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Wednesday, 13 June 1928

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - We are indebted to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Foster) for his sane remarks. He appears to be the only statesman on the other side of the House. He- has shown clearly how the country is drifting, and has been strong in his condemnation of the wasteful methods of the Ministry. I am sorry that he is no longer a member of the Ministry. As a Minister he worked well, and knew his job. While I disagree with him in many matters, I regard him as a big Australian, with a big outlook. There is much in what he has said about the wasteful expenditure of public money. The Government has appointed too many commissions, which have been barren of result. It is to the credit of honorable members on this side that they have consistently opposed the appointment of these commissions. The Government should govern the country, and not delegate its powers to commissions. Before the Bruce-Page Government assumed office, and appointed commission after commission, the country was ruled better than it is now. The present Government is notorious for appointing commissions whenever an awkward problem arises. Now that the Seat of Government has been transferred to Canberra, there is no sound reason for the continuance of the Federal Capital Commission. The work now entrusted to that body should be undertaken by a Government department under the control of the Minister for Home and Territories. The Public Service contains men capable of undertaking the work now performed by the Federal Capital Commission and its officers. In the past Government departments have carried out many big undertakings, such as the construction of the east-west railway and railways in the Northern Territory. Indeed before the appointment of the Federal Capital Commission much good work in connexion with the Federal Capital Territory was done by the Works and Railways Department. Mr. Murdoch, an officer of the department, now in Melbourne, should be at Canberra. If the development of the Federal Capital Territory were entrusted to a Government department, better results would be obtained than with the work controlled by the Federal Capital Commission. The Commisison has a staff of architects, engineers, draftsmen, clerks of works, and other constructional officers. So has the Department of Works and Railways. This duplication seems unnecessary. I do not propose to deal in detail with the waste of money in the Federal Capital Territory; suffice it to say, that many works have cost too much, and even simple cottages have been built at such costs that the rents which the tenants are required to pay are causing discontent throughout the Territory. All the big works in connexion with the Federal Capital - the electric light plant, water supply, brick works, and sewerage - were carried out before the Commission was brought into being. Where, then, is the need for three commissioners? And what does an ex-official of the Navy Department know about the building of a city?

Mr Lister - The honorable member did not vote once against proposed expenditure in Canberra.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I always advocated the development of the Capital City, hut as a Scotchman I object to the waste of money, and I am pointing out that duplication of staffs means unnecessary expense. All the big buildings in the city were designed by Mr. Murdoch's staff in Melbourne.

The Prime Minister has told us that the Commonwealth has little to do with migration; and that the number of assisted migrants arriving in Australia is regulated by State governments. Yet we are asked to vote about £400,000 a year for migration, I object to the present influx of migrants, especially those who are not of our own blood, while thousands of Australians are out of employment. If the Commonwealth has no control over nominated and requisitioned migrants, for what is the £400,000 required? Apparently all the Commonwealth has to do is to pay out and smile.

Compulsory military training involves further unnecessary expenditure. At one time there may have been some justification for such training, but men who served in the Great War said that, owing to the new conditions introduced into modern warfare, our trained men had to unlearn all that they had been taught at the expense of the taxpayers.

Mr Bell - That is nonsense.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am speaking on the authority of men who hold high positions in the military service.

Mr Bell - -Speaking from my own experience, I assure the honorable member that he has been misinformed.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - However that may be, when I have visited drill halls in my electorate, I have seen the trainees skylarking. Apparently all they learn is to march up and down a hall. If that training be necessary, they can get it at school. Australia is not likely to be involved in another war for some years, at any rate, and, if there is need for economy, this is one item of expenditure that can be reduced. I am confident that, if the people were consulted, they would vote against compulsory training. One of the most trying duties of honorable members is to receive the complaints of mothers and widows whose sons have been ordered into camp for the annual training, and whose earnings are thereby jeopardized.

Mr Bell - I know of people who object to sending their children to school.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That explains why Tasmania is so backward industrially. The parents in my electorate have more wisdom. We might also cut down the military expenditure, for which I see ho need at the present time. If there were any risk of invasion our men would quickly rally to the colours.

I do not agree with the contention of the honorable member for Wakefield that the Commonwealth and the States are borrowing too freely. A new country cannot be developed without borrowed money. Though borrowed money may have been wasted on some works, the assets it has created are more than equivalent to the debt.

Mr Foster - I said that I do not believe in expending so much borrowed money without getting an adequate return.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Even able business men invest in enterprises that do not return dividends for many years.

Mr Foster - I do not object to waiting years for a return from our national expenditure, if the prospects are good;

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have confidence in the prospects and resources of this country, and I believe that the works constructed out of borrowed money will eventually yield a good return. The country has been developed by railways that have been built largely out of loan funds. So far we have only touched the fringe of the resources of this country; we must continue a progressive policy. If we discontinued borrowing and the construction of developmental works Australia would get a bad name. Nothing could be worse for the credit of the country than that thousands of our people should be unable to get work. Immigrants coming here for work and finding unemployment on every hand would write to their friends in Europe that Australia was not the prosperous country it was supposed to be. I do not blame the Government for borrowing for development works, but it should get the money as cheaply as possible.

Mr Foster - How?

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The British Government has offered to let the Commonwealth have £34,000,000 at a very low rate of interest for a number of years. So far only £5,000,000 of that amount has been received and paid to the States. The Government says that it is negotiating with the States, and that schemes for the utilization of the money will soon be ready for adoption. Yet while so much cheap money is waiting for us in England the Commonwealth is marking time in regard to public works.

Mr Bell - That is not the fault of the Commonwealth Government.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Prime Minister has stated that the State Governments have arranged with the Commonwealth to use that money upon works that have been approved. It is the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government to put some ginger into the States so that the works may be put in hand at once.

Mr Gibson - We have to depend on the States to get the works started.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Have not the States agreed to the conditions of the loan?

Mr Foster - They have agreed to the conditions, but the Commonwealth must wait for them to start.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Cannot the Commonwealth itself expend some of that money? I have suggested means by which the Government can save money if economy is necessary. Surely it is better to reduce military expenditure rather than that thousands of men should be unemployed because the Government has not the funds with which to provide work for them.

Mr Bell - If the military expenditure is discontinued that will cause more unemployment.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We hear a great deal about the economic waste due to industrial disputes. One may see crowds of people at football and cricket matches, on the race-courses, at the picture shows and theatres and tin-hare races, and hundreds of business men giving up valuable time to social functions, but if the workers go on strike for a few days they are adjudged guilty of economic waste. After all, a strike is no more than a holiday without pay for many workers. The Government should utilize the cheap money that is offered by Great Britain, and if it be necessary to borrow other money I would prefer that it be borrowed from our kinsmen in the United Kingdom. It ought to be unnecessary for us to go to America to obtain money. I should be quite willing for the Government to borrow from Great Britain at a slightly higher rate of interest in order to keep the business within the Empire. It is good policy to borrow money for developmental works, for by that means the country is made ready for the investment of private capital, and employment is provided for its people. The New South Wales Government has a permanent organization which provides rations for unemployed applicants. That is undesirable. The Commonwealth should ensure that work is available for all who need it. The Federal Capital Commission has recently dismissed 1,500 men. I trust that when this bill is passed money will be available to re-engage them.

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