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Friday, 25 November 1910

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) . - It is evident to every one that we are tinder the shadow of approaching dissolution so far as this session is concerned. The heart is taken out of all debate, because no proper opportunity is afforded to discuss and scrutinize the Estimates, lt is now seven minutes to 1 o'clock, and we shall then have a luncheon adjournment until half-past 2 o'clock. It is clear that it is quite impossible that we can discuss in any way the legislation now before us if the session is to close at about 4 o'clock this afternoon. We are expected to vote nearly £17,000,000, and, including the Supplementary Estimates, more than that sum, in about an hour and a half. It must be admitted that, in the circumstances, any discussion of the Estimates at all is a mere farce.

Senator McGregor - The greater portion of the money has already been appropriated.

Senator GIVENS - A portion of it has been already appropriated, but without scrutiny, and we have the right to expect that we shall be given a reasonable opportunity to discuss every item of expenditure on the general Estimates.. Without a proper scrutiny and discussion of the Estimates we cannot insure that pure administration and honest, financing of the affairs of the country which it is the business of Parliament to insist upon at all times. We know from reading the works of current authorities on American politics that the political life of the United States is unclean, and reeking with corruption. That is due to the fact that there almost everything is done by Committees, and not in the light of day, and much of the legislation is not open to public scrutiny and general discussion. There is nothing so conducive to cleanliness in politics and honest administration as full discussion upon all legislation proposed.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator has had the Budget papers before him for the last two months. Can he find any evidence of corruption in them? He should not make such rash statements.

Senator GIVENS - I have been making statements which have been carefully considered, and I am making them deliberately. We are now in the position in which the Senate finds itself at the close of almost every session. I am not blaming the present Government particularly for that. With one honorable exception, all previous Governments of the Commonwealth have been guilty of the same conduct. If there is one thing which is more necessary than another to good government, it is honest finance and clean administration, and we cannot hope to have either unless Parliament is afforded an opportunity to subject every item of expenditure and administration to the fullest discussion and the closest scrutiny. It is a farce to ask us to discuss the Estimates in the present circumstances. We know that honorable senators are going away this afternoon, and some are engaged in packing their luggage at the present moment, and giving no attention to the affairs of the country.

Senator de Largie - There is plenty of time next week.

Senator GIVENS - No Government will get any help from me to rush the Estimates through in this way.

Senator de Largie - Nor from me either.

Senator GIVENS - But I recognise that, in spite of any efforts of mine, it is likely to be done, and that is what I deplore. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that we have had the Budget papers before us for a long time, and have had opportunities to discuss them. The first portion of this statement is absolutely correct, but the last portion of it is just as inaccurate. It is true that the Budget papers have been circulated, and that there was a motion on the business-paper that they be printed, which was intended to afford an opportunity to discuss them. B"ut the motion was in the hands of the Government, and could not be brought on for discussion by any private member. The Government took care to keep it in the background. They gave the House no opportunity to discuss it, except during a short interval yesterday evening, when there was no other business for the Senate to go on with. If we had been given an opportunity to discuss that motion we could only have engaged in a general discussion. We could not discuss each item of the Estimates, and it is necessary that we should be in a position to elicit the opinion of the Government with regard to the expenditure of every vote on those Estimates. They include many matters which should have careful consideration. There is a Territory under the control of the Commonwealth which has no representation in this Parliament. In future there will be another portion of the Commonwealth in a similar position, and it is, therefore, essential that honorable senators who take an interest in those Territories should be afforded an ample opportunity to discuss all matters affecting them.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 -p.m.

Senator GIVENS - When we adjourned for lunch, I was pointing out the importance of the Senate having an opportunity to discuss, on these Estimates, matters which did not otherwise arise during the year, especially with regard to Territories which have no representation in this Parliament. Formerly, we had only one such Territory - Papua - but in the immediate future we shall have the Northern Territory and the Federal Capital Territory. During the year we have had no opportunity to say a single word about these Territories, or to offer any suggestions as to their better management, or the better plan to adopt in regard to their development. It is exceedingly important that an opportunity should be afforded to members of Parliament to discuss matters in connexion with the Territories. In Papua we have some very important problems to solve. While I am prepared to believe that the Government are doing their best, in the circumstances, to solve these problems, yet I think that the united wisdom of Parliament ought to have an opportunity to make suggestions, and to discuss and criticise the- whole method and manner of government there. I 'desired very much to have a decent opportunity of ventilating and discussing matters in connexion with Papua. I am acquainted with a large number of its white population. Many of them have been personal friends in former times, and, as the Territory has no representation here, they write to me occasionally on matters concerning its administration. They look to me to voice their aspirations and desires. But, under present conditions, no such opportunity is afforded to me. If I were to take the necessary time for that purpose on these Estimates, probably I should occupy three or four hours ; yet we have only an hour and a-half in which to "transact the whole business.

Senator Needham - The honorable senator can take up three or four hours if he feels so disposed.

Senator GIVENS - The honorable senator knows that every, one desires and anticipates the close of the session at 4 o'clock this afternoon. If every honorable senator were to occupy a few hours with regard to other matters, it would take more than a week for the Senate to deal with the Estimates. I fail to see how they can be properly and adequately dealt with in a shorter period. The only way is not to resort to a forced sitting, but to take plenty of time. We know that we are under duress, and the irresistible desire on the part of the Government, and most senators, will be to get rid of the business, rather than keep the other House waiting. If we decided to take another week, it would compel a large number of members in another place to dawdle while we concluded the business. What is true in regard to Papua is also true in regard to the Federal Capital Territory and the Northern Territory. It is a real pity that we had no opportunity to discuss the development of those Territories, because I feel sure that a discussion would be a valuable guide and assistance to the Government and their responsible officers. There are other questions which I should like to have an opportunity to discuss. For instance, there is the representation of the Commonwealth at the Imperial Conference. We have a right to know the subjects which are to be discussed there. We have also a right to give at least an indication of the line which should be pursued by our representatives. That is especially the right of the party on this side, because it is part of our constitution, as a party, that such shall be done. We have never had such an opportunity. Parliament has had no opportunity to discuss the subjects which will be raised at the Imperial Conference, or to give the representatives of the Commonwealth any guide as to its desires in that direction. I regret that time has not been afforded to us. By so much as we take part in Imperial Conferences, by so much do we limit our right of self-government I should not be sorry if the Commonwealth decided to take nopart therein. I also want to refer to the representation of this Parliament at the

Coronation ceremonies next year. 1 have no objection to Parliament being represented, but I think that it is altogether wrong that its work should be hung up next year in order to allow a number of its members to take part in a piece of Imperial pageantry.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It does not require over twenty members to represent it, either.

Senator GIVENS - I do not intend to discuss that aspect. The Government is asking for two months' Supply in respect of the next financial year, so that the Parliament need not meet until next September. Those who go Home cannot be back in July, and I say that the work of Parliament is of far too great interest to be hung up in order to allow a certain proportion of its members to take part in a piece of Imperial pageantry. I desire to put myself right in a matter in which, inadvertently I believe, I have been misrepresented to the public. When it was first mooted that the Commonwealth Government had accepted an invitation from the Imperial authorities to send a number of members of Parliament Home, it, somehow, crept into the newspapers that I had got in early, and was almost certain to be chosen as one of those to be sent Home. Nothing could be further from the truth than that, because it is known to most members of the Senate, as it is known to you, sir, that, at that time, I said that I had not the remotest intention of going Home, that I was not an aspirant for the position, and that, when I do go Home, I .should choose a quiet time, and travel at my own expense. The Supplementary Estimates involve an expenditure of £529,000. I am not going to cavil at the amount, because it may be. very necessary. <. The objection to bringing down these Estimates at the last moment is that we have no opportunity to criticise or discuss them, or even to find out anything about them.

Senator McGregor - Has the honorable senator ever known Supplementary Estimates to be brought down at the beginning of a session?

Senator GIVENS - No.

Senator McGregor - They are always brought down at the end of a session.

Senator GIVENS - It is not necessary that they should be thrown on the table of the Senate in the last hours of the session. My chief objection to the Supplementary Estimates, in the absence of an ex planation, is as to how the Government propose to meet the amount. Honorable senators who have looked at the EstimatesinChief know that the receipts and expenditure are made to balance exactly. In addition to that, we are asked on the Supplementary Estimates to provide £529,000, but so far we have no information as to how the money is to be raised. Possibly the slight amendment of the Customs Tariff which we dealt with recently will bring in a little additional revenue; I believe it will. We may also get a little additional revenue owing to the territorial revenue of the Northern Territory coming our way. These are two possibilities, but they are not likely to yield a sum anything like £529,000.

Senator Walker - We shall have the revenue from the land tax.

Senator GIVENS - That is already hypothecated in the Estimates-in-Chief . Senator Walker. - Only £1,000,000.

Senator GIVENS - That is the only estimate which we have, and which we are bound to accept in the absence of. a more authoritative one. At any rate, the Government's estimate is that from all sources of revenue they will only get sufficient to balance the expenditure provided for in the Estimates-in-Chief, and we have no knowledge yet as to where the £529,000 on the Supplementary Estimates is to come from. The Customs revenue is certainly very buoyant, and may return more than is expected.

Senator Millen - It has done that already.

Senator GIVENS - Yes; but in addition to unanticipated increases in revenue, there are very often unanticipated increases in expenditure to balance them.

Senator Millen - Owing to our cash system it has generally been the other way in the case of the Commonwealth.

Senator GIVENS - Very likely. At any rate, we have a right to get an intimation from the Government as to how they propose to meet this expenditure of £529,000. I do not intend to say more at this stage. In the very limited time at our disposal I shall try to criticise one or two items on the Estimates as they come before us; that is, if there is a possible hope of doing so. But if we are not to be allowed a fair opportunity for that purpose. I shall not discuss them at all, because I will not take part in what can be little better than a. farce. I wish to enter a final protest against this method of transacting the busi-. ness. I do not hold the present Government responsible for it, but I do hold them responsible for following an exceedingly bad practice. On only one occasion have we had an opportunity to discuss the Estimates in a reasonable manner. I think that the Government are perpetuating a very bad practice which- is not likely to lead to sound finance and wise administration, and for that reason I hope that such a course will not be pursued again.

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