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Wednesday, 23 September 1936

Senator HARDY (New South Wales) . - This appears to be an appropriate opportunity to discuss the advisableness of reconstituting the parliamentary standing committees, particularly the Public Works Committee which, T understand, were suspended in 1931.

Senator Collings - There are too many committees now.

Senator HARDY - There are not enough of them. The committees were suspended in 1931. on the ground of economy.

Senator Collings - There are already too many committees doing jobs for which Ministers are paid.

Senator HARDY - How can the honorable senator reconcile that statement with the views expressed by Mr. Scullin in the House of Representatives in 1931. Speaking on the second reading of the bill to suspend the operation of the parliamentary committees, he said -

Both committees serve a useful purpose, anil I do not think it would be advisable to abolish them.

Yet the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) now contends that we have too many committees. Mr. Scullin continued -

These are not governing measures in a strict sense; they cover a matter which comes under the control of Parliament, and are being introduced to enable Parliament to declare its views upon it. Personally, I think both committees should be retained.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch). - I presume that the honorable senator is developing the argument that more information should be supplied to the Senate.

Senator HARDY - That is so. Speaking on this subject at the same time, Mr. Lyons said -

It is anticipated that the suspension of the operations of the Committee of Public Accounts will result in the saving of approximately £3,000 per annum. That estimate is based on the actual expenditure of the committee during a normal year.

During the last four or five years of their existence the annual expenditure on those two committees rarely exceeded £3,000, and on no occasion did it exceed £5,000. I suggest to the Acting Leader of the Government that the time is now ripe for the reconstitution of these committees. In my opinion, the reports presented by those committees regarding the advisability of entering into proposed works were of much value to honorable senators. The public works programme for this year is estimated to cost £3,000,000; in any ordinary year it is rarely below £2,000,000. What is an expenditure of £5,000 to ensure efficient, control and investigation and consider the wisdom of spending £2,000,000 a year in comparison with the possible loss that might arise from unwise expenditure? Even in times of economic stress the expenditure involved in setting up these committees is justified; but the recent period of economic stress in Australia is definitely at an end.

Senator Collings - What sort of check was substituted for that imposed by the parliamentary committees?

Senator HARDY - None whatsoever. The recommendations of departmental heads were accepted, and thus power was again concentrated in the hands of the Executive. I suggest that we could well reconstitute the system of inquiry and report by parliamentary committees, particularly by a works committee. The Works Committee in the past did extremely valuable work, particularly in connexion with the Hinders water supply, and saved the country many thousands of pounds. We should profit by the lessons of the past and reconstitute these committees. No great additional expenditure would be involved, and the reports would promote the more efficient working of the parliamentary machine, and the wise expenditure of public moneys.

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