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Thursday, 29 April 1971

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Opposition) - in reply - Mr Deputy President-

Senator Wright - What right of reply is this?

Senator MURPHY - The usual right of reply.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson) - I am advised that Senator Murphy as the mover of the motion has the right of reply.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - I thought that I had moved the motion.

Senator MURPHY - No. In the usual fashion the Government allows government matters to be dealt with in such a way that they come under the heading of General Business. It is not often that disadvantages flow from that practice, but this is one of those occasions. The position is that it is not a new fangled notion that I have put. The statement made by the Treasury officials for the assistance of the Committee stated:

Prior to 1952-53, when presenting the Supplementary Estimates Bill, it was customary to show a deduction representing under-expended defence appropriations as an offset against additional amounts sought for defence purposes. The Bill was prepared and submitted to Parliament some months after the close of the financial year, and the figures could be calculated with precision. The practice ceased after 1952-53 following criticism made in the Fourteenth Report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and queries from the Auditor-General.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - You have already incorporated this material.

Senator MURPHY - Yes, but I am answering Senator Wright's citicisms. I will not read the rest of the statement. It indicates that, right or wrong, this is not a new fangled notion. I may have been incorrect when I attributed the introduction of the new practice to Mr Chifley. The answer to Senator Wright's comments about difficulty in accounting is ' that at whatever period the accounts are brought in they should truly reflect the position. If they are brought in as at February or as at May, let them truly reflect the position at that time. If it can be done when the accounts are presented after the financial year is closed, well and good. They should reflect the correct position at whatever stage they are brought in. It is for the Government to select the point of time at which accounts are brought in and an appropriation sought. Let the Appropriation Billreflect the true position as at that stage.

Of course, it is true that there is no obligation upon the Government to spend $10m to build a dam if the project could be completed for $8m. No-one would suggest otherwise. Senator Turnbull's criticism was to the point that the Government had indicated drastic alterations in expenditure so that amounts of money which had been sought would not be expended. There were drastic changes in the nature of the expenditure of the Government; not a mere curbing or saving of something in the ordinary course of events, but rather a deliberate alteration in the Government's programme. It was said, I think fairly, that if substantial alteration is to be made from what the Government proposed to do when the Appropriation Bill was introduced, parliamentary approval should be sought. That is a simple enough proposition, and I think a correct one.

Senator Byrne - In relation to what figures would you do that? It may be a matter of $100 or $300. Every time there is a variation from the vote, would you ask for parliamentary approval? Where do you begin and end? I find it difficult.

Senator MURPHY - If moneys had been sought for some important-

Senator Byrne - Why does it have to be important? If the principle is there, it must be there whether it is important or unimportant.

Senator MURPHY -The old maxim of the law applies to financial matters as to other- points. The law does not take account of trifles. One does not bring in a Bill because of $100.

Senator Byrne - Why not? This is a very important constitutional situation. You cannot violate the Constitution for $100 any more than for $100m.

Senator MURPHY - It is not a violation of the Constitution. I am saying that there are proper procedures to be followed. Where there is a substantial alteration from what was proposed to Parliament as the expenditure of the Government - an alteration in the programming, not merely where money is saved on a particular programme which had been approved, as the honourable senator suggested - where there is a rearrangement of projects and a substantial change in what was put to Parliament, it is proper that Parliament should be consulted.

Senator Byrne - Why is the substantiality material? That is my difficulty.

Senator MURPHY - it isimportant in every walk of life. As I said, the Parliament does not take account of trifles. I noticed that one of our colleagues did. He seemed to be concerned about trifles, but Parliament is not.-

Senator Byrne - But, senator, the Constitution says that there shall be no expenditure without an appropriation. That would apply to $100m as well as to $100.

Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson - I hestitate to interject but we are muddying the waters because my statement had nothing to do with what we are now discussing.

Senator MURPHY - This discussion is pursuing the steps which were taken to effectuate the cuts in government expenditure. Mr Deputy President, the motion is merely one to take note of the statement and I suggest that the question be put.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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