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Thursday, 26 October 1911

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) (Vice-President of the .Executive Council) . - I beg to lay upon the table the following papers -

Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure for the year ending 30th June, it)r2.

The Budget, 1911-12.- Papers prepared by the Right Hon. Andrew Fisher, P.C., for the information of Honorable Members, on the occasion of opening the Budget of 1911-12.

In accordance with practice, I move -

That the papers be printed.

I hope that, having regard to the peculiar position the Senate occupies, the course that I am now adopting will be in the interests of honorable senators. In every Parliament in the world, the House corresponding to the House of Representatives is the one in which Governments are made and unmade, and therefore the one which has absolute control of the public finances. But, in a Parliament like the Commonwealth Parliament, the Senate, although not possessing exactly the same power as the House of Representatives, has really a power over the finances which, if exercised, might be attended with very serious consequences, in carrying on the Government. When the Treasurer makes his financial statement in the House of Representatives, it is advisable, I think, for the Government to give the members of the Senate also an opportunity to consider the financial affairs of the country. The only way in which it can be done is by laying the papers on the table, and moving that they be printed. In the other Chamber, the public finances receive very serious consideration, with the result that it is rather late in the session before the Appropriation. Bill arrives here. Consequently, honorable senators complain, I do not know whether reasonably, or unreasonably, because they have the right, but not the opportunity, to discuss the finances of the Commonwealth. But we are taking advantage of this opportunity to remove all cause of complaint from honorable senators opposite. I intend to make a short statement, after which the subject will be before the -Senate for discussion, and any honorable senator will be able to express his opinion; with respect to the Budget-papers, the Estimates of revenue and expenditure, and the general financial policy of the Government. I admit, of course, that it is the duty pf the Opposition to find fault with everything that the.

Government are doing, or may attempt to do. Honorable senators opposite are capable representatives, and will, doubtless, do all they can to show the public that the affairs of this country are being mismanaged. But I have no fear of any such criticism; first, because honorable Senators opposite are so few in numbers that their opposition is of very little consequence so far as votes are concerned ; and in the next place, because the prosperity that has reigned since the advent of the Labour Government to power has been so marked that no matter what the Opposition may allege the public will not believe them. People will say, " Look at the results. Look at the prosperity that we have enjoyed. Look at the bountiful harvests and the enormous wool clip. Look at everything pertaining to the welfare of the country. It is clear that the advent of the Labour Government has been a God's blessing to Australia." Years ago the representatives of the Opposition endeavoured to convince the people that if a Labour Ministry ever occupied these benches there would be blue ruin throughout Australia. It was represented that the country would be ruined by drought, by rabbits, and by every conceivable calamity, even to the extent of letting loose the ten plagues of Egypt. But those predictions have not proved true. The Opposition are universally recognised to-day as being false prophets. It may be said that it is a stretch of imagination to put forward the claim that the Labour Ministry have been responsible for the great prosperity of Australia. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that the Labour Government are here, and that prosperity has remained with us. I sincerely hope and believe - and I have no doubt honorable senators opposite also sincerely hope - that that prosperity will continue. There is every prospect of its continuance. I now wish to give a short outline of the actual financial position of the Commonwealth. The revenue received last year was £18,803,873. Those figures must be regarded in comparison with the revenue for previous years in order to appreciate them. In the year 1904-5 the revenue was only £11,323,049. But as the Labour party grew stronger the prosperity became greater, and, consequently, the revenue increased. During the past six 5'ears it has nearly doubled itself. I am sure that when the people recognise these facts they will be pleased that the strength of the Labour party has increased. -

Senator St Ledger - The honorable senator is as bad as the Kaiser - " Me and God."

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator can attribute these results to any other cause he pleases. 1 am speaking as a common individual - as one of the great mass of the people of Australia - and am showing how the facts appear to me. The revenue from Customs and Excise was £12,980,443. That amounted to £2 18s. 9½d. per head of the population; and our taxation is levied in so mixed a manner that it is bound to go up and down with the prosperity of the people. The more prosperous the taxpayers are, the better their position to contribute to the revenue of the country. In 1904-5 the Customs and Excise revenue was -£8,656,981, which amounted to £2 3s. 5§d. per head of the population. The next item of revenue to which I will refer is one which, at any rate, is due entirely to the Labour party. I refer to the Land Tax. During the past year the amount collected from that tax was .£1,370,357. The Government estimate was £1,000,000.

Senator Barker - The Opposition said that that estimate was excessive.

Senator McGREGOR - The Opposition said many things upon the subject. I can remember that the Opposition formed various estimates. Some members on both sides even said that the High Court would declare the Act ultra vires. It was pretty freely predicted that the Labour Government would be in a fix, because they would be very short in their revenue.

Senator St Ledger - Is that what the honorable senator's own side said?

Senator McGREGOR - -I remember that Senator St. Ledger had grave doubts as to the validity of this legislation.

Senator St Ledger - I did not say so.

Senator McGREGOR - There are various ways of expressing opinions, and the honorable senator knows how much can be conveyed by insinuations and innuendoes. Some estimated that the revenue from this source would be not less than £2,500,000. As I have shown, the actual results were £370,357 in excess of the estimate. The result of the tax we regard as beneficial. None of the large land-holders of Australia have gone to a lunatic asylum, or committed suicide, or made an application for an old-age pension. Some of them have sold portions of their land at goodprices, and are better off than ever they were. The morbid predictions of our. friends of the Opposition have been brought to naught, and the country is more prosperous than ever. I want to make a comparison between the position in which the present Government stands in regard to the finances and the position of previous Administrations. In the past, Governments had a very easy way of getting out of their difficulties. If they could not easily patch up the Public Works of the Commonwealth they simply allowed them to go to decay. It is in consequence of that policy that today we hear Senator Sayers, and others, growling about - white ants in public buildings. By the legislation passed by this Parliament the Commonwealth has taken on substantial liabilities, and any Government worthy of its position must meet them in a manner creditable to the Commonwealth. In connexion with the Northern Territory, and its transfer to the Commonwealth, there was a sum of £151,513 borrowed by South Australia in excess of what had really been spent on the Territory. That sum had to be handed over to the Commonwealth. But against that the Commonwealth had to pay in connexion with the redemption of bills, and other liabilities, on account of the Northern Territory, £273, 250. I also wish to point out in connexion with the finances that past Governments - Governments of which members of the Opposition were supporters, and some of which were supported even by members of the Labour party, because we were bound to follow at their tail, not having strength enough to form a Government of our own - paid over to the States money that was, to the extent of £6,059.088, in excess of constitutional obligations.

Senator St Ledger - We were bound to pay over that money.

Senator McGREGOR - We were not bound to do so. There would not be so many moth-eaten post-offices in Queensland, and elsewhere, if the Commonwealth Governments in the past had provided the facilities to which the people were entitled. But they neglected to carry out improvements, and to maintain buildings in a fair state of repair, in consequence of which the Commonwealth bill for buildings and renewals is much larger to-day than it otherwise would have been.

Senator St Ledger - We have not paid a cent to the States for the transferred properties yet.

Senator McGREGOR - The honorable senator says, " We have never paid a cent." I say, " You have never paid a cent." Honorable senators on the opposite side held the reins of Government for ten. years, and they never paid a cent. We have only just come into power, and we arebeginning to pay. I shall tell honorable senators how much in a few minutes. It is not we, but you, on the other side, who are to blame. During the financial year just passed, we had an unexpectedly largesurplus of revenue, owing to the general prosperity throughout the Commonwealth. There was an excess of revenue over expenditure amounting to £1,829,524.

Senator St Ledger - The Government were that much out.

Senator McGREGOR - No, we were that much in. If the honorable senator went out some night with ,£30 in his pocket and came back with only an IOU for £30, he would be ,£60 out. We were not out at all. We went out with £16,841,629, and we came in with £18,803,873, or £1, 829,524 better off than when we went out. Senator St. Ledger is very clever, but generally in the wrong direction.

Senator Millen - The Government estimate was not a very clever one.

Senator McGREGOR - I think it wasmore than clever. It was really a Scotch estimate, as frugal as it could possibly be. Owing to the general prosperity of the country, it was shown to be much under the mark ; and, consequently, the people of Australia are .to-day in a much better position than it was anticipated they would be. When we found that we had this £1,829,000, it was necessary that .we should do something with it. If we had done, what previous Governments have done in the past, we should have handed it over to the States, and let the white ants and bottle flies continue to ravage the post-offices in Queensland and other States. The present Government did nothing of that kind. They divided the amount, putting one-half into a Trust Fund for the establishment of an Australian Navy, and the other half into the Old-age Pensions Fund. The wisdom of our action in putting this money into Trust Funds, instead of sending it back to the States, or blowing it out on the MelbourneCup, will be seen a little later on. I have dealt with the position of affairs during the last financial year. I now come to the Estimates of revenue and expenditure for the current, financial year ending 30th June, 1 91 2. The estimated revenue for this year is £19,515,000, and the estimated expenditure for the year is £21,227,679. Honorable senators will see that the estimated expenditure is much larger than the estimated revenue. Something, consequently, had to be done to meet the excess of expenditure over revenue amounting to £1,712,679. Where were we to go to find the money for the purpose? We could only go to the Trust Funds, and we have taken that . £1,712,679 from the Trust Funds to make up the amount we propose to spend during the current financial year. It might be said that we have no right to spend more than the actual revenue for the year, nor should we have proposed to do so if we had not had this amount in the Trust Funds to fall back upon. Because the estimated revenue of£19,515,000is less than the estimated expenditure of £21,227,679, we have had to fall back on the Trust Funds for the balance. If we had wasted the surplus revenue of last year, we should not have had this money to fall back upon, and honorable senators will see now the safe position in which the Government have kept themselves. I want to show what this amount of £1,712,679 is really required for, in order that honorable senators may know the justification for taking it from the Trust Funds. Of the amount, £600,000 will be required for the Post and Telegraph Department. Honorable senators may recollect that the authorities of the Department, and also the Postal Commission, recommended the expenditure, within a few years, of about £2,000,000 on that Department. We are making provision for the expenditure within two years on the Post and Telegraph Department of the £600,000 to which I have referred, and this year another amount of £700,000. The expen diture of a similar amount in the next financial year will bring the expenditure upon this Department up to the £2,000,000 that has been asked for. That is where some of the money is to go, and every citizen of the Commonwealth will be delighted at the determination of the Government to put the Post and Telegraph Department and its equipment in a proper condition. The balance of the amount of £1,712,679, namely, £1,112,679,will be used for the payments we shall require to make during the financial year on account of the Fleet. I might explain to honorable senators that this sum of £1,712,679 is not a recurring amount, and the same may be said of many of the amounts appearing on the Estimates for this year.

Senator Millen - When the honorable senator says that it is not a recurring amount, he will admit that there will be a payment of some sort to be made for similar services.

Senator McGREGOR - Yes ; but Parliament will have to agree to those payments, and must accept the responsibility. I am referring now to payments which Parliament has already sanctioned, and has directed the Government to make. I hope that the Government will do all that they possibly can to carry out the directions of Parliament. From the commencement of the Commonwealth we were giving back all that we had to spare to the States, when they really did not want it, and we did. It is an absolute fact, well known to all the people of Australia, that the States did not want the money.

Senator Millen - They wanted it.

Senator McGREGOR -They wanted it; but they did not need it. Honorable senators will find a table showing the very small amounts spent on public works during the time the Commonwealth was paying back surplus revenue to the States. The Labour party have done all they possibly could, up to the' present, to keep out of the money market. They intend to continue to do so; but I do not say that the time will not arrive when, in order to carry out some of the undertakings authorized by this Parliament, honorable senators will not have to accept the responsibility of finding the money in some other way if the expense cannot be defrayed out of revenue. But that is in the future. During the current financial year, the Government propose to spend from revenue, and the surplus of last year, an amount of £4,306,365, on works. For the construction of similar works every State Government in the Commonwealth has been going to the money market. Honorable senators will admit that this is a great step in advance on anything that has been done in the past. If what the present Government spent during the last financial year were added to the £4,306,365 which they propose to expend on works during the current year, it would amount to more than we spent in the previous ten years of the existence of the Commonwealth in the same way. This should show that in the Labour Government the people have a Government that is prepared to do something. I shall endeavour now to interest honorable senators by showing how some of the revenue is to be expended. I have said that £4,306,365 is to be spent on works. Then, to meet our obligation to give 25s. per head of population to the States, we shall require .£5,776.250. I am sure that no one begrudges that amount to the States.

Senator Lynch - It is £500,000 more than they received last year.

Senator McGREGOR - That is quite true. The Post and Telegraph Department, apart from what is to be expended in the way I have already described, will require £3,935.980. For Invalid and Oldage Pensions we require £2,190,000. For Defence, we require £1)873,633. I am sure that honorable senators, in view of the opinion expressed by this Parliament, will accept the responsibility of doing all that is possible to provide adequately for the defence of our country. For interest and sinking fund on Transferred Properties, we require £673,600. There are other propositions requiring very large amounts of expenditure; and, as I have said, the total estimated expenditure will exceed the estimated actual revenue for the year by £1,712,679. I should like, shortly, to refer to the expenditure proposed in connexion with the different Departments of the Commonwealth. For the Parliament it is estimated that this year there will be required £185,341. The expenditure under this head last year was £209,678. We, therefore, propose to spend £24,337 less in this financial year in connexion with the Parliament than was spent last year. For the Prime Minister's Department, there will be required this year £15,414, as against £9,020 last year, or an increase of £6,394. It must be remembered that the Prime Minister's Department has taken over the Auditor-General's Department, and that will account, to a considerable extent, for the increased expenditure proposed. The Treasury Department is charged wilh the payment of old-age and invalid pensions, and will require this year £2.359. °95. as against £1,951,409 last year, or an increase for this year of £407,686. The Attorney-General's Department this year requires an expenditure of £63,14.2, as against £^55,414 for last year, or an increase of £7,728. Honorable senators who are prepared to devote sufficient time to the study of the papers placed before them will see why these increases are necessary. Another Department that requires a considerable increase of expenditure is the Department of External Affairs. This year, it will require £S32.899. as against .£453.256, or an increase of £79,643.

Senator Vardon - What is the honorablesenator quoting his figures from?

Senator McGREGOR - From the statement placed in the hands of honorable senators.

Senator Vardon - The honorable senator's figures do not agree with those beforeme.

Senator McGREGOR - Senator Vardon,will find that, when he makes the proper deductions and additions, the figures will agree. In connexion with Defence, we thisyear propose to spend £2,264,156. Last year the expenditure on this Department was £1.397,915. This shows an increase for this year of £866,241.- Parliament hasurged an increase of expenditure in this Department, and is responsible for it. We are, in this matter, only carrying out its wishes. The Trade and Customs Department will this year require an expenditure of £I.I45.I92. as against £1,032,780 last year, or an increase of ,£112,412. The Home Affairs Department this year requires an expenditure of £181,645, as against an expenditure last year of £180,739, or an increase of £906. There will not be much objection to so slight an increase of expenditure upon such a Department. It must be remembered that, in carrying out the will of Parliament, and the instructionsgiven to the Government, the Home AffairsDepartment will have die control, probably, of the greater proportion of the- £4,306,365 to be expended on works.

Senator Keating - The papers before honorable senators show a decrease of £15,000, and not an increase of £1,000, on the expenditure for this Department?

Senator McGREGOR - When the figures are properly understood, they will1 be found to be as I have stated them. The Postmaster-General will have this year a sum of £4.37i:952> as against £3,561,928 last year, showing an increase of £810,024. Every person who is familiar with the postal affairs of the Commonwealth knows that these increases to make the service efficient and up-to-date must naturally be made to the extent indicated. I hope that, although increases are necessary this year, and will be perhaps next year and the year following, yet the time will come when the affairs of the Postmaster-General will be in such a position that they can be economically worked, and all the deficits overtaken. I hope that in a very few years the Department will yield a handsome surplus, and thus increase the Consolidated Revenue. I think that I have given a fair indication of what has been done during the past year, and also a sufficient intimation of the intentions of the Government with respect to the finances during the next financial year. I have much pleasure in submitting the motion.

Debate (on motion by Senator St. Ledger) adjourned.

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