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Wednesday, 12 October 1927

Senator J B HAYES (Tasmania) . - The major portion of the amount included in this bill is for various works to be undertaken for the postal department. The loan expenditure of that department for this year is estimated at about £4,000,000. To that I have no objection particularly as the department pays interest on the money borrowed and also provides a sinking fund. A considerable portion of the money is for extending telephonic and telegraphic communications in districts where such facilities are greatly needed. An even larger sum could with advantage be spent in that direction. My objection is not to the expenditure of the money but to the absence of information as to how it will be spent. There is nothing in the bill to indicate the nature of the works on which the money will be expended, or how much the various buildings are expected to cost. All the information it contains is that a sum exceeding £4,000,000 is to be spent in connexion Avith the Postal Department alone. Heads of the department like money to be voted in this way. In saying that, I cast no reflection on the present administration of the Postal Department. For the Postmaster General and his administration I have the highest regard; but those who have had experience know that in all big spending departments there are opportunities for extravagance and waste. One of the most effective checks against extravagance is for Parliament to control the expenditure. Parliament will not control the expenditure of this large sum of money. The department must know how it contemplates spending the money, otherwise the aggregate amount could not have been arrived at. The estimates having been prepared, it would not have caused much trouble to include the items in the bill. That might delay slightly the passing of the measure, but in dealing with it the Senate would know what it was doing, and honorable senators could ro some extent check the cost of the works later. It might happen that a building estimated to cost £10,000 would cost £15,000. If Parliament had agreed to only £10,000 being expended on it, parliamentary approval would have to be obtained before that amount could be exceeded. Thus Parliament would control the expenditure. But under the present system, if a building costs 50 per centmore than the estimate, . the money is taken from some other work. There might be a departmental, inquiry to ascertain the reason for exceeding the estimate, but Parliament would not know anything about it. In travelling throughout Australia I have often wondered what various public buildings and other works have cost, but usually no one has been able to tell me. We shall never know the cost of individual works if loan bills giving only a lump sum instead of the separate items are presented to Parliament.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - The amount to be appropriated under this bill is not over £4,000,000, as the honorable senator has suggested, but only £2,960,650.

Senator J B HAYES - More than £4,000,000 is to be spent by .the postal department this year from loan. We have already appropriated over £1,115,000 under the first Loan Bill, and we are now dealing with a sum exceeding £2,900,000. The principle is the same whatever may be the amount included in the bill. I was referring to the year's expenditure, which is estimated at £4,076,000. When 'dealing with Loan Bill, No. 1, the' Senate had before it no more information than it now has in connexion with this measure. My suggestion is that in dealing with a loan bill we should not have to seek information from the Minister, but that it should be definitely set out in the bill itself. The Minister is always courteous, and gives any information asked by honorable senators; but the information should be in the bill itself. Honorable senators would then know how much money was to be expended in certain directions, and could then approve or disapprove of the items We know that a number of new post office buildings will be erected, but we do not know their types or their cost. I have had some experience in introducing similar measures, and I suggest that in future loan bills the individual items be inserted so that Parliament will know what it is doing. The practice would provide a wholesome check on any mistakes that might occur.

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