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Friday, 28 October 1904

Sir GEORGE TURNER - The discussion on this item has been a very interesting one, and I do not intend even to hint that the time occupied last night and today has been at all wasted. Honorable members have been quite within their rights in fully expressing their views, and I have listened very intently to what has been said, in order to see if there were any grounds which could justify me in changing my attitude in regard to the matter. I have failed to grasp the constitutional objection of the honorable member for Gwydir. It has been suggested that the item should appear among the Estimates of the PostmasterGeneral. That question was raised when the first Estimates were framed. The sum of £3,600 is a liability incurred by the State of New South Wales for the performance of certain services, and it was regarded as unfair to charge the amount against postal expenditure.

Mr McDonald - If it is not postal expenditure, what authority has the Government for making it ?

Sir GEORGE TURNER - The matter was thoroughly thrashed out at the time, and the conclusion was come to that the expenditure was more fairly chargeable against the Department of External Affairs, since the subsidy was for more than postal services. Afterwards the Government determined to increase the subsidy, in order to provide a fuller service, and this increase came under the head of new expenditure. The Committee, however, has a perfect constitutional right to vote money for such purposes. The only matter with which honorable members are concerned is the justification for the expenditure in view of the benefits likely to be obtained. It has been determined now on two, if not on three, occasions, that it is wise to increase our communications with these islands, and sums of £2,000 and £400 have been spent in providing for the carrying on of the services by white labour. The proposal to increase the subsidy was first considered by the Barton Government, and afterwards by the Deakin Government. The honorable and learned member for Ballarat spent -many days in fully inquiring into the whole question with those interested in the company, and he assured the Cabinet that he had cut the subsidy down to the lowest amount which he thought right. He satisfied himself that the expenditure would be beneficial to the Commonwealth, as one from which we should get a good return. That Government left office, and the late Prime Minister also fully investigated the matter, and satisfied himself that the proposed expenditure was justifiable. It then came to the turn of the present Government to deal with the subject. When the Estimates came before me, I was naturally anxious to cut down every possible vote, and to leave out new votes wherever I could do so. When I noticed this proposal to spend £6,000, I sent it back for reconsideration, and the Prime Minister went very fully into the matter, and came to the conclusion that the amount ought to be provided for. I then went through the file of papers - no small one - and spent many hours in acquainting myself with the facts, many of which had been previously brought under my notice, but which I had in the meantime forgotten, and I came to the conelusion that no matter how anxious I might be to cut down expenditure, the proposed vote would be well spent.

Mr Webster - -What return are we to receive ?

Sir GEORGE TURNER - I do not look at the return we shall receive in the way of increased commerce. When I was Premier of Victoria, we passed through a very hard time, and I had to save every penny I could ; but when the Premier of New South Wales brought under my notice the position of the mail services to the islands, I took a broad view of the question. I knew that Victoria could not derive any possible direct benefit from the maintenance of the service ; but I agreed that Victoria should contribute, because I was impressed with the necessity of doing all we could within reason to prevent the islands from falling into the hands of foreign powers.

Mr Tudor - Why cannot that matter be attended to by Great Britain ?

Sir GEORGE TURNER - Great Britain can answer for herself. All' we have to do is to answer for the Commonwealth. The question is not whether Great Britain should do this, but whether we are justified in spending money for the purpose. Those honorable members who can carry their minds back for a few years, will recollect the strong feeling that was exhibited in all the States when there was a suggestion that some of the Pacific Islands might fall into the hands of other nations. I venture to say that if to-day our people felt that, in consequence of our refusing to spend a reasonable amount of money, any ' of the islands would fall into the hands of other nations, there would be an outcry from one end of Australia to the other. We look at this matter, without considering whether New South Wales or Queensland will derive the benefit of any trade that may be opened up. We view it in its higher aspects, and consider whether the expenditure will be justified as a means of preventing these islands from being placed beyond our control. As the years roll on, I have no doubt that it will become .absolutely necessary, in the interests of Australia, that we should take possession .of all the islands we can. We cannot secure New Caledonia, although we ought to have had it. I venture to say that the public regret that we have no control over that possession. If we cannot secure that, we ought to do everything we can to obtain control over the other islands.

Mr Mahon - We do not even possess the whole of New Guinea.

Sir GEORGE TURNER - We have a portion of it, and we should have had the whole of it. I .am sure that no one regrets more than does the honorable member that we have not the sole control of that island. The time may come when bargains may be made between the different nations, and we may be able to retrieve some of the mistakes made in the past. The Federal Council, at all its meetings, passed the strongest resolutions urging Great Britain to do everything she possibly could to obtain control of certain of the islands. I will not go to the length of saying that the mail services will be stopped if we decline to grant the proposed subsidy.

Mr Spence - What additional advantage shall we derive from the expenditure of the extra money?

Sir GEORGE TURNER - The Prime Minister explained that very fully. We are to be granted a better and more frequent service, and the steamers will call at a large number of islands at which they do not touch at present. Therefore, we shall be able to keep ourselves in closer touch with the settlers in the islands, and make ourselves thoroughly acquainted with their circumstances. I do not for one moment say that there will be any great rush of people to the islands at the present time, but we must think of the future as well as of the pre- sent. I feel perfectly sure that the time will come when the people of Australia will be pleased to have possession off these islands, and that those who come after us would deeply regret any action of ours that might prejudice our position in the Pacific. I am as strongly inclined as is any man to keep down the expenditure of the Commonwealth, and I should have struck out this item if I could have seen my way to do so.

Mr Tudor - We are backing up the Minister.

Sir GEORGE TURNER - I should have struck out the item, but for the fact that on going through thefile of papers I was forced to the conclusion that the money should be expended. I ask the Committee to accept my assurance that everything has been done to ascertain whether the expendir ture would be justified. I hope that the Committee will not be -divided, but that we shall unanimously decide to grant the increased subsidy, and that the public will realize that we are doing everything we reasonably can to maintain our influence in the Pacific.

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