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THE FINANCIAL DEBATE., Issue 10449, 20 October 1897
THE FINANCIAL DEBATE.
Iu opening the debate ou the Budget last ni^'ht, Leader of the Opposition said that the Estimates were concocted rather to cajole the public outside than to satisfy the House itself, and he considered that with an increased debt before them the Premier's statement that the revenue was buoyant was absolutely and entirely incorrect. The House would notice that the receipts from nearly every item were gravely underestimated by the Treasurer, and this showed either great ignorance on the Treasurer's part or that the items had been grossly under-estimated in order to cajole the public. In Customs alone there was an under-estimate of £148,000, which proved his argument. Referring to the increase in the Customs tariff, he pointed out that, although they were tokl there would be an increase of only £IO,OOO, there was an actual increase of £310,000 in Customs duties since the tariff was altered, which was an additional 103 per head on every person in the colony. He considered many of the tables attached to the Statement were absolutely misleading, and said that while the Government claimed they only increased the expenditure by £.35,000 they were actually receiving £310,000 additional Customs duties. What became, therefore, of the difference between these two amounts ? They were asked this year to spend £-200,000 to supplement rolling stock,' erect bridges, etc. ; but if the revenue had been strong tins could not possibly happen, and it proved that the earnings of the railways had been used as revenue, with the result that the permanent, way'lud been starved. He was strongly of opinion that the railways would never be properly managed till they reverted to non-political control. He (Captain Russell) held that it was impossible to discuss the Financial. Statement, as there was no policy in it relating to finaooe, and all the moat important matters sketched out in it were said to be worthy of consideration. The Premier was evidently looking for a policy, and was endeavoring to ascertain whether the people of the colony would Rupport a Urge borrowing polioy, which ho (Captain Russellj sincerely hoped would not be entered on, as it meant reoklesa expenditure and increased taxation. There waa a delightful vagueness about tho Treasurer's proposals for old age pensions, but they had no idea how nv*ny recipients there would be under this system. It required the greatest care to deal with an important question of this kind, and he suggested that soma plan might be worked out by which friendly societies could draw up a scheme. He held that any scheme of old age pensions which , did not encourage thrift and did not discourage pauperism would be no benefit to those whom it was proposed to help. The Minister of Works considered the Financial Statement was the best and most statesmanlike document that had been brought down for years. As a matter of j fact, all the borrowing proposals of the [ Government were contained in the Statement. He would like to be in a position to extend a good many railways that required extension, but at present there was no opportunity for doing so. Referring to the Customs tariff, he showed that the increases made were borne by those able to pay them, and not by the poorer classes. As to the management of the railways, lie contended that magnificent results had been shown sinee tbe" railways were under political control, and the present system-was far more satisfactory than under the Commissioners. He reminded Captain Russell of the disastrous floods that had taken place, and asked whether it would be fair to charge the repairs caused by those flood's to revenue. It was for cases of this kind and for repairs of permanent way and rolling stock that £200,000 was being asked for. He contended that the Budget contained a sound scheme of finance, and the ' Public Works Statement would be shortly brought down, when members would be in possession of the whole of the proposals of the Government. He was in favor of light railways; but he would not enter on their construction without grave thought, and before they did so they should wait for the effect of establishing these lines in Victoria. Captain Russell had referred to old age pensions, and inferred that the Government were not serious in taking this matter up, but ho asserted that if the House had passed the Bill last year old age pensions would now be in operation. As for the money part of the scheme, he said £120,000 would be set aside out of the surplus for old age pensions. He agreed with Captain Russell that some plan might be decided on by which friendly societies could assist, but those societies would resent very much State interference.
Sir R. Stoct first referred to the Premier's statement that afternoon that a royal commission would be set up to inquire into the management of the Police Department. He considered it a most un--precedented thing that the Ministry should set up a commission to inquire into their own conduct, and asked how could such a commission, appointed by.the Government, inquire into the administration of that Government. Referring to the financial Statement, he asked how they could discuss it when they only had half the policy before them. They were told thev had a credit balance of £354,000, which was made up from various sources, and they had now increased the taxation by £322 945 more than six years ago. Our debt was also increased by £1,144,420. He pointed out that the listimates for the year were £312 088 less than the actual result, but that'was not good finance on the part of any Treasurer. The Government had altogether abandoned the policy of self-reliance initiated by the late Mr Ballance. He criticised the tables attached to the Financial Statement, and said they were absolutely wrong and
misleading. It was shown by one table that the increase in the public debt was only £5,536,208, - whereas in reality it was £6,209,01(3, and £734,000 of sinking fund was, not brought into this table at all. Jt, waa part of Mr Ballanqe's policy to try : abet-' minimise our debt, so as not to make us subservient to foreign bondholders, but that polioy had been utterly departed from. He. would like to know whether they were to 'h&ve more borrowing, and .said...nobody oould tell from the Budget, as there was no sketch of the polioy as iaj, as land' ■ improvement, Native lands, and public, works were concerned. Referring to the. old age pensions, be asked how the money, was to be raised. They were told £120,000' would suffice for this year, but : that sum did not appear in the Estimates, and it showed that Ministers either intended that the money should be raised-by taxation, as; they stated in last year's Budget, or they did not intend dealing with old age pensions at all. Referring to the Estimates, he pointed out" that the magistrates in the colony were' grossly underpaid ; but one lately appointed received £450 a year, whilst several others in more important places only received £400.' He asked what was the.reason of that? The Government told them the' Opposition made" vague charges of' corruption against them, but this was a specific charge, and he hoped the Government would meet-it.--He con*. Bidered that some phases of charitableaid should he referred to the local bodies, and also old age pensions. The., Government v ere lowering the rate' of interest'in , the Savings Bank, but that was discouraging thrift. What was the; use of the Government talking of giving pensions when they lowered the interest on the sayings of poor people who were trying to save up for a rainy day or for their old age. He had! already shown that . our taxation had increased, and he wished to say that the expenses of the departments had also greatly increased. How could economy be practised under these conditions ? If they could get the people to be self-reliant they would have a far higher nation than if they encourage a people to look to the Government for everything. If they wanted an old age pension scheme they should start an annuity scheme at once in all their post offices and other institutions, and by that means they would make people really selfreliant.
THE FINANCIAL DEBATE., Issue 10449, 20 October 1897
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