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Tuesday, 6 December 1927

Senator OGDEN (Tasmania) .- I am bound to support the arguments of Senator Findley concerning the cost to Australia of the Development and Migration Commission. It was appointed for the express purpose of supervising schemes to expend the £34,000,000 to be made available by Great Britain for developmental purposes. In the first place 1 do not believe it is good for the States to. be. able to lay their hands on u lot. of cheap loan money. Although the loan will bear a low rate of interest for the first year or two, at the expiration of five years the States will have to foot the full interest, bill. I believe that we are borrowing too much money and that this policy is largely responsible for our heavy importations despite our high tariff duties. If the State Governments, which are always susceptible to the influence of the electors, permit this cheap money to be expended on schemes which may not b« properly thought out, the States eventually will be penalized, because they will have to find the interest charges. I was opposed to the appointment of the commission, because I thought it would become too cumbersome. I agreed that it was advisable to set up some authority to advise the Government on certain matters.; but I believed that a commission of four, with all its attendant official expenditure - each member of the commission, I understand, has a private secretary - would be altogether too unwieldy. To me it seemed like an attempt to use a steam hammer to crack a nut.

Senator Payne - It is a pretty hard nut to crack.

Senator OGDEN - It is. The Estimates show that expenditure on the commission is continually increasing. The Australian organization, without counting salaries - I do not know where they are provided for, but they must .be shown somewhere in the Estimates - will cost this year £45,000. This represents an increase of nearly £8,000 on the amount spent last year. The commission has taken over- all matters appertaining to migration and has also increased the expenditure on this branch of its activities by £27,000 a year. I have a great admiration for Mr. Gepp, as a geologist, metallurgist and an organizer, but I am afraid that he is inclined to be a little extravagant in his ideas. This commission is becoming too costly. I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of thecommission when it visited Tasmania, where it spent about a fortnight, and I was surprised at the number of ridiculous questions that were brought before it for consideration. They ranged from dairying to the care of returned soldiers; matters which the commission has no right to touch. There is a good deal in what Senator Pearce said with regard to the need for some such body as this to examine developmental schemes; but I remind the Minister that the commission is duplicating a great deal of work that has already been done by the States. Each State Government has its agricultural experts and other officers to advise it. Tasmania, I know, is well staffed with both fresh and canned fruit experts, and has a complete geological staff acting as an advisory body to the Government on mining matters.

Senator Sir George Pearce - The Tasmanian Government admitted that it had no agricultural experts. It has appointed one recently on the recommendation of the commission.

Senator OGDEN - I admit that the Tasmanian Government allowed its staff of agricultural experts to get low, but long before the Development and Migration Commission came into being it had determined to reorganize its agricultural branch.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Not until it had a recommendation from the commission.

Senator OGDEN - I do not know whether or not Dr. Findlay's salary is in- cluded in these Estimates.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Yes it is. He was sent over to Tasmania by the commission.

Senator OGDEN - My objection to the commission is that it is top heavy. "We have Mr. Gepp, the chairman; Mr. Nathan, from Western Australia; Mr. Gunn, a former politician, and an officer of the New South Wales Lands Department, all to do work which Mr. Gepp could have done with the aid. of expert advisers. I know Mr. Gepp very well, and I believe he is a most conscientious administrator, but a little bit inclined to be on the extravagant side. My point is that already we have in the various States expert advisers, and that there is no need for this duplication of work by the Development and Migration Commission. When that body visited Tasmania a great deal of time was wasted in the discussion of questions affecting returned soldiers, a matter entirely affecting the States and in dealing with questions affecting the dairying industry, cattle, mining the erection of cool stores for fruit and a number of other ridiculous suggestions. The commission is too costly altogether. If expenditure increases for a, few years at the present rate I do not know what will happen.

Senator Reid - Is it doing good work for the money?

Senator OGDEN - I do not think I am overstating the case when I say that, up to the present, it has done very little indeed, except to visit the various States and confer with State officials with regard to certain schemes. So far as I know, not one shilling of the £34,000,000 which has been made available by Great Britain has been utilized.

Senator Sir George Pearce - Yes; I gave the figures just now.

Senator OGDEN - I understand they refer only to recommendations.

Senator Sir George Pearce - No. Those figures related to the authorization of an expenditure of over £4,000,000 on a number of schemes, some of which have been started.

Senator OGDEN - I was not aware that that stage had been reached. But, as I have said, I am opposed to the borrowing of cheap money for this purpose. State governments, when they have cheap money available, are inclined to spend too much. That has been responsible for many of our troubles. We should not have been in our present difficulties if the Federal and State Governments had borrowed less money. The cost of this new department is expanding too rapidly. I agree with Senator Findley that a hint should be given to the commission that there is a limit to expenditure beyond which it should not go.

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