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Friday, 1 June 1928

Mr MANN (Perth) .- Presumably this proposal is put forward with the object of increasing our trade. We must, therefore, consider it from a business point of view, in its relation to the Commonwealth itself. The benefit derivable from an exhibition is admittedly an indirect one. It is supposed to benefit private traders and manufacturers by enlarging the knowledge of different countries regarding the goods that they respectively produce. At the present time the results are problematical. The indirect benefits that accrue from the expenditure of public money are liable to be overstated. If we overrun the constable in the expenditure of public funds to promote enterprises of this character it is likely that at some future date we shall have to increase our borrowings, or add to the taxation imposed upon the people, in order to make up the deficit. We are apt to look at the immediate expenditure and not the ultimate result: We are continually having impressed upon us the need for economy in both private and public finance. Large public works have been and are being suspended temporarily on account of the shortage of funds, although many of them would immediately and permanently benefit the finances of the Commonwealth. We should gravely consider, therefore, whether we should authorize the expenditure of £500,000 upon a project the results of which are extremely doubtful. Exhibitions in themselves are not, as a rule, a financial success. We were told this morning that the closing of the last exhibition in Sydney synchronized with a period of great depression in New South Wales, and that there was a similar outcome of the last big Melbourne Exhibition. Any great enterprise of this sort is apt to have that effect, because for a short period it induces a highly stimulated standard of expenditure which must be counteracted later by corresponding economy in both private and public finance. It is perfectly true that these exhibitions when they were first held did a great deal of good. The big exhibition of 1851 was immensely beneficial. It must be remembered, however, that the circumstances which then existed were altogether different from what they are to-day. In those days the nations were not in contact with each other to the extent that they are at the present time. The means whereby the people of the different countries could hold intercourse with each other and exchange their knowledge were very poor. The nations have since been brought into much closer contact, and the majority of persons who are engaged in industry or commerce are fully alive to the developments that take place in their particular lines in other parts of the world. If they were not, they would not be fit to engage in business, and would soon be driven to the wall by the competition they have to face. It is far better that business should be conducted along those lines - that there should be the continual stimulus of competition to compel every manufacturer or industrial leader to learn all he can and to meet fairly and squarely the competition of other countries, by increasing his own knowledge and skill, rather than by looking to government subsidies to prop up his inefficiency. The great Wembley exhibition was a big financial failure. The reason given this morning was that it was too remote from the city. Surely nobody can say that 12 miles is an appreciable distance in a huge area like that which the city of London covers ! We are all acquainted with the extraordinarily efficient means of communication that Londoners have at their command. The patronage was all that the promoters of the Wembley Exhibition could have desired ; yet a very heavy financial deficit was incurred, and the guarantors had to make it good. It is almost impossible to estimate what will be the direct return from an exhibition of this kind. I reiterate that in the present state of the public finances, we ought to consider the direct business results from the point of view of the public finances, taking the stand that for the moment this House is in the position of a business firm that proposes to invest a large sum of money and requires an appropriate return from it. The indirect benefits should not enter into our calculations, because they are too vague and indefinite. It is not possible to check, or to examine in any way, the estimates that are made of the probable returns.

Mr Fenton - They are mere guess work.

Mr MANN - They must be guess work. We are justified in assuming that, like other exhibitions of the kind, it will not prove a financial success. If there is a deficit, who will have to meet it ? It is obvious that, as this is a Commonwealth Government enterprise, the revenues of the Commonwealth will eventually have to make good any deficit that is incurred. We cannot launch such a project, and, in the event of a financial failure, ask somebody else to "pay the piper." On the other hand, if there is any benefit, either directly or indirectly, by whom will it be reaped? Chiefly, almost entirely, by the people of New South Wales, and especially of Sydney. I do not speak in any narrow sense when I say that. It is extraordinary that many of the objections to the bill that have been voiced this morning have come from representatives of New South Wales electorates. 1 gather that the people of New South Wales, and particularly Sydney, are by no means enthusiastic in regard to this proposal.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member is quite right when he says that.

Mr MANN - If they are the only persons who will benefit, and they do not want the exhibition, surely no one else in Australia is likely to want it! I suppose that a large number of people who live in the other States of the Commonwealth, even if they do not visit Sydney with the specific intention of attending the exhibition, will at least try to make those visits, which they pay periodically to Sydney as the great pleasure resort of Australia, synchronize with the period during which the exhibition is being held; just as many tourists to England postponed their trip until the year in which the Wembley Exhibition was held. Those whom the exhibition attracts to Sydney from the other States will be largely of the tourist, pleasure seeking type, who will spend large sums of money . It would be very interesting to ascertain the exact amount that is spent every year in Sydney by those who visit that city from other parts of Australia.

The exhibition may benefit Sydney, but it will not benefit any of the other States. _ The traders of New South Wales may derive some benefit from it, but this I question very much. I can readily understand that the Premiers of the various States would not raise an objection to that proposal. Certainly I should not expect the Premier of New South Wales to object to it. Surely it would be worth while spending £100,000 of New South Wales money to have £500,000 of Commonwealth money expended in Sydney. I should say, therefore, that the Premier of New South Wales is on a pretty good wicket. I agree with the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) who said this morning that, as Sydney will benefit chiefly from the exhibition, the people of that city should" be called upon to pay a larger proportion of the cost. The proposed expenditure of New South Wales money is, indeed, a sprat to catch a mackerel. In the circumstances, one can understand why the Premier of New South Wales should agree to the proposal. One can understand also the attitude of the Premiers of other States. The project will cost them nothing, so why should they raise objection to it? I can see no logical reason, except the general ground of economy in the expenditure of public funds - which does not concern them, since the expenditure will come from the Commonwealth revenue - why they should be opposed to it. But the project directly concerns this House. As to the bill itself, it contains one or two provisions which, if altered or eliminated, may remove some of the objections to the measure. T share in the regret that has been expressed with regard to clause 25, which provides that expenditure under the bill shall not be the subject of inquiry by either the Public Works or the Public Accounts Committee. Some honorable members have expressed the view that even if an inquiry by the Public Works Committee will not be possible, the Public Accounts Committee, at all events, cannot be prevented from inquiry into the expenditure. In my opinion both committees are equally important; but in respect of this proposal, an inquiry by the Public Works Committee would, perhaps, be more effective than an investigation by the Public Accounts Committee, because the former body inquires into the works before they are undertaken to ascertain whether the expenditure contemplated is justified by the return, expected from it. In this sense the Public Works Committee exercise's & very direct control. On the other hand, inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee, as a rule, is made only after the expenditure has been incurred, and, therefore, that committee can only expose errors that have been committed. The function of the Public Works Committee is- preventive, whereas the Public' Accounts Committee is not. From every aspect, it is most desirable that there should be the closest examination of the proposed expenditure. The law lays it down that all proposed public works estimated to cost more than £25,000 shall be submitted to the Public Works Committee for investigation and report. I say, therefore, that it is a grave error to legislate, as is proposed in this bill, to provide that an expenditure of £500,000 of public money shall be entirely outside the purview of either of these committees. Again, so far as control of expenditure is concerned, there is not sufficient safeguarding of public funds by the appointment of only one commissioner and an assistant commissioner to regulate expenditure, without reference to any other checking authority. I do not wish to enlarge upon this point, as it may appear to have a personal aspect. I submit, in an entirely impersonal way, that it is a mistake and not in accordance with the regular practice, to allow one man to be responsible for the whole of the expenditure. As a rule, commissions comprising men of experience are appointed to conduct all the preliminary work and to keep down expenditure in connexion with exhibitions. Many such commissions in the past have included business men of proved ability. When the big Melbourne Exhibition was planned, the general manager of one of the large Melbourne banks was on the commission, and there were also a number of executive committees, comprising men of expert knowledge and special training in the control of such undertakings.

I do not wish to say much about the site. That has already been dealt with by the various speakers who have preceded me; but it has occurred to me that it is unusual and extraordinary that a big public park in the Sydney metropolitan area, set aside for the recreation of the people,, should be selected as a site for the exhibition. It will be out of use for six months or more - probably twelve months; but, as I stated by interjection this morning, any objection to the exhibition on these grounds should be directed to the New South Wales Government. If that Government has offered the park, I see no reason why blame should attach to the Commonwealth Government for taking advantage of such a generous


Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The New South Wales Government did not offer it.

Mr Bruce - Yes, it did.

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