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Thursday, 11 July 1946

Mr SPENDER (Warringah) . - In my observations with respect to the consequences of clause 29. I referred to clauses 31 and 39, and suggested that the relationship of those clauses should be recognized. Clause 31 reads -

The Commission shall prepare estimates, in such form as the Minister directs, of its receipts and expenditure for each financial year, and shall submit those estimates to the Minister.

Clause 39, which I suggest should be read and discussed in conjunction with this clause, reads - (1.) The Commission shall, as soon as possible after the close of each .financial year- that relates .to the close of a financial year whereas clause 31 relates to the beginning of a financial year - submit to the Minister an annual report with respect to the operations of the Commission and financial accounts, in respect of that year, in such form as the Treasurer a approves (2.) The annual report and financial accounts, accompanied by a certificate of the Auditor-General, shall be laid before both Houses of the Parliament within fifteen sitting days after their receipt by the Minister.

On more than one occasion honorable members have shown how futile it is to discuss the financial operations of the Government after such operations have come to an end, and how futile it is to attempt to persuade this Government to pay any heed at all to remarks of the Auditor-General with respect to its financial operations. I emphasize that clause 31 makes no reference at all to the necessity foi' placing these estimates before the Parliament. My objection, which is fortified by the discussion which took place on clause 29, is that the estimates in respect of an organization of this kind should be placed before the Parliament at the commencement of the financial year. It is quite idle for the Parliament to claim any charge -over finance, if, indeed, the estimates are to be given to the Minister who simply does not present them to the cb amber but merely says that he requires a certain sum of money in respect of the proposed commission. What I wish to emphasize, and I have sought in vain to attract support for my contention from honorable members opposite, is the right of the Parliament, particularly since the war has come to an end, to know in detail the estimates of every department and every authority which functions under an act of Parliament while .such estimates are being discussed. As I have remarked on more than one occasion, the- truth is that control of finance has been taken away from the Parliament. Indeed, finance is no longer in the control of the Executive, because when a Minister is asked to give information as to how a large proposed vote is made up we are vouchsafed no details at all. It is important to direct attention to this clause and to the need for an amendment to be made to provide that the estimates referred to therein shall be brought before the Parliament with all the other estimates of governmental expenditure each year and tabled so that we shall have the data upon which intelligent discussion and criticism may take place. I cannot imagine that any Parliament could" function efficiently without that data, but for more than five years no one' outside the Ministry has been able to say that he has received it. I know that during the war, for the sake of security, expenditure on defence needed to be lumped into one sum without disclosure of details. but that timehas passed, and the Parliament must re-establish its authority over finance. If we do not we cannot claim to be a democratic parliament. It issignificant, in connexion with this clause to direct attention to what took place with respect to clause 29. The honorable member for Watson (Mr.Falstein) said that the Government could not give the information because to dp so would be to reveal details to trading competitors of the commission. That has nothing to do with this matter, because slight analysis shows that the commission is to be a legislatively created monopoly, and consequently it will have no business competitors. But the Minister will have nothing of that idea. He says that that is not the reason. He says, "If we revealed the figure at this stage of the negotiations we should be telling the investing public how much is to be paid or how much we are thinking of paying to Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited". A little analysis of that also shows that it does not hold water. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) has revealed that there are no sellers, only buyers, of shares of Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited on the stock exchange. It is. extraordinary that we should have one statement from a back-bencher opposite and a contradictory statement from the Minister. I appeal to honorable members to assert their rights. Private members to the right or the left of the Chair ought to have full details of every appropriation. Is it intended that the estimates to be prepared under this clause shall be the secret of the Government? Is it intended by the Government simply to seek the appropriation of so many million pounds? Or is it intended, when the annual estimates of all departments are being considered, if " considered " is the right word, that the estimates prepared under this clause shall be laid on the table? To have those estimates in their possession is the right of honorable members. Are we mere pieces of machinery with some of us on one side of the chamber and the larger number on the other side? Is this in reality a committee of ways and means?

It is not when we are told only that the. Government requires £3,000.000.No matter how much we ask for details they are kept from us. They will never be given to us unless we impress our will on the Executive. Every honorable member has a duty to his electors to preserve his custodianship of public funds. We shall never have a reduction of taxes unless we assert our authority over those charged with the expenditure of public moneys.

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