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Wednesday, 23 November 1921

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill provides the necessary funds for the public works of the Commonwealth for part of the ensuing year. Five months of the year have gone by without works being proceeded with. It is, therefore, possible to make many. reductions, because there is less time in which to carry out the works, and, in many cases, we could not spend the amount originally allotted for the twelve months' operations.

Senator Wilson - Does the Minister intend to suggest such reductions?

Senator RUSSELL - They have already been suggested in the other Chamber, and agreed to. I have no additional proposals for reductions to place before the Senate, but, if this Chamber has any further decreases to suggest, the Government will be quite prepared to listen to them, and consider them on their merits. Nevertheless, I think the Government have done very well already. We have accepted a reduction of £250,000 in connexion with the Department of Defence; £80,000 in the Department of the Navy; and £100,000 on the Air Service ; making a total of £430,000.

Senator Elliott - What are the items ?

Senator RUSSELL - The other Chamber did not specify individual items to which the reductions should apply, because that might have meant disorganization of services. No honorable senaator would be capable of saying, off-hand, in what direction the Air Service expenditure could be reduced by £100,000. It is necessary to take expert advice, and that course is being pursued.

Senator Foster - Are these reductions already allowed for?

Senator RUSSELL - Yes. The Bill embodies the net figures.

Senator Elliott - Are certain specified items out out? I say this because the original Estimates contained provision for a research factory at Maribyrnong.

Senator RUSSELL - The exact manner in which the reductions shall be made must be determined by expert and responsible departmental officers. If the Minister in the House attempted to do that, chaos would undoubtedly result. The House of Representatives declined to specify any individual items in respect of which reductions should be made, but the Government gave an undertaking that the amount specified should be taken out of the Bill. Therefore it will not be available. For instance, the original amount of the Estimates for Defence, Military, was £1,134,251. This will be reduced by £250,000, and the revised total will be £884,251.

Senator Wilson - But I notice that the vote is less the further amount estimated to remain unexpended at the close of the year. If it is not voted it is not a saving.

Senator RUSSELL - We have agreed to reduce the vote by the amount stated. Contain savings would be effected owing to the fact that some portion of the year has already gone, but the Government have agreed to effect a total saving under defence, military, of £250,000. The only Departments in respect of which the House of Representatives directed that reductions should be made are the Defence and the Navy. Other Departments have been left untouched.

Senator Bakhap - It is highly questionable whether it was wise to reduce any of the amounts in the Defence and Navy Departments by one penny.

Senator RUSSELL - Roughly speaking the total reduction on these Estimates will be about £500,000. I am sorry that there is not a larger vote for the PostmasterGeneral's Department, because it is sadly behind the times. If money could be spared all honorable senators, I am sure, would be glad to help the Post Office to get back to normal in the matter of services and supplies. It is possible that the Government may be able to effect other substantial reductions in the expenditure apart altogether from the direction given by the House of Representatives.

Senator Wilson - Are you prepared to make any suggestion in the matter of economy ?

Senator RUSSELL - The Government will consider carefully whether it will be possible to reduce any items without interfering with the efficiency of the various Departments, but if further reductions were made in the' Defence Department it is possible that some of the factories would have to be closed. For instance, it was necessary to import certain machinery for the Colonial Ammunition Works at Maribyrnong, which provides employment for a large number of men. Obviously it would be unwise to allow all this machinery to lie idle and deteriorate while men were walking about the streets searching for employment. The Government are fully alive to the necessity for economy in every direction, and, if possible, further savings will be effected during the year.

Senator Wilson - Is this a new found virtue ?

Senator RUSSELL - Not at all. I trust the Senate will allow the Bill to pass. Honorable senators will have an opportunity to discuss the various items in Committee.

Debate (on motion by Senator Wilson) adjourned.

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