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Thursday, 9 November 1911

Senator PEARCE (Western AustraliaMinister of Defence) . - Senator Chataway asked for information as to the value of the heavy gun ammunition expended during last year. The value was £16,531 ; so that the sum provided for in this Bill - £31,700 - represents nearly two years' consumption, on a peace footing. I am able to give the Senate details of the proposed expenditure of the special vote of £600,000 from the Trust Fund for the Post and Telegraph Department. They are as follows -







There were one or two criticisms to which I wish to reply. First of all, with regard to Senator Millen's criticism of Trust Funds, it seems to me very peculiar that, while the honorable senator condemned the Trust Fund for the Post and Telegraph Department, as such, he actually proposed that the whole of the Consolidated Revenue should be treated as one gigantic Trust Fund. He asked, for instance, why, after Parliament has voted a sum of money for a particular purpose, we should, at the end of each financial year, allow the vote to lapse, and have the money re-voted in the next year. That is exactly what a Trust Fund is intended to avoid. The Audit Act makes the lapsing and re-voting of appropriations necessary, and in the circumstances, the only way in which its provisions can be complied with, is to establish a Trust Fund and pay money into it until the purpose for which it was established is accomplished.

Senator St Ledger - Senator Millen suggested an alteration of the Audit Act.

Senator PEARCE - I doubt very much whether Parliament would be prepared to pay the whole of the money voted into a Trust Fund, and let it remain there until it is exhausted, without having any further control over it.

Senator Chataway - Balances of the current revenue are carried into the next year, and Senator Millen's idea was that the Government might carry balances of what might be called allocated Trust Funds into the next year also.

Senator PEARCE - There must be an annual balancing on the 30th of June in each year. Senator St. Ledger objects to large amounts of revenue being expended on these works, and prefers that they should be provided for under a system of debentures or a loan. I repeat, what I said before, that if in the earlier years of the Federation, when we had money to spare, a fair amount had each year been spent on the Post and Telegraph Department, we should not now need to ask for such huge sums. At present, I know of no reason why the Post and Telegraph Department should not continue to provide for capital expenditure out of revenue. Of course, there will arise works which we will not be able to finance out of revenue. When the time arrives for those works to be dealt with, the Government will not hesitate to adopt a loan policy, if the circumstances warrant it. I say that, for the works provided for in this Bill, a loan policy is not warranted. I think that Senator Millen asked that a reasonable time should be given honorable senators to discuss the Budget. The VicePresident of the Executive Council, in laying the Budget-papers on the table of the Senate, undertook that a. reasonable time would be given for the discussion of the Budget; and I have no reason to doubt that he will keep that promise. I might say that, in this matter, honorable senators are in the same position as are honorable members in another place, where, because of the pressure of other business, it has been impossible to resume the discussion of the Budget. Senator Sayers endeavoured to make a little capital out of a slight misunderstanding that arose in another place regarding a certain road at Maribyrnong, because one Minister was under the impression that it was a shire road, and the Government were proposing to make a grant in aid of its maintenance. That was a proposition put forward, but not finally adopted in the Estimates. The road for which money is provided in the Bill is entirely within Commonwealth property. It is not a road in the ordinary sense of the term. We are simply making a road from a landing we have on the Saltwater river to one portion of the Cordite Factory. It will not be open, or accessible to, the public ; and it is intended to make it possible to land material from the river, and take it up through the Cordite Factory on our own land. Referring to the Small Arms Factory, I wish to say that Senator Sayers' criticism was not entirely fair. If he had read the parliamentary-paper to which I referred him, he would have seen that, during the time I was Minister of Defence in the first Fisher Government, I went into the matter exhaustively. It was a very difficult matter with which to deal at this end of the world, especially in view of the fact that we had no officers who had had any experience of small arms factories. But at the time we left office, it was open to Mr. Joseph Cook, if he thought PrattWhitney's tender was not a good one, or as good as the other, to accept the other tender. No tender had been finally accepted when we left office. If Senator Sayers will refer to page 4 of the parliamentarypaper mentioned, he will find a foot-note to the following effect -

In all the circumstances and after submitting the matter to the Cabinet I approve the acceptance of Messrs. Pratt-Whitney's tender with the requisite guarantee. (Signed) J. Cook. 17th July, 1909.

This shows that Mr. Joseph Cook dealt with the matter, and considered it of sufficient importance to get the opinion of the whole of the Cabinet on it. The Government of which he was a member must, therefore, take the responsibility of having entered into the contract. We have to accept the responsibility of carrying it out.

Senator Chataway - Was not the complaint that the present Government had not carried it out?

Senator PEARCE - Senator Sayers has yet to learn whether they have or not. The contract is not yet completed. The contractors have not supplied the machinery up to time, and there may or may not be good reasons for that. This has yet to be determined; and when the whole business is completed, it will be time enough to say whether, on the facts, the present Government have done their duty in connexion with the contract or not. I do not think that there were any other matters raised during the debate on which I was asked for a reply.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee :

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 postponed.

Clause 3 agreed to.

The Schedule-

Storage and Seasoning of Timber - Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta Railway - London Offices.

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