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Tuesday, 17 June 1902

Mr KIRWAN (Kalgoorlie) - I am exceedingly sorry that the discussion of a Loan Bill for what the honorable and learned member for Brisbane has so frequently referred to as " a paltry million " should have been productive of the violent outburst which honorable members have heard against federation. A good many honorable members on both sides of the Chamber fought very hard for union, and I am sure they all agree with me that, because an honorable member of this House cannot have his own way regarding a Loan Bill, it is rather an extreme course for him to adopt to condemn federation. None of us can secureall that we should like in the way of legislation, but surely those who differ from us can adopt another course than that followed by the honorable and learned member. Surely they can seek to change the personnel of the House. I am not in agreement with theattitude taken up by the honorable and learned member on the Loan Bill, though I can follow his line of reasoning. His stand upon this Bill is in perfect accordance with his actions in the past. I congratulate him upon 'his consistency, but I regret that I cannot similarly congratulate some honorable members upon the Government side of the House who oppose this Bill. I refer particularly to the honorable member for Gippsland and the honorable member for Bourke, who. are present, and to others who are not present. Those honorable members have condemned this Bill, and argued that money necessary for the carrying out of public works should be derived from revenue. Yet what is the policy which they pursue 1 Upon the very Bill which preceded that which is now under discussion - a measure under which it is intended to disburse £324,000. out of revenue amongst a few individuals- =-

Mr SPEAKER - The honorable member is not in order in referring to another measure.

Mr KIRWAN - I may be permitted. to say that, so far as their idea of constructing public works out of revenue is concerned, it cannot be carried out if that revenue is to be utilized to subsidize private individuals. I shall vote against the second reading of this Bill. To my mind there is no urgency in connexion with the flotation of' the proposed loan. Honorable members ought to pause until we know what is the financial position of the Commonwealth. Furthermore, the particular works which it is proposed to construct may very well wait. I do not agree with those who declare that the Commonwealth is upon the verge of bankruptcy, but its indebtedness is such that we might very well pause before adding to it. The honorable and learned member for Brisbane corrected something that was said to the effect that one-third of the total revenue of the Commonwealth was spent in interest upon our public indebtedness. I admit that it is not correct to say that one-third of our revenue is devoted to that purpose ; but of the total revenue of the States, namely, £28,500,000,£7,500,000, or more than one-fourth, goes to pay interest and charges upon the national debt.

Mr Thomson - The honorable member has not deducted the earnings.-

Mr KIRWAN - I am merely stating that one-fourth of our total revenue, including those earnings, goes in interest and charges upon our national indebtedness. In this connexion I have a few figures which show how Australia compares with other nations of the world. These figures are derived from the Statesman's Year Book, and show that the indebtedness of Australia is considerably greater than that of any other country.

Sir William McMillan - Is it fair to compare our indebtedness, which includes the cost of all the services which have been mentioned, with the indebtedness of countries where those services are carried out by private individuals ?

Mr KIRWAN - Some of the countries to which I intend to refer have incurred expenditure for similar services, such as railways, Ac. The public debt of Australia is £55 per head, and the annual interest payable upon that sum is over £2 per head. Next to Australia, France is the most heavily indebted country. There the national debt represents £30^ 17s. 9d. per head, and the annual interest 25s. 4d. per head. The indebtedness of Great Britain is £16 13s. 7d. per head ; the interest payable upon it being Ss. lOd. per head. Similarly the debt of Italy is £15 lis. 10d., and the interest chargeable 14s. 4d. per head. Austria has a debt representing £4 19s. 9d. per head, the interest upon which is '4s. 5d., whilst Denmark has a per capita indebtedness of £4 16s. 10d., upon which the interest is 3s. 2d. per head. The national debt of Germany amounts to £2 2s. lOd. per head, representing an annual interest of ls. 7d. per head. Russia has an indebtedness of £6 3s. 6d. per head,, upon which the interest is 5s. 2d. per head ; Switzerland a debt of £1 2s. 4d. per head, the interest upon which is ls. per head. The national debt of Turkey is £6 ls. lOd. per head, and the interest payable upon it is ls. 8d. per head. The debt of the United States is £5 18s. per head, the interest upon which represents ls. lOd. per head. In Japan the indebtedness is £1 3s. per head, and the interest ls. 9d ; in Canada it is £10 per head, and the interest 8s. Several of these countries have very considerable assets. For example, Austria has £240,000,000 invested in railways, and Germany owns her trunk: lines. Most of these countries have to maintain navies and huge standing armies, and yet the most heavily indebted country, France, has a much smaller debt than we have. Under these circumstances, we cannot exercise too- rauch caution before embarking upon any loan policy. I do not urge that loans ought not to be floated in cases of great urgency, or for the carrying out of works of a national character. For instance, if no other means could' be adopted, I should not object to the flotation of a loan for the purpose of locking the river Murra}', or for constructing the transcontinental railway to "Western Australia. Such works occupy an altogether different plane to some of those included in the schedule of the Loan Appropriation Bill, which, according to the Treasurer himself, are not urgently required; Owing to the numerous changes that are constantly being effected in telegraphy and telephony, there is every indication that if these works are constructed, they will be virtually out of date within a few years. I quite agree with the remarks of the honorable member for Echuca, in reference to the wisdom of retaining our fourth of the Customs revenue. I would much prefer to see the Commonwealth spend that money upon reproductive undertakings than return it to the States to be expended in utterly useless works. In one or two of the States which I could mention the States Governments have a huge surplus, which they are spending in a way that is altogether unnecessary. They are virtually wasting the money, and it would be much better, if we are pressed, to draw on this source rather than increase the already heavy indebtedness of the whole of Australia. From all sides of the House this Bill has met with general condemnation, and the Government would act very wisely if they accepted the suggestion of the honorable member for Wentworth and withdrew it, at any rate temporarily.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Manifold) adjourned.

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