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Thursday, 21 July 1921

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) . - I wish to commiserate with the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) on the confrere of the honorable senator who does not, so far as we know now, at any rate, entirely acquit him of blame. He seems to have taken every precaution that any Minister or business man could take. Nevertheless, Parliament is not going to be held blameless for this terrible blunder. To me, as a business man, it seems rather extraordinary that a gentleman of the name of Walker should have been selected, apparently a little hastily, and paid a salary of £1,500 per annum, with power to spend mil-lions. The Minister' seems on his own showing to have been, unfortunately for Australia, surrounded by a den of thieves. I am not well up in parliamentary procedure or tactics, but I should like to know if the Government contemplate prosecuting any vendors or agents, or 'any of their officers, for conspiracy to defraud, because it seems to me that there could not possibly have been such flagrant misappropriation of the people's money by apparently a little coterie of men working together, unless there had been conspiracy to defraud. This is a very grave question, and such blunders have been committed that I am sure a great deal more will be heard of it.

I regret that, whilst the Minister has shown a supposed surplus of over £6,000,000 for the year ended 30th June last, those figures require a great deal of dissecting, which in a short debate at this late hour of the night we are not able to give them. I wish to impress on the Government the extreme gravity of the financial outlook and the urgency for economy. I have more than once stressed this, but cannot do it too often, because I know something of the trade of this country. I would impress on the Government the fact that, owing to the enormous depreciation in the value of everything that Australia produces, we are going to have a shrinkage in the value of our exports for the next two or three years of probably 50 per cent, as compared with the average of the last three years. With that huge decrease in the value of our exports, we shall have a corresponding decrease in . the amount of money that we have abroad ta purchase, with. Consequently, not' only are the Government not going' to have any material income 'tax to collect' during the coming- year- - r understand that' last year they collected £ir,000,000U.but they are , going to have an enormous shrinkage also in the revenue from Customs. The Customs' receipts- have been unduly inflated by the fact that the importers ordered far more goods than, they wanted, and these have been delivered to them by the manufacturers abroad, during the last six months. The importers have had to pay duty- on them, and the Customs - revenue has been, in consequence, unnaturally swelled. r am surprised1, in view of the' very grave financial outlook and' the most urgent need for- economy, that Senator Duncan should-, at this most, inopportune time; have brought up the question of building the' bush capital. We all know that* it was. a- compact-, and that- the work will have to be done some time. We also know that Canberra, after due investigation, has been selected as the site of' the future capital;' . but how any honorablet senator, in view, of the extraordinarily grave financial outlook, can reprimand the- Ministry at this time- for not placing on the Estimates a sum of money to go on with the bush, capital, is beyond my comprehension.

We are- asked to-night to pass a> Bill authorizing the expenditure of £5,000,000 for' the next two months. I say emphatically that it- is most unfair at this late hour for another place to send such a measure to the Senate, and ta allow us only until to-morrow afternoon to debate item, after item involving- the expenditure of the people's money to that huge extent.

Senator Russell - That is a mistake.. What you are discussing is the- regular wages and salaries comprising the ordinary expenditure. There are no1 new votes in the Bill.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - It- is bad. enough to know that, at a few moment's notice and without time to criticise properly, we are asked* to pass a vote of £5,000,000.-

Senator Russell - As- another place is adjourning, we are asked to give a cheque for £5,000,000 for wages for the next two months.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I enter my protest against being asked to vote- even' two1 months?- wages- at such short- notice, without a fair' opportunity of criticising the way the- money is- to be spent.

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