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Wednesday, 8 June 1904

Mr WILSON (Corangamite) - It is quite refreshing to be able to discuss a matter which is not- controversial. Of course, honorable members realize that the present Government are not responsible for these Supplementary Estimates in any way. Nevertheless, I think that they might have circulated them earlier, so as to permit of honorable members examining them more closely. It is very desirable that we should have an opportunity to carefully scrutinize Estimates of expenditure in order that we may meet the general demand for economy. Most of us recollect the howl of indignation which was heard throughout the States when the late Treasurer submitted his Estimates, which showed a large increase in Federal expenditure. In addition to that, we have presented to lis to-night, in these Estimates, a Supplementary bill for £137,216. I am thoroughly satisfied that the present Treasurer will endeavour to keep the expenditure down as much as possible, so that the finances of the States may be placed in a better position.

Mr Mauger - I am sure that the late 1 reasurer did his very best in that regard.

Mr WILSON - I make no complaint against the late Treasurer. I simply say that the expenditure should be kept down to the lowest possible limit. I am quite satisfied that the present Treasurer will use every effort in that direction, and I have nothing but praise for the work which was performed by the late Treasurer. I wish to draw special attention to the supplementary expenditure in connexion with the High Court. On page 6 of the Estimates honorable members will see two items which relate to compensation for the services of Commonwealth and State officers, and. for the travelling expenses of the Justices and their associates. These aggregate an expenditure of £2,035-. That is, of course, in addition to the sum voted on the last Estimates. The honorable member for Kennedy has spoken of the increased cost of the maintenance of the Government Houses in Sydney and Melbourne.

Si'r John Forrest. - There is no increase; it is an overdraft from last year.

Mr Poynton - But is that so?

Mr WILSON - The right honorable member for Swan says so, and he is an exMinister. I think that a very bad plan of keeping national accounts is exhibited on these Estimates. Honorable members will see numerous instances of gratuities granted to various persons. That is a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with the Public Service.

Mr Batchelor - We utilize the services of States officers a great deal.

Mr WILSON - The payments should be made to the States, and they should pay their own officers.

Mr Batchelor - The sums must appear on the Estimates.

Mr WILSON - The items would then appear not as gratuities, but as payments for services rendered. This is not a proper method of national bookkeeping. In regard to the Patent Office, which has only recently been established, there is a sum of £130 for travelling expenses. The amount seems excessive, considering that the office has not been in existence very long. I should like to have an explanation.

Mr Mahon - Officers who are removed from one State to another are entitled to a certain sum to defray the cost of moving.

Mr WILSON - I understood that States officers were doing practically the whole of the work under the Commonwealth Act.

Mr Mahon - A State officer transferred to the Commonwealth would have his expenses paid down to Melbourne. That, I should fancy, is the explanation.

Mr WILSON - I should like to know for certain. I do not understand the item. Indeed, it is difficult for one who has these Estimates put into his hands for the first time, to understand them, unless he has been a bank manager, accustomed to handling large sums, or an accountant. Honorable members should take up this matter of finance seriously, because it is very important in the interests of the people whom they represent. On page 15. there is an item " Interest on claims for refund of excise duty on sugar, £290." I should like to have an explanation of that from the Minister of "Trade and Customs. The question of the sugar bounties is affected by certain items on page 17. Temporary assistance is put down at £3,271. Perhaps this is an improper time to open up the question of the sugar bounties, but it appears to me that this policy is an exceedingly expensive one for Australia. What is meant by this temporary assistance, which has cost £3,271? To whom has the money been paid, and over what period has it extended?

Mr Poynton - Is it an advance in anticipation ?

Mr WILSON - It is a supplementary estimate, and it is understood that most of the money has been spent.

Sir John Forrest - It will all have been spent by the 30th of June.

Mr WILSON - I had intended to refer to the item mentioned by the honorable member Tor Kennedy, relating to troops in connexion with the Commonwealth celebrations of 1901. On page 18 there is another item of expenditure concerning Western Australia. It would be just as well if honorable members carefully scrutinized the expenditure on account of Western Australia. There is an item " Protection pf the revenue, £937." What does that mean? Then, further on, there is an. item ' ' Cost of gun-mounting at Fremantle, £5,000." I presume that that gun is intended to protect something in Western Australia. Put what is meant by the protection of the revenue ?

Mr Watson - It means payments to solicitors and others in connexion with prosecutions, as well as payments for detective work done for the protection of the revenue.

Mr WILSON - In connexion with the Defence Department, there is an item for the expenses of the officer despatched to Japan on special duty. I presume that that refers to Colonel Hoad, who has gone to Japan to watch the military operations ?

Mr Watson - Yes.

Mr WILSON - Whilst I am dealing with the Defence Department, can the Prime Minister tell me something about a matter which I laid before the late Minister of Defence in connexion with cadets. If he has no information, will he bring it under the notice of the Minister of Defence? I was given to understand that the Department intended to re-organize the cadet corps. I should like some indication from the Prime Minister of what has been done in this direction. Some time ago certain residents of Colac made an offer which, if accepted, would have resulted in the establishment of a mounted cadet force. Parents and others interested offered to find the ponies and equipment, so that the boys might grow up good soldiers, and eventually become members of the Australian Light Horse. A change of Government, however, took place, and possibly - though I hope not - there was a change of policy in regard to the cadet movement. I hope that the Government will ask the Minister of Defence to take this matter into consideration, and see whether something cannot be done to assist the movement. If we train our boys, we shall certainly have trained men, and this is a suggestion which, I am sure, will commend itself to honorable members generally. Then, I should like to say a word or two in regard to rifle butts. Some time ago I drew attention to the fact that the rifle butts at Colac - and I suppose the case is the same at other places - had got into a state of disrepair. There is no desire to have any new rifle butts constructed, but where there are already butts, which have been allowed to fall into disrepair, some steps should be taken to put them in a better condition. In the case of the Colac butts, when a recent match had to be shot off, it was found that they were not in a fit state to be used ; and that, of course, is bad so far as the training- of the members of the rifle clubs is concerned. Turning now to the Post and Telegraph Department, the great question is whether the Act, which was passed by the Victorian State Parliament in the early hours of the morning-

Mr Robinson - At the dictation of the Labour Party.

Mr WILSON - I shall leave it to the honorable member for Wannon to explain this matter in detail, because I believe he was a member of the State House at the time. On looking through the items, I notice, according to page 89, that the salary of a clerk has been raised from £300. to £310, and, later on, it is shown that the salary of a switch attendant has been raised from £52 to £110, or more than double. All through the items in the Department of the Postmaster-General I notice very considerable increases in the expenditure. According to page 41, the salary of a lettercarrier has been raised from £65 to £120, the latter being more than the minimum rate recently fixed. I should like to know definitely from the Postmaster-General, or some other Minister, whether the salaries of the charwomen employed in the post-offices have been raised to the minimum rate of £11.0. Some time ago there was a talk that these charwomen intended to go on strike.

Mr Watson - My recollection is that the charwomen withdrew their claim, because, if it were granted, it would mean that they must become permanent officials, and pass examinations and fulfil other conditions.

Mr WILSON - The women would not face the examinations?

Mr Watson - They would not face the general conditions.

Mr WILSON - Another important point for consideration is that in Victoria a sum of £2,100 - and, I suppose, in other States the amount is greater under similar heads - is provided as the sum overcharged to officers for rent and quarters.

Mr Watson - I explained that matter a little while ago, during the absence of the honorable member. I mentioned that, under the Public Service Act, only 10 per cent, on salaries can be charged for rent of quarters, and the money has unwisely been allowed to accumulate, and we have now to return it in a lump, whether we like it or not. It is a legacy from the late Government.

Mr WILSON - And it is a very unfortunate legacy. There is another item in relation to Western. Australia, and it is, I believe, the largest item under this head. On page 53 I see that, under the head of contingencies, there is set aside £1,250 as "overtime and allowance for tea money " to officers in the Department of the Postmaster-General ; and a certain amount is provided in a similar way in the case of one of the States. It would be just as well to know how much of this money is for overtime, and how much for tea allowance. .

Sir John Forrest - There must be about 1,500 people in Western Australia amongst whom this money has to be distributed.

Mr WILSON - They seem to have a verygood time in Western Australia. I ask the Government to give the question of finance very serious consideration, and to reduce the expenditure as far as possible.

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