Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Friday, 25 November 1910

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - The prospect held out to us by the Vice-President of the Executive Council is perhaps not altogether unexpected, but, at the same time, it is one which ought to arrest the attention of the Senate. Owing to causes for which the Government must be held responsible, we are now face to face with this position : that in the space of four hours we must deal with four separate measures, any one of which might reasonably demand two or three days' consideration. In the first place, we have the Bill which is now before us, under which it is proposed to appropriate nearly ;£i 7,000,000. That in itself is of sufficient importance to occupy the scrutiny of this Chamber for a great deal longer than the period which remains at our disposal. Then the Government propose to ask for Supply for a period of two months beyond the current financial year. That is also a matter which the Senate might reasonably discuss for some time. Then we ought to be afforded an opportunity, similar to that which has been given to another branch of the Legislature, to debate, if we so desire, the subjects that are to be discussed at the Imperial Conference, to be held in London in June next. We have also to deal with the Supplementary Estimates for this year which, for the first time, embrace items relating to the Northern Territory. Any one of these matters might reasonably occupy our attention for two or three days.

Senator Findley - There is no reason why they should not do so.

Senator MILLEN - What is the use of the Honorary Minister talking like that in the face of the plain intimation we have just had from the Vice-President of the Executive Council that if we do not dispose of the remaining business by the ordinary hour for adjournment to-day, we must sit on until it is disposed of ? We know that it is the intention of the Government to crowd on all sail until the consideration of that business has been completed.

Senator McGregor - But the Senate has control of its own business.

Senator MILLEN - I have heard that before.

Senator Guthrie - And said it before.

Senator MILLEN - Yes, under circumstances when the remark was justifiable. But the Ministry cannot urge that the Senate is to be afforded a reasonable opportunity of considering the important measures which I have outlined, and which are brought forward at an unprecedentedly late stage of the -session. The VicePresident of the Executive Council has intimated that we must bolt them all before 4 o'clock this afternoon, or continue the sitting until we have dealt with them. Under such circumstances, what is the use of pretending to consider them?

Senator Givens - It is a mere farce.

Senator MILLEN - It is ridiculous to suggest that the Senate has the slightest control over the finances, or that it is possible for an honorable senator to address himself to the various matters involved, not merely in the items, but in the policy of the Government as outlined' in these financial BillsWe might as well recognise that fact at once. What is the good of even making a pretence to consider these matters when there is no possibility of serious debate? Practically what the Minister says is " You may accept the whole as it stands, because, if you do not, by a process of continuous sitting and exhaustion, you will have to accept it in the end." In these circumstances there is no inducement to any honorable senator to address himself to the questions which arise. On the contrary, there is an intimation to him that it is idle to do any1 thing, and therefore he may as well refrain from occupying time.

Senator Findley - These matters could have been discussed yesterday.

Senator MILLEN - Yesterday we stood, as we now stand, under the shadow of the threat which the Vice-President of the Executive Council has uttered.

Senator McGregor - I have uttered no threat.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator has stated that if the Senate is in what he calls a generous mood - that is a mood to shirk its duty - and bolts all the business by 4 o'clock to-day, it will be adjourned, but if not the sitting will be continued until the work is finished. Under conditions of that character I decline to seriously consider any business. During the session there have been frequent occasions when, instead of fooling with a Bill which the Government knew could not be passed, all the important matters comprised in the Budget papers could have" been discussed.

Senator Guthrie - We have advanced the Navigation Bill a long way.

Senator MILLEN - Yes, but only by depriving the Senate of an opportunity to deal with matters which must be passed this session. The time which was devoted to the Navigation Bill should have been made available for the consideration of the Budget papers.

Senator Guthrie - Did the honorable senator ever expect to get the Navigation Bill put through both Houses in one session? The late Government made an attempt to do so, but only succeeded in getting 17 clauses passed in the Senate.

Senator MILLEN - Is it possible to institute a fair comparison between the late Government and the present Government ?

Senator Guthrie - Yes.

Senator MILLEN - When I had the honour to lead the Senate I never knew where I stood. I could not depend upon the magic of the division bell to bring me support.

Senator Guthrie - Nor can the present Government.

Senator MILLEN - So far they have managed to do so, and no one has responded more readily to that call than has the honorable senator.

Senator de Largie - Open confession is good for the soul. It is news to hear that Senator Millen, when Leader of the Senate, never knew where he stood.

Senator MILLEN - The parties in the Senate were so evenly divided that no one could foretell for a moment what was likely to happen. But even that Government, notwithstanding all the handicap under which it laboured, did for the first time in its history make an honest effort to give the Senate an opportunity to discuss the finances and the Estimates-. What was the good of the present Government laying the Budget papers on the table and putting a notice of motion on the business-paper if it was to be carefully kept at the bottom of the list until yesterday, when the shadow of the prorogation was upon us ? That was only playing with serious business. In spite of any criticism which may be levelled at the late Government, it did furnish the Senate with a reasonable opportunity to take a practical part in the control of the finances.

Senator Lynch - The late Government hardly did anything else but pass the Budget.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator and others commended the late Government for what it did.

Senator Lynch - But look at the record of work which has been done during the present session.

Senator MILLEN - But when the present Government is going back upon the precedent which the late Government established, the honorable senator has not a single condemnatory word to utter. I for one decline to sit on continuously to do the work which we ought to have been placed in a position to do much earlier in the session. We have always been prepared to give the Senate a reasonable opportunity to transact its business. For that reason I asked the Vice-President of the Executive Council if he intended to let us adjourn at the usual hour. Had he replied "Yes," I would have answered "All right." An opportunity for proceeding with the transaction of business in a serious way would then have been available to us at subsequent sittings. But when he answered " No. If you have not finished by 4 o'clock we shall sit on until you do finish," the position was totally different.

Senator McGregor - If it is the wish of the Senate to do so.

Senator MILLEN - T know what that statement means when it comes from a Minister .

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - T shall vote with the honorable senator if he will move for an adjournment until Tuesday.

Senator MILLEN - If a proposal of that sort were made by the Opposition, it would be accused of taking the control of business out of the hands of the Government.

Senator McGregor - All that honorable senators have to do is to request that the Senate shall be adjourned until Tuesday, and I shall submit a motion.

Senator MILLEN - What a magnificent offer ! If the numbers are against the honorable senator he will capitulate.

Senator McDougall - The numbers will not be with him.

Senator MILLEN - Then am I to take it that honorable senators are disposed to agree with me that an opportunity ought to be afforded to go on with the business of the country properly?

Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear.

Senator MILLEN - That means that it the business is not concluded by 4 o'clock we shall adjourn until next week, in the ordinary course of events ?

Honorable Senators.- Hear, hear.

Senator MILLEN - Thar is all I am contending for. As regards the Budget, I wish to draw attention to the splendid financial position in which, for the first time in the history of Australia, the Government finds itself to-day. It is a matter on which the Government is generally silent. It has a great deal to say about what it is doing, and what great boons it is conferring upon the people, but so far as I can recollect it has never said a word about the splendid measure of financial freedom which for the first time it has been in a position to enjoy.

Senator McGregor - We are very grateful for that.

Senator MILLEN - My honorable friends do not show their gratitude.

Senator McGregor - We do not make a song about it.

Senator MILLEN - There were many things which the late Government would have done if they had had the necessary money. No particular credit is due to the present Government for doing those things, seeing that it is the only Ministry which has ever had money at its disposal.

Senator Barker - The late Government had money.

Senator MILLEN - Does not the honorable senator understand how the Braddon section has affected our finances? The Estimates submitted by the Fisher Government for the current year present the remarkable feature of an absolute balance to a penny. Of course, no one pretends for a moment that the Estimates are worthy of serious consideration. They were put together as a piece of paper balancing, without any reality or substance in them. It is not possible for any one to believe that the revenue and the expenditure can be balanced to a penny. What is quite clear is that, having discovered on the Estimates that there is a difference of ,£1,000,000 between the revenue and the expenditure, that sum has been assumed to be the yield of the land tax. For that reason only was the amount placed at £1,000,000. I am confident that if the discrepancy had been £1,250,000, £900.000, £1, 100,000, or any other amount, it would have been adopted as the estimated yield from the land tax in order to establish a balance.

Senator Rae - Can the honorable senator give any figures as to the yield of the land tax?

Senator MILLEN - It is comparatively easy for the Government, with its staff, to get data 011 which to work, but it is absolutely impossible for a private individual to form an estimate.

Senator Rae - I do not think that any estimate could be more than a guess.

Senator MILLEN - Is it not marvellous to hit upon the exact amount necessary to balance the two sides of the national ledger? It is not even a guess. I wish to direct the attention of the Senate to the figures themselves, because while it is well to have an overflowing Treasury there is an obligation on Parliament to note an increase of revenue, when it is accompanied by an increase of expenditure. The revenue for the last financial year was £15,500,000, and the estimated revenue for the current year is £16,840,000, showing an increase of £1,300,000. On that estimate, if all other factors remained the same, the Government would immediately step into the control of £1,300,000 more than was handled by its predecessors. But that is only one of the factors making for the greatly enlarged amount which the Government has had at its disposal. Owing 10 the operation of the Braddon section, we paid to the States last year nearly £8,500,000. This financial year we shall pay them ,£5.250.000, leaving a difference on that account of £3,250,000, which will be retained by this Government, and was paid away by the previous one. Consequently the present Government have on that account alone the large sum of three millions and a quarter at their disposal . Add to that £1,300.000 extra revenue which the Government will receive, and it follows that they have nearly- £5,000,000 extra money to handle-than was handled by their predecessors. In other words, they are paying away £3,250,000 less than their predecessors paid to the States, and they are handling ,£1,300,000 more revenue.

Senator Givens - As Sir John Forrest says, " What is a million or two"?

Senator Barker - The honorable senator should remember that the present Government are paying away nearly ,£1,500,000 more on account of invalid pensions.

Senator MILLEN - That is not my point at all. I am simply showing that the Government have this extra amount of revenue to spend. When my honorable friends go before the country and take credit to their Government for introducing invalid pensions, it is only fair that they should acknowledge that they are able to pay those pensions because the Labour Government are handling ,£5,000,000 more money than was handled by their predecessors.

Senator Givens - Would not the previous Government have had more money at their disposal if they had had the courage to raise revenue by taxation ?

Senator MILLEN - If credit is to be taken to the Government for raising a large revenue by taxation, it follows that they ought to be blamed for not raising even more. I suppose the answer will be, " Give us time." I wish to emphasize the absolute unreliableness of these Estimates. The estimated increase of Customs and Excise, according to the official figures, was for the twelve months ,£106,900. That is to say, it was estimated that, roughly speaking, ,£107,000 more revenue would be received from Customs and Excise than was collected last year. We have before us the figures for the four months of the present financial year that have expired. Those four months show an increased revenue of £500,000. That is to say, the Government have received in four months five times the amount of increase which they estimated to receive during the whole twelve months.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - A shower of rain would do that.

Senator MILLEN - A shower of rain would do nothing of the kind. No one knows better than my honorable friend that the effects of a drought do not cease in a day, nor does the good effect of rain manifest itself in a day. A good many showers would not affect the Customs revenue for months to come. Honorable senators opposite may offer what excuse they like, but when a Government brings down Estimates and says that for the whole twelve months, when appearances are bright, when revenue is buoyant, and when industries are progressive, they estimate an increase of £107,000 over the previous year, and when the result shows that that estimate is exceeded to an enormous amount we can draw, our own inference.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Could the honorable senator have anticipated six months ago that this was going to be the most prosperous year that we have ever enjoyed ?

Senator MILLEN - Yes, I have seen signs for months past inducing me to believe that such would be the result. Moreover, the revenue received from Customs does not commence or cease immediately upon the operation of the causes that affect it. The effects of a drought or of a good season are not immediate. They operate for months to come. People in Australia are not living upon the revenue of to-day, but upon incomes earned some months ago.

Senator Givens - Sometimes they are living upon the- income of next year.

Senator MILLEN - That may be so, but my point is that even a great catastrophe such as the destruction of the wheat crop would not show its full effects upon the Customs revenue immediately. When a Government comes down to Parliament at a time when all the appearances are buoyant, and estimates an increase of revenue from Customs and Excise of ,£107,000 for the twelve months, and when the facts show that the revenue actually received in four months is four times the estimate . for the whole year, we cannot say that that estimate represents the high water mark of careful financing. It is impossible to say under those circumstances that there has been the same care in the preparation of the Estimates as we might have expected. What does this mean? There being an increase of ,£500,000 for four months, it means that the increase for the whole year may .reach ,£1,500,000 over the revenue for the preceding twelve months. The Government estimate, as I have pointed out, was an increase of ,£107,000, so that practically, calculating on the present rate of increase, we are going to receive an increase of revenue 1,500 per cent, in excess of the official estimate. In other words, we are going to receive ,£15 for every of the Government's estimated increase.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It shows the confidence of the electors in this Government.

Senator MILLEN - Does my honorable friend mean to say that an Australian citizen will consume more or less food and drink because of a change of Government ?

Senator Givens - It shows that the people are not afraid to launch out.

Senator Lynch - The spirit of enterprise is abroad.

Senator MILLEN - These interjections may have a party bearing, but I do not see that they have any bearing whatever upon the matter with which I am dealing.

Senator Rae - Should not the protective duties have had the effect of decreasing imports ?

Senator MILLEN - Theoretically that should be the effect, but where you have an era of unprecedented prosperity with respect to your natural products, you are bound to have great liberality with respect to your imports. That was shown by the fact that there was in the preceding year an expansion in the Customs and Excise revenue, and certainly nothing occurred to justify anticipations of a drop in the revenue for the succeeding twelve months. On the contrary, there was every reason to believe that the expansion would continue during the present financial year. On that item of Customs and Excise revenue alone, as I have shown, the Government will receive £1,500,000 more than last year. They will receive £1,400,000 more than their own estimate. In the Post Office, the same thing occurs again, owing to similar causes. I am not disposed to quarrel with the underestimate of the postal revenue so much, because in that Department it is admittedly a little more difficult to estimate what the revenue is likely to be. There the estimated increase was £126,000 for the year. During the four months of the financial vear that has elapsed, we have received £84,000 of that increase. If that rate of increase is continued, the total increase for the twelve months will be £265,000, or more than double the estimate of the Government.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And the employes are being sweated all the time.

Senator MILLEN - If the Labour Government are sweating the employes of the Post Office, I am not responsible.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Fusion Government was responsible.

Senator MILLEN - The Fusion Government is not there to do anything. If sweating is going on in the Post Office under a Labour Government, of which Senator W. Russell is a supporter, it is obviously his duty to get up and protest. I shall be interested to observe whether the honorable senator is prepared to take such action as will bring this Government to book for continuing the practice that he so bitterly denounces. There, can be no doubt as to what he ought to do if he really believes that there is sweating in the Department. Neither he nor any other member of this Chamber believes in the continuance of a practice of that kind.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Royal Commission's Report will be dealt with next session.

Senator MILLEN - That is not a very satisfactory assurance to the men who the honorable member says are being sweated. Let us put these increases together. I have pointed out that the present Government will have to dispose of £5,000,000 more money than their predecessors. That is the Government's own estimate of revenue and expenditure. But the actual revenue, at the rate at which it is now coming in, will give the Government £1,300,000 more than they estimated to receive. If the present tendency of revenue to increase is maintained for the twelve months, the Government will have more than £1,300,000- in excess of their own estimate. So that we may say that the Government will have £6,000,000 more money to handle than their predecessors had. In view of that very expanding revenue, and of the excellent financial position in which the Government find themselves, I am surprised and disappointed that they have not proposed to do what I think would have been an honest and business-like thing in regard to the States - namely, made a proposal for paying to them the interest incurred on account of the transferred properties. I cannot see any justice or equity, now that the Braddon section has terminated, inour continuing to use the transferred properties, and deriving revenue from them, without paying interest on the borrowed5 money used in their construction. Of course, I allude to such buildings as post and telegraph offices. It does not seem tome, I say, to be either business-like or honest that we should enjoy the revenue whilst the States pay the interest. The most reliable estimate that has been put together so far as to the cost of the properties is in the neighbourhood of £8,000,000. Taking the rate of interest to average 3- per cent. - and that is a fair rate to take - there should be paid to the States- £280,000 a year in respect to those properties. They are obliged to pay that interestbecause they accepted responsibility for the loans out of the proceeds of which thebuildings were constructed. But while they have to pay all the interest, all the income comes to us. I say, therefore, that we ought, at the earliest possible moment, to make provision for the payment to the States of interest on that amount.

Senator O'Keefe - When the Financial Agreement of the last} Government was prepared, was it contemplated to pay interest on the transferred properties?

Senator McGregor - No; the late Government never contemplated that.

Senator MILLEN - My honorable friend is wrong there. It was contemplated. One of the proposals was that, in addition to the 25s. per head which the Commonwealth was to pay to the States, there should be appointed a Commission to consider the transfer of the State debts, especially in connexion with this matter.

Senator McGregor - I have already said, in reply to a question in the Senate, that the matter of the transferred properties will be taken into consideration in connexion with the taking over of the State debts.

Senator MILLEN - And at the same time the Vice-President of the Executive Council said that there was no immediate intention to deal with the transfer of the State debts. Consequently, there is . no immediate intention to deal with the question of the transferred properties. The Vice-President of the Executive Council fenced the question, and I had to press him to ascertain whether the transfer of the debts would be dealt with this session. He said " No." What is more, no matter what the Government propose to do with reference to the transfer of the State -debts, they are not relieved from making n proper return to the States on account of the properties which we have taken over from them, and in respect of which, as I have shown, they are liable to-day for the payment of interest.

Senator O'Keefe - I think we shall deal with the transfer of the debts next session.

Senator MILLEN - We cannot deal with the transfer of the debts next session. As for the transferred properties, there was, I admit, a reason for not paying "interest on account of them before, because the States were receiving from the Commonwealth a large amount of surplus revenue; and even though it was not a business-like way of' dealing with the question, nevertheless the States had no genuine cause of complaint. But now we are not paying them surplus revenue, and as a mere matter of business as between the Commonwealth and the States we ought to be charged with the interest sunk in those transferred properties. I do not think that any one can seriously dispute that proposition. The only point is as to whether the Government have not been remiss in not providing on these Estimates for some contribution to the States on this account. Even if we make some payment to them next year, they are not being provided for this year. We cannot allow this obligation to go on accumulating.

Senator O'Keefe - The matter will have to be fixed up when we are dealing with the whole question of the State debts and the transferred properties.

Senator MILLEN - But dealing with the State debts does not help us much with this question - except .as an excuse for getting away from the point. The point is that the Commonwealth is using properties to-day which the States are paying interest upon. That interest bill ought surely to be borne by the Commonwealth.

Senator de Largie - The States might pay the interest out of the £6, 000,000 that we are paying to them.

Senator MILLEN - Senator de Largie may brush this matter on one side if he pleases, but the States are not disposed to allow it to be brushed on one side. Already Mr. McGowen, the Premier of New South Wales, is taking steps to present a demand on the Commonwealth in this respect.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We shall have to increase the land tax.

Senator ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Colonel SirAlbert GOULD - Or reduce the payments to members of Parliament.

Senator MILLEN - I would not suggest that, because I hardly think that the proposition would receive serious consideration in a House in which there are legislators who have a fair idea of the value of their services. Whatever we may say about this matter for political reasons, I do not think there is a single man who will dispute the proposition that as the States are paying the interest on properties which we are occupying, we ought to recognise our liability, and recoup them what they are paying.

Senator Rae - Have the States and the Commonwealth mutually agreed upon a valuation of the properties?

Senator MILLEN - There have been two or three valuations by Commonwealth and State officials. Speaking from memory, the accepted valuation is in the neighbourhood of £8,000,000. No report on the subject can, however, be acted upon until it has been accepted by Parliament. But so far as values are concerned an agreement was arrived at.

Senator Rae - Probably a Bill will be required to deal with the matter.

Senator MILLEN - Either a Bill or an item upon the Estimates. Before resuming my seat I should like to ask the VicePresident of the Executive Council to endeavour to ascertain, while this debate is in progress, whether it is a fact - as has been stated in the daily press - that, although a contract for the supply of the machinery of our Small Arms Factory, at Lithgow, was let some fifteen or sixteen months ago, and, although that contract required the contractors to supply that machinery within twelve months, not a single ounce of it has yet reached Australia. If the position be as stated, it is another instance of the lax way in which contractors aire permitted by the Government to proceed with their contracts. This particular contract was let by the late Government some fifteen months ago, and, if the statement which appears in the newspapers to-day be correct, a very serious position is revealed. It suggests that, when once a contract has been entered into by the Government, either the Department interested in it is powerless to insure the carrying out of the contract, or it is careless about the matter.

Senator McGregor - Nearly everything with which the late Government attempted to deal was left by them in a loose way.

Senator MILLEN - No matter what the late Government may have done in reference to either of these contracts, the present Ministry cannot be excused for allowing matters to drift month after month, after the contract had been signed. I wish to know whether it is a fact that the machinery connected with the Small Arms Factory, at Lithgow, the contract for which stipulated that it should be supplied within twelve months, has not yet reached Australia ? The Government have been in office ever since April last, and surely it was their duty to see that the contract was carried out. What have they done in the matter? The late Government were powerless to compel the contractors to supply the machinery for the Small Arms Factory before the expiration of twelve months from the date upon which the contract was made. But that time expired some time ago, and, there fore, I wish to know what the Ministry have done in the matter. Surely the machinery ought now to be in its place at Lithgow. It seems to me that in a matter of great national magnitude this contract has been brushed aside for the purpose of conveniencing the contractors. Apparently" a contractor, having entered into a contract with the Government, is at liberty to please himself as to when he carries it out. I should like the Minister representing the Minister of Defence to mate inquiries into this matter while the debate is in progress, so that he may be able to make a statement upon it when the Defence Estimates are reached.

Suggest corrections