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Wednesday, 23 June 1915

Mr FISHER (Wide Bay) (Prime Minister and Treasurer) . - I am quite in agreement with the statements made by the Leader of the Opposition and the right honorable member for Swan. The Defence Department have been instructed to keep separate, distinct, and detailed accounts of the war expenditure, apart altogether from the ordinary Defence expenditure, which would be equivalent, to current expenditure in the absence of war. But I am not asking the Defence Department at this time - it would not have been fair, even if I had thought it wise - to make out a different schedule in the meantime for the actual expenditure up to date. This can be done at the end of the financial year, when the books are being closed, and as early in the new year as possible it will be my duty, as it will be my object and aim, if I cannot make a full financial statement, to make an interim statement showing the conditions of the Loan Vote and dealing with Defence expenditure. I shall place that before the House, because I am entirely in accord with the views of honorable members opposite in this' matter, and feel in regard to it just as strongly as they do. There is a danger of Defence matters becoming so interlocked and interlaced as to be- difficult of separation, but the accounts are being kept faithfully at the present time. I am also in agreement with the point raised by the right honorable gentleman regarding the amount of expenditure. If it becomes our duty - as it may - to expend a great deal more money in the defence of Australia and to help defend the Empire generally, it will be my particular business, as Treasurer to come down to Parliament and tell honorable members so, and also to make provision for the supply of money, which is a most important factor. I fully appreciate what the right honorable member for Parramatta has said about the war expenditure of Great Britain, and of the great resources of the Mother Country. I am sure that I am not trespassing on the patience of honorable members when I say that we all congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the proposal that he has made, and the prospect of getting such an enormous sum of money, running into over £500,000,000 or £600,000,000, with a prospect of going up to £900,000,000 or £1,000,000,000. As honorable members are aware, we were granted a loan of £18,000,000 by the British Government for war purposes, and we have under promise an additional £6,500,000 to cover our expenses up to the end of the financial year. As far as can be seen at present, no serious financial difficulty will arise during the present calendar year; but that is subject to contingencies, and to the determination of the people- to pledge their credit to a greater extent than at present. Unfortunately, in Australia, though we are comparatively strong financially, we have not been in a position to draw on our own credit to assist the Mother Country in the war. We can only help, so far as we can see at present, by means of food supplies, and, to a slight extent, by munitions.

Mr Joseph Cook - I do not quite follow the right honorable gentleman. Does he mean that in the past we have not been able to finance our own war expenditure ?

Mr FISHER - Unfortunately, Australia is a borrowing nation yet. We cannot-

Mr Joseph Cook - Although we are a borrowing nation, we are supposed to have £1,250,000,000 worth of invested wealth.

Mr FISHER - Yes ; but it is not available for this purpose. No young country has ever been able to do such a thing.

Sir John Forrest - We shall have to do as the Mother Country has doneborrow.

Mr FISHER - Yes, we may be able to raise money in Australia for our own war purposes, and I am in favour of that course, for by so doing we shall relieve the British money market of any obligation up to the amount that we are prepared to expend. How far that may affect enterprises, which are just as necessary for the development of resources, to assist the Mother Country, I am unable to say; and no. man in this chamber is able to say. I join heart and soul with the right honorable gentleman opposite in saying that it is incumbent, in the first place, upon all those who are physically fit to be trained to go to the front, to do so, and upon all those who have means, and who can supply those means to the Government to enable them to equip and transport our soldiers to the front, and so assist the Mother Country, to help in that way. We have a common duty, as a Dominion of the Mother Country, to defend the Empire, and we have an additional duty at this time of crisis, in helping to the best of our ability, by our own collective and individual efforts, financially.

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