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Wednesday, 23 March 1927


Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) .- The bill gives authority to borrow £1,115,350 for new works and buildings for the Postmaster-General's Department. I remind honorable senators, and particularly the members of the Ministry, that as a private member Dr. Earle Page was emphatically of the opinion that the Postal Department should be selfcontained and relf -reliant, and that it should meet the whole of its expenditure out of the revenue that it obtained. There is a great deal of logic in that argument. But since the honorable gentleman has been Treasurer of the Commonwealth he has departed from that policy. Up to a couple of years ago, the revenue of the Postal Department was paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, and the biggest portion of both its general expenditure and that on new works was defrayed out of that fund. From 1901 to 1912, every item of expenditure was met out of general revenue. In 1912-13, the expenditure out of revenue on new works was approximately £1,500,000, and that out of the loan fund only £152,000. The sum of £1,500,000 may appear small in comparison with the estimate of £5,350,000for the present year ; but we must take into account the additional cost of building to-day compared with pre-war days. The increase has been at least 75 per cent.


Senator H Hays - Is not that an answer to the criticism of high rents?


Senator NEEDHAM - I am unable to discuss rents on this measure. The total expenditure on new works, buildings, &c, in the Postal Department, in 1914-15 was, from revenue, £2,279,000 ; and from loan, £911,000.


Senator Payne - Is the honorable senator arguing against the policy of borrowing for new works ?


Senator NEEDHAM - If Senator Payne will exercise patience, he will learn where I stand. In 1917-18, the expenditure from revenue was £9,176,000, and that from loan £1,174,000. In 1921-22, the expenditure out of the loan fund showed a large increase, the figures for that year being - from revenue, £940,000; and from loan fund, £848,000. During the ensuing year, practically the whole of the expenditure was defrayed out of the loan fund, the amounts being £221,000 out of revenue, and £2,288,000 from loan moneys.


Senator Payne - That is as it should be.


Senator NEEDHAM - Senator Paynedoubtless will contend that the works are reproductive. If they are, the policy is all right ; but there is a considerable doubt about the matter. In 1924-25, the whole of the commitments in respect to new works, buildings, &c, were made out of the loan fund. My sole reason for quoting these figures is to draw attention to the fact that Dr. Earle Page, as Treasurer, has been pursuing a different policy from that which he advocated as a private member. He has not been an economical Treasurer.


Senator H Hays - The figures which the honorable senator has quoted do not prove that.


Senator NEEDHAM -! agree that when works are reproductive there is justification for borrowing.


Senator Payne - Will the honorable senator define "reproductive"?


Senator NEEDHAM - There is only one definition - works which will return a profit on the money that has been invested, and enable provision to be made for repayment. Indiscriminate borrowing is prejudicial to the individual as well as to the nation. The present Government, and some of its predecessors in office, borrowed recklessly.


Senator Payne - Can the honorable senator give an illustration of reckless borrowing in connexion with the Postal Department?


Senator NEEDHAM - I could cite numerous instances, not particularly in connexion with the Postal Department, but over the whole of the administration. Had the bill been introduced at an earlier stage, ample time would have been allowed for a more comprehensive review than that which I have given. Any further criticism that I may have to offer regarding the borrowing policy of the Government, I shall reserve until the Parliament meets at Canberra and Dr. Earle Page presents his next budget.







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