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Thursday, 15 July 1926

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) , - I hope that this clause will be negatived. The. expenses of the commission are altogether out of proportion to the financial interests concerned. The Minister said that the financial responsibility of the Commonwealth for the first ten years would be about £5,500,000, and that thereafter the States would shoulder the whole burden of the borrowed money and the interest thereon. Five million five hundred thousand pounds spread over a period of ten years represents about £550,000 a year. It is proposed to appoint a commission - on a scale which, if not grand, will at least be expensive - to watch over that expenditure. I say emphatically that if an arrangement has been entered into by the Government for the appointment of any person to act as chairman of the commission, that action is tantamount to ignoring this legislative chamber ; it is the worst parliamentary episode that has occurred during my 25 years in the public life of this country ; a gratuitous insult to Parliament, and particularly to this Chamber. I do not say that the Government has entered into any such arrangement, but, according to the press reports, it would appear that it has done so. Already certain sections of the community and of the press appear to be only too ready to avail themselves of any opportunity to speak disparagingly of this Chamber. Is the Senate a mere appendage of another place, a machine ' for saying " ditto " to the policy of the Government? I have repeatedly refused to subscribe to that view in connexion with this and other governments, believing that this Chamber should be just as independent as is another place. There are people who appear to think that any policy enunciated by the Government will be accepted by the Senate. I, for one, will never tamely submit to that sort of thing. On previous occasions I have protested against attempts to disparage this Chamber; my action on this occasion is due to no ill-feeling towards the present Government. I am, however, concerned with the preservation of our constitutional rights, and the dignity and prestige of this Chamber. If honorable senators must accept whatever proposals the Government introduces, then the sooner the death-knell of this Chamber is sounded the better. We are the custodians of a sacred trust, which was given to the Senate under the Constitution. What right has any government to anticipate our decisions? To do so is to offer the Senate a gratuitous insult. The Minister says that the expenditure under the agreement will be about £500,000 per annum. To look after that amount it is proposed to create an expensive commission. The salary suggested for the chairman is £5,000 per annum, with a less amount for each of the other commissioners. It is safe to say that the expenses of the commission will be not less than £30,000 or £40,000 per annum. Victoria has three Railways Commissioners to control an asset, not of £500,000, but of some £200,000,000 or more. The establishment of this commission is not justified. The work for which it is to be appointed could be done just as effectively and economically by the authority to which I referred in my second-reading speech. Instead of appointing this expensive commission the Government should authorize the Public Works Committee to investigate and report upon all public works contemplated in furtherance of its migration proposals. I realize, of course, that a devolution of power is unavoidable in certain cases.

Senator Needham - Why not delete the clause.

Senator LYNCH - That is my purpose, but I do not advocate the striking out of the provision relating to the appointment of the commission without suggesting something in its place. I propose that a committee already constituted, and a .committee, moreover, that has rendered extremely valuable service to the Commonwealth shall be charged with the responsibility, which it is sought, to place upon this .commission. The Public Works Committee was established in 1911. Since that year it has inquired into and reported upon a vast number of public works, and by its recommendations it has saved the taxpayers of this country hundreds -of thousands of pounds.

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