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Friday, 11 December 1914

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - I say at once that the fact that the expenditure under " contingencies " in the High Commissioner's office is large this year should not occasion any surprise. Indeed, we ought rather to be surprised at the High Commissioner's moderation. At a time like the present, when the Empire is at war, it necessarily follows that the expenditure under this heading will be larger than it is under normal conditions. I may illustrate my remarks in this connexion by pointing to the number of cables which are being sent by the High Commissioner to the Commonwealth for the purpose of keeping us informed of what is taking place at the seat of war. In regard to the oil-fields of Papua, we know that they are at present passing through the developmental stages when money is urgently required. I have not the particulars relating to these fields at my disposal just now, because I was under the impression that the Senate would sit to-morrow. But the information which is contained in the Estimates clearly explains the purpose of this proposed expenditure. Senator Newland has complained that there is apparently a desire on the part of Ministers to withhold information, and to refrain from giving full replies to questions. I think that that accusation is a very unfair one. It sometimes happens that a question is answered briefly, as, for instance, when the honorable senator himself asks what steps are being taken in the direction of providing water on a railway which we have not yet decided to construct. I need scarcely point out that there will be ample time to take that question into consideration when a definite proposal for constructing the line is before us. I recognise that in answering questions it is well to reply as briefly as possible, and to give only the information which is sought. I venture to say that there is no limit to the desire of some honorable senators for information, and I do not complain of that. But I do wish to obtain the confidence of honorable senators, and when I promise that information shall be obtained for them, I always instruct my officers to secure it. I wish it to be clearly understood that Ministers desire to satisfy the thirst of honorable senators for information, and that they recognise that the Public Service exists for the purpose of giving effect to -the desires of Parliament.

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) - The Vice-President of the Executive Council is not replying to mv question.

Senator GARDINER - No ; but I am referring to the imputation of Senator Newland that Ministers are guilty of withholding information.

Senator Millen - I think that the Vice-President of the Executive Council has taken the Committee fully into his confidence, and has told it nothing.

Senator GARDINER - I do not know ' that I did not say too much when I admitted that I was not in a position to supply the information sought by Senator O'Keefe. Personally, I wish honorable senators to treat me in the same way as they would like to be treated themselves. If I am ever found guilty of an attempt to conceal anything, I shall be quite willing to make way for one of them. I am more interested in endeavouring to efficiently discharge my duties than I am in attempting to look clever, because I am too clumsy for that.

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