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Friday, 8 February 1929

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin; [12.5].) (The introduction of this subject at this stage must undoubtedly have a beneficial effect in this House, particularly in the closing hours of the session. My experience has been that in all parliaments, both Federal and State, no matter what party may be in office, the so-called discussion of the Estimates has become a farce, or rather, a financial debauch. As the honorable member for DalleyMr. Theodore) has said, practically the whole of the expenditure of this great Commonwealth is rushed through in a few hours when members are exhausted and only a few of them awake. I trust that this discussion will be accepted as the deliberate expression of opinion by honorable members that the Estimates and every form of government expenditure must receive the proper and fair consideration of this Parliament. The discussion on the Estimates should not be made a party question, and it is essential to the good government of the country that departmental expenditure should be open to criticism. There is a tendency, we have to admit it, all over Australia, in all democracies, in the mother of Parliament herself, for Cabinets to take greater powers upon themselves to the detriment of the proper representation of the electors. When Estimates are forced through in the closing hours of a session there is little opportunity for discussion ; in fact, in such a case it would be far better not to discuss them at all. During the eighteen years that I was a member of this House, I continually protested against this practice, and it was a great pleasure to me indeed when the present Treasurer instituted a reform by bringing forward his budget at an early stage of the session. Every honorable member should have an opportunity of discussing freely and fairly the management and control of departments and the expenditure upon them; and especially is that so at present when those interested in the financial position of Australia are shocked to find that despite the heavy taxation levied last year by the Commonwealth and the States, not one government budgeted for a surplus. Last year every Government showed a deficit at the close of the financial year.

Mr Bell - Tasmania did not.

Mr McWILLIAMS - We all know the exceptional circumstances under which Tasmania enjoys her satisfactory position. Withthat one exception, the whole of the governments showed a deficit at the end of the financial year. That is certainly not a satisfactory position for the Commonwealth, and makes it essential that every opportunity should be given for an adequate discussion of every financial proposal that comes before this Parliament. I hope that this discussion will prove beneficial, and at the same time sound a note of warning to the Treasurer, although I have every appreciation of his action in giving the House an early opportunity of discussing the Estimates.

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