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Thursday, 20 May 1915

Mr PALMER (Echuca) .-I move -

That, in the opinion of this House, expenditure upon the Federal Capital should be reduced to a minimum during the financial stress occasioned by the drought and the war.

Under the present abnormal conditions, I offer no apology for submitting this motion. In view of the repeated determination of a majority of this House to proceed with the work of the Federal Capital, I freely admit that, under natural and usual conditions, there would have been very little justification for such a motion ; but I have no hesitation in concluding that the circumstances are now such that the proposal will certainly receive fair consideration. Several honorable members have urged the Minister of Home Affairs to proceed more rapidly with this work ; and my motion is intended as an antidote to the clamourings for increased expenditure. I desire to submit some facts to justify my contention that we ought to make haste slowly in the matter of the Federal Capital. To begin with, the expenditure on this work is increasing at a somewhat rapid rate. In 1912-13, the expenditure was £137,000 ; in 1913-14 it was £252,000 ; and the estimated expenditure for the current year is £270,000. It is obvious, therefore, that we are going ahead at a fair pace.

Mr Pigott - Do those figures include expenditure for land?

Mr PALMER - Wo, merely on works and buildings ; and yet such an expenditure does not satisfy some honorable members. On referring to the Budget-papers, page 46, 1 find that, in 1912-13, when there was no drought and no war, the total expenditure per head in the Commonwealth was £4 17s. 8$d. ; that in 1913-14 it was £5 4s. ; and that the estimated expenditure for the current year is £7 19s. 5£d.

Mr Richard Foster - Does the last amount include war expenditure?

Mr PALMER - No ; only ordinary expenditure. These figures ought to give pause to those honorable members who are so anxious to see the expenditure increased. It is admitted that a long period must elapse before we can occupy the Federal Capital; and it has to be 'recognised that, according to appearances, there is considerable friction between the Minister of Home Affairs and responsible officers in regard to certain works. I am of opinion that, until the position in this respect is satisfactorily settled, it would be unwise to proceed with any great expenditure. The motion refers to the financial stress occasioned by the drought and the war; and when we turn to the Budget-papers, page 133, we find that in 1913-14, the last year for which there is any record, the net exportable surplus of wheat and flour amounted to 54,000,000' bushels, which, at a valuation of 4s. per bushel, represents £10,000,000. What isthe position which has to be faced by every person on the land - every person in the community? Instead of our having- £10,000,000, the value of an ordinary wheat crop, circulating amongst us, wehave actually to put our hands into our pockets and pay other countries for the wheat we require. The export trade, in other directions, has been affected in precisely the same way by the drought. Instead of receiving considerable sums of money for exports, we are now compelled to import. Sugar, for instance, is to be imported largely, and we must have hay in order to feed the stock. All the circumstances point to a very serious condition of things, which means a large increase in the cost of living. Never before have the people been called upon to pay so much for bread; indeed, almost every article we eat, wear, or use has increased in price, and the cost of living will remain abnormally high until we have another good season. With an estimated expenditure per head of almost £8, it is obvious that any further taxation, in order to carry on such works as that of the Federal Capital, which are purely of an unproductive character, must seriously increasethe public burden. I plead with honorable members to have some kindly consideration for the taxpayers. It is not necessary for me to say much regarding the motion ; and I need only point to the fact that the drought and the war have increased the cost of living, while the spending power of the people has been reduced. We cannot blink the fact that the community is feeling the pinch, and we ought to do whatever we can to relieve the position. I do not say that an expenditure on the Federal Capital of over u quarter of a million of money is going to be appreciably felt; but, with other large undertakings of a more utilitarian character to be carried on, the least necessary should first be discontinued. I am not going to occupy the attention of the House for any length of time.

Mr Richard Foster - Why not?

Mr PALMER - Because I consider that I have done my duty when I bring this motion forward, and afford honorable members an opportunity to express an opinion. The facts are clear to all. We have had a drought, the worst in the recollection of most people ; and the general conditions are most serious. The ordinary expenditure of the Government is increasing to an enormous extent ; and those who urge that more money still should bo devoted to the Federal Capital are taking ii line of action which, if it has any effect at all, must still further intensify the prevailing difficulties. I want to relieve the people of that obligation if I can. I am not going to repeat what I have said on previous occasions regarding the Federal Capital. My views on the subject are well known. However, Parliament has decided to go forward with the matter, and under normal conditions I should not have submitted this motion, but I should have been lacking in my duty at the present time if I had not raised my voice in protest at this continued expenditure under the extreme conditions now operating.

Mr Poynton - But you voted for this Capital site.

Mr PALMER - Quite a number of members voted for this site, and for another site. I was one of those who came into Parliament when there was nothing else to vote upon. The question of building the Capital had been settled before I appeared in this House, and the only question I had to vote upon was one between the various sites. Had the question been one with regard to building the city or otherwise, I should have answered in a very decided negative. I feel perfectly justified in raising my protest on this occasion, though I know it will be urged that to discontinue work at the Federal Capital will have the effect of throwing large numbers out of employment, and thus in- tensifying the difficulties of the period. I have yet to learn that the Federal Parliament is: a benevolent institution. If it is necessary to establish works to give employment under the peculiar and trying conditions now in existence, let that employment be given on work that is likely to produce some return for the money expended, and not in the fanciful direction which has been suggested by some honorable members. There I will leave the question. I would like to get a vote upon it in order to find out who is in favour and who against relieving to some extent the strain now imposed, upon the people by the abnormal conditions which prevail.

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