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Friday, 22 July 1921

Senator FAIRBAIRN (Victoria) . - I have always considered it somewhat futile to discuss a partial financial statement such as - is embodied in a Supply Bill. I understand that the Estimates for the present financial year are to be submitted some time in September, and any comments I may offer will be in an endeavour to assist the Government in framing the Estimates, and making them as palatable to the electors as we possibly can, because there is every probability of the Government having a very rough passage when they are submitted. As a member of the National party, and a supporter of the Government, it is my wish to make the task of Ministers as easy as possible, -and I am endeavouring to do that by asking them to frame the Estimates in accordance with what they know to be the wishes of the people.

I desire in the first place to refer to comments made by Senator Wilson concerning the publication of the balancesheets of our great ship-building enterprise. I understood the Minister (Senator Bussell) to say that the balance-sheets are. in his possession.

Senator Russell - All of them with the exception of last year's, which are being, held up pending the receipt of certain cabled particulars.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Have they been published ?

Senator Russell - Yes, from time to time.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Not in the press. . ,

Senator Russell - Not m full; but certain extracts have been made available.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - The money expended in this and other directions has been contributed by the taxpayers, and the balance-sheets should be published as is the case in connexion with private business concerns. The Government are merely managers for the people, and I trust that the Minister will give 'consideration to my request, so that the taxpayers who have to shoulder these liabilities may-have some knowledge of how th'e money is being disbursed.

I felt very much discouraged after the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) had made his statement concerning the administration of the War Service Homes Department. I have always felt that Governments were quite incap- able of undertaking huge enterprises of this character, and the disclosures of the Minister last night proved my assumption to be correct. If the Minister for Repatriation, whom I look upon as an able politician and business man, cannot successfully administer such a huge public undertaking, nobody can. What did the Minister do when he started this great Department? Soldiers were returning from abroad in very large numbers, .and the feeling amongst the community was that everything should be done to assist them in being repatriated, and established in comfortable homes. Parliament directed the Minister for. Repatriation to build houses for these men, and at the outset he had to construct offices. He then had to select a Commissioner, who was to receive a comparatively small salary, to handle a very large sum of money.

Senator Bolton - Approximately £14,000.000.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Yes,- and the salary allowed, was only £1,500 a year. The Minister for Repatriation was further handicapped because the head of the Department had to be a returned soldier, and it was difficult to secure from a number of comparatively young men one who had sufficient commercial and adminis- trative experience to successfully control the work. Notwithstanding this difficulty, the Minister had to delegate important powers to the officer selected. Apparently, the Minister had everything against him, because many of his officers appeared to be working in opposition to him, and even deceiving him in every possible way. There is no doubt that in those days we did not, and we do not now, desire to apply hard business principles to returned- soldiers who have done so much for us, -but to treat them in a humanitarian way. But in endeavouring to help them, perhaps, some injustice has -been inflicted, and, personally, I would rather have been. an umpire at a football match than have undertaken such a difficult task. I do not think the Minister for Repatriation will say, on looking back, that he has always been right, because we all make mistakes. Buthe has made less than most men would have made. The Minister has numerous duties to perform, and he has also the responsibility of leading the Senate, which, in itself, should be sufficient for one man.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - In spite of its good manners.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Yes. It is a most strenuous task. It is time the Government realized that much of the work that has been undertaken by Governments should be left to private enterprise. When I heard the Minister's statement I naturally asked what the Treasury could have been doing, because the Minister said that in passing the Estimates we had allowed £160,000 for the purchase of houses, and nearly £3,000,000 for the building of new residences.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Provision was made for a trust account, from which the Commissioner could replenish his funds by draft lump sums from the Treasury.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - That gave Lieut. -Colonel Walker an opportunity to " get at" the whole account.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would not say that, but it permitted the expenditure of money for one purpose which, according to the Estimates, was intended for another purpose.

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