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Wednesday, 8 June 1904

Mr CARPENTER (Fremantle) - The complaint that has been made with reference to honorable members not having the Estimates placed before them at an earlier stage, is a very old one, and has, doubtless", been voiced in every Parliament in the world.

Mr Mcwilliams - It is a very proper complaint.

Mr CARPENTER - I agree with the honorable member, and I hope that, until Governments mend their ways, honorable members will protest against having Estimates placed in their hands immediately before they are asked to consider them. From the point of view of Ministers, w;e understand that it is considered that business will be facilitated if honorable members are not allowed too much time to ferret out matters which are dealt with in the Estimates. I question, however, whether that view is a sound one, because many items regarding which honorable membersfind themselves compelled to make a public inquiry, might, if they had ample time, be disposed of beforehand bv means of a personal interview with a Minister or the officers of his Department. These remarks apply to one matter to which I wish to refer. The honorable member for Corangamite informed us just now that, included in the Estimates, was an item of £5.000 for expenditure upon the defences of Fremantle, and he led the Committee to believe that a large expenditure was being -incurred in respect of defences in Western Australia. The honorable member confessed that he was at some disadvantage, owing to the fact that the Estimates had not been presented at an earlier stage, and it was evident he did not understand the figures before him. I desire to complain of the action of the late Government in regard to the defences of Fremantle. That is the only important port in Australia that is still undefended. Millions of pounds' worth of property, lie there, unprotected, and if a hostile force were to appear off that port, it would be entirely at their mercy. For some years past representations have been made regarding this matter, and all sorts of promises have been given that something would be done. Under the heading "Expenditure for additions, new works, and buildings," I find that the Estimates of last year contained an item of £5,000 for gun and mountings at Fremantle. The residents of that town have been patiently waiting for the gun to be placed in position, but now that the Supplementary Estimates are forthcoming I find that the item has been eliminated. Had I not inquired into' the matter I should have been puzzled to know the reason for this new departure. The explanation of Ministers is that, although the sum in question was voted last year for a specific purpose, it was expended for an entirely different purpose. It was spent, not in obtaining a gun for the defence of Fremantle, but in providing ammunition for the rest of Australia. I protest against action of this character. What would the Committee think if, when the Estimates-in-Chief were under consideration, we voted a particular sum for a specific purpose, and were told next year that it had been spent for an entirely different purpose. If conduct of that sort is to be tolerated it will be impossible for honorable members to have any confidence in the Estimates which are sanctioned from year to year. I find, also, that the Estimates in-Chief also contain another item of £4,000, being portion of a total of £9,500, which it was intended to spend in clearing a site for the gun, and in equipping it. The sum of £3,800 has already been expended on the site, and the people of Fremantle are asking why the gun is not ready for mounting. . The reason has been kept a profound secret, but it now transpires that the money which was voted for the purpose some months ago was spent for an entirely different purpose. I ask that a matter of such great moment shall be dealt with in a businesslike manner.

Although a difference of opinion exists as to .what is the best site upon which to fortify Fremantle, we are' bound to accept the opinion of experts. Personally, I doubt whether they are acting wisely in placing the fort in the middle of the town. It does seem to me that in the event of hostilities in the future the fort will constitute a menace to the people of Fremantle. In case of bombardment every shot fired at it would destroy thousands of pounds worth of property. I ask the Government to give me an assurance that despite the misappropriation of this money by their predecessors in office, the effective defence of Fremantle will not be long delayed.

Mr Willis - What would it cost to defend that town?

Mr CARPENTER - I should say about £15,000. I ask the Government to consent to place on the next Estimates an amount adequate to complete this important work, and thus to allay the fears which are entertained that, in the event of hostilities occurring, the lives and property of the residents of Fremantle will not be protected.

Mr. LONSDALE(New England).During the course of his remarks this evening, the honorable member for Gwydir assumed a great deal of innocence in reference to the bye election for East Sydney which took place some months ago. Now, it is well known that that election was brought about by the action of the right honorable member for East Sydney, who considered it necessary to resign his seat in order to call attention to the gerrymandering tactics of the Barton Government. Undoubtedly, it had that effect. The honorable member for Gwydir introduced the matter for the purpose of having a fling at the right honorable member for East Sydney. He will be wise, however, if he leaves that gentleman alone. I confess that I do not understand some of 'the statements which have been made regarding the erection of telephone lines. When the Postal Department was under State control it was customary for the New South Wales authorities to demand from responsible persons who desired that telephonic facilities should be extended to them, the payment of 5 per cent, on the cost of erecting the line, in addition to its working expenses.

Mr Mahon - A number of those persons failed to pay up.

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