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Friday, 8 February 1929

Mr MANN (Perth) .- I am glad that this question has been raised again. During the last Parliament I directed attention to the desirableness of the Government allowing more time for the discussion of the departmental estimates. All honorable members should resolve to guard* more jealously than hitherto the privileges and rights of the House. In theory the power of the purse resides in the House of Commons as a safeguard against the encroachments of the Crown. In Australia, where we exercise the purest form of democracy, it is somewhat anomalous that the control of finance by a majority in the House is liable to develop into something in the nature of a tyranny quite as objectionable as that which formerly was represented by the authority of the Crown.

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - This should be a nonparty matter.

Mr MANN - And the discussion on it is of a non-party character. It should be the object of all honorable members to preserve the privileges of the House. At present a majority in this House is in a position to force the passage of departmental estimates of expenditure with what many people regard as almost indecent haste. Sometimes this is done in the small hours of the morning, thus destroying the essential function of Parliament, which is to supervise the large expenditure of public money. It is having the effect of whittling away what should be our most precious possession, the rights and privileges of the member. Although one party may be in a minority and represent only a small section of the opinion of this House, honorable members individually represent nearly an equal proportion of the electors, and the voice of one honorable member, though it may be shouted down, has as much right to be heard as that of any other member. If a majority of the House is able to silence the voice of a private member then the most precious privilege of democracy is being killed. I think, therefore, that the suggestion which has been made should be seriously considered by the Government. Any government may abuse its power and for the time being escape unscathed, but in the end its action is bound to re-act upon itself. The growing practice, which is being accepted by the parliaments of this country, of placing in the Estimates only a small amount for some particular work or undertaking which will ultimately cost a much larger amount, is utterly wrong in principle. For instance, take a project costing £10,000, which has to be approved by Parliament. It is becoming the practice simply to put an amount, say of £500 on the Estimates for such a work, the full and ultimate cost of the work not often disclosed. Parliament passes this apparently insignificant item, and finds later that by voting £500 it is committed to an ultimate expenditure of £10,000. That is not right. It may be a convenience, if a work is proceeding and the whole of the expenditure is not to be confined to one financial year, to place £500 on the first Estimates, but it should be clearly shown that the vote will lead to an ultimate expenditure of £10,000. We had one instance of this at the close of the last session in connexion with the construction of a certain road. The discussion on that item developed into a warm debate in this House. It was shown in that case that if the sum of £10,000 appearing on the Estimates were granted, the vote would lead to an ultimate expenditure of £130,000. That disclosure roused a considerable controversy. If that course were adopted by the Government in all similar cases, I think that it would lead to a closer scrutiny and a more careful supervision of the Estimates. I entirely support the views expressed by the honorable member for Dalley.

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