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Tuesday, 29 November 1938

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) has once again directed the attention of the Government to the necessity for having some closer supervision by a committee of the House over the items involved in the greatly increased expenditure by the Commonwealth Government not only this year, but also in the years that have led up to it; and I hope that the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) will once again convey to the Government that strong expression of opinion, not only from the Opposition side of the chamber, but also from this side, as to the necessity for having some smaller body of the House which can function either as a finance committee or as a public accounts committee. [Quorum formed.] There is every reason to believe that committees of this kind which have been appointed by the House of Commons do exercise a very strong and healthy influence over governmental accounts and estimates of expenditure. While asking the Minister for Defence to convey to the Government that feeling of this committee, I think it would also be of value to the committee as a whole, and to the country, if he would indicate the degree of supervision which is now exercised by the Defence Department over estimates of expenditure which are prepared for him. There has been a steadilygrowing feeling in the community that the Government is embarking upon a greatly increased expenditure sometimes in a rather haphazard manner - without any apparent settled plan, as far as the man in the street can see it - and there is a definite feeling that the defence expenditure is not given the same close supervision as estimates of expenditure submitted by other government departments. That feeling may have been promoted, to some degree, by the statement nf the Treasurer (Mr. Casey) that the Defence Department is one de partment which can count upon an open cheque as far as the recommendations of defence experts require implementation. I think it would be of great value to this committee, and again, I say, to the country, if the Minister would give us some indication of what supervision is exercised over the estimates submitted to him by his officers.

The only other specific inquiry I wish to make, as far as the Estimates themselves are concerned, is in reference to the question .of the Army. I do not consider that the changed plans of the Government in reference to the expansion of the militia forces have been reflected in the Estimates of expenditure for the current financial year now before us. These Estimates were submitted to us with the budget papers at a time when the paper strength of the Militia Forces was in the neighbourhood of 35,000. Subsequently, a pronouncement was made that the strength would be increased to 42,000, and, later, we were told that the number would be raised to 70,000. Despite this doubling of the Militia Forces, I have not been able to discover any stated increased estimate of expenditure. Therefore, I would greatly appreciate, as I am sure would other honorable members, some indication from the Minister, as to where the estimated increase of expenditure as the result of this changed plan is shown in the Estimates now before us. There does not seem to be anything to indicate ' what proposal the Government has in mind, for example, to make the present militia system more attractive, or what additional expenditure is contemplated on extended camp periods, which some people have suggested are likely to be a feature of the new militia training proposals. Consequently, I hope that when he is replying to those honorable members of the committee who have spoken in connexion with his department, the Minister will at least take advantage of the opportunity first, to indicate the supervision which is now exercised, and, secondly, what is the estimated additional expenditure, if it does not already appear in the Estimates, which may be expected as a result of the proposed expansion of the militia forces to 70,000 men.

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