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Wednesday, 14 November 1973
Page: 1780

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - Like all other honourable senators I am prepared to facilitate the passage of this Bill which will enable the Government and its various departments to carry on. However, I deplore the fact that this afternoon the Committee is faced with agreeing to a Bill of this size, of agreeing to it under pressure and at great speed. In the Committee stage we have to agree to the appropriation of $35m, as outlined in the Bill. That is a considerable amount and should be subject to a greater degree of scrutiny than it is receiving at present. The Estimates Committees have spent some days going through the Estimates line by line to ensure that the taxpayers' funds -

Senator Jessop - I rise on a point of order.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Wilkinson - Order! There is too much audible conversation and crossfire in the chamber. Senator Jessop, what is your point of order?

Senator Jessop - Mr Temporary Chairman,you have anticipated my point of order.

Senator DAVIDSON -The Estimates Committees have spent some considerable time going through the Estimates line by line and examining the expenditure. A good many of us have been considerably alarmed at the tremendous increase in Government expenditure this year. In a number of departments I have noted, with some considerable concern, that some items of administrative expenditure have increased by 100 per cent. With all the provision which has been made for the scrutiny of estimates, the Government has placed before the Committee this afternoon a Bill which seeks to appropriate $3 5m. The Committee is asked to deal with it in fairly quick time. The reason given in the very brief second reading speech of the Special Minister of State (Senator Willesee) is that it is to meet urgent payments because the Appropriation Bill has not been passed. I might be repeating what other people have said but it needs to be emphasised that the fact that the Appropriation Bill has not been passed is not the fault of the Senate or of the Opposition in this place. It is not the fault of the Opposition in the other place because the passage of this kind of measure surely is in the hands of the Government. I regard the fact that it has not been able to get it through as very bad management. Therefore I regard the Bill before us also as an example of very bad management.

I am concerned that the reason given for the introduction of this Bill was that it was to meet a number of salaries and other payments which were coming due at a fairly early date. One recognises that fact in administration, however much one may disagree with it and may deplore the lack of skill and management in bringing it forward. I am concerned also that throughout the Schedule there is a number of items which have no relationship with salaries or administrative expenses. Perhaps at a later stage in this discussion we will get some response about this matter. Because of the program which the Government embarked upon nearly a year ago, in which it is giving effect to the lines laid down in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), I would have thought that provision would have been made for some of these things and also that certain departments would not have found themselves in the situation of being required to meet these particular amounts and demands before the end of the month.

I look firstly at the amounts set out for the Department of Education, a department in which a lot of us have more than a passing interest. An amount of nearly $2m is sought for 3 itemsAboriginal secondary grants, Aboriginal study grants, and assistance for isolated children. The total for those 3 items is $1,834,000. I understand from the Minister's second reading speech that he claims that the number of applications coming forward has been greater than anticipated. I was surprised to hear that. I would have thought from the earlier emphasis placed on this field that surely the Government, in laying down this policy, would have had some sense of anticipation.

I turn now to the provisions for the Department of Foreign Affairs. I see that there are a number of items relating to the Colombo Plan and international aid. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) would know that I am among those who have a genuine interest in this matter. One would not consider for a minute withholding these payments or even expressing critical views. On the other hand I want to know what the urgency is about an item described as Other Services'. The sum of $7,500 is not a very large amount out of $35m but I want to know what is urgent about providing it for the relief of destitute Australians abroad. I would have thought that that item would have received a sufficiently generous provision to cover it without requiring the urgent provision of this sum.

The sum of $318,000 is sought for the United Nations Environment Fund. Surely that item is provided for year by year. The sum of $5,500 is sought for the reimbursement of sales tax paid by manufacturers on motor vehicles purchased by diplomatic and consular representatives in Australia. I would have thought that these items would have been taken care of as part of the normal housekeeping. I cannot see why they have to be brought forward in a measure of this kind for the urgent attention of the Senate.

I turn now to the division relating to the Colombo Plan, an aid item which deserves the support and co-operative interest of all people, particularly those of us in the Senate. The Colombo Plan and other aid projects are to get $590,000. A number of items is listed and I would have thought that every one of them would have been taken care of in a total program for a year's operations and expenses.

Items relating to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet have received a great deal of attention during the discussion this afternoon. In the Schedule, under the heading 'Administrative' there is an item called 'Acquisition of works for, and conservation of, the National Collection^ 1, 959,500'. The total is nearly $2m. The total for the entire Department is only $2,454,500. Apart from the item relating to the National Collection, the remainder of the money is for salaries and payments in the nature of salary. I have not yet seen the picture to which everybody has referred but I have read a great deal about it and heard a great deal about it. I am not normally devoted to contemporary art and am not attracted to it. I guess that is because I do not have a measure of appreciation and understanding of it. I recognise that as we develop this side of our national life we must give some care and consideration to it and spend money on collections and the encouragement of artists and others who will contribute to our total quality of life. However, as I have read about this particular work and have heard the explanations of the Ministers in this place and the other place, I have not been persuaded that our money has been well spent.

I respond to what has been done by expressing a personal warning: If the Government wishes to engage in the purchase of works of art of this dimension and this considerable sum, it needs to exercise rather more care than it has. It should indicate something about its interest in this subject so that those members of the public who are concerned and involved in this area may have an opportunity of making a judgment and tendering their advice. I have made these observations on the Bill before the Committee this afternoon and in due course I would be grateful if the Minister were to comment on them.

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