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Friday, 3 October 1902

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - We have been told that there is a reduction of £175,000 in the Defence Estimates.

Sir George Turner - But for the new works and buildings the saving would have been £188,000, and not £175,000.

Mr CONROY - On referring to the footnote to the Defence Estimates we find that the total cost of the Department, exclusive of compensation, is £762,000, and that the total reduction made is £175,000.

Sir George Turner - The new works and buildings are not included.

Mr CONROY - On further looking at the figures, however, we find that the total Estimates last year were £853,000, nd t hat this year they are £791,000, plus 29,000 for works and buildings, thus showing a total of £820,000. From this it will be seen that the Estimates are not reduced by £175,000, but by only £33,000.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable and learned member is wrong.

Mr CONROY - Prom the figures given in the foot-note, it is perfectly plain that the total I have arrived at will have to be drawn from the Treasury in the ensuing year. I see that £1,500 is provided for a drill-hall at Kyneton. Is the weather so dreadfully inclement at Kyneton that a drill-hall is necessary for the protection of the members of the force ?

Mr L E GROOM (DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND) - The honorable and learned member voted for that item last year ; at any rate, he did not draw attention to it.

Mr CONROY - It may be remembered that when the last Estimates were before us it was discovered that many items which ought to have been in the military Estimates had been placed in the works Estimates.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable and learned member not think that a drillhall should be provided at Kyneton1!

Mr CONROY - Certainly not at the present time. The whole system of warfare has been changed, owing to the experience gained in the Boer war ; but military men, apart from the strictly professional branches of engineering and artillery, are generally a generation behind the times.

Sir William Lyne - The amount was voted last year, and it is only fair to now re-vote it.

Mr CONROY - It is unfair to spend money on drill-halls, when telegraphic and telephonic communication is so badly wanted throughout the Commonwealth. The latter works are of genuine use, and in immediate demand, whereas the erection of drill-sheds may very well be postponed

Mr. SALMON(Laanecoorie). - I should like to ask the Minister whether future applications for recoups, similar to that of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Regiments in New South Wales, will be entertained 1

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - It is quite impossible for me to give any promise, seeing that I do not know how far-reaching any future applications may be. These two regiments applied for authority to use the clothing capitation grant for the purpose of erecting a drill-hall : and it was subsequently found that money belonging to other regiments had been used. This, the Auditor-General regarded as unconstitutional, and he refused to allow the expenditure. This vote is intended as a recoup, and the money will be distributed amongst the regiments which should have received it originally. I have heard no suggestion of any similar claims from other regiments, but if there arose a legitimate, case, such as this evidently is, where the members of the regiments, had in their enthusiasm erected a drill hall, I should suggest that it be treated in the same way. I cannot, however, give any absolute promise.

Mr. MCDONALD(Kennedy).- I think this sets a very bad example. "We all admire the enthusiasm displayed by these men in the erection of the hall, but it appears to be very bad taste on their part to now want the money returned. If the item be passed, we shall no doubt have claims of a similar description from all over the Commonwealth.

Sir George Turner - I do not think that is very likely. This money, which belonged to somebody else, was used in mistake.

Mr MCDONALD - And do those who made the mistake still occupy their positions 1

Sir George Turner - I suppose so.

Mr MCDONALD - I think that those who use other people's money ought to be dealt with severely.

Sir George Turner - In this case there was a good reprimand from the Minister.

Mr MCDONALD - Reprimands are not of much use in these cases, and to pass the item will, as I say, create a very bad precedent, and debar us refusing a recoup under similar circumstances. I feel inclined to move that the item be struck out.

Sir George Turner - Would not that be punishing the regiments whose money under a misapprehension was improperly used ?

Mr McDONALD - The explanation we have up to the present is not satisfactory, and I can foresee endless trouble if the item be passed.

Sir MALCOLMMCEACHARN (Melbourne). - I was strongly inclined to oppose this item, on the principle that a regiment which receives a capitation grant has no right to any kind of refund. I know that some regiments in Victoria cannot get even the most ordinary repairs done which are necessary for the proper drilling of the men. There are big holes in the asphalt of the drill halls, and while that state of affairs has to continue, we have here a proposal for the recoup of a large sum of money. Some explanation is due to the committee. I shall be sorry to oppose the item if the circumstances be such as the Treasurer has stated, and further explanation may assure us that this is an isolated case which presents no danger of a precedent.

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - I have just received a memorandum to the effect that there is no similar case known. There are instances where regiments have erected drill halls with money raised by public subscriptions.

Sir MALCOLM McEACHARN (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - Surely, public subscriptions are not recouped 1

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - No; I am merely mentioning the fact that drill-halls are erected under such circumstances.

Sir John Quick - Who will get the money in this case ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - It will go back to the regiments whose clothing capitation has been improperly used. The Minister for Defence- I was nob acting at the time - authorized this money to be used, not knowing that it belonged to other regiments, as well as to the 1st and 2nd Regiments. The money was used, and the other regiments will be out of pocket unless this item be passed. All this arose from a mistake for which it would be hard to say that anybody is to blame.

Mr Page - Was it not. the fault of the department ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - No ; it was all a mistake. A great deal of enthusiasm was shown about the erection of this hall, and I suppose the Minister for Defence did not want to damp the ardour of the men. Had this money belonged to the 1st and 2nd Regiments there would have been no trouble. If an exactly similar case should arise it ought to be considered on its merits.

Mr Fowler - Then all that is required is a mistake in order to have money made available by this House 1

Sir WILLIAM LYNE - The Minister for- Defence was under a misapprehension when he approved of the work being done, and in order to get money under similar circumstances in the future it will be necessary to cajole him into once more approving under a misapprehension.

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