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Thursday, 6 September 1906

Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania) . - I hope the Committee will consider this question seriously. There is not only involved the question of wireless telegraphy, or any particular system that may be hereafter adopted- there is a much broader principle at stake. We are asked to sanction an expenditure that may take place at some future time, which, so far as indications go, is by no means close at hand. If this item were to read, " Submarine cable, from a point not stated to a point not ascertained, £10,000," honorable senators would certainly ask for further particulars.

Senator Guthrie - There is an item. " Construction and extension of telephones in Tasmania, £15,500." Where is the difference ?

Senator CLEMONS - I hope to convince Senator Guthrie that there is a very considerable difference. If the item were to read as I have indicated, I suppose that Senator Guthrie, like every other honorable senator, would demand some more precise information. The item under discussion differs from that referred to by Senator Guthrie, in that the former applies to no particular State.

Senator Guthrie - The Government cannot spend money outside of the Common wealth.

Senator CLEMONS - Of course not; but with the famous exception of the proposed vote for a trawler, there is no item' in this Bill which is not properly allocated to some particular State. The two items I mention have this in common, that we have no details as to in which of the six States the money is to be' expended. As I say, if we were asked to vote for a submarine cable between two points not stated, we should certainly ask for further information.

Senator Guthrie - There might be no points in the case, of wireless telegraphy ; the communication might be with ships at sea.

Senator CLEMONS - Even in the case of ships there must be one point on shore ; and the absence of one point is quite enough for my argument. We should, as [ say, require further information in the case of a marine cable, which is a means of communication familiar to us, and certainly details are all the more necessary in the case of wireless telegraphy, which, as Senator Smith has pointed out, is practically in its infancy. Under the circumstances we should certainly hesitate before we vote so large a sum as £10,000, the expenditure of which is to be intrusted to the Ministry without any reference to Parliament. It would be well, I think, for the Government to submit some proposals to Parliament, and afford some information as to the different offers or systems they have investigated. As a matter of fact, however, we are simply asked to allow the Government during recess, if they think fit, to approve any one of, perhaps, a dozen different methods of wireless telegraphy, and to instal. communication in any part of Australia without reference to Parliament. All this expenditure is distributed per ca-bita; and from that point of view alone, much might be said as to the undesirability of allowing the Ministry to allocate to any one State so large a sum.

Senator Stewart - It might be Tasmania.

Senator CLEMONS - If I were told that the money was to be expended in Tasmania, I should still vote against the item. However, we have no information whatever on the subject; and the Senate has a right to know for the benefit of which State it is proposed to expend the money. For the reasons I have given I hope that Senator Playford will see his way to withdraw the item. To show the absurdity of the proposal, I direct attention to the fact that the very next line of the schedule is,. " Less the amount which it is anticipated may not be expended during the year, £20,000."

Senator Playford - That refers to the whole of the items in the Department of the Postmaster-General in all the States.

Senator CLEMONS - But that is twice the amount of money we are asked to vote for wireless telegraphy ; and the latter also refers to all of the States.

Senator Playford - In one State there may be an excess of expenditure, and in another State a saving.

Senator CLEMONS - True; but does the Minister not admit that wireless telegraphy applies to the whole of the States?

Senator Playford - Of course; but that has nothing to do with the deduction of £^20,000.

Senator CLEMONS - I simply point out that this deduction refers to the whole of the States, and that in any case it is double ,£10,000. It will be absurd to vote £10,000 in the dark, with no information as to the application of the money. In these circumstances it is an absurdity to vote this ,£10,000 when there is another vote of ,£20,000 which we are told is not going to be expended. I cannot understand how any member of the Committee, who is here to look after the finances as well as the other interests of the State he represents, can agree to vote so large a sum of money as £^10,000 without knowing what is going to be done with it. If any elector in his State should say to him, " You voted ,£10,000 absolutely in the dark," what is he to say? The only answer ' he can give, if such an answer satisfies him, is, " The Ministry came down and asked for it."

Senator Guthrie - For a specific purpose.

Senator CLEMONS - No; that is the whole point at issue.

Senator Playford - It is certainly for wireless telegraphy, and the money could not be spent on a cable.

Senator CLEMONS - If it were for a specific purpose, there could be no objection" This vote might just as well be proposed for ballooning as for wireless telegraphy, and could any member of the Committee justify a vote of ,£10,000 for such a purpose? He could only do so by saying, "I am perfectly satisfied that if the Ministry ask for ,£10,000 for a purpose so vaguely described as _' wireless telegraphy,' they ought to have it." Even if he did' say that he would be to a certain extent abrogating the duties he is sent here to discharge. I have on many occasions contended that in the Senate- we are extremely lax in dealing with the appropriation of large sums of money. We pass them year after year almost as a, matter of course. I admit that we can generally excuse ourselves on the ground that the sums asked for are allocated for some specific purpose. 'But in this instance we are left entirely in the dark. This vote of £10,000, if agreed to, will have to be allocated per capita, and each State will be compelled to find a certain portion of the amount; whilst no honorable senator from any State will be able to tell an elector in his State where the money is to be spent, whether it will be spent wisely or unwisely, or that he had any opportunity of judging that, in his opinion, fallible though it might be, it was likely that the money would be well spent. Such a request to act in the dark has never been made to honorable senators before. I ask the Committee to strike out the vote, as to do so will not in any way injure the Ministry. I am aware that, no matter when I speak here, even though I should be anxious to assist the Ministry, as I am sometimes, I am liable to be accused of desiring, to injure them. However. I can ask Senator Playford, in this instance, whether the striking out of this vote would hurt even his feelings. The honorable senator would not be a worthy leader of the Senate if he did not invite us to consider all these things, and he should be well pleased when we show some interest in the disposal of the sums of money we are asked to pass.

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