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Thursday, 9 November 1911

Senator McCOLL (Victoria) .- Many important points have been raised in the course of the debate, which, no doubt, will be more fully discussed when the Bill gets into Committee. I should like to ask the Minister to arrange to have the general debate on the Budget-papers as early as possible. Very large and important questions have to be discussed, and it is not fait thai they should be thrown back until we approach the end of the session. A good deal has been said with regard to the policy of. borrowing or not borrowing. In my opinion, we should not make a fetish of either policy. It is purely a question of what pays best - whether it pays the country better to take out of the pockets of the taxpayers money for reproductive works, or to borrow at 3½ per cent., and allow the taxpayers to invest their money at perhaps 5 or 6 per cent. It is purely a matter of business. I do not think that Senator St. Ledger intended to argue that borrowing should be adopted as a policy in all cases.

Senator de Largie - Does the honorable senator think that Customs duties ought to be reduced?

Senator McCOLL - That has nothing to do with the question, except to the extent that our revenue comes out of Customs duties.

Senator DE LARGIE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - How would the honorable senator reduce taxation in order to leave money in the pockets of the people ?

Senator McCOLL - I am not talking of reducing taxation, but of the policy which pays best. Senator St. Ledger was fiercely attacked, by way of interjection, by Senator de Largie, who failed to realize that this is purely a business question, to be looked at wholly in a business aspect.

Senator Needham - Is powder and shot reproductive ?

Senator McCOLL - I would not borrow for anything that was not reproductive. Senator de Largie also charged Sir John

Quick with some default in connexion with the Small Arms Factory. That was most unfair. Surely the present Government is responsible for carrying out the contract. They cannot shake off their responsibility by making charges against an absent man who cannot stand up for himself in the Senate, and who certainly is not responsible for the failure to complete the contract. It seems to me that it is a question of whether the specifications were faulty or not. From the little we have heard this afternoon, I am disposed to think that it may be a difficult matter for the Government to recover penalties, if, as has been hinted, there has been some change made in the specifications.

Senator Long - Who entered into the contract ?

Senator McCOLL - Sir JohnQuick; but it fell to the present Government to see it carried out. There are many matters which it will be necessary to discuss when the Budget debate is resumed, but there is one rather delicate matter of importance to which I think I should refer now. We are asked by this Bill to approve of an expenditure of £2,791,365, and I think we should know whether the Government intend to apply the principle of preference to unionists, and to institute a discrimination as to the men and women to be employed in connexion with the expenditure of this money. If it is the intention of the Government in the construction of these new works and buildings to give effect to the principle of preference to unionists, we should have a straightforward statement on the subject. If such a statement is not made we may assume that there will be no discrimination in the selection of men and women to be employed in connexion with this expenditure, and that they will be selected because of their capacity, and not because they belong or do not belong to a particular body.

Senator Chataway - An amendment might raise the question.

Senator McCOLL - I do not wish to move an amendment, but I think that in fairness to the country the matter should be referred to by the Minister, and we should be informed of the intentions of the Government. The money to pay for these works will come out of the pockets of the whole of the people. Every man, woman, and child in Australia, through the Tariff, or in some other way, will contribute to this expenditure. If it is intended that the work for which this Bill will provide is to be set apart for a mere moiety of the people, we shall know where we stand. I trust that the Minister of Defence will make some reference to this important matter in his reply to the debate.

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