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Thursday, 8 December 1927

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - The Ministry, after the third reading of the Appropriation Bill has been passed, will have many millions of pounds at its disposal with which to carry on the functions of government. It is impossible for honorable senators, in the committee stages of the bill, to examine every item in the Estimates and determine whether or not they are justified. As supporters of the Government we have to assume that the Ministry is satisfied with the Estimates as they are presented to Parliament. But before the Senate is called upon to vote for the third reading of this bill, I should like' to have an assurance from the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) that the Government takes complete responsibility for every item in the Estimates. I make this request for a definite reason. I realize that we may not, on this motion, refer to anything that occurred in committee; but I may be permitted to remind honorable senators that the' Leader of the Senate stated on Tuesday that the Government was not responsible for a certain section of the Estimates.

Hisadmission has placed me in a somewhat awkward position. I might be prepared to vote for Estimates for which the Government was responsible, but not for that portion for which the Government did not accept responsibility, and the only way in which I could indicate my protest would be by voting against the third reading of the bill. If a majority of honorable senators shared my view the bill would not pass its third reading and the Government would be wrecked, net because it had introduced Estimates for which it accepted full responsiblity, but for having included Estimates prepared by some other authority. I understand that the Leader of the Senate does not fully approve of certain of the Estimates. If that is so, I do not like the idea of having to support the Government in respect of the whole of the Estimates, I care not how high or influential certain officers may be. The Minister has said that the Government is not responsible for the Estimates for the Parliament, prepared by the President and Mr. Speaker. If that is so it seems to me that the Ministry, in asking the Senate to pass the third reading of this bill, is sheltering itself behind certain officers. Ministers have no right to do that. If a certain portion of the Estimates is not presented by the Government and if the Government does not accept responsibility for them, but asks the Senate to pass the third reading of the bill, then it is clear that the Estimates are in watertight compartments. I do not say that the Minister would do it, but I suggest that, in the circumstances I have related, it would be open for a Minister, if he objected to some portion of the Estimates, momentarily to divest himself of his responsibility as a Minister- of the Crown, and as a senator in committee, call upon other honorable senators to vote with him to request another place to alter the Estimates. Then having used every argument against the items in question, he could, if he chose, as a Minister, vote for them. The Whip of a party, I understand, is not recognized as such in the Constitution. It makes mention of the Parliament, Ministers. Senators, and the Members of the House of Representatives. There is no reference to a party Whip, but usage has made the Whip a very important member of this chamber. A principal part of his business is to rally supporters of the Ministry to vote for Government proposals. I have always understood that the Appropriation Bill, containing the Estimates, was essentially a Government bill. Perhaps I have been wrong. It seems to me quite possible - I do not say it would be done - that if the Estimates are presented in these watertight compartments, the Whip might vote against the Government in respect of that portion .of the Estimates for which the Government was not responsible, and might excuse himself by saying, " These are the Estimates, not of the Government, but of some other authority, and they have been included in the bill against the wish of the Government." If the President and Mr. Speaker can include in the Estimates items that do not meet with the approval of the Government, or its idea of what is right, those officers are stronger than the two Houses combined. We may consider i> that some salaries are not sufficiently high, but all that we can do is to move for a reduction of the vote. We have not the constitutional right to add one penny to the expenditure. We, in this chamber, are fortunate in having among us some senators who, as Premiers and Treasurers, have played a very important part in State politics. When I heard this statement, I availed myself of the opportunity to question some of these distinguished senators regarding the practice which they observed in the State sphere. I asked th em whether they had ever declined to accept the fullest responsibility for every item of their Estimates. They were all good enough to tell me that they had always taken full responsibility, although they did their best to meet the wishes of officers of State, Presidents of Legislative Councils, and Speakers of Legislative Assemblies who made requests to them. When I expressed surprise that such a thing as this could happen in the Federal arena, I was told that I still had something to learn. I admit that there is a good deal of which I am ignorant. It may be that under the Federal Constitution things can be done which would never be dreamed of in State politics. The Appropriation Bill and the Estimates have run the gauntlet of this and another pla::e, and not a line of either has been altered. I believe that the Treasurer takes the fullest responsibility for all monies raised by way of taxation. I should like the Minister to tell me if, in an equal degree, the Government accepts responsibility for every item of the Estimates, whether the money is to be expended within the sacred precincts of Parliament or in helping to make brighter the home of the humblest citizen of this great Commonwealth.

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