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Thursday, 15 July 1926

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) .. - When we are discussing proposed expenditure of this description, I think it necessary to have a quorum. [Quorum formed.] I think it desirable to recapitulate the reasons why I am opposing this clause. The proposal is to appoint a commission to safeguard the Commonwealth in respect of its responsibility for a sum of £5,500,000. The Minister, when replying to the debate on the second reading, did not deny that that would be the extent of the financial responsibility of the commission over a period of ten years. The right honorable senator, in his lame defence of the proposal to appoint a commission, cited our early experience in connexion with the War Service Homes Commission as a justification for it. This will not be a vagrant body; it will have lawful and visible means of support, but it will have no lawful justification for its existence. According to information supplied, which has not been disputed, there are already 25 or 30 commissions and boards in existence to carry on the affairs of the Commonwealth. The time has undoubtedly arrived when another commission should 'be appointed to inquire whether so many commissions are warranted, to ascertain what service these commissions and boards are rendering, and whether they are earning their money. It is not disputed that under this agreement the Commonwealth is interested to the extent of only £5,500,000, representing interest payments. A sum of £3i,000,0QQ is to be borrowed from the Imperial authority by the Commonwealth, acting on behalf of the States, and that amount will be handed over to the States, which, in their corporate capacity, will be the re-borrowers. In respect of that amount the Commonwealth will have no responsibility unless the States, as sovereign authorities, go bankrupt, or grossly abuse their trust. The Minister cited the War Service Homes Commission as a justification for the appointment of this commission.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator is under a misapprehension. I did not mention the War Service Homes Commission.

Senator LYNCH - I understood the Minister to refer to the fact that a large area of land in Queensland was parcelled out for the settlement of returned soldiers, and that a commission was appointed to inquire into the matter.

Senator Pearce - That had nothing to do with the War Service Homes Commission.

Senator LYNCH - Very well, let us first consider the War Service Homes Commission. According to the latest report, the War Service Homes Commission, which consists of only one man, up to the 30th June last year dealt with 28,000 applications, and is controlling, an expenditure of £18,000,000. The total applications from men requiring to be accommodated number 64,000, involving an expenditure of £40,000,000. The Commonwealth Standing Committee on Public Works has been in existence for fourteen years, and the value of the works referred to it during that period has been £19,000,000, an' average of £1,800,000 a year. Of the £34,000,000 to be spent on development and migration, about £9,000,000 will be devoted to the settlement of people on the land and in occupations in secondary industries, leaving £25,000,000' to be made available to the States, or an average- of £2,500,000 a year over the full period of ten years: Therefore, the commission which it is proposed to appoint will be called upon to control an expenditure of £2,500,000 a year for ten years. When the States of New South Wales and Vic toria found it necessary to construct some border railways connecting the systems of the two States, the Governments of those States asked their Parliamentary Standing Committees to inquire into the projects, which involved an expenditure of £3,400,000. In the same year in which that investigation was made, the New South Wales Parliamentary Committee on Public Works reported on State works under construction to the value of £7,000,000, in addition to which there were works awaiting construction involving an expenditure of £11,000,000. There was no fuss about the examination of these projects, no high fees were paid, and the work was done by these Parliamentary Standing Committees in addition to the work they were already doing in their respective States. For instance, the New South Wales Standing Committee on Public Works . during 1916 investigated projected expenditure in the State amounting to- £7,000,000, and border railways estimated to cost £3,400,000, the total expenditure involved being about half the total proposed to be spent under this migration scheme. Yet no expensive commissions were appointed. The States got to work expeditiously and economically by utilizing the existing machinery for investigating projects involving the expenditure of public money. Where is the need for the Commonwealthto appoint a commission to inquire into the small expenditure proposed to be incurred by it under the agreement with the Imperial Government?

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The honorable senator's time has expired. Senator REID (Queensland) [9.39].- I have not heard from Senator Lynch or honorable senators opposite anything to convince me that it will be wrong to appoint the proposed commission. An inquiry into a proposal to build border railways or connect the railway systems of two States is a small temporary matter compared with the permanency of the work that will have to be undertaken by the commission. Furthermore, the Parliamentary Standing Committees investigate works within their own spheres on definite proposals referred to them by their respective parliaments, whereas this commission will, be dealing with human, beings. Surely the task of shifting masses of humanity into a new country, and settling them under strange conditions,, will require the controlling hand of men different from those who may quite easily be entrusted with an investigation into the need for a public work. Since I was a boy the functions of government have completely changed. In the old days parliaments passed laws, but their attitude towards commerce and industry was that of laisser- faire. Today, however, the demands of industry and commerce have driven those parliaments into all kinds of activities; and the* best way in which those activities can be controlled is to place them in the hands of people who understand them. Some people do not seem to be able to adapt themselves to the new era in which they are living. I do not say that every commission has proved a success, but since I have been in public life I have found that commissions generally do excellent work. Senator Findley has talked about the work done by the Tariff Board, but there is no comparison between the investigations conducted by that body and the work that this commission will require to do. The Tariff Board deals with existing industries.

Senator Findley - And with suggested industries.

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