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Wednesday, 12 October 1927

Senator HERBERT HAYS (Tasmania) . - I heartily concur in the adverse comments of honorable senators with regard to the way in which this bill has been presented. Even if details were not furnished in the bill itself, it would be a decided advantage to us if more (particulars were given by the Minister in moving the second reading. Fuller details as to the manner in which the money was proposed to be spent would enable honorable senators to keep in touch with works, more particularly those in their own States. Let me take the Murray Waters Scheme as an example. When the scheme was first launched and the Commonwealth agreed to be jointly responsible with certain States, for the carrying out of what was' undoubtedly a national undertaking, it was estimated that it would " cost between £4,000,000 and £5,000,000.

Senator Duncan - The honorable senator is aware that since then the scheme has been considerably amended.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - I am aware that the capacity of the Hume reservoir has been considerably increased, but that fact does not account for the enormously increased expenditure now involved in completing the scheme. I make due allowance for the increase in the cost of labour, the rate of interest, and the cost of material, but the responsible officers to whom we look for guidance in such matters, should have been able to give us a more approximate estimate of the cost of the work which it is now admitted by the Minister for "Works and Railways will involve an expenditure of £14,000,000. No private individual or company would tolerate such a thing - a work costing nearly three times what it was at first estimated to cost. We have no guarantee even now that the expenditure will not amount to £20,000,000. The work was originally estimated to cost under £5,000,000. Allowing £2,000,000, an extravagant figure, for the cost of increasing the capacity of the Hume w7eir, there still remains £7,000,000 to be accounted for on the estimate now given by the Minister for Works and Railways.

Senator Duncan - It shows the advisability of doing the work by contract.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - There is certainly nothing to indicate that the £14,000,000 will not be increased in the ratio by which the original £5,000,000 has been exceeded over the five years during which the work has been in progress. If in dealing with a bill like this, we had before us the estimates framed by those who had advised the Government, we should be in a position to submit questions to the Minister in charge of the measure, and the Minister himself would be able to explain why any particular estimate had been exceeded. We are dealing with the money of the people. It is our duty as custodians of the public purse and as representatives of those who have sent us here to safeguard the public expenditure, as we would safeguard our own personal interests. We must ask ourselves, therefore, if we are justified in voting large sums of money for public works without requiring that public tenders shall be invited. The calling for tenders for such works is a useful check on the officers who prepare estimates for submission to Parliament. There is no desire on my part to impute any wrong motives to those officers, but they must know from experience that it costs much more to have work done by day labour that it does to have it done by contract. They must also know that in their estimates they are obliged to make a substantial allowance for any work that is proposed to be done by day labour. The Murray waters scheme is not an exception. The remarks I have made apply to other works.

Senator Needham - Does the honorable senator assert that it is more costly to have work carried out by day labour ?

Senator HERBERT HAYS - I do. If the honorable senator were spending a large sum of his own money he would call for competitive prices, and have the work carried out by contract. My experience and that of other honorable senators is that one undoubtedly gets a better result by letting a contract than by having work done by day labour.

I submitted a question the other day relating to the acceptance of tenders for the supply of 120,000 arms for telegraph poles. A tender for stringybark from Tasmania was 7$d. an arm cheaper tha ti the accepted tender, but the PostmasterGeneral's reply to my question was : -

The explanation is due to the difference in class of timber from the point of view of suitability for our special work. The lowest tender was for stringybark, whilst the accepted tender was for jarrah.

Jarrah may be an exceptionally good' timber, but it is extraordinary that the Department of the Postmaster-General should only now have made the discovery that stringybark is unsuitable for arms for telegraph poles.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - The answer does not say that stringy bark is unsuitable.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - I cannot say what the Postmaster-General wishes to infer by the use of the word a "suitability for our special work" Tenders were submitted in the ordinary way for arms for telegraph pole?, and to justify his acceptance of a tender 7½d. an arm dearer than the tender submittedby Tasmanian millers the PostmasterGeneral says that jarrah is more suitable for the department's special work.

Senator Elliott - Does not stringybark split very easily?

Senator HERBERT HAYS - In every part of Australia it is regarded as a wood suitable for special kinds of work. When the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) was asked to have the duty on soft woods increased he replied that the Tasmanian hardwood was suitable for special work, and he, therefore, thought it was inadvisable to use it for ordinary building purposes. The inference to be gathered from the reply, which was given to my question, is that it is not suitable for the manufacture of telegraph arms, although it has been devoted to that purpose for many years.

Senator Sampson - The Postal Department is paying an additional £3,750 to get jarrah.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - I should like the Minister to inform me whether jarrah is to be used generally throughout Australia, including Tasmania?

Provision has been made for an expenditure of £5,700 on civil aviation. In what way is that money to be allocated? I trust that the claims of Tasmania will not be overlooked.

I agree with those who argue that in the raising of new loans the Government ought not to exhaust the resources of the local market. I recognize, of course, that there is a certain amount of surplus money awaiting investment in Australia, and that the policy of making interest payments to our own people has a great deal to commend it; but we must not disregard the tightness of the money market and the difficulty that is experienced by those who are engaged in primary production in obtaining additional capital for further development. Every loan that is raised on the local market by either the Commonwealth or the States must accentuate that position. We should limit our borrowing to the minimum amount necessary. Our interest bill is increasing rapidly, and additional burdens will have to be placed upon taxpayers to enable us to meet our commitments. The Government should as far as possible finance worksout of revenue rather than from loan funds. When money is readily available, there is always the danger that works which are not directly reproductive will be undertaken. The conversion loan that is now on the market will carry a rate of interest substantially higher than what is now being paid. Australia's prosperity depends largely upon primary production, and we should hesitate before placing further burdens upon it.

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