8th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– In response to a question asked by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West), on 12th July, I now lay on the table of the House the following return in regard to Royal Commissions for the period February, 1917, to June, 1922: -
Under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1917-18 an Advisory Commission was created, and also Advisory Boards in each State. No remuneration was granted for the services of the members of the Commission or of the State Boards, but certain incidental costs and out-of-pocket expenses were allowed. The expenditure in. this connexion from the 8th April, 1918, to 30th June, 1920,. was £1,047, made up as follows: -
The Royal Commission appointed on 30th September, 1920, to inquire into and report what increase in the price of coal was necessary to enable the mine-owners to make the same profit under an award of the Coal Industry Special Tribunal as if such award had not been made.
Trade and Customs Department.
Wheat Storage Commission.
Home and Territories Department.
Commissions Appointed from February, 1917, to June, 1922.
Boards, &c, Appointed since 1st February, 1917, to 30th June, 1922.
War Gratuity Board.
The Central War Gratuity Board was increased to four members as from 20th December, 1920, and to six members as from 11th January, 1921. This number was reduced to five as from 31st August, 1921, to four as from 7th September, 1921, and to three membersas from 30th November, 1921.
The Victorian Board was increased to five members as from 29th December, 1920, and reduced to three members as from 7th April,. 1921.
The New South Wales Board was increased to six members as from 22nd November, 1920, and reduced to three members as from 8th January, 1921.
The Central Board meets continuously, but only a part of the time of the chairman is occupied in war gratuity work.
The Boards in Sydney and Melbourne meet on three days in each week.
The Boards in Brisbane, Adelaide, and Perth meet one day in each week.
Cost as per schedule attached.
Taxation. - Commissioner of Taxation, 1; Assistant Commissioner of Taxation, 1; Ap peal Board, 3 members. Cost to 5th July, 1922, £211 16s. 7d.
Council of Finance. - Six members. Cost nil.
Note Issue Board. - Four members.
Offers or Tenders for Purchase
– On 24th instant the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Mahony) asked me the following questions : -
I now lay on the table of the House the following statement, which sets out the position of the matter: -
In July, 1921, the steamers were put up for public tender, when an offer of £15,000 was received for the five steamers. This offer was not accepted, as the Department of Works and Railways authorities intimated that they could probably dispose of the vessels to better advantage by dismantling them and selling them piecemeal. Subsequently the Commonwealth Government Line transferred a great deal of material from these ships for the use of the Line.
The question of dismantling the vessels and disposing of them piecemeal was fully considered by the Commonwealth Department of Works and Railways, but in view of the great delay involved and the uncertain state of the market, was finally rejected as unprofitable.
The Commonwealth Government Line of Steamers management was asked to dispose’ of the vessels to the best advantage. The highest offer received was £10,000 for the vessels as they stood. One other offer of £11,000 was received after ‘the steamers had been disposed of. This offer, however, was not a cash one, and furthermore stipulated that certain gear which had been taken out of the vessels should be replaced. This, of course, was impossible.
The Commonwealth Government Line authorities do not consider it advisable to disclose the names of the parties concerned.
– On 7th July last the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) asked the following question : -
Will the Prime Minister have a return furnished showing the names of members of all Boards, Commissions, and Committees appointed by the Government since January, 1920, with particulars as to cost of each to date?
I now submit the following return : -
Statement of Names of Members of Boards, Commissions, and Committees appointed by the Government since January, 1920.
Shipbuilding Board of Control. - R. Far- quhar, H. C. Brown, A. Aird (now resigned), £5,062 10s. l0d.
Royal Commission on Taxation. - J. Jolly, J.
Farleigh, W. T. Missingham, W. Warren Kerr, S. Miles, J. Thompson, M. B. Duffy, £18,462 17s.1d.
Royal Commission on Coal Industry. - Alex. Jobson, H. H. Ling, Chas. Hibble, £295 17s. Id.
Royal Commission on Unification of Railway Gauges in Australia. - -Rustat Blake, F. M. Whyte, J. J. Garvan, £15,515 19s. lOd.
Royal Commission on Pilfering of Ships’ Cargoes. - W. M. Macfarlane, £1,746 0s. 8d.
Royal Commission on Cockatoo and Garden Island Naval Establishments. - W. H. Mahony, M.P., C. W. C. Marr, M.P., W. M. Marks, M.P., W. J. Mcwilliams, M.P., Senator M. Reid, late Hon. T. J. Ryan,, Senator R. V. Wilson, £1,866 5s. 8d.
Royal Commission on Property of German Nationale. - W. M. Macfarlane, £1,272 13s. lOd.
Select Committee on Wireless Agreement. - W. G. Gibson, M.P., J. A. J. Hunter, M.P., Senator J. D. Millen, Senator R. V. Wilson, Senator Drake-Brockman, G. A. Maxwell, M.P., Hon. S. M. Bruce, F. Brennan, M.P., J. H. Catts, M.P., £163 5s. lid.
Income Tax Appeal Board. - Chairman, Mr. A. F. Twine, £1,500 per annum; Members - Messrs. A. S. Canning and R. M. Lightband, £1,500 each per annum; cost to 5th July, 1922, £211 16s. 7d.
Council of Finance. - ‘The Treasurer of the Commonwealth; the Secretary to the Commonwealth Treasury; the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, and in his absence, the Deputy Governor of the said Bank; Herbert Ledlie Heron, Esq., General Manager of the Commercial Bank of Australia; the Honorable William Lawrence Baillieu; John Joseph Garvan, Esq., Managing Director, Mutual Life and Citizens’ Assurance Company Limited. Cost to date, nil.
Note Issue Board. - Sir Denison Miller, K.C.M.G.y Chairman of Directors; John Joseph Garvan, Esq., the Honorable George Swinburne, and James R. Collins, Esq., members. Remuneration, £5 5s. per diem for each day of sitting when the sittings occur in the city in which he resides; when in a city other than that in which he resides, £5 5s. for each day’s absence from the latter. In the case of Mr. J. J. Garvan and the Honorable George Swinburne, the remuneration commenced from 14th December, 1920, and in the case of Mr. J. R: Collins, as from 1st July, 1921. In addition, each director (other than the chairman), while necessarily absent from the city in which he resides for the purpose of attending Board meetings, is paid travelling expenses at the rate of £2 2s. per diem as from 14th December, 1920. Mr. C. J. Cerutty was appointed to act as a director during the absence of Mr. J. R. Collins, until 7th July, 1921. The cost of this Board is borne by the Note Issue.
Repatriation Department. - Under the Australian Soldiers Repatriation Act 1920 the expenditure in connexion with the Commission and State Boards for the period 1st July, 1920, to -30th June, 1922, totalled £18,430, made up as follows: -
War Service Homes Commission.
Advisory and Consultative Committee. - Major-General Sir J. W. McCay, K.C.M.G., chairman; Mr. William Stuart and LieutenantColonel H. S. Evans, members; appointed 12th March, 1921; ceased operations, 10th August, 1921. The cost of this Committee was £1,545 17s. 9d.
List of Persons who have been Membersof the Various War Gratuity Boards since their Inception, 19th May, 1920.
Brigadier-General Evan Alexander Wisdom, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., &c., 19th May, 1920, to15th February, 1921.
Lieutenant-Commander Hugh Malcolm Ramsay, 19th May, 1920, to 30th October, 1920.
Lieutenant William Rockcliffe Montgomery, 19th May, 1920, to 2nd March, 1922.
Paymaster-Lieutenant Frank Ellery Price, M.C., M.M., 12th July, 1920, to 7th August, . 1920.
Lieutenant-Commander Harold Leopold Quick, 1st November, 1920, to 30th April, 1921.
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Vincent. Watson, D.S.O., 20th December, 1920, still serving.
Captain John David Rogers, 10th January, 1921, to 31st March, 1921.
Mr. Richard Thomas Stewart, 11th January, 1921, to 30th November, 1921. Captain William Reginald Bingle, 16th February, 1921, still serving.
Lieutenant James Alexander Thwaites, 8th April, 1921, to 7th September, 1921.
Captain Roland Seymour Browne, 1st May, 1921, to 31st August, 1921.
Mr. Ernest Turnbull, 13th February, 1922, still serving.
Major Waynard Hayes Cruickshank, 19th
May, 1920. to 2nd January, 1921.
Mr. Horace Anelay Brown, 19th May, 1920, to 19th August, 1920.
Captain Arthur Percival St. John, 19th May, 1920, still serving.
Major Isaac Jackson, 3rd January, 1921, still serving.
Mr. Jack Harvey, 20th August, 1920, still serving.
Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick James Kindon, 19th May, 1920, still serving.
Major Adolf Rudolf William Buttner, 19th May, 1920, to 25th April, 1921.
Mr. Arthur George Potter, 19th May, 1920, still serving.
Mr. John Aaron Shaw, 10th August, 1920, to 8th January, 1921.
Brigadier-General Sydney Charles Edgar Herring, C.M.G., D.S.O.. 10th August, 1920, to 8th January, 1921.
Captain Leslie Kenneth. Garfield Browning, 22nd November, 1920, to 8th January, 1921; 28th February, 1921, to 7th March, 1921; 20th April, 1921, still serving.
Mr. John Albert Lucas, 22nd November, 1920, to 8th January, 1921.
Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Joseph Lynch, 22nd November, 1920; to 8th January, 1921.
Personnel of War Gratuity Boards.
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Vincent Watson, D.S.O., 19th May, 1920, to 19th December, 1920.
Major William James Macavoy Locke, M.C., 19th May, 1920, to 10th January, 1921.
Mr. Ernest Turnbull, 19th May, 1920, to 12th February, 1922.
Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Barnett Story, 11th January, 1921, still serving.
Major George Frederick Wootten, D.S.O., 20th December, 1920, to 31st December, 1921.
Chaplain Malcolm McQueen, 29th December, 1920, to 7th September, 1921.
Lieutenant James Alexander Thwaites, 29th December, 1920, to 7th April, 1921; 8th September, 1921, still serving.
Captain Austin Laughlin, 1st February, 1921, to 7th April, 1921.
Captain William John Symons, V.C., 3rd March, 1922, still serving.
Major George Frederick Wootten, D.S.O., 19th May, 1920, to 10th November, 1920.
Captain Gordon Cathcart Campbell, M.C., 19th May, 1920, to 19th January, 1921.
Major Charles Francis Woodcock, 19th May, 1920, still serving.
Captain Sydney Francis Rowell, 11th November, 1920, to 10th October, 1921.
Major William Francis James McCann, D.S.O., M.C., 20th January, 1921, still serving.
Captain Richard Dudley Holman, 11th October, 1921, still serving.
Lieutenant-Colonel John Herbert Hurst,
D.S.O., 19th May, 1920, to 13th July, 1920.
Captain Roland Seymour Browne, 19th May, 1920, to 30th April, 1921.
Mr. Arthur George Wright, 19th May, 1920, to 17th August, 1920.
Lieutenant-Colonel . John Henry Peck, D.S.O., 14th July, 1920, to 14th August, 1920.
Colonel Herbert Brayley Collett, C.M.G., D.S.O., O.B.E.,16th August, 1920, still serving.
Captain Mervyn Davies, 1st May, 1921, still serving.
Mr. William Albert Woodham, 18th August, 1920, still serving.
Lieutenant-Colonel Eric Fairweather Harrison, 19th May, 1920, to 28th August, 1920.
Captain Eric Mulvhill Johnson, 19th May, 1920, to 31st January, 1921.
Lieutenant Arthur Henry Clerke, 19th May, 1920, to 31st January, 1921.
Lieutenant-Colonel Walter William Alderman, C.M.G., D.S.O., 30th August, 1920, to 31st January, 1921.
Naval War Gratuity Board.
A/Lieutenant-Commander George Davies
Williams, 10th June, 1920, to 2nd October, 1920.
Warrant-Officer Ernest Richard McDonough, 10th June, 1920, to 12th December, 1920.
Lieutenant William David Hunter, 21st June, 1920, to 7th August, 1920.
Paymaster-Lieutenant Frank Ellery Price, 9th August, 1920, to8th January, 1921.
Lieutenant-Commander Harold Leopold Quick, 4th October, 1920, to 31st October, 1920.
Lieutenant Francis William Heriot, 1st November, 1920, to8th January, 1921.
Petty Officer Reginald Ernest Goldfinch, 13th December, 1920, to8th January, 1921. boards and committees appointed since january,1920.
Commonwealth Electoral Branch.
Board, under section 46 of Commonwealth
Public Service Act, to inquire into charges against Thomas James Gavin, Clerk, Fifth Class, to Divisional Returning Officer for Darling, of being absent without leave, and being negligent and careless in the discharge of his duties.
Personnel. - Charles Claude McGarry,PostmasterGeneral’s Department, Dubbo, New South Wales, chairman; George Todd Dumont, Divisional Returning Officer for Calare, Electoral Branch, New South Wales; William George Piper, PostmasterGeneral’s Department, Sydney (divisional representative) .
Expenditure. - £14 14s. 9d.
Board, under section 46 of Commonwealth Public Service Act, to inquireinto charge against Daniel James Walsh. Clerk to Divisional Returning Officer, Ballarat, of ‘ being absent from duty without reasonable cause being shown.
Personnel. - Joshua Dyson Farrar, Senior Clerk, Electoral Branch, Central Staff, chairman; Robert Noble Bleasby, Clerk, 3rd Class, Navigation Branch, Central Staff; George Stanley Brown, Registrar of Copyright, Attorney-General’s Department (divisional representative).
Expenditure. - £2 l5s.6d.
Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau.
Board, under section 46 of Commonwealth Public Service Act, to investigate charges against Frank MacMahon, Senior Assistant, Meteorological Branch, New SouthWales, of tamperingwith private telephone at Weather Bureau, New South Wales.
Personnel. - Stewart Irwin, Commonwealth Electoral Officer for New SouthWales, chairman; George Brighton, Correspondence, Record, and Staff Branch, PostmasterGeneral’s Department, New South Wales; John Vincent Dwyer, Senior Sorter, Mail Branch, Postmaster-General’s - Department, New South Wales (divisional representative) .
Expenditure - £0 7s. 9d.
Board of Inquiry. - E. L. Forbes,5th Class Clerk, Meteorological Branch. (Victoria), Department of Home and Territories, charged with the commission of an offence under section 46 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902-18.
Personnel. - Joshua Dyson Farrar, Senior Clerk, Electoral Branch, Central Staff, chairman: Alexander Barclay Sloan, Clerk, 3rd Class, Postmaster-General’s Department, Victoria; George Stanley Brown, Registrar of Copyright, AttorneyGeneral’s Department.
Expenditure. - Nil.
Board, under section 65 of Commonwealth Public Service Act, to inquire into the question whether Frank MacMahon, Senior Assistant, Meteorological Branch (New. South Wales)., Home and Territories Department, is unfit to discharge or incapableof discharging, the duties of his office efficiently.
Personnel. - William Edward Cooper, Inspector, Department of Trade and Customs, New South Wales, chairman; Ernest Edward Cupit, Divisional Returning Officer for Cook, Department of Home and Territories, New South Wales; John Vincent Dwyer, Senior Sorter, PostmasterGeneral’s Department, New South Wales (divisional representative).
Expenditure.- £30s. 3d.
Committee formed, on suggestion of Prime Minister’s Department, to recommend the best method of arranging for the transport of overseas representatives to Wallal, Western Australia, in connexion with solar eclipse.
Personnel. - John F. Robins, Second Naval Member; J. T. Heathershaw, Commonwealth Treasury Department; H. A. Hunt, Commonwealth Meteorologist.
Expenditure. - Nil.
Trade and Customs Department. boards, etc., appointed since january, 1920.
List of Boards, Commissions, and Committeesappointedattheinstanceof Attorney-General’s Department since January, 1920.
Royal Commission to Inquire into and Report as to Increase in Price of Coal, &c. (Gazette, 30/9/20).
Members. - Charles Hibble (chairman), Alexander Jobson, H. H. Ling.
Coal Industry Special Tribunal (Appointed under Industrial Peace Acts) ( Gazette, 23/9/20).
Members. - C. M. McDonald, J. S. Bragg, T. R. Morgan, R. A. Cleghorn, J. M. Baddeley, A. C. Willis, A. Asquith, A. E. Phillips, Chas. Hibble (chairman). (Note. - F. T. Wimpney and Robert Fillans were appointed, in addition, on 19th January, 1922.)
Engine-Drivers and Firemen’s (Coal Industry) Special Tribunal, Appointed under Industrial Peace Acts (Cassette, 27/9/20).
Members. - C. M. McDonald, J. S. Bragg, T. R. Morgan, R. A. Cleghorn, G. H. Broom, John Atkins, Walter Phee, Eli Shaw, J. W. Chandler, R. C. Pinkerton, Chas. Hibble (chairman). (Note.- On 13th October, 1921, Wm. Thomas was appointed in place of Cleghorn; on 24th February, 1921, F. T. Wimpney was appointed in place of Broom; on 27th January, 1921, William Morton was appointed in place of Pinkerton; and on 25th May, 1922, H. C. Gibson, vice Morton.)
Coke Industry Special Tribunal (Appointed under Industrial Peace Acts) (Gazette, 8/10/1920).
Members. - F. H. Fleming, H. A. Mitchell, Ivo Clarke, J. M. Dixon, J. M. Baddeley, A. C. Willis, A. E. Phillips, J. M. Walker, Chas. Hibble (chairman).
Engineers’ (Coal Industry) Special Tribunal (Appointed under Industrial Peace Acts) (Gazette, 7/4/1921).
Members. - J. S. Bragg, T. R. Morgan, C. M. McDonald, E. G. Lamb, T. B. Ward, Jack Hamill, Louis Weichert, F. F. Slater, Chas. Hibble (chairman).
Southern Board, Queensland (Coal Industry) (Appointed under Industrial Peace Acta) (Gazette, 3/11/1921).
Members. - M. W. Haenke, J. W. Heatherington, J. F. Walker, A. E. Phillips, Chas. Fitzpatrick, D. A. Gledson, R. A. Wearne (chairman).
Victorian Local Board (Coal Industry) (Appointed under Industrial Peace Acts) (Gazette, 19/1/22).
Members. - F. T. Wimpney, N. C. McLeod, B. McWilliam, W. J. Dowling, Henry Coady, David Martin, R. B. Lemmon (chairman).
Northern Board, Queensland (Coal Industry) (Appointed under Industrial Peace Acts) (Gazette, 6/4/22).
Members.-James Harris, C. V. Lewis, J. Winters, W. Matthews, Wm. Simpson (chairman).
Total cost of above Royal Commission, Tribunals, and Boards to date, £12,150 4s.
With the exception of a Royal Commission appointed to give effect to an award of the Coal Industry Special Tribunal, all the appointments of Tribunals and Boards made during the period in question at the instance of the Attorney-General’s Department have been appointments made in accordance with the provisions of the Industrial Peace Acts 1920.
Works and. Railways Department.
The Federal Capital Advisory Committee.
The personnel of that Committee, whose ap pointments were approved by the GovernorGeneral in Council, is as follows.: -
John Sulman, Esq., F.R.I.B.A., Consulting Architect.
Colonel P. T. Owen, Commonwealth DirectorGeneral of Works.
Herbert E. Ross, Esq., F.I.A., Architect, Sydney.
The total cost of the Committee to dateis £3,538 14s.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether it is correct, as announced, that Sir Joseph Cook, Sir Mark Sheldon, Mr. Justice Rich, and Mrs. Margaret Dale are to represent Australia at the League of Nations’ Assembly to be held at Geneva? If so, does he not think that at least one of the representatives of the Commonwealth should be a member of this House?
– It is a fact that Sir Joseph Cook, Sir Mark Sheldon, Mr. Justice Rich, and Mrs. Dale - who will represent the women of Australia at the’ Assembly on all questions relating to women and children - have been appointed. I think the personnel of the Commission is most excellent. I do not think it desirable, and certainly it is not possible, that a member of this House should act as a representative of the Commonwealth.
Supply of Equipment by Defence Department.
– I wish to ask the Minister for Defence whether it is a fact that equipment required by Captain Hurley for his Papua expedition was not made available to him by the Department of Defence?
– It is not a fact,I saw in the press a report of a statement made by Captain Hurley, before leaving for Papua yesterday, and I had inquiries made. I find the circumstances are as follow : -Captain Hurley asked the Department for the loan of photographic and wireless apparatus to the value of £200, and stated that he would furnish a bank guarantee to cover any loss or damage to the equipment. He was informed of the approval for the loan on those terms. A fortnight elapsed, however, before a reply was received from Captain Hurley. In his reply he stated that he was unable to give other than a personal guarantee, and as he emphasized the statement that the possession of the wireless apparatus was necessary for the safety of those flying over unexplored territory, the Department decided to take the unusual course of accepting a personal guarantee, which was signed in Sydney on 18th August. To enable the wireless set to be used on Captain Hurley’s machine it was necessary for the Air Force at Point Cook to design and make special fittings, and a thorough test was made of all the equipment selected. The tested equipment was in Captain Hurley’s possession in Sydney within ten days of his signing the guarantee.
Second Redistribution of Victoria
– Will the Prime Minister state whether it is true that the second report of the Commission appointed to redistribute the State of Victoria into Federal electoral divisions is now in the hands of the Government ? If it is, will the right honorable gentleman cause the report and plans to be laid on the table before the present sitting closes ?
– I have no official knowledge of the matter; but my honorable colleague, the Attorney-General (Mr. Groom) has just informed me that he proposes at once to lay the papers on the table.
– I desire to lay on the table of the House the second report, with maps, by the Commissioners appointed for the purpose of redistributing the State of Victoria into electoral divisions. I move -
That the report be printed.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Reported Lease of Buildings
– Has the Minister for Works and Railways noticed in the press a statement attributed to Mr. Arthur Griffiths that the Governmen have just leased for fifteen years buildings for the use of the Central Patents Staff, Melbourne? Is the statement correct?
– I have seen the statement in the press; but that is all I know of the matter.
Representation and Rolls
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories inform the House when it is proposed to introduce a Bill providing for the representation of the Northern Territory in this Parliament, and whether the necessary electoral rolls are in process of preparation at the present time?
– The Bill referred to by the honorable member will be brought down as soon as possible, and the rolls, I understand, will be printed as soon as the Bill has been passed.
Award of Arbitrator
– Will the Attorney-General state whether anything has been done to give effect to the award of Sir Mark Sheldon in regard to the Kidman-Mayoh shipbuilding contract?
– Yes; the usual demand has been made in pursuance of the award.
– Will the Prime Minister state when the Government intend to introduce the Public Service Superannuation Bill?
– That is one of the measures that I did myself the honour of mentioning to the House on Friday last when dealing with the Government programme. The Bill will be brought down as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Working Conditions in Victorian Branch.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
Promotion of Mr. V. F. Turner
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
– On the 18th August, during the second reading of the Defence Retirement Bill, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) referred to the cases of four warrant officers, P. Moorehouse, A. J. Read, P. A. Downing, and H. Goodwin, whose services, it was stated, were being dispensed with, and who were not to be paid compensation. I promised to make inquiries, and now find that, as a matter of fact, those particular cases had been dealt with by me some time previously, when I had decided that compensation - if approved by Parliament - should also be paid to the warrant officers referred to, and instructions were accordingly issued to the Divisional Commander on the 14th August. The honorable member also referred to the case of J. C. Jamieson, late chief stoker, Royal Australian Navy. Mr. Jamieson’s services were not dispensed with in pursuance of the retrenchment policy. His service ceased on the 31st March, 1922, on his attaining the age limit, and there is no provision for any compensation in such circumstances.
The following papers were presented : -
Factories’ - Commonwealth Government - Woollen Cloth Factory - Manufacturing and Profit and Loss Account for year ended 30th June, 1921 (in substitution for Statement in Appendix “ A “ of Report presented on 21st July, 1922).
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired under, in Western Australia, for Defence purposes, at Carnarvon, Derby, Hamelin Pool, Onslow, Roebourne, Winning Pool.
New Hebrides - Protocol respecting, signed at London, 6th August, 1914, by representatives of British and French Governments- - (Ratifications exchanged at London, 18th March, 1922).
Public Service Act -
Appointment of M.. E. Woodforde, Department of Works and Railways.
Promotion of V. F. Turner, Home and Territories Department.
Promotion of L. Ainsworth, Home and Territories Department.
Officers and Rent of Offices
– On the 23rd August the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Bayley) asked the following questions : -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information in reply to his questions: -
From this amount of £21,734 should be deducted £4,000, representing approximately the interest paid on rooms occupied by other Commonwealth Departments in buildings transferred to this Department.
Returns from Sale of By-products.
– On the 17th August the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. McGrath) asked the following question: -
What is the amount obtained from the refineries by the Government during the period of sugar control from the sale of by-products, such as rum, molasses for fodder, treacle, golden syrup, methylated spirits, and rectified spirits ?
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information: -
From July, 1915 (when sugar control began), up to 30th June, 1922, the sum of £62,508 was received. This amount represents the full value resulting from the sales of the byproducts of sugar covered by the sugar refining agreements, namely, jelly syrups (or refinery molasses) .
Golden syrup and treacle are not byproducts. Their sales are included under the heading of “ Refined Products.” Molasses, being the by-product of the crushing of cane and manufacture of raw sugar at the raw sugar mills, does not come within the purview of the Government’s business, as the Government only buys the actual raw sugar produced at the mills. Bum, methylated spirits, and rectified spirits are not by-products of sugar manufacture.
.- I move-
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The total amount of the expenditure out of loan which was embodied in the Estimates was £17,250,924. The figure which appears in the Loan Bill in clause 4 is £17,039,099. The reason for the difference in these figures is that in the Estimates certain amounts were deducted which, it was anticipated, would be unexpended at the end of the year. Of course, it is still anticipated that these amounts will be unexpended, but appropriation is sought for the full amount, so that works can be continued until next year. The amounts which appear in the Estimates as being unexpended are subscription to capital of Amalgamated Wireless Limited, £150,000; construction of ships, £200,000 ; and post-office buildings, £54,000; making a total of £404,000. In addition, there is an amount to be credited in respect of receipts which are anticipated from services in the Federal Territory. That amount does not appear in the Estimates, but has to be included in the schedule to the Appropriation Bill. After allowing for the unexpended appropriation of last year, and making the adjustment with regard: to receipts which I have indicated, the additional amount provided for the Federal Territory is £115,619. There is another amount of £7,500 required to make provision for a race for the shipment of live cattle at Port Darwin. These items, together with the expenditure included in the Estimates, viz., £17,250,924, make a total of £17,778,043. From that amount has to be deducted the sum which is available under appropriations previously made Those balances total £738,944. Deducting that sum from the total I gave previously, we arrive at the figure which appears in clause 4 of the Bill, namely, £17,039,099. That is the total amount of the estimated expenditure, provision for which is made in this Bill. The items are set out in the schedule, and honorable members will have an opportunity of dealing with them in Committee.
Another figure which I should explain to the House is the amount appearing in clause 2 of the Bill, in which authority is asked to borrow £12,000,000, although the total estimates of expenditure exceed -£17,000,000. I propose to explain to the House exactly what the position is, to show how that figure of £12,000,000, to be raised during the present year, is arrived at. The position on the 30th June last, the end of the financial year, was that there was an amount to the credit of the Loan Fund of £9,711,000. In arriving at the figure of £12,000,000 to be borrowed during the present year, I have deducted £3,000,000 in respect of moneys that will be required for the redemption of war gratuity bonds. Honorable members will see that in the figures appearing in the Estimates under the Loan Account, there appears an amount of £2,500,000. We have felt it wise when we were calculating what additional moneys we must raise to increase that amount to £3,000,000, or an increase of £500,000, so that we shall have moneys available to continue the redemption of war gratuity, bonds during the months of July and August of next year, after the present financial year has expired.
– Will that be sufficient to redeem all the gratuity bonds?
– No, not nearly sufficient. Deducting the £3,000,000 from the £9,711,000 in hand leaves available for the purpose of this year’s loan programme the sum of £6,711,000.
—Iq that money actually in the bank now’!
– It is available.
– Is it bearing interest?
– It would take a long time to set out the whole position to show exactly where it is. As far as possible, we are making that money reproductive while it is in our hands. I think I know what is in the honorable member’s mind, and, I am in entire accord with him, that £9,711,000 is far too much for us to have in hand when, by the use of whatever means are open to us, it is impossible for us to get a satisfactory productive return from it,’ and we cannot . make the fullest possible use of,, that money. I intend to show what I propose to do during the current year, and the estimated position at its close. The total amount to be appropriated by this Bill is £17,039,099. There is also available an amount of £73’8,944 under appropriations previously made, makins; a, grand total of £17,778,043. The cash balance in the Loan Fund, after deducting £3,000,000 for the redemption of war gratuities, is £6,711,000, reducing the . amount to be raised to carry out the loan programme set out in the schedule to the Bill to £11,067,043. The Bill asks for authority to raise £12,000,000. It is impossible to say exactly on what basis that money will be raised or what the cost of raising it will be, but for safety I have allowed £840,000, for expenses of flotation, which will be equal to 7”per cent, on £12,000,000, leaving a total available to meet the loan expenditure facing us of £11,160,000, and giving a margin oi. £92,957. I think that is an answer to the honorable member’s question.
– Not quite.
– At any rate, it is an answer to one side of it. The position as we see it now is that the moneys raised in the past and now available will be used for the purpose of our loan programme, and only such additional moneys will be raised as will enable us to carry on for the period with which we are now dealing, that is to say, the financial year 1922-23. We are trying to manage so that the amount of money in hand at any particular time, and which we have to endeavour to make as productive as we can pending the time when it can be employed for the purposes of the loan programme, is as small as possible. I think, generally, honorable members will agree with that principle. The margin I have indicated is, of course, very small, but I do not anticipate that it will be quite so small, because I am confident there will be amounts of loan moneys unexpended at the end of the year.
As to how and when these sums are to be raised I made some remarks when delivering the Budget. I spoke of the possibilities of the future in the matter of raising loans and of the rates of interest that would probably have to be paid; and there is nothing I can add to what I then said, beyond assuring honorable members that we have the position very well in our mind, and that we are not compelled at the moment to go on the market to borrow. We shall probably be able to choose our own time and our own opportunity; we shall certainly do the very best we can to get the most favorable terms. Sums will be raised so far as we can do so only as they are required, and our aim will be not to keep unexpended balances of loan moneys in hand with the two disadvantages which they imply, namely - that we have taken away from other sources money before it is required, and that .we have obtained it when we were not in a position to get a full productive return from it ourselves.
These are the only points which I need indicate to the House at this stage. Provision has been made in the Bill for all the requirements we know of at this moment. The only other possible require ment would be moneys to be paid on behalf of the States in connexion with their immigration schemes, but at present no State has requested us to raise moneys for them for this purpose. In any case the requirement in this respect would be very small during the current financial year. When the schedule is submitted the fullest information can be obtained by honorable members from the Ministers who are in control of the different Departments and different activities affected.
– Is the Commonwealth paying interest on the £9,000,000 now in hand, and getting any return for the money ?
– We are paying interest upon it, because it represents amounts which are the balances of loans raised by prospectuses in the ordinary methods either in Australia or Great Britain.
– Before they were required ?
– Probably more has been raised than was required. Wherever it is possible to employ these moneys they are so being employed. A very large sum of money has been utilized in this way in respect to the sugar overdraft. When the Commonwealth Bank has money of ours in excess of what has been advanced to the sugar purchasers and growers the whole of the interest earned on that money comes to the .Commonwealth, because it is the Commonwealth’s money which ha3 been used to finance the sugar transactions.
– Is the Commonwealth Bank paying anything to the Commonwealth upon the balance of the Commonwealth’s moneys in its custody!
– Yes, on the deposit account, but not in respect of the current account. My own views are that we must not maintain large balances at the Commonwealth Bank, which we cannot employ ourselves and upon which we are securing no return. If through the exigencies of finance it is necessary to have, balances with the Bank some arrangement must be made so that the Commonwealth may get a return for that money.
– Otherwise the Commonwealth Bank is profiting at the expense of the Commonwealth?
– I entirely agree with the honorable member. But there is the position: these moneys have been raised, and they are being employed as far as possible. There is another amount with which I do not propose to deal at the present stage, but which, as I shall explain at another time, ie being very profitably employed. On the other hand there is a portion of our money which is not giving us the fullest return that I would desire. However, the position in this respect has been materially improved. There is nothing very serious at the moment with regard to it.
– But there has been?
– There has been a considerable amount of money that I would have preferred not to be in that position. I think I have now dealt broadly with the two figures which appear in the Bill, the amount of estimated loan expenditure embodied in the schedule, and the amount which we are asking authority to borrow.
.- 1 am loath to intervene at this juncture, but I deem it my duty to state that on this side of the House we are not going to agree to the raising of any -further moneys for the purpose of War Service Homes without a full and frank discus.sion in regard to the wasteful expenditure in connexion therewith. I move -
That all the words after “ That “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “ in the opinion of this House the Government is deserving of severe censure for its maladministration in connexion with War Service Homes, which has resulted in wasteful expenditure of public money and the imposition of excessive charges to returned soldiers.”
I am compelled to take this action in order that I may place on record certain happenings in connexion with the War Service Homes administration. The measure to provide for War Service Homes was, I think, introduced in another place in December, 1918, by Senator E. D. Millen. It was then anticipated that the Government would be able to make provision for 8,000 homes per annum’; and, in view of the many applications that were anticipated, the probable -expenditure was placed at about £50,000,000. One would have expected that experienced men would have been appointed to deal with the administration of a new Department charged with the expenditure of this- huge sum1 of money, but unfortunately, that was not done. The Government permitted the appointment of a Commissioner who had the right to engage his own staff for the purpose of carrying out the work. At that time there were in the various Departments very many officials of large experience in administration, but, strange to relate, not a single man from an existing Department was called upon to take part in the administration of the new Department. The Government created a. new Department, lock, stock, and barrel, and at one time that Department was employing about 600 persons, of whom 98 per cent, were returned soldiers. I have nothing at all to say against the employment of returned soldiers. On the contrary, I hold that, if thoroughly qualified returned soldiers are available, they should have preference, but it has been revealed to us and the country at large that the work of the Department has been a bungle from its inception, up to the present moment. Everything hae been most unsatisfactory. The expenditure up to 30th June, 1922, was £14,864,766. We have built 6,278 homes and purchased 11,117 homes already built, but the special work which the Department was expected to carry out, namely, the erection of .War Service Homes, has not been. done. In the first year a small amount was set aside for administrative purposes, but in the .following year the vote was about £4,000,000, which sum’ waa exceeded by £838,000. In the following year, 1920-21, it soon became evident that if -the new Department was ‘<> meet the demands made upon it, the expenditure would -be on a very heavy scale, so an application was made for £10,000,000. The Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) agreed to £7,000,000, but this amount was subsequently cut down by the Treasurer to £6,000,000, and work proceeded on this basis. Within two months the Commissioner succeeded in spending £1,525,285, which was at th i rate of £9,000,000 per annum, notwithstanding that the vote was for £6,000,000 only. At that juncture the Government should have directed the Commissioner’s attention tol the fact that he was largely exceeding his vote, but nevertheless the Commissioner went ahead, and two months later accounts presented to the Treasury, amounted’ to £4j020,000. At this stage the Commissioner, was notified that, he was spending money at the rate of £12,000,000 pex annum, and must reconsider his position.
The Commissioner’s reply, -which, according to the Public Accounts Committee, was indorsed by the then Acting Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers), was to the effect that unless additional money was made available he could not carry out the necessary work; and, as we all know, the operations of the Department practically came to a stand-still at the end of that year, when everything was in a state of confusion. Soldiers were unable to get their homes, many of which had been contracted for and some already built; and vendors were unable to get their money for properties which had been sold to the Government. In some cases soldiers were in occupation, so vendors could not turn them out. Altogether therewas the spectacle of the Commonwealth Government unable to meet its obligations. Just prior 4o* this development the Commissioner had branched out in every direction with a view to securing an adequate supply of requirements for his Department. As his negotiations with the timber merchants had been unsatisfactory, he made inquiries as to the possibility of getting supplies from other sources, and accordingly purchased timber areas in Queensland and in Victoria. These transactions were subsequently investigated by the Public Accounts Committee, which found that very little objection could be taken to them provided the Government intended to go on with its policy of erecting War Service Homes - it waa expected that the number required would be about 100,000 - but there was absolutely no justification for the purchase of those timber areas if the whole scheme had to be suspended. May I say here, that although the Public Accounts Committee took no exception tq the purchase, three members of that body objected to the areas being afterwards handed over to private enterprise. It should be noted also that architects in Victoria offered assistance to the Commission in connexion with the building scheme. That was refused. Then persons connected with the returned soldiers offered to give their services. They were refused. The Commissioner created an architectural branch of his own, which drew up about 500 designs. I invite honorable members to consider the 500 varying plans drawn for soldiers’ homes ! Most of. these were unsuited to climatic conditions. Very many of them, had they been adopted, would have made the homes too expensive for their soldier purchasers. Yet this branch was created ; and the cost of administration was still further enhanced.
Next, a Director of Lands was appointed for purchase, lay-outs, surveys, and so forth; and a Commonwealth surveyor was called upon to assist this official in each State. The ‘Commission went on purchasing land as if these people were going to build p.00,000 houses in a given time. They purchased so much that the Surveyor-General had to complain that they were acquiring land too rapidly, thus causing prices to be inflated. So rapidly did they .purchase, in fact, that up to the 30th June,. 1922, they had purchased 2,540 acres at a cost of £549,788. Very little of that land has been utilized ; much of it never will be used. The Commonwealth will have to dispose of it. Some of it is in unsuitable localities; some of it is too far away to provide soldiers with facilities for travelling to and from their work. Yet more than half-a-million sterling has been expended in connexion with land so much of which, as I .have just shown, has not been of the right kind or in the right place.
– Taking the purchases on the whole, and contrasting the prices with present-day values, would not the honorable member like to have the profits which could be made out of the sale of the land ?
– I will deal with some of those speculations later. The result of the curtailment to which I was alluding was that the whole business was held up. I remember that a deputation waited upon the then Acting Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers), in Sydney, about the end of that year. The unsatisfactory .position was pointed out to him, and he promised to do everything possible to rectify it. After a good deal of trouble, about £1,000,000 was made available; that was in February of the following year. Of that £1,000,000, the sum of £800,000 was made np of repayments by returned men upon their properties, and £200,000 waa available from purchase money of the Queensland properties paid for in Peace Bonds. The War Service Homes Commission still complained that it was not getting sufficient money for its purposes. Towards the end of the year, when activities were’ practically at a dead- end, the Government had to give the Commission about £475,000.
– Does the honorable member mean that in that year the Government provided practically a million and a half sterling over and above the provision made’ by Parliament ?
– Yes. Those are the facts, briefly put.
I now desire to deal with the matter of administration. I have already said that it is apparent that the staff appointed was incompetent, and that, in consequence, very much money was wasted. In addition, there were considerably added charges heaped upon the returned soldiers by the Department. The Commissioner, when he saw the difficulty in regard to supplies, not only provided the two forest areas to which I have alluded, but entered into contracts with different people to supply him with certain necessary materials. In almost .every instance money was advanced to those people from the Commission itself, and’ in most cases it charged no interest on the money so advanced. The Commission enabled men who appeared to have very little financial standing to get contracts, and the spectacle is now witnessed of the Commission compensating these very individuals, to whom it lent money to purchase plant, in consequence of breaches of contract. It is a lamentable state of affairs. I invite attention, first, to a contract let to Green Brothers for joinery. Messrs. Green Brothers were men of very little standing in the community; but, by some means or other, they were able to get from the Commission this contract of which I am speaking. I shall put on record exactly what occurred, quoting from the Fifth Progress Report of the Accounts Committee dealing with “War Service Homes in Victoria: -
In August, 1919, after conferences between the Commissioner and the Melbourne Timber Merchants Association regarding the supply of joinery and mouldings for the requirements of the scheme, it waa decided to invite public tenders, and members of the association were consulted in the’ preparation of conditions. Tenders were called for joinery in both inkported and Australian, timbers, but, when received, the prices were found to be little below the ordinary market prices of the association, and showed a somewhat suggestive similarity in price. It was consequently decided not to accept any of these tenders. Individual members of the association were then approached, but without success. Firms not belonging to the association were interviewed, but they would not undertake a contract. Eventually, negotiations were opened with Messrs. E. A. and D. Green, of Footscray. This firm was a partnership between two brothers - Messrs. Edward Arthur Green and David William Green - in a comparatively small suburban hardware and timber business. Mr. E. A. Green managed the business affairs, and Mr. D. W. Green looked after the mill and timber sections. As the result of several interviews between Mr. E. A. Green and officers of the Commission, the following letter was sent to Mr. Green by the Deputy Commissioner for Victoria, under date 14th November, 1919: -
Your offer of 14th November for the supply of joinery, mouldings, &c., for 2,000 houses or more yearly at 15 -per cent, discount off November price-list, with variation of design, as per details of Commission, and the supply of 1,000,000 feet of hardwood at 15s. 0d. per 100 feet super, basis, or at whatever rate is fixed at the next meeting of the association that fixes the basis, nas been accepted subject to execution of a contract embodying the terms agreed upon, which will be prepared at once for signature, and when ready you will be notified.
The firm’s plant was quite incapable of turning out the work in the quantities required by the Commission. - It was estimated that the cost of the additional plant and machinery necessary to cope with the work would be £6,000. The firm had a bank overdraft of £4,000, and it was suggested by them, in a letter dated 18th December, 1919, that the total advance be £10,000 - £6,000 for new plant and £4,000 to pay off the overdraft - the Commission to have security over the property. A valuation of the land, buildings, and plant, based on cost prices at the time of erection and installation of the plant was £5,894; but based on current values it amounted to £7,666. During the discussions Green had pointed out that difficulties might be placed in the way of his obtaining the necessary supplies to fulfil the contract. He was informed that the Commission’s policy provided for the bulk purchase of timber and other materials, and that, in the event of any difficulty arising, the Commission would purchase the timber required for the joinery, and sell it to him.
After discussion, a draft agreement was prepared by the Legal Officer, in consultation with the Controller of Supplies and the Chief Accountant, which provided for a two years’ contract for the supply of joinery and mouldings for 200 houses per month at prices 15 per cent, below the November, 1919, list of the Timber Merchants’ Association; an advance of £10.000 to pay off the overdraft and install additional plant; an option of purchase by the Commission of the whole property; repayment of total advance within two years; and the contractor to be responsible for the supply of all timber and materials necessary for the purposes of the contract.
The specification on which the contract was based was similar to that on which public tenders had been called.
The highest valuation of the firm’s land, buildings, and plant in the boom time was £7,666, and yet an advance of £10,000 was made to them to enable them to carry out a contract for War Service Homes. No private person would agree to such an arrangement, and nobody would expect it. The report continues -
Before the agreement in this form was signed, however, Mr. E. A. Green, without the authority or knowledge of the Commission, and purporting, in some instances, to be acting as an agent of the Commissioner, contracted for the purchase of certain shipments of redwood in Sydney in December, 1919, and of Oregon in Melbourne in February, 1920.
Purchase of Redwood. - The contracts for redwood comprised 750,000 super. feet ex Bendixsen, at £21 5s. per 1,000 super. feet c.i.f., and 175,000 super. feet, ex Eric, at £22 per 1,000 super. feet c.i.f., bought from the State Timber Yard; and 200,000 super. feet, ex Olympic, at £22 per 1,000 super. feet c.i.f., from Messrs. Rosenfeld and Company.
With the intimation received by the Commission that Green had purchased redwood in Sydney came a request from him for a cheque to pay for that portion of the timber which was then being forwarded to Melbourne.
Just fancy a Department being run in that way! A man not in the employ of the Commission has the audacity to buy timber in large quantities in this manner on behalf of the Commission. The report goes on -
Green was then definitely informed at a conference with the Controller of Supplies, the Chief Accountant, and Legal Officer, that under no circumstances would contracts for timber entered into by him be indorsed by the Commission, nor would the Commission consider any arrangement for the purchase of timber as guarantor for him. The vendors, however, intimated that, had not Green represented himself as the agent of the Commission they would not have sold him these shipments. The contracts were then withdrawn as between Green and the sellers, and new contracts entered into between the sellers and the Commission. TheBendixsen and Olympic shipments were forwarded to Melbourne to the Commission, paid for by the Commission, and portion of the timber used for War Service Home requirements. It was thought better to sell the Eric shipment in Sydney, and a profit of about £1,300 was realized.
In connexion with these transactions in Sydney, Green is stated to have produced, as his authority to make purchases on behalf of the Commission, the letter from the Deputy Commisioner for Victoria, dated. 14th November, 1919, above quoted, as well as another letter signed by the same official, dated 15th November, 1919, as follows : -
Mr. A. Green, Footscray, is hereby authorized to purchase up to 750,000 6-ft. split palings on behalf ofthe above Commission, and any contracts he enters into will be honoured by me.
John Tait, Deputy Commissioner.
To this letter, it has been alleged, the words “ and 2½ million feet of hardwood “ had been added. The Committee inquired into this addition to the authorization of Mr. Green, but the Legal Officer to the Commission could throw no light on it. Other responsible officers of the Commission, including Captain Tait, appear to have no knowledge of the circumstances under which such alteration was made, or whether made by the Commission. A copy of the letter on the official file is with- . out the additional words.
Mr. J.Rosenfeld, managing director of Rosenfeld and Company, Sydney, informed an officer of the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor’s Office that Green had produced to him an urgent telegram purporting to authorize him (Green) to make certain purchases on behalf of the Commissioner to the extent of £60,000. No trace could be found of such a telegram having been sent by any officer of the Commission, nor was there any record of it having passed through the telegraph office.
This irresponsible man had been purchasing the timber, although he had no authority to do so, and although it was alleged that he, or somebody else, had added certain words to a telegram, the fact remains that the Commission took over what timber he purchased, and it is very doubtful whether some arrangement did not exist between. Green and the Commissioner. Was that a business way of doing things? Should an individual of this description, with no standing in the community, have the right to purchase thousands of pounds’ worth of hardwood in such circumstances?
– It was in keeping with many other transactions of the War Service Homes Commission.
– Yes. On page 9 of the report we read the following: -
Basis of Contract Altered. - According to Mr. Bradshaw’s evidence a sharp rise in the price of redwood shortly after the purchases in Sydney, enhanced the value of the Commission’s timber to the extent of £22,000 within two months, Green made a definite claim for one-half of the difference in the price paid for the timber in December and the price ruling in February. His claim was not granted, and he refused to sign the joinery contract. As a compromise, the Commission decided to supply Green with the timber at cost price, plus handling charges, and to allow for the joinery a price 17½ percent. below the price list for April, 1920. A contract was eventually signed on 30th April, 1920, and provided for the supply of joinery and mouldings for 200 dwelling-houses per month, or 2,500 dwellinghouses per year, for a period of five years from 1st January, 1920, at the above prices. Provision was made for the recognition of any statutory increases in wages, and for the annual adjustment of prices according to the rise or fall in the cost of materials. It was also agreed that the Commissioner would supply yearly to the contractor 1,500,000 super, feet of oregon at 6Jd. per foot super., and 1,500,000 super, feet of redwood at 9d. per foot super., to be used exclusively in the manufacture of the joinery and mouldings. The contract further provided that the Commissioner would advance the sum of £4,000 to pay off the existing mortgage, and would purchase, up to the extent of £6,000, such machinery and plant as was required, and let the contractors have same under hire-purchase agreement. Under this clause amounts totalling £9,974 were advanced, to be repaid within .two years from the date of advance.
Brokerage. - .When the price of redwood rose Green asserted his ownership of the timber and claimed the profit, but the Crown Solicitor was of opinion that the ownership of the timber lay with the Commission. On 6th May, 1920, however, shortly after the contract was signed, the Controller of Supplies advised the Commissioner that a settlement bad been effected whereby Messrs. Green accepted £2,000 in full settlement of brokerage, in place of 2£ per cent., representing £2,790 19s. 3d. Although no approval by the Commissioner appears on the official papers, the account form on which this sum was paid bears the signature of the Commissioner as “ Person incurring the expense.” Though it is usually recognised that brokerage on a c.i.f. transaction is calculated on the c.i.f. price, the amount of £2,790 19s. 3d. referred to represents 2£ per cent, on the cost of the timber delivered in the depot.
In the first place Green had no authority to purchase. The Commissioner would not accept the contract, and when the price of timber rose this man made a claim for £2,7Q0 odd. The Crown Solicitor stated that Green had no claim; and yet he was given £2,000. The report further states : -
Carrying out of the Contract. - In September, 1920, the firm of Messrs. E. A. and D. Green was registered as E. A. and D. Green Proprietary Limited, and Mr. A. C. Secomb, solicitor, of Melbourne, who had been the firm’s legal adviser throughout the negotiations, became managing director. Mr. E. A. Green then left on an extended trip to Europe, and has not yet returned.
That is two years ago. Bie never gave evidence before the Public Accounts Committee. His attendance could not be secured.
Messrs. E. A. and D. W. Green’s interests were assigned to the proprietary company, without in any way interfering with their personal liability to carry out the contract. The following month Mr. W. R. Bailey, then Chief Accountant 6f the War .Service Homes Commission, who, with the Controller of Supplies, had been closely associated with the settling of the details of the joinery agreement, resigned from the service of the Commission and became secretary to E. A. and D. Green Proprietary Limited. He left this company’s employ about March, 1921, and was immediately reinstated by the War Service Homes Commissioner in his former position.. Mr. Bailey gave evidence before the Public Accounts Committee respecting the accountancy and financial work of the Commission on 10th March, 1921. He certainly gave the Committee to understand that he was speaking as chief accountant of the Commission and had held the position continuously since its inception. As a matter of fact, he was at that date still in the employ of Green’s; but, in order to enable him to appear before the Committee as an officer of the Commission, had had his re-appointment antedated by the Commissioner to the 7th March, and granted a week’s leave without pay.
There is. an instance of a man who had been connected with the Commission transferring to the employ of Green and Company, when they obtained the contract from the Commission and were in a fine way to make money, and afterwards returning to his former position in the Commission, and giving evidence before the Public Accounts Committee as if he had been employed by the Commission continuously. The report continues -
Many complaints were also mode direct to the Committee concerning the poor quality ‘of the joinery supplied in the early stages under this contract. The Commissioner had an officer stationed at the works; and, although he repeatedly reported irregularities, no effective action appears to have been taken at any time to insure satisfaction to the Commission. On tho other hand, the contractors contended that, by its delay in supplying the necessary machinery and plant, the Commission itself was responsible for many of the troubles which arose, and that, as the curtailment of building operations had resulted in the Commission requiring much smaller quantities of joinery than had been anticipated when the contract was drawn up, they had been involved in heavy financial loss. On the 29th June, 1921, the contractors were served by the Acting Commissioner with notice of the termination of the contract as on the 31st December, 1921. It is understood that the contractors have lodged a claim for a considerable sum for compensation for non-observance of the contract, but the matter is still the subject of negotiations between the parties concerned.
Legal proceedings have been threatened in regard to this transaction. A claim is being made against the Government for compensation for breach of a contract of the flimsy nature of that which I have just read out. .It is about time the country knew of what has been happening.
The Commission entered into another contract for the supply of lime; and in this instance also the contractors required money to provide additional plant; evidently everybody who contracted with the Commission required money. The Commission advanced £3,500 without interest to enable the contractors to. supply their requirements. That advance was approved by the Treasurer and made available to the contractors, 5 per cent, of the amounts due for materials to be withheld until such time as the Commission was recouped the amount of the advance. The Public Accounts Committee’s report says, in regard to this transaction -
Owing to the subsequent curtailment of the Commission’s building activities, the terms of the contract were not adhered to, only 30,000 bags of lime were taken by the Commission, and the firm was left with kilns which were far too large for normal trade. Moreover, when it entered into the contract, the firm had severed all its former trade connexions. After negotiations, a new contract was signed on the 25th July, 1921, whereby, in consideration of the firm having agreed to the cancellation of the original agreement, the sum of £5,000 was paid as compensation.
The Commission lent that firm money for the acquisition of a plant with which to carry out its contract to supply material. The Commission did not take delivery of the full supplies contracted for, and broke the contract; and, in order to avoid any legal consequences, the contractors were paid compensation - from the public funds, of course.
Another contract was made by the Commission for the supply of plaster of paris, and the commission advanced to the contractors £12,000 for the purpose of discharging an existing mortgage. There we see another evidence of the principle of advancing money to people with whom the Commission was making a contract. The Committee’s report states -
Being unable to obtain regular and sufficient supplies of plaster of paris at satisfactory prices, negotiations were entered into with Messrs. Limb, Scurry, and Limb, of the Victors Electric Plaster Mills Proprietary Limited, of North Melbourne, and on the 11th September, 1920, an agreement was signed whereby the firm undertook to supply the Commission with 2,500 tons of plaster of paris per annum for five and a half years at £7 10s., less 10 per cent, per ton - such price to be subject to increases due to higher costs of production. The Commissioners agreed to advance the sum of £12,000 to enable the contractors to discharge an existing mortgage on their property, acquire certain lands, and erect new buildings, and purchase and install additional plant and machinery.
Before the contract was actually signed the proposition was investigated on behalf of the Minister, by Mr. Barton, who recommended the advance of £12,000, subject to payment by the firm of bank interest on the amount outstanding, and to arrangements for regular repayments out of proceeds from supplies. Subsequently, after going further into the matter, Mr. Barton found that, on the price at which the firm had undertaken to supply the material, the proposal to charge them with interest on the advance would be unreasonable, and he recommended that the advance be made free of interest.
By the time the firm was in a position to supply the requirements of the Commission, building operations had been curtailed to such an extent that only a small quantity of plaster of paris _ was taken. Negotiations were then entered into with a view to re-arranging the contract.
Evidently,, there will be a further claim by-and-by for compensation in connexion with this contract.
– The honorable member may take it as the general policy to compensate when contracts have to be terminated.
– Yes ; but it is a weak policy to enter into contracts with people who are not of substantial standing, to advance them money to enable them to carry out the contracts, and then to compensate them for noncompletion of the contracts.
In regard to timber, the Commission purchased from Nott, timber areas at a cost of £54,245, and has a contract with Mr. Driver - a very competent man, against whom I have nothing to’ say - to take from, him 500,000 super, feet of timber per month. The arrangement is that the Commission shall deduct from the amount paid for the timber ls. 6d. per 100 super, feet in order to recover the amount advanced to him for the erection of new mills. I would have no criticism to offer against that arrangement if the Commission were proceeding with the construction of houses, and would require the timber; but, according to the latest reports, the Commission has about 3,000,000 super, feet of timber stowed away, there is no market for it, and the Commonwealth cannot use it, and further supplies of timber, are still being received, for which Mr. Driver must be paid in accordance with the agreement. For him the contract is a big thing, and he is entitled to stand up for his rights; but how much will it cost the Commonwealth to get cut of the contract? In connexion with all these transactions there is compensation right and left. Every contract that has been entered into has been broken, and the Commonwealth has to pay compensation to the individuals concerned. In Queensland the Commission purchased timber areas from Lahey’s for “a sum of £243,600, and paid to Brett £220,000. The mills, which are included in these purchases, have been closed for a considerable time. The money has been expended, operations have ceased, and the Commonwealth does not want the timber. This state of affairs means a very heavy loss to the Commonwealth, and it is due to the maladministration by the Government. There is another contract with the Queensland Pine Company for the supply of -500,000 super, feet of pine per month. The Commission desired to cancel that contract. The contractors in this case decided to hold the Commission to its agreement, and said that they would continue to supply 500,000 super, feet monthly. The Commission was told that it would have to take the timber whether it required it on not. The Commission now has to take delivery of timber, although it has no use for it, and because its stocks of timber and other materials are accumulating, it has appointed a Disposals Board of which Mr. Brett, a person from whom a timber property in Queensland was purchased, -is a member. It would be interesting to know what price is being received for the timber.; but I venture to say that a profit is not being made. Is this the way in which the business of the country should be carried on ? When we ventilate such scandals as this we. are told that we are obstructing public business; but we would be neglecting ‘ our duty if we did not give publicity to such glaring irregularities. Disposals Boards are operating in every State, and an endeavour is being made to make the best of a very bad job. After huge supplies of timber were purchased the Commission suddenly decided to cease erecting houses because of the muddle into which it had got. Any one with any foresight could have seen that a chaotic position had been reached, and the earliest possible steps should have been taken to prevent disasterMany of the men who were selected to fill important positions were quite incompetent, and because applications for homes were coming in in thousands - they had 20,000 applications at one time, and the number was increasing daily - work was proceeded with irrespective of the cost. The position became so confused that money was not available to continue the programme, and various excuses, such as the difficulty of clearing titles, &c, were given for its failure to carry out its policy. Oh the most trivial pretext work was held up, and eventually the Commission had not sufficient money to meet its commitments. It has been said that little objection can be taken to land purchases, because the Commission will be able to recoup itself by selling the land. We had no right to purchase large areas if there was no immediate possibility of the land being utilized. In the. Waratah district, near to Newcastle, land was acquired in a very unhealthy locality, and in a spot where no private person would think of buying owing to the lack of drainage. This particular area has been’ vacant for years, although the surrounding land has been built on, but it was sold by the representatives of Dangar’s estate to a man named Roe for £800, who, later, sold it to the Commission for £8,000. The Commission has erected soldiers’ homes on this block, although it is impossible to drain it.
– There was about 1 foot of water on the land when building was commenced.
– Frequently it is under water, and when the Commission found that it Was practically impossible to drain it, ashes were deposited to enable householders to get to and from their dwellings. . An effort is now being made to drain it; but I do not know with what success. The fact remains that the officers of the Commission were so incompetent lt,hat when purchasing land they approached land “ jobbers,” instead of interviewing municipal officers who would have been in a position to give them reliable information. The Town Clerk of Newcastle in giving sworn evidence, said that the area was quite unsuitable for the erection of dwellings; that it would be impossible to drain it, and, although it had been vacant for years, no one was prepared to build with a view to residing on it. Notwithstanding this, the returned men, for whom we were going to do so much, have to live in this quagmire, and endeavour to rear healthy families there: There is also another area -which has been acquired at King’s-road, Adamstown, near Newcastle which has always been regarded as one of the coldest and wettest spots’ in the district. I used to cross it daily when going to and from work years ago, and I know that on a winter’s morning fogs and frosts prevailed. It is one of the coldest spots in the locality; but possibly that area may be drained by making connexion with a channel which has been cut during recent years. This land was purchased from Lang, Wood, and Company, a firm of auctioneers in the Newcastle district, who purchased the whole of the surface rights from the Waratah Coal Company at a very cheap rate. Lang, Wood, and Company did not, however, purchase the mineral rights, but the Commission purchased the estate as one tha]) was unencumbered, believing that it had the right to everything under it. ‘It was eventually ascertained that it was encumbered, as the Caledonian Coal’ Company had the right to extract coal from under the land. No inquiries in this direction were made by the Commission. Houses have been built, and the Caledonian Coal Company lias now made a claim for £10,000. We were told that the property was to be acquired under the Lands Acquisition Act, but the latest information I have received was in answer to a question, and was to the effect that the Government had withdrawn the right to the mineral, and had agreed to pay the legal expenses incurred. If the Caledonian Coal Company should feel disposed, to work the property, the houses must drop. That cannot be prevented. There is a covering of 50 feet; but that is of little use, because if the Company commences working the coal underneath the area, the houses must go down. I say that deliberately, as one who has had considerable experience in mining. Moreover, it is known that the Railways Commissioners of New South Wales, have, for some years, contemplated bringing their railway sidings to the spot where these houses are built, and to-d.ay men are employed making preparations for the erection of engine-sheds behind the houses. When this work is completed, and the sheds are in use, it will be impossible to keep dwellings clean in consequence of the smoke. They will always require renovating, and, .notwithstanding all the disadvantages surrounding the proposal, no inquiries from a reliable source were made. A very high price was paid for the land.
– How many houses are built there ?
– Speaking from memory, about forty. The same may be said with regard to Piatt’s estate in the Newcastle district, which the Minister says will sell for more than the Depart-‘ ment paid for it. The land is undoubtedly good; the only objection to the estate is that some three or four acres are unsuitable for building purposes, the incline being so steep that it would .be impossible to. put in the requisite foundations. It is admitted by those connected with the Department that a considerable portion of the land cannot be built upon, and an effort was made to exchange it for some land held by the authorities of the abattoirs. It is 1 mile away from the nearest tramway line, and lj miles from the nearest railway station. Not a house has yet been built upon the estate, and, having regard to its remoteness, I’ da not think any returned soldier will build upon it, so that it will have to be sold by the Department. It is altogether too remote to be of any service to returned men, many of whom are suffering from disabilities due to their participation in warlike operations.
I come now to the question of build- .ings. The results! obtained under both the contract and the day-labour system, in connexion with the War Service Homes Department, are. equally bad. I shall, probably, be told by the Minister that most of the homes erected’ under contract are satisfactory. To that I would reply by drawing the attention of the House to what took place at Goulburn, New South Wales, where a number of War Service Homes were built by contract. The son of the contractor was appointed architect over the work, and bricks which I- could crush with my hands were actually put into the houses. The homes when completed were not fit for human habitation.
– What was done with the contractor?
– As usual, nothing. Money had to be spent by the Department in altering and repairing the homes at Goulburn, and. I do not know what their condition is to-day. At Cessnock, which 1st in my electorate, a number of wooden homes were erected. Sworn evidence was given before the Public Accounts Committee that the contractor arranged that only 50 per cent, of the timber should be first class. Inferior timber was deliberately put into these buildings’. When the Public Accounts Committee inspected them, they were infested with borers. The dust of the borers was to be found in practically even home. The womenfolk complained bitterly, and the men refused to pay rent for these homes, on the ground that they were not up to the standard. They were painted with some kind of preparation that one could rub oS with one’s hands. We rubbed the paint off the verandah posts and of the front of the house with our hands.
– That was the work of socalled patriots.
– That is the class of work that has been put into War Service Homes in the Cessnock district. It is not a question of day-labour versus contract, but rather one as to the failure of the Department to see that the work is properly carried out. The result of this faulty administration is that we have heaped om the owners of War Service Homes additional charges, and the day has arrived when this House should determine whether or not they can carry the additional load. At the inception of the scheme we set out to build homes for returned soldiers at a cost not exceeding £700. Subsequently, owing to the high cost of building materials, the- maximum was increased to £800. As a matter of fact, however, many returned men have been called upon to pay not £800, but £1,000, £1,100, and even more, for their homes. What working man, while he is rearing a family, can afford to pay £1,000 for a home? We hear much’ talk of the need. for a reduction of wages; but, should a reduction take place in the near future, many returned men who1 have availed themselves of the War Service Homes scheme will be placed at a very serious disadvantage. These men, whose interests should have been protected, have been called upon to pay exorbitant prices for their homes. They have not had a fair deal.
– The capital cost will have to be written down.
– That is so. The only returned men who have had. a fair deal are those who purchased alreadyerected houses. Many of the men have been able to purchase for £30.0 or. £400 already-erected houses which answer their purpose quite as well as would a War Service Home built by the Department at a cost of £1,000. Those who have purchased already-erected houses at these lower costs have a chance of paying them off within a reasonable time. Their weekly payments are practically only one-half the payments demanded in respect of homes built by the Department. Not only have the men themselves been saddled with exorbitant charges owing to the faulty administration of the Department, but the Commonwealth itself has been burdened with much additional and unnecessary expenditure. No one can say how much has been wasted in connexion with the Department. If, as originally proposed, we are to expend £50,000,000 on this scheme, I do not know what the actual waste of money will be. We are told that a change of policy has been made; but what that change is I cannot say. The Minister may, perhaps, set it out this afternoon.
– “It will probably be some new lack of policy
– Quite so. Last year, while this change of policy was being brought about, the War Service Homes Department spent about £1,500,000, and all that it has to show for it is a. few houses that have been built in each ‘State. Where is this sort of thing going to end?
– The honorable member said’ that we had only a few houses to show for our expenditure. That, like most of the honorable member’s statements, is a complete exaggeration. °
– The trouble, so far as the honorable gentleman is concerned, is that my statements do not suit him. He indorsed the request made by the Commissioner for additional money when £4j000,000 had been expended in as many months.
– That is just what I refused to do. As a matter of fact, the Commissioner asked for £5,500,000 additional.
– I am only going by the report presented to us, and if my statements hurt the Minister, I cannot help it.
I repeat’ that the men who have acquired War Service Homes have not been given a fair deal,, nor have the people, who have to find the money, been treated’ fairly. A good deal of the expenditure of the Department will come back to the Commonwealth in the shape of repayments, but in respect of a great deal of it there will never be any return. As the honorable member for Echuca (Mr. Hill) has said, we shall have to write down the capital costs. If we have to write them down to the extent of £2,000,000, the Commonwealth will have to carry that additional debt. I am not prepared to allow this Loan Bill, which provides, amongst other things, for the raising of £4,000,000 for War Service Homes purposes, to pass without having from the Minister a definite statement as to the policy to be adopted. At present, we know nothing; but, as the result of the action I am now taking in challenging the Government, we may obtain some information. I maintain that the Opposition would be recreant to its duty if it agreed to the raising of £4,000,000 for this purpose without knowing what was going to be done under the scheme. There is no justification for our borrowing £4,000,000 to be expended by a Government which is responsiblefor the unsatisfactory administration of which I complain. Almost month after month we are called upon to pay compensation in connexion with agreements into which the Government have entered. The majority of the soldiers have become so disgusted with the delay in dealing with their applications that I do not think they will bother any further with the Department. Somehave been waiting for years without results, and have become tired of the whole business. The present expenditure is wholly unwarranted. In order to out down the heavy administration costs, the Government should say to every returned man, “ If you want a home, let us see where your allotment is, and if it is satisfactory we will advance you the money with which to build a home for yourself.” The Commonwealth Bank or some other institution could administer such a scheme, and the necessary mortgage forms having been prepared and signed, advances could be made, and the men allowed to build for themselves or to buy already-erected houses. If that were done, not only would the cost of the. system be reduced by practically one-half, but greater satisfaction would be given to the men. Every man would be able to build within reasonable distance of his place of employment, and would look after the construction of his own house. Every man would see to it that the work was satisfactory, and he could make his progress payments just as many people do at the present time to building societies.
– And with much less responsibility to Parliament.
– That is so. As it is, the Government have overloaded the system. Millions of pounds have been wasted, and in the circumstances I am not going to permit this Bill to pass without entering my protest.
.- Since the Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) does not see fit to defend the position of the Department, I shall add to what has already been said by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) a few statements that will serve still further to emphasize how greatly its position needs to be defended. After the speech just made by the Leader of the Opposition, the House might well have expected an explanation from the Minister in charge of the activities of the War. Service Homes Department.
– The least we might have expected was reasonable notice of the intention of the Leader of the Opposition to take this course.
– I tried to find out what business was to be taken to-day, but could get no information.
– I did not know that this question was to be raised until the Leader of the Opposition started to speak, and, consequently, I am at a disadvantage in attempting to deal with it.. The Minister might very well have told us of the position as it is, or, rather, as he believes it to be, because I am afraid that neither he nor any other Minister knows the full position in regard to the War Service Homes administration. I have frequently complained of it. We have been told again and again that the Government have been very generous in their expenditure on the scheme. No one will deny that they have been. They have been extremely lavish in their expenditure, but there is abundant reason to find fault with the results achieved. Had the money been even moderately well expended, most of our returned men to-day would have been comfortably housed and happy. The actual position, however, is that quite a number of returned men have become tired of waiting for the Department to build homes for them, and have sought, through other avenues, to obtain what they require. Others, again, have become so disgusted for more reasons than one with the whole scheme that they have given up all hope of obtaining a War Service Home. After all the principal reason is the fact that whatever the estimate may be no man knows what, will be the ultimate cost of * his home. That has been a matter of complaint from the very initiation of the scheme. At this stage no one will deny that the appointment of the Commissioner was a mistake. He was not the man for the job. Why he was appointed from amongst all the returned men who must have been available will, no doubt, remain for ever a mystery to the community and to the returned soldiers. His appointment resulted, not only in disaster to the War Service Homes Department, and in shocking cruelty in many cases to returned soldiers, but it led to a false impression generally of the capacity of returned men. It was frequently said that the Commissioner was himself a returned man, and that he employed other returned men. As their operations resulted in ignoble failure the impression wa3 created that returned men were incapable of carrying on an administration on business lines. The whole failure was due to the fact that the right man was not appointed in the first instance to administer the Department, and there is not the slightest doubt that, in many instates, the men appointed by him should not have been given the control of any business whatever.
– Appoint a Royal Commission so that the whole matter may be investigated thoroughly.
– Here is another demand from the Government side for a Royal Commission. It is time this House dealt with these matters itself, otherwise the country will be full of Commissions and Committees inquiring into the failures of the Government. Every month we get a demand for another Royal Commission, and I repeat that it is high time the House dealt with these matters itself and got down to bedrock.
When it was found that the War Service Homes Commissioner, and those under him, had up to that time made more or less of a failure of the whole scheme, and when matters were beginning to assume something like working order, the Government suddenly smashed the whole machinery with one blow. After great expense had been incurred, and the Commissioner strangely appointed was as strangely dismissed, and after some officers who had proved to be failures had been weeded out, and there was beginning to be some control of the affairs of the Commission, almost without warning the Government destroyed the whole fabric, and landed the returned soldier in a worse position than ever. They also placed the community in a bad position, because every one who has looked into the matter must be satisfied that, under the re-adjusted scheme, the community stands to lose a lot of money. Not only will the Commonwealth lose money by the re-adjustment of the prices of homes, but it will also lose money on the enormous stocks in hand of supplies which are not now required.
When the timber areas were purchased there was a good deal of talk concerning the wisdom or otherwise of the purchase. Many men who should have known believed that the purchase was a good one. I had not been able to get to Queensland at the time, and I had hot personally looked into the matter, but since the inquiry into the purchase waa completed, I have been in Queensland, and I have not the slightest hesitation now in saying that the purchase was a mistake. Whether one could have seen that it was a mistake at the time ; it was made is quite another matter. I am not prepared to condemn it merely upon my knowledge of its effects long after the purchase was made, but I do say that the handling of the timber areas purchased has been disastrous. No person would now buy back those timber areas and mills from the Government at anything like the price paid for them. Had the business been properly handled, the purchase might have proved a good bargain; but, as matters stand, it represents a very grave loss. This is typical of the whole of the administration of the War Service Homes Commission. With the expenditure involved an organization might have been created by the appointment of suitable men, which_ would bave rendered satisfactory services to the Commonwealth and to the returned soldiers.
Owing to the suddenness with which the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has been sprung upon us, I have not before me all the particulars I should like to have in dealing with it. When I have referred to the broader aspects of the matter, I intend to read excerpts from the various reports submitted by the Public Accounts Committee as a result of their inquiries into the operations of the War Service Homes Commission in the various States.
The Commission tried both the daylabour and contract systems in carrying out its operations; and, what is most unusual, it failed in both. It is quite a common thing for one or the other system tq fail, but it is a very unusual thing in any administration for both systems to fail, because under proper management one is set off against the other, a healthy rivalry between them is created, and one or the other makes good. In this case both failed, and so signal has been the failure that some little time ago soldiers who had occupied their houses for months, and, in some cases, almost for years, did not know the capital value of their homes. I could quote one or two extreme cases where soldiers have been practically evicted. They have had to walk out of their homes because the capital value ultimately placed upon them has been too high for them to pay. There are cases also in which soldiers’ widows have had to walk out of their homes. They went into them believing that they would be capitalized at a sum which they could pay, and when the whole cost was added up, and an approximate estimate given of the ultimata cost which they would have to meet, these poor women have had to walk out of the homes which they paid for with the blood of their husbands. That is the position at which we have arrived in Australia to-day. Men who fought for this country, and who in some oases are incapacitated have had to leave their homes, and have no chance of securing homes, and the widows of some of those who have fallen have also had to walk out of their homes. No more bitter condemnation could be passed on any Administration than to say that it has allowed things to arrive at such a pass.
I wish now to quote a few excerpts from the findings of the Public Accounts Committee. Whatever may be said concerning members of that Committee in con- nexion with their inquiry into another matter, I do not think that any one has ever thrown the slightest suspicion on their honesty of purpose in inquiring into the War Service Homes administration. They went into that matter quite unbiased. The members of the Committee, whether directly interested in the returned men or not, took part in the investigation in order to see that Australia, as far as possible, fulfilled the abundant promises made to the men before they went to the Front. They were seised with the importance of the inquiry, not only in the interests of returned soldiers and their dependants, and in the interests of soldiers’ widows who were left without husbands to fight for them and maintain them, but also appreciating the necessity of upholding the good name of Australia, and seeing that the Commonwealth got full value for the moneys expended . There were seven reports from the Public Accounts Committee, one dealing with the operations in each of the States, and a final report covering the whole of the War Service Homes administration. I quote from the first report, dealing with operations in New South Wales, the following finding : -
In the earlier stages of the War Service Homes scheme in New South Wales, the purchase of land proceeded with undue haste and rashness.
The Leader of the Opposition has given specific examples of bad purchases of land in New South Wales. It is not necessary for me to deal with them in detail, but in passing I may say that the particular cases mentioned by the honorable gentleman do not cover the only purchases in that State -that might be questioned. Those he .has mentioned are cases in which I can bear out everything he said. The lands purchased in Newcastle have been known, to me for the last twentyfive years, and I agree with all that the honorable gentleman said concerning them. Another finding in connexion with operations in New South Wales was -
A common cause of complaint was the length of time taken to ascertain what is termed the capital cost.
That is one of the great complaints in every State. Men have gone into homes in the belief that they would know the capital cost in a very short time. They also went into them believing that they knew approximately what the capital cost would be. But in both cases they have bean “ let down.” Some of the findings recorded in the second report dealing, with operations in Tasmania are as follow: Referring to the cost of homes on an estimate given by the Department, the Committee said -
This amount has frequently been exceeded to the extent of £150, or even £200.
It is undoubtedly a fact that some houses have been charged to the occupants at considerably more than they are worth.
Objection has been taken to interest charged owing- to undue delay in construction.
The Public Accounts Committe also reported in connexion with Tasmania that the men could not afford the prices which they had to pay for the homes. A soldier going into a home in that State was- placed in the unfortunate position that he did not know what the capital cost of his home would be, and, further, he did not know when the matter would be finalized or whether he would be able to pay for his home when the capital cost was ultimately ascertained. In concluding their report on the operations of the War Service Homes Commission in. Tasmania, the Committee say -
It is impossible to make recommendations to meet all the difficulties which have been enumerated. More power should be- given to better officers.
That is also one of the findings of the Committee with respect to operations in all of the States. Where the Commission had secured the services of good men: - and there were some good men employed by the Commission - these men were not given a chance to make full use of their abilities and energies. There were some very good men in the employ of the Commission, who, if they had been given more scope, would have been able to do a great deal to relieve the troubles of the returned men, but those officers capable of handling the position well were, in a great many cases, not given an opportunity to do so. The third report presented by the Public Accounts Committee dealt with operations in Western Australia, and in one finding the Committee said -
It is unfortunate that men have been misled.
That is a serious conclusion, for a Committee to come to concerning the work of a Department of the Government. The men were led to believe that they were going into homes at prices which they could afford to pay. but, unfortunately, they found that that was not so. An other of. the findings.’ in connexion with Western Australian operations waa -
Incapacitated men were discouraged in connexion with making applications for homes.
These men, who have given everything they possessed to defend this country, were being deliberately discouraged from applying for homes. The Public Accounts Committee further reported -
More pains should have been taken to deal with each case on its merits. There was a tort of general lumping of things, and individual cases were not inquired into with the sympathy which one might expect in the circumstances.
The Committee further reported -
Soldiers are paying instalments on land purchased two years previously, and no homes have even been commenced.
Not only were men charged with costs for their homes, but they were charged interest which had accrued on land up to the time of the building of their homes, or at least it was intended that they should be subjected to that charge only that the Public Accounts Committee, after going into the matter, made a recommendation that that charge should not be made. Another grievance’ pf the returned soldiers in Western Australia, a new State in which men are constantly moving from one district to another, was that when such removal was forced upon them they were not at liberty to sell their homes as freely as they would like. Some of them were Government servants, and were obliged to transfer from one district to another, but they were actually made slaves to their homes, and were not allowed to sell even when they were ordered to move by superior powers.
Report No. 4 of the Public Accounts Committee deals with Queensland. The complaints there in relation to the cost of homes were identical with those in other States. Queensland soldiers found that the cost of the houses for which they had ultimately to pay was in many cases much more than the amounts which they had agreed to pay. Land purchases proceeded altogether too far ahead of requirements. The cost of allotments was too high. The amount of the estimate given fon homes was frequently exceeded by £150 or £200. Homes were charged for in some cases at much more than they were worth. The Public Accounts Committee found on the whole that the houses built in Queensland were pretty fair value for the amount charged. In fact, it would have been difficult for the soldiers to get their houses at a lower cost. Nevertheless, there were instances in which the charge made was more than the house was worth. But the chief trouble was not the specific value placed on the dwelling; it was the fact that when the men got into their homes, which they had agreed to buy at a certain price, they found that the estimates had been considerably exceeded. One would think that the administration would have done their best to meet the requirements of the men, but the Committee found that there was an attempt to compel soldiers to accept houses unsuitable for them, and that the conditions regarding the surrender of homes, when payments had fallen behind, ought to be considerably modified. The Commission had laid down hard and fast rules which no soldier would have had applied to him if he could possibly have avoided them.
The Committee’s fifth report applied to Victoria. The principal complaint was lack of knowledge as to price to be charged for homes even after soldiers had been in occupation for many months. The Committee’s finding was -
They can get no statement of what they will be called upon to pay.
Many of the men we found to be occupying their homes on a weekly tenancy. They had made arrangements to buy their homes, thinking they could get them at a. -price which they were prepared to pay, but they were not given that opportunity after they were in actual occupation. They were kept in the unsatisfactory position of being weekly tenants. This House provided that money should be advanced to soldiers for the purpose of building homes, but many men found, when their houses had been built, that the Commission was not able to ascertain the value of them; and, notwithstanding the fact that many were prepared to add something to the amount authorized to be advanced, they were kept in their houses week after week and month after month as weekly tenants. Then came the, sudden alteration of policy on the . part of the Ministry. To what extent the country is likely to lose by this no one knows, but it is quite certain that the loss will be heavy. The Public Accounts Committee very strongly criticised the policy of advancing large sums of money to private firms without provision for the payment of interest. The principle of this was wrong. The Committee found that the contract with Messrs. E. A. and D. Green revealed an amazing lack of business capacity. It also, evidenced wonderful credulity on the part of the War Service Homes Commission. The firm in question, so far as the Committee could ascertain, had practically no standing whatever before the Commission took it up, and yet the Government, through the Commission, advanced them thousands of pounds without security, and without charging any interest. There were three or four instances in which large sums of public money were advanced to firms without security or charge for interest. They were not firms of long standing or high repute. Some of them had hardly been heard of before. But had: they been firms of the highest stand- ing and repute it was a questionable policy on the part of the Commission to advance money in this way, and where the advance was made, apparently to men of straw, the Commission’s procedure was , beyond all ordinary business prudence.
The sixth report of the Public Accounts Committee dealt with South Australia, and it was quite a relief to be able to say that, in that State, everything was in proper order. The finding of the Committee was that the work carried out by the State Bank had been, generally speaking, very satisfactory. The State Bank of South Australia showed sympathy with the requirements of the men, and displayed a business capacity which did it immense credit. The only regret is that the same remark cannot be applied to the Commonwealth in its relation” to the soldiers for whom it was building homes.
– The whole trouble was lack of sympathy.
– That was the chief trouble. There was lack of sympathy, understanding, and appreciation of the conditions of the mm and what they had suffered and sacrificed for this country. I have tired myself, in this House, trying to get them some recognition and some fulfilment of the’ promises the country made to them before they went away. Men have come back maimed in body and wounded in spirit, some of them utterly incapable of resuming the life they led before the war, and yet they have been treated by a .Commission specially created for the purpose of giving them sympathetic consideration in a way in which most men would not like to treat a dog.
In their final report the Public Accounts Committtee indicate that, throughout the Commonwealth, there was a grave absence of effective co-ordination of work and co-operation between the various officers of the Commission. Every one seemed to work on hia own account. There were good men in the employ of the Commission, but, owing to the disorganization of the office and the lack of that business capacity which one would expect to find in a well-regulated concern, they had no opportunity of doing good work. The Committee reported that the dealings with E. A. and D. Green were quite incomprehensible. So they were. I do not know how the Minister can defend what was done. Strong exception was taken by the Committee to the clause which has to be signed by soldiers requiring them to purchase property “ at the capital cost to the Commission when ascertained.” The Committee also found -
Lack of effective and systematic accountancy control throughout the whole scheme of operations is an outstanding and deplorable feature.
It found that the Deputy Commissioners had, in some instances, been made scapegoats. From whatever angle the Wax Service Homes ‘Commission was viewed the position was unsatisfactory, yet the Government, who knew this to be the case, instead, of setting to work to give the officers an opportunity to do good work, and instead of making use of the experience gained for the purpose of coordinating the whole concern and placing it on a proper and efficient business basis, which would enable the officers to get some return or take steps to retrieve the failures of the past, came down, and at one fell swoop smashed the whole machine. The worst feature of all is the feeling of discontent and bitter disappointment created among our returned men. Money has been wasted, the good name of Australia has been discredited, and the men who have given everything for the country have been discouraged and filled with a bitter disappointment that will endure throughout their lives. ‘
.- W.e may well at this stage consider the whole question of our loan policy. The Treasurer (Mr. Bruce), in introducing his Budget, spoke of the school of thought which advocated getting Australia out of debt rather than getting it still further into debt; and I unhesitatingly count myself among those who believe that it is a right and possible ideal for even this generation Jo actually get Australia free of all debt. When one speaks of a free Australia, it should be of a “ free “ Australia in the fullest sense, that is to say, a country which is also free of debt. It would be my ambition that those who come after us should be able to say, in the words of Longfellow’s village blacksmith, “We look the whole world in the face, for we owe not any, man.” It is proposed this year to increase our debt to the extent of an additional £7,000,000, which, compared with previous years, is certainly ;a great improvement. Last year we increased the Commonwealth’s indebtedness by £14,000,000. Nevertheless, Australia, as a whole, the Commonwealth as well as the States, is steadily following a path carrying it further and further into the quagmire of debt. If I held views similar to those enunciated by the honorable member for Barrier (Mr. Considine), which I do not, I would not worry to obtain the consummation of my wishes beyond desiring every State Government and the Federal Government to continue the present policy of going further and further into debt whilst showing deficits every year, because it must eventually lead to absolute financial disaster, and bring with it such industrial and social trouble as would help my views, if they were those of the honorable member, to a greater extent than anything else I can think of.
I believe that I am permitted now to discuss other items in the Bill than that covered by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) in his amendment. Although I am not in accord with his amendment, I agree with him to the extent of saying that I shall not vote for one penny more of expenditure for War Service Homes until the Government have made plain to me what steps they have taken to prevent a further waste of public money, and to clear up those mistakes that have been already made; neither do I think the Minister in charge (Senator E. D. Millen) has yet evaded his responsibilities.
The first item in the schedule is £250,000 towards the construction of roads by the States. That, I believe, is a vote to assist unemployed, with preference to unemployed returned soldiers. Further down is an item of £171,000 for immigration. These two items do not go well together. Everybody knows that work on the roads means work with ploughs^ and horses, scooping, and similar heavy work, and for the life of me 1 cannot see why any man able to do that class of work could not also do farm work just as efficiently as any men who may come here from overseas. In the Brisbane Courier the other day it was reported that there were 745 unemployed returned soldiers on the metropolitan register of the Returned Soldiers League in Queensland. That condition of affairs does not encourage one to support a vote for immigration. In the Melbourne Argus- also we see such headlines as “ Rer lief Unemployment,” “Work for Returned Soldiers,” “Another Appeal to Employers.” We have a Diggers’ Distress Fund in Queensland, and I believe the State Government last year paid away a sum approaching £200,000 for destitute allowances and rations. In the face of these facts even the most enthusiastic advocate of a great immigration policy must admit that there is a screw loose somewhere.. Personally I absolutely repudiate any association, with such miserable cries as “ People or perish,” which we see in the press sometimes. I do not believe it, and even if I did I would not talk that way. One would think that there was no such thing as the White Ensign, or that we in Australia were such a miserable, cowardly lot of people that we would be unable to put up any sort of a fight to protect ourselves from aggression. So far from that being so, I believe that the white population of Australia, imbued with a thoroughly national and patriotic spirit, is by no means unable to defend itself. I believe that the Australian in his own country, and especially the Australian bushman with his grass-fed horse and rifle, is about the most formidable enemy that any nation” could run up against. And so I repudiate absolutely all such immigration cries as “People or perish,” and as for the other cries, “Spend £50,000,000 bravely,” “ Spend £100,000,000 and halve your debt,” “ Spend £1,000,000,000,” “A million farms for a million farmers,” well, I take them with a large grain of salt. Although I do not wish to look upon this problem in any narrow and. selfish light, I still maintain that our first duty is to eliminate entirely our own difficulties of unemployment.
Another item is £6.000,000 for soldier settlement. I am aware that this expenditure will be largely in the hands of the States, and while I do not wish to say anything to discourage returned soldiers who have taken up land, I must say that in my own State they have not been placed on land which I would have chosen for- them, either as to its quality or quantity.
Then there is a large vote for expenditure on account of Commonwealth ships. I am not prepared to vote any money whatsoever for this purpose until we have had placed before us,a balance-sheet as a guide to what we are doing. Personally, I am against the whole proposition, and would like to see the enterprise wiped out.
Another big vote is for the Federal Capital, £250,000. My views on that subject are well known, as it has been discussed so frequently in this House. I did think it an extravagant idea to build a Federal Capital at Canberra, but I believe now that it is a thoroughly reproductive work, and, in comparison with that incredibly foolish idea of tearing up all our railway lines, and spending perhaps £100,000,000 in unifying our railway gauges, is urgently necessary..
– That does not mean that you are converted to Canberra, does it ?
– Far from- it. My views are the same, but I would ten times rather see money spent even there than on this foolish scheme to unify the railway gauges.
Another matter which I would like the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) to explain is the proposed expenditure in regard to war votes. The schedule contains many small items to meet expenses incurred in connexion with the transfer of troops, &c. If those are to be paid for out of war loans, we should be informed why the sum of £800,000 was “paid into revenue last year.
I have no desire to embarrass the Treasurer in the discharge of his duties, for I believe he is carrying a heavier burden than any other person in Australia at the present time. I regard his appointment to the Treasury as one of the most satisfactory features of present-day politics, and I feel confident that if he is given a fair chance to handle the Commonwealth finances he will not only make good his own reputation, but will render a great and valuable service to the people of Australia. Although I was absent when previous motions of censure were debated, I should not have supported them if for no other reason than that I desire the Treasurer to be given a fair show in regard to the management of the finances of the Commonwealth. Where I shall differ with him in regard to such items as are contained in the schedule to this Loan Bill, I differ conscientiously, and shall vote accordingly, because I believe I am right.
.- In support of the amendment moved by my Leader (Mr. Charlton) I wish to say that at no time in its history was Parliament more anxious to do something for our returned soldiers than at the inception of the War Service Homes Commission. This important matter, and especially the finances, was left entirely in the hands of the. Government, so members themselves must have a good deal to answer for in connexion with. the squandering of money that has resulted. It is generally understood that about £15,500,000 has been spent, and I should think that we shall be exceedingly fortunate if about £7,750,000 of that amount is not entirely lost. A grave mistake was made from the very start. Too much power was placed in the hands of the Commissioner. If the Government had tried they could not have found a more incompetent person to intrust with the administration of this important Department. The gentleman appointed was totally unfitted for the position. He had no knowledge of building. That fact has been made clear to us as a result of the inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee. Likewise, we have learned that he was unfortunate in the selection of some of his deputies in the various States. When that gentleman was before the Public Accounts Committee we found that he knew nothing at all about War Service Homes, and had to appeal to a subordinate officer for information, even on questions as to the policy of the Commission and contracts made. .Had the Government been in earnest in the matter they would have selected some prominent officer from an existing Department, and intrusted him with the administration of War Service Homes work. I notice that honorable members are leaving the Chamber, and so I must ask for a quorum. I am not going to be humbugged in that way. [Quorum formed.”] I cannot understand why the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) did nothing to alter the existing state of affairs, because there has been blundering from the outset. Whether that blundering was due to Parliament giving officials wide powers, and affording them opportunities to administer funds out of loan moneys in order to carry on operations, I am unable to say. But I know that the Minister who was responsible did not take any steps to alter or put an end to what was going on. The facts must have been known to him, and the Minister must be held answerable. Every word spoken by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) respecting land purchases is true; I support and confirm all that he said. Similar complaints could be made regarding purchases in Tasmania and Queensland. In the latter State, the Government bought timber areas and mills. There is one firm, in Brisbane which had joinery works, as well as a large timber area on which good timber was being grown. The contract made with that firm was certainly advantageous to it; but I do not blame it for making the most of its opportunities, particularly as it was prepared to carry out the terms of its contract to the letter. Regarding other purchases in Queensland, however, I cannot use words sufficiently condemnatory. Things occurred that I would not have expected of a racecourse speiler. Regarding one area, I came to the conclusion from what I saw that there was no possibility of getting the timber away from it. It .would have to be hauled by bullock teams, but there was no grazing land near on which the bullocks could feed. Only an expensive traction engine could be expected to do the work. There was another area so situated that chains and a chute would be required to get the logs down the grades. One particular mill was very crude, and its plant was second-hand; there was a quantity of inferior timber lying about. As for the land purchased in New South Wales, members of the Public Accounts Committee made a personal test of a certain area in the vicinity of Newcastle. We dug a hole about 1 foot deep, and struck what might be described as a river. It would be impossible to erect houses on such a site. We received information from the town clerk of Waratah to the effect that when the matter of purchase came before his council it was thought that the land was wanted for the erection of a manufacturing plant. Had the council known that it was required for building houses, permission to do so would never have been given. In 5,000 yards there was a fall of only 5 feet, and a creek would have had to be deepened to provide proper drainage. That is characteristic of the land purchases. Sites were bought in Tasmania upon which no private person would care to erect a house. Some of the land was so steep and rocky that I doubt if there was enough soil on 7 or 8 acres to fill an ordinary flowerpot. A soldier is entitled to expect a certain amount of land around his house. Honorable members should read the reports of the Public Accounts Committee on the question of War. Ser.vice Homes, because they are of a very illuminating nature. I have never been connected with a Committee that has done more earnest and thorough work. . There is no exaggeration in the reports ; in fact, the tendency is in -the opposite direction. So far as I was concerned, they would have been couched in still stronger terms, but I had to bow to the will of the majority.
When it was decided to build soldiers’ houses by day-labour there was great uneasiness on the part of the capitalistic section. I wish to emphasize the fact that the homes could not have been properly erected under the contract system. No members of the Builders and Contractors Associations in any of the capital cities would undertake the erection of the cottages, because the work would not pay them. The specifications were of an ordinary nature, and were drawn up with the object of reducing costs as much as possible, and it was impossible to get contractors to comply with the specifications faithfully. People who, like myself, have been connected with the building trade for half-a-century. know perfectly well that under Government contracts the specifications must be carefully observed. In working under private contracts, however, the architects are not so particular. If it is realized that a builder has obtained a contract at a low price, the architect sometimes allows him to finish the work as nearly as possible to the specifications, but under Government contracts such a compromise is impossible. It has been said that day-labour in connexion with soldiers’ homes did not pay, hut I think that every member of the Public Accounts Committee formed the opinion that the houses erected by day-labour were the best. Many soldiers, after agreeing to the specifications, desired alterations or additions made, and that resulted in many cases in increased cost. Another factor that added to the Commission’s expenditure was maladministration. It frequently happened that workmen were sent to building sites and found no material ready. There was a lot cf confusion over the charges for material. In the case of one house in Tasmania 40,000 bricks had been charged for the foundations, and I personally noticed that only 700 bricks had been used. There seems to be a general idea that the trouble is largely attributable to the day-labour system, but that is quite an erroneous impression.
I am deeply sorry that all the blundering has caused so much real suffering tothe soldiers, their wives, and families. Thousands of .them are bitterly disappointed. They have received notice to quit their lodgings, and they have been waiting for months for the Government to provide them with homes, but nothing has been done. No Government in any part of the world could have held office in the circumstances in which the present Administration have remained on the Treasury bench, in view of their failure to deal satisfactorily with this great question. The waste of money that has been incurred should alone be more than sufficient to cause the Government to be turned out of office at the first opportunity. If the people of Australia had the least conception of the way in which the scheme has been mismanaged, they would not tolerate the Government remaining in power under any conditions. The necessity for homes for soldiers is generally admitted, and, even if the men could not keep up their payment, the public would not find fault with the Government for making some earnest attempt to. overcome the shortage of houses. Yet not one member of the Ministry has tried to remove the anomalies and existing evils. The press has denounced the administration of the Government in no uncertain terms. People outside have commented on the number of questions I have addressed to Ministers on this matter, and surely the Government ought to be alive to the situation. Now the Ministry are making a greater muddle than ever. They are going to erect cottages by private contract. I invite the’ Government to consult with people who have some knowledge of the building trade, and they will be told that the work could best be done by the Government themselves. A cottage erected departmentally would mean a fine home for the soldier, and a good asset for the Commonwealth. For every twenty shillings spent so far on War Service Homes I believe . another pound has been absolutely lost to the community. In my younger days a Government, guilty of such maladministration as the present Ministry are, would not have reigned for five minutes. I cannot understand why they are kept in office.
– Remember the Opposition there was in those days!
– It may be that honorable members are getting reconciled to the present position, and want to hold their seats, but that criticism is as applicable to honorable members opposite as it is to this side. Every member who has the welfare of the soldiers and of the community at heart should support the amendment tabled by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). To vote for a continuation of the present policy means a further waste of money and a nonfulfilment of the scheme contemplated by Parliament. There has been a tremendous amount of mismanagement, abuse, and crime on the part of the Government in connexion with these homes, and one of the most serious aspects is the real punishment that is being inflicted upon the soldiers, their wives, and families, who are suffering privations, and whose health is affected, owing to the fact that the Government are lost to all sense of responsibility. Could I find stronger terms in which to condemn the Governmnent? I am confident that there will be many changes in votes cast at the last election. The Government and their supporters will not have nearly as many (Soldiers behind them on the next occasion as they had on the last.
The Minister) must have been aware of the unfair charges for interest that were made in connexion with many homes. The soldier signed the application for a home, and, in due course, construction was started ; from the time the building material was placed on the ground, and the first deposit was paid, the soldier was charged 5 per cent, interest on capital. Sonne of the soldiers have had to pay interest on material that was lying on the ground for fourteen months. That was due to lack of efficient administration. Yet there were in the employ of the Commission many fine fellows. There was one man in Queensland who had all the essential qualifications for a good administrator. He had been a competent journeyman carpenter, and had studied architecture. He was well qualified for the work which he was doing, but because he pointed out some .mistakes in correspondence sent by the Minister to the Brisbane office, a plan to get rid of him was put in operation ; he knew too much about the business. The Committee heard those facts in evidence. This man, prior to going to the war, had administered a State Department, and the State authorities thought so- highly of him that when he left the Commonwealth service he was re-appointed to his position under the State. Throughout our inquiry we found that Deputy Commissioners ‘were shifted from one State to another because they would not do things which were contrary to their knowledge and judgment. I suppose that the Government will treat this motion in an off-handed way, and will think that they are being clever, when they pass on to future generations *he burden of interest and taxation which is accumulating through their maladministration. And, no doubt, before the coming elections, the old parrot cry that this Government looked well after the soldiers will be raised.
– Does not the honorable member think that the Government have done some good ?
– I am almost brokenhearted at the way in which matters in connexion with, the War Service Homes have been muddled. To me, this is almost a personal matter, because I have seen how the scheme has been carried out, and how, if it had been properly administered, thousands of .men, women, and children, would be living under very much better conditions. I have known in my own electorate of a returned soldier living with a wife and two children in one balcony room, in which they ate, slept, and lived. For that accommodation they were paying a weekly rental of 15s. Can there be any wander that I, having seen such things, should resent the maladministration that has taken place? The Government had at their disposal unlimited funds and capable officers, and . it was within their power to carry out a great policy .of house construction., that would have relieved existing disabilities. Other honorable members can .cite similar cases .in .their own electorates. Can honorable’ (members wonder (why we draw attention to these things in the House, and why the Prime Minister tries .to smother every opportunity of ventilating them. Discussion in the House is the only .method of ventilating the -abuses that are taking place. ‘The press, being behind the Government,, have not given sufficient publicity to the maladministration of the War Service Homes scheme, although it was a subject demanding more than ordinary publicity, because -the failure of the Government places a. disability upon thousands of women and children. Parliament was prepared, .to assist any Government to do this work thoroughly. A civilized community cannot tolerate the conditions created by the present shortage of houses. Soldiers who have seen in other countries instances of modern town planning, with boulevards and .playgrounds for the children, feel keenly the crowded conditions under which they .have to live .in Australia. From .the Government no redress is forthcoming. These conditions are allowed to continue day .after day, but I .hope the .time will soon come when the .people will insist upon some improvement. We . hear .day after day of discontent in the community, but who causes it? The discontent is not inspired by honorable members who sit in Opposition; it is bred by .the malad-ministration of the present Government, and if. this state of affairs continues it will increase. If the returned soldiers are of .the same stuff as - 1 am made of they will not stand this sort of thing much longer. If only half of. the soldiers were aware of the actual facts as to how money has been wasted to a degree unparalleled in. the political history of Australia they would take drastic steps to have a remedy applied immediately. If Ministerial members will not support this amendment, I hope they will, at least, have the courage to bring pressure to bear upon the Government, in order that an improved condition of affairs may be brought about. Had the Labour party been in power we would, have built houses at such a rate that the number available would, eventually, have exceeded the number: of applicants. An excess of houses would be .preferable to .herding together soldiers and their families under conditions which are a menace to both health and morals.’ I am trying to arouse members to a sense of their responsibility. If I were to throw a bomb in this Chamber or punch some honorable members, in order to .awaken them to their duty, I would be justified. I .do not think that the Government .realize the actual position or have sufficient brains to devise a remedy. They are lost, to all sense of shame or responsibility in connexion with this matter. But there are in the Public Works Department officers, who, if given an opportunity, would effect a considerable improvement.
The materials which were purchased ‘ by the Commission and .stored in depots are being disposed of, but even the work .of disposal could not be left to Government officers; the Government had to appoint Sir James McCay, K.C.M.G., ite, at a salary of £1,600 per annum to sell an accumulation of drain-pipes, tiles, &c. This appointment, of course, adds to the expense of the Disposals Board. The material- was purchased at high prices, and the Lord only knows at what prices the Government will sell it. If I were not a member of Parliament I would certainly be a large purchaser, because the prices at which, the material -is being offered to <the public are below, the market value. Here is another illustration ..of -the .Government’s, maladministration : The Queensland branch of the Commission wrote to headquarters suggesting that, as it. had considerable quantities of timber . stored, it could build .houses .cheaper . than .they could be erected by contract; and thus .the Government would get back- every penny, they had expended on the purchase .of the timber. The Government turned down that offer, and the only reason thatoccurs to me is that they desired to give to people who had supported them at the last election an opportunity to acquire these supplies of timber at half-price. When they refused to allow the Department to utilize the timber which it had purchased the Government were guilty of a horrible mistake. I am sorry the members of the Government appear to have lost all sense of responsibility, and apparently do not understand the real position. According to the leading articles which have appeared in the New South Wales press, my utterances this afternoon are amply warranted, and. I feel sure that even the Melbourne press, which supports the Government, and has come to their assistance on numerous occasions, cannot justify the muddle into which Ministers have got themselves. Owing to a lack of initiative and a knowledge of the requirements on the part of. Ministers and responsible officials, a chaotic position exists. It. was only natural when the demand for land and houses increased that prices would go up to an unusual extent, and the result has been that families have had to be accommodated in one room. If the Government had shown a genuine desire, and had acted wisely, the present trouble could have been avoided. Every member of this Parliament has given assistance, when required, to. the Government, and Ministers must be held responsible for the muddle which now prevails. The amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) is fully warranted, and I trust that those who are anxious to give returned soldiers the consideration to which they are entitled will give it their support:
.- The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) is justified in submitting his amendment, and honorable members would be lacking in their duty if they refrained from ventilating in some degree the maladministration of the Government in connexion with War Service Homes. The work of this Department has been discussed in this House from time to time, and although frequent efforts have been made to obtain information, I think it is fair to say that a satisfactory explanation has not been forthcoming..
– If thehonorable member will refer to the speeches of every hon orable member in Opposition who spoke, he will see that they advocated all these things, including the grouping system, the purchase of fairly large areas of land, and-
– Order! I cannot allow two speeches to be made at the same time.
– I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for reminding the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Poynton) that I am addressing the Chair. The Minister has made a remarkable assertion, which, in effect, is that the members of the Labour party, and of the Country party, I presume, practically acquiesced in all these matters.
– I am speaking of the members of the honorable member’s party and of the Opposition.
– It is a most remarkable statement, and although it may be true that we did, in some respects, support some of the machinery’ clauses in the Bill, it is unreasonable to suggest that we agreed to the work being carried out as it has been. I am surprised that an old political campaigner such as the PostmasterGeneral should make such a statement.
– The honorable member agreed to a Commission in the first place.
– Order !
– We did not agree to the. Government expending millions of public money, and placing the work associated with this scheme in the hands of incompetent men.
– We are not spending enough, apparently.
– We are not complaining as to the amount spent; but the manner in which it has been disbursed. That is the crux of the whole situation. The men appointed by the Commissioner were totally unsuitable for the work, as experience has proved. They did not know their jobs; and what a high old time they had in this financial jazz ! They went on making contracts to such an extent that within three or four months they spent the sum allotted for the first twelve months’ work.
– That was in the second year:
– They entered into contracts for the purchase of huge supplies of timber when prices were at the peak, and I understand that they are. still taking delivery from mills in the Beech Forest, in Victoria, and in Queensland, at these high prices. We have been informed by the Leader of the Opposition that 500,000 super. feet per month is coming from Queensland. Does the PostmasterGeneral or any other member of the Government know how much longer we have to continue receiving this quantity? The Minister is silent, because he does not know.
– There are hundreds in the honorable member’s district who would be very glad to have the opportunity which these people possess.
– Order ! These dialogues are quite irregular.
– Huge quantities have been purchased, and the Disposals Board is now endeavouring to sell the timber, as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) said, “ for God knows what proportion of its value.” The Government or the Commission do not know, and all the information we can get is that material purchased at exorbitant rates is now being disposed of for whatever they can get. The Government have mills in Queensland; but what are the mills doing? They are as silent as the members of the Ministry. If a Labour Government, or one comprised of members of the Country party, were in control of public affairs, and were guilty of such bungling, we can imagine the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) delivering some very stirring, fiery, and condemnatory speeches. The Postmaster-General knows that what I am saying is correct, and the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) is taking it all in and wondering how he is to get out of the tangle he is now committed to as a member of the Ministry.
– The honorable member did not complain.
– Order !
– The Government are responsible for conducting public business, and undertook to provide returned soldiers with homes. They framed a Bill, which was passed by Parliament, and they are now bitterly complaining because we did not tell them what was going to happen.
– Why did not the honorable member tell us before?
– This is the administration of a National Government, the supporters of which have said it would be a national disaster if they were removed from the Treasury bench.
– The honorable member should go on the other side.
– Order !
– If I had to decide whether I would go on one side or the other, with the present Ministry in power, I certainly would not go on their side.
– That is where the honorable member ought to be.
– Order ! I have repeatedly called the Postmaster- General to order, and must again ask him to cease interjecting.
Mr. Poynton interjecting ,
– The PostmasterGeneral must obey a direction from the Chair.
– The charges which have been made this afternoon do not come only from the members of the Opposition or of the Country party, but from people outside who have read the reports presented by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, an impartial body. Will any member of the Ministry declare that it is not ? What does the report say ? That the material and workmanship in the houses were inferior.
– So it was.
– That is a modest statement. The report goes on -
The supervising officers on the work were negligent in dealing with contracts. . . . Bad administration, defective supervision, and unreliable costing records, particularly in the earlier stages of the Commissioner’s operations in Western Australia, were responsible not only for many houses costing far more than their actual worth, but also for houses being on the costing cards at much less than their real value.
The Committee reported further that land purchases in Queensland proceeded altogether too far ahead of requirements, so that thousands of pounds’ worth of land is likely to be left idle for many years.
– Order! Will the honorable member resume his seat ? I desire to report to the House that I have just been subjected to interference by a Minister because I have tried to maintain the Standing Orders. The PostmasterGeneral has approached me and has said that my action in calling him to order for repeated interjections was prompted by a personal grudge against him. I can only say that I have no grudge against him or any other honorable member, and that I resent very strongly any honorable member, and particularly a Minister, addressing such remarks to me in this House, and attempting to involve the Chair in argument and disputation. The Minister knows the Standing Orders as well as I do. He knows also that I am in duty bound to see that the rules of debate are observed, and that I have to look to Ministers, as well as to the Leaders of other sections of the House to support the Chair. When a Minister, instead of supporting the Chair, persists in interjecting in defiance of the Chair, he creates a situation of grave difficulty for the Presiding Officer of the House. I resent very much, the action of the PostmasterGeneral in coming to me as he has done, and I have taken the opportunity to immediately mention it to the House. I should be unworthy of my position as Speaker if I were to allow myself to be intimidated by any one, and I certainly do not intend to do so.
– By way of personal explanation, I desire to say, Mr. Speaker, that I do not think that you have put the position correctly.. When I approached you I said it was singular that practically every time I interjected you threatened to name me. Only a couple of weeks ago you, sir, threatened to name me because I interjected. I do, not know what I have done to warrant such’ treatment. I am not the only honorable member who interjects, and I think it is very unfair that you should have threatened, as you did just now, to name me. I have heard during this debate statements made by honorable members which I can show by reference to Hansard are at variance with views expressed by them on other occasions. I can show by reference to Ilansard that certain honorable members have’ advocated the very things of which they now complain.
– The honorable member is now going beyond ‘a personal explanation, and is proceeding to debate the question before the Chair.
– I went to you, sir, and asked why I had been singled out. I have been in this House for over twenty years, and have so conducted myself that I have never been suspended. A couple of weeks ago, however, you threatened to nairne me, and, had you done so, I should probably have been suspended for the remainder of the sitting. I desire at all times to obey the Standing Orders, but I do not want to be singled out as the one man in the House who interjects. Why should I be pilloried in this way ? Why should I be put before the public as a Minister who has been guilty of unseemly conduct? During the whole of my career as a member of this Parliament I have never done anything that is unseemly. I felt hurt that you should have singled me out when I interjected, seeing that practically every other honorable member does so from time to time. I have nothing to say against you, Mr. Speaker. I want to do everything possible to insure the proper conduct of business, and I do not know that I have done anything that is at variance with the ordinary procedure of the House. I do not-wish to say or do anything that will hurt you, sir, or to be guilty of conduct that would in any way lessen the dignity of the House. If I have done anything which, in your opinion, is unseemly, I am prepared to apologize, but I object to being singled out as the one member of the Ministry, or the one honorable member of this House, who ha3 done something that he ought not to have done.
– I can only draw the attention of the House once more to the fact that the Standing Orders clearly provide that an honorable member must be heard in silence, and that all interjections are disorderly. It is- the duty of the Speaker to secure a fair hearing for every honorable member who wishes to address himself to the question before the Chair. The Postmaster-General (Mr. Poynton) has complained that he has been singled out by me *for special notice because of his interjections. Honorable members themselves know that that is not correct. I have frequently called other honorable members to order.
– ‘You have often called me to order.
– I do not wish to refer particularly to any honorable member. On two or three occasions I have drawn attention to the number of interjections taking place, and have asked honorable members to observe the Standing Orders. I called the PostmasterGeneral to order several times, and he had no sooner been called to order than he interjected again . The honorable gentleman himself knows that such a proceeding is an aggravation of the offence and a defiance of the Chair and the House. I realize that he was, perhaps, nettled into retort by some of the remarks made by the honorable member who’ was addressing the Chair at the time; but I would remind him that when he desires to refute a statement he should do so, not by persistently interrupting, but by rising at the close of the honorable member’s speech and making a personal explanation, ifhe has been misrepresented, or by referring to it in the course of an ordinary speech. I have certainly not singled out the honorable gentleman for special notice because of his interjections, and shouldbe very sorry todo so. I have had occasion to frequently call others to order, and. have even had to threaten to suspend them: for persistenceso far from having any grudge against the Minister, I. recognise his amiable qualities, and have for him the highest personal regard and esteem. I cannot,however, allow a Minister or any other honorable member to defy the Chair by frequently interjecting, particularly when he has been called to order more than once. I hope the incident will now close. If any honorable member finds that he cannot refrainfrom frequently interjecting; especially after being called to order, I hope he will recognise the desirableness of leaving the chamber for a few minutes until he can regain a calmer frame of mind.
– When I was interrupted by the by-play of the PostmasterGeneral, I was endeavouring to put before the House, not mere inventions on the part of either a member of the Opposition or of the Country party, but actual quotations from the reports of. ‘the Public Accounts Committee on. the War Service Homes administration. In its report the Committee stated further that -
The principal and outstanding complaint in Victoria was the absence of knowledge by the majority of the applicants as to the price that would be charged for their homes.
That complaint is fairly general through out the Commonwealth. The Committee further found that -
The contract with E. A. and D. Green for the supply of joinery and moulding revealed an amazing lack of capacity. The circumstances of the firm were such as to have justi fied extreme care on the part of the officers of the, Commission in their negotiations, but even ordinary business methods appear to have been neglected. The Commissioner allowed himself to be involved in heavy commitments by Green for huge quantities of timber, and then paid the firm brokerage on the transaction.
That is a matter to which the Leader of the Opposition has already referred. The report goes on to state that -
Joinery of an inferior quality was accepted by the Commissioner from Green; and, although condemnatory reports were sent in by the subordinate officers, evidently little notice was taken at head-quarters:
Then, again, we have the statement that -
The lack of effective and sympathetic accountancy control throughout the whole scheme of operations was. an outstanding and deplorable feature.
That is a striking statement. We have the further statements that -
Building material, timber areas, and mills have been acquired which are no longer required. The Commissioner and his deputies made heavy purchases, and entered into contracts forsupplies covering lengthy periods, and, unfortunately for the Commission, the current of supply could not be stopped as easily as the building of houses. At the BeechForest Mill in Victoria, thereare at the presenttime some 3,000,000 feet of timber stacked for which the Commission has paid, and: for which it has now no. use. In Queensland, the timber areas and mills, on which the Commissionhas expended £531,000; have been closed down. Half-a-million super. feet of pine is still coming monthly under contract from the Queensland Pine Company.
We are told, further, that the Disposals Boards in the various States- apparently a new namegiven by the Commissionto the many Boards it has established all over the Commonwealth - are struggling to get rid of the Commission’s stocks, but that they find it a difficult task.
I venture to say that the general public have but little idea of themaladministration, the scandalous waste of public money; and the numerous and questionable advances that were made by the Commissioner to finance contractors so as to help them to carry out contracts which they had made with him. These were most extraordinary business transactions. It is difficult to say what proportion of the £14,000,000 or £15,000,000 that has been expended on War Service Homes will have to be written off in justice to the soldiers who have purchased and occupied houses under the scheme. The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) suggested that the Government would probably have to write off £8,000,000. I hope that that will not prove to be correct. Bad asthe position undoubtedly is, I sincerely trust it is not so deplorable as that statement would suggest. I should not besurprised, however, if, as a result ofthe bungling and maladministration associated with the War Service Homes scheme, the taxpayers of this country were tosuffer a loss of not less than £5,000,000. I think we shall be very lucky if we get out of it witha loss of less than £5,000,000. Honorable members, whether they are building experts or not, who look at the types of homes that have been built under the scheme will say that they are not a credit tothe Commission. No furthermoney should be voted for the purposes of the Department until the Ministrycomeforward with a definitestatement of policy. Itis time that they sizedup the situation and publicly announced whatamount, if any, they intendto write off. They should tell, the people who have provided the funds exactlywhat amountofmoney has been wasted. Theyaught, tohave the courage to tell thepublic that millions of pounds have been wasted, and they should tell our returned men who have purchased WarService Homes how much they aregoing to cost them, what proportion of the capital cost isto be written off, and whether they are to be held hard and fast to the conditions to which they agreed when they took over their individual homes.
Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.
– I drawattention to the state of the House.[Quorum formed.]
– I should like to sum up the position in connexion with War Service Homes as I see it. The Government proposed, at the outset, to build 25,000 homes at an approximate cost of £12,500,000, or an average of about £500 per house. That, I understand, was the estimate of the Minister for Repatriation.The Government asked Parliament for authority to expend this money and to createa War Service Homes Commissionwith certain powers tocarry out the work.Every soldier was to be provided with a home inwhich he might spend his days in peaceandcomfort in the country for which hefought. The result has been that the expenditure up to 30th. June lastamounts to £15,311,819.Ofthat amount £14,864,766 is capitalexpenditure and £44 7,053, administrative. With this expenditure 6,278 houses have been erected at a cost of £7,434,000, which works out at a cost of nearly £1,200 per house. Although at the outset, I understand, itwas not intended to purchase homes at all, the Government have purchased, twice as many as they have erected. They have purchased 12,778 houses for £7,430,000, about the amount which they paid for the erection of 6,278 houses. The amount paid for thehouses purchased worksout at an average of less than £600 per house. Some verydefinite pronouncementshould be made by the responsible Minister to explainthesefigures. The present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) was the responsible Minister last year, and a ratheruncomfortable responsible Minister he seemed to be. He had the sympathy of honorable members on all sides,andhis attempt to explain away the hopelessmess into which the Government hadbrought the scheme showed that he thoroughly deserved their sympathy.
– I wished, if possible, to work myself into the condition of confidence and cock-sureness which the honorable member exhibits.
– The Minister is a good judge of cock-sureness.
– The critic has a great job in these days.
– After the event!
– We have heard that cry before.
– It is true this time.
– It is true that, whatever opinion we may have held of the Government before, we should never have dreamed of accusing them of such incapacity as has brought them into the hopeless mess they have got into in connexion withthis business. I ask whether it is true that there are 3,000,000 superficial feet of timber lying idle inBeech Forest that was purchased at the highest price, and whether timber is still being delivered by (the Beech Forest mill? What are the Government going to do with that timber? Are they going to sell it? When and where will they sell it? At the other end of the continent, in Queensland, 500,000super. feet of timber is being supplied per month under a contract,and I want to know how many months that contract has yet to run. What do the Government intend to do with that timber? What do they intend to do with, the mills purchased in Queensland, and which are now standing idle? Are they going to sell them.; and, if so, when? These are some of the things which, we and the public desire to know. The Government have expended £2,500,000 more than the estimated expenditure, and, in the words of the Public Accounts Committee, the result has been that only a small percentage of the men and women for whom the scheme waa intended have received their homes, and many have had to go to other sources to secure homes. To the extent to which returned men have had to go to outside sources to secure homes the Government have been relieved of their liability, but that is not a matter upon which they can congratulate themselves.
– What is the percentage?
– The Minister asks me to answer a question which he is unable’ to answer himself. Many returned soldiers, seeing the hopeless muddle in which those who applied to the Department for homes have landed themselves through the fact that the Government could not tell them what their liabilities would be, went to outside sources to secure homes. The Minister asks me to give him the percentage of soldiers who decided not to be caught as some of their comrades were.
– I desired the honorable member to answer his own question.
– I should like the honorable gentleman to make another speech on the operations of the War Service Homes Commission, and I express the pious hope that he will make a better fist of his explanation of the War Service Homes muddle on this occasion than he did when (he last dealt with the subject. He has been taking copious notes during the whole of the afternoon, and we are all looking for an excellent speech from him. I hope he will be able to say something definite, and will be able to tell the House and the country, and especially the soldiers who occupy some of the shacks known as War Service Homes, how much of their liability is to be wiped off. Having told us that, I hope the honorable gentleman will tell the country how much of the hard-earned money of .the taxpayers has been wasted in the bungling administration of the Department largely through the neglect of,, the responsible Minister to properly supervise the operations of the Commission appointed to erect soldiers’ homes. The Minister cannot shirk his responsibility in the matter. Having permitted the War Service Homes Commission to run riot with public money, to make unbusinesslike contracts, and to get things into the hopeless tangle in which they are to-day, the Minister cannot turn round now and say that Parliament is responsible. It is a favorite practice of the present Government when things have turned out unsatisfactorily, to tell honorable members, including those who voted
Against their proposals, that they are responsible for what has occurred. ‘ I hope that the responsible Minister will tell us definitely what the Government propose to do in this matter, which, as the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) said, would have sounded the death knell of any ordinary Ministry. One would have assumed that no Government could survive the scandals that have been perpetrated by the War Service Homes Commission, yet the present Government have survived them, and probably will again survive.
– How do honorable members in the Corner view the amendment ?
– I cannot speak for the Corner, but I can speak for myself. It is scarcely necessary that I should say that I intend to vote for the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition.
– They can always rely on the honorable member, but he cannot always rely on them.
– Honorable members can always rely upon it that I will not speak one way and ‘vote another. If I do not see eye to eye with the Government, at any rate they know where I stand. It is quite true that I have frequently voted with honorable members opposite, and I have also frequently voted against them, but I have always endeavoured, on matters of principle, to vote in what I believe to be the interests of the country. It does not matter to me whether I am’ on this side or the other so long as I am on the side which I consider right. I think that on this occasion the Leader of the Opposition was quite justified in moving his amendment, and I believe that every member of the Country party would be justified in voting for it. How they will vote is a matter for them, and not for me, to decide. I say, however, that in my view, any honorable member who upholds the action of the present Government in connexion with the War Service Homes Commission condones their action, and should share responsibility with them for the hopeless tangle in which the scheme is involved by the miserable attempt that has been made to provide homes for the soldiers who served this country so well.
I have one more observation to make before I conclude, and it is in connexion with applications for the purchase of War Service Homes. I ask the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Hector Lamond) to the fact that frequently cases have come under my notice in my own electorate of extraordinary and unwarrantable delay in dealing with applications for the purchase of houses. When a soldier has made such an application, weeks and weeks go by, and the Government delay a settlement of the matter. Naturally the owner of a house offered for sale will not wait for ever. He tells the soldier applicant that unless he can get a decision from the Department he must withdraw his house from sale. The soldier may have applied again and again for a settlement of his application, an inspection may have been made, for which the soldier is charged the sum of 12s. 6d., but before the deal is concluded the vendor, in disgust, withdraws his house from sale. The complaint I wish to voice is that for every application of this kind a fresh inspection fee of 12s. 6d. is charged, even though the first application has failed solely because of the delay and fault of the Department. These are only little things, but they all count. They are the irritating pinpricks, which the diggers do not like, and it is only right that the Minister should see that expedition is shown in dealing with a soldier’s application for a house, and that if any delay on the part of the Department should necessitate a fresh application from a soldier, he should not be asked to pay another inspection fee.
.- I am surprised that the Honorary Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) has not seen fit to reply to the charges made against his Department.
– The honorable member got ahead of me.
– The schedule to this Bill contains an item of £250,000, which is to be advanced to the State Governments for the purpose of building roads to absorb the unemployed. I hope that the Government will be able to explain why the Commonwealth should be asked to borrow money to spend it in unproductive work of this nature. I want to know how it can be expected to earn interest, and whether it will be repaid. This is certainly a new method of assisting the unemployed. It is all very nice for the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) to say that it is his ambition to reduce the Loan Account, and at the same time propose to borrow £250,000 to give to the States for the purpose of employing men in building roads. There is another item in the schedule of £200,000 to be borrowed for immigration. While we propose to spend £250,000 upon unemployed in Australia, we also propose to spend £200,000 in bringing more people here to swell the unemployed engaged in making roads. The country will not be deceived by the statement that an item appears on this Loan Bill for the purpose of solving the unemployed question, because it will be seen that at the same time the Government propose to bring people into a labour market which is already overcrowded.
Another item of loan expenditure is £3,263 for the maintenance of Australian soldiers’ graves abroad. This country, which was going to do so much for its soldiers, cannot afford a few thousand pounds out of revenue to keep their graves in order! It is a disgrace tofind such a paltry item in a Loan schedule.
– The honorable member is not in order at the second reading stage of a Bill in referring to items in the schedule.
– I am merely summarizing them.
There is one other item which I must mention.
– The honorable member cannot pick out items and discuss them at this stage.
– The Defence Department are selling a lot of discarded war material, and there is provision in this Bill for the expenditure of £14,580 for advertising the sale of material and for the payment of the services of the men engaged in the disposal of it. The revenue derived from the sale of these articles goes into the
Treasury. It is evidently the Treasurer’s new system of fixing up the Budget - to sell material which the Defence Department do not require, take the proceeds into revenue, and chargethe Loan Account with the cost of advertising the sale and disposing of the material. The whole of the Bill is bristling with such instances as these. This is how the Government propose to save the country.
I regret that I cannot give to the War Service Homes administration any meed of praise. No doubt with the best of intentions, the Government set out to build 800 homes for soldiers per year. Parliament did not cavil, but assisted in passing the necessary legislation. The expenditure was- authorized, but nearly four years have passed, and, although 6,000 homes have been erected, the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr: Stewart) tells us that they have cost nearly £2,000 each.
– The honorable member said £1,200 each.
-I do not think that they have cost so much, but possibly, with the overhead charges and the land and material on hand, which is to be realized on at a later date, the cost may have been swelled to the extent indicated. I have visited blocks on which soldiers’ homes have been erected. The trouble is that, although the Commission may have been building twenty or thirty houses in one group, they would not allow any house to be occupied until the lot were completed. This meant a serious loss of revenue. I do not know whether it occurred in every case, but I have seen groups where this policy was pursued. I made inquiries as to why none of the houses was occupied, and was told that the Commission were waiting until the whole group was completed, so that they might know the exact cost to each soldier. I should imagine that any one with business capacity could keep separate costs for each house in a block. There is a system by which the cost of materialfor each house, and the cost of labour employed upon each house can be ascertained, so that, as a cottage is completed, its cost can be got at straight away, and the building may be earning revenue at once.
– Even when whole blocks were completed the Commission could not give the cost.
Mr.RILEY.- That is so. I have seen whole groups standing unoccupied. There was certainly something wanting in the management of these homes. I object to the expenditure of further loan funds in this direction, because we have no guarantee that the moneys we are asked to pass to-day will be expended any better than has been the case in the past. I hope that the Government will come along with a sound policy. We ought to give the Commonwealth Bank £4,000,000 for War Service Homes, and let any one who wants a home apply to the Bank for an advance in the ordinary way, on his own plans. If a private person wants a house built, and has not sufficient money, he goes to a bank and asks for an advance; and the money is made available to him as the building progresses. By following that system, we wouldget out of the present muddle, and dispense with all the great War Service Homes Departments we have created in each State. I cannot understand what some of them are doing. I askedfor a return some time ago as to what progress was being made in New South Wales, and I was told that the Commission were building eighty houses per month in that State. I asked for particulars as to the staff employed, and the information showed that three times the amount of work could have been done with half the number of employees. There may be some explanation, but the present staff is evidently too great for the number of houses which are being built in each State. If we put the money in the Commonwealth Bank, and told the soldiers to apply to that institution for advances, we could get rid of all the existing machinery, and the responsibility would rest on the soldier himself to see that he got a suitable home at the cheapest possible cost. Matters will not be improved so long as we maintain the Department as it is now constituted. I know why there are delays. I have had men come to me asking me if I could get their applications for homes finalized. They had been waiting six months. I made inquiries for them, and found that there were so many other applications ahead of them that they would be lucky to get their applications finalized inside another six months. That state of affairs is not encouraging to the soldiers. Nor is the position encouraging to the country when we realize that the Commission has contracted for, and had delivery of, a million feet of timber per month. It is now proposed to ignore the existence of that supply and call for tenders for the building of houses. Building contractors are not likely to take the timber onthe hands of theCommission. They will make their own arrangements to secure supplies, and possibly better arrangements, so that the timber for whichwe have paid so much will probably be left on our hands. Then, of course, the £14,500 in the schedule to this Bill would come in and be devoted to paying the expenses of advertising the sale of the timber and paying men to sell it; and the revenue derived would swell the Consolidated Revenue Account, while at the same time the Government would be borrowing money on account of War Service Homes. Thousands of doors, frames, and sashes have been contracted for, supplied and delivered, and now the Commission is selling them privately to builders and others who want them. There are sheds full of baths and lead piping. If the Government intend to go on with the policy of building houses, why are they disposing of all this material ? If the policy is to be contract building, let the Government wash their hands of the whole business and give the work to the Commonwealth Bank or any other bank. I believe that the soldiers would be better satisfied. It would certainly be better for the country. There is no doubt that bad land purchases were made. The Commission has land on its hands which it cannot get rid of. The Department set out with big ideas to carry out a. big programme, and bought great tracts of land here, there, and everywhere. On much of that land no houses are being built and no interest is being earned. Had a Labour Government been in power and constructed homesas the present Government has done, we would not have heard the last of it. I admit that the task was very big. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) had too big a job. Heshould not have gone outside the officers the Commonwealth already had in its Departments.I have come in contact with the men in the Works and Railways Department. There are some of the best officers in Australia in the State branches of this Department, but notwithstanding this fact the War Service
Homes Commission proceeded to pick a new staff, taking the chance of whether they were capable or not. Unfortunately for this country and the soldiers who were anxious to get homes, grave blunders have been made, and no Government should be allowed to remain in office which proposes to continue this waste of money; because a. waste of money it is. Some members declare that there has been an absolute loss of £5.,000.,000. I am not in a position to say whether that is correct or not. No one can say definitely at this stage. I hope that the House will realize the seriousness of the position, and order a change in the present policy, in order that the demand’ for houses may be satisfied. Speaking for my own State, I can say that it is almost impossible to get a house. I believe that if the Commonwealth Bank were allowed control of building operations, the work would be expedited and performed much more satisfactorily. The present position will certainly be placed before the people at the proper time. Dozens of returned soldiers are continually approaching all honorable members complaining of their treatment by the Department and of thescandalous work that has been put into the War Service Homes. Smith’s Weekly recently, in a reference to these homes, stated that when a butcher called at the back door of one of these homes he knocked rather hard, with the result that the wall fell in. I do not say that the position is quite so bad as that, but there is a general feeling throughout the Commonwealth that there has been a scandalous waste of public money. In this House we have a new Honorary Minister, who, if he had a chance, would, I believe, do the right thing, and I have no doubt that he will find it exceedingly awkward to reply to the criticism of the administration prior to his appointment. I hope, however, that he will give us an assurance that there will be no further waste of money, and that the Department will push on with the work of erecting homes for our returned soldiers.
Before dealing with the motion submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), I should like to say something concerning certain observations made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) last week with regard to what he was pleased to term the obstruction of public business in this House. For the party which I have the honour to lead, and for myself particularly, I can say that we have never been guilty of anything in the nature of obstruction since the opening of Parliament. On the contrary, we have assisted to pass legislation of which we approved, but we have not hesitated to oppose, with the whole of our force, all legislation that did not meet with our approval. We shall continue to do so until the end of this Parliament, no matter what the Prime Minister or anybody else may think about the matter, and we hope that the length of this Parliament will not be unduly prolonged, because apparently it has got into an unworkable condition, and ought to go back to its masters - the people. Anything that I can do to get there will be done.
With regard to the Loan Bill, I should like further information concerning some of the items and certain statements made by the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce). He said, I think, that he anticipated that the underwriting charges for the raising of this loan would be something like £840,000.
– Nothing like that. I said that I anticipated the cost would be 7 per cent., including issue and discounts.
– I should like to ascertain from the Treasurer the actual cost of underwriting loans, now that the Commonwealth Bank is doing the business.
– It is 25s. to the underwriting firm and 5s. to the Commonwealth Bank.
– That is 30s. per cent. Now, -as to another item in the loan schedule, and one to which attention has already been directed, namely, £250,000 for the construction of roads by the States, that really is an unemployment dole; and I should like to know why that expenditure is to be paid out of loan instead of from revenue. I think the test which the Treasurer laid down in his Budget speech really covered an item such as this.
– I remind the honorable member that it is not in order on the second reading to discuss the schedule of the Bill. That may be done in Committee.
– I shall bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
Turning now to the amendment submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), I may say that I had intended to oppose the expenditure of £4,000,000 for War Service Homes unless I had received from the Government some satisfactory statement as to what had been done during the past year to remedy the present position, and an assurance that there wouldbe a reappraisement of these homes throughout the Commonwealth in such a way that the soldiers would not be asked to pay a penny more than actual value, also that an opportunity would be given to those soldiers who felt that they had been duped in these transactions to get out of their holdings, if necessary, without any more ado or loss to themselves.
– A considerable amount of writing down is taking place now.
– But I want an official statement regarding this matter, so that all our returned soldiers will know where they stand.
– And that everybody gets the same treatment.
– Yes. I know that in one of these houses the wind pressure caused a meat safe to bump against one of the walls during the night, with the result that the following morning considerable damage had been done to the building. In cases like that the returned soldiers, no matter what the valuation may be, desire to get completely away from the homes, because they feel they will never have any permanent value, but will melt away with every succeeding rain. The policy of the War Service Homes Department was aptly described in a leading article which appeared in the Melbourne Argus on 1st August, thus -
Paralysis overtook the administration of the War Service Homes Department more than a year ago. The failure has been complete. A public Department, initiated by a Minister, approved by Parliament, and endowed with more than £14,000,000, was established to provide homes for returned soldiers. It “ fell down on its job.” Very few returned soldiers have been provided with homes, and it does not appear that any attempt is being made to repair the woeful blunders that have been made. . . .
– I rise to order. The honorable member, I understand, is quoting from a newspaper article dealing with War Service Homes. I ask if he is in order ?
– So long as the article does not refer to debates of this session the honorable member is quite in order in quoting from it. The standing order applies to extracts from documents or newspapers referring to debates in the House during the same session.
– I thank you Mr. Speaker, for your ruling. It is remarkable that nearly every time I rise in my place to speak the Minister for Defence (Mr. Greene) endeavours by points of order to almost continuously interrupt my remarks. The Argus article goes on to say - . . Last year it was revealed that .the costs of the homes which had been erected had exceeded anticipations, and that the excess would have to be made good by the public. It is an easy way out of the difficulty to say that an .incompetent Commission has been superseded, and that everything, is now being clone to rectify the blunders of the past. That is not satisfying. The report shows clearly that much of the mischief has been caused by tlie failure to take appropriate action after the first Commissioner had been relieved of his duties. There has been an absence of coordination throughout between the Minister, the Treasurer, and the Cabinet as a whole. Expenditure was incurred in excess of warrant from Parliament or from the Minister, and after it had become apparent that the administration was hopelessly incompetent nothing better was done than to stop the work altogether. No excuse is possible, and none has been attempted, for si system under responsible government in which a Department is permitted to drift into hopeless confusion and debt, from which no attempt was made to lift it. A reply to the report of the Committee of Public Accounts is imperative, and Senator E. D. Millen should make it. There is only one other course open to him.
Now that is a considered statement in a leading article published in a journal which usually supports this Government very heartily. I should have thought that, in view of such a statement which, by the way, has never been properly refuted, when the Prime Minister, last Friday, was announcing the measures which he intended to ask Parliament to pass in the remainder of this session no matter what came or went, he would have dealt with the need for remedying the administrative faults in the War Service Homes Department. This matter is mentioned in paragraph 26 of the Governor-Generals’ Speech ; but the Prime Minister, last Friday, made no reference to it whatever. For this reason I am glad that the Leader of the Opposition, has brought the1 question forward to-day. His amendment has made it possible, by free debate, to expose the unsatisfactory administration of the War Service Homes Department, and to ask what provision has been made to retrieve the losses made both by the returned soldier applicants and the people of the Commonwealth. It has made it possible for an honest endeavour to be made by this Parliament to see that our soldiers, who have had houses built for them, and who in good faith have signed contracts, are not allowed to suffer. It is within my own personal knowledge that one man paid £300 for a block of land two years ago, but until a month or two ago could get nothing done by the Department. We want to see’ that these men have an absolutely fair spin, and that an end is brought to this unjustifiable condition of affairs that has involved the community in such heavy losses, and has been such a serious drain upon the Commonwealth resources.
– All generalities, and nothing specific.
– All generalities? A Committee of this Parliament has been conducting investigations for almost two year3, and presenting reports every, few months - reports full and complete and containing specific charges. But all that the Minister who was responsible for the administration of the War Service Homes Department can say is that we speak in generalities.
– I am talking of the honorable member. The Public Accounts Committee has done some work.
– The specific case to which I alluded just now is one which I brought under the Minister’s notice at least a dozen times. Only within the past few weeks has anything approaching finality been achieved in this case. Parliament has never been able to definitely fix upon a Minister the responsibility for what has been taking place; and, if this debate does nothing more than to fasten down that responsibility, .it will have fulfilled a useful purpose. If it is not possible for Parliament to place the responsibility upon the right shoulders, the sooner we give up the idea that’ we have any control over the actions of the Government and of individual Ministers, and the sooner we get back to the people, the better.
Repatriation hae been handled very badly throughout. There was afforded a. wonderful opportunity - one which will probably never recur - for the mobilization of the material resources of this Commonwealth and of the human resources provided by the return, of our men. Unfortunately, not only was .the natural material not put to the best advantage, which the public enthusiastically desired, but many of the men who returned from the war, full of pride in Australia, and wirth generous thoughts of the people and of the Government, have been allowed to become embittered, disappointed, and sick of - waiting. Ever since I was firstsent into this Parliament I -have urged that the Federal Legislature and Government - being responsible for finding the money for the whole general scheme of repatriation - should have accepted responsibility, or, at any rate, a very great degree of responsibility, for the actual business of soldier settlement as well as of building homes. The settlement of our soldiers on the land should have been much more closely controlled by the Federal authorities than has been the case. A pitiful statement was issued by the Government at the end of last year regarding the administration of the War Service Homes Department. It was a confession of bungling and ineptitude, linked to a promise that things would be better managed in future. We are waiting for the fulfilment of that promise. What has transpired meanwhile? We are not told. The questions of the purchase of land for homes for soldiers, of building homes, of securing the material for those homes, and of the disposal of surplus stocks, all require to be fully explained. We should be told of the losses which must be written off. As soon as the Leader of the! Opposition (Mr. Charlton) had concluded his speech this afternoon, the Government should have presented a full and complete statement covering the whole business. Surely if the Honorary Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond) expected to get hig £4,000,000 out of the Loan Bill he would have prepared himself with a statement for honorable members so soon as the Bill had been presented.
With regard to the writing off of losses in connexion with land secured for settlement, I asked question after question, last year. I wrote to the responsible Minister requesting to be informed of what was taking place,, and invariably I received the reply that “ everything in the garden was lovely.” I have before me numbers of official replies. Regarding soldier settlement in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, and Western Aus- tralia, I was informed that no reappraisement of values had taken place; in South Australia there had been a slight re-appraisement, and certain properties in Tasmania had slumped very badly. But what is the true condition of affairs, at any rate, in New South Wales. The State Minister for Lands, Mr. Wearne, said in the .State’ Parliament on 23rd August -
In this connexion I want to ‘ say that -some estates purchased at great expense are unoccupied. There are other estates which havebeen occupied for years, and .the values not fixed or the blocks confirmed, and advances made of the £625, for which, in some cases, no security exists.
Mf . Wearne said, further -
Although this balance is available to me as Minister, and there is a large number of soldiers desirous of going on the land, I have deliberately refrained from purchasing any more estates, either upon cash or debentures, for the reason that I am of the opinion that the system which has been adopted, and has been in existence from the start, under which so many men have been placed on the land, is unsound in principle, wrong in practice, and in many cases impossible of success.
There is talk now of a big policy of immigration which the Government are going to carry out in a comprehensive fashion. So far as I can see, it will be undertaken in the same_ uninformed and aimless fashion as in the matter of repatriation ; and, if we are .not careful, many more millions will be utterly wasted. The New .South ‘Wales Minister stated, “ Victoria started -on similar lines to New South Wales, but very early ^realized her mistake and -made drastic alterations.” In Victoria, it must be said, the settlement of practically the bulk of the soldiers on the land has turned’ out satisfactorily.- At any rate, the proportion of successes . amongst their numbers is as great as in respect of any other class of settler. But what is the position of the Commonwealth Government regarding land settlement ? If I .go to my . banker and he agrees to lend me £10,000, . he takes care that I give decent security regarding the manner in which I propose to invest it. And he pulls me up very quickly if I invest the loan in a wasteful direction. It should have been the duty of the Federal Government to see that the Commonwealth got something like fair value by way of security for .the money advanced in the interests of soldier settle- ment. Almost the last words which Sir Joseph Cook said as Treasurer in this House were that he was convinced that that principle was a sound one. I shall now read a published statement of the New South Wales Minister for Lands’ in this connexion:. He mentions six typical cases -
He goes on to point out that there had been over-capitalization in the holdings throughout. Yet we have Ministers grinning in their places here, to-night, over a loss of capital such as has taken place, while there has been no provision made in the Budget for writing off these sums. Everything advanced to the States’, every penny spent upon the building of soldiers’ homes, is put down at face value because, apparently, the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) considers all these things reproductive assets. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) may laugh; the money is not his. What has. he to do with it? Before another penny is voted in the matter of War Service’ Homes, or of repatriation generally, an absolutely complete statement should be presented to Parliament.. We should know where we stand, just what we have lost, and what are the prospects for the future. We should at least receive an assurance -that past bungling shall not be repeated. It has been said that a man may be forgiven one mistake, but that only a fool would be guilty of making the same mistake a second time. So far there has been no remedying of past bungling. All that Parliament can do is to definitely fix the blame. It will be of no use for Ministers to shift the blame to the shoulders of officials.The latter are not answerable to Parliament.During the year before last the whole of the amount appropriated for the building of War Service Homes was used up in four or five months ; but last year the Government did not absorb the whole of the sum granted by Parliament. They were about £120,000 short in the amount which they spent out of revenue. The revenue vote was £2,360,946, and the expenditure was £2,239,954. The loan vote amounted to £4,000,000, but the expenditure out of loan was only £1,247,466, and out of repayments the expenditure totalled £1,300,940. We are anxious that the returned men should marry and settle down as quickly as possible. But there have not been sufficient homes provided for them; the Government have failed to spend the money which Parliament made available for the purpose. I am not blaming the new Assistant Minister (Mr. Hector Lamond). Honorable members are waiting to see what he will have to say, and to learn what he has done, before judgment is passed upon him. My references have been to past administration. We desire to know exactly who has been responsible, and to fix the responsibility once and for all. It will be of no use for the new Minister controlling War Service Homes to do as his predecessor did. I refer to the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers), who came down to this House and threw the whole responsibility upon the late Commissioner. Parliament passed an Act making the Commissioner independent to some degree of the Minister, but I shall show that the Commissioner was not so independent, according to statutory obligations, as his actions would lead one to believe. I admit that there was a Herculean task in hand. The reason for the failure was that the plans were not drawn in a sufficiently broad and comprehensive way, and all the existing services available were not utilized. It is worth while considering for a second the manner in which the whole scheme was managed.. The Government adopted the good old method of putting responsibility away from the Ministerial head and placing it upon some Commission, quite outside of Parliamentary control, so that if mistakes were made the Government would not have to bear the brunt of the criticism.
– That is hardly fair. The system adopted was demanded by the House and the country.
– What has happened cannot be excused from the fact that the Commissioner was allowed to exceed his responsibilitiesin many respects. It is rather remarkable that when it came to a matter of drawing up the report of the Public Accounts Committee, certain nominees of the Government tried to secure the insertion of the words, ‘ ‘ In many cases the Commissioner exercised the powers vested in him without consulting the Minister,” in order to cover up the delinquencies of the Ministry. The Committee divided on this point, and the amendment was rejected. This shows that the Committee was satisfied that the real responsibility for supervision must lie on the Minister, and not on the Com.missioner. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen), on the 12th December, 1918, iu introducing the War Service Homes Bill, said -
A heavy responsibility will be placed upon the Commissioner, and to enable the Commissioner to discharge his responsibility he is to be vested with a corresponding measure of independence. Of course, he will be subject to the Minister in regard to all large matters, and, indeed, in all matters which in any sense of the term may be regarded as matters of policy.
As this was a clear statement by the Minister that the Commissioner would be subject to him, the Minister could not escape the responsibility. Is the question of saw-milling to be regarded as a matter of policy ? If the Commissioner alters the whole of the building system from contract work to day labour, is that a matter of policy? When the Commissioner builds houses in excess of the cost for which there is legal warrant, and does it for many months, surely this is a matter for which the Minister is responsible. The following are the actual words used by the Public Accounts Committee in its report upon this phase: -
In August, 1920, the Wor Service Homes Commissioner advised the Treasury - that £1,525,285 would be required to meet his expenditure for July and August. As this was at the rate of over £9,000,000 per annum, the Treasury asked for on explanation, and was informed by the Commissioner that the high rate of expenditure was largely accounted for by the Commission taking over certain uncompleted commitments of the Commonwealth Bank. On the 6th November, 1920, the Treasury called the attention of the Commissioner to the fact that up to that date warrant authorities had been issued for £4,020,000, and emphasized the necessity for the rate of expenditure being reduced so as to keep within the amount of £6,000,000 provided for the twelve months. In reply the Commissioner, with the approval of the Assistant Minister, informed the Treasury that the sum of £6,000,000 provided on the Estimates would be totally inadequate, and that if the functions of the Commission were to be effectively discharged further provision was necessary.
By the amendment of the War Service Homes Act in October, 1920, its scope was widened to include persons not previously admitted to its. benefits. The Assistant Minister was then approached for an additional £5,500,000. Obviously this much more than covered the expansion of the Act, and appears to have been another effort to secure the amount by which the year’s Estimates were reduced when submitted to the Minister. The Wor Service Homes authorities stated, when asking for that sum, that they could thus “ pull down the accumulated applications sooner than they were doing, and satisfy most of them this year.” On 3rd December, 1920, the Assistant Minister and the Commissioner interviewed the Treasurer, by whom it was stated that further funds could not be provided. The actual commitments of the Commission were then made known, and it was pointed out that it was necessary to obtain the money to satisfy approved applicants, leaving out of consideration applications which would be submitted and those which hod not advanced to the approval stage. It ‘ was then arranged that an extra £1,000,000 should be granted. The War Service Homes Commissioner expected that this extra £1,000,000 would be provided out of loan moneys, and was made up of £800,000 of receipts from the Commission’s operations, and £200,000 from the purchase money of the Queensland properties which had been paid for in Peace Bonds, for which the Treasury said it would not ask the War Service Homes Commission to provide cash. As this was apparently the most the Treasury was able or willing to do, the financial position of the War Service Homes scheme had to be reconsidered by its officers.
It is apparent that it was not until the then Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) determined that further spendings on this scale should cease that the Minister for Repatriation awoke to the fact that he was in charge of the Department. During the whole of the previous period the Commissioner, seemingly, had been allowed absolutely a free hand, while the Minister slumbered on, exercising little or no supervision.
– The Commissioner was responsible for his commitments.
– I have read the verdict of the Public Accounts Committee. That was given after evidence had been taken by the Committee. The Minister’s interjection is an ex parte statement made for the purpose of prejudicing the debate. When it was found that the Commissioner had bungled the whole scheme, what did the Minister for Repatriation do? Did he discharge the Commissioner? No. The Commissioner was removed on the excuse that seven years previously he was an uncertificated bankrupt. No satisfactory explanation has yet been given as to why the Government took this action.
– They did not reappoint him because of his incompetence.
– It has been shown conclusively that, whether it was known to the Minister or not, there was official documentary evidence on the files that it was known to the officers of the Department that the Commissioner, when appointed, was an uncertificated bankrupt. He was apparently given a free hand. In each State DeputyCommissioners were appointed, and some 600 persons in all were employed. The responsible officer in practically every State changed as regularly as the seasons.
– ‘More rapidly.
– In some cases there were as many as six changes in one year. Such evidence of constant mistakes would not have been overlooked in any private establishment.
A Commission was appointed, and if there was ever- a time when the Minister should have intervened, it was in connexion with the policy of the Commission. Up till the appointment of the Commission the erection of homes had been carried out satisfactorily by the Commonwealth Bank, or by certain State agencies. But the Commissioner went in for the creation of a new staff. A couple of years elapsed before this staff cut its eye-teeth and got much wisdom; and by reason of the haste with which it was organized, it caused intense friction, the result being that all contractors abandoned the idea of tendering for the Commission’s work, although they had been willing to undertake it under the supervision of the Commonwealth Bank and the State institutions in practically everypart of the Commonwealth. Many of the contractors had taken up building contracts largely from patriotic motives. They were anxious to do the best they could to have the returned soldiers settled; and many .of the contractors were themselves returned men.
– I have never yet met a patriotic contractor.
– I know some who were glad to throw up the work. .
– Yes, because the tenders left very little margin for profit.
– Cottages did not pay.
– In New South Wales only one group of ten was ever completed as a contract for the Commission. .In practically every other instance the contractors abandoned the job. The organization was evidently paralyzed because half the money was spent not in new construction, but in the purchase of homes already .constructed.
The Public Accounts Committee has definitely summarized the maladministration that has occurred, and I shall outline its conclusions. The Committee pointed out, first of all, that the sending of a special representative from head-quarters to act independently of the head officer in considerable areas was a mistake. The Commission always seemed to neglect to seek disinterested local advice and experience. For instance, most of the land acquired at Newcastle should not have been bought. Roe’s estate and King’sroad estate should not have been bought^ Mayfield, Piatt’s, Maud-street, Verastreet, and Crebert-street estates are outlying areas, and are handicapped by being some distance from train and tram facilities. The areas at Cessnock were badly selected to meet the convenience of the men employed at the colliery. The material and workmanship of the houses were very inferior. The contractor did not carry out his contract honestly. The supervising officers were weak and negligent in dealing _ with the contractors. With regard to Tasmania, the Committee said that it was undoubtedly a fact that some of the houses erected under the daylabour system were charged to the occupants at considerably more than their worth. Considerable delay occurred in many instances in completing houses. The returned men at Kalgoorlie were misled concerning the benefits to which they were entitled under the Act. The Deputy Commissioners might with advantage have been vested with greater discretion to deal sympathetically with those cases of genuine hardship where an occupant of a War Service Home, through causes entirely beyond his control, such as unemployment or illness, fell into, arrears. Insufficient pains were taken to deal with each case on its merits by the autocratic issue of threatening notices at stated intervals, culminating sometimes in an ejectment order. In some instances, land was purchased for several years in advance of immediate building- operations. The applicant had to pay, in addition to the survey fee and the first instalment cm a house not yet commenced, interest and rates on the land, as well as rent, while waiting for houses that’ were never commenced. Bad administration, defective supervision, and unreliable costing records, particularly in the earlier stages of the Commission’s operations in Western Australia, were responsible, not only for many houses costing far more than their actual worth, but also for houses being on the costing card at much less than their real value. One responsible witness with experience’ said emphatically that he “ would not swear to the cost of a single War Service Home.” Considerable delay occurred in some instances in completing houses. An applicant had to pay interest on the expenditure from its inception, and such delays added considerably to the cost of the homes.
Land purchases in. Queensland proceeded altogether too far ahead of requirements, and consequently thousands of pounds’ worth of land. is likely to be left idle for many years. The land in Newmarket-road, Hendra, . near Brisbane, should not have been acquired. It should have been apparent to . any one inspecting this area that it was subject to flooding in wet weather, portion of the- land was below the level of the roadway, and the adjacent areas were covered with vegetation indicative of swampy conditions. Photographs have been ‘published in the Brisbane Courier showing the condition of these places after a heavy fall of rain, the water being- half way up the steps of. many of. the houses. The purchase for War Service Homes purposes- of. the Lydwin Estate, at Toowoomba, was a. mistake. The cost -of the allotments was too high, and: rendered the total cost of homes prohibitive.
The- principal and outstanding complaint in Victoria was the - absence of any knowledge by the majority of the applicants as to the price, that would becharged them for their homes. The contract with E. A. and D. Green for the supply of joinery^ and mouldings reveals an amazing lack of capacity. The circumstances of the firm were-, such as to have justified, extreme care on the part of the officers of the Commission in their/’ negotiations, but even ordinary business methods appear to have been neglected. The Commissioner allowed, himself to be involved in- heavy commitments by Green for huge quantities of timber, and then paid the firm brokerage on the- transaction. Joinery of an inferior quality was accepted by the Commissioner from Green, and of condemnatory reports sent in by the subordinate officers evidently little notice was taken a,t head-quarters. Although exception appears to have been taken occasionally to some of the unauthorized actions of Mr. E. A. Green of tlie above mentioned firm, yet he seems to have dominated the1 situation throughout. ‘ He left Australia about September; 1920, ostensibly on a trip to Europe, and has not yet returned. Then there - was the purchase- of timber areas in Queensland,, and I wish to emphasize the fact that, as soon as the purchase’ became known . in this House, the Country party questioned the bona fides of the transaction. Something like £500,000 was, spent on the purchase of a considerable area of land and timber that had to be cut out in ten years. Certain timber mills also were purchased, but only for’ a few weeks were any of the mills in operation. .The action of the Government in purchasing those areas has caused .considerable distress; the dispersal of the settlement at Canungra; and the waste of a considerable sum- of money. I have personal knowledge1 also that the Minister did not take the opportunity, when it was presented to- him’, of getting out of that transaction with only a reasonable loss. The price of> timber has been, continually falling, and’ the ultimate loss will be very, much greater than it would have been had he gob rid of the properties1 even a year ago; Another questionable transaction was the purchase of £38,000 of oregon-in WesternAustralia, without Ministerial, sanction.. When any expenditure of that size is projected in connexion with a- public, work it is referred to the Public Works Committee for investigation and report, .even though- it be only a telephone exchange’ or some other urgent work, upon which, expert officers have reported and advised. But, apparently, the War Service Homes Commissioner could buy what he liked without reference to anybody. .
The Committee also reported that the continuation of the services of Major-General McCay and LieutenantColonel Evans, which were retained by the Commissioner - until quite recently, the former as business adviser and the latter as consulting accountant, was unnecessary. The building of houses by day labour was very badly managed by the Commission, and materials were not always delivered when wanted or in sufficient quantities. The supervisors were not always well chosen, and even the bestof them were handicapped by being given the oversight of more work than they could effectively control. A serious defect in the organization of the Commission was found in the accountancy branch. The officer appointed to the charge of this important part of the work was quite unequal to it; he had neither the technical qualities nor the experience for the position, and the result was disastrous in many respects. The costing of the construction works was simply chaotic in the early stages. The checking of material was very defective, and stock-taking was neglected. The lack of effective and. sympathetic accountancy controlthroughout the whole scheme of operations was an outstanding and deplorable feature. Building material, timber areas, and mills have been acquired which are no longer needed. The Commissioner and his deputies made heavy purchases and entered into contracts for supplies covering lengthy periods, and , unfortunately for the Commission, the current of supply could not be stopped as easily as the building of houses.
The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) has already dealt with the Beech Forest mill, in Victoria, and other honorable members have referred to what is taking place in connexion with the Disposals Board. The Board is struggling to get rid of the accumulated stock, and is findingthe task very difficult. The country is entitled to know the estimated loss on the whole of the transactions, what method is being adopted at the present time, whether provision is being made to carry into effect the promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) and the then Assistant Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Rodgers) last December, what is to be the policy of the future, and whether we shallever have responsibility fixed upon a Minister inthis House for the carrying on of this work, which, in fulfilment of our promise to the soldiers, apparentlymust continue for several years. There are many other phases of the question that could be dealt with, but I do not think itis necessary to go into them to-night. because, already through the columns of the press and inevery town where returned soldiers congregate, these matters have been discussed. The War Service Homes transactions have been ventilated very freely, and the more they are ventilated the greater seems to be the trouble and the smell that comes from the ventilation. These conditionscannot beallowed to continue, and I personally will resist any attempt to carry to-night a vote of £4,000,000 for repatriation purposes and the building of War Service Homes unless and until we get satisfactory assurances from the Minister upon the points I have raised.
– I ask the indulgence of the House, for the reason that I received no notice of the amendment that was moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) this afternoon, and as the subject of War Service Homes covers four years of difficult and intricate transactions, it can hardly be expected that in a statement prepared in a brief time, Ican make any thing like as complete a statement as I had hoped to give had I been permitted to make my statement in the regular course and at a more appropriate time.
– I informed the Honorary Minister of my intention as soon as I knew that the Loan Bill was to be dealt with this afternoon.
– Still, I have not had an opportunity of leaving the House since the amendment was moved. I congratulate the Leader of the Opposition upon having, at least, refrained from repeating some of the slanderous statements with : regard to the administration of the War Service Homes that have been the chief topics of the g utter press during the past year or so. He has placed his case before Parliament in a reasonable and moderate way, and, although he blames the Government, he must know, as every member of the Houseknows, that Parliament deliberately took the control of the Department out of the hands of the Government.
Honorable Members. - No!
– Parliament deliberately took the control of this Department out of the hands of the Government, and placed it as far as it could beyond political control. I ask those honorable member’s who were in the House at the time when the War Service Homes Bill was passed, and who remember the agitation which, in the press and on the platform; preceded the introduction of the Bill, to cast their minds back to the atmosphere in which the measure was framed. Member after member on every side of the House re-echoed the demand of the soldiers that the Commission should be made independent. Indeed, an election was fought, in which this was one of the issues. The Government had a mandate from the people in regard to this legislation, and the mandate was that the demand of the soldiers for a Commission practically free of political control should be acceded to. I remember quite well when the first Bill was before the House, expressing my regret that the position created by the election and by the insistent and unanimous demand of the soldiers themselves had left Parliament little choice but to give these tremendous powers to the Commissioner. And it was in that atmosphere that the Commission was brought into being.
The Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) was not quite as generous as the Leader of the Opposition in his references to this matter. Right through his speech there was a demand for some one to be blamed, and a desire to use this question, which all sides profess to regard as non-party, for strengthening his party when an appeal is made to the electors in a few months’ time. All the investigations have been made by a Committee which is not dominated by the Government, but is composed mainly of members drawn from parties in opposition to the Government or independent of the Government.
– That is not so.
– It is so. The Government have no control over the Committee, and do not desire to exercise any; but I think it would be more becoming of some members of the Committee who have spoken to-night if, in their speeches, they exhibited a less partisan spirit than they have shown in this debate. Members of the Committee should not leave themselves open to accusations of bias or to charges of political partisanship, because they bring before the House the information they discover in the course of their investiga tions, and use it as a foundation for partisan attacks upon the Government.
I desire to take honorable members back to the time when the Act under which we are working was passed, and to ask them to’ remember, not only the powers conferred upon the Commissioner, but the industrial conditions which prevailed in the Commonwealth at that time. The controlling factor in the whole of this undertaking has been carefully omitted from every speech delivered to-day, as not one of the speakers who attacked the Department was generous enough to say that the Commissioner entered upon his task when the most able and experienced contractors in the Commonwealth were unable to get their work completed to their satisfaction. Industrial and commercial affairs were then so disturbed by the war that contractors refused to write a figure in their contracts, and even the Government had to enter into contracts involving the expenditure of enormous sums of money without knowing at what price goods would bc delivered. It was made clear by the honorable member who has just resumed his seat that there has been in much of this publicity and propaganda a desire to secure a political scapegoat. Parliament deliberately passed an Act clothing the Commissioner with certain powers, and very few Commissioners in the history of the Commonwealth or of the States have had such authority. But we find, partly because of these powers, and partly because of the industrial and commercial conditions to which I have referred, that the system has not been the success which those who clamoured for it thought it would be. Honorable members are anxious to find some one other than themselves to blame, but whatever blame can be attached to the mistakes made by the Commissioner, that blame must be shared by every honorable member who supported the Bill. They assisted its passage with their eyes open, and with the full knowledge that it was intended that the Commissioner should not be controlled by the Minister as officers in other Government Departments are controlled. The Government appointed a gentleman who appeared to be the most suitable of those who applied for the position, and although I took a very keen interest in all that was being done in connexion with repatriation work, I cannot recall one discordant note being sounded when the name of the Commissioner was announced. There are many who profess to be wise to-day, but it is a remarkable fact that those honorable members, who now profess to know so much, kept their knowledge to themselves. Whether the Commissioner performed his task well or ill, the fact remains that, at the time, there was no one who questioned the propriety of the appointment.
– Yes, there was.
– There was. no one who publicly questioned the appointment. The Leader of the Opposition referred to several important contacts entered into by the Commissioner, and for which he blamed the Government. I do not profess to have looked into every contract made by the Commissioner during the time he was in office, but I have endeavoured to ascertain the conditions under which some were let. The contracts with Driver, the Yarraman Pine Company, and E. A. and D. Green, mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, were made by the Commissioner under the powers conferred upon him by this Parliament, without the knowledge of the Minister. Some of those contracts were noi known to the Minister until long after they had been made.
The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. West) said that, although the Department was known to be in a chaotic state, nothing had been done, and the Leader of the Country party’ also wanted te know what action was being taken. This is not the first occasion on which the honorable member for Cowper has been found to be entirely ignorant concerning the contents of documents laid r.n the table of the House. I shall mention later some papers which have been tabled, and which, if perused by those honorable members who claim to know nothing concerning what has been done, afford some information.
Upon the Minister accidentally learning of one of these contracts, he communicated with the Commissioner. Tlie following is an extract from the files: - 20.3.20. - The Minister communicated with the Commissioner, and stated that on the previous Wednesday evening (24.3.20), in consequence of information which had been received, he asked the Commissioner by telephone to see him. The Commissioner attended at the House, and the Minister then informed him that he had been advised that a contract of considerable magnitude was being entered into for supplies of material, regarding which he expressed some doubts. The Commissioner promised to send to the Minister the following day particulars of all contracts concluded or then” being negotiated for timber supplies. On 26.3.20, the Minister found, from a perusal of certain papers, that on the 25.3.20, the Commissioner had made a formal and definite offer to complete a contract with Mr. Knott for the purchase of certain timber mills, and for the resale of them to Mr. Driver. The Minister then stated : - “ To me the purchase of saw-milling plants and other requisites to meet your timber needs is a matter of policy as distinct from the acquisition of material through tlie ordinary channels. Still more does it seem a matter on which the Government should have been afforded an opportunity for consideration before an offer was made to sell upon terms, as the result of private negotiation, of property which I assume was purchased with this object in view.” In the same document the Minister stated that he should have been consulted, and that, although the Crown Law Officers had possibly informed the Commissioner that he was acting within his powers under the War Service Homes Act, such officers would not dispute the contention that on all matters of policy the Minister, and through him the Government, should have been informed. 13.4.20. - Commissioner forwarded to Minister five copies of policy of Commission in relation to the securing of building supplies. This stated in general terms the difficulties met with, and what was necessary to be done to. secure full supplies for the Commission. 1.5.20. - Minister communicates with Commissioner regarding his communication of the 13th April, and stated: - “The statements contained in your memorandum, headed ‘Policy regarding supplies of building materials,’ gave me considerable surprise. I had not the slightest idea that you were taking such action until recently, when I learned from outside sources of the arrangement entered into with Mr. Driver, and when I immediately communicated with you as per my memorandum of the 29th March last, to which I have not yet received any reply. I do not at this juncture express any opinion as to the soundness “or otherwise regarding the engagements in which you have entered, but it appears to me that in many respects matters of policy are involved, and that upon these reference should have been made to me as Minister. I am quite aware that with the exception of land no limit is placed upon the Commissioner’s right to purchase the things necessary to carry out the purposes of the War Service Homes Act, but I also direct attention to clause 5 (1) of that measure, reading as follows: - ‘There shall be a Commissioner, who shall, subject to the directions of the Minister, be responsible for the execution of this Act.’ It was obviously tlie intention of Parliament that in all matters of policy the Minister should stand as the final authority, and this is the practice invariably followed in other Departments controlled by
Commissioners. I specially direct attention to the agreementsmade by the Commissioner, under which he is advancing large sums of money to manufacturers to enable them to erect new plant and machinery, and for the purchase by cash of five mills and the re-sale of these upon terms. Will you please supply me with full details of each of the arrangements referred to in your memorandum, and of any others which have been completed, as also of any in respect of which negotiations may be in progress. In view of this memorandum you will, I am sure, recognise the desirability of refraining for the present from completing any other arrangements or contracts of the character referred to.” 6.5.20. - No replywas sent to theMinister’s communication of the 29.3.20, but on 6.5.20 the Commissioner, though not even replying to the Minister’s communication of 1.5.20, sent to the Minister a comprehensive statement as to his policy regarding the acquisition of supplies. This showed that the Commissioner, without authority from the Minister, had entered into an extensive contract with the Yarraman Pine Company and E. A. and D. Green, bad purchased saw-mills in Victoria, and was contemplating the purchase of saw-mills in Queensland. The Commissioner also set out that he had agreed to finance certain manufacturers, namely, Limb, Scurry and Limb, Alkemade Bros., and Kemp Bros., and others.
That is the position in connexion with several of the most important contracts, and the facts are that the Commissioner was clothed with legal power to do practically as he pleased in the matter of administration.
-But that was altered in an amending Bill.
– Even after that measure had been passed the Commissioner continued to act in defiance of the law.
-What did the Government do?
– I shall tell the honorable member. The Commissioner and his deputies were not only clothed with wide powers, but exceeded the powers with which they were invested, and; ignoring the directions of the Minister, continued to make contracts, even after amending legislation had been passed by this Parliament limiting them to an expenditure of £5,000. The Ministen followed up his memorandum by appointing a public accountant of high standing to inquire into both the question of projected contracts and the internal organization of the Department. That step was taken to ascertain, first of all, what was being done, and, secondly, to secure competent advice upon the various contracts that were being submitted. Thenext step was the appointment of an Advisory Committee, consisting of Major-General Sir James McCay, Lieut. -Colonel Evans, and Mr. William Stewart, to thoroughly investigate the affairs of the Department, and to advise the then Assistant Minister (Mr. Rodgers) as to what should be done. I think that these successive steps show that the Minister, as soon as he became aware that the proceedings of the Department were not exactly as he wished, took every precaution that a reasonable business man would take to inform himself as to what was the real condition of affairs, and, secondly, to obtain the best advice available as to the manner in which the defects might be remedied.
I leavethat phase of the question for a moment, and invite the attention of the House to some of the statements that have been made during this debate with regard to the purchase of land. The spirit in which some honorablemembers approach this subject is indicated by the attitude of the honorable member for Robertson (Mr. Fleming). The honorable member quoted from a report of the Public Accounts Committee inwhich reference was made to the excessive purchases of land. He dwelt a little upon that feature of the Commissioner’s work, but he failed to mention, although it is part of the final report of the Public Accounts Committee, that this excessive purchase of land took place in defiance of the Minister’s direct instructions.
– What was done to the officers who defied the Minister?
– If I cared to detain the House I could have a rather interesting and amusing time in replying to some of the minor contentions of this debate. There are two which, to me, appear to be remarkable. The first is to be found in the question which the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Parker Moloney) has just put to me, “ What became of these officers?” The answer is that they were discharged, but that whenever one of them was dismissed, some member of Parliament rose in his place and said that a poor soldier was being turned adrift without means of livelihood. Here to-night we have had the same kind of criticism. The Commission is blamed if it dismisses an officer, and it is blamed also if it retains him. Whatever it does, the object and policy of some of its critics is to blame the Government.
– Does not theMinister think that they deserve to be blamed ?
– Not for anything done by the Commissioner by virtue of the powers with which this Parliament clothed him.
– All these people are your friends.
– The honorable member (Mr. West) mentioned an officer, who is no friend of mine, who was dismissed because he was negotiating for the purchase of land in excess of the amount to which he was limited, and also because he was one of the principal contributors to the excessive cost of some of the houses in Queensland. When he was discharged the honorable member said that he oughtnot to have been turned adrift. I have not time, however, to go into these tempting avenues of debate.
– It is just as well that the Minister has not time to read some of his former speeches on this question.
– The honorable member might read them with some profit at the present time, since they would furnish him with an example of an honorable member trying to be fair to a Minister. I said in this House long before I joined the Cabinet that the. treatment to which the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) had been subjected by the newspapers - and by newspapers professing to support the Government at the time - was a scandal to journalism. I know of no instance in the public life of this country where a man who was asked to undertake a difficult job in the most difficult circumstances - a man who served the people, as every honorable member who was in the House at the time knows, not by working eight hours a day or forty-four hours a week, but by working day and night, in order to get this scheme into shape - was treated as the Minister for Repatriation was treated by people who knew the facts, and professed to be supporting the Government as’ well as to be friends of the soldiers. He was treated in a way that should bring the blush of shame to the cheeks of those who wrote the articles that I have in mind, as well as to the cheeks of many honorable members who have criticised him.
On the 2nd December, 1919,theMinister instructed that land was to be purchased up to only twelve months’ requirements. In February, 1920, however, the
Commissioner instructed all deputies- to purchase for a minimum ‘programme of three years and a maximum programme of five years’ requirements. Despite this, some honorable members would say that we should make a scapegoat of the Minister, because, after he had issued the definite instruction that no land should be purchased in excess of the estimated requirements for one. year, the Commissioner deliberately instructed his officers to exceed that direction by. purchasing to meet the estimated requirements of from three to five years. A fact that meets all the arguments on this point is that the lands purchased with the approval of the Minister were 363 acres, while those purchased by the Commissioner and his deputies, without the Minister’s approval, totalled 2,160 acres.
I think it was the Leader of the Opposition who spoke of money being advanced without interest in certain cases. In one of these cases the Minister gave a direction that interest was to be charged, yet I think it was on the succeeding day that a direction was conveyed to. the Crown Law officers to prepare an agreement in which interest was waived. The agreement was so prepared and executed, although the Minister in that specific case had, directed that interest wastobe charged.
In connexion with the purchase of land in undesirable places, some reference was made to the. fact that the’ Government) should have made use of Government: officials for their guidance. In the case of the worst purchase of land mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition, the case of the Newcastle purchase, let me say that it was made on the recommendation first of local officers, and then of the principal surveyor of the Commonwealth. Home and Territories Department. In that case and in other cases the services of public officials were used where they could be; but in some cases they were not so careful as they might have been.
With regard to the timber areas purchased in Queensland, I do notthink I need pursue that topic much further; The Public Accounts Committee investigated the matter, and their report as to the action of the Commission at the time it was taken was not unfavorable.
I wish now to say a word or two about the homes themselves. One honorable member, speaking with the responsibility which attaches to a member of this House, referred to “ the shacks known as War Service Homes.” I have regarded it as my duty to meet considerable bodies of the men who are living in these homes. I thought when I went to the Department that I should best secure a knowledge of what the facts were in connexion with these matters by meeting the representatives of the soldiers living in some of the groups around Melbourne. While it is true - and no one can deny it - that some of the homes have been erected without that due regard to drainage and other facilities which ought to have been exercised by those intrusted with this important work, the statement that these homes are not well constructed is unture as regards more than 90 per cent, of the soldiers’ homes all over Australia. I had a deputation of soldiers from one settlement here last week, and the first thing one of them said to me was, “ Well, Mr. Minister, I want to say to you that we are net complaining of the quality of the homes. We have some. of the best homes in Victoria.” To say of the whole of these homes that they are “ shacks “ is to indicate a quality of mind that can render little service to the soldier or to the Government by any criticism it- may offer of anything that the Minister or the Commissioner may do.
The worst cases in connexion with the work of the War Service Homes Commission in Australia are two in New. South Wales. One is the case of the group at Goulburn. That group has served as the text for press and platform on, I should say, hundreds of occasions, not as a special case, but as though the homes in that group represented the quality of homes that the Commission is providing all over Australia. The fact is that the homes at Goulburn were not erected by the Commission at all, but by the Commonwealth Bank, and under its supervision.
– And they were erected by contract.
– They were not houses of day-labour construction. They were erected by the Commonwealth Bank on the contract system, and the Commission had eventually to step in to finish the job. It is not finished yet. Some honorable members talk very airily about being able to finalize these things in a few minutes, but there are legal aspects of many of the cases which prevent the Commission moving until it is known exactly how it will stand in the matter of claims for damages which may be made. I can assure the Leader of the Opposition that if he has any hope that contracts can be terminated without regard to what the contractors may regard as their right to damages, he must disabuse his mind of that impression. He seemed to emphasize, and to a little over emphasize, the steps taken by the Acting Commissioner or by the Minister to terminate many of the agreements. We admit that we have no use, under the new system, which I shall describe a little later on, for much of the material delivered under these contracts, and the only course open to the Minister, in the circumstances, was to make such arrangements with the contractors as should lead to the termination of their contracts upon as equitable. conditions as he could secure. In this connexion I must say what the Sydney Morning Herald said the other day, that throughout the whole of these cases there is a sad lack of any exhibition of that patriotic spirit amongst contracting and commercial people that, we saw when they were prominent in other places and for other purposes. With very few exceptions, every contractor who has had a contract under the Commission has attempted to extract from the Government the last penny he could get under his. contract.
– No doubt they were flagflappers, too.
– There maybe amongst them some of the flagflappers, .but that is balanced on the other side by some persons whose enthusiasmfor, and interest in, the soldiers is very new, and has in it more of politics than of patriotism.
The other leading case is that of the houses at Cessnock, and on this I shall detain the House for a little. The PublicAccounts Committee has presented a report condemnatory of the Cessnock houses based largely upon the report of an architect, who stated, amongst otherthings -
I do not know what steps you are taking,, but I can, only see one satisfactory plan, which, is based on my conclusion that most of the houses are useless except for the value of iron in the roofs and some of the constructional* timbers and fittings.
That is the kind of report on which the statement of the Public Accounts Committee with regard to the Cessnock houses, was based.
– The honorable gentleman must not forget that the Committee inspected the houses.
-I am glad to say that some highly qualified persons also inspected them. I felt that this was one of the serious cases of bad work by the Commission, and I determined that it should be thoroughly investigated in order to see what there was in it. We had an Adjustment Board sitting at the time, and this matter was referred to them. I will not trouble the House with a great deal of the report referring to the history of the case, but amongst other things it contains the following: -
The Board deemed it advisable to secure the most reliable assistance available for its guidance in the consideration of these cases. Mr. J. A. Kethel, a well-known architect of this city, together with Mr. J. Harrison, an equally well-known builder, were asked to make an independent investigation of the whole circumstances and report to the Board in reply to the following questions: -
Whether the work carried out partially by the contractor and completed by the Commission was finished in accordance with the contract plans and specifications.
If the quality of materials supplied and standard of workmanship carried out conforms to the requirements of the specifications.
If fair value is represented in the completed houses, taking the contract price as a basis of valuation.
If 1, 2, and 3 are not answered in the affirmative, then what allowance, if any, should he made in respect of depreciation caused by defective workmanship or material?
In addition to this, the Board paid a visit of inspection and examined the timber, workmanship, &c, in conjunction with Mr. Kethel and Mr. Harrison. The District Works Officer was also invited to be present, and was present, at the inspection. As mentioned above, these are reports which were made independently, and, whilst they differ slightly in some respects, they afford the Board sufficient information, coupled with its own inspection, to enable it to accept them, and to adopt the recommendations as to the value of the respective houses as appearing in Mr. Harrison’s report.
The result of the inspection of these homes was a recommendation to the Minister that the capital cost of the houses should be reduced by £1,189 12s. 9d., or £59 each.When it isremembered that these dwellings were erected at a time of very high costs of construction, and that the valuation was made when costs were falling, we can justly estimate the value of the report of the architect whose sensational statements have led to these houses being included among the “ shacks “ referred to by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart).
– Is it not possible that the valuations now made were carried out after repairs had been effected?
– The reports upon which the Board acted were made after the repairs referred to had been carried out ; but the quotation I have made from the critical architect’s report declared that these buildings were only valuable as roofing iron, and building material.
It has been said that comparatively few houses were built during the last financial year. As a matter of fact, the expenditure in that periodupon buildings, purchases, and mortgages was £1,769,238, and I would point out to the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), who has been taking an interest in the number of men employed on the Sydney staff, that the War Service Homes staff are not solely engaged on the business of building houses. During the last financial year the revenue collected by the officers of the Commission exceeded £1,000,000, and if not a single house had been built it would still have been necessary to maintain a considerable staff to collect the moneys owing to the Commonwealth and see that the properties were properly cared for.
It has also been said that timber is coming in from the Driver contract. No such timber is coming in.
– How much is stacked ?
– Between 2,500,000 and 3,000,000 super. feet.
– Where is it being stacked?
– At the mill.
I would like now to resume the story of what was done to correct the state of affairs which came under the Minister’s notice in the circumstances I have already related. Following upon the appointment of the Advisory Board, two other Boards were appointed. To one was remitted the question of excess costs and the adjustment it was fair to make to the soldier. To the other was given the important task of disposing of the vast accumulations of material for which the Commissioner would have no use. Several honorable members have spoken to-night about the soldier “ having to pay.” Over and over again the honorable member for
Robertson (Mr. Fleming) repeated that phrase. Yet not once, but several times, the Government have told this House that the soldier would not be asked to pay for excess costs due to the faulty administration of the Commission. It is now too late in the day for honorable members to seek to make party capital out of this cry. The policy which the Department is pursuing is not only fair to the soldiers, but is generous to them. After all is said and done, there is not a house and land agent of any standing in theCountry but would be very glad to take the whole of the houses over atthe cost to the Commission. Cases come under our notice every day in which the soldiers who have had to realize on their homes have made a considerable profit in doing so.
– Particularly in Victoria.
– It applies throughout Australia. Some honorable members who profess to be interpreting the thoughts of the soldiers have had very slight contact with them or they would not make the statements they do. It is true that the soldiers have had to wait. No one regrets this more than I do, but I ask honorable members to consider what was the position. What would the Leaders of the Opposition parties in this Parliament have said if, after it came to the knowledge of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) that things were wrong - that contracts had been made for material which was coming forward in quantities that could not possibly be used, and that the policy in some respects needed revision - he had continued to proceed blindly, allowing all these things to be done, and making no effort to ascertain the exact position and apply the proper remedies ? Honorable members would then have been justified in the charges they are now making against the Government in its administration of War Service Homes Department. But when it can be shown, as I have endeavoured to do in the main, that so soon as the Minister became aware of the use which the Commissioner was makingof the tremendous powers Parliament -had reposed in him, he took every reasonable step, first to investigate and ascertain what was being done, and then to remedy it, and that when he found things were as serious as they werehe stopped the wholework of the Department in order that there might be a thorough investigation before another penny was spent- I think he should have the commendation and not the condemnation of Parliament. He rendered a service to the soldiers and to the people of Australia when he said that until he was satisfied that a more sane system had been introduced he would mark time, and I believe the people will commend him for having done the correct thing. Last year we did not spend the amount allocated for the building of soldiers’ homes because the Minister was convinced that until a better system was introduced it would be hopeless to expect that homes could be constructedat as reasonable a price as they should be.
– Why do you not plead guilty?
– I do not plead guilty because I am not personally responsible, and because the Minister himself is not responsible for thecondition of affairs which he found toexist. And again I say that Parliament deliberately took from the Minister the power to interfere with theadministration of the Commissioner.
– And you have been taking half-an-hour to prove the opposite.
– No. The honorable member for Barrier is very fond of accusing people of doing something which they have not done.
Mr.Considine.- The documents you read to-night proved that.
Mr.HECTOR LAMOND.- No. They proved that the Minister claimed that, on matters of policy, he should have been consulted by the Commissioner.
Mr.Considine. - You stated that he gave specific instructions, and that they were disregarded. What action did he take then?
– I have shown that, on matters of policy, the Minister claimed a right to direct the Commissioner; but that the latter refused to be directed.
– Yes,and what action did the Government take then?
– I am telling the House. I want honorable members to realize that this business of building WarService Homes is not a small undertaking that can be turned this way and thatway at a moment’s notice. We are dealing mot in hundreds) ‘but in millions’, of pounds, and when i t was brought home to the Minister that the administration was imperfect, clearly his first duty to Parliament and the people was to call a halt until he could investigate the position and sec that, for the future, the Commonwealth got full value for every pound of expenditure. But, apart from the future, there remains a tremendous task of cleaning up, a task that calls for-
– An .election.
– I have heard of many things being cured by an election, and I have noted that many who in this House have clamoured for an election have-not been seen here afterwards: But- I do not think an election will clean up1 all the- trouble in connexion with the War Service Homes Department’, and I want to impress upon honorable members that, in addition to the re-organization work ahead of us, and the future building’ of homes’ for our’ returned soldiers, we- must see- that- we get fair market price- for the- accumulated stock on our hands. ‘ Throughout Australia there is a constant agitation to force the Government’ to realize upon this or that particular asset. There appears to be; an impression that the Government should throw everything’ into the market at -once. I have resisted that pressure from, the time I accepted any responsibility for the Department, and I shall continue to resist it so long as I remain in this position. It is utterly hopeless to expect to get the, prices we paid for many of the- materials- that have been acquired; but that is not a condition peculiar to this’ Government. The very newspapers from which the- Leader of the Country party (Dr. Earle Page) quoted to-day - the Melbourne newspapers - are levying upon their readers a tax of 100 per cent, for every copy they sell, and they give as a reason that they made unfavorable contracts for news paper three or four years ago.
– They will not print that.
– No ;. they may not. But it is pretty safe to say that’ if we had attempted to charge our returned soldiers another 50 or 75 per cent, to recoup the Department for unfavorable contracts, these very newspapers; which, during the war; levied a tax of over a million pounds per annum upon the people of Aus;tralia, by way of increased charges for their papers; would be- the- first to charge the Government with being- guilty of an iniquitous act. We are- not able to pass it on to the commercial community, or reading public, as these newspapers have been doing in recent years; In the circumstances’ we might, expect that if we cannot get from them- the fairness: of a just criticism, we ought, at least, to have the silence of a. guilty conscience.
I referred a little earlier in my remarks to the fact that, if honorable members read documents that are tabled in Parliament, they would not have- made some of the statements- that were made to-night. Among the documents recently tabled are agreements with the Government of’ Western Australia, and the Savings Bank- of Victoria, for the future construction of War- Service Homes. But in addition, this House was informed, in the Governor-General’s Speech - a document which one would have expected, honorable members to read, or, if: not, to have heard read - that the. Government were endeavouring to. secure State or semi-<State utilities, such as the Savings Bank Commissioners, to undertake the building of soldiers’ homes in the future: As I have indicated, we have- succeeded in concluding an agreement with the Western Australian Government for. the carrying out of this work under the provisions of the Workers’ Homes- Act, and in Victoria, it will be intrusted to the State Savings Bank authorities. In South Australia the work has been carried out for -some time by the State Bank authorities with money loaned by the Commonwealth. Government. We are negotiat-ing for an agreement with, the Queensland Government for the construc-ti on of homes in that State, but,, so far, we have not succeeded in arriving at an agreement with New South Wales- or Tasmania. I may stale, however, that in. New South Wales the staff of the War Service Homes: Commission: has been overhauled three times since -I have” been in the Department. It was overhauled first by an outside accountant specially appointed1 by my predecessor. Afterwards I sent an officer over to examine the position- carefully, and, as a result of his recommendations, we had a second clean up. Subsequently the Treasury, which was still anxious about the matter, sent over an officer to make investigations, but I am glad to say that he found the work of re-organization had been done so well by the Commissioner that there was very little for him to recommend in the way of further economy.
– How long ago was that?
– Two or three months ago. I want to assure honorable members that, so far as the expenditure of money, for which we are asking in this Bill, is concerned, every precaution that could reasonably be taken to benefit by the experience of the past has been taken, to insure that it will be profitably expended, and enable us to advise a returned soldier, before he takes over his home, exactly what it will cost him. He will then know precisely where he stands. As indicating the mass of matter that has to be dealt with in this Department, I may mention that after the determination of the reductions to be made to soldiers in connexion with these excess costs, it is estimated that there will be nearly three months of office work necessary to give effect to the decisions.
I have touched upon most of the major matters to which allusion has been made during the debate. The leading points have been ventilated over and over again, but the difficulties are such that it is not easy to clean up some of the contracts as rapidly as we could have wished. Two of the most important among those mentioned to-day are in process of finalization. But we cannot break contracts without facing responsibility for the action taken. We are required to see that at every step the interests of the Government are protected. We want to see that we get out of this business as cheaply as possible, so far as the contractors are concerned; and, on the other hand, that we get tis much as possible for. the assets which we have to realize. Although we have realized considerably more than one-third of the assets which were placed under the control of the Disposals Board, our losses will not be anything like as heavy as many of .those suffered by merchants in connexion with bargains made during the war period.
Honorable members are free to express what opinions they may have of what has been done, and to speak as freely as they wish in criticism of what we may do in the future; but I do appeal to: them not to refuse to grant the money which is necessary to continue building homes for soldiers under the conditions indicated - conditions which will secure that the money spent shall be spent to the best advantage, and that the experience of the past shall be taken as a guide to more successful efforts in the future.
In conclusion, I desire to mention what has been actually done. Altogether 18,611 homes have been approved. The number of existing homes ‘ bought is 11,156, and the mortgages lifted total 1,673.
– And the Government were going to build 8,000 homes a year I
– I thank the honorable member for that interjection. It reminds me of one important matter which I had overlooked. We would only be doing harm to our returned soldiers if we pretended that we could build for them more houses than the artisans of Australia can construct. If we attempt to build 8,000 houses a year, we cannot do so on the basis of normal prices. It should be borne in mind that the late Commissioner moved in an atmosphere entirely different from that which we breathe to-day. It was one in which everybody wanted to do all that was possible for the soldiers, without reflecting upon ways and means. To carry out so colossal a programme for building in Australia would be to court failure. We would fail for either of two reasons, or, perhaps, for both. We would either be unable to get sufficient labour, or that labour would be secured at such a cost that the soldier would be unable to pay for his home when it had been built.
– Then why did the Government instruct the late Commissioner that he had to go on building at the rate of 8,000 houses a year?
– What I have just said has been decided upon in the light of the experience we have gained. If any other person had been in the shoes of the late Commissioner, he would have made some blunders. It should not be forgotten that the period was one in which Parliament and people outside were urging the Government, and the Commissioner, to make just those blunders which were made. There was a clamorous demand that building should be on a large scale and pressed forward with- out delay. It is easy to be wise after the event. The Government propose to carry out their programme, takingcare tosee that the number of houses built does not raise prices unduly to the soldier purchasers, and taking every precaution to secure the utmost economy and the best return for our outlay.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided.
Majority . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question (Mr. Charlton’s amendment) - put.
The House divided .
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 (Short title).
– I move-
That this Bill be now read a second time.
This is a short but urgent measure. Section 3 of the Defence (Civil Employment) Act of 1918 provides that the Act shall continue in force for the duration of the war and twelve months thereafter, and no longer. Under the Termination of the Present War Actof 1919, a proclamation was issued by the- Governor-General, which, fixed the 3 1st day of August, 1921, as the date of the termination of the war. Therefore, the Defence (Civil Employment) Act really expires to-morrow. After the Royal Commission on Defence Administration had reported that civil officers of the- Department) were working under varying conditions of employment, all of which militated against efficiency, an Act was passed; to enable uniform lines of administration to he adopted, during the period of the war. and for twelve months thereafter. Consequently, the officers of the Public Service who were in the Defence Department, and the military staff clerks, who were military officers, were subject to one final authority as civil employees under the Defence Act. If the Defence (Civil Employment) Act is allowed to expire these men will revert to ‘exactly the same positions as they were in at the time the Commission reported. The object of this Bill is- to continue the provisions of the Defence (Civil Employment) Act until a date -to be fixed by - proclamation. In the meantime the Public Service Bill will bo- proceeded: with, one object of which will be to enable uniform administration to take place in these: matters under the Public Service Board. This Bill’ affects something like 500 officers.
Question resolved- in the affirmative-.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate. .
House adjourned at 10.50 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 30 August 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1922/19220830_reps_8_100/>.