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Friday, 22 July 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I should like a little more information regarding the " savings " referred to by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) in his speech in reply on tha second reading, as having been made for the last financial year. We are all anxious for economy, and I understood the Minister to say that economies had been- effected. He said that, when the Estimates were presented to the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook), they were cut down by at least £4,000,000. Was that economy, or a reflection on his fellow Ministers? I take it that the Treasurer cut down Estimates which had been approved, notonly by the heads of Departments, but also by Ministers in charge of Departments, and which, therefore, went to the Treasurer with the imprimatur of his own colleagues. The Minister for Repatriation tells us that, not only- did the Treasurer do that, but that the Government discovered, at the end of the financial year, that another £4,000,000 had been saved, or, in other words, that the moneyprovided in the Estimates had not all been spent by £4,000,000. Is that economy, or does that sum represent unexpended balances 1 Does it indicate that the Departments asked for more money than they could reasonably expect to spend? It has been said, with a certain amount of truth that, in times past, Departments always asked for more money than they expected to get, because, no matter what Estimates they submitted to the Treasurer, the Treasurer always cut them clown. I should like to know whether, instead of these " savings " representing real economy, Departments did not ask for £8,000,000 more than they expected to get, and whether the Treasurer gave them £4,000,000 more than they had anticipated obtaining from him? How much of the second £4,000,000 has been saved by means of economies, and what proportion of it represents unexpended balances?For instance, the exPostmasterGeneral, Mr. Webster, complained with a certain amount of justification that, at a certain time he did not get all the money that he asked for. As it was wartime, I do not blame the Treasurer for diverting all the money possible to defence purposes, but it is not always the truest economy in certain circumstances to refuse to grant money that is required. I should be glad of further information about the £4,000,000 which the Government now tell us has been saved, because it is quite possible that the Treasurer might, in certain circumstances, refuse to grant money, and find, in the long run, that he had not been exercising true economy.

Senator Russell - Sometimes the Treasurer has no option.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so. The Treasurer's position is very different from that of other Ministers. They are not responsible for raising the. money. They do not tax the people. The Treasurer has to find the money, and it is much easier to spend it than to find it.Does the following case of a " saving " represent real economy? Money' was placed on the Estimates for the Postal Department to spend, for instance, in purchasing telephones. The amount was ear-marked for that purpose. The telephones were ordered from England, but they bad not arrived by the 30th June, and, therefore, that money could not be spent, and we wore told that it could not be diverted to the purchase of other telephones, because at any moment those which had been ordered might arrive. Is that what the Government call an "economy"? The Minister for Repatriation says the Government are anxious for economy, and that the fact that £4,000,000 less than was voted has been spent is an evidence of economy.

Senator Crawford - May not there bo unforeseen expenditures to balance instances such as you have quoted?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is. what I should be glad to know. Can the Minister tell us whether in any Department it has been discovered that work could be done or material purchased for less than the amount of money voted by Parliament for the purpose, while securing the same efficiency? If so, that would represent real economy. I have asked a number of questions which the Minister possibly would be able to answer much more easily if he were allowed ' a ' little more time. That reminds me that it is unfair to rush Supply Bills through in this way. Honorable' senators want a certain amount of information, and if a Supply Bill was. submitted for its first reading' on one day, its second reading on the next day, and the final stages on the third day, they could ask questions and get the information they wanted. Is this Supply Bill for two months based upon the Estimates that were submitted last year, or on the Estimates lees the £4,000,000 saved?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - With the Supply Billpreviously passed, the Government, if this Bill is passed, will have obtained £1,417,000 less than the amount voted for the corresponding quarterly period of last year.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then we are not voting the same amount of money as last year?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We are voting at the rate of £5,600,000 a year less.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is satisfactory.

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