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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2256

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - When speaking earlier in Committee I made a plea that the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wridet) give consideration either to making a statement or to tabling a document in relation to the Rome conference from which he has just returned. As I said at the time, there was a considerable amount of media interest in the conference and quite considerable coverage was provided of it. Some of the media statements since his return leave me in a little confusion. I ask again whether the Minister will consider either making a statement or at least tabling a document which contains information about the conference because there is a growing interest in this aspect of Australian affairs today and the provision of this information would greatly assist community awareness of some of the problems that the Minister was grappling with in Rome.

Senator Sir MAGNUSCORMACK (Victoria) (5.50)- I rise because I became interested in the remarks of the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt) who was in charge of these Estimates. I do not think when I quote these words that he will be very happy about them. He said that the future of Estimates Committees is in doubt. I merely say that there is a misunderstanding in a parliamentary democracy as to the role of government and the role of parliament. No government gets any money to carry out its works except when it comes through parliament and asks for money, and if parliament wants to know how the money has been expended parliament is entitled to find out. It has the right to know the answers, as Senator Wriedt has indicated. But to say that the probing capacity of parliament to discover how its money is being spent is in doubt is something I find offensive to me as a member of Parliament. It is fundamental to the parliamentary system that parliament has the right to know how the money that is voted from the Consolidated Revenue Fund has been expended. If there exists in the mind of any Minister of the Crown, either now or in the future, the view that Parliament will be deprived of the right of knowing how its money will be spent and that that information will be withheld by the abolition of a method now available to Parliament for the first time perhaps in 60 years, then we will have reached a constitutional crisis.

To illustrate how important this probing system is I tell honourable senators a story. I can find the reference to it but have not had time to look for it. If any honourable senator wishes to have it I will find it. In 1947-48 the then Minister for Supply in Mr Atlee 's Government in the United Kingdom buried in the Defence vote the sum of £780m under a false heading. That £780m was extracted from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the United Kingdom because the House voted for it notwithstanding its own estimates committee. It was extracted from the Consolidated Revenue Fund by the will of the House of Commons because the House did not know what it was voting for. It was f 780m to build a hydrogen bomb. That was a most searing historical experience that has been embedded in my mind ever since I discovered it. I mention it only to illustrate that governments fall into the temptation, whatever their view, of disguising the purpose for money that parliament has voted. Therefore it is the fundamental responsibility of parliament increasingly to make sure that it always holds the power to get answers on where the people 's money has gone.

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