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Wednesday, 29 June 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - As under this Bill we shall commence the expenditure on public services for the new year, its consideration affords an excellent opportunity for the Economy League, which, I suppose, is represented in the Senate, to get to work on the reduction of expenditure right from the beginning. If we pass a sum of money for public services for the month of July, measured by last year's votes, that will be a very good reason why, at the end of July, we should pass another Supply Bill based on last year's votes for August, and so on for September, October, and until the end of the financial year. But as there is in Melbourne, which is the home of economy, a burning desire for retrenchment, that is being fanned into flame in certain quarters, I should like to see a development of that movement in the Senate. If there are any members of that League here sufficiently interested to try to bring about economy, I suggest that they move a reduction in the Estimates of each Department by 2½ per cent. They may think that is not enough, and declare for 5 per cent., and possibly some, even more enthusiastic, may declare for 10 per cent. If it is essential to retrench in any of the Departments, to my way of thinking the only people in a position to retrench effectively are the heads of Departments andthe Ministers concerned. I do not think the Senate can take up any item and say, "We will wipe this out," or, " We will reduce that." I have a pleasant recollection of being connected with the Retrenchment party in the New South Wales Parliament thirty years ago. The Government and Opposition were very evenly balanced, and we sent the Estimates back to be reduced by 10 per cent. They were reduced by 10 per cent, accordingly. That stands as the highest -achievement in economy ever accomplished in any of the Parliaments in Australia. There are, of course, Governments so sensitive as not to stand that kind of treatment, and it may be that quite a number of gentlemen who manage the affairs of the Commonwealth Departments might refuse to carry on if they were treated so rudely as the Parliament of New South Wales in 1891 treated the Government of that State.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the honorable senator going to move one of the. amendments he suggests?

Senator GARDINER - No ; I want to get behind the economists, not. in front of them. It is bad enough to lead one party without trying to- lead two, especially when the second is a growing party whose strength I do not know and whose policy has not yet been made public.

On the first reading, I referred to the fact that the soldiers were . expecting the payments of one-third of their war gratuity bonds in May, 1921, onethird in May, 1922, and one-thirdin 1924. Quite a number of honorable senators seemed to think I was introducing something new: Senator E. D. Millen, the Minister for Repatriation, tried to make out that it was the first time any one had ever heard of the promise that a payment of one-third would be made in May last, one-third in May next, and the balance at the expiry of the term, or that the bonds were to be redeemed in three equal instalments.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I did not say that the third would not be paid. I referred to the payment of one- third of each individual bond, in contradistinction to one-third of the aggregate amount.

Senator GARDINER - What I meant to say was that, altogether apart from the necessitous cases, and the bonds held by widows, the deliberate promise was made by the Government before and after the election that one-third of the bonds would be paid in May, 1921.

Senator Foster - That is, one- third of the total amount.

Senator GARDINER - One-third of the total remaining amount altogether apart from the payments to widows and other necessitous cases.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not in dispute.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Senator Gardiner did not argue in that way yesterday. He said one-third of each individual bond.

Senator GARDINER - I said that a distinct and definite promise was made to the holders of the bonds that one-third of their value would be paid in May, 1921, one-third in May, 1922, and the remainder at the end of the term. That is definite enough. It is what I said yesterday, and what I am saying now.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I did not dispute that. What I disputed, and the honorable senator will find this made clear if he reads the interjections that I made while he was speaking, was that there was any promise to pay one-third of each individual bond.

Senator GARDINER - I do not doubt that the honorable senator can at any time get in an interjection which will convey to the Senate what he has in his mind. He generally has an excuse ready to escape his opponent's argument, and- escape the facts.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Every ' one of us thought that you meant that one-third of each individual bond was to be redeemed.

Senator GARDINER - It might save time if every honorable senator . agreed that there was a definite promise by the Government that, after the necessitous cases had been paid, one-third of the remaining amount would be redeemed by the Government in May, 1921. If that is conceded I need not go further'.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will you now withdraw your statement that a promise was made to redeem one-third of each individual bond!

SenatorGARDINER.- If the honorable senator admits that the head of a Government can distinctly promise returned soldiers that, irrespective of the necessitous cases, one-third of the total amount would be redeemed in May, 1921, and the remaining two-thirds in equal instalments later, and that that promise does not carry with it the implication that each bond-holder is to be treated equally, I shall know where I stand. When Mr. Hughes introduced the Bill he dealt with his pre-election promises, and quoted from the Brisbane Courier. Part of that quotation is as follows : -

Bonds to be cashed by the Treasury in cases of hardship, of special urgency, on the marriage of a soldier, or on the re-marriage of a soldier's widow. Bonds not covered under the above heads to be redeemed as follows: - The Treasury to take up at least £500,000 per annum, in May, 1921, the whole of Australia's share Of indemnity payable by Germany to the Allies, which may be estimated at anything between £7,000,000 and £15,000,000, to be earmarked for the redemption of gratuity bonds. If the indemnity actually received on or before May, 1921, does not reach £10,000,000, the Government to make good the deficiency up to £10,000,000. The Government is to redeem the balance of the outstanding - bonds after May, 1921, in not more than three equal annual instalments. The Government undertakes that if, after May, 1921, the financial and general outlook in the local or foreign market warrants raising the outstanding balance, or any part thereof, by loan, it will do so.

That is a fairly definite statement. I have here also an even more definite statement of the Returned Soldiers' League on the question whether the whole of the returned soldiers were promised that their bonds would be redeemable in three instalments, commencing in May, 1921.

SenatorFoster. - Was that a branch, or the Federal Executive?

Senator GARDINER - I am quoting from a report in the ' Sydney Morning Herald, which is headed " War Gratuity" - " Soldiers Demand Cash"-" Mr. Hughes' Offer "-"Returned Soldiers' and Sailors-' Imperial League." I am merely going back, on 'this question, which- I raised yesterday, because an attempt has been made in certain quarters to prove that I misrepresented the position. According to the Sydney Morning Herald,Mr. Curtis, an official of the League, said that he had received a statement from Mr.. Hughes to read to the meeting in regard to the gratuity. According to this, Mr. Hughes promised -

(1)   Immediate distribution of bonds on the assembly of Parliament.

(2)   Bonds will be taken by banks and Repatriation Department as the equivalent of cash in purchase of land and houses.

(3)   Cash will be paid in all urgent cases, and where a soldier marries or a soldier's widow re-marries.

(4)   The Government will redeem in cash, by May, 1921, not less than £12,000,000 sterling.

I desire honorable senators to be fair in this matter. I stated that a definite promise was made by the Government to redeem one-third of the bonds in May, 1921. I have quoted a definite promise by Mr. Hughes, which, according to Mr. Curtis' statement at the meeting, was in Mr. Hughes' writing, and given to him in the interests of Mr. Hughes and his Government. It was to the effect that, in addition to the special grants, £12,000,000 worth of bonds would be redeemed in May, 1921.

Senator Bolton - It does not say " in addition."

Senator GARDINER - Does it not? Then listen to this -

Mr. Hughespointed out that the bonds cashed by the banks and the Repatriation Department would probably amount, by that date, to £10,000,000, so that the Treasury would have to arrange for the redemption of over £20,000,000 in this period.

If honorable senators still persist in arguing that that is not a definite promise of a redemption in May, 1921, of one-third of the bonds, after all those separate conditions had also been met, then I cannot read the English language as printed, or cannot understand it when I do read it.

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