15th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. J. Bell) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Investigation of Affairs by Taxation Department.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been directed to the press report that the Federal Taxation Department is investigating the operations of a large business and financial concern in Melbourne? If so, will he indicate to the House the nature of the investigation the names of the groups involved, and the character of the business or operations in -which those groups are engaged?
– I have not seen the report referred to by the honorable member, although it was mentioned to me by one pressman. I shall have inquiries made into the matter.
Public Service: Amalgamation with Commonwealth.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior what steps, if any, are being taken for the amalgamation of the public services of the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth?
– No steps have actually been taken in this regard, but I understand that the Minister for the Interior is making investigations with respect to the matter.
Publication of Booklet by Departmentof Commerce.
– Has the Department of Commerce within the last six months printed or published, or caused to be printed or published, a booklet on industrial arbitration in Australia? If such a work has been withdrawn from circulation, what is the reason for its withdrawal ?
– A booklet explaining the Australian system of industrial arbitration was published by the Department of Commerce for use in connexion with exhibitions in the United States of America. At a certain stage in the course of printing errors were found to have crept in, and the booklet was withdrawn for the purpose of having them corrected.
Accountancy Advisory Panel
– Will the Minister for Supply and Development inform this House of the names of the accountants already appointed to act on the advisory panel to be set up under the Supply and Development Act?
– A final decision as to what individuals shall be approached has not yet been made. I expect that the matter will be decided within the next few days. The names of the individuals appointed to the panel will then be made known to the House.
– Is the Minister for
Trade and Customs yet in a position to make a statement relative to the alleged dumping in Australia of felt hats made by Italian felt hat manufacturers, and to the assertion that these firms are subsidized by the Italian Government?
– Inquiries into this matter are in train, and I hope to have at an early date a statement that I can make to the House upon it.
Expenditure of Approved Societies
– I ask the Minister for
Social Services if approved societies formed under the National Health and Pensions Insurance Act have forwarded returns of the expenditure incurred in their formation as approved societies? If so, what is the aggregate amount?
– Complete information is not yet to hand. It is coming to hand daily, and so soon as it is complete I shall apprise the honorable gentleman of the total amount.
– Has the Prime Minister seen in to-day’s leading article of the Canberra Times the statement that “if, by conscription, is meant compulsory military service beyond the confines of Australia, it is already well known that this could not be achieved without an amendment of the Commonwealth Constitution ? “ As I have heard the contrary view expressed, will the right honorable gentleman make to the House a statement as to the exact position, in order to allay the existing public disquiet?
– I have already said that compulsory military service overseas in time of war is not part of the policy of this Government, and that the Government stands against it. In these circumstances, I should like tobe absolved from expounding to the House what might prove to be my own view as to the effect of the Commonwealth Constitution on that problem, because the question does not arise.
– The right honorable member knows what the effect is.
– The honorable member has been good enough to say that I do, but I confess freely that I do not.
– In view of the Prime Minister’s statement that he is unaware as to whether there is, or is not any provision in the Commonwealth Constitution which provides a safeguard against the sending of conscript soldiers overseas, will he seek the opinion of more qualified legal gentlemen in the community as to what the exact position is? If it be found that the Constitution contains no safeguard for the people in this direction, will he give to them an early opportunity to sanction an amendment of the Constitution so that this safeguard may be provided?
– I shall conduct an earnest search for persons of the type referred to by the honorable member.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether any representations have been made to him by newspaper interests witha view to preventing the publication of a weekly journal by the Australian Broadcasting Commission?
– I have received many representations from various sections of the community. All of them are being given consideration.
– Is the proposed weekly journal to be published by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to contain advertisements? If so, is this considered to be a legitimate exercise of the commission’s functions under the act, which prohibits the broadcast of advertisements?
– The decision in respect of the journal was made by the previous Government. If the present Government is to take any responsibility in the matter, it should have an opportunity to consider every aspect of it. Therefore, the proposalhas been placed before the Government, which is giving considerationto it.
– In order to clarify the uncertainty surrounding the intentions of the commission, can the Prime Minister make a statement to the House?
– As my colleague the Postmaster-General has just pointed out, the matter is now being considered by the Cabinet.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral whether it is a fact that the Cabinet has already agreed in principle to the publication of a weekly journal by the Australian Broadcasting Commission ? If so, why is it necessary for the Cabinet to give the matter consideration?
– The present Cabinet has not reached a decision in the matter.
– Is it a fact that the newspapers which are clamouring against the publication of a journal by the Australian Broadcasting Commission are themselves controlling 48 B class stations? Have these newspapers refused to publish the programmes of A class stations except on the payment of advertising rates? To meet this demand for payment for advertisements, would the Australian Broadcasting Commission be involved in a cost of nearly £90,000 per annum? Has the Postmaster-General yet decided whether the press agitation is genuine opposition to the existence of such a journal, or is an attempt to extort huge sums from the commission?
– With one qualification,my reply to the first two parts of the question is “ Yes “. The reply to the second part of the question is that the amount involved would depend entirely on the newspaper space taken up in the publication of the programmes. If the honorable gentleman wishes to receive an answer to the last part of his question, he should place it on the notice-paper.
– Does the British Broadcasting Corporation publish a journal of the type proposed to be published by the Australian Broadcasting Commission ? If so, has the honorable gentleman seen a copy of it?
– The British Broadcasting Corporation publishes two journals. I have seen both of them, and am impressed by their make-up.
– I rise to a personal explanation. I am credibly informed that, in a section of the daily press, it has been made to appear, arising outof a question asked by me in this House yesterday, that 1 am in sympathy with the special pleading of many of the daily newspapers in connexion with the broadcasting journal. As clearly appeared from my question, the contrary is the fact. I am not in the least interested in their claims, nor am I in sympathy with them.
– Is it not a fact that the commission has decided to embark on the publication of its own journal with Cabinet approval, and is there any danger of the Cabinet reversing its decision in this matter?
– It appears to the Chair that that question has been fully answered, and should not be asked again. When the Minister said that Cabinet was considering the matter, surely he gave a full answer.
– I asked whether the decision of the commission had been made with Cabinet approval.
– That question appeared on the notice-paper ten days ago.
– Has the PostmasterGeneral any knowledge of the success that has attended the British Broadcasting Corporation’s efforts in the publication of its own journal, and, if so, will he ascertain the position in that regard before there is any reversal of the decision to publish a similar journal in Australia?
– The answer to both parts of the question is “ Yes “.
– As it has been stated in the press that two firms have obtained contracts for the supply of 77,000 pairs of military boots, one receiving orders for about 69,000 pairs, and the other for about 7,000 pairs, and that it is proposed to grant educational orders of 500 pairs each to eight other firms, will the Minister for Defence consider in future a more equable distribution of these tenders among the various manufacturers?
– The facts are as the honorable member has stated. Where the tender prices .are sufficiently close to allow an equable spread of the contracts, this is done ; but, in the case under consideration, the disparity in the prices was so great that it was not possible to do so.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior state whether any age limit is applied to migrants or refugees wishing to enter Australia? If, not, will he take immediate steps to prevent aged persons from coming into this country?
– No age limit operates, but the facts in individual cases are considered by the Minister before admission is granted. In some cases in which parents are already naturalized, their children are admitted, and, in other instances, young people secure permits for their parents. On the whole we do what we can to meet the wishes of those desirous of becoming citizens of this country.
– It was stated some time Ago that the Lyons Government had agreed to the abolition of the interstate rate applicable to telegrams and to the adoption of the radial system. Will the Postmaster-General say whether it is correct, as stated in the press, that the proposals of the Lyons Government have been departed from, and that the suggested alteration will not be made ?
– It is not correct.
– Has the attention of the Prime Minister been drawn to the’ report of a speech made ‘by the Minister for Civil Aviation at Campbell Town, Tasmania, in which he is reported to have said, “Before long this country will be the air arsenal of the Empire in the Pacific “ ? If the Prime Minister has read that statement does he agree that it is a correct pronouncement of government policy?
– I have not seen the report referred to. If my colleague was telling his audience that it was anticipated that there would be a very large development of aircraft manufacture in Australia, not only for. Australia’s requirements, but also for those of other parts of the Empire, I would entirely agree with him.
– Will the Minister for Supply and Development state when- the report of the Commonwealth Standing Committee on Liquid Fuels will be available to the House and the public?
– The Government has not yet had an opportunity finally to consider all of the recommendations of the committee, but, as soon as it has done so, the report willbe made available to the House.
– In view of the fact that the Postal Department can expend £800,000 from its profits on the building of additions to the Sydney General Post Office, will the Postmaster-General consider the reduction of the minimum annual revenue of £400 which must be guaranteed before a country district can be served by a continuous telephone service? The guarantee was raised to that level in order to meet the financial needs of the department.
– The honorable gentleman is no doubt aware that any profits from the department cannot be used by the department, because they automatically go into Consolidated Revenue. I shall, however, give consideration to the point he has raised in his question.
– Has the attention of the Prime Ministerbeen drawn to an article in a Sydney weekly newspaper from which the following is an extract: -
It was shown that the children were taken from a bag shack at Gol Gol on the Murray River, near Mildura. They were living with their widowed mother in extreme poverty. The children subsequently appeared before the court yesterday and were committed to an institution in Sydney.
Will the Prime Minister have the circumstances of that case investigated with a view to meting out to that family, and to other families similarly situated, the same warm and generous consideration lately given to the widow and family of the late Prime Minister?
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order ! The latter part of that question is not in order.
– I have not seen the report referred to.
– And will not answer the question.
– Order !
– What about the question of assistance to this family?
-Order ! Honorable members are gravely disorderly when they repeat a question or an interjection after having been called to order by the Chair.
Formal Motion for Adjournment
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).I have received from the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ The acceptance of a tender to erect additions to the General Post Office, Sydney, at a cost of £410,776, such tender not being the lowest tender received.”
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I move this motion for the purpose of discussing -
The acceptance of a tender to erect additions to the General Post Office, Sydney, for a sum of £410,776, such tender not being the lowest tender received.
– Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– I direct the attention of honorable members especially to the action of the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) and the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Harrison) in accepting or approving of a tender other than the tender which was accepted by me when I was Minister for Works. I should like to outline briefly the history of the position, because I feel that it is a dangerous precedent to allow to pass. Possibly the Minister for the Interior made a mistake. A considerable time ago the Government of the day decided that it was absolutely necessary to provide for additions to the Sydney General Post Office. Inquiries were made and conferences and discussions with the responsible officers were held, and it was ultimately definitely decided that additions were necessary. The Government accordingly took steps to secure the necessary land and resumed a site adjacent to the General Post Office. Subsequently, plans and specifications were prepared under instructions from the Government.
– For what reason?
– Thorough investigations were made and it was decided that additions were necessary to cope with the work of the General Post Office. Officers of the Works and the PostmasterGeneral’s Departments conferred as to the plans and specifications, and ultimately these, together with the estimates, were considered by Cabinet. Tenders were then called. Alternative tenders were asked, first, for a building with granite facing on the lower and terra-cotta facing on the upper floors, and, secondly, for granite facing on the lower and sandstone facing on the upper floors. The two sets of specifications were submitted to the whole of the contractors, and a very satisfactory list of responsible contractors tendered. The tenderers numbered ten, twelve or fourteen - I speak from memory - and their tenders were considered by the department. The matter was further considered by Cabinet and a subcommittee of Cabinet consisting of the then Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron), the present PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Harrison), and myself as Minister for Works, was appointed to complete the consideration. The matter was carefully considered, and the tenders were dealt with in the ordinary way by the departmental officers. Prior to my hearing of the amounts of the tenders, it was reported to me that a certain contractor had made representations that he was dissatisfied with influences outside the jurisdiction of the department. I want to.be fair to Ministers and to senior officers. I asked for further particulars and granted an interview to the person who lodged the complaint, and heard what he had to say. The complaints that he lodged were similar to the complaints that he had lodged with the department at Canberra on the previous day. I was satisfied that things were not as they should be so far as certain suppliers of articles required by the contractors were concerned. The complaint was that those outside suppliers had quoted different prices to different contractors. That was a serious position, because it meant that the outside suppliers could influence prices to such a degree as to decide who should get the tender by submitting the lowest price to the Government. That ‘ was not as it should be. I discussed the matter with the senior member of my department, the Director-General of Works, and I myself carefully investigated the whole of the tenders. Then I went through the whole of the list of the tender prices with the Director-General of Works, after which I discussed the matter with the then PostmasterGeneral and asked him to discuss it with his officers and let me know if he concurred in the proposals that I had put forward. After the lapse of one or two days, the then Postmaster-General and I had a further discussion, and he stated definitely that he concurred in my views, having discussed the matter, I understand, with officers of his department. After that I had a discussion with the Assistant Minister, now the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Harrison), in his office in the Commonwealth Bank building. From the windows of his office I pointed out to him the existing post office building and the site of the proposed new building, and indicated the approximate height of the new building. We discussed the kind of material proposed for facing the building - the only matter in question - and reference was made to the prices submitted in the various tenders. I said what I proposed to do in connexion with the acceptance of the lowest tender, and the Assistant Minister concurred with me. There was no difference of opinion between me and either of my two colleagues on the Cabinet sub-committee which was dealing with the matter.
– That is hardly a correct statement.
– If the honorable member disagrees with anything I say, he will be able to reply later. I am trying to put the matter fairly and to describe what occurred, incident by incident. I have no desire to misrepresent ‘ any Minister or official, but I believe that this matter should be ventilated, because an amount of more than £400,000 is involved. This is the first time I have e vettaken up the time of any parliament,
State or Federal,by moving the adjournment of the House, but I feel justified in doing so on this occasion. I went into the matter of the tenders with officers of my department, who recommended that I should accept the lowest tender for a building faced with terra cotta above the lower storeys. The Government architect recommended terra-cotta facing. The Director-General of “Works was quite easy on the matter, hut when I went into it I became convinced for several reasons that the building should be faced with sandstone. In my opinion, and in the opinion of most competent persons with whom I have discussed the matter, the sandstone finish provides a much more substantial job, and, in addition, the tender for that kind of finish was £1,451 less than for the other. Another reason for favoring the sandstone finish was that it would provide a substantial amount of work for quarrymen and stonemasons in Sydney who badly need it. Their services are in demand only for stone used in the construction of big city buildings, whereas bricklaying and other work can be obtained by other tradesmen who are in demand all over the Commonwealth. If the building were finished in sandstone it would conform to the existing post office which is stone-faced, though of a different style I admit. Moreover, practically every other building in that vicinity is faced with stone. There is no terra-cotta faced building anywhere nearby in George-street, Martin-place or Pitt-street. All are of stone. If honorable members take the trouble to look for themselves, they will see that every substantial building in that area is faced with stone. I defy the Commonwealth architects, or any others, to justify a terra-cotta faced building as . against a stone-faced one in this area. My opinion in this regard was shared by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) who insisted that the large Patents Office in Canberra should be stone faced in order to improve the appearance of buildings in this city. There was every justification, if the tender prices had been about equal, for giving a casting vote in favour of the stone-faced building.
When I examined the tenders I found that the lowest tender for a building faced with terra cotta was £410,776 while the lowest tender for a stone-faced buildingwas £409,325, a difference of £1,451 in favour of the sandstone finish. The Government may reply that that is a small amount on. a job costing over £400,000, but I do not care if it were only £5; when tenders are called, the lowest tender received from a suitable firm should be accepted. The. officers of the department will bear me out when I say that there was no difference in the specifications, except as regards the facing of the upper stories. Therefore, the question was whether we should pay £1,451 more for what was, in my opinion, an inferior job.
– The. fact that there was a difference of only £1,400 on so big a job does not look well to me. The tenders were tooclose.
– No, I took the opposite view. I do not believe that there was collusion among the tenderers. A strange thing is that, of the two contractors whose tenders are now under discussion, the one who put in a higher tender for the terra-cotta facing, put in the lowest tender for the stone facing, but I do not suggest that there is anything wrong in that. About a dozen tenders were received, and I believe that there was. genuine competition between them.
– Was the honorable member satisfied regarding the stability of the lowest tenderer?
– Yes. The officers of my department were convinced that there was no reason why the lowest tenderer should not be given the contract. On the 18th April of this year, while I was Minister for Works, I approved of the acceptance of the tender of John Grant and Sons Limited for the construction of a building faced with sandstone, the contract price being £409,325. That was the original, unaltered tender. I would not allow any tender to be altered, any more than any other Minister should. The Department of Works had recommended the other tender, because it was for a building faced with terra cotta. After I went out of office I found that the matter had been revived. As late as last week an announcement was made by the present Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) to the effect that the Government had accepted the tender of the firm of H. G.Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, the price being £410,776. That prompted me to ask a question in this House of the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior. I was asked to put the question on the notice-paper, and here it is -
The following reply was supplied to me last Tuesday -
– Is H. G.Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited a Sydney firm?
– I believe so, but I am not concerned about that. My point is that the duly constituted authority of the Commonwealth to deal with the matter was the Minister for Works, no matter who he was. He approved of the acceptance of the lowest tender on the18th April. His successor in office first indorsed that decision, but later reversed it and accepted another tender for a building faced with terra cotta. I submit that the Government should amply justify that alteration of a previous decision. Particularly should it justify substituting terra cotta for stone on a large building in an area where practically all the buildings are stone faced. I had no wish to be unfair to the members of the Government on this matter. Immediately I ascertained what was being* done, I waited upon the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll). He called into his office the new Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) and we discussed the subject. I told the Ministers in their office that I was not satisfied with what had been done, and that if they persisted in the course that they had set for themselves I should take the matter further.
They have persisted, and, therefore, I am inviting the attention of honorable members to all the circumstances of the case. Not only the Minister directly concerned, but also the Government itself, should be required to justify this alteration. It is true that I was told in reply to my question that the contract had not yet been signed, but it is also true that an announcement has been made that approval has been given to the acceptance of a certain tender. I wish to make it clear that I acted in a strictly orthodox manner. I obtained advice from the appropriate officers and subsequently signed an approval for the acceptance of a tender. It was not my place to go further. My signed authority will be found upon the departmental files. I make it clear that the lowest tender for a stone-faced building was accepted. That was the end of my responsibility. It was not my place publicly to announce the acceptance of the tender, for the reason that the Treasury, at that stage, had not. made available all the funds required for the contract. I instructed my officers to approach the Treasury for the purpose of securing the funds needed. In the meantime a change of government took place and the alteration that I have indicated has been made. I take definite exception to the Government acting in this way without fully explaining the reasons which prompted it to do so.
– What reasons were given to the honorable member when he interviewed theMinisters?
– One reason was that the building could be obtained at a lower cost and another was that since I had signed approval for the acceptance of the tender a. new process in the manufacture of terra cotta has been evolved which would reduce the cost. I am not prepared to accept those reasons. If the process of manufacturing terra cotta has been varied to such a degree that the material is now obtainable at a less costly figure, the thing to do is to call for new tendersfor the work.
Honorable Members. - Hear, hear !
– New tenders should have been called publicly, and it would have been proper had the appropriate Minister notified this House that that course was being followed.I think, also. that I should have been notified, for, in effect, what has been done repudiates my signature, and casts a slur upon a decision which I had made. I am quite prepare^ to face the most open inquiry that the Government can arrange on this subject, and I shall not protest against any variation of my decision provided it is made on just grounds and in a proper way. But I object to the hole-and-corner method that has been adopted. I do not think that I am disclosing any confidence when I say that the present Minister for the Interior actually endorsed my decision. Subsequently he reversed both his own and my decision. I do not wish to be unfair to the honorable gentleman, or to any one else, but I think that the Minister hardly realizes the seriousness of what he has done, or the full extent of his decision.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I have followed with interest the remarks of the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) on this subject. The information that he has submitted to the House is substantially correct, but I think he has given it a false interpretation. I feel that honorable members will agree with me on this point when I- have followed through, in detail, the history of this subject.
– Is the Assistant Minister (Mr. Perkins) responsible for the change in the decision?
– No. I am replying to the honorable member for Calare, because I represent the Minister for the Interior in this House. The honorable member is not in error in his facts ; he is in error in his interpretation of them. As frequently happens, the Works Department was called upon to undertake this work for the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. At the request of the postal authorities, plans were prepared and tenders called on an alternative basis, the alternatives being a building with a terra cotta face and a building with a sandstone face. It should be remembered that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is really the department most concerned over this matter. It asked that tenders should be called on the alternative basis.
– But the PostmasterGeneral’s Department was not to erect the building.
– That is so, but the building was required for its activities. I remember a similar case occurring some time ago in connexion with a building for the Commonwealth Bank in Adelaide. The Works Department recommended a -certain material, but the Commonwealth Bank wanted a different material. As the bank was paying the piper it surely had the right to call the tune! So, in this case, the Postmaster-General’s Department has the right to call the tune.
– The trouble was that the bank was not using the local stone.
– I do not know whether that was so or not. Tenders for the new Sydney building closed with the Director-General of Works, in Sydney, on the 15th March. The specifications called for alternative tenders for a building faced with terra cotta and a building faced with stone. Eleven formal tenders were received for a terra cotta faced structure, and the prices ranged from £410,776 to £448,367 5s. 5d. All of these tenderers submitted alternative prices for a stone-faced structure,” the prices for which ranged from £409,325 to £448,230 15s. 5d. On the 9th April, the Director-General of Works, supporting the opinion of the Chief Commonwealth Architect, recommended to the Minister for Works that the lowest tender for a terra-cotta faced building, which was that of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, be accepted. The amount was £410,776. As funds had not actually been made available for the work, th6 Treasury was requested to make an amount of £450,000 available to cover “the amount of the tender, and to provide for subsidiary services not included in the main contract specification. On the 18th April, the then Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) notified the Director-General that he had carefully examined the recommendation, together with the list of tenders, and had noted that the lowest tender for Hawkesbury stone facing was £1;451 less than the lowest tender for terra-cotta facing. The Minister stated that as he was definitely of the opinion that the stone facing would be more substantial and a more satisfactory job, he had approved of the acceptance of the tender of John Grant and Sons Limited, the amount being £409,325. He added that he had discussed the matter with the then PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron), who had concurred in his decision. Towards the end of April, the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) wrote to Senator Foll, the new Minister for the Interior, requesting that the recommendation of the Director-General ofWorks and the Chief Architect in favour of terra-cotta treatment be adopted.
– What was the date of that letter?
– I have not the exact date, but it must have been very near the end of April. I have no doubt the. Postmaster-General will be able to supply it. On the 2nd May, the Treasury advised that the Assistant Treasurer had approved of the proposal to incur a liability of £450,000 for financing the building project. On the same date, the Minister for the Interior replied to the PostmasterGeneral supporting the views expressed by his predecessor that Hawkesbury stone facing should be used. Following further representations by the PostmasterGeneral, whose officers will ultimately occupy the building, and having in view the fact that on the 20th March, the Director-General of Works and the architect who had designed the building had definitely recommended that the tender of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited for £410,776 for a building with granite and terra-cotta facing be accepted, the Minister for the Interior approved of the acceptance of the lowest tender. The successful tenderer was notified of this acceptance on the 19 th April.
– What was the recommendation ?
-For terra-cotta facing.
– For what reason?
– Because the archi tectwho designed the building favoured- terra-cotta facing, as also did the DirectorGeneral of Works and the PostmasterGeneral. The recommendation was made accordingly.
– The Minister is making out a pretty weak case.
– The Minister for the Interior departed from the original decision and approved of the facing of the building with terra cotta. He, however, is not altogether the sole authority in this matter. His department is merely carrying out the work for another department which should have some authority to override his decision. In this case, the PostmasterGeneral should be able to override the authority of the Minister for the Interior. I want it to be understood that my remarks in connexion with this matter are quite impersonal. The honorable member for Calare has said that 90 per cent. of the buildings in Sydney are faced with stone. I agree that that is so,but no buildings have been erected recently in Pitt-street or Georgestreet in the immediate vicinity of the new post office building, and most of those newly erected in Martin-place are faced with terra cotta. All modern buildings are faced with terra cotta, and the fact that 90 per cent. of the buildings in Sydney are faced with stone does not mean that all modern buildings must also be stonefaced.
– But this building will clash with the old post office alongside.
– I am not debating that point. The simple fact of this matter is that the decision of the Government architect and the Director-General of Works in the first instance was overridden by the then Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby).
– This matter should be inquired into by a committee of the House.
– There is no suggestion that anything underhand has been done in connexion with this matter. In the first place, when tenders were called arrangements were made for the submission of alternative tenders covering the two types of facing. In this case the difference between the tenders for the two types of facing amounted to only £1,451, which is very small in comparison with the total cost of approximately £400,000. Thu Government architect and the Director General of Works recommended terracotta facing to the then Minister, hut he was guided merely by the possible saving of £1,451. Although there has been a change in the ministerial head of the Works Department, the officers of that department have not altered their views in regard to the facing of the building. The same architect and the same DirectorGeneral of Works still remain in office and they say that the new building should be faced with terra cotta. I can quite understand that the former Minister for Works naturally feels a Little hurt that a decision he recommended while he was in office has been overriden by his successor.
– I did not recommend. J finalized the matter.
– The matter is not finalized until the contract, has been signed. I see no room for suspicion in regard to this matter, and I am merely stating the case for the Department of the. Interior on behalf of the Minister for the Interior, who is not a member of this chamber.
– I find it necessary for me as Postmaster-General to say something with regard to the matter raised hy the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby). Although the acceptance of tenders has nothing whatever to do with my department, yet it has been drawn into this matter because it is in the position of a client of the Work* Department asking that certain action should be taken on .its behalf in regard to the erection of additions to the General Post Office in Sydney. The honorable member for Calare has mentioned statements made by officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department which I have the privilege and honour at the moment, to administer and, because he has already brought my name in as Assistant Minister in the last Administration, I feel it incumbent upon me to say something in regard to this matter. I deplore the fact that the portfolio of Minister for the Interior is not held by a member of this House. Although the Minister who represents him here carries out his duties most ably, if the Minister for the Interior were present in this chamber, he would be able to clear up some of the points that may appear to the honorable member for Calare as being rather suspicious. But may I say that no suspicion can he entertained in connexion with this matter. The whole of the transactions have been quite fair and open. To clear up many points that have been raised, I propose to read certain letters that passed between the various departments in connexion with this building, to quote dates, and to leave the House to form its own opinion as to why : recommendation of the principal officers of the Works Department, the DirectorGeneral of Works and the Chief Architect, was ignored by the then Minister controlling the Works Department. I suggest that the case presented by the accumulation of recommendations and statements made by both department? should surely have received major consideration by the Minister controlling the Works Department and that those recommendations should not have been completely swept aside. It is true that a subcommittee was appointed by Cabinet to have a look at the plans. It consisted of the honorable member for Calare, then Minister for Works, the then PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron), and myself, an Assistant Minister. May I point out that the Assistant Minister, possibly because he was not in Canberra at the moment and was doing another job elsewhere, was not consulted with regard to the plans. The two other ministerial members of the sub-committee conferred with regard to the plans and made a recommendation to Cabinet. The honorable member for Calare has said that he conferred with me in regard to the matter in my office in Sydney. I remember the honorable gentleman coming into my office and telling me what the Works Department proposed to do with the building, hut I was certainly not aware of the fact then that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department desired the building to be faced with terra cotta, that tenders had been called embracing both methods of treatment for the front of the building, or that certain representations made by the Postmaster-General’s Department and responsible officers of the Works Department had been ignored. I had nothing no do with the Postmaster-General’s Department at that time; as Assistant Minister I had not been consulted with regard to the plans. Even had I been consulted, I would not have had an opportunity to look at the tenders. The question of price was never discussed with me in my office. 1. had no knowledge of it whatever. With regard to the treatment of the front of the building, I was told that if the building were faced with sandstone it would harmonize with other buildings. The statement of the honorable member for Calare that the whole matter had been discussed with me was definitely unfair, because whatever discussion took place did not completely cover what had happened nor would it have been a satisfactory explanation unless I had been in possession of the full facts of the case.
– Every question the honorable gentleman asked was answered by me.
– There was no necessity for me to ask questions. I was not aware of the argument that had developed between the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and the Works Department. I was only aware of the fact that as the then Minister for Works, the honorable member for Calare had decided on a certain treatment for the front of the building. At that time I was not in a position to express my views in regard to the matter.
– The honorable member was an Assistant Minister and was on the sub-committee appointed by Cabinet.
-I was Assistant Minister in charge of External Territories. The sub-committee which was appointed to go into the question of plans had no overriding power to question tenders or anything else. The committee examined the plans without asking me to be present.
In view of the statement of the honorable member for Calare, I am of the opinion that the facts should be recorded in Hansard. They are set out in a statement supplied by my department from which I now propose to read -
The preliminary plans of the new building to be erected on Hoffnung’s site were received in this department from the Department of the Interior on the 29th November, 1937.
After consideration of the plans by a conference held in Sydney on the 11th January, 1938, the Department of the Interior was advised by this department on the 20th January, 1938, that, subject to certain modifications which were specified in detail, the plans were acceptable.
– They were sketch plans.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order ! I ask honorable members to cease interjecting. The Postmaster-General has only a few minutes left in which to speak, and interjections, besides being disorderly, interfere with the time at his disposal.
– The statement continues -
On the 1st November, 1938, the working drawings and copies of the description of the plans were supplied to this department by the Department of the Interior. The description of the plans included the following paragraph : -
The lower portion of the front elevation to be faced with polished granite on brick backing up to window sills of second floor, excepting side bays, which will be bo faced up to first floor only.
The remainder up to top of parapet to be faced with architectural terra cotta or, alternatively, with Sydney sandstone.
On the 11th January, 1939, the Prime Minister approved of tenders being invited forthwith. and- on the 14th March, 1939, Cabinet approved of the work being proceeded with.
On the 20th March, 1939, the Department of the Interior addressed the following communication to this department-
It contained a complete list of tenderers and the amounts of their tenders.
– No. Among the tenders were those of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited and John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited. For a building faced with granite and terra cotta, their tenders were £410,776 and £411,521 respectively. Each of them submitted an alternative tender for a building faced with standstone. In this case the position was reversed, the price quoted by John Grant andSons Proprietary Limited being the lower, namely, £409,325, and that of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, £409,436. Then follow some details which have no bearing on the question before the House.
I desire, however, to direct attention to the following paragraph: -
The material for . the face of the building has been carefully considered by the Chief Architect of this department, and his opinion, with which I concur, is that the best result will be achieved by adopting the first proposal given above, namely, lower floors in granite, and upper floors in terra cotta. The design, being of a simple nature, would allow for the grading of the terra cotta from the red granite below to say, a cream at the top.
Although the existing building is in stone, there is no possibility of duplicating it in any way, and there seems, therefore, no special reason why with the new design construction in stone need be perpetuated.
It is recommended that the lowest tender, that of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, £410,776, for the building with a granite and terra cotta face, be accepted. [Leave to continue given.]
On the 20th March, 1939, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department received from the Department of the Interior a letter containing the recommendation of its chief officer, that the finish should be in terra cotta, and that the tender of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited should be accepted.
– Who signed that letter?
– I have with me only extracts from the letters, and, as there is no signature, I cannot say definitely who signed it, but I think it was either the Minister or the DirectorGeneral of Works. That letter disregarded the recommendation of the departmental officers. Surely their recommendation should bear weight! When all is said and done they are the experts and the Minister is only a layman. I remind the House that in this instance the Postmaster-General’s Department is acting as.client of the Department of Works. I received that letter as PostmasterGeneral following a change of government. I wrote to Senator Foll, the new Minister for the Interior, as follows: -
May I refer you to the letter of the 18th April, written to my predecessor by Mr. Thorby. This proposal comes as a surprise to the department-
In view of the statement of the honorable member for Calare, I ask honorable members to note that fact. The DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs says that he was not consulted in any way by my predecessor as to the treatment of the. building that he had to administer.
– I support that procedure.
– The letter continues - . which had concluded that the recommendation of the Director-General of your department and the Chief Architect to use a terra cotta facing would be adopted.
This department has given a good deal of consideration to the material to be used, and is in full accord with the views expressed by your Director-General in his memorandum of the 20th March, 1939, a copy of which- is attached.
There is so little difference in the cost of terra cotta as against sandstone as to make this aspect of the question unimportant; but, from the point of view of appearance and subsequent upkeep, there seems no doubt whatever that terra cotta is preferable. Many large and important buildings erected in Sydney and Melbourne during the last few years have received this terra cotta treatment, and it would certainly appear to be more in conformity with modern practice to adopt that material on the new Sydney building. Sandstone dirties and deteriorates from exposure to the weather to a somewhat serious extent, giving rise to heavy costs if the building is to be maintained in a .presentable state. On the other hand, terra cotta is not likely to show any appreciable deterioration from such causes, and when it does accumulate grime and dirt, it can be restored almost to its original condition at very small cost.
To that letter I received a reply in which the Minister supported the previous contention of the department that sandstone should be used. I then wrote another letter, in which I expressed surprise at the contents of the letter of the 2nd of May. My letter was as follows: -
I am sorry I find myself in disagreement with ‘you on this matter; but, in common with your own expert officers, including the architect responsible for the design, I hold the view quite strongly that .this new building of modern type would lend itself particularly well to the treatment contemplated by your architect when the main design was conceived. The street is itself comparatively narrow and, both from the aesthetic and utilitarian standpoints, there seems little doubt that the treatment of the extensive facade of the new post office with a vitrified material will have distinct advantages over the more sombre characteristics of a stone facing. I regard the night reflection from the building in terra cotta material as a great asset in such circumstances and I am satisfied that not only will the face of the building be less inclined to accumulate dirt than would a stone frontage, but when the occasion arises it will be much less costly to restore it to its original state than would be the process of attempting to clean stone-work when it became dirty and blackened. There are several instances, including the existing Sydney General Post Office, where pressure has been brought upon the department to clean the external stone-work of its building, and where it has been found imperative to do this work the cost has been unusually high. On the score of the initial cost there is practically nothing to choose between one type of facing and another of the two kinds under consideration. In the circumstances, may I ask you to be good enough to arrange that when the contract is being placed it will include the stipulation that terra cotta is to be used for the facing.
We acted within our rights and demanded that certain action should be taken. The advice received was that he had consulted officers of his department who again had supported him in recommending that terra cotta shouldbe used. The three points taken by the Postmaster-General’s Department were, first, that terra cotta was desired by the Postmaster-General’s Department; secondly, that terra cotta would ultimately prove cheaper. The departmental officers had advised us that some new form of treatment had been evolved that would render the useof architectural terra cotta cheaper.
Mr. Archie Cameron interjecting,
– The Minister for the Interior has assured me that any saving in this connexion will go to the ‘benefit of the department concerned and I have discussed the matter with the DirectorGeneral of Works, who has also assured me that the department will receive the benefit of any cheapening of maintenance costs. The third point is that the departmental officers - all those experts who have considered this matter - have recommended to the Minister that terra cotta should be used. The Postmaster-General’s Department itself has asked that the building shall be faced with terra cotta. It has said that it is a cheaper material, likely to give a greater lasting benefit, that maintenance costs will be lower, and that it will give a greater reflection of light. It has also stated that the first recommendation made by the department that the lowest tender for terra cotta should be accepted was the right recommendation, and was in conformity with all the necessary requirements in a ‘building of that nature where cheapness in construction and low maintenance costs are essential. I believe that the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is completely satisfied that the Department of the Interior has not handled the matter in a suspicious manner, and that the former department supports the attitude adopted by the new Minister.
– Does the PostmasterGeneral suggest that terra cotta is the principal item involved?
– I am not suggesting that. I have not had an opportunity to study the position closely, but I feel sure that honorable members will accept the statement of the Director-General of Works that the Postmaster-General’s Department will derive benefit. He would not make a recommendation unless he were satisfied.
– But he concurred in my decision.
– I have read the statement by the Director-General of Works, who has concurred in the decision of the Chief Architect, who recommended that the facings of the building should he of terra cotta.
– The Postmaster-General becomes further involved as he proceeds.
– There is nothing involved in the matter.
Mr.FORDE (Capricornia) [3.44].- We have listened with intense interest to the admirable and convincing case put forward by the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby). We have also followed closely the explanations givenby two Ministers, and I believe I am voicing the opinion of honorable members generally when I say that they are not satisfied with the explanations that have been given.
– We are not.
– I am sure of that. It is most reprehensible to proceed with such a gigantic building proposal involving the expenditure of approximately £500,000 of public moneybefore a searching investigation has been made by a committee. If a parliamentary committee competent to undertake an investigation into a project of this class were not in existence I should strongly urge that a select committee of honorable members representative of all parties in this chamber be appointed to investigate the whole matter. Such a committee would be able to examine departmental heads, architects, engineers, the DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs and the
Director-General of Works. But there is no need to urge the appointment of a select committee if the Government will give a definite assurance that the whole matter will be referred to the Public Works Committee - a committee already in existence - for investigation and report on works of this kind. With indecent haste the Government has accepted a tender which is not the lowest for carrying out the work, and against the considered opinion of the honorable member for Calare when Minister for Works and two other Ministers.
– With the concurrence of the then Postmaster-General and the Director-General of Works.
– That is so. Probably we do not agree with the honorable member for Calare in many matters, but we must admit that he is very thorough in whatever he undertakes, and that he would not accept the lowest tender for a sandstone building unless he was satisfied that such a building would be the most serviceable type to erect.
– And he knows something about building construction.
– I think that we can admit that. Not only did he come to that conclusion but he also submitted the proposal to the Commonwealth Director of Works, the former PostmasterGeneral, the former Assistant Minister who is the present Postmaster-General, and the then Minister for Repatriation, who is now Minister for the Interior.
– Did he have the concurrence of the present Minister for the Interior ?
– That Minister at first refused to depart from the earlier decision of the honorable member for Calare. He endorsed that decision when he became Minister for the. Interior, but he now endorses the decision of the present Postmaster.General. The honorable member for Calare, when Minister for Works, had the support of three Ministers.
– That is not so.
– He had the support of the then Postmaster-General, the present Minister for the Interior, and the then Assistant Minister (Mr. Harrison). He placed his proposal before the gentleman who is the present Postmaster-General who now waves this aside, and explains, “ We were looking out of a window when we decided that a certain plan should be adopted “, and that he did not realize the significance of the statement of the honorable member for Calare on the occasion when he was looking out of a window. Was not the PostmasterGeneral a member of the sub-committee that was appointed? He was a responsible Minister in a cabinet which appointed a sub-committee to inquire into a project estimated to cost nearly £500,000. In such circumstances surely he was entitled to ask for plans and specifications, and any other information he considered necessary.
– I have already explained that that sub-committee had no voice in the matter?
– The sub-committee had no voice in the matter? I cannot believe that statement.
– That is so.
– This matter was considered by a sub-committee of Cabinet, the then Assistant Minister who is now Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Calare who was then Minister for Works, and the then PostmasterGeneral. These gentlemen had every opportunity to confer with the principal architect, the Director-General of Works and other officials and to have asked for plans and specifications if necessary. The present PostmasterGeneral cannot absolve himself from blame in this matter simply by airily waving his hands, and saying that he did not realize the significance of a conversation. The honorable member for Calare said that he was prepared to answer all questions put to him. I was wondering whether he had deceived the present Postmaster-General, but he said that he had given frank and complete answers to every question put before him by the Postmaster-General when the latter was Assistant Minister. I cannot speak with any authority as to the relative merits of terra cotta or sandstone, and it is evident that the Postmaster-General did not go fully into this matter at any time. If he did, then what justification is there for departing from the decision to accept the lowest tenderer? It is absolutely essential that before any contract is signed the whole matter should be referred to the Public Works Committee for a thorough investigation. That committee would have an opportunity to call evidence from the departmental experts, including the DirectorGeneral of Posts and Telegraphs, the Commonwealth Director of Works and the Commonwealth Government Architect. These officers should be called and asked for their opinions as to the relative merits of these two materials, because a government should have a very good reason before it gets away from the principle of accepting the lowest tender for a contract of this kind. Particularly when the then responsible Minister and two of his colleagues, supported by the Director-General of Works decided that sandstone facing was more suitable. I am looking at this matter in a purely non-party political way. The explanation given by the Postmaster-General to-day is not convincing, and, therefore, the whole matter should be probed by the Public Works Committee. That body could then submit a report to this House, and thus place honorable members in a better position to arrive at a decision than they find themselves in to-day after hearing the conflicting statements made by the honorable member for Calare on the one hand and two Ministers on the other. I see that the ex-Postmaster-General, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), is straining at the leash, awaiting his opportunity to rise in order to contradict the very definite statements which have been made by the PostmasterGeneral. All of these gentlemen were members of the same composite ministry, and if they, after being on the same subcommittee and hearing all the evidence put before that committee, violently disagree as they have shown to-day to be the case, the time has arrived when the matter should be probed thoroughly by the Public Works Committee. I leave the matter there. I shall not express an opinion on the relative merits of terra cotta or sandstone, but on this point I have no don bt that honorable members generally would be prepared to be guided by a report from the Public Works Committee. For that, reason, on behalf of the Opposition, I urge the Government to take no further step to carry out this work until the whole project has been thoroughly investigated by the Public Works Committee.
– Judging by the statements made by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) any one would think that we had arrived at a stage when it is an offence on the part of a Minister of State to have an opinion, or a policy, of his own. The extraordinary statement of the Postmaster-General this afternoon, following an equally extraordinary report appearing in the press this morning, leads one to the conclusion that in the discharge of his Ministerial duties the honorable gentleman has no opinion whatsoever excepting that which is placed before him by the head of his department. I listened with great interest to the honorable gentleman’s recital of what took place in the post office before this contract was drawn up. However, I wish to go back to a point before the tender was let, and to inform the House - aud I put this forward as one reason why I believe that there should be an impartial inquiry into the whole business - that representations were made to me in my office in this building, when I was Postmaster-General, by two representatives of the firm of H. G. Whittle and Company Proprietary Limited, in the course of which they complained that it was not until 40 minutes before the close of tenders that they, and other tenderers, were able to get quotes from John Grant and Sons Limited for the price of the stone that had to be used in this building. It, was not my job as Postmaster-General to adjudicate in any quarrel arising between various tenderers ; but I am definitely interested in the reversal of a decision of a Minister of State, a decision arrived at. by proper inquiry by a sub-committee consisting of three Ministers of the previous Government. I cannot emphasize my amazement sufficiently at the statementmade by the Postmaster-General that no consideration was given to this question of terra cotta versus sandstone between myself and the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs.
– I have read the letter; the honorable gentleman must concede me that much.
– The Postmaster-General said that there had been no discussion between myself and the department on that matter. That is not true. Furthermore, I not only invite, but also challenge the Government to inquire into that statement. I say definitely that the opinion of the head of the Postal Department expressed in Melbourne in April was not in favour of accepting the terra cotta tender.
– What is the strength of that? Let us have it.
– I wish to see an inquiry held into this matter; I throw that challenge to the Government, and say that it must hold a full and open inquiry. Furthermore, such an inquiry is justified by the statement of the PostmasterGeneral himself that firms in Sydney, which have practically a monoply of supplies of terra cotta, have decided, after tenders have closed, to alter the price at which they are prepared to supply this material.
– After tenders closed?
– The Minister has said so himself. The honorable gentleman said that the Government will get a benefit in this direction.
– God only knows; the Minister should explain that point. A ministerial policy of running a department in reverse gear is one that is bound to lead to collision with some one coming from behind. That is the direction in which the Postmaster-General is moving at a rather alarming rate, if we are to judge on reports which have appeared recently in the press, and on statements made in this House this afternoon. The Government has nothing in prospect in calling tenders by a method under which a firm refuses to give quotes for certain material, as, in this case, Grant and Company declined to quote for sandstone.
– Did not the honorable member report that fact to the exMinister for Works?
– I did; that honorable gentleman knows about it and if the Postmaster-General had carried out his duties and attended that sub-committee he would have heard about it too.
– If a Minister, who was not a member of the Country party, had been invited he possibly would have attended that sub-committee.
– I can smile at that; but I can assure the honorable gentleman that, before this session closes, I shall smile at one or two other things also, and I shall ask him to laugh with me. The position which has been touched on to-day is one that strikes at the very roots of parliamentary responsible government. If we are to accept the position that Ministers of the Crown are running this country, and not the heads of departments, then the method should be that a Minister of State hears the reasons advanced by the heads of his department for and against any particular proposal, and arrives at his own decision. From the statements made this afternoon it appears as though the ex-Minister for Works was at fault in daring to disagree with the recommendation of the head of his department. From the viewpoint of the Postal Department it does not matter two hoots, or a row of cigarette butts, whether the front of this building be constructed of terra cotta, sandstone or granite. The important consideration was the efficient working of the General Post Office in Sydney. This afternoon honorable members listened to a remarkable statement from the Postmaster-General. From it we gather that after tenders had been received and after the responsible Minister had signified the acceptance of a particular offer for the erection of the proposed new building, one tenderer was given the right to amend his terms in some particulars. I have always understood one of the principles of responsible government in British countries to be that a government honours the undertakings of its predecessor.
– The honorable member is wrong. He misunderstands the position.
Several honorable members interjecting,
-Order ! Although honorable members may have differences of opinion amongst themselves, this debate must be conducted in an orderly way. There are too many interjections. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), who received the call, is the only one who has the right to be heard.
– The Postmaster-General told us that the Commonwealth would get the benefit of any reduction of the price of terra cotta for the facing of the building. That statement should be investigated by a committee of inquiry. I question the propriety of allowing any tenderer to amend his offer after the closing time for tenders and thereby secure an advantage over his competitors. We are entitled to ask the Postmaster-General if this privilege is to be accorded to all tenderers or is to be reserved to H. G. Whittle & Sons Proprietary Limited.
I have no desire to prolong this debate. The state of affairs disclosed by the Minister’s statement this afternoon suggests the definite need for a thorough inquiry. I would welcome such an inquiry, and so far as any part which I, as PostmasterGeneral, had in the matter, I challenge the most searching investigation. I defy any investigating authority to produce a recommendation over my signature to the effect that terra-cotta facing had been decided upon by the Postal Department for the proposed new General Post Office at Sydney. No such proposition was put to me by the permanent head of the department.
.- Honorable members have been treated this afternoon to a rather inelegant display of bitterness between Ministers of the late Cabinet. One might truly say of them what was said by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) on one occasion of members of the Opposition, namely, that although they may sleep in the same bed they do not dream the same dreams. The public will be interested to know the methods adopted by the Government in carrying out its investigation into this most important matter. At the outset, it delegated its responsibility to three members of the Cabinet, one of whom at least, to give him credit, decided that he was going to function as a Minister, and there fore would decide how £500,000 of public money was to be spent. Apparently the honorable gentleman’s colleague “of the same party endorsed his views. Although the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) wag a member of the Cabinet sub-committee which undertook the investigation, evidently the only interest which he took in the proceedings was to look out of a window. That appears to be all that the honorable gentleman knew about it. This afternoon, reading from an official document, he told us what he thought of the position.
Out of all this confusion arises the question of whether or not heads of Commonwealth departments have authority to go further than merely to indicate to the Government what their accommodation requirements are. In my opinion, the former Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) did the right thing in making a decision after hearing all views on the subject. I note, however that in defence of the Government’s attitude, the PostmasterGeneral stated this afternoon that the chief architect had supported the use of terra-cotta facing for the building, mainly for the reason .that that material was obtainable in a variety of colours, ranging from a rich red at the bottom to the shade of cream to be used at the top of the building. I am wondering whether, in future, all government buildings are to be built according to the aesthetic taste of those who, for the time being, happen to be heads of departments. If so, then we may rapidly be approaching the time when officials will be so pernickety about colours, that the head of a department may suggest that buildings be faced in the colours of the “ old school tie.” The range of colours covered by terra cotta was one specific reason advanced by the Postmaster-General for what was not merely a change of plan, but also a definite reversal of the decision of a special sub-committee, to which ministerial approval had been given. Of the three honorable members who constituted that sub-committee, two are now standing by the decision arrived at, and the other - the honorable gentleman who apparently took the least interest in his obligation - is now supporting a complete reversal of that decision. The circumstances indicate the need for the exercise of extreme Bare in letting government contracts to private enterprise, and are an additional reason for investigation by a responsible committee of this House.
The honorable member for Calare referred to the fact that some of the tenderers were unable to get a satisfactory quote for some of the materials to be used in the building, and he expressed the opinion that that was distinctly unfair to other tenderers. I remind him, however, that the tender which was originally approved by him as Minister for Works, was submitted by John Grant and Sons Limited, a firm which, in this respect, is one of the worst offenders in Sydney. Therefore, there may be some poetic justice in the contract being taken away from that firm. Another argument advanced in favour of the use of terra cotta was that it was cheaper than sandstone. If that were so, then, in view of the amount of terra cotta to be used in the building, there should have been a vastly greater disparity in the tender entered by H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, which was for terra cotta, and that entered by John Grant and Sons Limited, which was for sandstone. Instead, however, there was very little difference, the amount being approximately £1,400. Responsible Government officers emphasized that terra cotta would be rauch cheaper than sandstone, and therefore, had the tender entered by Whittle and Sons been genuine, there would have been a much greater disparity between it, and the price quoted, by John Grant and Sons Limited. Out of the whole affair another point arises. The Minister, in justification of the change-over from one builder to another, and from sandstone to terra cotta, now says that, subsequent to the acceptance of a price based on the original cost of terra cotta, the discovery was. made of some new process which cheapens the cost of terra cotta, and that the Government will obtain an advantage from that fact; yet he was not able, by any stretch of imagination, to prove that ultimately the Government will benefit from the use of terra cotta. Two questions arise. The first is whether the sub-committee of Cabinet did its job. Judging by what has been said to-day by some of the members of that committee, without regard to the energy, expended by each member, it is very evident that between them a vast difference of opinion existed. The second question - arising out of the first, and out of the complaint of the previous Minister (Mr. Archie Cameron) that certain tenderers were prejudiced because they were unable to obtain some materials at a reasonable price is whether it is not abundantly clear that it is necessary for a committee of this House thoroughly to sift the evidence, and to decide whether the Government was or was not justified in this change of policy and in adopting the course chosen to effectuate the change. It is most illuminating to this House and to the public to find the gentleman who is just embarking on a ministerial career justifying the argument that ministerial heads of departments are really the clients of the Department of Works. ‘ I consider that both the Department of Works and the Postal Department are dependent on the Government and its purse. When the Government has to “ pay the piper “ it should “ call the tune.” If anything be left of ministerial responsibility it is that, when a department asks for certain accommodation and the Minister approves of that accommodation, he should have the last word. It would appear that the two Ministers who spoke to-day voluntarily surrendered their prerogative and indicated their preparedness to become rubber stamps in the hands of the highly-paid officers of their department.
.- I have listened with interest to this debate, which is concerned with a major contract of the Postal Department, involving almost £500,000. There is the minor conflict as to whether terra cotta or sandstone should be used ; but the further the debate has proceeded the clearer has it become that there has been a much bigger conflict between four Ministers - the former Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby), the ex-Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron), the present PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Harrison) and the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll). The lastnamed made two different decisions concerning the letting of this contract within a few days of each other. Then there is the further unsatisfactory position in respect of the Cabinet subcommittee, which was appointed to examine the plans and specifications of this proposed building. Obviously, on the evidence before the House, that subcommittee did not function. The honorable member for Calare and the honorable member for Barker apparently met and had certain discussions. The present Postmaster-General, who was then an Assistant Minister, was not present at and took no part in the discussions;but he looked through a window and saw certain things which were pointed out to him by the honorable member for Calare. Subsequently, a report was made to Cabinet. According to the evidence of the present Postmaster-General, the exPostmasterGeneraldid not confer with his officers.
– That is not true.
– I should like to know what is correct. In every respect this is the most conflicting story that I have heard in this House in regard to any proposed public works. Does the House confidently believe that this is a work which should be continued in the muddled conditions that characterize it? Can we ask the people confidently to believe that this major work concerning one of our biggest public utilities should be proceeded with? The operations of the Postal Department in Sydney are being conducted in a building in which there is the utmost congestion. I should like to know into what further muddle the postal and telegraphic facilities of Sydney will degenerate if existing conditions are to continue throughout the construction of this new building. Parliament has been entirely ignored in this matter. It has been asked to pass, through the medium of the departmental estimates, millions of pounds for postal works. It has not been told what those works are, or where they are to be undertaken. That is a highly improper way in which to conduct the business of this country. I remind the House that in November last I asked the then PostmasterGeneral to furnish me with a list of the works included in his Estimates of £3,946,999, which were estimated to cost £25,000 and over, so that they might be inquired into by the Public Works Committee, a body appointed by this House which from time to time is asked to investigate and report upon works estimated to cost over £25,000.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to the motion.
– I was referring to the purposes of the motion.
– The honorable member has been discussing something which goes quite beyond the motion.
– I am discussing the extraordinary situation which, by reason of bungling and conflict of opinion, has developed in the construction of a major post office building in Sydney. The departmental estimates included a fund of £3,946,999.
– Order ! The honorable member must confine his remarks to this motion, which is in very definite terms.
– May I approach the matter in this way : The proposal to build this post office in Sydney was never referred to the Public Works Committee. The Minister, in reply to a question that I asked, informed me that it had been decided that no postal works were to be submitted to that committee.
– Order ! I cannot allow the honorable member to continue on those lines. My ruling is clear. The question as to whether or not works of any description should be referred to the Public Works Committee may not be discussed on this motion, the purpose which is to discuss the acceptance of a tender which was not the lowest received.
– The matter of urgent public importance which the House is asked to discuss is, in effect, the bungling that has developed in this case. I submit that I am quite in order in suggesting that the trouble would have been avoided and that there would have been no necessity to hold up the business of the country in order to ventilate the matter, had some other course been followed.
– The honorable member is not in order.
– Although I am at a loss to follow your ruling, Mr. Speaker. I respectfully abide by it.
– Order ! I remind honorable members that a motion of this kind has to be . couched in terms which are clear. The adjournment of the House may be moved for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance. Any other matter, such as whether or not the Public Works Committee should inquire into any proposed public works, is beside the question. Many reasons could be given to prove that “ muddle “ could have been avoided, but they may not be discussed on this motion.
– It is obvious that certain Ministers have been charged by certain ex-Ministers with having failed to do their duty in that they absented themselves from meetings of a Cabinet sub-committee, with the. result that muddle was occasioned. The complaint that the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) changed the decision of a former Minister and awarded the tender to someone else accentuates the muddle. I consider that I am entitled to submit to the House that the adoption of an alternative method of dealing with public works would have avoided the trouble.
-Order ! The honorable member appears to be defying the ruling of, or at least to be arguing with, the Chair. A mere reference would not have been objected to; but he has gone much further than that, and he is not in order in doing so.
– In view of your, ruling, sir, I do not intend to proceed further.
– I am not so much concerned as to whether the building under discussion is to be faced with a few sheets of terra cotta or with terra Erma. In Martin-place are two’ great banking buildings which will everlastingly he an eyesore from the viewpoint of architectural beauty.
– Order ! The honorable member may not discuss such matters on this motion.
– This has a very big bearing on the question as to whether terra cotta or sandstone should be used. The former Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) and some honorable members have adduced the argument that if terra cotta were used the appearance of the building would not be in harmony with that of other buildings in Pittstreet which are faced with sandstone. I am merely pointing out that an example of such lack of harmony can be seen in Martin-place. I agree that the present trouble has been occasioned by the non-submission of this work to the Public Works Committee. I am afraid that in some of the departments the permanent head desires always to run the whole show. I do not propose to hold the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) responsible for what has occurred in this case - much was done before he became ministerial head of thedepartment - but it does appear that the trouble with which we are dealing had its genesis in the desire of the permanent head of the department to keep everything within his own control and to obtain provision whenever he asked for it. I do not think that the present building should be’ demolished in order that there shall .be a new building. The department should be able to utilize the existing building.
– It is going to do so.
– It is not; the building is to be pulled down.
– None of it is to be pulled down.
– There is to be an altogether new building alongside it.
– If the honorable member goes to Sydney, he will find that Hoffnung’s building, for which over £300,000 was paid, and which is one of the best buildings in Pitt-street, is first to be demolished. I contend that the money for the new building can be better used in the country.
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable gentleman is not entitled under this motion to discuss the demolition of Hoffnung’s building.
– As I was speaking to an honorable member privately, I did not hear the remark of the honorable member for Wide Bay, but I have, ruled that, as the motion before the Chair relates to -a definite matter, the debate must be confined to that matter-: .
– No question would arise as to whether the new building should be faced with terra cotta or sandstone, if it had not been for the initial wrong in allowing a great edifice to be pulled down.
– Order !
– Many honorable members frequently ask for the provision of additional postal and telephonic facilities in country districts, but we are informed that no money is available for that purpose.
– I am afraid that the honorable member is evading, if not deliberately defying, my ruling. The matter that he is now discussing is entirely beyond the scope of the motion.
– It is proposed to place on the front of the new building either terra cotta or sandstone. This will mean a large expenditure by the postal department from revenue.
– The question of how the cost of the new post office is to be met does not come within the scope of the motion.
– It is evidently impossible, within the terms of the motion, to discuss the matter from the point of view of the residents of country constituencies. Your ruling, Mr. Speaker, limits me to saying that I do not think that this building should have any front at all.
– Order ! The honorable member may not proceed on those lines.
.- I have listened with attention to this most interesting debate. The matter under consideration is a serious one from the point of view of the taxpayers, since the whole proposal will cost the public about £1,000,000. Apart from the £400,000 odd required for the new building, about £500,000 has been expended in the acquisition of the Hoffnung property. I have been interested to hear the discussion between Ministers, past and present, as to whether the best tender was accepted. I was mo3t surprised to hear what had happened. I agree that a Minister should stand up to his job, and should carry it out, but he should not dictate to this Parliament, as the former Postmaster-General (Mr.
Archie Cameron) did, when he declared that he would refer no postal works to the Public “Works Committee.
– I shall back that up, word for word.
– This afternoon, the exMinister expressed the wish that this matter should be referred to a committee of the whole House. I point out that the Public Works Committee, having been appointed by this Parliament, has all the authority necessary to enable it to submit a report to the Parliament.
– This motion deals with a definite subject, and honorable members may not now discuss whether the Public Works Committee, or any other committee, could consider the matter.
– I wish to comply with your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I find it difficult to do so.
– That is because the honorable member desires to discuss matters beyond the scope of the motion.
– The difference of £1,451 between the prices tendered for the work is a serious matter. I do not know whether terra cotta, sandstone, bluestone or any other stone is the most suitable for the front of the building but some investigation should be made regarding the best building material, and the difference between the prices submitted.
.-I shall not go into the pros and cons of this matter, because they have already been fully discussed; but I suggest to the Government that, in the public interest, it should accede to the request for an inquiry. Challenges and counterchallenges have been issued. Very serious statements have been made to-day, and they cannot be allowed to rest where they are. This work involves an expenditure of £500,000 of public money. One statement by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) struck me as rather extraordinary, and ought, I think, to be investigated. . First we learn that a tender has been accepted from Whittle and Company at the price submitted by that firm. Then we are told that the .process by which terra cotta is manufactured has been cheapened, and that the department will reap an advantage on account of that fact, which means that this contract will be performed at a price lower than that contained in the original tender. If that is true, it is a most extraordinary position.
– That is not what has been said.
Mr.SCULLIN. - I do not desire to misrepresent the Postmaster-General, but he said that amongst the many advantages of employing terra cotta for this building was the fact that it was cheaper.
-For maintenance purposes.
– He said that the maintenance cost would he less than in respect of sandstone, and he also said that the terra cotta itself would be cheaper to construct because of the cheapening of the process by which it is made. I ask the Minister if that is not the position.
– It is.
– If that is true, we shall get the work done by this firm at a price lower than that submitted in tie original tender. This may he quite legitimate and above-board, but I suggest to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who has just entered the chamber, that, in the interests of both the Government and the public, this matter should be investigated by the committee suggested by the Acting Leader of the Oppositon (Mr. Forde), or by any other committee. An alteration of the price after the opening of the tenders - and that is what it means - on a contract amounting to £500,000, is most serious. We ought to know when this cheapening of the process came about, what is the nature of it, and what opportunity other contractors have had to tender under ‘the cheaper conditions. I shall not repeat the challenges and statements that have been made; but, for the good name of the Parliament, the Government and public departments, I submit that the matter ought tobe investigated.
.- I have been deeply interested in the remarks of the former Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) and the former PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron). It appears to me that this storm in a tea-cup is the result of two Ministers having lost office. The dispute is over a difference of £1,450 in the prices tendered for the new building, and over the surfacing material to be used. Nobody has taken exception to the contract price of £400,000 odd for the building itself. Even the Public Works Committee advocates have not said that the original tender was excessive. The only difference of opinion arose when the two Country party ex-Ministers and a former Assistant’ Minister, who is the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison), consulted as to which would be the better tender to accept. I understand that the two Country party ex-Ministers, who are the more readily available to one another, talked the matter over, and decided on a certain course of action. The former Assistant Minister was not present, nor was he aware that that meeting had been called for that purpose.
– Why put up that kind of trash?
-I am not putting forward so much trash as the ex-Minister did this afternoon. If I had gone out of ministerial office I should have accepted the situation like a man. The two exMinisters are well-known “ cobbers “ in a certain party, and they ignored the former Assistant Minister.
– I take a point of order. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether the honorable member for Barton is dealing with the matter before the House?
– It appears to the Chair that the honorable member’s remarks fall within the ambit of the motion.
– The issue is clear. The former Assistant Minister was not present, but a strong-minded agriculturist walked into the office of the Assistant. Minister, and, in his usual dictatorial manner, said to him, “ We two Ministers have decided this, and we think, as we look through that window, that it will be very much better to have the building surfaced with sandstone instead of terra cotta “. That is the only contact which the honorable member for Calare, according to his remarks this afternoon, made with the former Assistant Minister who was appointed a committeeman to go into the matter with him. That cannot be denied.
Then we have had the noble statement about Ministers being rubber stamps, and the reference, in rather uncomplimentary language, to the present PostmasterGeneral taking his instructions from the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs. Some of us are of the opinion that if the former Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) had been more prone to take the advice of his departmental officers there would have been no need for him to go to Kangaroo Island. A departmental officer is an advantage to some Ministers. I must confess, however, that sometimes I have felt that the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Brown) is too dogmatic and strongminded for the average PostmasterGeneral. I rebut the statement that the present Postmaster-General depended on the information of his DirectorGeneral. He is a man who has his own opinions, and in this House he has always been strong enough to stand by what he believes to be just. If the difference between the costs of the two is only £1,450, it is not worth the time of this House to discuss whether or not terra cotta or stone is a better facing for h building to be erected in Pitt-street.
– It is a lot of money.
– It would be a lot to the honorable member and me because we have never possessed large sums of money, but I cannot understand that the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby), who for many years, as a Minister, was getting much more than £1,400 a year, should think this extra charge for terra-cotta facing worth considering. The time of this House should not be expended in quibbling about £1,450 in the cost of a £400,000 structure. I do not blame the Opposition for the stand that it has taken,, because it believes that its duty is to tear the Government down. If the Opposition gets the slightest inkling of something going wrong, it naturally magnifies it and declares that dishonesty has occurred and that there must be an inquiry. I should be surprised to find an honorable member on this side of the House pursuing a similar course. I know honorable members on this side generally as decent fellows, and surely they will not follow the lead of the honorable member for Calare, who has raised issues which boil down to an argument as to whether the aesthetic tastes of the former Postmaster-General and the former Minister for Works are as good as that of the present Postmaster-General. I understand that the contract in question has been signed, sealed and delivered, and I do not think that even if this House did appoint a committee the contract could be altered.
– The Postmaster-General said that it had not been completed.
– I think that it has.
– I have no exact know.ledge. It is a matter for the Department of the Interior.
– No; it has not been completed.
– I thought that it had. At any rate, I have not the slightest doubt that, the- Postmaster-General’s aesthetic taste is better than that of his predecessor. I have lived all my life in the city of Sydney and I have an eye for beauty.
-Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- This is not, as the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) said a dispute over £1,450; it is a dispute over a vital principle. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) is to be thanked for his action in bringing this important matter under the notice of honorable members. The adjournment of the House was moved by him for the discussion of » a matter of urgent public importance. It is urgent because, although the contract has been approved, the contract has not yet been signed and time exists for an investigation and possible rectification of the matter.
– The contractors have been notified of the acceptance of the tender.
– The House should endorse the request made by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) for an investigation. If anything has emerged from the debate, to convince the House that further inquiry is needed, it is the statements made by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) and the Minister (Mr. Perkins) representing the Minister for the Interior. The very heart of the tender system is being struck at. The difference betwen the two tenders concerned is only £1,450. Alternative tenders were called for a sandstonefacedbuilding and a terra cotta-faced-building. Any one who desired to use his position of responsibility could juggle the tenders in order to give the contract to whomsoever he desired. I do not suggest that any such impropriety occurred in this ease.
– Who was in office when the tenders were called?
– The honorable member for Calare was Minister for Works and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) was PostmasterGeneral. The former Minister for Works told the House that he. had approved of the lowest tender and that the then Postmaster-General had concurred. That was confirmed by the honorable member for Barker, who also told the House that the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs (Sir Harry Brown) had agreed with him. We have, therefore, the fact that the two principal Cabinet officers concerned were in agreement on the type of building and whom as to the tenderer to the contract should be given. The present Postmaster-General told the House that although he was a member of the subcommittee that was detailed by Cabinet to investigate the whole of the proposition
– Not the whole of the proposition. We were told to have a look at the plan.
– I accept the honorable gentleman’s amendment. Although he was a member of the sub-committee and represented one of the most important constituencies in Sydney, he did not take sufficient interest in the project to look at the plan.
– That is a deliberate misstatement. I did not know that the sub-committee was meeting.
– The honorable gentleman said that the whole thing was in the hands of his colleagues on the subcommittee, that he was not called, and that all that he did was to have a look out of the window.
– The honorable gentleman is grossly unfair.
– I am not concerned as to whether the building be faced in terra cotta or sandstone, and I do not think that that worries many other honorable gentlemen.What I am concerned with is the purpose of calling for alternative tenders. Obviously the intention was to get the lowest possible price. It was not known whether terra cotta or sandstone would be cheaper, and alternative tenders were called. It was the Minister’s job to accept the lowest tender, which he did. Then a new government was formed, and, because of the aesthetic leanings of the Postmaster-General, the Director-General of Works or the supervising architect, everything that had already been settled and approved by Cabinet was upset. The right honorable member for Yarra was right when he said that, if it had been discovered in the meantime that the process of making terra cotta had been cheapened, the proper thing to do was to call for fresh tenders, giving the same opportunity to all con-‘ tractors and not confining favour to H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited. If the sort of thing that has occurred in this case is to be perpetuated, the confidence of all tenderers in the contract system will be undermined. Party considerations do not enter into this matter. The principles that are involved are too important for that. Nevertheless, if the PostmasterGeneral is to be entirely dictated to by his departmental heads, as he almost admitted he was in the matter of the new post office building, he should listen to what they have to say in respect of the publication of a journal by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. If the Government desires to clear the doubts that have been raised in this debate and to restore the requisite degree of confidence in the contract system, it should refer the whole matter to the Public Works Committee.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order No. 257b.
– I move -
That government business shall take precedence . over general business at the next sitting.
I indicated earlier that it is desired to complete the immediate business in hand onthe 9th June, and, as honorable members will see by reference to the noticepaper, the urgent and important matters that have to be concludedby that date are such as to make it necessary for the House to give all its time to them. There may he two or three other matters to be dealt with before the House rises, though none of them should take long. In the circumstances, I ask honorable members to co-operate with the Government in getting this important business attended to by agreeing to forgo the opportunity to discuss private business.
.- The effect of the motion, if agreed to, willbe to debar private members from bringing forward any business to-morrow. I have no desire to hamper the work of the Government, and I agree that matter is sometimes brought forward on private members’ day which could well be held over. I point out, however, that private members’ day affords us the only opportunity we have to propose remedies for anomalies of which we are aware. At no time can I introduce a private bill for the purpose of removing anomalies, which I am convinced exist, in the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, as that is a financial measure. So, last month, I referred to some of them, and pointed out that the provision in the act requiring a claimant for a pension to prove that his disability was due to war service often operated very harshly. Though the act is a fair one on the whole, and though I believe that the officials administering it do their best to see that justice is done, it is a fact that the act is too rigid, and is, in many respects, out of date. For those reasons, I asked last month that the Minister, though new to his post, should look into the points that I had raised. I did not reprove him in any way, and I hope that he will not take anything I said as personal. I felt that the matters to which I referred were of such importance that only by the appointment of a Select Parliamentary Committee could we ensure that the proper thing would be done in respect of them. Accordingly I placed a notice of the business on paper for the appointment of such a committee.
Many honorable members agree that this subject should be discussed. If the motion now before the House be agreed to, the only opportunity for such a discussion will be lost, simply because the Government has made up its mind that the House shall rise on the 9 th June, or thereabouts. As I have pointed out, I shall not be able to bring forward a private members’ bill to deal with the matter andI cannot bring forward an amendment because there is no Repatriation Bill before the House, and, as a matter of fact, I should prefer to deal with the matter in that way. Seeing that I raised the matter a month ago, and a fortnight ago gave notice of the motion standing in my name, I think it is unfair that it should now be pushed aside in this way. The Prime Minister will probably say that returned soldiers’ organizations are not anxious to have it discussed at this time. I have not canvassed the proposal with returned soldiers’ organizations, but I know several are favorable-
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).The honorable member may not discuss the merits of a motion that he wishes to move to-morrow.
– I shall oppose the motion by my vote. It is not right that a matter of such importance, which concerns so many deserving people, should be thrust aside in this way.
.- The Opposition will oppose the motion of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that government business shall take precedence over general business at the next sitting. Private members have very limited opportunities to initiate discussions on important matters affecting their electorates and the country. Private members’ day affords one of those opportunities, and I know that several honorable members were looking forward to to-morrow so that they might take part in the debate on the three motions standing in the names of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly), the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), respectively. The honorable member for Balaclava has advanced convincing reasons why the House should be afforded an opportunity to-morrow to discuss anomalies in the Repatriation Act. This concerns all of us, and many honorable members on this side of the House had intended to speak on the subject. The motion of which the. honorable member for Lilley has given notice, urging the reconstitution of the Public Accounts Committee, is also of importance, involving as it does the idea of a searching investigation into public expenditure. I hope that the Prime Minister, so early in his career as Leader of the House, will not adhere rigidly to the decision that he has evidently taken in haste to close down on private members’ business to-morrow. What does he propose to do when the ordinary grievance motion, “ That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair “ is moved ? No doubt he has arranged for some one to jump up and make a speech, and then move the adjournment of the debate. The Government should not restrict the rights of private members in this way. There has been much criticism, some of it justified, regarding an inner group dictatorship of the Cabinet, and of the little opportunity that private members have ‘to express the opinions of the minority. I ask honorable members on the Government side whether it is reasonable that this opportunity should be taken away from private members. It is not the fault of private members that the Parliament is not to sit for a longer period. Why should we be deprived of this opportunity for discussion merely in order to facilitate the early closing of Parliament for the convenience of a government which has discovered, from a ripple seen on the surface to-day, that there are rocks ahead which spell danger for it? For that reason, no doubt, it is anxious to make for shelter. I appeal to the Prime Minister to withdraw his motion.
– I support the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) and the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) in their opposition, to this motion. The matter mentioned by the honorable member for Balaclava is important. The Repatriation Act has ‘been in operation for more than twenty years, and it should be reviewed. Honorable members will have no opportunity to discuss private members’ business during this period of the session if the motion be carried. No other opportunity will present , itself before the adjournment of the House on the 9 th June. Then, when the House reassembles, the budget will be presented and debated, and, no doubt, legislation will be introduced arising out of the bud get. I trust that the House will decide to retain, private members’ day ‘to-morrow.
.- I have a suggestion to make which, I think, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) might consider. It is the practice when the Government wants to get on with its own business, to allow one speech to be made on private members’ day, and then to proceed with government business. I suggest that the honorable member foa* Balaclava (Mr. White) be permitted to make his speech. He appears to be the only honorable member who has an urgent matter to bring before the House.
– Surely the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) was in earnest when he gave notice of Iris motion.
– The purpose of the Opposition is merely to harass the Government, as was shown by the talk of rocks ahead. I ask the Government to adopt my suggestion.
– I oppose the motion. Honorable members of every party should think very seriously before surrendering their individual righ ts in this House. All of us here represent approximately the same number of constituents, - and those constituents hold varying political opinions. It so happens, however, that the party which, for the time being, is a minority party in this House, forms the Government. If we abolish private members’ day, we disfranchise, to a large extent, the people in every electorate not represented by a Government supporter. The present Government does not even represent a majority of members, and if this motion be agreed to, the result will be that, those who differ . from this minority Government will be deprived of any opportunity to express their opinions. The important matter mentioned by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) cannot be brought forward for discussion unless a minority party agrees that an amending bill shall be introduced: If a discussion on the subject were allowed to-morrow, it is possible that the honorable member for Balaclava, or other honorable members who took part in the debate, might be able to suggest means for the removal of anomalies in the Repatriation Act. If we vote for the gag merely to convenience the Government, we shall effectively prevent any honorable member who is not of the Government party from expressing his opinions on matters that should concern the Government. It would be reprehensible for a government which does not represent a majority of honorable members of the House to deny to private members the privilege of addressing themselves, to-morrow, to various matters on the notice-paper. The motion of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) concerning the reconstitution of the Public Accounts Committee is important. It has been referred to on a number of occasions at question time, but no proper opportunity to debate it has been afforded us. Even though the honorable member may be willing to forgo his right to discuss the subject, the rights of other honorable members should be considered. The debate earlier this afternoon has clearly shown the need for attention to the administrative procedure of the Government in regard to works. I have little doubt that a discussion of the motion of the honorable member for Lilley would show similar need in regard to finance.
The Prime Minister has said that he desires this period of the session to end on the 9th June. Has that date anything magical about it? Could not the 16th June be fixed instead? Although the business-paper is lengthy, every honorable member knows that the Government has not the slightest intention to ask us to deal with one- third of the items on it. The Prime Minister has told us that only seven measures are to be considered. He has, it is true, referred to some mysterious matters which may later arise. Personally I am not prepared to sacrifice the rights of private members unless the right honorable gentleman tells us precisely what these other mysterious items are. . We should not give way to considerations of expediency in this matter.
.- I hope that the Government will agree to postpone further consideration of this motion. 1 am interested in the issues involved in the notice of motion of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White). I hope that when the new Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Harrison) is able to give some attention to the many repatriation problems which honorable members have submitted for consideration he will give a number of favorable decisions.
If tile Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) is not willing to postpone further consideration of the motion, I hope that at least he will give us an assurance that the matters involved in motions which private members have on the businesspaper will receive special attention from Ministers during the coming recess. Some of the matters are of considerable importance. I do not know that I would put in that category the motion of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) relating to the initiative referendum and recall, for I have read about that principle ever since my boyhood days, but I must confess that I should like to hear the honorable member for Bourke discuss it. I gather that there is some likelihood that the Government will give favorable consideration to the proposal to reconstitute the Public Accounts Committee. The matter involved in the motion of the honorable member for Balaclava relating to anomalies in the Repatriation Act is, however, of vital importance to many people in every electorate in the Commonwealth. Eoi1 this reason, I again appeal to the Prime Minister either to postpone further consideration of the motion now before us or to give an undertaking that the matters which various private members wish to discuss to-morrow will be carefully considered by Ministers during the recess. I appreciate the difficulties of some of the young and new Ministers in dealing with the numerous routine matters that must inevitably occupy their attention, but, undoubtedly, steps should be taken, to ensure that the other matters to which I have referred shall also be considered.
Mr. blackburn (Bourke) [5.18].- I have a motion on the notice-paper relating to the initiative, the referendum and the recall which I had hoped to move to-morrow, but I regard the motion in the name of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) concerning repatriation anomalies as of even greater importance. If the Prime Minister will give us an assurance that he will make an opportunity for that motion to be moved, debated and voted upon to-morrow I shall agree to consideration of my motion being deferred until a later date. The defects in the Repatriation Act are of such concern to all honorable members, and also to many of our constituents, that the Government should place no obstacle in the way of our discussing them to-morrow as we had expected to do. I understand from the remarks of the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) that favorable consideration is likely to be given to the proposal of the honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Jolly) to reconstitute the Public Accounts Committee. I therefore hope that to-morrow the honorable member for Balaclava will be afforded an opportunity to submit his motion and that we shall be allowed time to discuss it and vote upon it.
– Private members’ day is regarded as of major importance by honorable gentlemen of all parties for the reason that it gives them an opportunity to inform members of the Government of the subjects upon which they are most deeply concerned. The honorable member for Lang (Mr. Mulcahy) pointed out that during the coming recess the Government will be giving consideration to the budget for 1939-40. As private members are not permitted to introduce bills involving the expenditure of public funds it is highly desirable that full opportunity be afforded them, before the budget is prepared, to submit for the consideration of the Cabinet matters which in their opinion should occupy the attention of the Government and concerning which the expenditure of public moneys may be necessary. For that reason in particular I urge the Prime Minister to allow private members’ business to be discussed to-morrow. Unless this right be conceded, the budget will be signed, sealed and delivered before these matters can possibly be placed before Ministers. It may be suggested that they can be dealt with on the motion for the adjournment of the House, but that, in my opinion, is not an appropriate occasion to discuss them.
– I well remember the honorable member for West Sydney making a valuable and effective speech on one occasion on the motion for the adjournment of the House.
– That may be so, but the right honorable gentleman will appreciate that, although all I said on that occasion has been amply justified, and my attitude vindicated, my speech did not call for any legislative action. I urge the Government to give careful consideration to the view expressed by the honorable member for Lang.
– I also appeal to the Government to permit private members’ business to be discussed in the usual way to-morrow. The opportunity afforded honorable members on private members’ day to acquaint members of the Government of their convictions on certain matters should be preserved to them. But not only do honorable members wish to inform members of the Cabinet of their’ opinions; Cabinet Ministers should be equally desirous of hearing what honorable members have to say. Private members’ day is a parliamentary institution that should be treated with great respect. I am not deeply interested in any of the private members’ business listed for consideration to-morrow, except that involved in the motion of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), but that is so important as to require consideration by ail honorable members regardless of their party affiliations. It would be regrettable if, through an error of judgment, the Government forced a decision on the motion now before us, which might afterwards put it in a false light and lend colour to an accusation that it effectively prevented the House of Representatives from considering the vitally important subject of the amendment of the Repatriation Act.
Therefore, I say with nothing but the kindliest of feelings that the Government will be well advised to defer the motion until after to-morrow.
Mr. clark (Darling) [5.25]. - I join with, other honorable members in protesting against the Government’s proposal to encroach upon the rights of private members to-morrow. As has been pointed out by other honorable members, to-morrow is the last day set aside for the discussion of private members’ business before the budget session, and, if this motion is carried, will be the last opportunity for honorable members to bring forward matters of vital concern to the electors. The Ministry represents a minority party. The majority of the members of this House have no say in the policy adopted by the Government, and therefore their rights in the Parliament itself should not be filched from them in the manner contemplated. The right of the Parliament to govern should be maintained. On the notice-paper are private motions of great interest to honorable members. Not only those motions, but also other matters, can be discussed on private members’ day. The Government should not so early in its life establish the precedent of taking away the rights of private members; on the contrary it should demonstrate its willingness to adhere to the established practice of the House by giving precedence to the business of private members on every third Thursday.
Mr. brennan (Batman) [5.28].- If all of the speeches which I have delivered in opposition to motions of this kind over the last 25 years were printed together I would stand convicted of wearisome reiteration, because I am conscious of the fact that in these circumstances one speech must appear very much like another. Actually I think that the reasons in support of my opposition are cumulative in character; they are stronger to-day because the abuse is graver to-day than ever it has been in the past. It is a little trying to one’s patience in these days to hear the various champions of democracy declaring what must be done to preserve democracies from the evil influences, which, according to them are corrupting the totalitarian states. I have pointed out before, and I ask leave to point out again, that it is the practice of succeeding governments in this Commonwealth, to invade the democratic principle, arid, as far as possible, subvert the influence of
Parliament. The authority of the Executive remains unchallenged and unchallengeable. Its work goes on whether Parliament sits or does not sit. In fact, Parliament is an embarrassment to the Executive,’ and I am rather inclined to think that it is especially embarrassing to the present Government. But that is no reason why Parliament should not sit. The reason for this motion is declared to be that it is desired that Parliament should rise on the 9th June. Why, we have scarcely met! We have scarcely got over the spirit of restlessness and excitement attached to the installation of this new Government before we have what I might describe as a temporary dissolution in sight on the 9th June.
– We hardly know the new Ministers.
– As the honorable member says, we have hardly become accustomed to the new portfolios and the new Ministers, and obviously, from what we have heard to-day, the present Ministers have not become reconciled to the past Ministers. I wished to discuss the constitutional method by which the Government entered upon its ministerial responsibilities. That is one of the things which, no doubt, I shall be prevented from discussing, inasmuch as we are to separate at such an early date. By the consent of the House. the Standing Orders have economized time by limiting the length of individual addresses, and I point out further that never in my 25 years’ experience of parliamentary life have the Standing Orders been so rigorously interpreted from the Chair as in recent times. That being so, I think it is to be greatly regretted that the rights of individual members should be curtailed at this early date- in our sittings. Each individual member is responsible to his constituents. That is the democratic theory. The Executive is really the instrument of Parliament, but the practice is to make the Parliament the instrument of the Executive. That is an inversion of the proper order. I say that no executive can safely evade by the device of flight from Parliament its responsibilities to the people. The people will note the fact that they are cheated out of their rights insofar aa their representatives are prevented from being here in the popular assembly to which they are elected. The Parliament is not merely the instrument for voting money to enable the Executive to proceed with its work; it is a deliberative assembly. The Parliament, as its very name indicates, is a body in which men talk and are presumed to reason to the best of their ability. Of course, if they fail to take advantage of their’ opportunity to do so, that is the fault of the people who send them here, and the responsibility then goes back to them. To add another to the long list of protests, I protest against the rights of individual members being filched and the rights of their constituents being invaded. In a democracy the parliament is the place where ordinary men express the views of ordinary people; it is not a place where governments obtain the passage of funds to enable a totalitarian state to operate outside the legislative walls.
– I feel obliged to add my protest to those already voiced by honorable members against this proposal of the Government. I had hoped that with the advent of this rejuvenated Government, with such a preponderance of youth in it, we would have a more liberal appreciation of the rights of private members, and that added opportunities would be afforded us to express our views in this House. We find, however, that the Ministry is already resorting to the evil system of government by the Executive, which so infringes upon the rights of private members. As the result of the tendency in recent years to hand over the government of the country to the Executive, the people generally are being driven to believe that they are not being governed in a really democratic way. I am glad to know that at least some members on the ministerial side of the House now endorse the opinions expressed by honorable members on this side as to the rights of private members. It is rather refreshing to find that in some respects their views have changed with their changed position. I trust that they will have the courage to record their votes against this proposed invasion of the rights of private members.
.- I add my protest to those of other honorable members against the Government’s proposal for the postponement of private members’ day. I do so because I believe that some of the matters which honorable members desired to bring forward to-morrow are at least equally as important as many of those which the Government is now bringing before the House. I have no desire to dwell upon this matter at any length ; I merely rose to say that I am in complete agreement with other honorable members as to the urgency of the subject-matter of a motion which stands in the name of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White).
.- I rise to record my agreement with those honorable members who have voiced their objection to the filching of private members’ day. More especially do I register my protest against this proposal when there stands on the notice-paper a motion of such importance as that appearing in the name of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White).
– Will the honorable member vote against the Government?
– Yes. I believe that the Government ought to recognize that if the business of Parliament is of such a character that it requires the sittings to be extended beyond the 9th, the 19th, or even the 29th June, we should be prepared to sit on and do the job for which we were appointed, until we are satisfied that full consideration has been given to all the matters brought before us. I am prepared - and I have no doubt that a majority of honorable members are of the same mind - to sit on for as long as is necessary to complete the business of the Parliament, rather than that a day that is recognized as private members’ day should be filched from us. We could easily sit for an additional day at the end of these sittings.
– We have had a fairly good private members’ day to-day.
– We have had a very good day - a day in the interests of the Australian people, who value some of the principles of democracy. It has not been a day for the ventilation of spleen or spite on the part of individual members, but time has been profitably devoted to the discussion of a vital principle. There is also a principle involved in the motion in the name of the honorable member for Balaclava set down for discussion to-morrow. If that motion were not on the business-paper, I should not be so emphatic in my views; but the fact that it is there, and that this proposal todefer it is now placed before us, is an indication that the Government wishes to stifle discussion on the anomalies that exist in matters connected with the repatriation of Australian soldiers. In my opinion, the Government is making a mistake in giving the impression that it seeks to sidetrack the discussion of that subject. I do not think that, many members of this House, or, indeed, that the Government itself is convinced, that there is need to ask private members to forgo the day set apart for their business. If the business to he transacted be so important as the Government thinks that it is, and as we all believe it to be, the sittings might well be extended far beyond the date that has been indicated as the last day of these sittings, namely, the 9th June. I urge the Government not to interfere with private members’ business to-morrow.
– in reply - All of the principles that have been enunciatedby honorable members have been in the mind of the Government, but it believes - and its belief has been strengthened by the fact that we have not yet been able to get back into committee on the Supply and Development, Bill - that if the present sittings are to end on a date which will provide a reasonable opportunity to prepare for the longer session that is to follow, Government business must be given precedence. It seems clear that there must be a Supply Bill at some time during these sittings, in order to make financial provision beyond the end of the present year. That being so, honorable members will have ample opportunity, as, indeed, they will have on other occasions, to bring forward business that they regard as important.
Question put -
That the motion be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. G. J. Bell.)
Majority . ….. 3
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 23rd May, (vide page 658).
Clause 5 - (1.) Subject to the directions of the GovernorGeneral and to the next succeeding subsection, the matters to be administered by the department shall be matters relating to -
the provision or supply of munitions;
the manufacture or assembly of aircraft or parts thereof by the Commonwealth or any authority of the Commonwealth ;
arrangements for the establishment or extension of industries for purposes of defence;
the acquisition, maintenance and dis posal of stocks of goods in connexion with defence;
arrangements for ascertaining costs and for the control and limitation of profits in relation to the produc tion of munitions; and
the arrangement or co-ordination of -
surveys of Australian indus trial capacity and the preparation of plans to ensure the effective operation of Australian industry in time of war; and
ii ) the investigation and develop ment of Australian sources of supply of goods, which in the opinion of the Governor-General are necessary for the economic security of the Common wealth in time of war. (2.) The Governor-General may from time to time determine the extent to which or the conditions upon which any of the matters specified in this section may be administered by the Department.
Uponwhich Mr. White had moved, by way of amendment -
That the word “profits”, sub-clause (1.), paragraph (e), be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ net profit to six per centum”.
.- At first glance this clause appears to he impressive, but an examination of it reveals that it is, in fact, valueless. In the opinion of the Opposition, it is only so much window-dressing with the object of making the electors believe that something impressive is being done. It sets out what the Minister may do, but does not make mandatory any of the things mentioned. The Opposition believes that there should be a definite mandatory provision in the bill to compel the Minister to control and limit profits ; it is definitely opposed to profiteering in the making of munitions.
– Why in respect only of munitions ?
– The Opposition is definitely opposed to profiteering of any kind. It stands primarily for Government monopoly of the manufacture of munitions, whereas the bill, as drawn, contemplates that the bulk of the work will be done by private enterprise. I admit that the constitutional limitations imposed upon this Parliament make difficult what the Opposition would like to see, namely, a national monopoly of the manufacture of munitions, with provision for switching over to the manufacture of other equipment or undertaking outside jobs when the demand for munitions was slack. The Opposition realizes that, whatever it may do, the Government, with the support of the whole of the members of the Country party, intends to allow the manufacture of munitions by private enterprise. As we are unable to lay down a uniform rate of profits for every transaction, the Opposition believes that in the circumstances the Parliament should delegate to the Government the power to limit profits. It is the opinion that there should be a tightening of this clause. In its present form it is too loosely drawn. For that reason, I give notice of an amendment to insert after sub-clause 2 the following proviso -
Provided that no such determination shall exclude provision for the ascertainment of costs and for the control and limitation of profits in relation to the production of munitions.
– Is not the honorable member’s amendment covered by paragraphc?
– No; that is not mandatory. The amendment of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) will he practically worthless if it is inserted where he proposes. Unless an amendment in the form I propose he agreed to, it will be optional for the Minister to act in the direction I desire. It should be mandatory upon the Government to control and to. limit profits made in the manufacture of munitions. Experience in this and in other countries emphasizes the necessity for Parliament to place such matters beyond all doubt, and whenever possible exercise such control as will prevent profiteering by those engaged in the production of munitions.
– What limit does the honorable member suggest?
– I realize that it is difficult to state what is a fair rate of profit to be made on every type of article manufactured. That is a matter that will have to be determined after inquiry. We are opposed to all forms of profiteering; but I could not be dogmatic as to what would be a fair return on every article.
– Is the honorable member opposed to a definite limit?
– It is extremely difficult to say what the definite limit should be. Companies such as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited supply raw materials to subsidiary companies engaged in the manufacture of munitions. Such companies control not only the production of the raw material, but also the manufacture of the finished article. Generally speaking, a profit of 6 per cent, is too high. I believe that many of our large manufacturing industries that have benefited largely from the protectionist policy should be prepared to produce munitions and sell them to the Defence Department at cost price. Some companies should be prevented from receiving that rate, and others would make no great sacrifice if they produced munitions without any profit at all. If it is made mandatory upon the Minister to restrict profits the responsibility will be upon the Government, which can be dealt with by the electors should it fail to exercise due control. A study of the history of the manufacture of munitions and war supplies in this and in other countries shows that, notwithstanding the promises made by governments, profiteering has been carried on. On the 10th September, 1920, ex-Senator Guthrie, speaking in the Senate, said that -
During the years 1015, 1916 and 1917, the existing woollen mills of Australia made a total net profit of £1,197,000 on a total capital of £1,144,000, that is slightly over 100 per cent, profit on the original capital.
A good deal of that profit was derived from contracts entered into by the government for the supply of raw materials and equipment for the Defence Department. Such profits should not be countenanced. The experience in Great Britain has been similar. Speaking in the House of Commons in August, 1919, Mr. Lloyd George stated that -
The profiteering of the armament firms was checked in three ways - first, by a system of costings and investigation; secondly, by the establishment of competing national factories; and thirdly, by the excess profits duty. The huge sum of £440,000,000 had been saved by these means. The 18-pounder, when the Ministry of Munitions was started, cost 22s. 6d. a shell. A system of costing and investigation was introduced and national factories were set up which checked the prices, and a shell for which the War Office at the time the ministry was formed paid 22s. Gd. was reduced to 12s. Gd. When you have 85,000,000 shells, that saved £35,000,000. There was a reduction in the price of all other shells, and there was a reduction in the Lewis gun. When we tooK them in hand they cost £105, and we reduced them to £35 each. There was a saving of £14,000,000, and through the costing system and the checking of the national factories we set up before the end of the war, there was a saving of £440,000,000.
The capital cost of the six T.N.T. factories was £1,473,000, but by April, 1917, they had already produced T.N.T., which, as against contract prices hod given a surplus of £2,404,318. They had, therefore, completely wiped out their total cost of provision and had left a balance over of 38 per cent.
In his book, The Bloody Traffic, Fenner Brockway writes -
Before the governments stepped in and checked and limited their profiteering, the armament firms were able to pocket the surplus which they made on their exorbitant, charges.
Even after the introduction of the lowerprices, large” profits were maintained. The armament firms were compelled to contribute to the State the following sums subsequent to. the introduction of the munitions levy, because their profits totalled more than the 20 per cent, allowed: -
Similar profiteering took place in all the belligerent countries during the World War. The armament firms have discovered the secret of how to turn blood into gold.
Quite a number of similar statements oan be found in books of this kind written by men who have made a life study of this subject. *
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse.)The honorable member has exhausted his time.
Mr. francis (Moreton) [6.6].- I regard clause 5 as the most important in the bill. If the Government hopes to win the confidence of the community in setting up this new Department of Supply and Development, it should give the cleanest possible explanation of each of the proposals embodied in this measure. Each provision of clause 5, at any rate, should be thoroughly explained. In respect of sub-clause 1, paragraph e, which provides that matters to be administered by the department shall include matters relating to “ arrangements for ascertaining costs and for the control and limitation of profits in relation to the production of munitions.” I am anxious that every possible effortbe made to prevent profiteering in connexion with contracts for supplies to this new department. The amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) proposes that such profits shall not exceed 6 per cent. Because I believe that the Government’s powers in this respect should not be restricted in the slightest degree, I cannot support the amendment. Furthermore, the Government has given repeated assurances that it will do everything possible tolimit profits. It is proposed to appoint advisory panelsto assist in all of the matters covered by clause 5. First, a panel of business men was to be set up in connexion with the mobilization of industry in Australia. At a time like the present everything possible should be done to ensure that not only our available man-power, but also our materials and resources, shall be at the disposal of the Government in case of emergency so that every section of the community will be enabled to put all its weight in the defence of this country. Over the next three years, it is proposed to expend a total of £78,000,000 in this direction. While guarding against wasteful expenditure, the Government should bear in mind the necessity for fostering the greatest possible efficiency in the department. I have a very highregard for all of the officers of the Defence Department many of whom willbe transferred to this new department, and in a major undertaking of this character we should give them every possible assistance. On the 6th September last, the then Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) stated that an advisory panel bad been appointed to inquire into the principles of supply for the Department of Defence. That panel endorsed the principles on which the Principal Supply Officers’ Committee recommended the organization of industry for the production of ammunition components. The Government also decided to invite the gentlemen comprising the advisory panel to make their services available in the following directions: -
The Minister thereupon appointed a very useful committee of gentlemen possessing special experience as business executives. I am sure that these gentlemen will do good work. Regarding the statements which have been made concerning the dangers of profiteering. I am of opinion that in Australia we have a large number of public-spirited men engaged in industry. This leads me to believe that profiteering in connexion with the work of this new department is unlikely. However, I wish to make one or two points regarding the personnel of the committee to which I have just referred. As I have already said, I have the profoundest respect for these men, but I point out that four out of the five, namely, Mr. Essington Lewis, Sir Colin Fraser, Sir Alexander Stewart, and Mr. Eady, come from Victoria, whilst, the fifth member of the committee, the Hon. F. P: Kneeshaw, M.L.C., whom I know personally and admire, comes from New South Wales but spends a very great part of his time in Victoria. When I was assisting recently in the Griffith by-election I heard the view expressed time and again that only Victorians seemed to receive any consideration in appointments made by this Government. That allegation does not apply in this particular instance, because, I understand, this committee was appointed in 1937 by a former Minister. However, hearing in mind the prevalence of that view in the community, I urge the Government not to confine the majority of its appointments to persons from any one State. The opinion is widely held in Queensland, at, any rate, that the Ministry is too prone to favour Victorians in making appointments.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8p.m.
– I regard clause 5 as the most important in the bill. It provides that the matters to be administered by the department shall be matters relating to -
the arrangement or co-ordination of -
It enacts further that the GovernorGeneral may, from time to time, determine the extent to which or the conditions upon which any of these matters may be administered by the department. This is the crux of the bill. I would direct special attention to paragraph e which deals with the arrangements to be made for the ascertaining of costs and for the control and limitation of profits in relation to the production of munitions.
I understand that the Minister intends to submit an amendment in language more explicit to prevent undue profits from being made out of the manufacture of munitions or other war-time supplies, than which there is no more heinous crime.
– What is the amendment?
– The honorable member for Balaclava knows that as well as I do. The honorable gentleman has himself moved an amendment to limit profit from activities associated with the new Department of Supply and Development to 6 per cent. I believe that paragraph e should be as broad as possible, in order that the Government may effectively curb any tendency to undue profits ; hut to fix the limit at 6 per cent. as has been proposed by the honorable member for Balaclava, will not, I suggest, give the Government sufficient scope. For that reason I am opposed to it. In some industries a profit of 6 per cent. might be too much; in others it might be too low. I should not like to see any arbitrary limit imposed. I am sure that the Government will see that profits from private defence industries are kept as low as possible. I believe that the great majority of manufacturers and suppliers of raw materials for the Department of Supply and Development are honest and patriotic citizens. Therefore the fixing of an arbitrary limit on profits will be unnecessary. I know, however, that in every community there are people who are not actuated by the same high motives, and for that reason I think that the widest possible power should be given to the Government so that the strictest supervision may be exercised, in order to prevent the making of undue profits by any one.
The expenditure of £78,000,000 on defence calls for the highest possible efficiency. I commend the Government for its decision to appoint an advisory panel on industrial organization to tender advice in connexion with the very big job which the new department is to undertake; but, as I remarked earlier, I think a mistake has been made in selecting four gentlemen from Victoria. This may cause some dissatisfaction in other States. The panel includes the following. - Mr. Essington Lewis, Mr. M. Eady, Sir Colin Fraser and Sir Alexander Stewart, all of Victoria. The fifth member is Mr. H. P. Kneeshaw, M.L.C., who, although a citizen of New South Wales, is interested in big industrial undertakings in Victoria and for that reason might also be regarded as being a representative of Victoria.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse.)The honorable member’s time has expired.
Several honorable members rising,
– Mr. Chairman-
– I should like to continue my speech and take the second portion of my time.
– If the honorable member wishes to continue, I shall resume my seat.
– I rise to a point of order. Why did you call on the Minister, Mr. Chairman? Several honorable members on this side rose to speak.
– Order! If honorable members on the Opposition side desire to address the committee they will have the right to the call.
– On the point of order I may explain that I rose to speak, thinking that the honorable member for Moreton had finished his speech; but I gave way to him in the belief that he was granted an extension of his time.
Opposition Members. - No !
– I move -
That the honorable member for Moreton have leave to continue his speech.
– The motion is not in order. The practice is that in the committee stage of a bill honorable members may speak twice for a period of fifteen minutes. At the end of an honorable member’s first period of fifteen minutes, if no other honorable member rises, the speaker may proceed andtake his second term. In this case other honorable members have risen and the honorable member for Moreton may not continue. The honorable member for Wakefield.
.- The committee is dealing with what is probably the most important piece of legislation that will come before Parliament this session. Clause 5 seeks to confer extensive powers in the exercise of which the Government should be most vigilant, and set a high ethical standard for the nation. Profits on the manufacture of munitions should he restricted to the irreducible minimum. In fact, no profit should be made at all. We all have unhappy memories of 1914-18, and we should do all that is possible to prevent another war. If, however, we are to be forced into a conflict with other nations, the people of the Commonwealth should be protected from exploitation in any form. No one should he permitted to make profits out of the suffering and, possibly, the bloodshed of our people.
Only one large company would he engaged extensively in the manufacture of munitions in Australia. I think that the committee should support the amendment foreshadowed by the Deputy Leader of. the Opposition (Mr. Forde), the effect of which would be to make it mandatory on the Minister to order a thorough examination of every contract let to private enterprise for the manufacture of munitions and equipment. At least the Minister should insist that such an examination be carried out by responsible officers of his department. In almost every country, difficulties have arisen in connexion with this matter. In time of war or of preparation for war, lists of the shareholders of various manufacturing enterprises engaged in the production of war supplies should be kept under the strictest surveillance. I would say to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that every effort should be made to ensure that Cabinet Ministers and supporters of the Government are not financially interested in that big company which, above all others, would be in a position to amass huge profits in time of war. That should be the first duty of the right honorable gentleman. The ramifications of armaments rings, and their control of the international press, have been exposed by many commissions and committees of inquiry set up in various countries. It has been disclosed that these armaments industries are international in character, and that in order to amass huge profits out of the manufacture of war material, they have used the press for the creation of war scares and indulged in the bribery of government officials. Australia is a young democracy and in its efforts in this time of emergency and preparation for a possible conflict it should set an example to the rest of the world.
The findings of a royal commission which inquired into the armaments industry in England some time ago are illuminating. Honorable members will be interested to learn the names of some of the shareholders in industrial organizations operating in England which have branches in this country. According to the latest returns, 1,512 shares in Imperial Chemical Industries Limited are held by Sir John Simon, Chancellor of the British Exchequer. In fairness to him, I must say that he has since withdrawn from the company because he considered that it was impossible to hold a responsible public position and at the same time have shares in a company which produces poison gas for the slaughter of human ‘beings. In the list of shareholders there are other names of gentleman who are not so well known, but one name which will prove of interest to honorable members is that of the Honorable Neville Chamberlain, M.P., Prime Minister of England, who holds 11,700 shares. I have not seen in any publication the announcement that he has withdrawn from this company. I reiterate that our Prime Minister should be very careful to see that his Ministers and supporters, and, what is probably more important, the members of his advisory council, are not similarly involved. These last-named gentlemen should be absolutely above all suspicion. The human race is heading towards the greatest slaughter in our history and, I believe, in any previous history. Therefore, we, as a young democracy in the South ‘Seas, should be most vigilant. Members of Parliament generally should exercise the greatest care in taking up shares in any company. Our duty is to see that the scales of justice are evenly balanced, rather than to make profits out of the sorrows of the people.
The Minister could, with great advantage to Australia, have inquiries made by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research into all the ramifications of supply. Australia grows all kinds of vegetation from which may be produced power alcohol. I understand that in Europe alone there are 600 distilleries distilling power alcohol from vegetation, and that the supplies of this fuel are being enormously augmented. If that can be done in Europe we, too, should be able to do it. We have in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research men of great learning and a high degree of mentality. Science is undoubtedly a powerful weapon, and I advise the Government to use it to the fullest degree. Any proposal to vote money for the conduct of investigations by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research will have my hearty support. I emphasize that those who are selected to advise the Government should possess the highest qualifications, and that, above all, their integrity should be beyond question.
The matter of transport demands the greatest consideration. Australia is one of the biggest countries in the world, the distance from Perth, in Western Australia, to Cairns, in Queensland, being 4,012 miles. The over-lapping and duplication of control in respect of our transport systems is probably without parallel elsewhere in the world. A little while ago, I met an Indian army officer who asked me, “ How is it that you have so much duplication of control in your Australian railways?” I replied, “Like some other things, we just grew up; we did not plan this country at the outset, but we are beginning to plan it now.” The co-ordination of our transport activities would help the Minister for Defence and the Minister for Supply and Development to as great a degree as would any other factor. Any army officer, any transport official, realizes the importance of communications. We have invested in our railways £350,000,000, and many millions of pounds have been expended on our roads. There are also our coastal shipping and aviation. There should be co-ordination of all of those activities, and in a time of crisis the Commonwealth should have the power to control them as one unit, and not as the six different systems that they are to-day.
– Order ! The honorable member has exhausted the first portion of his time.
Motion (by Mr. Gander) proposed -
That the honorable member for Wakefield have leave to continue his speech.
– I have already given a ruling in regard to the continuance of a speech upon the expiry of the first period of fifteen minutes.
– With due deference to your ruling, sir, I point out that the contrary provision is made by the Standing Orders. Standing Order No: 257b, adopted by the House on the 23rd April, 1931, provides, as was generally supposed, that each member shall be allowed to speak for two periods; each of which shall not exceed fifteen minutes; but whether or not he exhausts the two periods in the one speech depends upon his own decision in the matter. The standing order states -
The maximum period for which a member may speak on any subject indicated in this standing order, and the maximum period for any debate, shall not, unless otherwise ordered, exceed the period specified opposite to that subject in the following schedule: -
The schedule reads -
Debates not otherwise provided for -
Each member - two periods each not exceed ing fifteen minutes.
There is nothing to indicate that an honorable member may be prevented from proceeding immediately with the second period of fifteen minutes by another honorable member rising to speak. I take it, therefore, that the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) had the right to continue his speech when he desired to do so. The standing order goes on to provide that, with the consent of a majority of the House or of the committee, to be determined without debate, a member may be allowed to continue his speech for periods each not exceeding fifteen minutes. Your ruling, Mr. Chairman, put the honorable member for Moreton out of court in both respects, and it would appear to have been not in accordance with the standing order.
– The standing order read by the honorable member provides that each member shall have two opportunities to speak. In committee it has been the recognized practice that he shall not exhaust both of them should any other honorable member desire to speak.
– Recognized by whom ?
– It has been the practice in committee to allow an honorable member to take his second period if no other honorable member wishes to speak at the time. I do not think that that is a wrong interpretation of the standing order. On the other point raised, it has been generally recognized that if an honorable member be given leave to continue his speech, and does so, he thereby forfeits the second opportunity that he otherwise would have.
That practice has been observed in committee ever since I have been a member of this Parliament.
– Practice cannot overrule the Standing Orders.
– On a point of order, I recall to the mind of the committee the fact that, when an honorable member desired to move that I have leave to continue my speech you, Mr. Chairman, said that no extension of time could be granted. I have since perused the standing order to which the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) has referred. It specifically provides that an honorable member may be allowed to continue his speech for periods each not exceeding fifteen minutes. I submit that the ruling you have given is in conflict with that standing order, and that the motion that I have leave to continue my speech should have been put to the committee.
– I rise to a point of order. The standing order already referred to plainly indicates that, if a motion be submitted that an honorable memberhave leave to continue his speech, and the consent of the committee is obtained, the honorable member has the right to the proposed extension of time. I therefore move -
That the honorable member for Wakefield have leave to continue his speech.
I intend to stand by that, and to see that the honorable member’s right is preserved.
– The Chair has been acting entirely in accordance with the practice of the committee hitherto, and the ruling given to-night is in conformity with rulings previously given in committee. Had the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) been given leave to continue, he would not have been entitled to a second period of fifteen minutes. The interpretation placed on the standing order has been that an honorable member has not the right to an extension of the time allowed to him until he has exhausted his two periods. The honorable member for Moreton may speak for a further fifteen minutes on this clause.
– I have moved “ That the honorable member for Wakefield have leave to continue his speech “.
– The Chair has already ruled that the honorable member for Wakefield has not yet exhausted his right to speak on this clause. Nor has the honorable member for Moreton.
– I ask your ruling; Mr. Chairman, on a question of procedure. I understand that, in dealing with complicated clauses, such asclause 5, it has been customary for the Chair to inquire whether it is thewill of the committee that the clause should be taken as a whole, or dealt with in sub-clauses or paragraphs. This clause is so complicated that I do not think honorable members could express themselves adequately regarding it in one speech, or even in two. The two periods of fifteen minutes permitted under the Standing Orders would not enable a member to express his views on the various sub-clauses, let alone the four or five amendments that have been foreshadowed. I now inquire whether it would not be competent for the committee to decide to deal with the clause in subclauses?
– The first four clauses were dealt with in the usual way, and clause 5 also was put as a whole to the committee, but it would be competent for the committee to deal with it in subclauses or paragraphs.
– I should like to move that the clause be considered sub-clause bysub-clause.
– For the greater convenience of the committee, possibly the honorable member should move that consideration be given to sub-clause 1, down to paragraph e. The Chair has already put to the committee an amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava, which is the first amendment down to paragraph e.
– Is it to be taken that, if this proposal be agreed to, each honorable member will have the right to make, in effect, four speeches on this clause?
– If this course be decided upon, each honorable member will be entitled to speak twice on each question put from the Chair. Is it the wish of the committee that the clause be considered in this way?
– I object because I do not think that the subject-matter, as far as it can he connected, is suitablefor division in this way. I desire to address myself to the clause as a whole. The matter might be reduced to an absurdity ifwe passed one part of the clause, rejected another part, and then adopted a further part. The clause could not be intelligently discussed in that way, and therefore it should be considered as a whole. In addition to the two speeches which each member is allowed under the Standing Orders, he would be entitled to make two more in respect of each of the amendments foreshadowed, andof each further amendment that might be moved.
– The difficulty in the minds of some honorable members appears to be that, owing to the fact that four amendments have already been forecast, they desire an assurance from the Chair that they will have an opportunity to deal with these amendments individually as they come before the committee. Then, I submit, there would be no objection to taking the clause as a whole.
– The Chair has alreadyarranged the amendments in the order in which they come in the clause, but. seeing that objection is taken to the consideration, as a whole, of paragraphs a to e, inclusive, of sub-clause 1, discussion must now be confined to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava.
– I rise to a point of order. When you ruled, Mr. Chairman, that the honorable member for Wakefield had exhausted his time, I caught your eye and moved that he be given leave to continue. Standing Order 257b provides, inter alia -
In the House or in committee. - Extension of time - with the consent of a majority of the House or of the committee, to be determined without debate, a member may be allowed to continue his speech for periods each not exceeding fifteen minutes.
I submiit that my motion seeking an extension of time for the honorable member for Wakefield should be put to the committee.
– The Chair has already ruled in accordance with the practice of the committee, and the honorable member far Reid should have taken exception to the ruling when it was given. I had already given a ruling to a similar effect in regard to the extension of time sought on behalf of the honorable member for Moreton.
– Would I be in order in speaking now?
– The honorable member has an opportunity to speak for another fifteen minutes. If no other honorable member desires to speak, I call upon the honorable member for Wakefield.
– I rise to a point of order. I desire to preserve my rights in this committee. I have the utmost respect for the honorable member for Wakefield, and do not object to an extension of time being granted to him at the proper stage; but this is a democratic institution.
– Order ! The honorable member must state his point of order.
– I contend that every member should be accorded similar rights. A motion was submitted that I should be granted an extension of time, and you, Mr. Chairman, ruled ‘that I had no right to an extension; but in the case of the honorable member for Wakefield you have given a different decision.
– No differentiation (has been shown. The honorable member for Wakefield was the only honorable member who rose, and I gave him the call.
.- No doubt this clause will go down in history «s a very important one. When I completed my first fifteen minutes, I was referring to the high ethical standard that it is (necessary for this and every other government to set in regard to preparations for defence. No profits should be permitted from the manufacture and sale of defence equipment. I commend the Government upon the manner in which powers have been delegated to the State authorities. The local governing bodies will appoint district clerks to act as secretaries of further civic bodies that will form various committees in connexion with local defence activities. This is a very cheap and excellent way to provide for civil defence. I understand that, up ;to the present time, the cost of setting this machinery in operation in South Australia is under £40. I impress on the
Minister the necessity, in the exercise of his power under this bill to create industries and factories, for him to bear in mind the need to place them in the most advantageous positions so that their use will extend beyond the needs of the defence organization to those of every-day civilian life. They should not be concentrated in the great metropolitan areas, but should be located close to the sources of raw materials. We are inclined to be carried away by a hysterical fear of war, but we must not lose sight of the fact that at the soonest possible time this country must have as its first consideration the production of goods for the’ civil population and the steady but sure raising of the standard of living.
Two ways exist for the financing of the proposals contained in this bill. One is recourse to the loan market with its consequent increase of the interest burden, and the other is the use of the Commonwealth Bank for the issue of credit on behalf of the nation. If this country be worth, as some economists tell us, £7,000,000,000, 1 am satisfied that credits could and should be issued against its great assets. If we continue what we have been doing in recent years and borrow from £20,000,000 to £40,000,000 a year, we shall impose such a burden on posterity that there will be no prospect of our ever being able to liquidate our public debt. There have been advances in all branches of life but banking; the banking system is still in the dark ages, whereas it, above all other aspects of commercial life, should be up-to-date in its outlook. All modern governments sooner or later will be forced to face the question of the issue of credit.
Before concluding I impress upon the Government the necessity for it to follow the lead given by the Premier of South Australia, Mr. Playford, who is determined that as much work in connexion with this measure as is possible shall be done in South Australian government factories. In the Islington Government Workshops in South Australia we have the machinery and staff to undertake this work, and in the undertaking of the work there will be no excess profits. If there is one thing that is abhorrent to me it is high profits from the suffering of the people.
– The honorable member for Moreton.
Mr. francis (Moreton) [8.50]. - I am grateful for the Chair’s reconsideration. I indicated a few moments ago that it was an unfortunate practice for the Government to appoint .four Victorians and another who, by trade association, is almost a Victorian, to be the personnel of five on the industrial panel. I have the profoundest regard for all of the gentlemen on it. They are outstanding members of industry, and they are doing, and will continue to do, an extraordinarily good job of work. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate that in this great Commonwealth the Government’s outlook seems to be confined to the vicinity of St. Kilda-road, Melbourne. The Government also proposes to appoint a panel of accountants to advise * it and to devise a costing system to check the profits of private industries engaged in carrying out work for it in connexion with the Department of Supply and Development. I understand that five accountants are to be appointed to the panel, and I hope on this occasion that the Government will look beyond St. Kilda-road in choosing them. There are in Queensland and other States men who could be of invaluable assistance to the Department of Supply and Development, and who are anxious and willing to serve. I should like an assurance from the Minister that’ their claims will be considered.
– I shall-speak on that.
-I appreciate that it is necessary to get the best men, but I am certain that the best men are not confined to Victoria. The Government is being subjected to attack in Queensland by series of associations of people because of the predominance of Victorians on the industrial panel. They suggest that the State of Queensland is ‘ being neglected, and that contracts that should go to Queensland are, because of the constitution of the advisory panel, being given to the other States. Accordingly, I urge the Minister not to heap fuel on this fire by appointing only Victorians to the panel of accountants. The fact that all of the Ministers associated with defence - the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street), the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. : Casey), the Minister for Civil
Aviation (Mr. Fairbairn), and the Assistant Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Holt) - come from Melbourne has been used by certain people in Queensland as a further basis for their contention that Queensland and other States are being unjustly treated. I do not agree with that point of view, and have repeatedly denied their contention. I have the profoundest regard for all of these Ministers and know them to be good Australians, doing their best for every section of the community; but, if the Government appoints all of the accountants on the panel from one State, it will bc very difficult for myself and other Queensland members to defend this continuance of its attitude. A letter which I shall now read is typical of a number of letters that I have received. I do not agree with its contents, but I do not think that the Government should make it possible for the belief that it contains to exist. The letter reads - . . I meet about 40 men every week, mostly different men of all shades of opinion. The opinion gaining ground is that Queensland is to be sacrificed to tempt an invader to land far from the heart of the Commonwealth. . . .
I appeal to the Minister to do as I have suggested, so that such a belief should be dispelled.
[8.54]. - Recently the Government decided to set up an advisory panel of accountants to advise the Government on schemes of costing and profit control for the production of munitions by private industry. The Government has given great thought and attention to this problem of profit control, and it is anxious to get the best advice possible from sources, outside the Government and the Public . Service in order still further to lessen the opportunity for other than the most reasonable profits to be made from the supply of munitions and the other manifold requirements of the Defence Department. After consultation with . the various accountancy institutes and bodies and after informing its mind from many quarters on this subject, the Government has decided to invite the following gentlemen to serve on the Advisory Accountancy Panel: - 7
Mr. Griffith is the general president of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants in Sydney.
– And a costing expert.
– Yes. Mr. Hadley is the senior partner of Offner, Hadley and Company, chartered accountants, Sydney, and is a past president of the Australasian Institute of Cost Accountants.
Mr. Nixon is a senior partner of Edwin V. Nixon and Partners, chartered accountants, Melbourne. Mr. Nixon has been a member of two royal commissions.
– That is no testimonial.
– It is in this case.
Mr. Nolan is the assistant general manager of the Sydney County Council, and is the president of the Australasian Institute of Cost Accountants.
Mr. Schumer is the general manager of the Yellow Express Carriers Limited, Melbourne. He is a lecturer in cost accounting at the Melbourne University, and is the author of a well-known handbook on cost accounting.
– Are there no other States than Victoria and New South Wales?
– The Government looks forward to getting considerable valuable assistance and advice from the panel, which will be given full and free opportunity to investigate existing checks and safeguards, and will welcome its advice as to any additional methods that should be employed to safeguard the public interest. The Government counts itself fortunate to have secured the services on an honorary basis of these five eminent gentlemen.
As is quite clear from the debate in committee up to this stage that the minds of honorable members are turning very largely and rightly on the question of the control of profits, it is right that I should enlarge somewhat on the existing methods of purchase of materials and commodities for defence requirements in order that honorable gentlemen may see the degree to which their remarks are justified. Generally speaking, defence purchases are made by the contracts branch, which will in future be associated with the Supply Department. Hitherto it has been a branch of the Defence Department. The head-quarters of the Contracts Board is in Melbourne, and there are sub-branches in each of the other capital cities. The contract system, as it has been developed over a great number of years, provides, as I am advised, very complete checks and safeguards against anything beyond quite moderate profits. The vast bulk of the purchases are made by open tender, well advertised in advance, throughout the whole of the Commonwealth. In the case of the more important items, there is usually a large number of tenderers. Although the tenders are called throughout the Commonwealth as a whole, there is a provision that tenders may be put in on an f.o.b. basis in any State of the Commonwealth. This is to give to contractors in the smaller, or more distant States, an equal opportunity with those in the more populous States.
– Are the lowest tenders always accepted?
– Yes, except in a few instances where, on the advice of the technical staff of the department, there is some good reason for doing otherwise. There is, in the opinion of those who are now advising me, and who were advising the Defence Department in the past, a very good check on undue profitmaking in the competitive system of public tendering.
-What about the armaments firms?
– The manufacture of armaments is not involved. Armaments and munitions willbe made in the Commonwealth’s own factories, or in the defence annexes. . The contracts of which I have been speaking are for the supply of goods other than arms and munitions - for such goods as boots, uniforms, and other items of equipment for the three services.
Already this financial year, more than 7,000 contracts have been placed, and it is probable that, by the end of the year, approximately 10,000 contracts will have been let by the Contracts Board. I have had the figures analysed for the information of honorable members. By the end of the year, contracts for the purchase of material will have been let through the Contracts Board to the value of £2,000,000. Of that amount, about £500,000, or one-quarter of the total, will he in respect of woollen and cotton textiles for uniforms and the like. There were 21 tenderers for those items, representing practically the total number of firms engaged in the manufacture of such material. Of the 21 tenderers, sixteen received contracts. This is a larger number than usual, and the contracts were more widely distributed because of the necessity for getting the material for uniforms and equipment manufactured as quickly as possible. With this end in view, contracts were let in every State of the Commonwealth. Contracts to the value of £100,000 have been, or will be, let for the supply of boots. There were ten or twelve tenderers, and the result of the tendering was announced by the Minister for Defence in the House this morning.
– Was there much difference in the prices of the various tenderers ?
– There was a considerable difference between the tenders received from the smaller manufacturers in. the more distant States, and those in the larger States.
– Does the f.o.b. system of which the Minister spoke apply to inland country districts, or only to the seaports ?
Mr.CASEY. - It applies to any tenderer wherever situated. If the tender of a firm in a distant part of the Commonwealth is accepted, the Defence Department has to meet the cost of freight to the point at which the material is required.
– But is that cost taken into account in deciding who shall be the successful tenderer?
– No. The system was introduced to remove the disadvantage under which manufacturers in the more distant States would normally labour. Without it there would be very little chance of those manufacturers obtaining any appreciable part of defence contracts.
– When was the system introduced?
– In 1933. The goods required are used chiefly in the States in which the large manufacturers are situated, but the f.o.b. system gives the contractors in the more distant States a chance to obtain contracts.
– Did not an Adelaide tenderer obtain a contract for supply of most of the boots required?
– I think so. I understand that the manufacturer referred to is supplying boots to the value of £70,000. By far the greater part of the material purchased by the department is obtained under the open tender system. From time to time a situation arises in which there may be only two or three or, perhaps, four firms in a position to tender for the supply of certain material. In those instances an additional check is imposed. A special committee considers the tenders, and advises the Minister regarding prices, &c. ; but, in all instances, tenders are called publicly. The Minister for Defence, who has had more experience of these matters than I have had, advises me that, up to be present, the system of calling for public tenders, and the intense competition associated with it, have proved to be a very good safeguard against excessive profit-making.
– Does the Minister say that public tenders are called in all instances? Surely he must know that sometimes they are not.
– In most instances public tenders are called, but it sometimes happens that there is only one firm in the whole of Australia able to supply a particular requirement. Sometimes no firm is prepared to submit a tender, and special arrangements have to be made. I mention a typicalcase. Recently, the department wanted a line of goods not previously manufactured in Australia. A certain manufacturer in Adelaide had plant suitable for the making of the article, but he had never made it. He was unwilling to tender, but eventually he agreed to undertake the work on the basis of cost, plus a small profit. The work was done satisfactorily, and the final cost of the goods was rather less thain that at which similar goods could have been imported. Moreover, he obtained valuable experience in the manu.ture of the goods.
– Is the Minister aware that the Tender Board in Sydney has not been able to supply specifications to interested parties on some occasions?
– I am surprised to hear that.
– I shall supply the Minister with some particulars later.
– I confess that my experience in regard to some of these matters is limited. I know that sealed patterns are made available by the Defence Department so that tenderers in the various centres may see the actual articles wanted. The sub-branches of the Contracts Board, acting as agents for the board itself, supply full information to tenderers regarding what is wanted.
– In the case I have in mind the tenderer could not get the specifications when he asked for them. Tenders had been called for the supply of bolts and shackles.
– I have made inquiries of the Contracts Board in the last few days regarding the amount of profit made generally by contractors. It is difficult to give specific information because of the many thousands of contracts let, but I have been advised by the board that it does make a running calculation as to the make-up of the prices charged. Up to the present, the estimate is as follows : 60 per cent, of the amount paid for items bought by tender is paid away in wages, and 20 per cent is expended on the purchase of materials, leaving a balance of approximately 20 per cent, to cover overhead charges, depreciation, rent, taxation, profit, &c. Therefore it does not appear to me that there is much opportunity for the making of excessive profits.
– Then why were certain companies able to refund 25 per cent.
– I am speaking of those goods bought under contract. Of the £2,000;000 which will be paid this year for goods bought by contract through the board, roughly £1,000,000 represents the value of the output of the Government munitions factories, and the Government clothing factory.
– Of that aggregate purchase of £2,000,000, what percentage is finished goods ?
– The Contracts Board purchases all the raw materials for the government munitions factories, and also all the finished, goods required for defence purposes other than those produced by the munitions factories. The third method of manufacturing munitions, which will come into operation shortly, is by industrial annexes. The complete list of these is as follows: -
This list was published in Hansard on the 19th May in reply to a question asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). Unfortunately, the name of the Commonwealth Steel Company Proprietary Limited was inadvertently omitted. I take this opportunity to repair the omission.
– How many of these annexes are at present in operation?
– None is actually in operation at present; but two will come into existence in the next two months, fifteen in the course of the calendar year, and the remainder in the early part of the next, financial year. Each of these annexes is the subject of a separate contract between the parent firm and the Commonwealth Government. The annexes will, in practically every case, remain the property of the Government. As the annexes are provided and equipped with machinery, they will be given a trial order by the Department of Supply and Development on behalf of the Defence Department, in order to ensure that the personnel is acquainted with the method of manufacture. In the meantime, of course, every assistance will be given by the experts of the existing munitions factories, so that trained personnel will be available in every case. After the trial order has been delivered satisfactorily, the machinery in the annexe will be greased and the plant closed down until it is needed in a time of emergency. The parent company will be under a contractual obligation to man the factory with trained personnel and bring it into operation at very short notice when required to do so by the Government.
-Will the Government pay rent for these annexes?
– No. In every case, the land has been given free by the parent company.
– And the building too?
– The conditions vary in relation to buildings. In some cases the parent company has provided the land and the building. In one or two cases companies have provided the land, building and full equipment. In general it may be said that the land has been provided free, but, with certain minor exceptions, the Commonwealth Government has supplied the buildings and equipment.
– Are annexes connected with any railway workshop?
– Yes; five railway annexes are in course of construction.
-Will they alsobe the property of the Commonwealth Government ?
– The annexes will be the property of the Commonwealth in every case but one, in respect of which the parent company has provided the land, buildings and equipment.
– Has the freehold of the land been transferred to the Commonwealth?
– I cannot answer that question in detail.
– Unless the freehold of the land has been transferred to the Commonwealth it cannot be said that the property is government property.
– The annexes will remain the property of the Commonwealth Government and will be at its disposal, except in one instance. These annexes can be used only for purposes approved by the Commonwealth. Those purposes will, ofcourse,be the provision of munitions in time of emergency.
I come now to the provision and cost of materials. This has been the subject of close study by the experts of the Supply Department, the Defence Department and the parent companies. The cost is to be based on a very strict calculation of direct labour cost in turning out munitions, direct material costs, and direct overhead costs based on an exact method of determination. Honorable members generally, particularly those acquainted with industrial practices, are aware that it is in relation to overhead costs that the largest opportunity occurs too make excess profits. In connexion with these annexes it has been agreed between the parent companiesand the Commonwealth Government that the following items shall not be taken into account as overhead in determining the costs and profits : -
Profit as between various departments or sections of departments.
Interest on capital.
Financial or other reserves.
These items will not be considered in determining the cost of the munitions which emerge from the annexes, and all other overhead costs will be calculated strictly in relation to the degree of production from the annexes compared with that from theother parts of the parent company’s establishment.
– It sounds almost too good to be true!
– The honorable member may rest assured that & very generous arrangement has been made by a number of firms which have agreed to establish these annexes at the request of the Government in order to help towards creating a potential reserve of munitions capa>city for use in time of war. Honorable members have already been informed that the rate of profit to be allowed, even with these restricted items, is to be 4 per cent.
– At last the lion and the lamb lie down together !
– Who will pay the insurance premiums?
– What are the other overhead charges that remain?
– I cannot answer all the questions off-hand, but included in the overhead will be the management charge which is applicable to the output of munitions in relation to the whole output of the parent company.
– I take it that the 4 per cent, is loaded on ascertained cost.
– It will be added to the strict labour and material costs, plus the proportion of overhead that I have mentioned.
– In- effect, the profit is the ascertained cost plus 4 per cent.
– It is 4 per cent, on output, not on capital, because the capital belongs to the Government.
– It is 4 per cent, on turnover.
– A good deal of defence work will be done at the railway annexes and by railway departments generally, for the Commonwealth in the future. The basis of cost for such work has also been agreed upon between the State governments and the Commonwealth Government.
I have mentioned that an advisory accountancy panel is- to be appointed. The Government has been informed by its expert advisers that an effective check on profits is already practicable in respect of all goods acquired for the Defence Department. First, the Government factories themselves afford a means of checking prices; secondly, the Contracts Board applies a check; and, thirdly, work done in the future in the annexes will be subject to checking. The expert officers of the Government believe that by these various means an effective supervision of all costs will be possible. But as the expenditure on defence requirements during the next few years will undoubtedly increase substantially, the Government . has” invited five eminent accountants, three of whom are specially skilled in costing, to collaborate with it in recommending methods, after due inquiry, by which further safeguards and checks may be provided in respect of all profits.
– Are these advisers the gentlemen who advised the Government in respect of the provision of shells by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited ?
– The accountancy advisory panel is not yet actually in existence.
– If the advisors to whom the Minister has referred are the gentlemen’ who advised in regard to the shells, their advice was not worth much, for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited took 25 per cent, profit out of that contract.
– I do not quite understand the honorable member’s point.
The cost of the raw materials required by the annexes will also be subjected to the most careful checking. The senior officers of the Contracts Board have been engaged in work of this kind for many years. They have now accumulated a wealth of knowledge and ha.ve wide sources of information concerning the cost of the raw materials and the finished goods produced by, and for, the Commonwealth. Weekly advice is obtained on these matters not only from Australian factories, but also from other parts of the world, particularly Great Britain. These officers are watching costs and prices all the time. They know the price of leather, of metals, although this varies from day to day, and also of the thousand and one other lines of raw material in which they have dealt for many years. It would be extremely difficult for any one to hoodwink the senior members of the Contracts Board. Still, there may be gaps in the existing methods of ascertaining costs. For this reason the advisory accountancy panel is to be constituted. If the Government were fully satisfied that no possibility existed of excess profit-making it would not waste time in asking these five busy men to form this panel. These men, who have agreed to give their time in honorary capacity, will soon find any chinks in the costing armour. The panel will reach its conclusions in a relatively short time and will adopt a completely comprehensive costing system in order that the public funds may be fully safeguarded.
– How much time will the members of the panel be expected to give to this work in an honorary capacity ?
– I cannot say, but, so far, they have been so generous as to place no limit upon it. The members of the Advisory Industrial Panel have given their time most generously, and I have every reason to believe that the five membersof the Advisory Accountancy Panel will be equally as generous in their voluntary and honorary work in the public interest.
– Will they also be employed by manufacturers’?
– None of these gentlemen has any association with any of the large interests in Australia.
– They may have indirect association with them.
– I think the honorable member is being unduly suspicious. The Government has made considerable inquiries as to the business associations of these gentlemen. They are, I think, unexceptionable. Those honorable gentlemen who are acquainted with the accountancy profession will realize that the accountants who are to form the advisory panel are entirely beyond reproach.
-We have had a strange experience of the profession in connexion with monopolies in New South Wales, and that makes us suspicious.
– I hope that the honorable gentleman will not retain his suspicions after he has made inquiries into the associations of these gentlemen. It has been suggested that the insertion in the bill of some arbitrary percentage of profit will bring in the millennium, and that the Government will then be assured that no excessive profits will be derived from the manufacture of munitions. The
Government believes that the fixing of an arbitrary percentage of profit would impose no real check on the operations of manufacturers. In the first place, if an arbitrary percentage were adopted it would have to be decided whether it was to be based on capital or on turnover. If it were based on either there would be many other calculations to be made.
– Could it not be based on the actual capital employed?
– In any fixing of an arbitrary percentage possibility of grave abuses arises. First the percentage must be based on something specific which cannot be evaded. A firm with a very large annual turnover equivalent, say, to two or three times its capital, would be in a very different position from that of a firm with a turnover of only 50 per cent. of its capital. The relations between turnover and capital have a very wide range. The fixing of an arbitrary limit of 6 per cent. profit on capital would be more than fair to a firm with an annual turnover equivalent to two or three times its capital, and very much less than fair to a firm with an annual turnover of only 50 per cent. of its capital. The first anomaly in any arbitrary fixing of percentage of profit is that it would immediately create a. position of complete unfairness between almost any two manufacturers that could be named. The Government is now for the most part depending on the contract system of open public tender throughout Australia for the purchase of the bulk of its requirements. If an arbitrary percentage basis were adopted is it suggested that tenders would be called in the ordinary way, and that, having accepted the quote of the lowest tenderer, we should investigate and analyse his labour costs, purchases of material and overhead costs, in order to ascertain that he had not exceeded the 6 per cent. profit limitation? Is it proposed that we should apply that method to the 9,000 or 10,000 contracts that have to be placed in Australia at the present time? The average of tenders submitted for Government supplies is under £2,000. If that system were applied to all tenders it can readily be seen what an enormous amount of work would he involved. It would be found that the cost of such investigations, if they were to be complete and trustworthy, would be a great deal more than the saving. Subject to the advice which we shall get from the Advisory Accountancy Panel on broad policy in these matters in the next month or so, I firmly believe that the present system of public tender is the best we can adopt. If the panel advises the introduction of some other form of check the Government will have further ice on which to skate.
– How much competition is there in the sale of the raw products?
– I am grateful to the honorable gentleman for his question. He speaks of raw products generally. Either he or some other honorable gentleman mentioned at an earlier stage in this debate the purchase of metals which, in respect of munitions, are the most important raw materials. I am advised that in this financial year 800 tons of copper valued at £48,000, 300 tons of zinc worth between £4,000 and £5,000, and about 250 tons of lead worth approximately £6,000 have either been purchased or are in course of being purchased.
– Where do these supplies come from?
– All are Australian products. About 80 per cent. of the Australian production of copper comes from Mount Lyell, the rest coming from a large number of smaller producers, mostly in Queensland. Objection has been made to the basis of the purchase price of these metals. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) criticized the sale of copper in Australia on the basis of London price, plus exchange. That, of course, is the basis on which copper is sold, but that is also the basis on which is sold every other primary product or raw material, with the exception of butter, which is exported or capable of being exported.
– That is no justification for fixing the price of copper on the basis of London price plus exchange.
– Is the price of copper based on export parity or import parity or London price?
– I do not understand the meaning of the terms.
– Is the cost based on. export parity, which is the London price less freight, or import parity, which is the London price plus freight ?
-I have been informed by the Australian Mines and Metals Association, in which all the metal manufacturers of Australia are bound together, that it is the average London price for the month, plus exchange. No allowance is madefor freight. As I see it there is no venality in a producer of a primary product in Australia seeking to get the world’s price for his product. After all, the producers of wool, wheat, butter and, I think, every other primary product, including metals, seek to get, I think legitimately, the world’s prices for their commodities.
– The London price, less freight. That is what all this discussion with respect to copper is about. The question is whether the price is based on export or import parity.
– I am advised that it is London price, plus exchange. I see. no abuse in that. The London price is quoted in sterling and the price charged in Australia is the translation of that sterling price into Australian pounds. That is a legitimate price. If we do not give to the Australian primary producer who produces for the world’s market the benefit of the world’s price he will not continue to produce.
– That is the London price, plus 25 per cent.
– I think the honorable member’s difficulty arises from the fact that the £1 in Britain is called by the same name in Australia. If our goods were sold in France in francs, or in the United States of America in dollars, the price in Australia would be the price in francs or dollars reduced by the appropriate exchange rate to Australian pounds. The. producers of copper are getting London price in sterling reduced to Australian pounds. That is a legitimate price.
– It represents an addition of 25 per cent. to the Australian price.
– No, a reduction of 25 per cent. on sterling. If producers could not get the London price, plus exchange, they would not sell in Australia, they would sell overseas and the proceeds would be remitted to Australia. The Defence Department would then buy at exactly the price it is now paying in Australia.
– But London price includes freight from Australia and to that is added exchange.
– London price is the price that people in London are willing to pay for copper.
– In London.
– It is the price that they are willing to pay for copper whether it comes from Chile, the United States of America, or anywhere else. In other words, it is the world’s price, and it has no relation at all to the question of freight or the cost of freight between Australia and London. If the honorable member for Balaclava wanted to purchase a ton of copper in London he would pay for it, say, £48 sterling. He would not know whether it came from Chile, South Africa, Australia or the United States of America. Regardless of whence it came, copper of a certain standard of electrolytic purity is sold in London at a price of, say, £48 sterling. That is the world’s price.
– But it had to be imported into England and freight had to be paid on it.
– That is the price for which the Australian producer of copper could sell his product.
– Less freight.
– He is entitled to get that price converted to Australian pounds. In other words the Commonwealth Government is purchasing metals at a considerably cheaper price than that for which it could import them. That is a fact, vouched for by the Supply Department to-day.
– And the Australian producer gets more for his copper than he would get if he exported it.
– The Commonwealth Government is purchasing metals for its own requirements at prices far below those which would have to be paid for imported metals. The speeches of certain honorable members suggest a belief that there is a conspiracy on the part of Australian manufacturers to defraud the Government inrespect of the prices of articles supplied to the Defence Department. No honorable member has actually made- such an accusation, but many who have spoken seem to be of the opinion that the average manufacturer who contracts for government supplies, particularly in respect of munitions, tries to squeeze the last penny out of the Government. That, I think, is a legitimate inference from their speeches. I protest against that view, because I do not believe that it is legitimate. I do not believe that every Australian manufacturer is a “crook”, who is determined to exploit the Australian public through the Commonwealth Government’s purchases for defence.
– Then why bother about setting up an accountancy panel?
– I am obliged to the honorable member for that interjection. Because there is a certain amount of suspicion in the minds of honorable gentlemen that undue profits are made from the manufacture of munitions, the Government, although it believes that effective safeguards already exist, has constituted an accountancy panel. The Government does not claim to be omniscient; therefore, it proposes to set up this independent body - which will have no axe to grind, but will seek only the good of the Australian public - to advise it as to the necessity for further safeguards. The Government believes that when it acts upon the advice of those experts, there will be no opportunity for any individual, either in this chamber or outside, to cast a stone at the Australian manufacturer.
.- I support the amendment to be moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) because the clause as it stands is useless. The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) said that an accountancy panel would be constituted in order to allay the suspicions that the Commonwealth Government is likely to be exploited by the suppliers of munitions.
– There is too much conversation among members, and interjections are too frequent. I shall not warn another honorable member.
– The accountancy panel does not contain a representative from Queensland. That State has only one representative in the Commonwealth Ministry, and he is included because the Government fears that otherwise it would lose seats now held by its supporters in Queensland. The Government’s neglect of Queensland in this instance is in keeping with its general treatment of that State. The Minister also said that the danger of exploitation was negligible because of the keen competition for government contracts. I remind him of the speeches of honorable members on this side, who showed how, by bribery and corruption, armaments firms in other countries have secured contracts and made large profits. The right honorable gentleman also said that the contracts would be distributed throughout Australia; that the bounty of Santa Claus would be shared by manufacturers in all the States. Judging by our experience of this Government, Queensland manufacturers will be fortunate to receive any of them.
A new department is to be constituted, ostensibly for the purpose of placing the defences of Australia on an orderly and sound footing, but, in reality, the Government is following the lead of the totalitarian states. Its defence measures aim merely at providing work for the unemployed. The Government is using this bill, and the measure providing for a national register - the terrible twins - to divert the thoughts of the people from national insurance. Unfortunately foi- the Government, the people will not forget its treatment of that important subject.
The Minister also referred to the annexes that are to be attached to privately-owned concerns. He said that the Government would own the buildings and the machinery; but if he knew anything about, the laws relating to real property, lie would know that once a building is erected on any land, it becomes part and parcel of the real estate of the owner of that land. By erecting these buildings on private property, the Government makes a gift of the buildings to private concerns.
– Is that the legal position?
– Yes, unless the
Government enters into contracts with the owners of the laud whereby they agree that the buildings shall not become their property.
– Does not the honorable member think that the Government would take that precaution?
– It is significant that no mention of that point was made by the Minister. He said that the Government Would erect buildings on private land, and when Opposition members contended that that was equivalent to making a gift of such buildings to the owners of that land, he did not say anything about entering into agreements with the owners to protect the Government’s equity.
The Minister also referred to overhead expenses, and he gave a long list of items. He had already informed us that the Government would own the buildings and the machinery, consequently there would be practically no overhead expenses.
Audible conversation continuing,
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.If any honorable member is named, he himself will be to blame. The Chair cannot tolerate any longer the continuous conversation that is taking place.
– I wish now to refer to the various ores and minerals mentioned by the Minister, particularly copper, which are obtained in Australia. In answer to an interjection, .the Minister said that most of the copper came from Mr Lyell, in Tasmania, and a small portion of it from Queensland. That is in keeping with its treatment of Queensland, and its regard for the monopolists in the country. Honorable members know that Mr Lyell is owned by monopolists. In the back country of Australia, far removed from the comforts of the cities, men are battling against great odds in the winning of minerals, but the Government buys very little copper from them. Yet this Government is supposed to be assisting those who are endeavouring to develop this country, instead of which it has arranged with the Governments of Western Australia and Queensland for a geophysical survey of Australia. The expenditure to be incurred in connexion with that survey will be a waste of money unless the Commonwealth is prepared to assist those who have taken advantage of the surveys already made.
According to the Minister, many, honorable members seem to be of the opinion that manufacturers conspire to defraud the Government. Apparently, he misunderstands the position. When the Opposition speaks of monopolists, it refers, not to men in business in a small way, but to large concerns, particularly the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and its subsidiary companies. That organization has developed into one of the biggest monopolies in the Commonwealth. So extensive are its ramifications that the Government itself appears to be suspicious of it, for it has constituted an accountancy panel in an endeavour to keep a check on excessive profits.
Ever since 1 have been a member of this chamber I have heard Ministers say that Australia should tune in to Great Britain, but the opportunity to do so in this instance is. being neglected. A few years ago the British” Government decided that the armaments ring in Great Britain was a definite menace to international peace, and steps were taken to assume control of the manufacture of arms and munitions. An examination showed that it is a. world-wide monopoly which it is beyond the powers of the British Government to nationalize. The representatives of this- ring are now endeavouring to entrench themselves in this country. We have in Australia Imperial Chemical Industries, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and other organizations which are closely associated with the production of arms on a large scale. If the Government is sincere in this matter, it will endeavour to exercise some control over those engaged in the manufacture of munitions. It should seize the opportunity to do what Great Britain desired to do a few years ago, namely, nationalize the armaments industry and it should do so while the country is still in its infancy. We have munitions works at Lithgow and at Maribyrnong, and, strange to say, there is actually a government acetate of lime factory in Brisbane; but there are only two employees, both of whom are watchmen. The Government should take immediate steps to establish its own munitions factories instead of assisting private enterprise and thereby giving the armaments ring a foothold in this young country.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.The honorable member has exhausted his time.
.- ‘ The committee is indebted to the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) for the painstaking explanation he has given of the methods followed by his department in obtaining prices under the contract system for different classes of goods used extensively for defence purposes. . These goods ‘are . valued at £2,000,000, and in addition a further £1,000,000 worth is being produced in government factories. The Government proposes to set up an accountancy panel in an endeavour to formulate a sound costing system and to limit profits. The right honorable gentleman’s explanation has dismissed from my mind some of the fears I previously held, but there is one point which I do not think he dealt with satisfactorily, and that is in reference to copper. He said that copper is somewhat analogous to wool, in that ‘both benefit by the exchange .rate, and that the Australian copper producers charge to Australian purchasers the price which copper is worth in London. But the wool-grower obtains the price prevailing in London, less the cost of sending it there, and at present that cost is over 10 per cent, of it3 value.. In other words, a consignment of wool in London worth £100 in Australian currency provides a net return to the Australian grower of less than £90, the difference between the two prices being absorbed in freight. Apparently the Australian copper producers can charge in Australia a price equivalent to the price actually obtained in London, and consequently benefit to the extent of the cost of freighting copper to the big markets of the world. I do not think that we can complain of that, because, as .the righthonorable gentleman mentioned, many Australian products are sold at homeconsumption prices. His references, to wool, however, show that there is no analogy between wool and copper. The wool producers have to accept the export parity of the London price; they do not receive the London price itself. I agree with what the right honorable gentleman said in respect of exchange. Exports from this country, whether of butter, wool, wheat, copper or lamb, must bring in this country a price which corrects the difference between our currency and that in other parts of the world. If copper is bringing £48 a ton sterling, in London - I do not know what the present price is - it would be worth £60 a ton Australian, and there is no reasonable argument that can be brought forwardto show that any unfair advantage is being taken by adding exchange. It simply means that we express in terms of Australian money the price obtainable overseas in another currency.
– Why not determine a price in Australia which has some relation to Australian coats?
– In most instances the prices of exportable products are determined, unfortunately, not by what they cost to produce in Australia, but by what they will bring in other parts of the world, and in many instances the net price in Australia is actually less than the cost of production under Australian living standards. I know that that is so in respect of many primary products.
– Why should the copper producers get the Australian price plus freight to London?
– That is a matter which I should like the Minister to explain. We should know whether the price enjoyed bythe Australian copper producers is the import parity price or the net London price. The export parity price is that ruling in the big markets of the world, less the cost to freight the copper there. The import parity price is that ruling in the big producing centres of the world, plus the cost of freight to this country. The London price is that ruling there without any additions or deductions.
– The Minister should clear up that point.
– Yes. Will the Minister state whether in respect of copper, the price in Australia is the London price plus the cost that would be incurred if the metal were brought from London to Australia? In other words, is it the import parity price or the actual price prevailing in London expressed in terms of our currency?
I propose now to deal with the amendment moved by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White). If it be adopted, paragraph e of sub-clause 1 will read -
Arrangements for ascertaining costs and for the control and limitation of net profit to 6 per centum in relation to the production of munitions.
The words “ in relation to the production of munitions “ suggest that this proposal means 6 per cent. profit on output, or turnover; not 6 per cent. on capital. But 6 per cent. on turnover might be a very large profit indeed, on capital. As the Minister remarked earlier, the value of turnover might be several times the amount of capital employed. Supposing the value of turnover was five times the value of the capital employed, 6 per cent. on turnover would be equivalent to a return of 30 per cent. on capital. Conversely, if the turnover were low in relation to the amount of capital employed, say half, 6 per cent. on turnover would represent only 3 per cent. on capital. Most of this checking of prices will be in relation to goods produced in annexes. Atleast, I take it that that will be the case, because the contract system will deal very largely with goods bought on a large scale from manufacturers in the ordinary way, and the price of goods produced in the Government’s own factories will be regarded as above suspicion of undue profiteering. Consequently, this profit-limiting proposal will, I presume, be applied mainly to annexes. We have been told to-night that the Government will provide the capital in connexion with the annexes. It will construct the buildings and install the machinery. It is right that the Government should do so, because these plants are being erected primarily to meet its requirements in a time of emergency, and, consequently, they will be idle for considerable periods. Therefore, the only capital which will be employed by a company in these annexes will be that required for the purchase of raw materials and for managerial expenses and wages. In such circumstances it would be exceedingly difficult to fix profits on a basis of 6 per cent. on capital, because the capital invested in- these annexes will be government capital. It is most likely, therefore, that we shall have to deal with- profits on a basis of turnover, in which case the 6 per cent, suggested by the honorable member for Balaclava might prove to be excessive. The 4 per cent, suggested by the Minister seems to be more reasonable. The proposal outlined by the Minister to limit profits will be more satisfactory than a method by which a hard and fast figure, whether it be 6 per cent., or otherwise, is fixed. For these reasons I cannot support the amendment proposed by the honorable member for Balaclava. [Quorum formed.]
– Following the explanations given by the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey), I propose to make one or two observations in connexion with this important clause. In the first place, I congratulate the Government on being able to enlist the professional .advice and aid of the men who will comprise the Accountancy Advisory Panel. Some of these men, whose names were announced by the Minister, are known to me personally, and their professional ability and reputation are beyond doubt. However, I am at a loss to understand why the Government should enlist the services of outside accountants in an honorary capacity when it has so many efficient officers to draw upon its own Public Service. No government, particularly a national government, should expect the services of professional men in an honorary capacity. I have had sufficient experience of the Commonwealth Public Service to know that it contains officers of outstanding experience, ability and integrity. I have drawn men from that Service to manage my accountancy businesses, and my experience has been that the training which they received in the Service has proved of great value, not only to myself, but also to clients. For this reason I am surprised that the Government did not rely on officers in its own Service to do this work, particularly as the Minister emphasized, practically throughout his whole speech, the experience which had been gained by the
Contracts Board in connexion with the handling of contracts for defence supplies. Like the members of that board, many other members of ‘the Commonwealth Public Service have . gained unique experience in this field, a class of experience which overshadows that of the members of the Accountancy Advisory Panel, excellent though the latter might be. The Minister stated that by virtue of rules and regulations every safeguard has been provided to prevent undue profit-making. If that be the case, I cannot understand what advice the Government will require of this panel. The Minister said that the advice of that’ body would be sought, but he failed to tell honorable members, who represent the people of Australia, exactly by what means and what safeguards the .Government intends to provide against profiteering in connexion with our defence expenditure. No formula has been set out. The Government has an obligation to tell this committee just exactly what it intends to ask the advisory panel to do in order to prevent undue _ profit-making and what its own views are. Surely it is not going to ask honorable members to entrust to this panel, working in an honorary capacity, the formulation of the basis and method of profit-finding, and of profit limitation in this connexion. Every honorable member will agree that that is the responsibility of this Parliament, and that such a matter should be debated fully here. The Government should inform us what it considers to be a fair and reasonable profit-earning capacity in connexion with these activities. The Minister has given every reason as to why he and the Government should be in a position to advise this Parliament as to the limitation that should be imposed on profits. .The right honorable gentleman has expressed the view that the desire of certain honorable members for safeguards against profiteering, indicate lack of confidence in the integrity of the manufacturers of Australia. That is far from being a fact. The aim of those honorable members is to see that every possible safeguard is observed in connexion with expenditure from the public purse, with a view to sustaining the integrity of .the manufacturers to whom the right honorable gentleman has referred. We have a definite responsibility in this matter, and it is useless to accuse any one of doubting the integrity of the manufacturers. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) himself in Sydney, on a quite recent occasion, in his first broadcast address to the people of Australia, stated that one of the definite objectives of the Government in connexion “with defence would be to .see that no avenue was left open to the profiteers. It is futile for any one to ignore the fact that profiteering is practised in ‘the manufacture of munitions. We ‘are well aware of the profits that have been made throughout history from wars and rumours of wars, and it is our responsibility to ensure that nothing is left undone to safeguard the public purse. During the last war, the government of the day found it necessary to impose a wartime profits tax. The Minister has stated that the contract system provides the necessary safeguards. He has pointed out that experience and close observation prove that 60 per cent, of the expenditure incurred by the department in connexion with defence contracts represents a wage cost, material represents 20 per cent., and overhead expenses, including depreciation and profit, the remaining 20 per cent. I submit, therefore, that these contracts provide a basis for a formula which would lay down what is a fair and reasonable profit. The Government could ascertain what proportion of the 20 per cent, might reasonably be allowed for depreciation, and thus determine the percentage of profit. A firm in Adelaide, he stated, was encouraged by the Government to install certain plant to provide material which otherwise would have to be imported, on a given basis of cost plus a reasonable percentage of profit. The Minister did not mention what the profit is, but we have been told that the cost to the Government worked out at less than the price of the imported article. This experience should guide the Government in its determination of what is a fair and reasonable profit. Because of the knowledge gained by the Contracts Board, it should be possible to exercise full and proper control in respect of raw materials. The contract system imposes a definite check on costs, and could furnish safeguards against profiteering. It has been stated that too great an expenditure would be incurred in ascertaining what would be a proper cost. What has been the cost of the investigation necessary to obtain the experience so far gained by the Contracts Board? The Contracts Board will continue to function under the Advisory Board, but it will still be guided by the experience it has gained. What instruction does the Government propose to give to the five honorary accountants as to what is to be regarded as a fair and reasonable basis of profit? We have been told that no proper basis can be laid down. My rejoinder to that is that a formula can bo found and that the basis was ascertained in the two cases that I have cited ; if it was not, what can the Advisory Panel do?
Then there are the annexes, in respect of which the Government has laid down a formula which will give a return over cost on a prescribed basis - the ordinary technical basis for the ascertainment of cost - plus 4 per cent., which, in the circumstances, is 4 per cent, on turnover. For some years, certain State governments have limited the profits of utility companies, ‘ such as electricity and gas companies, in order to prevent them from profiteering unduly at the expense of those who are obliged to use their product. Definite conditions are imposed, which for very many years have benefited alike the consumers’, the companies and the governments concerned. The formula applied makes allowance for a definite cost of production, plus a specified rate of depreciation on the ascertained value of the assets, and a return varying from 6 to 7 per cent, on the capital invested in the undertaking. The Government should indicate what formula it intends to place before the advisory panel for the limitation of profits and the consequent prevention of profiteering. I suggest that, having fixed the cost of production, including depreciation, the allowable profit should not exceed 6 per cent, on the ascertained value of the assets actually employed. That value could easily be ascertained. The cost of production should be that fixed by the advisory panel and/or the Contracts Board. I understand that the honorable mem- bev for Balaclava (Mr. White) is willing to withdraw his amendment in favour of one along those lines to be moved by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall). I cannot see why the Government should not accept such an amendment, if it is sincere in regard to the. practical application of this clause, in order to limit the amount of profit to be allowed, should Australia unfortunately he subjected to the disastrous costs and repercussions of war. It is hoped that the Minister will accept such an amendment as a constructive suggestion so that the people may .have confidence that the mandate given to the Government is being properly carried out.
.- I am disappointed that the Government has not brought forward an amendment which would provide a workable formula to prevent profiteering. The amendment submitted by me last night was designed for that purpose, but I am willing,, to support any other amendment that will produce the desired result. I am very disappointed over the speech of the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey). He gave a full explanation as to how contracts are made with the Defence Department. We know well that little profiteering occurs where the competition is keen, but the Minister said that sometimes goods are purchased without tenders being called, and I suggested that in such cases three quotations should be obtained. It is regrettable that the Government has not drawn up an amendment to check profiteering by monopolies. I have made no attacks upon individuals, nor have I stated that profiteering is rampant, but I pointed to what happens in connexion with the prices of Australian copper, and, to some extent, of Australian zinc. Yet the Minister, after getting into deep water in explaining copper prices, omitted to say that they include the cost of sending the copper to England. Australian manufacturers pay the prices fixed by the London Metal Exchange, and to those is added the exchange. As 1 showed last night, the London price of £43 becomes £53 15s. in Australian currency. I pointed out that the steel company, although a monopoly, charges a rate for steel based on the Australian cost.
The Minister said that some honorable members suspect the manufacturers of conspiracy to defraud the Government. Actually I know that manufacturers will, be grateful if the price of their raw materials can be cheapened. He used a poor argument in abusing those whoput forward a case with the object of checking excess profits. If he attacks those who dare to criticize, he must alsocondemn his leader, for, as the honorablemember for Darling Downs (Mr. Eadden) pointed out, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has declared against profiteering, and the Melbourne Argus of the 2Sth April last published a cartoon showing, the Prime Minister in uniform as a sentry at the door of the Defence Department saying, “ Exploiters keep out. This means you “. That was over theexplanatory paragraph - “ Dealing with defence measures, Mr. Menzies made it clear there must be no profiteering “. All that I desire is definite proof that the Government intends to checkprofiteering. I agree with the honorable member for Darling Downs that the panel of expert accountants should- be paid for their services,, but it is absurd to suggest that profiteering is not practised when it is known that’ the Taxation Department collected- £7,000,000 in respect of excess profitsmade during the last war. Some of this tax is still being collected. It is for theGovernment to discover whether it isbeing exploited. The Tariff Board, in a report on copper issued in 1930,. stated -
Copper products form hh important basic raw material for many Australian industries, and. it is essential that they shall be made available at the lowest possible prices. The hoard considers that any increase in the prices, of copper products would be prejudicial to theinterests of the industries using them, and,, as a matter of fact, is of opinion that theexisting prices should be reduced if at all possible.
I could submit other proof of the fact that the prices of metals are too high. I think that the Minister might haveattempted to bring forward some refutation of the criticism that the metal monopolies are charging too much fortheir products. It may be that they arenot. A report by the Tariff Board in. 1934 on copper and copper products contains the following paragraph : -
A general review of prices charged over a period of years leaves no room- for doubting that the policy of the associated interests has been to maintain prices for manufactured copper products at about the same level as the landed duty paid costs of importations . . The selling prices were higher than were necessary to enable reasonable profits to be earned by the manufacturing companies even while they were paying a premium for copper requirements.
I have quoted the definite opinion of the Tariff Board, which takes evidence in all States. The Melbourne Herald of the 23rd November, 1937, published the following paragraph in its financial columns : -
Big Increase in Profits of Metal Company.
A substantial increase in profit is shown in the accounts of Metal Manufacturers Limited., for this year ended the 31st July. After providing £28,042 for taxation, the profit was £92,818, compared with £79,042 last year.
Why boggle at the proposed safeguard? The Minister, in his long explanation, said that the profits of manufactures in connexion with the annexes could be checked and kept down to 4 per cent. These annexes, I admit, will be excellent auxiliaries, because they will result in efficient production at a minimum of profit; but if a profit can be checked in the annexes it should also be possible to check it on raw materials. We know that during the last war an unreasonable rate of profit was secured by some manufacturers. Yet when honorable members submit amendments for the purpose of preventing excess profits, which this bill vaguely suggests are to be controlled, they are abused by the Minister. I point out to the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) that the 6 per cent, mentioned in my amendment is intended to be the maximum profit allowed. Often it will be much less on account of the competition. I moved that the word “ profit “ should be omitted, with a view to inserting the words “net profit up to 6 per centum”, and the honorable member for Darling Downs suggested that the amendment would be improved by adding “ on the value of the actual assets employed in the earning of such profits “.
That is clearer, and an improvement on what I proposed rather hastily last night. I defer to the honorable gentleman’s professional knowledge, although I had in mind to leave the basis of computation fairly wide so that the Government, by regulation, could make the necessary stipulation. But we get no assurance that there will be any such regulation. I hope that the Government will accept the amendment, and that there will be no need for a division. If it does go to a division, my vote shall be for a definite scheme to check such profiteering as went on in the Great War. This is an opportunity for the monopolists to show practical patriotism. The boys who join the militia show their patriotism in their way, and many other persons will show their personal patriotism in many other ways of service. Here is a way in which the captains of industry and the heads of companies who have reaped big dividends previously can give something back to the people, who will be taxed so many millions of pounds for defence in the next three years. My purpose is to make the burden of taxes as light as possible.
– Does the honorable member wish to persist with his amendment?
– No; I ask leave to withdraw it in favour of one to be proposed by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall).
Amendment - by leave - withdrawn.
– I am opposed to the provision which enables the Governor-General to decide what shall be done in “ the provision or supply of munitions “. I hold the view strongly that the powers to be exercised should be specifically provided in the act. Broadly speaking, I support the arguments advanced so capably yesterday by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway). In Australia we should not depart from the principle that the Government should not only control the manufacture of munitions, but should also keep such enterprises entirely to itself. Whatever arms or munitions are needed can be efficiently manufactured in the government factories that are already in existence, if we enlarge them as those at Maribyrnong have been enlarged and establish other government factories in suitable localities. Although the munitions factories are in my electorate, and more than 4,000, some of whom are my constituents, are employed in them. I disagree entirely with the concentration of munitions production in one area. On many occasions I have urged that the Government should give consideration to spreading the manufacture of munitions and armaments throughout Australia. To show the need for this, one need only cite the possibility of attacks being launched on Australia at places far from the centres of manufacture and our lack of efficient transport to take munitions to the point of attack. I do not pose as an expert on defence, and I realize that the Government .has to give at least favorable consideration to the reports of those who are experts, but it is obvious that the concentration of our munitions factories in a few square miles is a menace to our safety, because in the event of a successful raid on that area, we should be left without the means to carry on the production of munitions. That shows that there ‘is something radically wrong with the Government’s defence programme. Paragraph b refers to “the manufacture or assembly of aircraft or parts thereof by the Commonwealth or any authority of the Commonwealth.” It is my view that aeroplanes for the purpose of defence should he manufactured in Government factories. I respect the opinion of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) who advanced the view that if the Government were to erect sufficient factories to provide for the defence of Australia, it would be difficult to absorb the men employed in them in other branches of industry if,, by some fortunate turn of world political events, we were placed in the position of not having to proceed further with the production of munitions. In that case, if we had a government with the initiative possessed by the Government of New Zealand, the credit of the Commonwealth, based on the productive capacity of the country, would be used to undertake public -works that would absorb the unemployed. We have no evidence that the Government has any plans in that direction. Every time I have endeavoured to elicit from the Government what it proposes to do to relieve unemployment, I have elicited nothing. At least one member of the Ministry believes that there are no resources of man-power to undertake urgent public works. I hope that he is alone in that belief, but whether he is or is not, the Government has made no effort to provide for the happy contingency of Europe settling down to an era of peace in which we shall know that we are secure, without having to expend £63,000,000 on defence. The Government unfortunately does not seem to have made any preparations for that, nor does it appear to have them in contemplation. According to figures supplied in answer to a question recently, no fewer than 2,020 men have been added to the staff at Maribyrnong during the last twelve months. They have been collected from many districts, wherever they could be picked up. There are 29,000 others registered for employment at the munitions factories, and, though some ‘ may already be in other work, this huge registration shows that a great many are still looking for jobs. They apply to members of Parliament to use their influence in finding jobs for them. A great many of those who are out of work approach members of Parliament asking that they be found jobs on defence undertakings.
– Many of those registered are in employment elsewhere.
– Some are, but a great many are not. I do not encourage those who are already in work. I feel it my duty to tell them that I can not help any one merely to move from one job to another while so many are unemployed. I believe that there cannot be fewer than 20,000 men in the metropolitan area of Melbourne looking for this kind of work, and the Government is making no plans for the re-absorption of those already employed on defence work should . the time come when their services will be no longer required.
The manufacture of aeroplanes and parts could be quite well done in Commonwealth factories, and in State railway workshops throughout the Commonwealth. The railway workshops in the various States could do the job in addition to their ordinary work, and the plant used could afterwards be employed on work in connexion with the unification of gauges and the alteration of railway stock. No doubt, some of the machinery used on defence work is of a special character, and not useful for other purposes, but a good deal of it, such as lathes, presses, &c, could be used for ordinary railway workshops purposes, and for producing bridging material. There is no need to call in private enterprise. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports advanced unanswerable arguments against that proposal. We have heard a good deal about the steps to he taken to eliminate excessive profit-making on arms contracts, but no country has yet succeeded in doing so. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) have framed amendments designed to achieve that end, but they are merely deluding themselves into the belief that it is possible in that way to restrict profits. No one can devise a way to prevent the armaments sharks from making excessive profits out of war hysteria once they are allowed to enter the scheme at all. No matter what legislation is passed, they will evade it. I disapprove of the Government’s proposal to appoint a panel of accountants practising privately to supervise profitmaking. I agree with the honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) that there must, be highly qualified accountants in the Public Service capable of undertaking this work. I do not know any of the gentlemen suggested for the panel. I understand that they possess the highest professional qualifications, but the Government, in appointing outside men, is suggesting that the Public Service is not equal to the job.
My opinion on the subject of arms manufacture is summed up by the followingextract from the report of a royal commission on the private manufacture of arms, and trading in arms, presented in 1936 to the British. Government: -
The commercial interest of the private arms industry lies in war. It opposes disarmament, stimulates the arms race, supplies violators of the Covenant. All these activities are entirely legal, and impossible to stop as long as the present system is continued. It is therefore, necessary to reform the system, which can only be done by removing from the industry the motive of private profit. The arms industry should, therefore, be nationalized if possible by international agreement with other countries. Some will agree at once. All’ purely importing countries are already nationalized, since the Government is the only legal purchaser of munitions of war. Russia has only national production of arms. Denmark, Franco, Poland and Spain proposed general nationalization in 1933. An important group of States are therefore already prepared to adopt this measure. It is not one, however, which should wait for universal acceptance, for once it is realized that private arms industry is incompatible with the Covenant it becomes the duty of His Majesty’s Government to abolish it whether other League States do so or not.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- As the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) has withdrawn his amendment, I move -
That the word “profits”, paragraph (e), be omitted with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words “ net profit to six per centum on the value of the actual assets employed in the earning of such profit”.
I ask leave to continue my remarks later.
The following papers were presented : -
Customs Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 37.
Excise Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1939, No. 39.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
s asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
In connexion with the proposed journal of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, what is the estimated yearly cost, revenue, and profit?
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
e asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
e asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows. -
e asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The ‘information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible.
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
In connexion with’ tlie proposed legislation for’ the stabilization of the wheat industry, will he invite the representatives of the various wheat-growing organizations qf the wheatgrowing States to a conference, and ‘give to them an opportunity to place* their case and their proposals, before him prior to his formulating legislation on this subject? ‘
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answer : -
Officers appointed by the Commonwealth and the State governments’ are now meeting in Canberra to discuss the problems of’ the wheat industry. This meeting will be followed by a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers, who will, have before them -the report of the officers’ committee. If .the various wheat-growing organizations have any representations to make, they should submit them to the Premiers of their respective States and to the Minister ‘ for Commerce, Senator McLeay. ‘ .
The Minister for Commerce will be glad to meet wheat-growers’ representatives’ for personal discussion’ at’ mutually convenient times.
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answers : -
s asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
What are the names and addresses of all individuals and companies who have made application to the Commonwealth Government for compensation following the embargo on the export of iron ore?
– The names and addresses of individuals and companies who have made application to the Commonwealth Government for compensation following upon the prohibition of the exportation of iron ore from Australia are : -
Mr. A. G. Lyon, care of Alan F. and A. Gatley Lyon, P.O. Box 234, Newcastle.
Cossack Lightering and Traders Limited, care of Messrs. Jackson, Leake, Stawell and Company, Atlas Building, Esplanade, Perth.
Mr. B. G. Nicholl, 551 Flinders lane, Melbourne.
Tasmanian Iron Ore Limited, P. and C. Buildings, 221-225 Elizabethstreet, Sydney.
All the above claims have been disallowed.
In addition, Mr. John Curtin, M.P., has made certain representations concerning the question of compensation of workmen whose services were terminated at Yampi Sound. This matter is at present under consideration.
On the 17th May, the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) asked the following questions, upon notice -
Will he furnish (a) a list of claims for compensation made upon the Government arising out of the embargo against the export of iron ore from Yampi Sound, and (6) the decisions upon such claims?
The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
The only claim for compensation so far received arising out of the embargo against the export of iron ore from Yampi Sound was that of the Cossack Lightering and Traders Limited, Perth, for £10,000.
Three other claims for compensation arising out of the embargo have been received from parties operating in States other than Western Australia.
As the Government considered that there were no proper grounds for granting the claims they have been disallowed.
y asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Information regarding such borrowing for the current financial year is not available. The sums borrowed by semi-governmental, local governmental and municipal bodies in each State for the years 1935-36 to 1937-38 inclusive, are as follows: -
e asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
Rathmines Seaplane Base.
s asked the Minister for
Defence, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : - 1, 2 and 3. Contour survey of the site is now in progress, and until the survey is completed, this information cannot be supplied.
Manufacture of Munitions : Cost of Shells.
t. - On the 23rd May, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) asked the following question, without notice -
In view of his statement to an honorable member last week that the contract price of certain shells was £1 10s., less 7s. returned by the company, can the Minister for Defence inform the House if the shells referred to are similar to those supplied to the British Government at 12s.6d. each?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that no information is available in the Defence Department as to the price paid by the British Government for the type of shell supplied to the Australian Government at 23s. 2d.
Militia Forces: Leave and Pay - Uniforms.
t. - On the 19th May, the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) asked the following question, without notice: -
In view of the fact that the Government of New South Wales has granted leave to militia trainees employed in State Government departments and semi-governmental bodies, such as municipal councils, and has agreed to make up the difference between their military and civil pay, will the Government follow the example set by the State Government of New South Wales?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that since the 14th September, 1936, it has been the policy of the Commonwealth Government to grant leave with full pay to its servants for the purpose of carrying out military training.
On the 19th May, the honorable member for Herbert (Mr. Martens) asked the following question, without notice: -
Is the Minister for Defence aware that at a militia camp held at Townsville, at which more than 200 men attended, 40 per cent. of the trainees were without uniforms, and when the camp disbanded 160 of the uniforms used there were sent to a camp at Cairns? Is such a condition of affairs likely to continue, and how long will the trainees be waiting before they receive uniforms and the necessary equipment?
I am now able to inform the honable member that approximately 800 militia attended the recent . camp at Townsville, the majority of these having been issued with shorts and shirts, the authorized uniform for north Queensland units. In addition, working dress suits were issued to all personnel, including those more recently enlisted, for whom other uniforms were not available. At the conclusion of the camp at Townsville, some the working dress uniforms were withdrawn from those already in possession of other uniform. These working dress suits were then washed and forwarded to Cairns for use in similar circumstances. The re-issue of working dress after washing is part of the normal procedure. The temporary shortage of uniform is being overcome rapidly, and all essential items should be available by the 30th June, 1939. Ample equipment is available, and there is no reason why delay should occur in its issue.
y.- On the 23rd May, the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) asked me whether it was a fact that Mr. L. J. Rogers, Commonwealth Fuel Adviser, had informed Phoenix Oil Extractors Proprietary Limited that before he would make an investigation of the company’s process for the extraction of oil from coal he desired to know the catalyst employed. I have made inquiries into this matter, and I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that all that Mr. Rogers required was as full particulars as possible concerning the company’s process in order to enable him to report to the Government on it. This information he is now endeavouring to obtain.
Ma tern al Welfare.
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice -
– In connexion with the Jubilee Fund for Maternal Endowment and Child Welfare, an amount of £31,781 was contributed in New South Wales, made up as follows : -
Commonwealth Government - £14,000 from Jubilee Fund.
State Government - £10,000.
In addition, Sir Walter Carpenter donated a house property at Wollstonecraft, Sydney. This will be converted into a post-natal convalescent home. The State Government provided, in addition, £2,500 for alterations, furnishing and equipment of the home, and the Commonwealth Government is subsidizing this £1 for £1. The State Government has passed an act creating a trust fund. An advisory committee has been: appointed that is responsible to the executive head of the State Health Department. The State considers that the Royal Hospital for Women, Paddington, and the Women’s Hospital meet all requirements of a model maternity centre. Provision is made for research under the. Professor of Midwifery at the University of Sydney. The act provides that the income from the moneys contributed under this scheme shall be expended for purposes of research relating to maternal and infant welfare. A consultant service of senior obstetricians has been provided and a mobile blood transfusion unit has boon formed. The Hospitals Commission has advised that everything is in readiness to proceed with the alterations and additions to the home at Wollstonecraft in order to convert it into a post-natal convalescent home and to equip it. The Commonwealth’s contribution will he made available as required.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 May 1939, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1939/19390524_reps_15_159/>.