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Wednesday, 22 August 1906

Mr REID (East Sydney) .- At an earlier stage of the evening, I certainly expressed my willingness to remain here until the whole of the Estimates relating to new works and buildings were disposed of. Of course, I cannot go back upon that arrangement, but I must say that I did not calculate upon our having, at this hour of the night, to consider a division involving a proposed vote of £130,000 for military supplies. However, if the Government think it necessary, I am prepared to go on. I regret that very few honorable members seem to take an interest in proposal's involving such a very large expenditure; although I must admit that we have a larger attendance now than at almost any previous stage of the sitting - we have nearly a quorum. I think that the honorable member for Capricornia has rendered a distinct service in calling attention to the matters to which he has alluded. I understand that the figures quoted by him are taken from the Commonwealth Government Gazette, and I cannot understand why the Treasurer fails to realize the seriousness of the case to which attention has been directed.

Sir John Forrest - I said that the prices quoted were those of the lowest tenderer.

Mr REID - Yes; but when tenders are called in six different States, and the tender accepted in each case is for exactly the same amount, much sagacity is not required to arrive at an understanding of the situation. The honorable member for Capricornia has mentioned the names of several firms. If, after all, they are one and the same firm, it is as well that the Government should know it. When tenders of the same amount are received from a number of different firms, the Department mav consider that the price fixed is a reasonable one, but if the same firm tenders under a number of different names, a deception is practised on the Department.

Sir Langdon Bonython - They are distinct firms, but they are working in unison.

Mr REID - That is an operation into which we can all agree to look very carefully. If one firm is enjoying a monopoly in connexion with the supply of certain articles, we shall all feel indebted to the honorable member for Capricornia for having directed attention to the matter.

Sir John Forrest - We shall look into it all right.

Mr REID - I quite agree with the honorable member for Capricornia that, given anything like equal prices, local tenderers should have preference.

Mr Austin Chapman - The preference is always given to local tenderers if the prices are the same.

Mr REID - I should think it would be so1. But I understand, from what the honorable member for Capricornia has said, that that rule was not observed in the case to which he has referred.

Sir Langdon BONYTHON - Tenders were sent in by a number of different firms, but in some cases they worked in unison.

Mr REID - Passing from that matter, I desire to point out that a marvellous want of calculation is displayed in connexion with the item "Accoutrements, saddle-trees, stirrups, and bits." We expect the Estimates to be framed with some regard to the necessities of the case. I find that last year we voted £42,750, but that the actual expenditure amounted to only '£41859- I notice further that we voted ,£22,500 for " making saddles." Therefore, we appropriated a sum of £65,000 for these two items of a similar character. No doubt it was assumed by honorable members that the public service required the expenditure of something like th'at amount upon these supplies, but we find-

Mr Ewing - The right honorable member must remember that these were really his Estimates.

Mr REID - That only shows that the Government starved the votes in order that they might spend the money in other directions.

Mr Ewing - If the right honorable gentleman will look at the Estimates, he will find that, instead of spending the money upon accoutrements we bought rifles. We could buy saddles at any time, but we could not procure rifles with the same readiness.

Mr REID - Does the Minister mean to say that, if we vote £42,000 for saddletrees, stirrups, and bits, the 'Government can spend the money upon rifles?

Mr Ewing - We informed the House, and obtained their approval.

Mr REID - We are being introduced into a really marvellous field of amusement. The Government solemnly ask honorable members to vote a certain sum for stirrups and bits, and afterwards tell them that they are going to spend the money upon rifles. Honorable members, after having seen the items in the Estimates for two years, are told that the money is to be spent, not upon bits, but upon rifles. All that I can &a.y is that we are learning a lot in connexion with the way in which the public funds are disbursed. Surely, in view of the fact that the Government intended to use the money for an entirely different purpose, they might have amended the Appropriation Act.

Mr Ewing - We used money out of the Treasurer's Advance Account for the purchase of rifles, and saved al similar amount upon the vote for accoutrements.

Mr REID - Apparently we never know under which thimble the pea is to be found. The Minister's explanation makes the matter still more amusing. I hope that in the future the Estimates will be more reliable, and will convey more information to the public, because, if the practice pursued in the past is persisted in, we shall never have a proper system of accounts. I know that the Vice-President of the Executive Council, who takes a personal interest in the Defence Department - although he never visits it - will see that these matters are attended to. I suppose that we may take it that we have his personal assurance upon that matter.

Mr Ewing - Certainly. The right honorable member has my assurance.

Mr REID - In view of that assurance, I will defer some other remarks which I had intended to make.

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