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Wednesday, 21 August 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) - I quite understand, and I think that honorable senators do also, why this Bill is introduced at this period of the session, and in advance of the General Estimates. But while there is an advantage in that course there is also a disadvantage. The advantage, of course, is that it enables the officers of the Departments to get ahead in the carrying out of works for which provision is made in this and similar Bills. Not only is that an advantage, but it is a necessity as long as we adhere to what is known as the cash system, under which amounts voted by Parliament, and not expended in the year for which they were appropriated, lapse, and fall back into the Consolidated Revenue. I have previously voiced the opinion that that system has been flogged to death. As a result of it we frequently find that the Departments themselves anr) Parliament are handicapped in dealing with these subjects. To show the evil arising from the system, I direct attention to the fact that there are to-day large sums of money covered up by Trust Funds, which were instituted for the purpose of cheating, of defrauding, the very purpose of our own cash system. It seems to me that if we find that the necessity is so great as to compel us to break down our own system, the time has arrived when we ought to revise or to abolish it altogether. The view that I wish to suggest is this : That where a specific amount is voted by Parliament, either for material in given quantities, or for a specific public work, that amount ought to be available for the purpose specified, even if it is not spent during the twelve months in which the money was voted. It seems to me to be silly to say that because on the 30th June only 75 per cent, of an amount has been spent, the remaining 25 per cent, should fall back into the Consolidated Revenue, and require to be revoted. It is to get over that system that we have developed the new system of trust funds. The procedure now is to appropriate an amount for a specific purpose, and tor place any unexpended balance in a Trust Fund, from which it can be drawn as required, even though the work stretches over two or three years. If side by side with our cash system we run Trust Accounts, which enable expenditure to be stretched over a number of years, it seems to be clear that the cash system has broken down.

Senator McGregor - It was introduced to maintain a policy of continuity.

Senator MILLEN - If it is desirable to have what in the euphemistic, but exceedingly vague, expression of the VicePresident of the Executive Council is a policy of continuity, let us do it openly, arid say that if we require to sink an artesian well we shall provide money for the purpose; and that whether it is spent in six months or in two years shall make no difference.

Senator McGregor - We took over this system from the honorable senator's own party.

Senator MILLEN - It seems to be impossible for the Vice-President of the Executive Council to approach any question without considering it sufficient to answer " Your Government did the same." I recognise that the cash system sprang up in. the early days of Federation, when the. amounts voted were comparatively small, and when the works to be undertaken were not very large. It was adopted very largely because a similar system had been followed in some of the States. But the point which I wish to bring out is that the large area to be covered by those responsible for the control of Federal affairs has made this so-called cash system unsuitable to our requirements. In fact, the system has already broken down. Proof of that is to be found by reference to the Trust Accounts, by which the Departments cover up sums of money, the bulk of which represents unexpended balances, appropriated for specific works, and incapable of being spent within the financial year.

Senator Rae - Was not the cash system originated to get over constitutional difficulties?

Senator MILLEN - No ; the difficulties were created by our own law, and not by the Constitution at all. To-day, there is about £15, 000,000 covered up by Trust Funds. It is true that a large amount of that consists of the note reserve, but there is also a very large amount which consists really of unexpended balances, for defence material, and so forth, put aside because it was recognised that the money could not be spent in the years for which it was voted. As our cash system required money not voted within the twelve months to be re-voted ne\t year, we created this Trust Fund, into which the amounts were paid, to get over that difficulty.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - The honorable senator is referring to the annual vote, and not to the total cost of the work.

Senator MILLEN - Speaking roughly, there are on one page of the schedule to this Bill proposals for the expenditure of about .£2,750,000 for various works. If that money is not spent by the 30th June next, the unexpended balance will go back into the Consolidated Revenue, and will . have to be re-appropriated to complete the works. I say that with regard to a great many of our appropriations, particularly in connexion with the Defence Department, for the purchase of material, in order to overcome the difficulty pf the lapsing of unexpended balances of votes, the money is paid into the Trust Fund- That is a nega-' tion of our so-called cash system, and we should adopt either one system or the other. I recognise the great value of the cash system in dealing with annual appropriations for wages and salaries and the ordinary recurring expenses of government; but when we come to deal with specific works it is only common sense to say that if a post-office is to be built at a cost of £1,000, and Parliament approves of the work and votes the money, it should be available until the post-office is completed, even though it may not be found possible to spend the whole of the amount appropriated for the purpose between this and the 30th June next year.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Suppose, in connexion with our naval policy, we had to provide for works extending over five years, would the honorable gentleman say that there should be one vote to cover the appropriation necessary?

Senator MILLEN - No; it would be necessary only to vote what would be considered sufficient for the expenditure in each year. Our experience is that it invariably happens that we do not spend as much as we have appropriated for many of our public works within the financial year. If we wish to. have the cash system 'in something more than name, we should abolish the Trust Fund system so far as it applies to works and the purchase of material. Under existing conditions, we have the cash system, and side by side with it a device for the purpose of defrauding the cash system of its one peculiar safeguard. We should adopt either one system or the other, and my own view is that the cash system is not suitable to Federal requirements. Passing from that, I should like to make a short reference to a view expressed by trig Vice-President of the Executive Council, and which I imagine is considered important by my honorable^ friends opposite, because it was repeated almost word for word by Senator Blakey. I refer to the tendency on the part of my honorable friends to pat themselves and the Government on the back because they have been spending money right royally;

I never knew that it required any high degree of statesmanship to be able to spend money. I do not claim credit for any high degree of statesmanship, but I will undertake to spend all the money that is given me.

Senator Findley - We spend it wisely.

Senator MILLEN - Senator Findley,noticing the difficulty in which the VicePresident of the Executive Council was placed, qualifies the statement; but there was no such qualification when the boast was made. The Government in this matter, remind me of the little boy in the nursery rhyme, I think it was Jack Horner, who took out his plum and then considered that he was a very brave boy. The members of this Government step forward, put out their political chests and say, " Look at the magnificent millions we have spent." I say that a fool can spend money, and he will have no reason to boast about it.

Senator Chataway - He usually does spend money.

Senator MILLEN - Of course, we know that " A fool and his money are soon parted." Instead of the Government making this boast that they are . spending so much money, the obligation is upon them to show that they are getting for the people of Australia greater value for every twenty shillings they spend than their predecessors were able to secure. The mere fact that they are spending more is not a matter in which they should take any pride, or about which they have any right to boast. It has to be remembered that they have a good deal more to spend than their predecessors had. When making such statements they should at least be sufficiently reasonable - I was going to say honest - to admit that with the- disappearance of the Braddon section the present Government have enjoyed a very much greater financial freedom than any_ of their predecessors.'

Senator Findley - Although that was known and anticipated, the Government of which the honorable senator was a member proposed to borrow money.

Senator MILLEN - What did we propose to borrow?

Senator Findley - The honorable senator's party proposed to borrow , £3,500,000.

Senator MILLEN - What has the present Government borrowed?

Senator Findley - We did not go abroad for it.

Senator MILLEN - Here we have . again a specimen of the logic which might be useful if delivered from a corner verandah, in some street on a Saturday night, but which should surely not carry any weight here. Senator Findley said, first of all, that the previous Government proposed to borrow. When I asked him what they proposed to borrow he said they proposed to borrow £3,500,000, and when I referred to what the present Government have ' borrowed he tells me that they did not goabroad for it.

Senator Findley - And they did not borrow money for the purposes for which the honorable senator's party proposed to borrow it.

Senator MILLEN - That is quite 1 different matter. The fact remains that with the biggest revenue ever enjoyed by a Commonwealth Government, the present Government have found it necessary to borrow, and, what is more, they propose to spend this year something like £2,750,000 more than they expect to receive by way of revenue. That simple statement sums, up the financial position with which we are confronted to-day. Though we anticipate an enormous revenue, it will still be. £2,750,000 short of the amount proposedto be spent this year.

Senator Barker - Does the honorablesenator say that that- is a disaster ?

Senator MILLEN - I say that the proposal means that the Government intend to depend upon the surpluses of previous years, but if they propose to continue the same course next year there will be no surplus funds to draw upon, and my honorable friends will be up against one or two propositions.

Senator Barker - The honorable senator is anticipating something.

Senator MILLEN - Every sound business man does try to forecast the future. It is only the man who is guided by the philosophy of the fool, " Eat/ drink, and be merry, for to-morrow we die," who will ignore the fact that there is ahead of this Commonwealth a very serious financial problem.

I propose to deal at length with only one matter contained in this Bill. I refer to the proposed expenditure in the Northern Territory. Since these Works and Buildings Estimates came before us on last Friday, it has not been possible for me to make myself so familiar with the details of the schedule as to warrant me in occupying the time of the Senate nae in the time at my disposal to obtain necessary information, and in the absence of that information I do not feel justified in discussing them at any length, though I may in Committee submit some inquiries regarding them. The question to which I propose to direct attention is the expenditure proposed in connexion with the Northern Territory. We have a proposal in this Bill to appropriate a sum of £58,540 for new works in connexion with this great Province in the north. I wish to consider the circumstances in which we are asked to expend this money. It has been remarked a dozen times in the Senate that we have big problems in front of us in dealing with the Northern Territory. One of the biggest problems will be the matter of finance. It is impossible to assume that we shall - escape scot free if we make a false or reckless start in the expenditure of public money there. According to the figures which have been submitted, the expenditure in the Northern Territory in the last financial year was £343,000. This is shown in the Budgetpapers. With respect to certain items, -however, this amount covered only the appropriation for six months. I have doubled the amount set down for those items in order to discover what would have been the expenditure in the Northern Territory on a twelve months' basis for last year. After making that allowance, I find that the cost was £377,000. This amount included three items, which I propose to deduct, for reasons which I shall assign later, namely, interest, redemption, and sinking fund. I shall deduct them from the appropriation for that year, in order to ascertain exactly what we were paying in connexion with the administration of the Northern Territory outside of its indebtedness. For that year, interest, redemption, and sinking fund aggregated £291,000, which means that the controlling and working of the Territory cost the Commonwealth £85,000. That is altogether apart from its indebtedness. For the current financial year the corresponding figures are £237,000. The total appropriation sought is £478,000, from which we again have to deduct interest, redemption, and sinking fund amounting to £^241,000. This leaves an expenditure of £237,000, as against £85,000 for the preceding twelve months - an increase of ,£150,000. I come now to the works proposed in the Northern Ter ritory, with a view to seeing how much, of that money is to be set aside for developmental purposes, An appropriation of £150,000 for developmental work in the Northern Territory would be a mere no. thing - an expenditure which we could have welcomed rather than viewed with apprehension. But of the sum of ,£237,000 to which I have already referred, only £58,000 is set apart for works and buildings. Before we sanction this expenditure, we may well ask ourselves, " What benefit shall we derive from an outlay of nearly £250,000 in the Territory if only £58,000 of it is to be devoted to developmental works ? " I submit that it is rather a serious proposition when we find our bill - for wages and salaries - that is to say, for the employment of public functionaries - jumping from £85,000 to ,£237,000 in one year - an increase of £150,000 apparently for the purpose of controlling a public works expenditure of ,£58,000. If for every pound spent upon development work there, £3 is to be expended in wages and salaries, the Northern Territory will , become a mere official resort, and a sink for public money. I had hoped that before the Government invited us to vote a single penny for public undertakings in the Territory, they would have submitted in bold outline the policy they propose to pursue in regard to developmental work there. But we have never had any intimation that they have a policy in respect of that Territory. I think this is a matter upon which the Parliament and the country is entitled to take some notice. After having had control of the Territory for eighteen months, the Government have managed to run up our expenditure upon it from £85,000 to ,£237,000 a year, and they have now come down with a policy in regard to its public works which is a thing of shreds and patches.

Passing from this subject, I wish to deal with some of the items contained in the Bill. I do so because, they appear to me to indicate either that those responsible for the preparation of these Estimates failed to appreciate, the seriousness of their task, or that something in the nature of suppression has been practised. For instance, looking down the Bill, I find that item 3 reads, " Artesian water bores, also wells arid dams- on overland route, on Macdonnell Ranges and Tanami gold-fields, arid stock routes, £2,000." If one did not happen to notice: the amount which is here set down, he would naturally assume that the Government were embarking upon a policy of water' conservation there - that they intended to conserve water by means of bores, tanks, and dams, and to make an effort to supply the Macdonnell Ranges and the Tanami gold-fields.

Senator Fraser - They are outside the artesian area.

Senator MILLEN - What I wish to point but is that the amount which we are asked ' to appropriate in this connexion would not be sufficient to defray the cost of putting down one artesian well. In unknown territory - by that I mean territory unknown to the well-sinker - I venture to say that the sum of £2,000 would be absorbed in the sinking of one artesian well.

Senator Blakey - For " well sinking and water conservation," the amount proposed is £3,000.

Senator MILLEN - I am speaking of the amount which it is proposed to appropriate for artesian water bores, and also wells and dams, £2,000. I submit that any man with practical knowledge will say that "an artesian bore means a bore for artesian water, and that where a " well " is spoken of it means an ordinary well. In addition to putting down artesian bores - I ask honorable senators to note that the Government are not going to put down a single bore, but quite a number of them - they propose to establish wells and dams on the overland route on the Macdonnell Ranges and Tanami gold-fields, and stock routes, and all these- works are to be carried out at an expenditure of £2,000. Not very long ago a person would not undertake to put down a single artesian bore in unknown country in New South Wales - that is in country with the geological formation of which he was unfamiliar - and find the tubing for it forless than £2,000. In the shallower country of Queensland - a . country which has been tested a hundred times over - an artesian bore can, of course be put down for very much less than that sum. I doubt whether, if tenders were called for, you could get a man who would be prepared to undertake to put down a single artesian bore for £2,000 in the Territory. If that is so, what becomes of all these wells and dams which are. to be put down out of the same amount? One is tempted to ask whether this estimate was prepared by a man without practical knowledge. Who is responsible, for its preparation ?

Senator Blakey - Do you not think that the other item of £3,000 is for the procuring of water ?

Senator MILLEN - Here is a marvellous discovery ! I do not suppose that a well was ever put down for the purpose of obtaining sand. Of course, it is put down for the procuring of water.

Senator Blakey - Why mislead the Senate with the statement that only £2,000 is provided for water conservation?

Senator MILLEN - I have not used the term "water conservation." Why do the Government mislead the Senate by presenting this estimate, and pretending that they are going in for a course of artesian boring at a price like this - £2,000. Let the honorable senator, if he does not care to take my word, make a few inquiries as to what it has cost to put down a few wells in New South Wales or Queensland, and he will find that it is nonsense to talk of an expenditure of £2,000 in the circum: stances which we are considering. It is to put down, not one bore, but more than one - two at least to make the term plural - and, in addition, out of this sum, provision is made for sinking wells and dams on the overland route. Does the honorable senator consider it at all feasible that it can be done for the money ? Either this indicates a desire to keep from Parliament the full information which is in the mind of the Department, or it shows that the Department knows very little about the matter. I turn to the other item of £3,000 for well sinking and water conservation. I should like to know why this item was not bracketed with the other item. It seems , to me that if we have a vote for wells and dams in one part of these Estimates, and a general vote for wells and dams somewhere else, they might be put together under the head of " Water conservation, £5,000." This enables me to point out that the first item is ridiculous in the extreme. I should like the Government to tell us what they really propose to do with the £2,000, because it is futile to talk of sinking artesian wells with that sum.

Senator McGregor - We will spend as much as we can.

Senator MILLEN - I know that that is my honorable friend's claim to immortality.

Senator Barker - They are not proposing to spend too much on that.

Senator MILLEN - No, it is a farce; it cannot be done for this amount, and, therefore, one has the right to find out whether this item has been put forward in good faith by incompetent or impracticable men, or with the view of withholding from Parliament the information to which it is entitled. With regard to the item of £4,200 for a railway and construction survey from Pine Creek to Katherine, I have nothing to say against the item, but I do think that the Government ought to have disclosed what they propose to do with regard to railway extension in the Northern Territory. It is easy, I know, to vote £4,200 for the purpose of a railway survey, but surely the time has arrived when the Government, should put forward a railway policy for developing the Northern Territory. To merely say that they are going to run out a few miles of survey is to tell us nothing. The question 'is : Do they propose to take the railway south ; have they matured a policy which will show that they are prepared to seriously grasp the task of developing the Northern Territory? The Government have not said a single word as to whether they have a railway policy or not. All that they have said is, " We want £4,200 in order that we may further justify the claim we put forward as being the greatest spending Government which Australia has ever known."

I want now to deal with another item, and I am induced to do so by a remark of Senator Blakey. I refer to the new effort of the Government at State enterprise - the erection and equipment of a steam laundry at Darwin.

Senator Chataway - Is it intended for , them to wash their dirty linen in?

Senator MILLEN - I cannot resist telling this little story. On Monday night I was addressing a public meeting in Sydney, and, when I was mentioning this item, -a gentleman at the back of the hall rose and said, " Mr. Millen, I would like to ask you a question." I asked, " What is the question?" He said, " Will you tell me what is the difference between Monkey soap and Mr. Fisher?" I could not tell .him the difference, and he gave me the answer. He said, " Monkey soap will not wash clothes, but Mr. Fisher will." Here is a spectacle to which I want to draw attention. Although this great Commonwealth has had control of the Northern "Territory for eighteen months, and the Government have spent money lavishly, we have not a word from them to show that they have seriously approached the question -of developing a national policy. All that they can do is to come down and ask us to go into the great national industry of washing.

Senator McGregor - Is not cleanliness a part of godliness?

Senator MILLEN - If cleanliness isnext to godliness, why did not the Government put down an item of ,£1,000 for the erection of a church there?

Senator McGregor - You want to wash before you go to church.

Senator MILLEN - It seems to me that the erection of a steam laundry at Darwin is rather a necessary work in one way. The Government are crowding the Northern Territory with so many officials that, unless they do start a steam laundry or other public institution, it will not be possible ' for them to get their clothes cleaned there, because, so far as I can see, at. our present rate it will not be very many months before the population will consist of three officials to one ordinary citizen.

With regard to these works and buildings in the Northern Territory, I wish to raise a point which seems to me to be worth considering.. Who is going to control the expenditure on these public works? Down here, when public works are authorized, we know that we have that infallible rock on which we can found our faith - Mr. O' Malley - to look after everything ; but I shudder to think of the possibility of adding to the multifarious duties which he now discharges by throwing upon him the necessity of taking control of the public works in the Northern Territory also. Who, I repeat, is going to control this expenditure? That is a question which is worth considering. The expenditure cannot be efficiently controlled from Melbourne, or from any centre. What steps are being taken to supervise the expenditure? I noticed that the Estimates for last year provided for an official who was called the Director of Works, Lands, and Water Supply; but on reference to the present Estimates it will be seen that the office has disappeared. In place of that officer, we find a Director of Lands; and, so far as I can see, no Director of Works is provided for. In these circumstances, I' want to know what official will have the control of this expenditure on public works; or is it to be controlled from the Home Affairs office in Melbourne? That is a matter on which the Government should be able to give us a definite and prompt assurance. On the ordinary Estimates, I notice an item of £2,000 towards the cost of providing for a Commission on railways, harbors, and other developmental works, lt seems to indicate that the Government intend to appoint a Commission for the purpose of inquiring into works which are necessary there. I wish to know if the Commission has been appointed.

Senator McGregor - Not yet.

Senator MILLEN - What is to be its purpose, and who are to be on it ?

Senator McGregor - Would you like to be a member of it?

Senator MILLEN - I have never accep- ted a position on a Commission yet.

Senator Needham - And you never will ?

Senator MILLEN - I remember the advice given by Walpole to a young man of his party, and perhaps I may be allowed to give- it to Senator Needham, and that is. "Never to say never." There might come a time when I should consider that I would be discharging a public duty in accepting a position on a Commission. The opportunity has been mine on several occasions, hut I have always felt that 'I had not the time to go thoroughly into the matters involved. I think that the Senate has a right to know whether this particular Commission is to be composed of officials or outside individuals. What is to be the scope of the inquiry?

Senator McGregor - It has been published' two or three times.

Senator MILLEN - What has been published?

Senator McGregor - The particulars about this Commission; evidently you do not read the Age.

Senator MILLEN - I cannot be responsible for everything that has been published, nor can I pretend to read everything which is published. We are entitled to know how this Commission is to be composed, and what its duties are to be. I stress this matter now, because it seems to me that if there is to be a Commission to inquire in respect to these works, the inquiry ought to precede the appropriation of the money for their construction. To spend a certain sum of money upon public works, and then to create a Commission to inquire what works should be undertaken, appears to me to be placing the cart before the horse. -

Senator McGregor - The works included in this Estimate will have nothing to do with the proposed Commission.

Senator MILLEN - Does not the Minister call water conservation a developmental work ?

Senator McGregor - It is not what the Commission will be appointed to do.

Senator MILLEN - What is it to be appointed to do? That is what I want to> know.

Senator McGregor - I cannot tell you until I reply. '

Senator MILLEN - I doubt if my honorable friend wiTl tell me then. I think that the Senate will probably agree with me that there will be reasons for taking the strongest possible exception to the appointment of public functionaries on the Commission. They are paid to do their duty, and it should be in their competence to make reports to the Government without being created a Royal Commission, adding to the expense which we have to incur, neglecting their duties, forsaking their offices for a time in order to travel about and get information which, I venture to say, ought to be obtainable from them as public officials. I do not propose to go into these Estimates thoroughly, simply because I have not been able, in the short time at my disposal, to make myself acquainted even with the more important items. I have taken the opportunity of directing attention to the Northern Territory expenditure, because I regard that as the most important work we have to undertake, and because it seems to me that the Government think that the mere expenditure of public money in itself will develop the Territory. 1 do invite honorable senators to consider that by the mere expenditure of money we may not only not succeed in developing the Territory, but may make the task harder for those who come after us.

Senator McGregor - Do not be alarmed.

Senator MILLEN - It is very difficult to deal seriously with an important subject like this when the Vice-President of the Executive Council insists on treating it as a simple incident, to be dismissed without any consideration whatever. I, however, regard the Northern Territory development with the utmost seriousness. I also recognise that, whilst money has to be spent, no man is a true friend to the Territory who would sanction the waste of a single pound there. Because every pound we can afford, and much more than we have available, will be required before we can carry out those national works which will be requisite to make the Territory fit for the population which we desire to see settled there.

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