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Friday, 22 July 1921

Senator FAIRBAIRN (VICTORIA) -I do not know what expression could be strong enough to convey one's opinion concerning some of the disclosures made yesterday, and I trust that the delinquents who have brought us into this position are not to be allowed to go free, because they should be compelledto bear their share of the responsibility. If such acts had been committed in the employ of private enterprise, dismissal would not have been the end of it, because they have been diverting funds and usingthem under false pretences. The instructions of the Minister have been ignored, and money wrongly spent. Some of the officers are responsible for criminal acts, and I trust the Minister for Repatriation will secure legal ad viceto see if definite charges cannot be laid: against those who have ignored his instructions in this- regard.

Senator Bolton - The honorable senator must remember that great pressure was brought to bear upon that particular Department. Houses that were available were offered, and men were prepared to go into them.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - I do not care what happened, the officers were not justified in acting as they did. The head of the Department could have approached the Treasurer, who should have been informed as to the money available. The true position would then have been before the Government, and they would have had an opportunity of amending their policy if they so desired.

Senator Crawford - The responsibility would then have been the Minister's, and not the Commissioner's.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Yes, and that would have been the proper course to adopt.

The Bill provides for the expenditure of £630 in connexion with the Bureau of Commerce and Industry. We have a number of these Departments growing up around us, including the Bureau of Science and Industry, which. I opposed when it was established. I- trust that before the Estimates are dealt with the Government will endeavour to amalgamate some of these Departments. Mr. Knibbs. who has done magnificent work, and is known the world over as one of the finest statisticians, has been taken away from his Department and placed in charge of a. scientific branch of the Government's activities. I do not know that the appointment can be regarded as a good one, because, although Mr. Rnibbs may be a splendid organizer, I do not think he can be termed a scientist. Then there is the Bureau of Commerce and Industry. I shouldlike to see balancesheets of all these Government activities published every year.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - At present we do not know what we are spending.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - The public should know, and if balance-sheets were published regularly we should be in a position to say whether they are justified or. not. I doubt if any honorable senator can say how much money has been spent in connexion with the Bureau of Commerce and Industry.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Or what it is doing.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - We have had reports from time to time; but I do not thank they have made any reference to the financial position of this institution. Ihave heard it said that it is costing £7,000 a year. In ray opinion, it might very well be amalgamated with the Board of Trade, the functions of which are similar. I hopethe Minister will take a note of the suggestion, because if we could show that some of thesebig Departments are being amalgamated, and if proper balancesheets were published annually, we would be able to assure the public, perhaps, that their money was being wisely employed. A little while ago the Bureau ofCommerce and Industry attempted to launch an ambitious woollen-manufacturing scheme, but without success. A number of private companies have been established of late, and I doubt very much whether such a scheme as that suggested by the Bureau is now required at all. The Minister might inform us of its activities, and say whether, in his opinion, it could be amalgamated with the other Department to which I have referred. The head of any Government Department, if he is energetic at all, is always endeavouring to enlarge it, so if, by amalgamation of some of these Departments, we could deal with only one instead of four or five heads, there would be a much better prospect of effecting economy. The natural instinct, even of members of Parliament, is to induce the Government to spend public money; but I think I can say that I am one of the least offenders in. that respect. I do not recollect ever having asked the Government to spend public money in this State, and so I am a true economist.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is no necessity to make that request, because the money is being spent in Victoria.

SenatorFAIRBAIRN.- I think the Federal Government are spending very little money in this State.

I cannot indorse Senator Wilson's advocacy of the North-South railway, although he put the case very well. He drew attention to the fact that there were teeming millions of people to the north, just a little way off, and used that as an argument for the construction of the line; but these teeming millions have been there for thousands of years. If they had wanted to occupy the Northern Territory they could have done so thousands of years ago. The Javanese have come down several times, I believe, but they have never stayed there.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - The railway would bring them south.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - I have heard the construction of the line advocated from a defence point of view; but I think that to construct it for that purpose would be the worst thing in the world to do, because if any enemies landed in the Northern Territory, the railway would enable them to come south. This argument reminds me of the story of. a woman, who, frightened of burglars, got her husband's golf stick and placed it alongside the bed at night, hut. her husband advised her to "Put it away, because a burglar would probably hit them with it." The same may be said of this railway. If it is built, and if any prospective enemy is foolish enough to land in the Northern Territory, he will use the line to enable himto come south.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I think the military authorities were dead against the railway for that reason.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - From a defence point of view, to build that line would be the worst thing we could do. I know, of course, that honorable senators from South Australia have to push their barrow a little bit, and, therefore, we need to treat this matter seriously for the next: twenty years, anyway. Some day, no doubt, the agreement with South Australia with regard to the railway may have to be carried out. I was a member of another place when the Northern Territory was taken over from South Australia, and did my level best to prevent the. Commonwealth from completing the agreement, because I felt that South Aus tralia was managing the Territory quite as well as the Commonwealth was likely to do; but the reply always was - "We want to spend money up there, in order that the Territory may be developed properly." Ifthe Commonwealth had not taken over the Territory, it is highly probable that the agreement then being negotiated with a large English company for the construction of a line and the development of the Territory, on the lines of the Canadian-Pacific Railway Company, would have been completed, and the railway constructed years ago.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - You think, then, that it would have paid a private company to build the line, but not the Government ? They could not float the company in London.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - The Territory was taken over because of the desire that the Government should do all this pioneering work, but history teaches us that in all pioneering enterprises the pioneer goes down and the next man succeeds. The proposal that the Government should launch out into this huge expenditure on pioneering work in the Northern Territory was insanity.

I do not wish to detain the Senate, because I know another place expects the return of the Bill this afternoon. I hope that, before we get on to the main Estimates, the. Government will be able to state that definite action has been taken to amalgamate some of the existing Departments, so that the people may be assured that economy and efficiency are being aimed at, and that the administrative control of the various Departments is not being conducted in a haphazard way.

Senator E.D. MILLEN (New South

Wales - Minister for Repatriation) [11.50]. - I should like to inform Senator Fairbairn that a balance-sheet of the Commonwealth Line of Steamers has been published, and, indeed, laid on the table of the Senate. Naturally, the document was not available as promptly as we would have liked it to be, because the head office is in London. The balance-sheet for the year, to the 30th June last, is not here yet.

Senator Fairbairn - Is it necessary to have the head office in London?

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