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Thursday, 20 September 1928

Mr BRUCE (Flinders) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) . - In my speech on the budget I said that I would deal at this stage with the specific items to which attention had been drawn by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), this being the most suitable opportunity for doing so.

The first item to which exception was taken was the payment of £906 for a liaison officer of the External Affairs branch of the Prime Minister's Department in London. It has been on the Estimates for some years, and has not previously been challenged. I am rather surprised that exception is now taken to it, because the results obtained for this expenditure are among the most valuable provided for on the Estimates. At the Imperial Conference in 1923, when-it was recognized that the great self-governing dominions should be consulted as to the Empire's foreign policy, I discussed this matter with two British Prime Ministers ; with Mr. Baldwin, and, when he was defeated at the election, with Mr. Ramsay Macdonald. Both cordially agreed to the proposal that a liaison officer appointed by the Commonwealth should be attached to the Foreign Office, so that Australia might be kept closely in touch with developments of British foreign policy. An appointment was not made at that time, but Mr. Leeper, an Australian, who was in the Foreign Office, was detailed by Mr. Macdonald to visit the Commonwealth, and discuss with us here the proper organization in Australia of an External Affairs Department. After that consultation a liaison officer was appointed in London, and such success has attended the appointment that at the last Imperial Conference several of the dominion governments discussed with the Government of Great Britain the adoption of a similar course. If by some, extraordinary jest of fate honorable members opposite should ever attain to office in this Parliament they will be extremely grateful for the existence of a liaison officer in Great Britain, particularly as during the last five years we hay# been able to build up in the Department of External Affairs complete files in regard to all important matters affecting the policy of the Empire, so that within an hour a Minister may by reference to them get the fullest detail not only con.cerning the immediate issue, but also the precedent circumstances out of which it has arisen. Nobody who understands the value of the service that is being rendered by the liaison officer will challenge this expenditure.

The next item questioned by the Leader of the Opposition was the appointment of Mr. Collins to act as financial advisor in London to the Commonwealth Government. After the Loan Council had been brought into existence and the borrowing of Commonwealth and States had been co-ordinated, the council found itself hampered in determining where to borrow, the rates of interest to be paid; and the price of issue, in the absence pf an expert advisor in London with the necessary knowledge of Australian public finance and completely independent pf any financial organization in Great Britain. The appointment of Mr. Collins to act as financial advisor in London was cordially endorsed by the State Governments and the Loan Council, and experience has shown that it was a very wise step, for unquestionably by the advice he has been able to give regarding loan rates, prices, times, and places of issue, the Australian taxpayers have been saved large sums of money. The cost of that office cannot be fairly criticized by any one who has a full knowledge of the facts.

The Leader of the Opposition challenged the increase ' in the amount provided for advertising under the direction of the High Commissioner in London. The expenditure of some money upon publicity in Great Britain will be approved by every honorable member;, but opinions may differ as to the amount'. In my opinion the only criticism that can be directed against the sum provided in the estimates is that it is insufficient: The item shows an increase of £3,000 which is mainly, if not wholly due, to Australian propaganda matter published in special numbers of the Times, Daily. Telegraph, Daily Mail, Graphic and other papers on the occasion- of the Opening of the Federal Parliament in Canberra by the Duke and Duchess of York. On that occasion Australia was very prominently before the people in Great Britain, and I think the High Commissioner's office was justified in incurring extra expenditure to assist in making those historical issues of special advertising value to the Commonwealth. The whole of that expenditure has to be met in the current financial year.

The criticism by the Leader of the Opposition of the proposed expenditure on the official residence of the High Commissioner raises the question whether such a residence should be provided. On both my visits to Great Britain during the last five years I have discussed this matter with other visiting Australians, and they were unanimously of opinion that it was eminently desirable that an official residence should be provided for the High Commissioner, so that his status as representative of this great country might be worthily maintained. But the particular thing that seemed to disturb the Leader of the Opposition was that, having provided an official residence, we. have continued the amount of £2,000, which has appeared on the estimates in previous years for an official residence) in addition to the salary of £3,000. That amount of £2,000 has on Various occasions been the subject of discussion between Governments and the successive High Commissioners, each of whom was of opinion that £5,000 was the minimum sum upon which his office could be adequately maintained. Indeed, it seemed doubtful whether, even with that amount, the High Commissioner Could maintain his position worthily, re- turn the hospitality extended to him officially, and also offer entertainment On behalf of the Commonwealth to distinguished people. Thus the understanding has grown up and been accepted by all governments, Labour and non-Labour, that the £2,000 provided for an official residence was not really a separate vote for that particular purpose, but was part of the total remuneration of £5,000. Having purchased for the High Commissioner an official residence, we had to decide whether' this allowance of £2,000 should be reduced. The Government is convinced that even when the High Commissioner is adequately housed free of cost, £5,000 is the minimum sum upon which he can discharge the duties which the people of Australia have entrusted to him. This matter must be regarded from another angle. Too often a person holding an official position finds it impossible on the salary provided to maintain his office with appropriate dignity. Consequently, when appointments are to be made, the field of selection is limited to persons who have sufficient private means to be able to supplement the official salary. Honorable members will agree that that is a most undesirable state of affairs, and realizing that, the Government has deliberately continued the allowance at £5,000, notwithstanding that an official residence is now provided.

The position of Australian Commissioner in the United States of America was created with the authority of Parliament, and the withdrawal of our representative from New York would have an extremely bad effect upon public opinion in that country. At a time when the relations between the Englishspeaking peoples throughout the world are daily becoming more cordial - a development that may be a tremendous factor in the maintenance of the world's peace - we should be ill-advised to take such a retrograde step. The committee should know, however, that the whole question of Australian representation in America is being reviewed by the Government at the present time, and after the general election it will be necessary to take further action in regard to what may be termed diplomatic representation, and probably also trade representation. Therefore, I cannot hold out any promise of a reduction in this item.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What benefit has the Commonwealth derived from this representation in America?

Mr BRUCE - The honorable member is thinking of the office in terms of trade. I find it extremely difficult to point to any development of trade between Australia and the United States of America in consequence of the creation of this office; indeed the present position of our trade with that country is extremely unsatisfactory, and when the subject of representation in America is reviewed, the Parliament probably will desire to discuss the possibility of increasing the consumption of Australian goods in the United States of America by means of special trade representation. Honorable members understand, however, that our Commissioner in America is not a commercial agent; he is the diplomatic representative of Australia, and his presence in America has kept before the people of that country the existence of this Commonwealth, particularly by means of visits to various societies, associations and universities. For the sake of bur national prestige, Australian representation in the United States of America is wise, and at this time in the world's history, when two of our sister dominions have recently increased the status of their representation there, the Commonwealth would be ill-advised to discontinue the system that has obtained for the last few years.

Mr Brennan - Is he an ambassador? If not, what is he?

Mr BRUCE - He is not an ambassador. The honorable gentleman is acquainted with the attitude that has been adopted by the Government in regard to the appointment of an ambassador. On a more suitable occasion, that matter might be discussed in this chamber. At present I am dealing only with the expenditure, which in any event is not a very heavy item, and, compared with what we should have to pay if we had to maintain an ambassador, is very light.

The next item questioned was that providing for expenditure in connexion with the proposal for the holding in Australia of a British Empire Exhibition. The honorable gentleman has taken unqualified exception to that expenditure, because this Parliament did not pass the bill which was submitted for the holding of the exhibition in 1932. I point out, however, that it had to be incurred, so that the whole position might be examined. It would have been altogether out of the question to present to this Parliament a bill providing for such an exhibition, before steps had been taken to determine the organization that would be necessary, and to formulate plans with respect to it.

Mr Fenton - It was an ill-considered proposal.

Mr BRUCE - It would have been very much more ill-considered if the Government had approached Parliament before it had made preliminary investigations. It is not my purpose to discuss on this occasion the question whether the exhibition ought to be held. I merely point out that the subject has been discussed by a conference of the representatives of every self-governing dominion in the British Empire, and the decision arrived at was that such exhibitions are most desirable.

The honorable gentleman referred also to the expenditure connected with the visit to Australia of Mr. Amery, the Secretary of State for the Dominions. I regret that this matter has been raised, because Mr. Amery was the guest of the Commonwealth during his stay here, and his tour was conducted jointly by the Commonwealth and the States, each of which accepted the responsibility of sharing the cost. Mr. Amery was received most cordially wherever he travelled. I offer no apology for the expenditure. It is only what a great country like Australia should incur to entertain in a fitting, manner the first Minister of the. British Crown who has visited Australia while still in office.

The honorable gentleman drew attention to the expenditure of £26,600 .upon Government House. The object of that expenditure is to meet the cost of upkeep of the establishments of the GovernorGeneral in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. It includes the purchase of furniture, the installation of the telephone service, and every other cost involved in the maintenance of those three residences'. There is also an amount which represents rental paid to the Victorian Government.During the period for which the Commonwealth has had the use of what .'is commonly known as Federal Government House in Melbourne, it has .not been asked to pay any rent, but it has been responsible ' for the maintenance of .the building and all its appurtenances. Upon the transfer of the seat of government. lb Canberra however, the question of rental was raised by the State Government. "It happened that just at that time the building which was used as a residence1 'for the State Governor was required by the owners, and the State Government had either to purchase it or acquire another property. After considerable discussion, the Commonwealth Government agreed to make an annual payment towards the cost of acquiring " Stonnington." These Estimates make provision for two of those payments, because an agreement was not arrived at in time to make any provision last year. I believe that the matter was settled only six or nine months ago.

Mr Scullin - What was the amount of the back payment?

Mr BRUCE - £5,000.

A further question raised was that of the expenditure incurred by the Development and Migration Commission. I shall deal first with the expenditure as a whole, and show to what extent it has increased since the appointment of the commission. I wish to make it clear and definite that the amount of £127,000 to which the honorable gentleman referred is not wholly new expenditure. When the commission came into being, it took over, in London and Australia, the whole of an existing organization which was dealing with the question of migration to Australia. The annual cost of that organization at the time was in the region of £80,000 or £90,000. I propose to deal with the different items of expenditure seriatim. The first relates to the organization which was taken over by the commission. The estimated expenditure for 1927-28 at the Australian end was £45,000, but the amount actually expended was only £36,000. The provision for the present year is £42,000. The figures relating to the ' London organization are £34,000, £32,000, and £34,000 respectively. In both of those cases there is not a substantial variation. The next item relates to investigations by the commission. The estimate last year was £20,000, and the expenditure £25,000, while the provision for this year is £25,000. The criticism, not of this Government particularly, but of governments generally in Australia, is based, not upon the amount of their expenditure, but upon the wisdom of incurring it. There are many persons who have a great deal to say about loan expenditure, but when pressed they invariably admit that they are not opposed to such expenditure if it is wisely incurred and will give, either directly or indirectly, a return equivalent to or greater than the burden of interest thereby imposed. Many of the schemes that have been launched in Australia are open to criticism on the ground that the expenditure has not been wisely incurred, and that great savings could have been effected if a little forethought had been exercised. In my opinion, the main work of the Development and Migration Commission is to investigate schemes which involve the expenditure of loan money, and to endeavour to ensure that only those are embarked upon which will give the return to which I have alluded. It has established contact with the governments of all the States. Committees have been set up to handle questions of the internal development of the States, and to endeavour to lay down a programme covering a period of years. A number 'of schemes have been submitted by different States, and investigated by the commission. It cannot be denied that we shall save money if the best possible advice is obtained regarding the schemes that are submitted. It is not possible for any man to possess a knowledge of, or to have had experience in regard to all the matters related to different schemes that are likely to be submitted, affecting mining, irrigation, agriculture, pastoral and railway propositions, and many other activities. The. course pursued has been that of seeking the advice of technical experts upon technical matters. That, I submit, is the right principle to adopt. Some votes might be reduced without causing substantial harm to Australia. To reduce this vote would be a tragic blunder, because, in that event, these schemes involving an expenditure of millions of pounds would not be fully and exhaustively examined byabody of experts and specialists. Some of the schemes under consideration at present are of considerable magnitude. Western Australia contemplates the opening up of some 8,000,000 acres of land and the establishment of over 3,000 farms. The expenditure on that work is estimated at about £10,000,000. Before entering into such a scheme, surely it is worth while spending a little money now to v. make certain that we are proceeding on right lines. I offer no apology for this expenditure. The item relating to the Fairbridge Farm School is a small one. No figure is set down for the present year, and I do not think that the item was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. The next item . concerns the cost of establishing and maintaining State reception and farm training depots, and the expenditure set down for this year is £14,900. I do not wish to weary the committee by giving the full details of this item. The expenditure consists of a payment of £9,400 to the Scheyville, Training Farm in New South Wales. Up to the present, that farm has mainly been used for training boys brought out under the Dreadnought scheme. The New South Wales Government has now signed the £34,000,000 migration agreement, and the cost of maintaining the farm will be shared by the British Government, the Government of New South Wales, and the Commonwealth Government each contributing one-third of the expenditure. At present the Commonwealth is bearing half of the cost. The amount set down for the Elcho Training Farm in Victoria is £2,500, and for the group settlement training scheme in Western Australia, £3,000; making altogether a total expenditure of £14,900. Under the agreement with the British Government, the States may establish training farms, inside their own areas, and the Commonwealth .and British Governments will each bear onethird of the expense in respect of capital and maintenance. That arrangement applies to the Scheyville and Elcho training farms. The Victorian farm has been used as a depot to which migrants are taken immediately upon their arrival, in order to keep them out of, and away from, the cities. Western Australia has no training . farm system, but it trains migrants at the group settlements. The expenditure set down for that is £3,000. It should be borne in mind that the Commonwealth is bound under the agreement to provide for expenditure of the nature set out in this item. The next item relates to subsidies to voluntary organizations, such as the New Settlers League. The organizations covered are the Young Men's Christian Association, the Salvation Army, the Riverview Farm, the Returned Soldiers and other additional efforts. All these organizations are 'concerned with the care of the migrant- after arrival here. They make certain that he is, in effect, all he purports- to be,, and they see that he is properly and effectively settled. This expenditure is wise, .and it would be a great mistake to curtail it.

I think that I have now covered all the items that the Leao,r of the .Opposition raised. In regard to the Development and Migration .Commissions expenditure, the Leader of the Opposition will see that once we get away from' the general argument as to whether we should expend any money at all upon migration, the main point is to centre our attention upon the amount that is to be expended or provided for investment. I have dealt with that subject at some length because I feel strongly that .the commission is one of the most valuable institutions in Australia, and, therefore,, it would be a great pity to reduce the vote.

This investment- is necessary not only in respect of the £34,000,000 agreement and schemes under it, but also in respect of many other things. One 'of these is the recent investigation into the gold-mining industry of Australia. Without that inquiry the goldfields of Kalgoorlie would not be in the position in which they are to-day. Because of this investigation we have discovered that the real difficulty lies not so much in granting financial assistance to the industry, But in bringing about an amalgamation of the interests on the Kalgoorlie fields. , A large number of economies can be effected by getting rid of duplication of staffs and power plants,- and by dealing with questions affecting- the fields on one common basis. It has also been suggested that the sum of £250,000 should be provided to assist the, industry in respect- of new plant, provided that the plant cannot be made in Australia, or can be made here, but only at a much higher cost than the imported article. I shall not say anything about that policy at this stage. I merely suggest that this Parliament would not have been in the position to give a considered decision in respect of the best method to adopt to assist thegoldmining industry, had not the report of the Development and Migration Commission been available.

Another example is the settlement of the River Murray Valley. That scheme has been progressing for about twelve years under the supervision of the three states that touch upon the river Murray - New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. There has been no co-ordination at all among those States in developing and planting their areas. The anomaly must be rectified unless we are to have a repetition of past difficulties. Let me give One illustration. Some three years ago New South Wales established ricegrowing on the Murrumbidgee area, and that industry is now able to provide the whole of the rice requirements of Australia. Another State, facing the problem of developing its irrigated areas, and seeing the success achieved in rice-growing in the Murrumbidgee area at Leeton, is now proceeding to put its own areas under rice. The result will be that we shall have an over-production of rice for home consumption. No one has yet ascertained whether there is any possibility of finding an export market. We must get rid of this lack of co-ordination. At the beginning of the year a conference between the Commonwealth and the States was held at Canberra, and the settlement of the Murray River Valley was discussed. It was probably one of the most successful conferences that we have had. It was realized that there was a danger of the Murray River scheme failing because of the catchment area being destroyed, and the flow of the river diverted. The States agreed to take steps to protect the catchment area, and also laid down a basis of co-ordination. That is not a Commonwealth matter. We have nothing to do with the irrigation areas, but we helped! the three States concerned to arrive at an agreement regarding the development of the River Murray Valley.

The problem that we are always faced with is to get some central body that will bring the interested parties together and carry out the necessary investigations. That work is being done to-day by the Development and Migration Commission. It is better done by that body because it is non-political. It has no political complexion at all. I am convinced that as time passes this institution will become more and more established in the national life of Australia. Governments will come and go, and very soon the political complexion of the Government which established the commission will be forgotten. The Development and Migration Commission is to-day negotiating with Western Australia regarding one of the biggest projects in Australia. ' The Government of that State belongs to a political party quite different from that with which the Commonwealth Government is connected. It is inevitable that at times, when governments of different political views confer together, the national interest must be forgotten. To-day the Commonwealth Government is really outside of this scheme. It is being considered, on the one hand, by the Development and Migration Commission, and, on the other hand, by the committee established by the Western Australian Government, lt is therefore most undesirable that this vote for investigation purposes should be curtailed. The work of the commission is of the utmost value to Australia.

I forgot to mention one other item and that is the amount of £2,000 appearing on the Estimates this year as Canberra allowance to the Governor-General. This Parliament decided that the Seat of Government should be moved to Canberra, and that the Governor-General should have a residence here. When the GovernorGeneral is here he must maintain an; establishment, and that, of course, adds to his expenses. So it is necessary to pay him an allowance, unless we dispose of one of the Government Houses in the States. That .1 think would be undesirable. The Government House in Victoria should be maintained. It will be many years before we shall be able to build in the Federal Capital our permanent Government House. From time to time, visits are paid to Australia of a most important character. We had the Duke and Duchess of York here for the opening of Parliament, and recently we have had visits from the American Squadron and the British Special Service Squadron. On such occasions it is desirable that our Governor-General should be able to entertain in a manner in keeping with the dignity of his position. Government House, Melbourne, is the only place where it is possible for him to entertain on this scale. It would be undesirable, at least until we can build a monumental Government House in Canberra, for us to vacate Government House in Melbourne. The Governor-General has been put to additional expense by reason of the transfer of the Seat of Government to Canberra, which should not be placed upon his shoulders. If he is called upon to bear additional expenditure of that description, we shall reach the position that only rich men who can afford to entertain from their private means will be able to accept the position of Governor-General of the Commonwealth. I am sure that we do not wish that. It is highly desirable, rather, that we shall be able to invite gentlemen of the calibre that we desire to accept office as Governor-General irrespective of their private wealth. The Governor-General should be able to maintain his position with appropriate dignity upon his salary and without drawing upon his private means. Consequently this additional vote is proposed.

One other matter to which I should refer relates to the expenditure which the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth must incur in the maintenance of his position as its first citizen, and although it is a little difficult for me to discuss, I feel that my duty to my successors requires that I should bring it under notice. The Prime Minister of Australia cannot maintain his position and an official residence upon the salary at present provided for the office; but must meet part of his expenses out of his private means. There may come a Prime Minister who cannot do this without considerable sacrifice, and honorable members must sooner or later give consideration to the fact. If a successor in this office was not able to meet the expenses of the position without sacrifice, I should certainly support some increase in the remuneration of the office. He should not be called upon to provide money from private sources to maintain with dignity his honorable position, and to fulfil the responsibilities and duties of the office as Australia would desire.

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