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Wednesday, 12 October 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Exactly ! In respect of bank exchange there is an item of £105,000. That payment could not have been avoided. Of course, we could have avoided the transactions which occasioned the debt, but they arose out of just payments of obligations incurred in London. Will anyone suggest that Australia should tell financial London that we do not propose to, or cannot, pay our debts? Then, as for the basio wage, whether honorable senators may regard with approval or otherwise the action which has been taken by the Government, this Chamber having given its approval to arbitration and trade awards in preference to the bad old system of strikes and squabbles, will not say that the basio wage item should have been struck out. Next, upon the carriage of mails to Europe during the war there is a debt of £200,000. That is an obligation incurred in a previous year, which could not have been avoided and cannot now be repudiated.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - A matter of £100,000 might be saved upon the new mail contract by imposing poundage rates.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The mail contract will come before Parliament for approval. The Government made the best bargain they could, and it will be for the National Legislature to set the seal of its approval or otherwise on the " deal." With respect to the per capita payments to the States, need I ask, in a House representative of the States, whether economy should be effected by the repudiation of the increased payment of which the States are entitled ?

Senator Wilson - All honorable senators are agreed that that line of expenditure could not be touched.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Quite so; but the trouble is that all the economists outside are quite willing that the Government shall continue to carry on an expenditure which they themselves approve. They desire the practice of economy only in connexion with those sources of expenditure which touch somebody else. I make these observations in view of criticisms which have been made largely outside, but which have found their echo in the Senate. In addition to the items which I have just mentioned, there are still others, which go to compile a total of £4,000,000 of new expenditure. Some of this outgoing is consequent upon policy, but it is an expenditure which the Treasurer positively had to face and make. While paying out that increased

Bum of £4,000,000, of which fully £2,250,000 was obligatory and inescapable, the Treasurer has managed to present a Budget which shows an actual total expenditure amounting to £20,000 less than that for the year preceding. I hold that the Treasurer should be given credit for the display of a desire and a capacity to cut down wherever the operation could be practised without endangering the efficiency of the Public Service. It is idle, I repeat, to talk of an extravagant Budget when the Treasurer is carrying an additional load such as I have specifically mentioned and when he is budgeting to get through the financial year with a smaller outlay than in respect of the previous year and very much smaller than was the amount expended during the year before that. It is only fair to the Treasurer that I should say this. The vague and widespread criticisms which have been hurled at that Minister afford an evidence of the unfairness which, for political reasons, frequently attaches to Governments and Ministers. Had critics stated that the Treasurer gave some evidence of a desire to improve matters and presented a Budget which, allowing for various inescapable increases, showed a reduction upon last year's expenditure, although there was still room for further specific savings, such criticisms would be welcome. Unhappily, however, there is a tendency to fall upon the Federal Treasurer tooth and nail, and to level at him the accusation that his administration of the financial affairs of the Commonwealth has been productive of nothing but squander and loss.

I have to do with a spending Department. Iread reports of speeches delivered outside of Parliament, and I peruse various statements published in the press. All these evince a great desire for economy, and denounce the Government for extravagance. Hard upon my reading of these particulars, however, it has often been my experience that the men who have made the strangest denunciations have pleaded with me for the continuance of some source of expenditure which the Government had proposed to cut down. I may cite, for example, the matter of vocational training classes. Occasionally these classes have become so reduced in numbers that there has been no warrant for continuing two or three of them in one neighbourhood, and they have been merged into one. Immediately, however, protests have been raised in the locality where a class consisting of three or four trainees has been disbanded and merged with others. The fact is that if any evidence of extravagance can be discovered by critics of the Budget, the chances are that those expenditures have been maintained because of some pressure brought to bear from outside sources ; and the experience has been that thispressure has been applied in most pronounced form by those very individuals who have been most eloquent and insistent in their demands for economy.

With respect to Senator Vardon's inquiries upon shipping matters, the Government intend shortly to indicate their policy. I trust that the honorable senator will then be placed in possession of . the information which he seeks. There is a great cry raised everywhere concerning the fact of the Government continuing to build ships when vessels can be bought more cheaply abroad. I wonder if those who argue after that fashion would be prepared to apply their logic to everything imported into Australia. What is the Anti-Dumping Bill intended for? When there isa slump, and other countries are heaping their goods into the local market for sale at less than the cost of local manufacture, the cry about anti-dumping provisions is raised.

Senator Vardon - But this matter of ship-building is world-wide.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I invite the honorable senator to imagine the temporary development of a world-wide depression in the boot and clothing manufacturing trades. Would any one say that it was a shame for Australians to continue to make boots in Australia in view of the world-wide condition of the trade? No; they would plead the greater necessity for a Protective Tariff. The Government are entitled to apply to a Government industry the same measures of protection and assistance as are given to a private industry.

Senator Wilson - Within reasonable bounds.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When I remember the way in which the honorable senator voted on certain items during the Tariff debate, I want to know what he means by " reasonable bounds."

Senator Wilson - The Minister knows that I was consistent in my efforts to bring about reductions of duties.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It can be said that, upon certain items, every honorable senator pleaded the necessity for reducing the duties. No honorable senator can say that, on occasion, he did not vote for specific increases.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Sitting suspended from, 6.28 to 8 p.m.

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