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Wednesday, 7 December 1927

Senator REID (Queensland) .- 1. am sorry that the Minister is not able to supply the information which I am seeking.

Senator Crawford - The Federal Capital Commission was responsible for that work.

Senator REID - I have been able to obtain certain information myself, and I feel that 1 must protest strongly against the manner in which money is being expended by the Federal Capital Commission on certain works in Canberra. The Public Works Committee Act provides that all public works estimated to cost over £25,000 shall be referred to the Public Works Committee for investigation and report. If tlie improvements at Yarralumla had been referred to the committee, I am sure it would not have sanctioned the expenditure that has been incurred on the buildings there.

Senator Findley - Why was not that work referred to the Public Works Committee?

Senator REID - I do not know. But that is not the only instance. Even now there arc three other important works contemplated which, in the aggregate, will cost a considerable sum, but which, taken separately, are estimated to cost less than £25,000. It looks very much us if they have been so arranged in order to avoid a preliminary inquiry by the Public Works Committee.

Senator Ogden - Does the honorable senator suggest that it has been done deliberately?

Senator REID - It looks as if it has.

Senator Duncan - That is a serious charge to make against the Government.

Senator REID - I am not making any charge against the Government. I am merely citing these works as an illustration of what is going on in Canberra. The detached buildings at Yarralumla House are constructed of timber on concrete foundations, and are lined with fibro sheets. One building with six rooms and conveniences cost £5,000. No one who lias any knowledge of the building trade will pretend that the commission has value for that amount of expenditure. The Public Works Committee would never have authorized the erection of such buildings, and certainly would have objected to their cost.

Senator Ogden - Who carried out the work ?

Senator REID - I do not know. The Federal Capital Commission, I presume, called for tenners, and an officer of the commission, I have no doubt, supervised the work. Another building adjacent to the one I have just mentioned is occupied by the administrative staff. It cost £2,000. Even in Canberra that price is much too high.

Senator Duncan - The honorable senator should remember that there are three rooms in it!

Senator REID - I know there are three rooms in that building. I should like to know why the Minister in charge of the department allowed the commission to erect those buildings at such a cost. It appears- as if he has been neglecting his duty, and as a. result the Commonwealth Government has been involved in an expenditure of over £70,000 on Yarralumla House, including furnishings, which are put down at £15,000. I regard this as little short of a scandal. I am informed from a reliable source that three of the works which I have mentioned have been so manipulated as to bring the Estimates under £25,000, so as to prevent them from being referred to the Public Works Committee I have nothing to say against Canberra itself, and it is not as a member of the Public Accounts Committee, that I am protesting now, because the works mentioned were not in the first instance referred to the Public Works Committee. I have brought this matter under the notice of the Senate, because I object to any squandering of public money. The sooner the commission is informed definitely that the will of Parliament must not be disregarded, the better it will be for that body aud all concerned. This matter would have been mentioned in another place, but for the fact that the Estimates were, if I may use a well known ordinary Parliamentary phrase, " bludgeoned " through.

Senator Needham - I am glad that the honorable senator admits that.

Senator REID - I employed that word because it was used in another place by members who criticized the policy of the Government. Because of the arrangements made there, members were deprived of an opportunity to speak on these matters. The Senate, being a more orderly chamber, its members have ample opportunity to deal with' all subjects brought before it. I again protest at what is being done in Canberra in the direction I have named, and I hope that the Government will take steps to prevent a repetition of it in the future. I hope also- that the Public Accounts Committee will inquire into the expenditure at Yarralumla House.

Senator Duncan - Who was the contractor ?

Senator REID - I do not know, but I have no doubt if the Public Accounts Committee makes an inquiry that information will be disclosed. Steps should be taken to keep all expenditure within reasonable bounds, and to ensure that the Commonwealth gets a good return for its money.

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