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Thursday, 9 March 1961

Mr WARD (East Sydney) . - Since the Government apparently has not sufficient business to keep the House occupied until 6 p.m., I think that this is an appropriate time to criticize the recent extraordinary decision of the Cabinet to proceed this year with the function associated with the opening of the parliamentary session. Until recent years, it was not usual to have such a function annually, but to hold one this year seems to me to be most extraordinary. I remember that not so long ago, at about the time of the death of Lord Dunrossil, the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) stated that on this occasion the function would be much more restrained than in the past. Nobody has explained what is meant by the term " more restrained ". Does it mean that fewer people were invited to participate in this function? Is there to be any music: If music is to be provided, will it be mournful music in place of rock'n'roll? Is there to be any diminution of the quantity of food supplied to the invited guests - the privileged few who will be there? Is there to be any diminution in the quantity of liquor to be supplied at public expense to the privileged invitees?

Only this afternoon, I heard the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen) talking about the misery and starvation that exist throughout the world. He directed attention to what he said was wasteful and extravagant expenditure in this country. It is rather remarkable that this Government, which is putting the economic squeeze on everybody else to-day, apparently does not intend to apply that squeeze to itself. Surely this reception is completely unnecessary this year. It can mean only that members and Ministers and some of the other people who want to display their fine clothes want to do so in a social atmosphere associated with the opening the the Parliament.

I think that this week's deliberation in the Parliament - or, rather, the lack of it - has been absolutely wasteful. Let us examine the situation, and let us not forget that every member of both this House and the Senate is brought here at public expense - most of us by air. We arrived on Tuesday of this week, and the Parliament adjourned until the following day after a very brief sitting. Nobody questions that adjournment, because we all understand that it was brought about by a very sad occasion. But this meant that we did nothing at all towards the work of the Parliament on the Tuesday. We then sat on Wednesday afternoon and evening and will sit to-day until about 6 p.m.

I imagine that the ordinary people who are being squeezed so hard by this Government consider that on this occasion the Government should have set an example by curtailing this wasteful expenditure at a time when it is preaching to the community about the need for the curtailing of wasteful spending. I dare say that if any member of the Government has the audacity to reply to me, he will talk about the small expenditure involved in the conducting of this function. I do not know how much it will cost, but, judging by experience, I imagine that the cost will run into some thousands of pounds. I may be wrong about that. Nobody has told us exactly what expenditure will be involved. But that is not the point. Even if the cost were not a considerable sum, in the light of the Commonwealth's total annual expenditure, the point is that, as I heard when I was a young boy, if we save the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. I think it is about time that this Government, ins:cad of preaching and lecturing the people generally about the stringent financial situation that it claims exists, began to set an example to the rest of the community.

What sacrifice would the Government have made if it had forgone its function this year? Everybody knows that many people who attended functions such as this in the past have now begun to realize that they are worthless events. For example, when the Parliament was opened on Tuesday, the galleries in the Senate were nowhere near full, as they have been on previous occasions. There were many vacant seats. I think that was because lots of people have begun to realize that there is not much to these functions other than the providing of an opportunity for a few people to receive entertainment, drink liquor and eat food at public expense.

I hope that in the future the Government will take a different view about expenditure on such functions. We have heard members of this Parliament in the last three days - even anti-Labour members like the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) - talking about the closing down of timber mills, brick works and other industries, with workers being thrown out of work, because, it is said, the finance available for these kinds of activity has been curtailed. But the Government has done nothing to reduce worthless and wasteful expenditure of the kind to which I have directed attention. I take this opportunity of making my protest at the holding of the function that is to take place this evening, and I hope that there will be no occasion in future for me to voice a similar protest.

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