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Wednesday, 13 June 1928

Mr FOSTER (Wakefield) .- I was delighted last night by the lucid explanation given by the Prime Minister of the country's financial position. It was an excellent statement of revenue and expenditure. It was submited to honorable members in the most lucid manner, and was altogether unobjectionable so far as it went. I wish to go further. The statement of the Prime Minister was accurate within a given range, but he did not tell us how the money had been expended, and what benefit the nation had received from that expenditure. It has been an easy matter to administer the affairs of this country during the last few years. When the Prime Minister was Treasurer, he introduced a new method of presenting the public accounts,, and that enabled a person to see at a glance the condition of our finances. That is not the practice to-day. Too many things are kept out of sight. The people would have more confidence in this Government if the public budget disclosed every item of expenditure. The community should know a great deal more than it does of the financial position. At this time of financial stringency we should put every penny of public money to the best use. Had this country not its vast potentialities, it would have been ruined long ago by our extravagant administration. We should expend our money wisely and well, and seek to relieve those who are in distress. Much has been said about efficiency in administration, but are we getting it? What we require is real efficiency, with a consequent benefit to the nation. We want efficiency inside as well as outside ministerial administration. There is too much ministerial administrataion by delegation. In the last few years we have appointed hundreds of commissions, boards and inquiries of various kinds.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member supported the appointment of every one of them.

Mr FOSTER - I did not. Administration by delegation is not the proper way to govern this country. It is extravagant and must end. When our good seasons disappear, we shall be in a hopeless financial position, and if that happens the Government must accept the responsibility. Much of the work that has been delegated to boards and commissions should be carried out by this Parliament.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member should have said that when those bodies were being appointed.

Mr FOSTER - I have always maintained that. I was educated in a political school that was opposed to members of Parliament travelling all over the world at Government expense. It would not allow a royal commission to travel even from Adelaide to Melbourne except under extraordinary circumstances. We have too many boards and commissions. Mr. McGrath. - The honorable member did not oppose their appointment.

Mr FOSTER - I supported the appointment of many of them, but their work has been a disappointment to me. Had we efficiency in ministerial posts, and had the Government sought the advise of our financial experts, we should not now be in our present unhappy position. It has been admitted by the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) and other members of the Government that they candidly believe that the less the Government meddles with the instrumentalities of the community the better, provided that those instrumentalities are capable of being conducted by private enterprise. "We have lost millions of pounds through meddling in things which could have been done infinitely* better by others. The system of doing work by contract should have been put into operation to a much greater extent than has been the case. There are times when, in the interest of the nation, the government itself must act. The circumstances should be scrutinized closely before any decision is arrived at. It all resolves itself into a question of administration; if the administration is inefficient, it does not matter much what system is adopted.

Let me now refer to some of the special commissions which have been established.

Mr Nelson - Commissions the appointment of which the honorable member supported.

Mr FOSTER - The people of Australia know well how these matters are dealt with by the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson), notwithstanding that as a member of this chamber, it is his duty to assist in the development of the undeveloped portions of Australia. There have been numerous occasions on which commissions have been appointed to do work which the Government itself should have undertaken. Unfortunately, the men who have been appointed have not all been capable. Sometimes the Government has appointed inefficient men to commissions, and not until later has it realized how serious has been the mistake it has made.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - "Was it not the boast of the Government that it would restore responsible government ?

Mr FOSTER - That cannot be done now! Already large sums of money have been lost.' There is no reason why our

Public Service should not undertake three-fourths of the work now entrusted to special commissions. The Government has searched all over Australia for men, and has paid them three, four, or five times as much as it pays its best public servants, who could have told the Government what it wanted to know. We have a splendid Public Service. In its ranks are men who, with one or two exceptions, are as capable as are any of the men whom the Government has "appointed as special commissioners.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Most of the commissioners who have been appointed would be helpless but for the members of the Public Service.

Mr FOSTER - That is true. If a man placed in charge of an important department of the Public Service is not qualified to hold his position, he should be replaced by another. There is another side to this question - I refer to ministerial efficiency. What is the use of having an efficient Public Service if it is controlled by men who know no more about the functions of a government department than does a tom cat? If the head of a department knows his job, he should be allowed to do it.

Honorable members are fully aware that the Government has been spending merrily huge sums of borrowed money. Apart from money borrowed to meet war liabilities, the Commonwealth has increased borrowing by £164,000,000, and the States £367,000,000. What assets have we for that expenditure? There ought to be an annual stocktaking by every government in Australia. That stocktaking should take place in good seasons as well as in times of drought. Money is spent freely in good seasons, with the result that when times are bad we feel the pinch. That pinch is felt most by our primary producers.

Mr Watkins - Did not the Treasurer, when a private member, advocate that the searchlight should be thrown on Commonwealth expenditure ?

Mr FOSTER - At that time the searchlight was not so necessary as it is to-day. The Treasurer should now take his own advice. He should bring that searchlight from where it reposes among the dust of1 the museum and throw its beams on his* own administration'.- ' In the interests of Australia the Government should call a halt. Not only are the people of Australia burdened with excessive direct taxation, but every year an increase of over £3,000,000 is wrung from them by means of the tariff. I am a believer in a reasonable tariff, but not in a tariff gone mad. Much of the suffering which we see to-day is due to our fiscal policy. In this connexion honorable members opposite are much to blame. Apparently they believe that no tariff can be too high.

Mr Gregory - The honorable member could apply that remark to honorable members on both sides of the chamber.

Mr FOSTER - So far as honorable members on this side are considered, the statement requires some modification. Nevertheless, there is a danger that they will soon be as bad as those who sit opposite. The Standing Orders prevent me from referring to certain matters at length at this stage ; but I desire, by way of illustration, to refer to certain legislation with which this House has recently dealt. One clause provided that the practice of the court in fixing the basic wage should not be interfered with. No sane man wants to alter the basic wage; but economic principles, as everlasting as the hills themselves, sometimes render such a course necessary. " Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." If a man does not sow, he cannot reap. What is this economic principle which secures to the worker a basic wage at the hands of the court? The principle is right; but it should be made practical. If the two parties in industry will both put their necks into the collar and do the right thing, all will be well.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member has exhausted his time.

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