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Thursday, 11 July 1946

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) .- Clause 29 should be read in conjunction with clauses 31 and 39. Clause 31, which contemplates conditions as they will exist after the commission has been established, is as follows: -

The commission shall prepare estimates, in such form as the Minister directs, of its receipts and expenditure for each financial year, and shall submit those estimates to the Minister.

Parliament is being asked to appropriate £3,000,000 for the purposes of this legislation. I agree that thepurposes have been made clear, but what has not been made clear is how this amount of £3,000,000 is made up. For too long the Parliament has been asked to appropriate amounts running into hundreds of millions of pounds, and never have I heard one honorable member on the Government side demand particulars of the amounts sought. In these days of very large expenditure we should demand the closest scrutiny of all proposed appropriations. To-day we are presented with the extraordinary spectacle of the Government asking Parliament to appropriate £3,000,000 without any explanation being offered of how the amount is arrived at. I do not expect a detailed statement showing everything to the last half -penny; estimates must, of necessity, be in general terms, but surely we are entitled to more information than has been offered. The present situation cannot be considered apart from the situation which will exist once the commission has been established. Will the Government then come to the Parliament and say, " For the purposes of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission we require an amount of ' X ' millions of pounds ", and tell the Parliament nothing more? That is precisely what it is doing to-night. The Parliament is entitled to more information than has been given to it, and the public, too, are entitled to know how the amount of £3,000,000 is made up. This is a committee of supply, whose function it is to scrutinize all government expenditure. I do not suggest that the amount asked for is not needed, but the committee is entitled to further particulars. Either the Government just plucked a figure out of the air, or it represents an estimate. If it is not more than a guess, the Government should say so. If it represents an estimate, there should be certain particulars available, and these should be made known to the committee.

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