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Thursday, 30 August 1928

Mr MANN (Perth) .- When some of us have been bold enough to criticize in general terms the financial activities of the Government, we have been asked to indicate the specific directions in which adequate economies might be effected, and we have been told to go through the Estimates of expenditure and indicate where the economy which we have urged could really be carried out. I propose to take advantage of that invitation, because there are in these Estimates two items which I regard as unnecessary, and in regard to which effective economy could be exercised.

The first item is that to which honorable members have already referred. It seems to me that the proposed participation of the Commonwealth in the construction of a road between Goulburn and Canberra is quite unnecessary. New South Wales already gets a big share of the Federal aid roads grant, but by this item it is proposed to give the State an extra grant over and above its legitimate share of that grant. If this is done, it is inevitable that it will be followed by demands from other States for similar assistance, which we shall have no just ground for refusing. I think enough has been said on this particular point, and I agree with what has been said in reference to the item by almost every honorable member who has spoken on these Estimates.

My next statement will at first perhaps somewhat shock some honorable members, because, after due deliberation, I suggest that the construction of the war memorial should be postponed. It is true that on these Estimates an amount of only £50,000 is provided for the war memorial, but we know that this is only for the first step towards the expenditure of quarter of a million pounds or more.

Mr McGrath - It will be a good deal more than a quarter of a million pounds.

Mr MANN - Eventually it will be, but I understand that the immediate plans are for the expenditure of about a quarter of a million pounds. , Every one of course will agree that it is desirable, if our finances permit it, to do our very best to commemorate those who fell in the Great War, but I submit that there is a still greater duty resting upon us. I submit that we are not entitled to spend large sums of money like this upon a memorial to the dead while there are still many living soldiers to whom we can give additional help, especially such soldiers as we know are having a very hard time indeed upon some of the soldier settlement estates. I believe that the war memorial should wait. Those soldiers who did so much to maintain and uphold this Commonwealth, and laid down their lives for it, would have been the first to say- that the present material interests of the people of the Commonwealth, and particularly those of their comrades who are having a hard time in rehabilitating themselves under repatriation conditions, should come before the erection of a memorial to those who have fallen. It is not as if the fallen have not been commemorated. There are war memorials in every part of Australia, and I do not suppose that there is one man who fell whose name is not inscribed on some memorial. It may be fitting that we should build a great national memorial in our national capital, but the presentproposal seems to be simply to expend money for the further beautification of our capital, upon which already an inordinate amount of money has been spent.

These two items alone represent an amount approaching £500,000 in a budget which presents a past year's deficiency of over £2,500,000, and an estimated deficit of a similar amount for the current year. It seems to me that here we have a practical way of demonstrating that we are regarding the finances of the country seriously. I think the Government would be well advised to withdraw these two items. Honorable members know that the expenditure already incurred on the Federal Capital is by no means popular throughout Australia. It came as a shock to most of us to find that over £10,000,000 has been spent in the Capital City. The spending of another £500,000 on these two items will be associated in the public mind with that expenditure, and there are many who will say that in the present state of the finances of the Commonwealth the making of this road is not justified. Up to the present only a general discussion has taken place on the proposal, but it is evident that it has aroused a good deal of feeling among honorable members. I do not know whether the same feeling is entertained in regard to the memorial, and I do not wish to be misunderstood in regard to that. I feel very deeply the hardships being endured by returned soldiers on the repatriation settlements, and I think that it would be more fitting if we spent some of this money in re-establishing them on their holdings, especially in those districts in which, despite the optimistic utterances of the Treasurer, they are threatened with serious seasonal difficulties. It would be more fitting at the present stage to help them out of those difficulties than to spend the money on the erection of a war memorial. I am not opposed to the construction of a memorial, but I consider that it can wait until a more fitting time. I hope that the Government will agree to the postponement of the expenditure on the war memorial, and I am opposed altogether to the construction of the road to Goulburn.

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