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Thursday, 20 September 1928

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) .- I do not know whether honorable members have a right to discuss all the items mentioned under the Prime Minister's Department. I daresay that if I insisted on my rights I could deal with individual items just as the Prime Minister did. Since he has been in office, he has had a. strong desire to be well informed about international affairs, and he has said that he is much assisted by having certain officers in London in close touch with the British Foreign Office. He mentioned this afternoon that files are kept in the foreign affairs branch of 'his department relating to all matters of international moment, and if a change of government took place, the new Ministry could immediately make itself familiar with matters of Imperial foreign policy. I point out that important communications between the British Government and a dominion government on matters of foreign policy are invariably made direct from Minister to Minister, and it seems to me that Australia could be kept as well informed through being supplied with copies of documents by the British Foreign Office as by having a special representative there. There should be an interchange of information between the British and the dominion office. This would save a good deal of expense.

I notice on one page that the salary provided for the liaison officer in Great Britain has been increased from £882 to £906, but on the opposite page I see that this officer and a clerk are to receive a " cost of living " allowance of £312 and a "living away from home" allowance of £165, bringing the total expenditure to £1,383. The Government may ask why honorable members should trouble about small items such as these, but taken in the aggregate they amount to enormous sums. In matters of public finance we should remember that if we take care of the pence the pounds will take care of themselves.

A sum is provided for " advertising in Great Britain." I should not mind if that were the only expenditure incurred under that heading, but the High Commissioner's office costs between £60,000 and £70,000 although each State has an Agent-General with a staff in London and agencies throughout the United Kingdom. Talk about advertising Australia! The Prime Minister has been twice to the Old Country in four years. Of his colleagues, past and present, the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), the Postmaster-General (Mr. Gibson), Sir George Pearce, the Treasurer (Dr. Earle Page), ex-Senator Sir Victor Wilson, and Senators Sir William Glasgow and McLachlan, have made trips to the other side of the world. Eight of the twelve Ministers have been abroad, as well as Mr. Gepp, Chairman of the Development and Migration Commission, and Mr. Julius, Chairman of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research;they are poor representatives indeed if they have not been able to advertise the Commonwealth.

Mr E RILEY (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - 'Some of them would like Australia to be governed from the other side of the world.

Mr FENTON - Some people do show that tendency, but all danger of that sort was removed years ago by the early radicals. Reference has been made to the visits to Australia of Mr. Amery, Secretary of State for the Dominions, Sir Robert Home, and Sir Henry Cowan. In addition, the Empire Parliamentary Association assembled in Australia representatives of all the parliaments of the British Dominions. A strong delegation from the -mother- of parliaments included Lord Salisbury, representing the British Government, and Mr. Arthur Henderson, representing the British Labour party. Prominent bankers, including one of the head men in the Bank of England, have been to Australia in recent years, and now the Commonwealth is to be involved in further expenditure in connexion with the visit of " the Big Four," who are to teach us how to run the country. It is time we accepted our responsibilities, as did Australia's political pioneers. They did not search here and there for experts to do their job, but took the responsibility upon themselves. To-day the duties of Federal Ministers are farmed out to irresponsible individuals. Boards and commissions are appointed, and sometimes investigations and reports are duplicated and even quadrupled. The Development and Migration Commission visited Tasmania, and, at considerable expense to the people of that State and the ' Commonwealth, prepared reports which well-informed citizens declare disclose nothing which was not already known. What is the use of republishing at heavy cost information which is already in the possession of Federal and State departments? Many of the reports prepared at great expense of money, time and labour, are either pigeon-holed or thrown into the waste-paper basket. The fact will be disclosed sooner or later that the report of one commission which was travelling and taking evidence throughout Australia for four months has been discarded. and ignored and a body of experts has been paid high fees to evolve a scheme of national insurance for presentation to this Parliament. It is high time that this wasteful expenditure was discontinued. It is all very well to talk of the need for entertaining distinguished visitors and housing luxuriously the Governor-General, the Prime Minister, and the High Commissioner, but such expenditure . is not fair to the general public at. a time when thousands of our own brothers and sisters are without even a crust. The halls of Australia should resound with denunciation of the wicked extravagance practised by this Government ever since it has been in office. Some of the items on the Estimates amaze me, and I hope that honorable members will avail themselves of this opportunity to thoroughly probe them. The honorable member for Swan "(Mr. Gregory), the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), and other honorable members opposite^ have trenchantly criticized the financial proposals of the- Government. I am waiting to hear more from them. If they want to let their constituents know of the mess the Government is making of the Commonwealth finances the opportunity is presented to them now. Perhaps out of the abundance of their wisdom they may be able to give me some guidance. The honorable member for Henty, who professes to be a student of finance, has gone so far as to apply to the Treasurer epithets for which he might well have been called to order. Looking through the Estimates, I see evidence of the expenditure of many thousands of pounds to obtain information that is already in the possession of Government departments. I wonder why high-salaried officers are appointed with expensive staffs at this time of financial stringency. Despite the fact that last year ended with a deficit of £2,600,000, and that there is a prospect of a further deficit in the coming financial year, the Government is not attempting to make up the leeway, and the Prime Minister lightly glosses over the financial defects pointed out by the Leader of the Opposition. The committee should be satisfied with nothing less than a complete scrutiny and explanation of every detail in the Estimates, so that honorable members may have sufficient knowledge to record an intelligent vote for or against them. The Prime Minister, with an air of omniscience, gave to the committee all the information he considered necessary, but the Leader of the Opposition drew attention to many items, amounting to thousands of pounds, in regard to which the right honorable gentleman had not uttered one word of explanation. Even if the majority of honorable members are satisfied with the Government's management of the finances, I am certain their constituents will not be.

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