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Thursday, 24 November 1921

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - I think we may, without apology, congratulate ourselves on having the honour, in the Senate, of being associated with gentlemen whose experience during the late great war has enabled them to speak with authority on the very subject to which Senator Drake-Brockman has directed our attention. The presence of those honorable senators is of great advantage, not only 'to this Senate, but to the Parliament and the people of Australia as well. I join with previous speakers in pointing to the need for a very close scrutiny being kept on the public ac-. counts. We should see that the taxpayers' money, very hardly earned in most cases, is so expended that 20s. worth of honest work' is obtained for every 20s. expended. I am sure that even the best friends of the Public Service do not- wish members of that Service to receive payment from the public purse and not be in a position to render the equivalent in honest service. There may be some who, perhaps, through a faulty form of public organization, are not in a position to render that service; but I am confident that those civil servants who have the interests of Australia at heart do not wish to be regarded as not rendering efficient service for the money paid to them.

Turning to the Defence Department, I agree that the crusade for retrenchment has been misdirected, by reason of the attempt made to curtail Defence expenditure. Honorable senators have at their command facts supplied by the Defence Department itself, and it is quite clearly shown that the amount proposed to be expended this year, about £2,600,000, is really less than was voted in 1913-14, when the world was at peace. The vote prior to the late war amounted to £3,250,000, which, owing to the decreased purchasing power of money, is equal to only £2,108,000- to-day. Even with the expenditure of £3,250,000 in 1913-14, it cannot be said that Australia had a creditable Defence organization.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - There were hardly enough « rifles to equip the First Division that left Australia.

Senator LYNCH - That is so. Evidence has been given on that point over and over again. What has been indicated by Senator Drake-Brockman as to the inefficiency of the Defence expenditure in 1913-14 would, no doubt, be re-echoed by the other honorable and gallant gentlemen in the Senate who have a similar acquaintance with the Department of Defence. If the result was so unsatisfactory from the expenditure at that time of a larger sum than is now asked for, why cavil at the present proposed expenditure when the need of Australia for defence is equally as great? I do not knowthat the menace of aggression is any further ' removed from us. Events are developing at Washington in a mannerwhich does not give much food for comfort to. the robust optimists who want peace and goodwill among men, as I do. Each nation is thinking of what is to become of its own safety if certain thingsare not done. There are many pious aspirations as to the outcome of the Disarmament Conference, but nothing tangible has been done, up to date, to warrant this Parliament voting a lesser sum for defence than was expended in 1913-14. I support Senator Bolton's suggestion to substitute for the reduction of one item the cutting down of another, so as to provide for the completion of the machinery required for the manufacture of ammunition. Common business principles suggest that this enterprise should not be left in a half-finished state. It will be a waste of money to let the machinery at the Ammunition Factory rust.

I regret to say that up to the present we have been backward in the matter of providing telephones in the interior of Australia. What Senator Newland has said concerning outlying parts of the Northern Territory and other remote places applies with equal force to districts which are nearer the cities, but where the population is sparse. Tha best way to encourage rural life is to provide the best and latest means of communication, and the telephone is one of the conveniences which will greatly help in that direction. Past Governments have not been as farsighted as they should have been in administering to the needs of residents in the back country, who are an infinitely greater asset to the Commonwealth than the people who tread the city pavements. If men and women are contented in the country they will remain there, but if not they will come to the electric light areas, the picture shows, and those shadowy attractions.- of the cities, which Thomas Jefferson has referred to as the festering sores of civilization. The crowding of populations -into large cities 13 merely the corollary "to our long strides after a higher civilization. To make a comparison, let me read the following remarks from the Budget speech of the Prime Minister of New Zealand (Mr. Massey), as showing what that Dominion, with a population of less than one-fourth that of the Commonwealth, did last year: -

Owing to the non-arrival of a large quantity of material essential for the carrying on of telegraphic and telephone construction and maintenance works, a sum of about £200,000 will have to be carried forward to the vote for 1921-22. . . . The total amount expended for the year out of a vote for telegraph extension for the construction of telegraph and telephone lines was £336,000.

The total of these sums is £536,000. If we turn to our own Estimates of Expenditure under this heading, we have need to be ashamed of the comparison. On page 17 of the Treasurer's Budget speech we find that last year the expenditure on telephones and telegraphs by the Commonwealth, with four times the population of New Zealand, and with correspondingly greater financial resources, was only £900,000. . If our expenditure had been on the basis of population, in comparison with that of New Zealand, we should have been spending over £2,000,000 on these works last year.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) -t-A great deal of the money expended in the Commonwealth was on trunk lines, too.

Senator LYNCH - I believe that, unfortunately, what the honorable senator says is quite true. This year our estimated expenditure from loans and revenue on telegraphs and telephones is £1,747,000»- still a deficit, if based on the New Zealand expenditure, of £387,000. Facts speak for themselves. If we want to adopt a policy creditable to ourselves, and just to those people who go far afield to engage in production, we should anticipate the needs of the future, and, if necessary, raise loans in order to carry out this beneficial work on a much larger scale. I hope that, as the result of what has been said here on the Defence vote, and the necessity for efficient telegraph and telephone services in the interior of the Commonwealth, the Government will, if necessary, bring down an excess vote to give at least the same facilities as the Government in New Zealand so wisely provide for the people of that country.

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