work for the last nine years, I see no justification for maintaining it. A committee of three could, perhaps, produce just as valuable results a3 those obtained by the present committee. Although extraordinary claims have been made, in general terms, about the needless expenditure which the committee has prevented, we have no proof of the amount actually saved. We are told that the work of the committee has resulted in a saving of millions annually, but I question that statement. I do not know that it has saved thousands, or even hundreds of pounds.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member must confine his remarks to the amendment.

Mr THOMPSON - Past experience shows that a committee with a large personnel does not produce good results. I consider that the importance of this body has been much over-rated. As the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) remarked, appointments to the committee have been made largely for the purpose of providing consolation prizes for members of different parties. The Government has a good opportunity in the amendment sent down from another place to reduce the membership of the committee to the lowest number acceptable to the Parliament. ..Acceptance of the Senate's amendments will create a good impression among the general public, and show that the Government is genuinely anxious to economize. It has always claimed that it desires to abolish unnecessary boards and commissions. A smaller membership would enable the committee's utility to be tested.I was associated with a committee of five which did very good work.

Mr Fenton - Self-praise isno recommendation !

Mr THOMPSON - The record of the work of that committee stands. Its members received no remuneration for their services. They did not come into this building, hang their hats up, and, after a meeting lasting five minutes, draw fees.

Mr Gardner - I ask that that inaccurate remark be withdrawn. I regard it as a reflection on the members of the committee. On no occasion have members of the Public Accounts Committee received fees for a five-minutes' sitting.

Mr THOMPSON - I refuse to withdraw the remark, because I can prove that it is true.

The CHAIRMAN - I ask the honorable member to accept the assurance of the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Gardner).

Mr THOMPSON - So far as the honorable member for Robertson is concerned, I withdraw the remark, because I accept his assurance regarding himself, but, in the past, fees for committee work have been earned far too easily. Members of the Select Committee on the Tobacco Industry did their work for nothing, so there can be little comparison between that committee and the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr Gardner - Did not the members of the Select Committee receive payment to cover their travelling expenses?

Mr THOMPSON - Yes, but we were out of pocket at the end of our investigation.

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