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Thursday, 30 October 1913

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) . - I congratulate the Honorary Minister on the very moderate tone of his second-reading speech. I should imagine that his colleagues will appreciate the nice way in which he apologized for incidents which are occurring all" over Australia now and have been occurring for months past. It is all very well for the honorable senator, when he is introducing a Bill for the expenditure of an enormous sum, to say that he has no sympathy with remarks reflecting on other Governments or this party with respect to extravagance. I believe that the Honorary Minister feels that way at present. I believe that he has always felt that way with respect to accusations hurled from one set of politicians at another. But that does not get away from the fact that members of the Ministry, even at the present time, are continuing that practice. Not only that, but, unlike the Honorary Minister, they are continually endeavouring to shelter themselves under the excuse that they are compelled to do this because the previous Ministry initiated certain principles in connexion with the development of Australia. The Honorary Minister does not do that, hut his colleagues are continually doing it. Any statement that the Estimates covered by this Bill are those of the previous Ministry is evidently incorrect, because all that the present Ministry could have got from their predecessors was the official Estimates for the different Departments as submitted to the last Government for either approval or disapproval; and as the last Government had no opportunity of going through the Estimates conclusively and adopting them, altering them, or rejecting them, it is, I think, playing it very low down for any members of the present Ministry to shelter themselves under the statement that these were the Estimates of the last Ministry. I hope that other members of the Government will be as fair minded as Senator Clemons - I was going to say as generous, but no generosity is really required. Any statement of that kind made in the past, or to be made in the future, should be discounted everywhere in Australia. I was pleased to hear the Honorary Minister give a resume of- the expenditure in the years gone by. He went back to the time when the amount expended on works and buildings was under £500,000, and compared that expenditure with the £3,266,569 provided for in this Bill. I do not think that the Honorary Minister was, in that matter, absolutely fair. He said that then the Government had not the money to enable them to go further. I admit that they had not control of the purse to such an extent as the Government have at present. It was not want of money in the early days of Federation that prevented the legitimate development of the Postal and other Departments, but it was the want of courage on the part of the Government of the day. I do not think for a moment that the Honorary Minister had any intention of telling half the truth. I do not think it ever entered his mind - it could not be expected to enter his mind occupying the position he does at present - that up to 1910 the various Governments had £6,059,000 which they could have spent in the development of the country if they had had the courage to do so. Consequently it is idle to tell us to-day that the Government, prior to 1910, had not the money to spend, and that their Estimates could not be of such a character as the Estimates have been for the last three or four years. I know that after 1910 the Government of the day had large sums at their disposal; but I deny that, except in one direction, they increased the taxation of the country. It was not an increase of taxation, but an increase of prosperity, during the three years of the Labour Government that increased the revenue. With the exception of £1,400,000 derived from the land tax the taxation was increased in no other direction. That fact should be emphasized when statements are made that it was because "we increased the taxation of the country that we had more money to spend. Honorable senators, and I am sure the general public, know that it was the expiration of the Braddon section that gave us control of considerably more money. I would like to put this position to the Government, the Senate, and the country. When times are prosperous and the revenue is coming in, when the country can afford it, that is the time to carry on developmental work. I have heard it said that we ought to provide for a rainy day. Did past Governments provide for rainy days when they needlessly parted with £6,059,000 that should have been appropriated for national development? When the Commonwealth enjoyed a large revenue it was our duty, as faithful administrators of the affairs of the country, to carry out, to the best of our ability, all the developmental works for which we could provide for the defence of the country and its welfare. Had that been done, we should have been saved the necessity of deploring our neglect. It is not when bad times come upon us and our revenue is small that we have the best opportunity of providing for our defence. We ought to rejoice in the fact that the revenue of the Commonwealth enabled us to spend money to advantage in recent years. We ought to rejoice that the wisdom of those in authority induced them to carry out that policy from 1910 up to the present year. I consider that money spent on works and buildings for the benefit of Australia in many directions is wisely spent. I do not believe that there is a single honorable senator who will object to the money now proposed to be spent. All that we object to are the comparisons that it has endeavoured to draw between the Government that has gone out of office and the present Administration. I have heard such comparisons made. They have been read to me out of the public prints. Members of the Government and their supporters, both inside and outside Parliament, have made, and are to-day making, comparisons as to the increase in the expenditure and taxation during the last three years. We have been told by a very high authority in the Government, and by one of their supporters in another place, that the burden of taxation was increased by lis. per head of the population during the past three years, whilst this year it is only being increased by 2s. 6d. or 3s. 6d. per head. I discredit all such comparisons, because they do not take into consideration the £3,080,000 that it is proposed to borrow and spend this year. I should like to ask whether it is not in the interests of- the Commonwealth that, as far as possible, our obligations should be met out of our income rather than that they should be met out of money borrowed from some other people, by which posterity will be saddled with a responsibility that we are not prepared to carry ourselves. Surely it is rather in the interests of the country that our obligations should be met out'of revenue. Yet, because this year the taxation is only to be increased by about 2s. 6d. or 3s. 6d. per head, we are asked to believe that the country is being better treated, and to forget the amount of loan money that is to be obtained and the burden that will be imposed upon the people henceforth and for ever. If honorable senators will look at the actions of the past Government and at those of the present Administration, they will have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that the methods of the late Ministry were far more in the interests of the people than anything of which we are aware at the present time. There are other honorable senators who ure practically interested in various appropriations for works and buildings made by this Bill, and who are anxious to express their opinions upon it. The Minister of Defence ought also to supply us with answers to questions that have been asked and insinuations that have been made as to his own Department. I hope that those explanations will be furnished, and that when we get into Committee other explanations that are demanded will be made by members of the Government. I trust that we shall have a full and fair discussion of the Bill in Committee, and that it will be carried into law as expeditiously as possible, so as to enable the Government to proceed with the works that are contemplated.

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