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Tuesday, 23 September 1902

Sir GEORGE TURNER (BalaclavaTreasurer) - Mr. Chairman, - Before asking honorable members to follow me through the figures which I have circulated - and I propose to request them to allow me to explain them as we go along, and not to get ahead of me - I desire to apologise, not alone to the Committee, but to the States Treasurers for the delaywhich has taken place in the presentation of the Federal Budget. There has been great difficulty in obtaining the necessary information from the various States. Those who have occupied the position of Treasurer of a State know that there is considerable difficulty in obtaining the information necessary for a State Budget, although it has to be collected only from within that State; but when one has to depend upon correspondence and telegrams with far-off States for the requisite information, the difficulties are largely increased. In addition to that drawback, under which I have laboured, there has been a desire - and a very proper desire - on the part of the departments to make the Estimates of the various States approach uniformity. In the past the Estimates of the several States have been prepared in totally different forms, but we thought it wise to make an attempt to secure uniformity, although we have not wholly succeeded in carrying out that desire. My honorable colleague, the Acting Minister for Defence, has also been engaged for a considerable time in mastering the details of the defence retrenchment scheme, and that has also occasioned delay. I hope, however, that in future the Federal Treasurer will be in a position to make his financial statement early in the month of August. If that arrangement is carried out it will be fair to the various States Treasurers, who have to depend to a great extent upon information which the Federal Treasurer alone can supply. There is some difficulty in preparing a financial statement for the Commonwealth, for we have to deal not only with federal matters but with questions relating to the States independently. Then, as honorable members know, there are no other Treasurers watching and waiting when a State Minister is making his financial statement, whereas the Federal Minister knows that all the States Treasurers are watching and waiting to scrutinize everything contained in his statement. In the present case they have been anxiously waiting for some time. It is, therefore, necessary for me to give the fullest information in order that the States Treasurers and their officers may have an opportunity of checking my figures and ascertaining whether they are correct or not. I have prepared a mass of information, and although for my own sake I have epitomised the details to a very great extent, my speech would be a very long one, and would become tedious to honorable members if I were to give the Committee all the figures in my possession. Therefore, with the concurrence of honorable members, I propose to give not all the details, but in most cases merely the results. I shall submit the details to Hansard, and as the report will be published to-morrow morning, honorable members who desire to look carefully into the whole question will have the fullest opportunity to do so. By that arrangement honorable members, as well as the States Treasurers, will be able to obtain the fullest information, while I shall avoid the necessity of making my statement unduly long and tedious. I propose to deal as simply as I possibly can with the figures. I do not possess the eloquence of the AttorneyGeneral, nor have I the graceful diction of Sir Philip Fysh, whose budgets are always poetic. I desire simply to state as fully as I can the somewhat difficult and complicated problems connected with federal finance. I desire honorable members in the first instance to consider that though we may appear to be dealing with large figures, we have been used in the past to deal only with State figures. Therefore, when we come to deal with federal figures, though the totals may appeal- to loom very large, when we bear in mind that we are dealing with the figures for six States instead of for one, it will be seen that, comparatively speaking, the figures are not large. There is another point which will be found to be of great importance all through the statement, and that is with regard to certain works and buildings. We last year proposed a certain expenditure amounting to £116,000, and this year we are proposing an expenditure of £180,000 out of revenue. That may appear to be a rather large amount, but as a matter of fact very little of last year's provision was expended, and we are really now providing for two and a-half years' requirements - eighteen months that are passed, and the twelve months which we have just entered upon. If honorable members will compare the Estimates with the actual expenditure of last year, they will find that during last year we were able to make very large savings upon our Estimates, and in the Defence department alone to the extent of £100,000. Therefore the amount that will be shown as the difference between the estimated expenditure of this year and the actual expenditure of last year is necessarily much smaller than if we made the comparison between the Estimates of the two years. We also had to provide in 1901-2 for large arrears of the previous year amounting to £315,000. This year we have to provide for arrears to the extent of only £83,000. Honorable members will see that the amount for arrears is therefore very largely reduced, and I hope that in the next financial statement the Treasurer will be able to leave the question of arrears out of consideration altogether, as that will to some extent simplify any statement which he has to make. I have always felt very strongly that it is our duty to make every effort to give back to the States, as far as possible, the amount of money they were collecting from Customs and Excise revenue just before federation, plus the cost of carrying on the new expenditure. But unfortunately we have to provide for very large sums which have been forced upon us by action taken by, the States very shortly prior to federation.

Mr Mahon - Principally by Victoria.

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