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Tuesday, 5 August 1930

Senator O'HALLORAN (South Australia) .- The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) raised a matter which vitally concerns the Government, and which, no doubt, will receive its very serious consideration. It appears that the late Government was negotiating with a view to leasing the Cockatoo Island Dockyard to a private firm under conditions which we were assured by the Leader of the Opposition would be quite satisfactory to the Commonwealth. There might be some difficulty, however, in arriving at a basis entirely satisfactory to the Government. I do not profess to bc as conversant with the history of that establishment as is Senator Dunn; but I know that Cockatoo Island Dockyard was primarily established as an arm of the naval defence of this country, and, as such, would have to be available if, unfortunately, we should ever be at war again.

Senator Sir George Pearce - That was provided for in the tentative agree. ment drawn up.

Senator O'HALLORAN - I shall deal with that later. Our hope and sincere desire are that we shall never again he engaged in an international conflict; but in view of the present state of world politics, it would appear that we have to maintain some measure of preparedness. I believe that we are making great strides towards the realization of that ideal which was attempted when the League of Nations was constituted, and that the possibility of settling international disputes by peaceful negotiation will be much greater in the future than in the past. If, however, the dockyard is to be an effective arm of our naval defence, it will have to bc available for that purpose at all times.

Senator McLachlan - The agreement provides for that.

Senator O'HALLORAN - There are two things which might cause difficulty in the event of the dockyard being leased to a company or a private individual. The first is that a company or individual might not maintain the plant and machinery as efficiently as it would be maintained by a government department. The second point is that, in the event of its being necessary to take over the plant hurriedly because of the nation becoming involved in war, we might be involved in considerable liability by way of compensation to the lessee. Those are points which would have to be considered by a government before it handed over the dockyard to a company or individual, as suggested by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce). A much simpler way out of the difficulty would he to amend the Constitution to enable the dockyard to accept work from outsiders as State-controlled institutions are able to do. For instance, the various State railway workshops may tender for, and accept, work from outsiders. There is no reason why the Commonwealth dockyard should be prevented from undertaking work from outsiders. If the Constitution were amended in that direction, the Government could then either lease the dockyard or undertake outside work.

One pleasing feature of the bill is that, despite the criticism to which the Government has been subjected outside Parliament, no honorable senator, so far, has repeated the wild statements regarding the expenditure proposed by the Government for the current financial year. Honorable senators are aware that, outside Parliament, some very extreme statements have been made about governmental extravagance. It is contended by some persons in the community that the Government has failed to realize the seriousness of the position confronting the country, and has, consequently, shown no real desire to curtail expenditure.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - These estimates are different from the ordinary items of expenditure. They provide no great opportunity for a reduction of expenditure.

Senator O'HALLORAN - There is a definite reduction of £114,966 compared with the amount expended last year. The Standing Orders will not permit me to discuss ordinary expenditure which is not covered by the bill before the Senate. If I were permitted to do so, I could show where similar savings have been made in the ordinary departmental ex penditure for the current year. But confining myself, as the Standing Orders require, to a discussion of the items provided in this hill, I point out that whereat the amount voted last year was £290,576 only £245,536 was spent, and the vote this year has been reduced to £130,570. In other words, the amount to be expended this year is £114,966 less than the amount actually expended last year.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon W Kingsmill - The honorable senator is quite in order; but he will have a fuller opportunity of discussing the question of Commonwealth expenditure when the Appropriation Bill is before the Senate.

Senator O'HALLORAN - Although, generally, expenditure is being reduced, owing, chiefly, to careful supervision on the part of the Government and departments, in one direction an increase is provided for. Last year, £7,636 was expended in the development of Central Australia; this year it is proposed to spend £16,000 there. That money is to be spent on necessary public works for the development of that vast territory under the control of the Commonwealth. It will be utilized in opening up roads, sinking dams and wells, and in similar developmental work. The extension of the railway from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs, and the consequent possibilities for more intensive development of the pastoral land beyond Alice Springs, render such works necessary.

There is nothing in the bill to justify any charge of extravagance being levelled at the present Government regarding expenditure in the Federal Capital Territory. The only items are £600 for the provision of new machinery for the Government Printing Office, and the quota of the Commonwealth of the expenditure agreed upon between the Commonwealth and New South Wales Governments for the improvement of road communication with the Federal Capital. The Government's proposals should commend themselves to the Senate.

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