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Tuesday, 28 November 1905

Senator STEWART (QUEENSLAND) -Tnat is what I wish to know. The Government might just as well dump the Estimates on the table and say, " Pass these," as conduct the business in the way in which it is being conducted. The Minister in charge of the Committee is in a somewhat irritable mood, but I can assure honorable senators that it is painful to me to have to persist in trying to get information. If we are to exercise any oversight in connexion with the expenditure of the Commonwealth, it is absolutely necessary that we should get theinformation for which we ask. I should like to be toldhow much of this money has been spent, and where it has been spent?

Senator CLEMONS(Tasmania). - I do not suppose the Minister will answer my question, and I have no desire to set a trap; but I would ask him whether he would object to the insertion of the word " unalterable " before any of these items in the contingency subdivision?

Senator Keating - Yes, because of the provisions of the Audit Act:

Senator CLEMONS - I have looked up the Audit Act, and especially the section governing all these transfers of votes. We are compelled to hurryt through the discussion of this Bill, and I regret that it is on such an occasion that my attention has been directed to the section of the Audit Act which deals so clearly and summarily with the question of transfers. I point out to honorable senators that under section 37of the Audit Act these transfers of votes are permissible; but there is a limit and a condition provided which it would be well for us to observe. The section practically' provides that amounts may be transferred in the same subdivision., unless such subdivision shall be expresslv stated to be "unalterable." I think that if we were to make any subdivision, especially in the Department of Home Affairs, "unalterable," so far as contingencies are concerned, we should secure two objects.

First, we should undoubtedly secure economy.

Senator Keating - It might lead to a loading up of the items in the Estimates.

Senator CLEMONS - I do. not think it would. The first result would be economy, and the second would be that .we should have greater care taken in submitting Estimates. At present the amounts appear to be put down in a haphazard fashion. The officers of the Department, knowing that they can transfer any one or, perhaps, a dozen' of the votes for items under the heading of contingencies, put down, for instance, ^500 for stamps, with the idea that ^300 may be expended, and there will be a surplus "of ,£20°, which may be used to fit in somewhere else where a deficit has resulted. These contingency items will be found running throughout the Estimates, and they must amount to nearly one-half of the total sum specially appropriated. No care appears to be taken in framing these votes,. They are dumped down year after year under a happy-go-lucky system, which has but one result, and that is extravagance. If we were to put the word "unalterable" in front of some of these items of contingencies, the departmental authorities might be disposed to increase some of the votes, but I have no doubt that it would eventually lead to economy. I have looked over the Estimates for the last three preceding years, and in every Department I find the same tale of swollen Estimates. " There is almost without exception a continually increasing vote under the heading of contingencies. The Committee of the Senate has, up-to-date, made, I believe, no alteration in the Estimates. Honorable senators have listened, or pretended to listen, to the remarks that have been made, and the expenditure has continued to increase. So far as. my own individual effort can have that effect, I propose to put a stop to the continuance of the practice.

Senator Keating - Under this subdivision the amount asked for this year is ^300 less than last year's appropriation.

Senator CLEMONS - There may be one or two such exceptions under the head- \ ing of contingencies, but, speaking com- prehensively, these Estimates are being increased year by year\ and gt is high time that the Committee took some more definite step to check the increase than that, of merely repeating the kind of talk in which I am now indulging. I am prepared on every occasion where I think there is a justifica tion for such a course, not only to support a motion for the reduction of an item, . but to vote for it.

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