Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 9 November 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) .- I should like to have from the Government a promise that if this measure is passed with ordinary expedition, but, of course, after some discussion we shall have an opportunity to debate at length their financial policy. In fact, that opportunity should have been provided before this Bill was introduced. We are practically ' working in the dark, but if the Minister can give the assurance I desire, it will facilitate the passage of the Bill. We are asked to vote a large sum to carry out the works policy of the Government for the current year. A considerable portion of the amount represents votes which have lapsed, and have to be re-voted. I dare say that a large part of the sum which we are now asked to vote will also lapse, because I do not think that the Government will have the time, even if they had the will, to spend all this money on useful works during the next six or seven months. It is over twelve months since they promised that wireless telegraphy would be installed with expedition in Australia, but there has been only delay in this matter. A station was to be established at Thursday Island or Cooktown. According to the Minister of the day it did not need to be equipped in anything like the same way as the station at Fremantle or Sydney. When a ship goes Home it is installed with wireless telegraphy in about three weeks. I think that four or five months was ample time for the Government to fulfil their promise We hear nothing from them now on this subject, except that the erection of a station is being proceeded with at Pennant Hills and at Fremantle. What action is being taken with regard to other stations which were to be established in different parts of the Commonwealth - for instance, one in Tasmania, and one in North Queensland? No money is asked on these Estimates to carry out this necessary work. I think that at the least the Government ought to proceed with the works which they promised to undertake. Although nothing has been done during the last twelve months, yet the Government come down now and tell us that for another year nothing is to be done. That is not fair to the Parliament or to the country. Apparently sums of money can be found for constructing railways and establishing the Federal Capital. The laying out of the Capital is not so urgent as the installation of wireless telegraphy. It is established all over the world, but Australia lags behind, and only for private enterprise we would not have such a convenience here. In my opinion, the Government are to be condemned for their inaction. We have heard a lot about the Government carrying out works with revenue, and revenue only. How are they going to pay for the railways out of revenue unless they impose additional taxation? At present we do not know what is their policy in that regard. We are practically asked to vote a lot of money "on the blind." Are we not entitled to know when the Government are likely to proceed with the development of the Northern Territory? I have not heard a word from the Minister to-day about the development of the Territory of Papua. Surely it is intended to do something there.

Senator Pearce - That will come on in the general Estimates.

Senator SAYERS - There is no item in this Bill for the Territory of Papua.

Senator Pearce - No.

Senator Chataway - There is an item of £29,000 for the Northern Territory, though.

Senator SAYERS - Since it was taken over the Northern Territory has involved a loss at the rate of £316,000 annually, which, of course, the taxpayers have to make good. We are told that the Government are making experiments there. They had the advantage of the various experiments which had been made by South Australia; and surely before they decided to take over the Territory they should have had an idea of how they intended to develop its resources, ind not ask the taxpayers to cover a deficiency of over £300,000 a year, merely telling us that something will be done there byandby. That is not a good business proposition. I do not think that any one else would take over a Territory without being prepared to develop it. Nor have we heard how the Government intend to populate the Northern Territory, or, indeed, what course they propose to take. Everything is to be left in abeyance. There is no prospect of this Parliament having an opportunity to efficiently deal with the Territory, and when we appeal to the electors we shall be told that the Government intend to take some action in the future. In the meantime, the Territory is to be a millstone round the necks of the taxpayers. It was the duty of the Government to outline what they intend to do as regards its development. There is also a large loss every week on the railway from Port Augusta to Oodnadatta, but we have not heard a word from the Government as to how they propose to reduce the loss. Apparently it is to be allowed to continue, and we shall have to vote money to make good the deficiency. The Senate was entitled to an explanation from the Government, but we are left completely in the dark. I do not cavil at the proposed votes for defence, because I think it is necessary, but some of the items appear to me to be very large. Upon these Estimates an amount of £4,000 is provided for the purpose of making a road in the Maribyrnong district. I desire to know whether or not that road is within Commonwealth Territory. If it be within Commonwealth Territory, I have no objection to the expenditure; but otherwise I entertain the very strongest objection to it. I observe, too, that in the Bill large amounts are set apart for the establishment of rifle ranges. Strange to say, no sum has been provided for any rifle range north of Mackay, in Queensland, notwithstanding that some of the largest rifle meetings in Australia have been held in that locality. From my own experience, expenditure in that direction is very necessary. We have been assured by Ministerial supporters that the Commonwealth is not going to embark upon a borrowing policy. I. may, perhaps, be permitted to tell honorable senators that I know a very wealthy man who refuses to own a single house, on the ground that he can rent one cheaper, and thus make better use of his capital. If we can borrow money and expend it to advantage in the Northern Territory, why should we not do so? Why should we be compelled to do everything out of revenue for the benefit of future generations? Let us shoulder our share of the burden and let posterity shoulder its share.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We are not going to borrow.

Senator SAYERS - Only the other day the honorable senator affirmed that he was opposed to the land tax until the Labour party adopted an exemption of £5,000 unimproved value.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I was always in favour of that exemption. I like to see justice done to the farmer.

Senator SAYERS - What is wrong in a man borrowing money, so long as he can make good use of it and pay interest upon it? Is it wrong for the Commonwealth to borrow money for reproductive public works which will belong to future generations? All authorities lay it down that to borrow for reproductive public works is good financing. If I owned Senator W. Russell's farm, and I saw that, by mortgaging it for £2,000 or £3,000, I could make a profit of 2 or 3 per cent., I would adopt that course without hesitation. It would be good business to do so. But the honorable senator is so conservative that he cannot see beyond the nose on his face. To borrow money for the purpose of developing our resources is good business, so long as the Government have faith in those resources. In the absence of further taxation, I would like to know where the money is to come from which we shall be asked to vote upon the Estimates-in-Chief . We have embarked upon a defence scheme which is based upon the reports of Admiral Henderson and Lord Kitchener. Admiral Henderson's scheme alone represents an outlay of .£80,000,000.

Senator Pearce - By charging up the cost of maintenance each year.

Senator SAYERS - Where are we to raise that money during the next twenty years ? Are we going to ask the people of Australia to be taxed off the face of the earth, in order to permit of effect being given to that scheme?

Senator de Largie - We are not going to put Australia in pawn.

Senator SAYERS - We shall have to borrow money to carry it out. What is the good of the Government attempting to mislead the people by bringing Admiral Henderson and Lord Kitchener to Australia, at a great deal of expense, if their recommendations are not to be adopted? To-day the Minister of Defence spoke of certain gun-boats of which use is to be made - gun-boats which were obsolete twenty years ago. Hitherto, we have had a Defence scheme in existence which has been a farce from beginning to end. I should like to know how many millions sterling were wasted upon that scheme. According to the interjections of two honorable senators the Commonwealth is not to be put in pawn.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Not so long as we can avoid it.

Senator SAYERS - Are honorable senators prepared to say that they will further tax the people of the Commonwealth in order that our Defence scheme may be financed out of revenue? If so, I do not think the electors will submit to it very long. Before these Estimates were submitted we should have had from the Minister some intimation of the Government's policy. I do not want them, at the last moment of the session, to put their policy before us, because we shall then be denied an opportunity to consider it. If they intend to further tax the people, I shall oppose their proposals. I say that, at the present time, our people are taxed up to the' hilt.

Senator Givens - We are not expending as much per head upon our Navy as the people of Great Britain are spending on the Imperial Navy.

Senator SAYERS - I am quite aware of that. But the people of Great Britain are wealthier as a whole.

Senator Givens - They are not.

Senator SAYERS - They have to maintain a Navy which is far more powerful than any other Navy in the world. I do not suggest that the people of Australia will complain of fair taxation ; but it is impossible to construct, out of revenue, all the works by which future generations will profit. Let us borrow judiciously. If the Northern Territory is the great country which it has been pictured to be, why not borrow money for its development? Let us ease the taxpayer in that way, and then more revenue will be available for the purposes of defence. I admit that a Defence policy should be paid for out of revenue. But, upon these Estimates, I see dozens of works which are to be paid for out of revenue, and which will principally benefit future generations. I wish now to refer to the establishment of the Cordite Factory. I hold in my hand a copy of the correspondence which took place in reference to that factory, and I confess it is a little puzzling to me. I have been told that only two tenders were received for its erection, whereas the correspondence discloses that four tenders were forthcoming. These were : - The Birmingham Small Arms Company, £150,231, time, two and a half years ; Archdale and Company, Birmingham, £100,438, time, three years ; Greenwood and Batley, Leeds, £69,141, time, two years, less five weeks; Pratt and Whitney, United States of America, £68,144, time, one year, sixteen weeks, which was subsequently reduced to one year. Commander Clarkson, Captain Collins, and various other gentlemen all pointed out that there was not much difference between the tenders of two firms - that the difference was principally in respect of the time which would be occupied in establishing the factory. I will not weary the Senate by quoting the whole of the letters relating to this matter. I shall confine myself to one. On page 2 appears the following passage : -

If Birmingham Small Arms amount considered excessive, Clarkson considers there is little to choose between Greenwood and Batley and Pratt Whitney except time of delivery.

This cute Yankee company undertook the work on certain terms. I do not know whether they got hold of any of the officials, but they must have thoroughly understood that they would not be pressed.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator mean to say that Mr. Joseph Cook gave the company an undertaking that they would not be pressed?

Senator SAYERS - I do not say that Mr. Joseph Cook or any other Minister did so.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator's statement had reference to officials, not to the Minister.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator mean to say that any officials gave such an undertaking?

Senator SAYERS - I do not say-

Senator Pearce - Why insinuate?

Senator SAYERS - If the Minister wants to know why I insinuate, I reply that after a certain official had been to America he came back with different opinions altogether. Why should those opinions have been altered in the way they were?

Senator Pearce - What did we send him to America for?

Senator SAYERS - To get an opinion.

Senator Pearce - To make inquiries.

Senator SAYERS - What was the use of sending the official to America if this state of things was to result? What good came of the inquiries ? Commander Clarkson considered that there was little to choose between the two manufacturers " except time of delivery." Have we secured any advantage in respect of time of delivery? The Government knew that they were letting the contract to people at a distance, and that they might never carry it out. The Minister has acknowledged today that he does not know exactly when the business will be settled. He added that there were certain matters that it would not be advisable to state to the Senate. I quite agree with him, and shall not attempt to press him to say more than he thinks judicious. But I hope that the honorable senator will see that contractors who put in a tender which is accepted carry out their job, and are not allowed to play ducks and drakes with the Commonwealth. I have always found in private business that if one had a contract to let the best course to pursue was to let it to a reliable man who would carry it through according to the conditions as to time and quality laid down in the specifications. An unreliable contractor will generally take longer over the job, and put in bad work unless he is watched very carefully - and watching costs a good deal of money.

Senator de Largie - Sir John Quick is the man responsible for letting this contract.

Senator SAYERS - I say nothing about Sir John Quick. I do not know whether he was responsible or not. He can answer for himself. The fact that I have to deal with is that the present Government have been in office long enough to see this job carried through. They came into office eighteen months ago, and the time specified in this contract was one year and eleven weeks. The present Government, therefore, and not Sir John Quick, are responsible for the non-fulfilment of the conditions of contract.

Senator de Largie - But Sir John Quick let the contract.

Senator SAYERS - If I let a contract and afterwards formally turn the work over to some one else, that person is responsible. If Senator de Largie has any charges to make against Sir John Quick let him make them openly on the floor of the Senate, and not by \V:1 V of interjection. A cable- gram from Captain Collins, dated 5th April, 1909, informed the Department that-

Greenwood and Pratt ask to supply information sought.

Captain Collins was cabled to by the Government on the 22nd June, 1909, in the following terms : -

Is Clarkson satisfied Pratt can produce the better rifle simultaneously with service rifle, or if pattern changed could machinery be - easily adapted ? What does Clarkson estimate cost of buildings and motive power Birmingham and Pratt machines respectively? Minister desire War Office consulted and advice sought whole matter in view of knowledge gained America.

The War Office advised the Government to do exactly the opposite of what they did. One has only to visit the Enfield . Small Arms Factory, about 18 miles from London, to realize that a factory suitable to supply the Commonwealth could easily have been built within the time since this contract was let. We ought to have had the whole thing in working order by this time. On page 4 of the paper from which' I am quoting, there is a cablegram from

Captain Collins -

War Office has been consulted. Like Birmingham offer. Consider cost prohibitive compared other tenders.

It seems that the Government regarded cheapness as the principal consideration ; but we should have been making rifles in Australia long ago if we had accepted the other tender. Another portion of the document states, ' 1 American machinery will not stand wear," or words to that effect.

Senator Pearce - Where is that stated?

Suggest corrections