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Wednesday, 5 September 1906

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - I am rather alarmed at the statement which the Minister has made. We have been informed that the amount of£10,000 under the very indefinite heading of "Wireless telegraphy," is meant as an instalment towards some vague, and, as far as we know, unlimited scheme in which the Postmaster-General proposes to launch.

Senator Playford - The PostmasterGeneral will not be able to spend more than £10,000 without comins; to the Parliament for permission.

Senator MILLEN - The Minister may speak in that very haphazard fashion, but we ought not lightly to place a sum of £10,000 at the disposal of any Minister without some knowledge of what his intentions are, and what further commitment he may render us liable to on the strength of this preliminary instalment. If we pass the item, I take it that it will be competent for the Minister to use it as a preliminary deposit in view of a much larger expenditure.

Senator Playford - I do not think the Postmaster-General would be justified in doing, that without the consent of Parliament.

Senator MILLEN - What does the Postmaster-General want the money for?

Senator Playford - In order to inaugurate wireless telegraphy.

Senator MILLEN - He could not inaugurate a system for£10,000.

Senator Playford - I think a system between New Zealand and Australia could be inaugurated for that sum.

Senator MILLEN - I take the liberty of saying that the Minister is absolutely wrong.

Senator Playford - A lot can be done with £10,000.

Senator MILLEN - That is so, when there is the right to expend it unchecked. Let the Postmaster-General make his arrangements with a wireless telegraphy company, and afterwards come to Parliament for the money.

Senator Playford - The PostmasterGeneral cannot call for tenders for work for which no provision has been made, when Parliament might afterwards refuse to make provision.

Senator MILLEN - Is the Minister of Defence not rather giving the case away when he says that we cannot expect the Postmaster-General to enter into a contract for the purchase of a system, when Parliament may afterwards repudiate the arrangement? On the other hand, if the Postmaster-General gets the money first, he will be in a position to say that it does not matter whether Parliament approves of the scheme or not.

Senator Playford - We do not pay for a scheme; we pay for apparatus.

Senator MILLEN - The reason advanced by the Minister of Defence is a reason why we ought not to vote this monev. We ought to know to what system the Postmaster-General is committing us. It is a most brilliant idea in departmental finance to ask for the money beforehand ; but I doubt whether in the case of railways or any other work, such a pro posal was ever made in any of the States Parliaments. I suppose that, as a matter of fact, the Postmaster-General desires this £10,000 in order that he may make any purchases of which he approves after looking round ; but I see no reason why Parliament should divest itself of its control and responsibility. When the PostmasterGeneral comes to us with a businesslike proposal, he may, with confidence, look to Parliament to make the money available ; but we ought not to sign blank cheques for large amounts.

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