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Thursday, 24 November 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- I have a good deal of sympathy with the remarks of the honorable senator who has just resumed his seat. I know that he has at heart the necessity of adequately providing for the defence of Australia. But I would like the honor able senator to remember that the vote before us for defence exceeds the expenditure for last year. Although the amount has been reduced from that originally contemplated for submission to Parliament, the amount proposed for the Department of Defence (Military) in the schedule to the Bill is £884,251, as against an actual expenditure last year of £693,255. That the 'Government have been wise in recognising the desire which' has been so clearly expressed, not only by members of Parliament, but by those outside who must find the wherewithal, that this year an attempt should be made to economize wherever economy can be effected without injury to the Commonwealth. We are all, I think, prepared to admit that the time has arrived when we should set our house in order, from a financial point of view, and should make it unnecessary in future to impose addi'tional burdens on the people, who have at the present time to carry as much taxation as they can bear. We have been passing through an era during which many individuals in the Commonwealth have had considerable additions to their income, and they have become somewhat prone to extravagance in expenditure. We have now reached the stage when our people must realize that we are up against a very serious financial proposition. We have incurred enormous liabilities which I have no doubt we shall be able to meet, provided Parliament sets an example for the people to follow by doing its work efficiently and well, and seeing to it that no expenditure is authorized that is not in the interests of the development of the country. I do not intend to touch upon particular items at this stage, as they will come up for consideration in Committee, and that will be the time for us to seek information from the Minister in charge of the Bill and to decide whether the expenditure proposed on particular items is justified.

I desire to take this opportunity of making a few general remarks concerning the present policy of the Government, which varies from that of the preceding year. I am glad to be able to signify my approval of the admission that it is unfair to penalize the people by compelling them to find out of revenue almost the whole of the expenditure authorized for public works which are, essential to the development of the Commonwealth. We are being asked to vote a large sum for additions, alterations, new works and buildings, and I am pleased to find that an innovation has been introduced, especially in regard to the Postmaster-General's Department, in which last year a very large sum was expended, almost the whole of which came out of revenue, and which, consequently, caused some embarrassment to the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) at the end of the financial year. I expressed my surprise last year that a more businesslike attitude bad not been adopted in connexion with permanent public works. The Treasurer in his Budget speech said -

The more one looks into Post Office finance the more unsatisfactory it appears. There is no country in the world, outside our own, which provides the whole of its capital expenditure from revenue. There should be a review and revision of the whole system of Post Office finance, leaving the revenue expenditure to be met, as now, but placing capital expenditure on a basis of loan with graduated repayments to conform with the life of the material purchased.

Senator Vardon - The whole business of the Department is suffering on that account.

Senator PAYNE - Yes, because we are meeting the needs of the Post Office in regard to buildings and additions of a permanent character out of revenue.

Senator Crawford - The honorable senator's suggestion is to revert to the system adopted by the States prior to Federation.

Senator PAYNE - The suggestion is to adopt a business-like attitude. Each year since the inception of Federation the financial liabilities of the people have been on the increase, and there is always a limit to the power of the taxpayers to meet their obligations. It seems unjust to burden the people by compelling them to contribute money to meet the expenditure on permanent works out of revenue instead of from loans and making adequate provision by means of a sinking fund to redeem the amount within a limited period. Such a. system would relieve the present taxpayers, and would at the same time be treating fairly the future taxpayers, who will benefit as much as those of the present day. No business man would ever contemplate delaying the development of his business because he objected to borrowing money.

Senator Vardon - If he did not his competitor would. In this case there is no competitor.

Senator PAYNE - There is not.

I desire to refer briefly to the military branch of the Defence Department. A large expenditure is proposed on warlike stores, including machine guns, vehicles, harness and saddlery, accoutrements, and other regimental and personal equipment. This is a Department in which business principles could be introduced, particularly in connexion with the control of stores. If honorable senators have perused the Auditor-General's report, they must have been astounded to find the amazing lack of supervision there has been during the last financial year in this branch of the Military Service. The Auditor-General directs special attention to the conditions prevailing in connexion with the stores and equipment account.

Senator Russell - Is not the trouble largely in country districts, where the Department depends upon the services of honorary officers?

Senator PAYNE - I do not know where the difficulty lies; but, in view of the need for economy, honorable senators will recognise the significance of the Auditor-General's statement, in which he says that, in connexion with stores and equipment in charge of military units, there was a deficiency last year, when stocks were taken, of £32,050.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Boots worn outby cadets arc shown in the stocks until they are wiped off by the Board or by some other process. I am very surprised to discover that the amount is so small, having regard to the system which obtains.

Senator PAYNE - Surely it is reasonable to write off anything worn out? There is, apparently, an absence of business principles in the control of military stores.

Senator Drake-Brockman - They are controlled by junior militia officers, and it is impossible to get the same close supervision as would prevail in a store in Collins-street.

Senator PAYNE - I am seeking information. I have also found, in connexion with one or two units, that there has been a large surplus ; and that cannot be accounted for by accoutrements being worn out. If there are losses through lack of supervision, it might pay the Government to establish some system under which closer supervision could "be exercised. I am proud of our military organization, but I do not want the Auditor-General's report ta appear year after year with statements in it such as I have quoted, because those who have to find the money naturally consider it a reflection on the Defence Department. Closer supervision should be exercised where a large expenditure is involved.

Senator Cox - Does the honorable senator expect men to do the work for nothing? Would he give his services in an honorary capacity ?

Senator PAYNE - I have not said that the work should be don§. without any remuneration, and I have not reflected in any way upon the Department. I am prepared to devote my spare time to assist the Defence Department in an honorary capacity, if my services are required.

Senator Cox -The honorable senator advocates economy, and at the same time suggests, additional supervision.

Senator PAYNE - It is not economy to allow thousands of pounds wo/th of material to be lost annually.

Senator Bolton - A "Business Committee investigated the operations of the Defence Department, and, instead of effecting economies, created chaos.

Senator PAYNE - I am not responsible for that. The Auditor-General's annual report is one of the most informative documents supplied to honorable senators, and it is our duty to give publicity to what it contains. Senator Newland deprecated any attempt being made to reduce expenditure in the Commonwealth because it would, in his opinion, mean increasing the number of unemployed. It would not be sound finance to suggest that we should support the Treasurer in submitting a Budget which would show a huge deficiency, in order that work could be found for those needing it. If every man ware doing has share to-day, I do not think the demand for labour could be met, 'because Australian industries would receive such an impetus that the labour offering would be quickly absorbed. Unfortunately, a great deal of the distress which prevails in Australia at present has arisen because the men have adopted .the policy of doing as little as possible, with the result that many important business undertakings have been compelled to reduce hands, and in some cases close down. Every man should realize his duty to his country by giving of his best. Then there would be no need to talk of the unemployment problem in Australia.

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