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Friday, 1 June 1928

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member must know that constant interjections are disorderly.

Mr FENTON - The firm of Vestey Brothers opened hundreds of butchers' shops in Great Britain for the display of its chilled meat and in that way scored a tremendous advantage over Australian exporters. Other firms have adopted a similar policy. I merely mention these matters to illustrate what big business firms do when they wish to bring before the consuming public the goods they have to sell. I have already mentioned what a splendid market Great Britain affords to the producers of Australia. The only way in which we can get the people of Great Britain to buy our products is by displaying them at the doors of the British consumers. We could very well devote a portion of this £500,000 to doing something on the lines suggested by Mr. Baldwin when he was the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. He said -

To spend money in the direction suggested would be a good thing. What is to prevent us, as a government in Britain, co-operating with the overseas dominions governments to establish a system whereby there could be a splendid distribution of dominions' produce throughout the United Kingdom.

That is the only way in which Australia can thoroughly and effectively compete with the great opponents it has in the British market.

The honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Duncan-Hughes) has interjected that most of the Australian State Premiers have concurred in the proposal to hold this exhibition. I find, on referring to thespeech of the Prime Minister, that at the Conference with the State Premiers, the Premier of Victoria-

Mr Duncan-Hughes - Was noncommital.

Mr FENTON - Yes, and the other State Premiers, with the exception of the Premier of New South Wales, gave only a general assent to the proposal. Presumably, finding that the exhibition was not to cost their States anything, they did not wish to appear churlish towards New South Wales. The question of a site has yet to be determined. Mr. Bavin, the Premier of New South Wales, has promised that Centennial Park will be placed at the disposal of the Commonwealth Government only with the sanction of the State Parliament, and I believe that if the State Parliament does give itsconsent it will be by the narrowest of majorities. If Centennial Park has been set aside for a specific purpose for the people of New South Wales, I question very much whether it can be used as a site for an exhibition. That, however, is a point to be settled by the legal fraternity. I am inclined to think that the opinion of the Premier of Victoria is that money should not be spent in this direction. He and. the other State Premiers know how hard it is for them to get along at the present time. We start off, therefore, with this exhibition having only the lukewarm support of the States.

Some of us remember the aftermath of the past exhibitions held in Australia.I am not prepared to say that the last great exhibition in Melbourne was responsible for the awful depression that almost immediately followed it, but it was certainly a contributing factor.

Mr Gregory - In what way?

Mr FENTON - If millions of pounds are spent on any project in a big city, it leads to the aggregation of people in that city. People flock there looking for work, which is available for a short period only, and this leads to an inflation in land values. The great financial collapse of the nineties, which affected Victoria in particular, was mainly due to the excessive gambling in land that preceded it, but the Centennial Exhibition held in Melbourne induced a certain amount of centralization which, as we all know, leads to a most unhealthy state of affairs in any community.

Mr Cook - Do secondary industries lead to congested centres of population \

Mr FENTON - To a certain extent it cannot be avoided. One of Australia's largest manufacturers of agricultural implements moved his factory from an inland town to a place near the seaboard.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member is not in order in discussing that matter.

Mr FENTON - I consider that the £500,000 proposed to be spent on this exhibition could be better employed. For instance, the Public Works Committee has recently investigated a proposal to spend £120,000 on Commonwealth offices in Sydney. Portion of this £500,000 could be better spent, from the taxpayer's stand-point, in completing that work. As soon as the building is ready for occupation, the saving in rent will be greater than the amount required to pay interest and sinking fund on the expenditure involved. The proposal to spend £500,000 on an exhibition is nothing but extravagance, particularly at a time when at least 100,000 persons are unemployed in Australia. Surely this money, if we have it to spare, should be used at once to give some relief to the thousands of distressed families in this so-called bright and sunny land of ours. I live in the Prime Minister's electorate, and I know the sufferings that the fruit growers are experiencing there. They have reached such a distressing stage that soon they will be looking for. work on the roads and elsewhere. Yet their own representative in this Parliament is proposing to expend £500,000 on an Empire exhibition! There are in that electorate others besides the fruit growers who are suffering through unemployment. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. E. .Riley), gave us some interesting information, about which the Prime Minister apparently knows very little. He showed conclusively that, if during the six months that this exhibition will be in existence, the attendance is 30,000,000, the admission fees, if fixed at a moderate scale, will amount to at least £100,000 less than the estimate of the Prime Minister. There will no doubt be a big deficit. This huge expenditure is ill-timed and unnecessary; and will be of no benefit to Australia. At the close of the exhibition it will be found that the expenditure, instead of being £500,000, will be more like £1,000,000. The Government is living in an atmosphere of glorious optimism, but I take a sensible view of the financial aspect of this proposal. During this exhibition, there will be a lavish entertaining of distinguished visitors. Money will be spent in profusion to. satisfy the guzzling propensities of a lot of globetrotters. There will be many other contingencies, which we do not foresee. The honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) referred in glowing terms to the San Francisco exhibition. He frequently uses an American illustration or introduces an American touch into the debates. Like that honorable member, I have a great deal of sympathy with and brotherly feeling for cousin Jonathan. The Americans, in my opinion, are amongst our best friends. Our countries front the Pacific Ocean, and our interests are identical. I feel certain that America would come to our assistance if Australia were in dire peril. The San Francisco exhibition was international in character, whereas we are proposing to hold an Empire exhibition, which- is naturally limited in its scope. America has a population of 110,000,000, and the San Francisco international exhibition attracted thousands of people from all parts of the world. We shall not have such a clientele at the Empire exhibition at Sydney. The honorable member for Oxley made special reference to the number of patriotic citizens living in close proximity to the San Francisco exhibition. The Prime Minister has made this statement: - .

In connexion with Wembley, we had a number of guarantors to cover any loss on the exhibition; but that arrangement caused a great deal of friction. After a full examination the Government decided that a direct appropriation was the' best means of financing this exhibition. The bill, therefore, appropriates the sum of £500,000.

Clause 11 of the bill provides that a person who is an uncertificated bankrupt or insolvent shall be incapable of being appointed commissioner or assistant commissioner. Evidently, that is one of the safeguards that the Government has provided in the bill against wasteful expenditure. Sub-clause 3 of clause 21, provides that the Consolidated Revenue Fund is to be appropriated to the extent of £500,000. No mention is made of how the money is to be raised, whether on the London or New York market, or out of the public fund. Sub-clause 1 of clause 22, provides that the commission may, with the consent of the Treasurer, arrange with any banking corporation in Australia to make to the commission advances not exceeding £300,000. It has to be remembered that interest will have to be paid on that money.

Mr Gregory - Does the honorable member consider that that money should be advanced without interest?

Mr FENTON - No ; but when the Government talks about appropriating £500,000, it makes no allowance for the interest charge on that amount. That is one of the many extras which the taxpayers of thiscountry will have to bear. The only financial supervision of this expenditure is to be carried out by the Auditor-General. The Prime Minister may say that that is a sufficient guarantee against waste, but let as examine the bill. Sub-clause 2 of clause 23 provides that the AuditorGeneral shall furnish to the commission a copy of any report made by him after any inspection or audit. As this Parliament is sanctioning the expenditure of £500,000, it is only right that the AuditorGeneral's report should be furnished through the Treasurer to this Parliament. Clause 24 contains a list of exhibits and materials which are to be free from customs duties. It includes exhibits, building materials, tools, and transport plant, articles for use in decorations and the installation of machinery, samples for free distribution, and such other goods as are notified by the Minister in the Gazette. Take, for instance, the item of building material. Of course, we may wish to bring here some particularly ornamental timbers that are grown in other parts of the Empire; but, apart from exhibits, why should we drop our tariff walls to allow of the introduction of foreign timber with which to build stores and other works? Suitable timber could be obtained in Australia for this purpose. I certainly do not appreciate a provision of that kind. Under the law as it stands at present, any firm in Great Britain, America, or Canada, or even in the other dominions, has to pay duty on any printed catalogue of its goods that is sent to Australia. The printers and publishers of this country are protected to that extent, but under the bill catalogues are to be admitted free. That is quite unnecessary. It is quite likely that firms will send to this country, free of duty, catalogues which have no relation at all to their exhibits, and it will need a watchful eye to protect the customs revenue. The bill also proposes to preclude the PublicWorks Committee and the Public Accounts Committee from inquiring into any expenditure incurred both before and after the exhibition. It is quite likely that, if that clause is passed, those committees will be precluded from making any investigations at all respecting the exhibition. The Public Works Committee cannot act except by resolution of this Parliament, but the Public Accounts Committee is in a different position. I admit, as the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Mann) has stated, that many of the inquiries of the Public Accounts Committee have taken place after the expenditure has been incurred, but I submit that very often its inquiries have led to the saving of considerable sums of money. The Public Works Committee should have full power to investigate any work, in connexion with this exhibition, that is estimated to cost not less than £25,000. The Commissioner and the Assistant Commissioner should not be allowed to sanction works without hindrance or supervision; that would be unfair to this Parliament. We have appointed parliamentary committees, and they have rendered a useful service to this country. During the first three years that I was a member of the Public Works Committee its inquiries led to an immense saving in expenditure. It is in the interests of this country to have such investigations. Projected railways and public works are inquired into by these committees, the members of which, and particularly their secretaries, have become expert at their work. Their qualifications are such that they are able to render very valuable service to the Commonwealth, and they should in this instance be associated with any investigation which may be necessary in this connexion. In this instance, however, these two committees are to be swept aside by an act of this Parliament. I do not know whether the Prime Minister will consent to an amendment when the measure is in committee, to remove the embargo placed upon these two bodies; but the inclusion of this clause is practically a violation of an act of Parliament.

I have already referred to the position which may arise as a result of the introduction of printed catologues, free of duty, which will either be distributed or sold in tens of thousands to the people of Australia. A British firm may send out some of those voluminous catalogues which are produced annually for them, the printing of which could readily be done in Australia. I have no hesitation in saying that there are printing establishments in Melbourne and Sydney that can produce catalogues second to none in the world. That is why I am entering a strong protest against the tariff wall being removed in this instance. British manufacturers will send their goods to Australia and display them at the exhibition in the best possible manner with the view, of course, of obtaining additional business. If there was not that prospect, they would not be exhibitors. The exhibition in Australia of certain articles, will be to the detriment of Australian manufacturers. Clause 27 of the bill reads -

27.   Where any award made under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904-1 926 or any agreement certified and filed under the act applies to employment in, or in connexion with, the exhibition, its application shall be subject to such exceptions and limitations as are prescribed.

Mr G FRANCIS (KENNEDY, QUEENSLAND) - Does the honorable member think that they should not be prescribed ?

Mr FENTON - Why should there be " such exceptions and limitations as are prescribed " ? Why should workmen in this country be denied the right to work under an award of the Arbitration Court. Does that provision mean the abrogation of an act of Parliament.

Mr Ley - Is it a sinister attempt to undermine the standard of living?

Mr FENTON - This is not a laughing , matter. Does the honorable member not think that anything we do to undermine the standard of living is serious ?

Mr Ley - The honorable member suggests that it is an attempt to undermine the standard of living.

Mr FENTON - I do. There are certain loopholes in this measure provided only for certain purposes, and it appears to me that a sinister move is being made to undermine the standard of living by paying other than award rates of wages in connexion with the exhibition.

In the limited time at my disposal I have endeavoured to express my views upon this measure ; but when the committee stage is reached, as I suppose it will, honorable members will have a further opportunity to discuss the bill in detail. In conclusion, I wish to enter my most emphatic protest against such waste of public money, particularly at a time when the Commonwealth can least afford it. Surely honorable members know that there are nearly 100,000 persons out of work in Australia, and will agree that if money is to be spent, it should be in such a way that the largest possible number will benefit. It is likely that the Treasurer will have to announce a deficit of £3,000,000 to £4,000,000 for the present financial year, which is probably the largest that has been recorded for at least two decades. In view of all the circumstances, I repeat that it is criminal waste of money and gross extravagance to spend such a large sum on an exhibition, the main object of which is to advertise goods which will enter into serious competition with Australian manufactures.

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