16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon.W. M. Nairn) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. FROST presented a petition from certain apple and pear growers of the State of Tasmania, praying that legislation be enacted to continue the present Commonwealth apple and pear acquisition scheme.
Petition received and read.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether approximately 1,000 employees directly and indirectly engaged in munitions making at the railway workshops, Ipswich, are on strike? What is the alleged cause of the strike? Have any steps been taken to arrange for the matters in dispute to be referred to the Arbitration Court, or a conciliation commission? Has the Government of Queensland communicated with the Minister with a view to having an appropriate tribunal investigate the claims? If there have been communications between the State and Commonwealth Governments, what is the nature of them ?
– The Queensland Government has not, to my knowledge, communicated with either the Government or my department; but the matter mentioned is being investigated by the department. I understand that the principal matterin dispute relates to the elevation of a certain number of men to the status of tradesman without, at the same time, the payment of adult rates of wages to fifthyear apprentices engaged at the workshops.
Funeral Expenses of Defendants
– During the last sittings of this House, I asked the Prime Minister whether he would consider the payment of funeral expenses in the event of the death of a dependant of a member of any one of the fighting services while he was overseas, and received the reply that the matter would be referred to Cabinet. Will the Minister for the Army state whether that has been done, and, if so, what decision has been reached ?
– A decision has been made. I shall have the details of it conveyed to the honorable member.
– Yesterday the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson) asked me, without notice, a question concerning the form of indemnity signed by members of the Naval Auxiliary Patrol. I had not then seen a copy of the form, but I have since done so, and I agree with the honorable member that the wording of the copy which he showed to me yesterday is objectionable. I am informed, however, that the Naval Board decided some time ago that that form would be superseded by a revised form, a copy of which I have asked to be sent to me. So soon as it comes to hand I shall show it to, and discuss it with, the honorable member.
– Does the Prime Minister intend to reconstruct his Cabinet? If so, when? Is it intended to increase the representation of the United Country party in the event of reconstruction? Does the honorable gentleman believe that his Government can survive a reconstruction? Could it survive without one?
– I remind the honorable member that this is a domestic matter.
– As coalition governments are known by the names of the leaders of the parties which constitute them, and as Cabinet has not been reconstructed in the real sense of the word, will the Prime Minister inform the House in what respect, if any, the Fadden-Menzies Administration differs from the MenziesFadden Administration?
– I do not think that the names of coalition governments need ever concern the honorable member.
Men Missing and Prisoners ofWar.
– by leave - Ever since the publication of casualty lists reporting numbers of the Australian Imperial Force as “ missing”, unremitting efforts have been made to trace these men as speedily as possible in order to relieve the anxiety of their relatives and friends. I am now able to state that over 50 per cent. of the total number of men originally posted as “missing” have been traced to date. Of those so traced, some hundreds have rejoined their units or have been located in hospital, and the remainder have been located and confirmed as prisoners of war in enemy countries.
Every endeavour is being made to expedite the transmission to the Commonwealth of particulars of members of the Australian Imperial Force who are still posted as “missing”, but who may have been captured by the enemy. In this connexion, and as the result of certain action taken by the Commonwealth Government, no fewer than 44 separate cables containing lists and particulars of prisoners of war have been received from the International Red Cross during the last fourteen days. Further inquiries are actively being made through Geneva, and direct through our protecting power representatives in enemy countries. It is confidently hoped that by these means the number of those at present regarded as “ missing “ will be substantially reduced at an early date.
I have been most concerned that all possible action should be taken to ensure that Australians who are prisoners of war should receive the best possible treatment, and the utmost support and assistance that we can give to them. Under the international convention relative to prisoners of war, certain standards of accommodation and treatment are required to be observed by the belligerents. Many of the early reports that we received concerning the treatment of British prisoners of war were not satisfactory, but recent advices indicate that their conditions and treatment have considerably improved, and that our enemies recognize the obligations imposed upon them by the convention. It is, however, apparent that there are deficiencies in the supplies of clothing and food which should be provided by the enemy. To augment these supplies the following arrangements are now in operation : -
If these services function properly, the conditions of Australian prisoners of war will be greatly alleviated. Although the Government is doing, and is prepared to do, all it can, it will be appreciated that the effectiveness of all these arrangements finally depends upon facilities for transmission and delivery in enemy countries. The Commonwealth has no control over this.
Our supplies and parcels are taken over by the International Red Cross at Lisbon, are moved through. France to Switzerland, and must then be distributed by the International Red Cross to camps in widely-spread locations in Germany and Italy. It is inevitable that there will be some delays and some losses, but through the magnificent cooperation of the International Red Cross Organization our men should receive most, if not all, of the assistance that they need and deserve.
The reports received from overseas, many of them by cable, concerning conditions in. enemy prisoners of war camps are carefully examined, and action is taken on representations made in all cases where the interests of our men are affected. The supply of educational reading matter and text-books to Australian prisoners of war is now under investigation, and efforts are being made to improve the delivery of letters between them and their relatives and friends in Australia. The Commonwealth Government regards the welfare of Australian prisoners of war as of the greatest importance, and is giving constant consideration to all matters affecting their interests.
Action byGovernment - Major Rigney’s Position.
– In view of the finding of the Royal Commissioner, Mr. Justice Maxwell, who inquired into the Abbco bread case, that the proved shortage of weight in bread for the Army was not due to accident or want of care, but was by design, and that the conduct of the general manager of the company, Mr. Raith, was improper, what action does the Government propose to take regarding the company and Mr. Raith?
– That is a question which is easier to ask than to answer. I was discussing the matter with the Crown Solicitor in Sydney on Monday. As soon as counsel advises us in the matter we shall take appropriate action.
– Will the Minister for the Army say whether Major Rigney was suspended from the Army as the result of the Abbco bread inquiry? Has he been reinstated in the Army and given greater responsibilities at Victoria Barracks. Sydney?
– A motion for the printing of the report of the Royal Commission on the Abbco Bread Contract appears on the notice-paper, and matters arising therefrom will be discussed later. In giving to the honorable member at this juncture the information that he seeks. I do not commit myself to it precisely.Major Rigney was suspended when the Abbco Contract first came under notice; I cannot remember the exact date. I announced at the time the action that I had taken. Following the findings of the Royal Commissioner, which have been printed, the view which I hold is that his past record, whatever it may have been, does not disqualify him for the discharge of duties in the Army. Matters relating to his bankruptcy were considered by the Royal Commissioner, and so far as I can see, do not reflect upon him personally.
– I merely asked whether Major Rigney had been reinstated.
– Will the Minister state what action has been taken against Sergeant Benjamin?
– After the report of the Royal Commissioner was received, Major Rigney was placed in a position different from that which he had previously occupied. At the moment I cannot indicate what it is, but I shall do so during the course of the debate upon the subject. In reply to the interjection by the honorable member for East Sydney, I inform him that a direction has been issued for the discharge of Sergeant Benjamin from the Army.
– Having regard to the many refusals by the Opposition to take part in a national government, will the Prime Minister explain exactly what he means by his reiterated statements of the last few days that, though there is not a national government in fact, there is one in essentials?
– I said that I hoped that, whilst we have not a national government in form, we could have one in substance, and I am still hoping.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral state whether, in fixing the remuneration of non-official postmasters, consideration is given to the work of paying child endowment and issuing petrol ration tickets?
– The matter is being considered at the present time with a view to making an adjustment.
– Can the Minister for the Army say whether it is a fact that Lieutenant Packer, managing director of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, and at present attached to the Armoured Division of the Commonwealth Military Forces, has defective vision, being almost blind in one eye? If so, how did he pass the medical test? How did he secure such rapid promotion in the Army? Is it because he is a close personal friend of the Minister? Will the Minister call for a report setting out the amount of leave granted to Lieutenant Packer since his enlistment, and the purposes for which it was granted? Will the Minister state when it is expected that Lieutenant Packer will leave for overseas?
– I know Lieutenant Packer, but I am not aware that he has defective eyesight. Indeed, it is not my function to ascertain whether or not any officer of the Forces has this complaint. If Lieutenant Packer has defective eyesight and has yet succeeded in enlisting, that redounds greatly to his credit. As to when, he will leave for abroad, I should say that he will embark so soon as his unit is ordered to proceed oversea; and that will be long before many other persons whom I know will go. I do not keep a record of the leave which Lieutenant Packer has obtained, but I shall secure the information and convey the details to the honorable member.
– Several months ago, the editor of the A.I.F. News asked the Department of Information to cable weekly to his office overseas a 2,000-word summary of Australian items. The department replied that it would do so, if the service were paid for. Two months ago, the editor again requested the department to supply, free of charge, 1,000 words a week for publication, but to date has received no reply. The Government of the Union of South Africa publishes a weekly paper for free distribution to its troops in the Middle East. Will the Commonwealth Government follow that example and direct the Department of Information to cable 2,000 words a week free of cost to the A.I.F. News?
– I shall bring the matter to the notice of the Minister for Information and ensure that the honorable member receives a reply.
– Can the Government justify the use of petroldriven vehicles for the purpose of carting soil to make gardens around the Patent Office, when dairymen in my electorate have been told that their lorries must not leave the road to pick up cream? Can the Government also justify the number of men who are employed in beautifying the surroundings of the Patent Office at a time when the country should be engaged in an “all-in” war effort?
– Being unfamiliar with the details, I shall forward the question to the Minister for the Interior and ask him to convey a reply to the honorable member.
– Will the Prime Minister say whether it is a fact that he replied to persons who proposed to distil oil from coal and shale that there was no objection to their undertaking the work, provided they paid the excise of 4d. a gallon on their production ? Does not the honorable gentleman think that in a period of national crisis such as the present and in view of the shortage of petrol, the excise should be waived in order to encourage the extraction of oil from our minerals?
– The reply to which the honorable member has referred probably emanated from the Capital Issues Advisory Board. If the honorable member will place his question upon the notice-paper, I shall supply an appropriate answer to him.
Functions and Organization
– by leave - The question put to me yesterday by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) gives me the opportunity to explain to the House very briefly the functions and organization of the Department of Defence Co-ordination. I do this the more readily because a good deal of rubbish has been spoken and written about this department as a “bottle-neck” particularly by those who have taken no pains to inform themselves of its actual work.
The Department of Defence Coordination is merely an extension and continuation of the original Central Secretariat of the Defence Department, which, before the war, also included branches dealing with Navy, Army, Air and munitions supply.
Before the war broke out, I had already constituted Supply as a separate department, and after the outbreak of war, Navy, Army and Air, which were obviously going to expand enormously, were made separate departments: Subsequently munitions was also given separate ministerial direction. Consequently, the Department of Defence Co-ordination is not something new but the necessary development of something old.
In addition to its administrative work, to which I shall refer shortly, the department is also responsible for the whole of the secretarial work of the War Cabinet, which is very heavy and extensive, the secretarial work of the Advisory War Council, certain “ review “ work on agenda submitted to the War Cabinet, and initial executive action on War Cabinet and War Council decisions.
The work of the recently-constituted Department of Home Security, including air raid precautions, is also dealt with by officers of the Department of Defence Co-ordination.
I do not propose to analyse fully the functions and organization of the department, though if any honorable member desires it, I will be happy to provide him with full charts setting out these matters. What I want to do to-day is to concentrate on the general picture. Honorable members will realize that while each service attends to its own problems, the proper handling of defence policy requires that the joint-service aspect should always be worked out, properly understood, and given effective application. Because of this, there exist in my department several bodies which are designed to produce these results. They are -
As the reports of the Chiefs of Staff are almost invariably the first business dealt with by the War Cabinet, the importance of the contacts established by the existence of this committee will be at once clear. The staffs of these two committees form part of my department and they naturally have a great deal of work to do in the collating and presentation of the necessary material.
I turn now to the administrative and reviewing side of the department’s activities. Very many proposals come up to the War Cabinet from individual service departments which have a joint-service aspect. For example, proposals may be made by the Army for certain changes of pay or allowances or for certain alterations of the financial regulations. These cannot be effectively dealt with unless Cabinet keeps in mind the possibility of the acceptance of the proposals of one department producing anomalies or injustices or irritations in another service. And so, in these cases, as in many others, proposals have to be examined in the light of the position of all services. This examination is done very quickly and efficiently by the officers of my department, who include liaison officers from the various departments. 1 can say from the whole of my own experience since war began - and I am quite sure that my successor will offer the same opinion - that the notes provided by the officers of my department upon the numerous questions coming before Cabinet have been of the highest value, have frequently obviated error, and have made for efficiency and economy.
It is also the duty of my department to attend to the at present unpopular, but always necessary, task of seeing that moneys provided by the Australian people for the war are providently and usefully expended. Our chief instrument for this purpose is the Board of Business Administration, a board which has sus tained a good deal of stupid abuse but which has unquestionably saved this country very many hundreds of thousands of pounds since it was constituted. All proposals for expenditure exceeding £10,000 are submitted to the business board, of which the business members of the service boards are co-opted members when proposals affecting their departments are under consideration. One of the assistant secretaries of the Department of Defence Co-ordination is a member of the board and its detailed work is clone by officers of my department. It has under it State Business Administration Committees, exercising delegated powers, and an InspectorGeneral of Administration. Speaking as one who has an intimate knowledge of the working of the business board and its ancillary committees, I say that the work done has been not only amazingly efficient but also notably speedy. An analysis of the board’s business which I had prepared just before going to England at the beginning of this year showed that over a period of three months 322 submissions were made to the board and of these 252 were finally dealt with on the day they were submitted. Practically 90 per cent, were dealt with finally within a week. When honorable members realize that many large proposals put to the board require the most careful preparation and examination of figures and details they will, I am sure, admit that these results are remarkable. If every organization connected with our war effort, from Parliament down, caused as little delay as the Board of Business Administration, our all-round speed would ‘be considerably enhanced.
The department also has an overseas and financial representative to deal with the many financial and business questions which arise in relation to our overseas naval, military, and air operations.
I turn now to the more particularly administrative work of the department. The permanent head of the department - to whom I refer with gratitude as an able, experienced, and devoted public servant - has extensive responsibilities as the Secretary of the War Cabinet and of the Advisory Council, and as the officer immediately responsible to the Minister. He has under him assistant secretaries and other officers with special administrative functions. The work to he done by them can be, I think, briefly but clearly summarized.
There is a financial section which not only deals with estimates and maintains a constant review of the progress of expenditure, and which includes a finance committee with direct liaison with the Treasury, but also deals with regulations relating to pay, allowances, and conditions of service, particularly from the aspect of new principles, and the maintenance, as far as possible, of common standards between the Navy, Army, and Air Force. It also maintains a supervision, through its Chief Inspector of Finance, with the essential internal audit systems of the various related departments. Each service department maintains a system of accounts which provides for the ascertainment of administrative and other costs. These costs are regularly reviewed by the Chief Inspector of Finance and reported on for the information of the Board of Business Administration, one of whose functions is to ensure economy. The maintenance of uniform methods of accounting is ensured within my department by an inter-departmental accounting committee dealing with accountancy systems.
I say this quite ‘briefly to honorable members: When we all are wanting to spend money, the man who insists upon the proper examination of proposals, their proper recording and the proper expenditure of public funds, is always regarded as a sort of enemy. But he is doing essential public work. This Parliament, as the representative of the Australian people, would he the first body to attack any loose, improvident, or improperly authorized expenditure of vast sums, the provision of which for the winning of the war represents the greatest financial and material sacrifice which the people of this country have ever been called upon to make.
– I wonder whether the right honorable member believes that himself.
– I do. I wrote this statement myself. When the honorable gentleman reads it, as I hope he will, he will be very much illuminated.
Other officers deal with the Commonwealth War Beale, containing the outline of measures to be taken by the services and other departments upon various contingencies in the war and the important work of preparing, classifying, and recording all the mass of national security regulations made pursuant to the extensive executive powers conferred by the National Security Act.
There is also a section dealing with works in co-ordination. It is linked with the Advisory Panel on Defence Works, and is of clear importance if proper and economic standardization is to be effected in relation to the works executed for the various departments.
There are other functions of a jointservice kind, each very important, but I need do no more than mention them to honorable members. We have, for example, on the technical service side, a Joint Planning Committee, which is concerned with, joint plans for the defence of Australia, no one service being able to deal with this important problem by itself.
We have a Services Man-power Committee which co-ordinates the direct manpower requirements of the services. This committee has previously been responsible for the administration of the granting of exemptions and now, through its chairman, has a liaison with the General Man-power Priorities Board established under the Department of Labour and National Service for the review of the whole field of man-power in the light of demands made by the war programme, by the service departments, the munitions industry or essential industry catering for civil needs.
There is also a Central Medical Coordination Committee and a Medical Equipment Control Committee, each of which has done very valuable work of an inter-service kind in the organizing and maintaining of adequate supplies of medical equipment and materials during the war.
If honorable members will add to these a number of functions which concern the defence administration as a whole, such as the Services Inquiry and Advice Bureau, the maintenance of liaison with such large organizations as the Red Cross and the Comforts Fund, the preparation of adequate statistics and so on, they will see that the Department of Defence Coordination, by whatever name it might be styled, is absolutely essential to the joint handling of our defence problem, that without it the War Cabinet would be quite unable to function effectively, and that its true description is that it provides the head-quarters and general administrative staff of a national war effort on the military and supplies side, while leaving each particular department free to handle its own special problems and to make its own contribution to the general but highly organized pattern of Australia’s war effort.
I add that, when abroad this year, I found that this organization for higher direction aroused considerable interest in Britain, the United States of America, and Canada among persons responsible for the war administration in those countries, where most of the corresponding functions are being discharged by various types of administrative machinery. In none of them, however, is there that type of unified organization which we have in this department in Australia.
– Will the Minister for Defence Co-ordination provide the House with a statement showing the strength of his department at the date of the outbreak of war, at the 3rd September, 1940, and at the 3rd September, 1941, and classifying its members as soldiers, sailors, airmen and civilians?
– I shall do so with great pleasure.
– After hearing the recital of the number of jobs that are done by the Minister for Defence Coordination, I should like to be informed by the Prime Minister of what is done by the other members of Cabinet?
– It is obvious that the honorable member does not expect a change of government because, if he did, he could wait and ascertain that information for himself ; I assure him that he would be kept busy.
Visit to London
– I ask the Prime Minister what the Government considers to be the special qualifications of the Min ister for Commerce for the mission which he has been chosen to discharge on behalf of the Commonwealth in London? Will the right honorable gentleman act on instructions issued by the Parliament or the Government, or will he act on his own initiative? Further, in view of the right honorable gentleman’s record as a creator of dissension within various political parties from the time of the Hughes Government-
– Order !
– In view of the considered opinion that he is temperamentally unfitted-
– Order. Such comments are out of order.
– Does the Prime Minister consider the Minister for Commerce to be temperamentally unfitted for such a mission ?
– That question embodies an expression of opinion and is not in order. The honorable gentleman must ask a proper question.
– Does the Prime Minister consider the Minister for Commerce to be temperamen tally suited to represent Australia in London in view of his recent associations with various political parties and the disruption that has been caused in them, or does he consider him to be suited for the post merely because he was responsible for the recent appointment of the. Prime Minister, which has been described as a political accident?
– I do not believe in stressing the obvious.
– In view of the fact that the Bruce-Page Government was responsible for leaving Australia with a depleted treasury, an exhausted loan market, and an unbalanced budget, does the Prime Minister consider that it is safe to allow those two political failures-
– Order! The question is disallowed.
– In the light of the history of the Bruce-Page Government, does the Prime Minister consider it desirable that the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) and the Right Honorable S. M. Bruce should be allowed again to become associated in London, to the inevitable detriment of Australia ?
– Whatever opinions the honorable member may hold, and whatever observations he may care to express, the Government is well fortified in its selection of the right honorable member forCowper to visit London.
– Will the Prime Minister arrange for somebody to supply this House in the near future with a statement giving details of the powers, functions and record of the Department of Economic Co-ordination?
– There is no such department in existence.
– I ask the Assistant
Minister for Commerce whether it is a fact that the Central Wool Committee is arbitrarily refusing to supply wool for scouring to a number of firms in the Botany area, some of which have been engaged in wool scouring for twenty years.
– I am not aware whether this is a fact or not, but, if it is, I shall endeavour to have remedial measures taken.
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs make an early statement to this House on the arrangements, if any, that have been made by the Government with the Government of the United States of America under the Lease-Lend Act, so that honorable members may decide whether those arrangements will be beneficial or otherwise to the economy of this country?
– I hope to be in a position to make a statement at an early date.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether his promotion to the rank of lieutenant-colonel was effected upon the recommendation of the Army Board or upon the recommendation of the honorable gentleman himself? Further, was it the result of meritorious service on the field of battle? If not, will the honorable gentleman supply the House with the evidence which he furnished to himself in order to convince himself that he was fitted for promotion ?
– Order !
Question not answered.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether it isthe regular practice in the Army for the granting of all high commissions to be subject to recommendation by the Military Board and, if so, whether such a recommendation was made in connexion with his own promotion?
– I answered a similar question some time ago. If the honorable member will look up my answer, he will know the reply to his question.
– How long ago?
– Months ago.
– In view of his statement, when he was visiting the Middle East, that he proposed to recruit women for army canteen work in order to produce a softening effect upon our troops, does the Minister for the Army not consider that his latest proposal to establish hairdressing saloons in military camps, in order to raise the morale of the troops by giving them “ sissy “ haircuts, will have a hardening effect upon the women canteen workers?
Question not answered.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is a fact that either he, or his firm, was professionally associated with Mount Morgan Mines Limited, to which a loan of £10,000 was recently made by the Commonwealth for the purpose of re-opening the Mount Chalmers mine, which has been waterlogged for many years?
– If it will relieve the mind and conscience of the’ honorable member, I assure him that my firm was not associated with Mount Morgan Mines Limited in any capacity whatever. If the honorable gentleman continues trying he will probably find a client or two of mine.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether he approves of the action of Lieutenant-Colonel Marshall, Officer Commanding Dental Services, Eastern Command, in discriminating between applicants for admission to the Army dental service by giving preference to university graduates over those who received their theoretical and practical training at the Sydney Dental Hospital? Will the Minister make an investigation of this matter and advise me of his decision ? As a typical case I refer to Mr. Leslie Berry, a fully qualified dentist in civil life, who was refused admission to the dental unit. However, he still persisted in his desire to serve and is now in camp at Tamworth as a private in the Australian Imperial Force.
– I do not approve of such discrimination. The only question involved in such a matter should be that of qualifications, and it should not matter whether the qualifications were obtained through a university or a dental apprenticeship. I shall investigate the subject and give the honorable member a further reply later.
Exempt Occupations - Duration of Service - Rural Labour
– Practically all primary industries have reached the peak period of the year. Will the Minister for the Army consider the advisability of declaring immediately a total exemption until the end of the year in respect of those liable to be called up for training who are engaged in seasonal occupations and in rural industries generally throughout Australia, in order to avoid the anxiety, worry, delay and hardship caused in connexion with individual applications for exemption, consideration of which may occupy several weeks?
– I appreciate the difficulties which confront, in particular, the rural industries. Certain exemptions were gazetted this week by the Department of Labour and National Service, which has control of the man-power lists ; these relate to persons in certain age groups. In conjunction with the Minister for Labour and National Service, I shall give early consideration to representations made to me in respect of persons associated with the dairying industry. Concurrently, I shall give consideration to the suggestion of the honorable member; but I am certainly not prepared to say that exemption will be granted in respect of all of those who are engaged in rural industries.
– Will the Minister for Labour and National Service state when the revised list of reserved occupations will be issued ? Is the honorable gentleman in a position to make a statement as to the policy of his department in regard to man-power generally?
– The list of reserved occupations is under constant revision. As the Minister for the Army has just pointed out, three importantamendments were made this week in orderto improve the labour position in rural areas.
– What arethey?
– The age ofexemption of employees singly employed has been reduced from 25 to 21 years. A new classification has been introduced, as the result of which leading hands of 25 years and over will be exempt. There is a further new classification which provides that farm employees of 30 years of age and over, permanently employed, shall be exempt. Any person in these categories who has been notified to attend for the October call-up should apply for exemption in order to avoid being called up for that particular period of. camp training. The Man-power Priorities Board is sitting to-day and to-morrow, and. has promised me a complete review of the man-power position following its deliberations. I hope to be able to make to the House next week a considered statement of government policy in relation to man-power problems generally.
– In view of the serious shortage of rural labourers, will the Minister for the Army grant exemption from military service to all applicants from among their ranks, immediately the application is lodged, and subsequently investigate the genuineness of their claim, calling up only those whose exemption is not warranted? Under present conditions, serious delay sometimes occurs in the hearing of applications for exemption, causing idleness to teams of horses, tractors, and shearing plants.
– I do not think that I can usefully add to the answers I have already give to questions on the same subject.
– I ask the Minister for the Army whether the universal trainees called up for military service for the duration of the war are likely to remain mobilized for that period ? If the tension in the Pacific eases will such trainees be relieved of the obligation to serve continuously and be placed in the same category as other universal trainees ?
– Obviously the length of time that the men called up will have to remain in camp must be contingent on changing circumstances. I cannot give any other answer to the honorable gentleman’s question.
– In view ofthe fact that coalmining is a reservedoccupation, I ask the Minister for the Army , why there is discrimination in thecall-up of coalminers for compulsory military training? Area officers in some localities are calling up coal-miners, whereas area officers in other localities are not doing so. This is causing a good deal of discontent in the coal-mining industry. I refer the Minister to my letter to him, in relation to the position in Tasmania, written at the request of the Coal-minersFederation.
– I am unaware of any discrimination. The subject-matter of the honorable gentleman’s question has been discussed by me personally with interested parties, and it has also been referred to in correspondence. Only yesterday a representative of the Miners Federation saw me in regard to the general question of the exemption of miners. The difficulties probably arise out of the interpretation of “ exempt occupations “ as stated in the regulations.
– The mining industry is given as an exempt occupation.
– The matter is not so simple as that. However, I shall investigate the position and communicate with thehonorable member again as soon as possible.
Blind Wives of Blind Pensioners - Residential Period in New Zealand - Increased Family Unit of Applicants - Reductions through Receipt of Service Pensions.
– On the 27th August last I brought under the notice of the Minister for Social Services, by means of a question in this House, and I have also placed before him in correspondence, the position of blind wives of blind pensioners, whose pensions have been reduced in consequence of an increase of the basic wage in Queensland. I have not yet received a reply to my representations, and I should like to know what steps are being taken by the Government in the matter.
– I am surprised that the honorable member has not received a reply to his letter, for I thought that it was delivered to him yesterday.
– That is not correct.
– Will the Treasurer consider making provision in the budget to ensure that Australians who have gone to New Zealand and lived there for some years, though later returning to Australia, shall not suffer any residential disqualification in connexion with the invalid and old-age pension in respect of such period of absence from the Commonwealth?
– That is a matter of policy which will be considered.
– In view of the defeat of the Government, during the last sittings of the House, in the matter of increasing to 50s. a week the family unit of applicants for a pension, will the Minister for Social Services say whether it is the intention of the Government to go to the country - which it will do very shortly-
– It will not go alone.
– The Government certainly will not go alone, but a lot of its supporters will be missing from this House after the elections. Is it the intention of the Government to go to the country, absolutely ignoring a resolution of this House? On several occasions, in reply to questions, honorable members have been informed that the matter is before the Cabinet. Has that answer been given merely in order that the Government might shuffle out of its responsibility, to give effect to the resolution of this House ?
– As this Government will not go to the country for at least two years, it will not be necessary for the honorable gentleman to wait for that length of time in order to ascertain what the Government intends to do. I suggest that he wait only one week, because the Treasurer will probably have something to say next week concerning the matter he has raised.
– During the last sittings of this Parliament, the Minister for Social Services was informed that a number of old-age pensioners, who had been receiving allotments from sons serving with our armed forces overseas, had suffered reductions of their old-age pensions because when their sons were killed, they were provided with small service pensions. The Minister then said that, if honorable members could bring such cases to his notice, he would have injustices rectified. I now ask him what steps he has taken to remove this injustice ?
– The undertaking which I gave was that, if such cases were brought to my notice, consideration would be given to them. Consideration is now being given to the matter by Cabinet, because an alteration of our statutes is involved.
– Will the Prime Minister inform me whether the Commonwealth Government is continuing to guarantee loans made by private banks to certain interests in connexion with the war industries, notwithstanding that a certain regulation was disallowed by this House some time ago?
– The Government is not doing anything inconsistent with the regulation. Only a part of the regulation referred to by the honorable member was disallowed.
Extension of Eligibility - Deductions by Repatriation Department.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation whether he will ascertain from his colleague when the Repatriation Act is likely to be amended to provide for the granting of service pensions to members of the Australian Imperial Force on their return from the present war ?
– I shall endeavour to obtain the information for the honorable member.
– Has the AttorneyGeneral yet had an opportunity to consider certain correspondence that I placed before him someweeks ago concerning the action of the Repatriation Department in deducting 15s. a week from the service pensions of ex-soldiers who go temporarily to the Red Cross Convalescent Home in a northern suburb of Sydney? I wish to know whether the deduction is legal and also whether, even if it is legal, the right honorable gentleman considers that it is a fair deduction to make? I point out that the 15s. deducted is not paid to the Red Cross; it is simply an added hardship to the men concerned.
– I am familiar with the subject raised by the honorable member. As a matter of fact, I discussed it on Monday last, when I was shown some correspondence which had been received from the honorable member. I said then that I thought the law was as I had stated. However, I shall look into the point raised by the honorable member, in order to see whether it is proper to make a deduction in connexion with Red Cross establishments similar to that made in connexion with hospitals.
– Will the Minister for Defence Co-ordination state to what Minister a body of primary producers should apply for supplies of wire?
– I do not know whether it is my function to give the advice sought. If it is, I suggest that the primary producers mentioned should make application to the Minister for Supply; that, failing the Minister for Supply, they should go to the Minister for Commerce; failing the Minister for Commerce, they should go to the Treasurer; and failing all of those, they should take a deputation to the nearest member of Parliament.
– I understand that the board which inquired into the prospects of building small wooden ships has made a favorable report, especially in regard to their construction in southern Tasmania. When does the Minister for Defence Coordination think that these operations will be commenced?
– I shall have the question placed before the Minister concerned, and shall see that the honorable member is furnished with a reply.
– In the early stages of the war, many skilled men were accepted haphazard for army service, irrespective of whether or not skilled work was available for them. In view of the serious shortage of skilled labour in the munitions industry, and the long hours which men engaged in it have to work, does the Minister for the Army propose to release from active service any skilled men who are not directly engaged on work requiring skill?
– This matter was dealt with by me about ten months ago, when the Army was combed - If I may use that phrase - for the purpose of determining what members of it could be utilized in the munitions industry; and those who had the qualifications that were in demand were discharged from the Army. There is still, however, a demand for skilled men of a certain type in the Army, in order to enable it to function properly. The honorable member may rest assured that we have endeavoured on all occasions to give the utmost assistance to munitions production.
– I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs whether a number of firms in Sydney have been declared but not prosecuted, whilst some firms have been prosecuted but not declared ? Can the honorable gentleman state why David
Jones Limited was prosecuted and fined £100 for profiteering, yet was not declared ?
– The circumstances in relation to the declaration of firms are entirely different from those in relation to prosecutions. A .firm is prosecuted because it has failed to observe the regulations of the Prices Commissioner in regard to a declared commodity, whereas a declaration is made in respect of a firm which charges increased and exorbitant prices in respect of almost every commodity, this fact being revealed in the extraordinary profits shown in its returns. These latter circumstances did not apply to the operations of David Jones Limited; consequently that firm was not declared.
– Has the Minister for the Navy received any complaints from, naval men stationed at Darwin? If not, will he obtain from his officers a report as to the alleged prevalence of discontent among those men? Can the right honorable gentleman say whether the men are subject to conditions in regard to leave similar to those of members of the Australian Imperial Force ?
– I do not think that I have received any complaints of the nature mentioned. I shall make inquiries from my officers, and let the honorable member know.
– Will the Minister for the Army call for a report into the circumstances relating to the discharge from the Army this morning of Sergeant Clark, of Orange? Can the honorable gentleman state that this soldier was not discharged for having exercised his citizen’s right to approach his parliamentary representative with the request that he make certain representations on his behalf?
– I have no knowledge of the circumstances of this case, but J assure the honorable member that if Sergeant Clark has been discharged for the reason given he will be reinstated.
– I ask the Minister for Labour and National Service whether the port committee which he promised to set up in Melbourne for experimental purposes has been functioning, and, if so, whether he is satisfied with the way in which it has worked ? Will the honorable gentleman set up a port committee in Brisbane also?
– The conference of parties interested in this matter, held recently, decided that a port committee should first be established in Melbourne, and that, on the experience thereby gained, the determination would be made as to whether or not the system should be extended to other ports. Although discussions have since taken place in regard to points of detail, the port committee has not yet actually operated. The authorities have been conferring in regard to the regulations which will govern the conduct of the committee, and I am hopeful that the committee will be established within a very short time.
– Will the Assistant Minister for Commerce direct the committee which is inquiring into the ramifications of the Apple and Pear Marketing Board, to take evidence concerning the conditions and rates of pay of employees in the orchards of commercial growers of apples and pears?
– The committee of inquiry into apple and pear operations has sat continuously for several months, and has completed the taking of evidence. No further evidence will be taken. The report of the committee is now in course of preparation.
Criticism by Prime Minister.
– Has the Prime Minister, since his elevation to that office, changed the opinion which he expressed regarding the United Australia party during his first election campaign for the division of Darling Downs, when he referred to that party and those associated with it as “blood suckers”?
– As I have altered my opinion in regard to many matters, I hope that the day will come when the opinions of the honorable member may be altered, to the benefit of Australia.
– The press has published the statement that the Wheat Stabilization Board intends to grant licences on the basis of the average acreage of individual growers during the last four years. How does the Assistant Minister for Commerce reconcile the appointment of local committees for the purpose of giving advice on this particular matter, with that definite decision of the Wheat Stabilization Board?
– I do not know whether the honorable member has stated the facts, but I shall endeavour to secure the information that he desires, and furnish it to him.
Mr.CONELAN. - I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Development whether it is the intention of the Government, if still in power, to allow petrol ration tickets to accumulate for use during the festive season, say, from October to January next?
– I should think that the answer is “ No “, but I shall have the question conveyed to the Minister for Supply and Development.
– I ask the Assistant Minister for Commerce whether various woolbroking firms receive a brokerage in respect of sales of wool which they do not handle, and that a number of such firms have recently disclosed enormous profits in connexion with their operations last year? Will the honorable gentleman have the present scheme altered, so that the money which is now paid to woolbroking firms will be made available for the assistance of distressed primary producers?
– I do not know whether the honorable gentleman has recited the facts. If he will put his question on the notice-paper. mentioningspecific cases, I shall have a full investigation made, and shall furnish him with an answer.
Pay while in Hospital.
– I have received a letter from a member of the Militia who was twice passed as A1 at a medical examination. Later, he had trouble with his lips and, by reason of exposure to sun and wind, contracted a sore, which had to be treated with radium. He has had considerable treatment in hospital since about April of this year, and underwent an operation for the removal of a gland from his neck. Subsequently, he was an inmate of a rest home in Adelaide. He has now been called up for further service, but has not received any pay for the period commencing with his admission to hospital to undergo treatment. Is it the practice of the Department of the Army to refuse pay to men who have to undergo treatment while in camp after their unit has been discharged?
– There is no such practice. If the honorable member will place the letter in my possession, I shall examine the allegations contained in it.
– Will the Minister for the Army direct that hospital treatment be made available to men discharged from the Army and awaiting decision by the Repatriation Department regarding their war disabilities?
– This matter is more particularly the concern of the Minister for Repatriation. I shall discuss it with him, and the honorable member may rest assured that his request will receive sympathetic consideration.
– Has the Prime Minister taken over Professor Copland as his economic advisor, and has the Professor had anything to do with the preparation of this year’s budget? Is this the Professor Copland who was one of the authors of the Premiers Plan, and who ten years ago recommended the reduction of wages by 10 per cent. in order to bring about budgetary equilibrium? Is he the Sydney Myer Professor of Commerce at the Melbourne University?
– I do not know Professor Sydney Myer of Melbourne University. I never heard of the man, and therefore he cannot be my economic advisor.
Formal Motion foradjournment.
– I have received from the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) 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 failure of the Government to make provision for the widows of the crew of the M.V. Nimbin to secure the benefits of the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act 1940 “.
.-I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– I desire to draw attention to the failure of the Government to make provision for the widows of the crew of the M.V. Nimbin to secure the benefits of the War Pensions and Allowances Act 1940. This matter arises out of the delay of the Government in satisfying claims that have arisen under its own legislation. The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act 1940, which is similar to legislation passed by the House of Commons, represents a tardy recognition by the Government of the part played by the men of the merchant service in time of war. All honorable members will concede that in the battle of the Atlantic, and in the work they are doing in other parts of the world, the men of the Merchant Service are making a great contribution to the Empire’s war effort. In fact, the war could not be won without them. Whilst I do not desire in any way to detract from the work of the members of the fighting services, whether of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force, I point out that the men of the Merchant Service are performing deeds just as heroic. Moreover, of the fighting services, it can he said that at least they are armed as well, or nearly as well, as those whom they have to meet, but in a great majority of cases the men of the Merchant Service, who have just as hazardous a task to perform, are either not armed at all, or are but poorly armed, though they are continually menaced by well-armed forces. It was a recognition of this fact that prompted the Parliament of Great Britain and, later, the Commonwealth Parliament, to pass legislation providing for compensation for the dependants of seamen who lost their lives as the result of enemy action. The Australian act was the last piece of legislation passed by the last Parliament in August, 1940. It provides, among other things, for the payment of pensions and allowances to seamen and/or their dependants who suffer as the result of enemy action. In principle, it is similar to the Soldiers Repatriation Act. Nevertheless, in respect of the very first ship th at was lost since the passing of that act, the Government has refused to recognize the claims of the widows of those members of the crew who lost their lives. The ship was mined off the Australian coast early in December, 1940, and the Government has admitted that its loss was due to enemy action. Applications have been made on behalf of the widows and dependants of the crew, but the matter was held up because certain compensation had. been paid from other sources to the dependants of the officers and seamen of the ship. It is true that this compensation was paid. The widows of the men received the benefits of the Seamen’s Compensation Act passed by i his Parliament. The officers, however, are excluded from the benefits of that legislation, but it is provided in an industrial agreement with their employers that if an officer loses his life while on duty, the employer shall pay three years’ wages to his relatives as compensation. “When thu claim was submitted to the repatriation authorities, they referred it to the Minister for Commerce for a decision on policy. I am at a loss to understand why the obvious rights of the widows under the act should have become the subject of a policy decision by the Minister for
Commerce, nor can I understand why nine months should have elapsed since the ship was lost without any decision having been reached. The explanation seems to lie in the fact that the Government intends to repudiate its obligations under the act, and to deny compensation to the widows. This is evident from the attitude of the department, and from the unsatisfactory way in which the Minister for Commerce has shuffled about. I have here a letter from the secretary of the Merchant Service Guild of Australia in which he says that he has received correspondence from Mr. Strahan, secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department, regarding the proposed exclusion of the crews of trawlers from participating in the benefits of the act, and stating further that amendments to the act were under consideration, those amendments to be retrospective.
The latest move by the Minister has been to remit this question to the Advisory War Council, though I cannot see what the council can possibly have to do with it. Probably, this is an attempt to compromise members of the Advisory War Council by inducing them to accept some sort of amendment to the act. I can think of no other reason, unless it be merely a further attempt by the Minister to delay the making of payments. I have no doubt that the Minister will argue that the dependants of those seamen ought not to expect a pension under the .Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act in addition to the money they receive under the Seamen’s Compensation Act. In this connexion, it would be interesting to know what was the intention of the Government at the time when the former act was passed. When the measure was before Parliament, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Ma-. Holloway), as reported in Hansard of the 21st August, 1940, at page 564, asked -
Will the provisions of this bill result in a deterioration of the conditions provided under Iiic Seamen’s Compensation Act?
To this, the then Minister for Commerce, the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), replied: “Not to my knowledge”. Since it was not then the intention of the Government that the act should’ interfere with the privileges that seamen enjoyed under the Seamen’s Compensation Act, -why has the Government now so suddenly reversed its policy? Evidently, the Government is taking its stand on the claim that the dependants of seamen should not receive compensation under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act as well as under the Seamen’s Compensation Act. But I point out that the Government announced its intention to give to them the same rights and privileges regarding repatriation as are given to members of the Defence Forces. Throughout the country, concern is expressed at the fact that certain insurance companies have endeavoured to cancel the life assurance policies of members of the forces, and the Government has insisted that the policies shouldnot be altered. If the Government persists in its present attitude towards the dependants of the deceased seamen, what stand will it adopt when members of the Defence Forces lose their lives? The Government will contend that the receipt of payments from assurance companies disqualifies widows and dependants from participating in repatriation benefits.
– The two cases are not analagous. Members of the Defence Forces pay their premiums personally.
– The Government has not paid the compensation benefits that the dependants of the seamen have received to date.
– They are paid from public charges.
– That is not correct. The payments, which are the obligation of private firms to the dependants of former employees, are made either from their funds or by insurance companies with whom they insured the employees. Definitely, the Commonwealth Government has not been called upon to make a double payment; the compensation which has been paid to date has come from private sources. Admittedly, the act provides for certain qualifications and disqualifications. Section 12 reads -
Where any Australian mariner, not being a pilot, dies or becomes incapacitated as a direct result of having sustained a war injury in the course of his employment as an Australian mariner, or, being a pilot, dies or becomes incapacitated as a direct result of having sustained a war injury while on pilot duty, the Commonwealth shall, subject to this act, pay to his dependants, or to him, or to both, pensions in accordance with this act.
As the Government has accepted the loss of the Nimbin as being due to enemy action, the relatives of the deceased seamen are fully entitled, under section 12, to the benefits provided by the act. Section 13 imposes another limitation -
A pension or allowance in respect of the death or incapacity of an Australian mariner shall not be granted if, in the opinion of the commission or a pensions committee -
in the case of death - the Australian mariner in any substantial measure contributed to or hastened his death by his own serious negligence or serious misconduct; or
in the case of incapacity - the war injury to which the incapacity of the Australian mariner is attributable was in any substantial measure due to his own serious negligence or serious misconduct.
But those possible disqualifications do not apply in this instance, because the Government has not claimed that the men lost their lives as the result of negligence or misconduct. Section 16 deals with the important matter of whether a “means” test should be applied to the widow, or whether she should be required to prove incapacity to earn her livelihood. It reads - (1.) Subject to sub-section (2.) of this section, a pension shall not be granted or continued to any person unless that person is, in the opinion of the commission, or of a pensions committee, without adequate means of support and incapable of earning a livelihood. (2.) The last preceding sub-section shall not apply to -
I rrespective of whether she has means or is incapable of earning her livelihood, these tests are not applied to a widow of a mariner who loses his life in the circumstances under discussion. Another partial disqualification, which the Minister may possibly try to use as a peg on which to hang his hat, is section 24 d, which states -
Notwithstanding anything contained in this part - if the Australian mariner, or any of his dependants, has received, or is entitled to receive, any other payment from the public funds of the Commonwealth or of a State or of a Territory of the Commonwealth by way of compensation in respect of the incapacity or death of the Australian mariner -
Section 24 d makes it plain that an application for benefits under the act should not be entertained if the widow or the relatives receive money from Commonwealth or State funds.
– And then only to the extent of the difference between the amount that the recipient gets from Commonwealth and State funds, and the benefits to which he is entitled under this act.
– That is true. If the monetary benefits that widows and dependants receive from Commonwealth or State funds are less than the amount of compensation, they are paid the difference. If the benefits exceed the amount of compensation provided under the act, they are not entitled to additional payments. But definitely, this disqualifying section does not apply in this instance, because the widows and dependants of the deceased seamen have received no money from the Commonwealth Government or from a State government. I emphasize that the compensation which was paid to the seamen in this case was granted under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act, and the payments to the officers were made under an industrial agreement. Therefore, those two factors are not disqualifications in this case.
The Government has already accepted the fact that the crew of the vessel lost their lives as the result of enemy action, and the Minister will not deny that the Government admits the absence of evidence of negligence or misconduct on their part. The widows are not obliged to prove their dependence on the earnings of their husbands, and no “ means “ test can be applied to them. For those reasons, they have an undoubted right to the benefits which this legislation provides. Strange to. relate, after such a long delay in recognizing the services of seamen in war-time, the very Government which was responsible for this legislation in August, 1940, repudiated its obligation to them in the following December. The Minister should justify to the House the action of the department in seeking a decision upon government policy regarding the obvious legal rights of the widows and dependants, and the reason for withholding from them the benefits to which they are entitled. To contend that the matter is being held up pending consideration of the advisability of revising the legislation is not to offer a valid excuse. The only explanation of withholding the benefits at this stage is that the Government intends to repudiate the claims and, if possible, amend the act retrospectively in order to deprive them of their just rights. The Government should meet its current obligations before it reviews the legislation. Failure to meet this obvious obligation brands the Government as the repudiator of the widows of deceased seamen who lost their lives in the service of the country.
– The position is not exactly as the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) stated, because the Government has not been oblivious of the needs of the widows and dependants of seamen who lost their lives as the result of the disaster that befell the motor vesselNimbin. The Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act was passed in order to place merchant seamen on a basis similar to that of members of the Australian Imperial Force regarding compensation payable, not only to themselves for injuries which they might suffer in the course of their duties on the sea, but also to their dependants in the event of their decease. In the Repatriation Act and the Seamen’s Pensions and Allowances Act, the terms of entitlement and the compensation and pension allowances are very similar. But neither Parliament nor the Government intended, when considering the bill, that double compensation should be paid in any particular cases because of the overlapping of State and Federal acts. In this instance, the motor vessel Nimbin was sunk by an external explosion off the coast of New South Wales. The cause of the explosion was never determined; it was assumed that a mine was responsible.
– Does the Minister accept that theory?
– I do not dispute it. The Government having accepted that the vessel was mined, seamen who were injured in the disaster and the dependants of those who lost their lives became entitled to certain compensation. As the honorable member for Dalley stated, this case is the first case that has occurred since the legislation was passed, and the experience that we have gathered as the result of the loss of the Nimbin will perhaps serve as a guide in future. To date, the widow of the master of the vessel has received, from the Merchant Service Guild, a lump sum of £1,720 10s. as compensation.
– Three years’ salary.
– The compensation paid to the widow and children of the chief officer amounted to £1,153 10s. 6d., whilst the widows of the third engineer, a greaser and an able seaman each received £800 under the Workers Compensation Act of New South Wales. To my knowledge, no payments were made to these persons under federal law.
– The point is that they were not paid from public funds.
– If pensions were approved in these cases, the claimants would get lump sums as compensation, to which members of the Australian Imperial Force are not entitled, plus all the repatriation benefits. I do not think that Parliament intended that. The Repatriation Commission, when the matter was referred to it, felt somewhat uneasy about the precedent that would be created, and sent the matter to Cabinet for determination before making the payments, although the act provides for them. In order to try to get clarity and to provide for future cases as well as these cases, the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page), who has been dealing with the matter, asked the Advisory War Council for its opinion. It was not a matter, a3 the honorable member suggests, of trying to “ pool “ the Advisory War Council. The council was constituted to advise the Government on matters of war policy, and this is a matter of war policy. It was, therefore, the duty of the council to assist the Government to the best of its ability, in the solution of this difficult problem. The honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), who is one of Australia’s most distinguished jurists, has undertaken to go into this matter at a later stage, after the Attorney-General has prepared a statement of the facts. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) referred to the British legislation. That legislation does not provide for duplicate payments; it provides for the same methods as are provided for in the Australian act. The New Zealand act similarly does not permit of dual payments.
– Where, in the British act, is there provision against dual payments?
– I cannot cite the specific section, but I am informed by my advisors that the British and the New Zealand acts provide against double payment of compensation.
I agree that this is an unfortunate case of death and injury, but members of the Australian Imperial Force, for whom there is no double compensation, are exposed to the same risks. In order to show the anomaly which would be created by permitting the payment of dual compensation, I instance the case of the boatswain who was injured. If he were to receive compensation under this act and also under the Workers’ Compensation Act of New South Wales, he would receive more than £30 a month, whereas his total wages and war bonus amounted to only £19 a month. Such anomalies create a situation which must and shall be considered by the Government. Whatever may be done in the future, however, I believe that we must accept the obligation cast upon us by the act, and I shall recommend to the Government that whatever compensation is due under the act to the dependants of the deceased seaman and to the injured seamen in the present case be paid. I have no doubt that the Government will adopt my recommendation. It is the intention of the Government to review the whole position, and I hope that in that review we shall have the benefit of the advice of the honorable member for Barton.
.- The motion by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) has served its purpose, and the House is indebted to the Minister for Transport (Mr. Anthony) for his statement that the Government will obey the law and honour its obligation. As to the future, we, as members of the Opposition, are bound in matters of this kind, to assist the Government in drafting legislation and to consider such anomalies as those which the Minister has suggested do exist. The present position is clear. The act gives to seamen and seamen’s dependants all of the rights for which the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) and his colleagues have asked. The law must be obeyed, but, since the Minister has given a satisfactory undertaking that it will be obeyed, no further argument is required.
– The House must bear in mind that payments which have been made to the widows of the captain and the first mate by the Merchant Service Guild, are part and parcel of the conditions of the agreement entered into between the employees and the employers. It must be assumed that if provision were not made for compensation to be paid to seamen, whether they be officers, or members of the crew, or to their dependants, their wages would be higher in proportion to the amount of compensation to which they would be otherwise entitled. The court in fixing wages always takes into account such compensation payments as have been referred to by the Minister for Transport (Mr. Anthony). It cannot be charged, therefore, that in this case the payment of compensation by the Commonwealth represents a duplication of compensation. The compensation which has already been paid to the people affected in this case is really in the nature of deferred pay.
Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) 1 4.22]. - The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) has hit the nail right on the head. As Minister for the “Navy I had some responsibility for this act last year. The points to which the honorable member referred were carefully considered by the Government, and its attitude was that there was a responsibility on the Commonwealth to seamen, who were carrying out the function of the merchant service in time of war, should they lose their lives or become injured as the result of enemy action. We had the interesting case of the hospital ship Manunda. The men went to court and a certain wage was granted. Afterwards it was decided by the Commonwealth Government, of which I was a member, that they should receive a special war bonus of 25 per cent, for taking the vessel into dangerous waters. At that time, I resisted a request that the Australian coast should be regarded as part of the war zone, because, up to that time, no enemy mines had been laid off the Australian coast. Shortly after I left office, enemy mines were laid off Cape Otway, Wilson’s Promontory, Spencer’s Gulf and the coast of New South Wales. There is no doubt that the Commonwealth Government last year decided to put seamen as far as possible on the same footing as men in the Royal Australian Navy. We had the Navy more in mind than the Australian Imperial Force at that time. Even from the viewpoint of the Australian Imperial Force, however, it is never argued by the Government that, because a man has special compensation for some injury, which he suffers overseas, his compensation from the Government is to be reduced accordingly. For instance, the Commonwealth Government would not reduce the repatriation pension paid to a widow of a public servant killed in action overseas because she was entitled to a pension from the Superannuation Board. I shall be interested to see what sort of an amendment to this act is brought down. I suggest with as much friendliness as possible that, if the Government is anxious to use the pruning knife, or rather, the cheese-paring knife, there are avenues of wasteful expenditure on which it could well try its hand before tackling a matter of this description.
.- There seems to be some sort of agreement that the position created by the law at present is anomalous and is contrary to the British practice. I speak subject to correction, but it seems to me that the position is quite consistent with the British regulations. I have those regulations before me. They are contained in Butterworth’s Emergency Legislation Service, section 31, under the heading “ The War Pensions and Detention Allowances (Mercantile Marine, &c.) Scheme, 1941 “. The scheme is made under the authority of the statute. The statute does not work out the scheme ; it leaves the details to be provided for in an Order in Council. There is a provision in that scheme against double payment, but the provision is like that contained in the Australian legislation. The provision in the Australian legislation is that the dependants of the deceased sailor shall not get the benefit of two payments from public funds. The widow or other dependant who makes a claim under the Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act shall have whatever payment he or she receives from public funds, whether Commonwealth or State, taken into account in the assessment of the compensation to be paid. That is the position of the act. The Minister, with the agreement of other honorable members, seems to suggest that it is anomalous or inconsistent with British practice that the people concerned in this case should receive payment from two sources, one of those sources being the Commonwealth Government. The following is the provision contained in the British scheme: -
The enactments to which the article refers are defined, and they are of the same kind as those referred to in the Commonwealth act. The provision against double payments in the British regulations is the same in spirit as the provision in our legislation.
– But the British regulations do not provide for workers’ compensation and compensation payable under some act.
– They provide that, if a dependant is entitled to draw some form of superannuation from a fund constituted under statute, she shall not also be entitled to draw payments under the act which corresponds to the Aus tralian act. In dealing with workers’ compensation, the British scheme does not refer at all to workers’ compensation recoverable under British law. Rule 26 provides for the taking into account of certain compensation. “Compensation” is defined as any compensation payable under law of any place outside the United Kingdom. This means that, in computing the payment to which a widow, or other dependant, is entitled under these regulations, the authorities take into account compensation that she may be entitled to receive under some law other than British law, but not compensation that she may be entitled to receive under British law. It. is quite clear that the British regulations do not have the effect that the Minister has attributed to them.
– My advisers inform me that, according to the British law, a seaman’s widow cannot obtain compensation under the Seamen’s Compensation Act as well as under some other act.
– I doubt whether that is so. The British regulations, which correspond to the Australian act, do not have that effect. They state, in effect, that a seaman’s widow shall not receive double payments from the Government by securing compensation under these regulations as well as under some superannuation act. It may be that the Workers Compensation Act of Great Britain contains provisions excluding payments of compensation in the circumstances which the Minister has mentioned. I have not considered that point, but I should not think it likely. I have however, examined the British regulations which deal with the matter, and I know that they do not have the effect which the Minister has said that they have.
.- I ask the Minister to give consideration also to the problems that have been caused by the limit on the earnings of seamen, wharf labourer? and others, which restricts their rights under State compensation laws. The Workers Compensation Act of New South Wales fixes a limit of £11 a week, beyond which a man is not entitled to compensation. Cases have occurred of men earning more than that rate as the result of working long hours of overtime in order to help the war effort. Insurance companies have declared that these men are not entitled to compensation. One case which came to my notice was that of a workman who was engaged in loading a ship continuously during one week-end. On the Sunday, no doubt because he was over-tired, he became giddy and fell down the hold of the ship and was killed. Because his average earnings over a short period had amounted to more than £11 a week, the insurance company concerned submitted that it was not liable to pay compensation. Fortunately, the man’s average earnings over the twelve months preceding his death had been less than £11 a week, and it was ruled that the company must pay compensation. Since then, other cases have arisen in which the average earnings over twelve months have been more than £11 a week. I urge the Minister to exclude any overtime earnings due to war work from the computation of average earnings in determining the liability of insurance companies to pay compensation. The working of long hours undermines the efficiency of these men, and they will probably have to restore their efficiency later by taking extended holidays, which will perhaps absorb their accumulated overtime payments. This matter has been brought to the notice of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), who has submitted it to the Crown Solicitor. Doubt has been expressed as to whether theGovernment can take the action which I suggest through the National Security Regulations. If it cannot do so, it should introduce legislation for the purpose.
Question resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from the 17th September (vide page 309), on motion by Mr. Harrison -
That the bill now be read a second time.
.- This bill will be supported by the Opposition because we consider that, in the present circumstances, it is a necessary measure. Its purpose is to enable the Commonwealth to guarantee to cotton-growers an average net return of15d. per lb. on raw cotton above the grade of strict good ordinary that will be produced from the 1942 crop and thereafter until the completion of one cotton season after the cessation of the present hostilities. From 100 lb. of seed cotton a farmer can produce 35 lb. of raw cotton from which the seed has been extracted. Therefore, 15d. per lb. for raw cotton represents 5¼d. for seed cotton. This price is not excessive; it is¼d. per lb. less than the net return which was guaranteed to the growers from 1920 to 1923, when the cottongrowing industry was revived in Australia.
– It is¼d. per lb. more than the honorable member himself guaranteed to the growers when he was Minister for Trade and Customs.
– But costs of production have increased considerably since those days of depression. Furthermore, in the depths of the depression the world price of cotton had fallen to unprecedented low levels, whereas to-day the landed cost of cotton in Australia from overseas, on the Minister’s own admission, is slightly more than the price that is to be guaranteed. The Minister said yesterday -
This price of 5¼d. per lb. is slightly less than the present duty-free cost at Australian ports of similar types of American raw cotton.
As the price of cotton is sure to increase as the war progresses - the experience of the war of 1914-18 justifies this statement - I should have liked the Government to guarantee a price of 6d. per lb. for seed cotton. The Queensland Cotton Board was modest in its demands, because it did not wish in these difficult times to embarrass the Government, which, I know, has agreed to grant what the board requested. However, if the Government had granted 6d. per lb. for seed cotton for one or two years it would have given a great impetus to cotton-growing in Queensland. When making representations to me on the 14th August, 1941, the Queensland Cotton Board submitted facts similar to those which it presented to the Minister. It. stated -
The price received by cotton-growers dur ing the past ten years has been unprofitable to them, and it is for this reason thatthe industry has not made the progress which the market position in Australia warranted. As you realize, cotton-growing, of course, is competitive with other primary industries, and as the return from cotton did not compare favorably with the return from other industries cotton-growing was abandoned by farmers.
At about that time the board sent the following telegram to the Minister: -
Queensland Cotton Board desire place before you cotton production position for next season. Board has carried out considerable propaganda but response not good and owing man-power shortage and increased cost production does not anticipate any increase cotton acreage forthcoming season under present price return to grower of 12½d. lb. raw cotton. Net return to growers of at least 15d. per lb. raw cotton necessary to secure increased plantings which will mean bringing new land under cultivation. Indications are of rising prices world raw cotton reducing your Government’s liability in guarantee of return to growers suggested.
The board took a fair view of the situation. I am not in any way critical of the Cotton Board. It is comprised of reputable gentlemen. With a view to giving a very definite stimulus to the cotton industry, I would like to support the request proposed to it by the Central Queensland Advancement League, that the price should be 6d. per lb. for seed cotton, or approximately18d. per lb. for raw cotton.
Although the Government has not gone so far as I should like, I am satisfied that this bill represents a step in the right direction. The increasingly severe shortage of overseas shipping, and the vast expansion of Australian manufacturers’ requirements of raw cotton, should emphasize the reasonableness of my statements when speaking on the motion for the second reading of the Raw Cotton Bounty Bill 1940. My only objection to that measure was that it contained a limitation inclause 6 (1), which was as follows:-
Thetotal amount of bounty paid under this actinrespect of raw cotton produced during any one calendar year shall not exceed the sum of £150,000.
I said it was a mistake to impose such a limitation, as it would restrict the bounty to cover about 25,000 bales of cotton, whereas Australian secondary industries required 80,000 bales per annum. During the 1941 cotton season only 12,000. bales of cotton was produced in Australia. This shows that we have to make up a leeway of about 68,000 bales.
Experience has proved that some strong stimulus is necessary if we are to increase production by any substantial quantity. I agree with the Queensland Cotton Board that the unprofitable price of cotton over the last ten years has been the chief factor in preventing development of the industry. The problem of under-production will not be solved until the Commonwealth Government, in cooperation with the Government of Queensland, launches a comprehensive national scheme of water conservation and irrigation.
– The State Government has undertaken that project.
– Yes, but it is limited, as the honorable member is aware, by the funds made available to it by the Loan Council. The Queensland Government has spent considerable sums of money in assisting individuals to establish water conservation and irrigation plants. I believe that 50 settlers were helped in the last twelve months, 75 in the previous twelve months, and 20 in the twelve months before that, making 145 in all. At a locality known as Theodore, in central Queensland, 1,000 acres is under irrigated cotton and satisfactory results are being obtained; but that is only toying with the subject. I understand that in the United States of America, which is the greatest cottongrowing country of the world, 10 per cent. of the total production is obtained from irrigated areas. Substantial quantities of irrigated cotton are also grown in Egypt, Africa, and Russia. In view of the uncertainty of the seasons in central Queensland it is imperative, in my view, to increase out water conservation and irrigation facilities if we are to solve our under-production problem. If the Commonwealth Government would increase the bounty in accordance with my suggestions, the industry would be stimulated and cultivation would be greatly assisted. I consider that at least 6d. per lb. should be paid on seed cotton which would be equivalent to about 18d. per lb. for raw cotton.
– 15d. per lb. will permit of some expansion of the industry.
– Quite so, and personally I shall advise the cotton-growers throughout Queensland to increase their acreage, and to leave to honorable members of this Parliament argument about the inadequacy of the guaranteed price. I am satisfied that the Minister is sympathetic, though I am sorry that he has not seen fit to visit the cotton-growing areas of Queensland in order to inform himself at first-hand of the difficulties which have confronted the pioneers of this industry. Many of the cotton-growers began operations on scrub lands with practically no capital. They lived in tents and in galvanized iron shacks. In fact many of them are still living in galvanized iron humpies, even in that enervating tropical climate. In areas which twenty years ago maintained only 20 or 30 families engaged in pastoral activities between 7,000 and 8,000 persons are to-day engaged in cotton growing. This has been made possible by the various closer settlement schemes which have been put on foot. The settlers did not need to clear the land completely in order to begin their operations. They felled the large timber and burnt off the scrub; this enabled them to plant the cotton between the stumps. Land treated in that way was also available for dairying and pig raising. Unfortunately, many of the people who entered the cotton-growing industry years ago were forced out of it by the inadequacy of the price available for their cotton. They found it more profitable to devote their attention to dairying and pig-raising. We wish to arrest this tendency in the industry. Cotton production is essential to our defence activities. We shall need 80,000 bales of cotton to provide for the requirements of our manufacturers this year, but we shall produce only about 12,000 bales.
– We wish to encourage growers to produce cotton exclusively, for by so doing they will be influenced to adopt effective farming methods.
– I do not know that that objective will be achieved. Most people who go in for cotton-growing also keep a few cows and pigs. The typical cottongrower puts from 20 acres to 100 acres under cotton. If he were to devote himself exclusively to cotton he would be liable to suffer heavy loss in a bad season. In fact, many growers who, in years past, went in exclusively for cotton-growing found that it did not pay to put all their eggs in one basket. They were heavy losers through the adoption of that policy Whilst a certain percentage of the growers devote their entire attention to cotton, most of the people in the industry have other interests which, in the event of the failure of their cotton crop, enable them to maintain their activities.
The value of irrigation in the cottongrowing industry is shown by the fact that whereas the production of seed cotton under natural rainfall conditions averages about 350 lb. an acre, the production under irrigation averages about 1,500 lb. an acre, or nearly five times as much. This shows clearly the advantage of irrigation over dry-farming methods. It is absolutely essential for us to take a long-range view of this industry. The Commonwealth Government should do everything possible in co-operation with the Government of Queensland to encourage the adoption of water conservation and irrigation.
– A definite undertaking has been given by the State Government in that connexion.
– I am aware of that fact, but we have read recently in the newspapers of the difficulties which the State governments are experiencing in’ obtaining money for such enterprises as water conservation and irrigation. These undertakings are relatively low on the priority list. Defence works take precedence; I offer no objection to that policy, but we must bear in mind other needs. The undertaking given by the Queensland Government with the object of improving the efficiency of the cottongrowing industry was that it would provide pre-eminently and almost exclusively for : -
That undertaking is most commendable as far as it goes, and I compliment the officers of the Trade and Customs Department, particularly Mr. A. R. Townsend, on what has been done in this connexion. Mr. Townsend has become an expert in connexion with cotton, sugar and certain other industries.
– And he has been very fair in his approach.
– I agree with the Minister. I have had considerable experience of Mr. Townsend’s activities over a number of years. The undertaking by the Government of Queensland is laudable, and it will involve it in an expenditure, over a five-year period, of about £650,000. That, however, does not go far enough. The Commonwealth Government should therefore take all necessary steps, in co-operation with the Government of Queensland, to stimulate Cotton-growing. A comprehensive survey should be made by the best water conservation and irrigation engineer available in Australia, in order that the two governments may be competently advised. It is also necessary that expert surveys of water and soil conditions shall be made. It sometimes happens that although land in a particular area may be suitable for cotton-growing, its geographical situation may not be suitable for irrigation. However, in central Queensland we have in the Fitzroy and. Dawson river areas the largest river basins of the Commonwealth, andI believe that these areas would be quite suitable for the establishment of big national water conservation and irrigation schemes. At various times cursory examinations of those localities have been made and recommendations have been furnished to public authorities in connexion with the subject; but a more expert and detailed investigation is essential. What is known as the Wura scheme also warrants expert investigation. I do not intend to stress the advantages of one scheme over another. I am merely urging that the whole subject shall be investigated by the most competent water conservation and irrigation engineer available in the Commonwealth. The matter cannot be allowed to remain where it is. A guaranteed price equivalent to 5½d. per lb. for seed cotton was provided as far back as 1920, yet now we are offering only 5¼d. per lb. We have not seen the increase of production that we hoped to see. This, I believe, has been due to the failure of the Federal Government to play its part to finance a comprehensive water conservation and irrigation scheme.
The establishment of the experimental research station at Biloela has been well justified and splendid work is being done there. Trained scientists there are experimenting with soils and with different kinds of cotton in order to meet the varying needs of the cotton-spinners. In the early stages of this industry in Australia, considerable difficulty was encountered by the cotton-spinners who were not able to obtain suitable types of cotton for their needs. At that time there was not the close co-operation between the Queensland Cotton Board and the Queensland Department of Agriculture which now exists. Mr. Townsend did excellent work in smoothing out many of the difficulties that then hindered progress, with the result that the industry is now on an even keel.
– The appointment of the Co-ordinator General of Works has also helped considerably.
– That is so. He has done a good job, and should be encouraged to do even more. I again emphasize the need for the appointment of the very best water conservation and irrigation engineer in Australia to report upon the practicability of establishing comprehensive water and irrigation schemes in the Fitzroy and Dawson River areas. If that policy were applied, many thousands of acres of additional land could be put under cotton, and we should soon be able to meet the Australian demand. I t is estimated that we shall require about 105,000 bales of cotton next year. In my opinion it will not be very long before we shall require 300,000 bales a year to satisfy the demands of the Australian spinners. The adoption of an effective water conservation and irrigation policy would give a big impetus to this industry and should ensure to our manufacturers an adequate supply of locally produced cotton. This is increasingly desirable in view of the difficulties we are now experiencing in obtaining cotton from overseas. Every day our shipping problems are increasing and we are finding it harder to obtain supplies’ from the United States of America, Egypt and other countries. As this industry already providesemployment for 4,000 cottongrowers and 2,500 other persons in seasonal occupations, and as it also brings about £100,000 into Queensland each year, the importance of fully developing it cannot be over-estimated. As I represent about 80 per cent. of the cotton-growers of Queensland, I am deeply interested in the whole project. I say unhesitatingly that this is a good bill. I. am sorry that the Government has not seen fit to go further than it has done, but it has at least taken a step in the right direction. I therefore trust that the bill will have a speedy passage.
.- This Parliament has given practical and valuable assistance to the cotton-growing industry of Queensland. Since 1926, it has appropriated approximately £1,200,000 for that purpose. I have always taken a special interest in this industry, because I regard it as one in which there is the widest scope for expansion and development. A perusal of import statistics will disclose that cotton goods of all descriptions to the value of £15,000,000 are imported into Australia annually. In this large field there should be wide scope for the expansion of the secondary industry in co-operation with the primary industry.
A payment of15d. per lb. for raw cotton is equivalent to 5¼d. per lb. for seed cotton. This was the full amount requested by the Queensland Cotton Board and the primary producers’ organizations associated with the cotton industry, in communications which were addressed to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Harrison). I am glad that the whole of the requests in that connexion have been approved. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) saw fit to suggest that the guaranteed price should be 6d. per lb., instead of5¼d. per lb. We should acknowledge frankly, and appreciate, what has been done in order to assist the industry, particularly as it has received all that it has sought in this regard. It is not altogether fair to lead the growers to believe that, had the board and their organizations asked for further assistance, it would have been given. I have studied the payments that have been made since this method of assistance was inaugurated in 1926. While the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was Minister for Trade and Customs, the industry had to be satisfied with 4.8d. per lb. in 1930, and 4d. per lb. in 1931; yet to-day the honorable gentleman is not satisfied with 5¼d. per lb.
– Production costs have since risen very considerably.
– The best that he could offer to the growers was 4.8d. in 1930, and 4d. in 1931.
– That was at the bottom of the depression, when the Commonwealth had a deficit of £10,000,000.
– I hope that the Commonwealth will continue to give the maximum degree of assistance permitted by the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and that an ever-increasing quantity of cotton will be produced. There is an urgent present demand for 80,000 bales of cotton per annum. In the season which has just closed, the production in Queensland was 12,000 bales, which is substantially below what is required. I believe that there is a great future for the industry; but development must take place along lines different from those of the past. The industry has had a chequered career, mainly because of natural fluctuations of climate. Development may proceed for quite a while, and operations may be well under way, when a dry season will have a retarding effect, and the secondary industry loses confidence in the ability of the growers to produce what is needed. The experience gained over a period of many years in the cotton-growing districts of Queensland has proved that rainfall and other climatic conditions are too variable and unreliable for the economic production of raw cotton. This is now fully recognized by the Queensland Government, and I am happy to say that it has undertaken to do everything in its power to promote irrigation. I do not hesitate to admit that present times are difficult, because of war conditions; but I hope that there will be no relaxation of that undertaking, and that everything possible will be done to ensure that the industry is provided with irrigation.
The future of cotton-growing in Australia will be determined largely by a marked reduction of picking costs, and this can be achieved only by the use of machinery. The Commonwealth Government has already rendered financial assistance to the Queensland Cotton Board towards the purchase of a mechanical cotton-picker, with which experiments have been conducted for two seasons. I trust that every effort will be made to ensure the application of mechanized picking in the industry in Queensland. Without something of that character, the progress that we desire will not be made. Picking costs in Australia are two and a half times greater than in other parts of the world. The men engaged in the industry should be paid the highest possible wage, but if the grower cannot obtain a commensurate return mechanized picking must be adopted.
Many honorable members will remember that the Raw Cotton Bounty Act, which was before this House quite recently, covered all of the conditions in connexion with the production of cotton up to and including the 1945 season. The basic underlying principle on which that assistance was granted was, that the Queensland Government should plan for improvement of the efficiency of the industry so that it would pre-eminently and almost exclusively provide for the quickest possible conversion of cotton production from dry-farming to irrigation by the most economic means for each selected locality; a special campaign by a sufficient number of thoroughly qualified men, in order to instruct all farmer; personally and quickly as to the absolute need for practising correct rotations and other essential cultural methods, such campaign to be followed up persistently by ensuring that the best practices were adopted by the bulk of the farmers in the shortest possible time, and to include the circulation of suitable literature; and a substantial increase, in quality and number, of the personnel of the Cotton Research Section, for the specific purpose of accelerating vital scientific work on plant breeding, pests, diseases, soils, fertilizers, and cultural practices, especially new problems which are bound to be encountered with production under irrigation. I am pleased that the Queensland Government gave an unqualified undertaking to give effect to those proposals. If those steps be taken, the industry will have a great future; without them, it will have a chequered career, and will be everlastingly seeking assistance from this Parliament. [Quorum formed.] A special effort i; being made to step-up the production of cotton. The Queensland Government is using every endeavour to increase the acreage planted, so that a very valuable contribution to the war effort may be made by that State.
The cotton industry must be developed mainly on a subsidiary or family farm crop basis, because of the high cost of picking. Only when a mechanical picker may be purchased at a reasonable cost can we expect development on a large scale. I hope that the increased price guaranteed by the Commonwealth will give to the industry the fillip it has long needed. The industry is vital to the defence of Australia. It is imperative that we produce our requirements of cotton at all times, whether in peace or in war, so that during a period of crisis we shall be assured of supplies which will enable us to conduct our war operations effectively. I appeal to the Queensland growers to step up production a? rapidly as possible. There is still time to plant crops, and I am perfectly certain that the guaranteed price will prove remunerative to the grower. Difficulty has been experienced in obtaining wire and wire netting for the subdivision of properties on which it is proposed to plant cotton, and I am happy to say that the representations which have been made to the Department of Supply anc! Development have been favorably received, the department having undertaken to give priority to applications by those who desire supplies for the subdivision of their properties.
I regard the cotton-growing industry as one which offers maximum scope for expansion and development. The late Mr. Pratten, when Minister for Trade and Customs, introduced a scheme for the simultaneous development of the primary and secondary phases of the industry. Here is a greater field for development than is offered by any other primary product. Before the interruption of shipping the value of our imports of cotton goods of all descriptions was approximately £15,000,000 annually. This market offers the widest scope for the development of secondary industries which can use a3 their raw material the cotton produced in Australia. I believe that postwar reconstruction will give additional surpluses to the cotton industry. I thank the Government for the further assistance it has given to this industry. I am convinced that, with the Queensland Government standing up to its undertakings, the industry should go ahead by leaps and bounds.
Sitting suspended from 5.16 to 8 p.m.
.- I support the bill, ‘because it will help to develop another rural industry. It will be the means of settling more people on the land. After all, our settlers are the backbone of the country. “Without adequate settlement on the land our towns would languish. Legislation of this kind tends to make, this country more selfsupporting. I am glad to be able to say that the Queensland Government has done yeoman service for the cotton industry. It has adopted a five-year plan, ending 1945, for the stabilization of the industry. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Harrison), in his second-reading speech, gave a meed of praise to that Government when he stated that it had agreed to co-operate fully with the Commonwealth, and had carried out its undertakings in a satisfactory manner. The Minister also stated that the cost of production must be reduced, and, at the same time, production per acre must be increased. It is strange that on an acreage basis Queensland, which, for climatic reasons, is the cotton-growing State of the ‘Commonwealth, cannot produce anything like the crops produced in the United States of America.
– On irrigated areas our production to the acre is approaching the average of the United States of America.
– That is so. We must deal with this industry more scientifically. When I was in the Dawson Valley some years ago, I found that great difficulty was experienced in picking cotton, because of the fact that there were three crops, namely, the initial crop, which consisted of the cotton bolls that ripen early, the second crop, and the late-maturing crop. Machine-picking should help to overcome that difficulty. Various picking machines have been tried with a degree of success, but because of the different times of maturing a really effective mechanical picker has yet to be evolved. I hope that the bounty to be provided under this measure will enable the industry to pay an adequate remuneration, not only to the grower, but also to those employed in picking. I had a good opportunity to observe pickers at work in the Dawson Valley. I noticed particularly the appalling effect of that work upon children who had been picking cotton day after day, and week after week. There are three industries which atrophy the human mind. One is shepherding. A shepherd who day after day looks after his sheep eventually begins to talk to the sheep. That is an instance of the tragic effect of mechanical occupation on the human mind. Unless the work in hand demands an intelligent effort the human mind becomes atrophied. Another industry which tends to have this effect upon the human mind is the milking of cows. Children who milk a number of cows twice a day get what I call the bovine mind ; that is, their minds are atrophied, and all mental activity ceases. That is also a feature of cottonpicking. “When the industry was introduced into Queensland we were told that cotton was a family crop, and that the wives and children could pick the cotton. I hope that the clay will never come when the wives and children of Australians will be obliged to pick cotton for a living. I am now speaking from the psychological viewpoint ; the effect of this work upon the human mind is tragic. I hope that the bounty to be made available under this measure will ensure the payment of a white man’s wages in the industry, and that before long an effective mechanical cotton-picking machine will be evolved. When conditions in the industry are improved it should provide a means to repatriate our soldiers on their return from active service.
– We should be providing now for their repatriation.
– That is so; for that reason I heartily welcome this measure as a step in the right direction. Tobaccogrowing is another industry in which we should be able to employ our soldiers on their return. Men who return from active service cannot be placed in offices. They require employment in the open air with plenty of sunshine, in order that their health may be restored. That is one of the greatest problems now confronting this country. I understand that 12,000 bales of cotton is now grown in Australia, whereas our requirements is approximately 80,000 bales a year. Thus, we are growing about one-seventh of the nation’s requirement. Incidentally, a bale of cotton weighs approximately 500 lb. This industry, which is admirably suited for mixed farming, must be developed along scientific lines. That will involve the conservation of water and the establishment of, irrigation plants. Irrigation is absolutely indispensable to effective cotton-growing.
No doubt some people will ask where the money is to come from. I trust that the Commonwealth Bank will make available sufficient money, at a very low rate of interest and on very easy terms, in order to enable farmers in suitable areas to go in for cotton-growing. I emphasize that the Commonwealth Bank should finance the industry. If the private trading banks should lend money to our future cotton-growers those institutions will do to them what they are doing at present to the wheat-farmer and the’ woolgrower. When a bad time comes they will foreclose on the cotton-grower. We shall expect the Commonwealth Bank to give very sympathetic treatment to those to whom it lends money, and to refrain from calling in advances when a drought occurs, or when conditions are at their worst. I might, be asked why I do not like the private banks. I have had a taste of them. They put a few grey hairs on my head, and a few wrinkles on my brow, as they have (lone to many good men in this country. To-day, rather than borrow £10 from a private bank, I would camp under a gum tree and cook my meals out of doors. That is where I stand to-day. I hope that the time will come when the private banking institutions will be put in their place. Our national security legislation should be used for that purpose.
I trust that we shall not only grow our full requirements of cotton but also manufacture .from the cotton we grow the fabrics we need. The bill does not go far enough in that respect. For the past 150 years the people of Australia ‘have been regarded by financial interests overseas as merely hewers of wood and drawers of water. We have been told we are good enough to grow products, but must send them overseas for manufacture. However, it is strange that the people who adopted that attitude towards us in normal times, now look to us to provide the materials of war. Hitherto, they told us that we could not make even a nail for a horseshoe. One lesson which history teaches us more than any other is that no people who remained primary producers have ever yet become a nation. A primary producing people must also be able to convert its products into goods that are needed by its civilization. Primary production must be complemented by secondary industry. It is not sound economics to have one without the other. In a time of drought, secondary industries will enable a country to carry on, and when these industries experience a man-made depression primary industries will carry the country through its difficulties. We must have a balanced economy. Consequently, I should like to see accompanying this measure, proposals to provide a sound protective tariff for cotton. I should like the cotton industry to be treated as the sugar industry has been treated. It is useless to say that we can import cotton more cheaply than we can grow it. We may be able to do so, but cheapness is not the only consideration. We could import sugar more cheaply than we can grow it; but the sugar industry has become a great white mail’s- industry.- Let us not always look to economy in matters of this kind. Other considerations enter into the life of a nation. Is it not worth while to establish industries which will provide work for our people? We could import people more cheaply than we can produce them here; but. what sort of people would we get? Cheap and nasty ! I hope that the cotton industry will be stabilized as the sugar industry as been stabilized. I have such faith in cottongrowing in Queensland that I myself hope to be able to put a considerable area of land under cotton next year. I support the bill as far as it goes; “but I would have very much more pleasure in doing so if it went further along the lines I have indicated.
.- I support the bill because it will afford practical assistance to those engaged in the cotton industry. I point out, however, that the measure is only temporary; it will expire one yea-r after the end of the war. I take this opportunity to urge upon the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Harrison), and the Government, the need to bring down a measure embodying a permanent policy for the cotton industry. Provision should be made for the industry on a long range option. In the past the Government’s policy towards the industry has been so indefinite that many people have hesitated to embark on cotton-growing. A stabilization plan for, say, a period of ten years, embodying continuity of policy, would enable the State Government interested in the industry, with the assistance of the Commonwealth Government, to carry out a comprehensive scheme of irrigation without which the industry cannot survive. It has been clearly demonstrated, not only in the debates in this House but also in reports by men who know the industry, -that the first essential to its success in Australia is irrigation. Unfortunately, irrigation has not been proceeded with as rapidly as it should have been, in view of the amount of money that the Governmenthas invested in the industry. A longrange plan would encourage the introduction or more scientific methods, and the assurance of continuity would encourage more people to grow cotton. For more than twenty years we have been merely tinkering with the industry, but the time has now arrived when it must be placed on a sound basis. I have no objection as a member of Parliament and a citizen of the Commonwealth to the assistance of an industry of this kind by means of a bounty; nevertheless, the national parliament has the right and duty to ensure that an industry to which it pays a bounty is conducted efficiently. The cotton-growing industry has an unfortunate record. In 1926 the bounty system superseded the guaranteed price system, under which the Commonwealth Government and the governments of the States in which cotton is grown agreed to meet any loss arising out of the guaranteed price. In the period from its inception in 1920 until its abolition, the Commonwealth Government and the Queensland Government each had to subscribe £180,000 against losses. From 1927 to 1941 the industry has received £1,100,000 by way of bounty, and, in the last 21 years, £1,500,000 of public money has been paid to the industry. No objection ca.n be taken to that, but no thoughtful person who has studied the industry could be satisfied with the result. In order to ensure that the industry . shall be -based on a sounder footing, the Commonwealth Government should have full control over it, as it should have full- control over all primary industries, particularly wheat growing. Now the Commonwealth Government is expected to interest itself in only one aspect of the primary industries, and that is the financial aspect. If the
Commonwealth be expected to interest itself financially in primary industries it should have full authority over them.
I cast no reflection on the Cotton Board or the growers. They have had a hard row to hoe and have encountered difficulties because the industry has been in the experimental stage.
– Would the honorable member not also suggest that the Commonwealth Government should exercise control over the manufacturing phase of the cotton industry in order to ensure that the manufacturers do not profiteer at the expense of the growers?
– I am not so concerned as is the honorable member about the profiteering aspect. My concern is that we should not be growing cotton uneconomically. The honorable member would not object to the Commonwealth Government declaring that wheat should not be grown in areas unsuitable for the purpose. Efficiency in primary production is impossible unless the Commonwealth has complete control. Every honorable member will agree that the production of cotton is essential to our national economy. We can never be self-sufficient without Australian-grown cotton. I, therefore, urge the Minister and the Government to give consideration to the need to place the cotton-growing industry on a basis which will give an assurance of continuity to those already engaged in it and encourage others to join them. I am not at all satisfied with what has taken place in the last twenty years, and I repeat that the time has come when the Government should take action to ensure that we shall have some return for the money that Parliament invests.
– in reply - It would be unfortunate if the speeches which have been delivered on this measure aroused amongst the cottongrowers discontent regarding the rate of bounty provided. The rate set out in the bill is that which was asked for by the Cotton Board, the district associations, and others who have had something to do with the industry. It has not been made available for any other purpose than to encourage new growers and the expansion of cottongrowing. If the money were to be made available for cotton crops grown under ideal conditions, such as irrigation, the rate would be far too high. Honorable members are aware of that. The bounty is not designed for those who grow cotton under the best conditions. Under ideal conditions of irrigation cotton crops in Australia as well as in other countries are three times greater than crops grown under natural rainfall conditions. Because of that we suggest that the additional money which is to be provided should be an encouragement to new people to enter the industry and to those who are already established in it to engage in long-range planning in order that they may grow cotton, not as a mere part of their operations, but as a wholetime occupation. I say, therefore, that it would be wrong if the impression were created that the bounty provided is not sufficient to allow of development. In peace-time the bounty could not be maintained at its present level, because the strain on the budget would be far too great. I again warn the cotton-growers that they must not seek, because of observations in this House, a greater return than that suggested by their representatives and agreed to by the Government, for a specific purpose. Rather should they utilize the period of this bounty to establish their industry on an efficient basis in order to make their crops worthwhile.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes through. Mr. Harrison) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend the Patents, Trade Marks, Designs and Copyright (War Powers) Act 1939-1940.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Hughes through Mr. Harrison) agreed to -
That he have leave to bring in a bill for an act to amend sections 39 and 49 of the Judiciary Act 1903-1940.
Bill brought up, and read a first time.
Debate resumed from the 17th September (vide page 310), on motion by Mr. Harrison -
That the bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without amendment or debate.
Debate resumed from the 21st August (vide page 68), on motion by Mr. Spender -
That the following paper be printed: - “Abbco Bread Contract - Report of Royal Commission “.
.The paper which is the subject of this discussion covers the findings of what are known as the Second and Third Royal Commissions on the Abbco Bread Contract, the Commissioner being Mr. Justice Maxwell. I suggest to the house that the printing of the paper should not end the matter. This is a sticky patch in the history of our war production, which has been the subject of three royal commissions, one State, and two Commonwealth, and unless we are prepared to take notice of the findings of the Commonwealth Royal Commissioner, who, I suggest, must be regarded as being above all party considerations, no good purpose will have been served by these inquiries. The report brings into bold relief the administrative methods of the Contract Board, and of the Defence authorities generally. It shows very clearly the slipshod supervision of huge contracts, and the manner in which the gate is left wide open for fraudulent practices. The royal commission’s findings are far-reaching. Not only do they condemn those who were guilty of fraudulent practices, but also they offer some very caustic criticisms of the methods employed in letting and policing huge contracts. On behalf of the Opposition, I say that these findings challenge the Government to clean up the matters to which pointed reference is made.
The motion for the printing of this report also provides us with an opportunity to consider the value of royal commissions. One thing that is very important in the setting up of a royal commission is the restriction imposed by its terms of reference. I admit that the terms of reference of the second and third royal commissions were wide. In fact, they were as wide as anybody could wish, but the terms of reference of the first commission, that is, the State commission, were very limited. The question that concerns us now is - will the report of the Commonwealth Commissioner be pigeon-holed or acted upon after it is printed? The remarkable feature of his findings is his exposure of the methods adopted in connexion with such big contracts. He shows very clearly that in regard to this contract, which amounted to more than’ £20,000 a year, supervision was extremely loose. It was discovered that there was a shortage of 5,755 oz. in 3,282 4-lb. loaves of bread. The extraordinary fact is that although this large contract was let by the Contract Board, and the responsibility for supervising the delivery of the bread to the Army lay with the military authorities, there appeared to be no Commonwealth supervision capable of revealing this discrepancy, and it remained for a State official, totally unconnected with our war effort, to discover the shortage. The firm was brought before the court on the 20th June, 1941, and was fined over £1,400 under the New South Wales Bread Act. After the fine was imposed an effort was made to have it reduced, and as a result of representations made to the then Minister for Justice in New South Wales. Mr. Treatt, it was ultimately reduced to £500. That reduction was made in spite of the fact that the magistrate who tried the case declared that there was not a redeeming feature in it, so far as the firm was concerned. Not being prepared to accept the magistrate’s decision, the New South Wales Government requested an ex-magistrate to review the case, but his finding was no more encouraging. Finally, as a result of political agitation., a royal commission was set up in New’ ; South Wales, and I suggest that it was ‘ only because its terms of reference were so severely restricted, that its finding was not similar to those of the Commonwealth royal commission. The State royal commission was not asked to say whether the Minister of Justice was justified in reducing the fine. I think I can safely interpret the terms of reference to mean that the commissioner was asked to determine whether the Minister had been guilty of corrupt practices - a totally different thing. The result was that the New South Wales royal commission, irrespective of the merits of the case for a reduction of the fine, merely found what it was asked to find, namely, that the Minister for Justice had not been guilty of corrupt practices. No fair-minded person reading the report of the Commonwealth royal commission, the terms of reference of which were as wide as possible, could come to any other conclusion than that this firm had been guilty of fraudulent practices, and that by no stretch of the imagination was the Minister for Justice justified in reducing the fine from £1,400 to £500.
– There is nothing in the commission’s report to justify that statement.
– I shall leave that to honorable members to judge as I go along. I do not propose on this occasion to quote my opinions as I did when I laid the charges against Abbco and others which resulted in the broadening of the terms of reference of the royal commission. I shall be satisfied to quote the opinions of Mr. Justice Maxwell, and if the Minister for the Army is not satisfied with the findings of his own appointee, that is just too bad; I cannot help it. Abbco had at least three contracts from the Commonwealth. One was from the 1st January, 1940, to the 31st March, 1940; the second was from the 1st. April, 1940, to the 30th June, 1940, and it was during the currency of that second contract that the firm was found to be selling underweight bread to the Commonwealth. The shortage was detected on the 11th June, and the company was convicted on the 20th June. The remarkable thing that the Minister refused to explain to the House is why this firm, which, on the 11th June, was caught - not by Commonwealth officers, but by State officers - fraudulently dealing with the Commonwealth, and, on the 20th June, was convicted by a magistrate who said that there was not a redeeming feature in the case, continued to supply bread to the Commonwealth until the 30th July. It was not until that stage - nineteen days after the firm had been caught red-handed, and ten days after it had been convicted by a magistrate - that the contract was cancelled and given to R. J. White and Company, of Bexley. Immediately White got the contract some rather remarkable things began to happen. In my original charges in this House, I said that White was “railroaded” out of the contract. I spoke, of course, in the vernacular, and my language may have been a little picturesque, but the truth of my statement was very definitely borne out in the more cultured expression of His Honour Mr. Justice Maxwell. White commenced to supply bread on the 1st August, and an inspection of his premises was made by Lieutenant-Colonel Millner and Major Simpson, the Inspector of Supplies. According to Mr. Justice Maxwell these officers stated, “The bakery of Mr. R. J. White at Bexley has been inspected, and it is considered that the firm could fulfil the contract “. That was the opinion of the responsible officers of the Department of the Army who usually supervise these things. Mr. Justice Maxwell found that these officers knew that White’s bakery had not the capacity to produce sufficient bread in the limited time available, and also that White would be seeking help from other bakers, at least temporarily, until he could expand his plant. His Honour said that Colonel Millner had regarded it as a test of the suggestion made by the master bakers themselves that instead of giving this huge contract to one master baker, it should be shared amongst all master bakers who desired to tender for it. It is remarkable that immediately the department decided that this new scheme was to be put into operation Major Rigney, who had been supervising the supply of bread to the Army, became most active. He demanded of the new contractor that six-hour bread should be supplied, although the contract provided for twelve-hour bread. On this point the
Royal Commissioner stated that the conditions of tender and contract provided-
The bread to be baked twelve (12) hours prior to delivery and to be warranted to keep good and fresh for twenty-four (24) hours after delivery.
That condition was included in the specification of the contract; yet Major Rigney, in contravention of it, demanded six-hour bread. White pointed out that it would be impossible for him, or for any other baker for that matter, to deliver bread as demanded by Rigney. Rigney then intimated that the Abbco Bread Company Proprietary Limited had been detected in many breaches of the Bread Act of New South Wales, which definitely provided that baking must not begin before a specified hour in the morning. The Royal Commissioner found that, prior to that, a conference had been held at the office of the Under-Secretary of the Department of Labour and Industry, which was attended by Army officials, representatives of the Master Bakers Association, the employees’ union, and the Abbco Bread Company Proprietary Limited. The conference considered the difficulty of providing the large amount of bread required for the Army under the conditions laid down in the Bread Act of New South Wales.
Extraordinary events followed the giving of the contract to Messrs. R. J. White and Company. After the Abbco Bread Company Proprietary Limited had been detected in the delivery of shortweight loaves, Major Rigney demanded that White should deliver bread in contravention of the terms of his contract, although he was cognizant of the fact that White had said that he could not deliver the bread under the conditions demanded without committing a breach of the Bread Act of New South Wales. Rigney, as the Royal Commissioner pointed out, was aware that the Abbco Bread Company Proprietary Limited had all along broken the law in relation to the bread it delivered for Army use, but the company was exonerated in view of the decisions reached at the conference to which I have referred. These facts were not disclosed by Major Rigney to White. The story is that White stated that he would have to break the law and that he would begin to bake bread before the legal baking hours. It is remarkable, as pointed out by the Royal Commissioner, that on the first and only night when White broke the law, an inspector of the Department of Labour and Industry appeared on the scene and caught him, although Major Rigney was the only person, according to White’s story to me, who knew that White intended to break the law. In this connexion the Royal Commissioner stated -
Under the contract, White was obliged and - this is important - entitled to supply bread baked twelve hours before delivery. It had to be warranted to keep good and fresh for twenty-four hours after delivery. Major Rigney either knew or ought with reasonable care to have known that this was a term of White’s contract. . . . There can beno doubt that Major Rigney tried to insist on White’s baking in accordance with the new specification although White at all times relied, as he was entitled to rely, on the terms of his contract. The evidence shows that he didnot merely stand on his rights when Major Rigney persisted in his effortto force White to provide what is shortly called six-hour bread as against twelve-hour bread. White’s sole concern was that it couldnotbe done without a breach of the State law asto baking hours. This was the experience of Abbco who had committed such breaches . . Major Rigney, I find, was aware of the indulgence to Abbco, but did not inform White upon his (White’s) raising his difficulty . . Ultimately, White, in an effort to meet Major Rigney’s demands, decided to take whatever risk was involved in baking before the permitted hours; a departmental inspector visited the factory, with the result that White was detected in a clear breach of the law. The State provisions of hours of baking are very important and are based upon a long experience of conditions in the industry. Breaches of those provisions are properly regarded seriously. These facts are stated more especially by reason of the circumstances that White’s intention to bake outside the permitted hours was made known to the department and tothe employees’ union representative by two anonymous letters signed “ Baker’s Wife “ - both dictated by Raith, who took the greatest care to conceal his association with them.
Here is anotherremarkable fact: White did not take Raith into his confidence. The Royal Commissioner revealed that White and Raith were inveterate business opponents and that White had written some damaging letters to the department concerning Raith.
– Which action was adversely commented upon by the Royal Commissioner.
– I admit it, and I do not excuse White’s action. I simply direct attention to it in order to show that White was not likely to take Raith into his confidence. A point that the Minister will have to get over is that White himself said that the only person who knew that he intended to break the law was Major Rigney. Yet, strangely enough, it was not Major Rigney, directly, who put the inspector on White’s track. Although I admit that His Honour does not agree with my view, I am of the opinion that the circumstances are so suspicious as to suggest that although Raith got certain employees’ wives to write the anonymous letters to the department to the effect that White was baking . bread before the prescribed hours Rigney was really the person who was behind it. I say that it is another case of “ the voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau”. The person who was really responsible for communicating the information to the department was not Raith, but Rigney, who was the only man in a position to know that White intended to break the law. I have asserted on a previous occasion that White was really “ railroaded “ out of this contract, but the Royal Commissioner put it in more polite language when he said -
Major Rigney contributed materially to White’s failure to complete his contract. He did not obey Colonel Millner’s instruction to show White every consideration . . . Nevertheless, I am afraid that Major Rigney’s demand for six-hour bread,which was not required by the contract, and, therefore, not justified, was one of the contributing factors to White’s difficulties resulting in his surrendering his contract within a week of commencing.
His Honour did not mince words but made it quite clear that one of the principal contributing factors to the inability of the new contractor, White, to carry out his contract, was the conduct of Major Rigney in demanding bread of a kind not required by the contract. In this connexion, His Honour stated -
The conclusion that I have reached is that White’s unwillingness to keep the contract or, as I think it more properly described, his anxiety to be freed of its burden was the result mainly of his being harassed during his attempt faithfully to carry out his obligations . . . Somebody from the military had harassed him, making it impossible to carry on and … he had “handed the contract back “.
– That is not all that His Honour said.
– I have not the time to read all the remarks made by the Royal Commissioner. Time is limited and life is short. I direct attention, however, to the following remarks of the Royal Commissioner : -
The conclusion to be drawn is that White gave up the contract because he found that he could not carry on - this being due substantially to the circumstances that he could not meet Rigney’s unauthorized demand for fresh bread, involving as it did his baking before the permitted time. The first (and only) occasionhe tried to meet the demand by early baking he was detected in a breach of the law. That he was so detected was due to the machinations of Raith who intended him to be detected well knowing that White would have nothing to fear if he was endeavouring to help the army with its bread and knowing too that White was unaware of the indulgence that might have been expected. It properly represents the position that this was the culmination of his difficulties. It may well be that but for this act of Raith, he would have been able to satisfy Major Rigney’s demand. The truth is, as Major Rigney admitted in evidence, the only real complaint against White was that his bread for the army was either too fresh or too stale. Hadhe been accorded in advance, or been aware atthe time that he might expect,the indulgence properly extended to Abbco, it is not at all certain that he would have felt obliged to surrender the contract.
Rai th’s action in writing these letters was, I have no doubt, part of a deliberate plan to make White’s already difficult task in carrying out his contract themore difficult - this to ensure the Abbco Company’s once more getting the supply of army bread.
Those words are significant. Raith’s action was the culmination of the whole matter, so far as White was concerned. It was the last straw which broke the camel’s back. Rigney had, in fact, made it practically impossible for White to c arry on. Any person reading the report of the Royal Commissioner must be struck by His Honour’s caustic comments concerning the interest which Major Rigney took in his job after the Abbco Company lost the contract, compared with his attitude while that company was still supplying bread to the Army. I have found it most interesting to compare the free and easy attitude of Major Rigney while
Abbco held the contract with his zealous activities immediately after White took over the delivery of bread to the Army. While the Abbco Bread Company Proprietary Limited held the contract, Major Rigney waa quite prepared to allow the whole matter to remain under the care of Sergeant Benjamin, but not so afterwards. Despite the Royal Commissioner’s favorable comments, to the effect that Major Rigney was prompted by good intentions towards the Commonwealth - comments which the Minister for the Army has been clinging to as it they were a lifeline in the last few days - the facts of the case, as they have been revealed by the Royal Commissioner, and as I know them from White himself, who, by the way, was accepted as a reliable witness by the Royal Commissioner, are such as to lead me to say that all the waters of the Pacific will not wash away the conviction that there was some understanding between Major Rigney and Raith.
The next matter of importance that arises out of the Royal Commissioner’s comments on the case relates to the methods adopted by the District Contract Board of the Supply Department in allocating and policing contracts. His Honour said -
I myself felt obliged to inquire of the District Contract Board secretary whether any report was obtained as to how this contract was carried out. He stated in evidence that in such a case the District Contract Board would assume it was satisfactory in the absence of any report to tho contrary from the Military. . . lt was the practice of the Military to report to the District Contract Board any serious breach by contractors ….
Despite that assurance from the Contract Board, we are told by His Honour that although this company was caught on the 11th June, 1940, fraudulently selling short-weight bread to the Commonwealth, and was convicted on the 20th June, the District Contract Board did not become acquainted with the facts of the case until the 21st June, and then only because some one drew its attention to the fact that the case had been reported in the press. The board is supposed, not only to inquire into the capabilities of the contractors, but also to see that the Commonwealth gets a fair deal ; yet the board was not made acquainted with the fact that the company has been caught selling short-weight bread until ten days after the event. His Honour further stated -
The District Contract Board, as opposed to the Army, is the body responsible for making, either directly or indirectly, a contract for supply. In those circumstances, it is obvious that the responsibility is that of the District Contract Board to be satisfied as to the capacity and suitability in other respects of a prospective contractor . . . Mr. O’Connell expresses the view that he is satisfied that his department is fully supplied with information as to any serious breaches which occur in the course of the carrying out of contracts. But the evidence at least suggests to my mind that the system of co-ordination of information is in this respect inadequate.
The head of the District Contract Board. Mr. O’Connell, giving evidence on oath before the Royal Commission, said that his department was fully supplied with information as to any serious breaches, yet he did not become aware of the facts of this case until fourteen days after the discovery of the breach, and then only when a report of the case was published in the press. His Honour went on to say -
The evidence leads me to the conclusion thai supply officers should be required not merely to report breaches by contractors, but affirmatively to assume the responsibility of report - ing. at the termination of a contract that it has or has not been satisfactorily carried out. more especially if the contractor is seeking ;i further contract.
Yet the board allowed the company to supply bread to the Commonwealth until the 30th June, and when the new contractor failed it recommended that the firm that had been convicted of’ fraudulently dealing with the Government should receive a third contract. If the Minister seeks to justify that, he would try to justify anything. It was pointed out by His Honour that the District Contract Board has the right to deal with period contracts up to the value of £4,000. The contract given to the Abbco Bread Company amounted to over £5,000, and despite the fact that it was necessary for the board, because of the size of the contract, to report the matter the Central Contract Board and then to get the endorsement of the Minister, we find that the board went deliberately outside the ambit of its powers and let the new contract to the Abbco Company without consulting the Central Contract
Board and without obtaining the endorsement of the Minister. His Honour then said -
The first matter of importance to be recorded is that the established practice is to accept the lowest tender. In this connexion, it is the policy of the Central Contract Board to make its own investigation as to the suitability of prospective contractors, aided by detailed information supplied by the District Contract. Boar.d. This obviously places a responsibility on the District Contract Board who one would expect might be in a better position to obtain (and therefore to supply to the Central Contract Board) information as to tenderers. … So far as relates to the Abbco Company, no report was obtained in writing prior to letting the first contract. The matter was dealt with in conference, whereat Lieutenant-Colonel Millner, A.D. of S.T., and Major McGrath informed the Board that they were well acquainted with the company, that it wa* a very large bakery and that they considered it quite able to carry out the contract . . . In fact, special circumstances led to the actual contract being accepted and arranged directly by the District Contract Board. In truth it had no power so to accept, the action was unusual and later was ratified by the Central Contract Board and in due course the contract was approved by the Minister in accordance with the practice as to contracts over £5,000.
It will thus be seen that the District Contract Board exceeded its powers and made no investigation whatever with regard to this company, but let the contract without consulting the Central Board or the Minister.
The letting of the third contract, after White’s failure, was even more remarkable. As I have already indicated, the Abbco Company was caught on the 11th June and was ‘convicted on the 20th June, and the first intimation that the Contract Board had regarding the matter was the press report of the 2lst June. The Eastern Command reported the matter to the Minister on the 9th July, and the Minister duly reported it to this House. The Minister will, I think, remember the occasion, because he was asked, some questions regarding the contract. [Extension of time granted.] Some of the questions submitted to him in this chamber were of an awkward nature, and he called for a report on the matter. He submitted a report to this house, and although he has since endeavoured to convince honorable members that it was not put forward in the nature of a definite statement of his own, I think that the criticism of the judge about tie drawing up of that report leaves a good deal to be desired. I have previously stated in this chamber that the Minister has, perhaps out of loyalty to his staff, defended officers in many cases in which they have not deserved to be defended. I have pointed out to the Minister that it is not right to assume that questions addressed to him are hostile, merely because, they relate to the work of his department. Although loyalty to the members of his staff is commendable on the part of the Minister, he should not be prepared to accept reports of departmental officials and use them as answers to questions submitted to the House. I again suggest that when a Minister goes so far as to use a report of that description as a reply to questions asked in the House, he ought to accept the responsibility for the reply and stand by it. In regard to this matter His Honour remarked -
In the light of the evidence before mc I have reached the conclusion that the inquiries made following the conviction were, in the circumstances, not adequate to the occasion.
– But he was speaking of a different inquiry from that to which the honorable member is referring.
– His Honour went on to say -
Shortly, the inquiries made seem to have been limited to a brief report by Major Brigden, inspector (D.A.D.S.), and one from Captain Rigney. As to the former, his knowledge of the happenings at Abbco, was limited, and whilst any officer could feel justified in placing the fullest reliance on his report; having regard to Major Brigden’s ability and integrity, it should, in my view, have been appreciated that his opportunities for observation were limited. As to Captain Rigney, he was the officer responsible U> see that proper weighing was carried out and was so interested that acceptance of his report was not justified. If the depositions at the hearing of the prosecution of the Abbco Company were not examined, they should have been. If they were, it must have been revealed that there was at least a suggestion of system, whilst the magistrate in fact rejected the company’s claim of accident . . .
Yet the Minister ‘brought that report before the House and put it forward as a justification of the attitude of his officers. That he cannot deny.
– I do deny it.
– There is proof of the looseness of the officers of the department in submitting this report despite the prosecution and the information that came out of it. His Honour also said -
In my opinion, the circumstances were so striking that the suggestion of system and the rejection by the magistrate of the claim of accident should have brought to the minds of the persons concerned the possibility that the Abbco Company had perpetrated a fraud oil the Army and- that in the course of it some of the Army personnel might well have been involved. In my view the District Contracts Board should not have been content to leave matters where they did.
As to the Army, Colonel Millner has stated that a court of inquiry is instituted where there is suspicion of fraud. Applying this test to the circumstances surrounding the company’s conviction, it seems to me that it was clearly an occasion for a court of inquiry.
Yet no court of inquiry was held. We were told in evidence that the Department of Supply depends on the Army for its reports as to whether contracts are properly carried out, but here we have evidence of a contractor having been convicted and fined over £1,400 and no inquiry having been held bv the Army Department. In this loose way contracts running into over £20,000 a year are let and policed.
I now come to Sergeant Benjamin. He is the smallest sparrow in the flock and the only ‘bird that has been shot. The judge admits that Major Rigney knew little of what went on at the works of the Abbco Company, and he also said that Major Brigden knew less. The District Contracts Board was like Micawber. It was waiting for something to turn up in the way of a report from the Army, but the Army was not game to report on a matter which proved slackness on its part. The District Contracts Board continued to wait. Of poor old Sergeant Benjamin, who has been sacked from the Army, His Honour said -
Sergeant Benjamin was grossly negligent in his duties as bread issuer. He failed to Bee that bread was properly weighed. His evidence of weighings is not to be accepted. H.e admitted in the course of his evidence that lie wilfully altered documents which he knew would be attached to Major Rigney’s report to Mr. Davies, Inspector-General. His claim that this was done to help Rigney, I reject. lt is clear that it was done to mislead Rigney in the first place and Mr. Davies later - this in a clumsy attempt to prevent discovery of
Benjamin’s own shortcomings at the factory. He is unfitted to be placed in any position of trust where provisions or stores arc involved.
Yet Sergeant Benjamin was the only man who was in a position to see that the Commonwealth received a fair deal; and he has been “ sacked “ because His Honour said that he is unfitted to be placed in a position of trust where provisions or stores are involved ! These facts in the report justify a departmental overhaul of the methods of the Army authorities and the Contract Board in regard to not only the letting of contracts, but also supervision of delivery. We are entitled to ask what the Government has done. We were assured by the Minister to-day that Major Rigney has been re-instated.
– Where is he now?
– I have been informed that he is at head-quarters, Victoria Barracks, in a position which carries higher responsibilities than he had before he was sacked. So far as I know, there has not been any change of departmental methods.
– As a matter of fact, he happens to be acting commanding officer, Fourth Auxiliary Horse Transport Company, a long way from Victoria Barracks, namely, at Bathurst.
– I am glad that he has gone west. I do not think that Sydney will miss him. Unless the Government acts on the advice of its own royal commissioner, the value of his report will be lost. What has happened in the Abbco case could happen again; possibly it is happening at the present time. I have heard it stated, fairly reliably, that, bad though they may be, the Abbco crowd were only “ tea and sugar thieves “.
As to the second commission, there is no doubt that there was an attempt by a couple of adventurers named Davis to secure the Abbco bakery and flour mill for the price of £24,000, on an option for which they paid £1. That they endeavoured to sell to the Commonwealth for £30,000 has also been established. They were men of straw; they had no money, and no possibility of raising the sum of £24,000 for the purchase of the business. They indulged in a gigantic gamble for one month, at a cost of £1, and might have taken the government down for £6,000. His Honour said that they had not the means to purchase the business, and had no prospect of obtaining it; yet they put up a sufficiently good tale to induce Commonwealth officials to go from Melbourne to inspect the property, and they came within an ace of selling it to the Commonwealth for £30,000. Had they succeeded in their intention, they would have given a cheque for £24,000 to the McLeod brothers, and would have collected. £30,000 from the Commonwealth, without using any money of their own, and thus would have made a profit of £6,000 as the result of one month’s intriguing. It has been established that, despite the advice of their solicitors, McLeod brothers were so anxious to sell that they were prepared to give to a man £500 from the proceeds of the sale merely for an introduction to a prospective buyer.
It is interesting to review some of the characters in the case. I leave it to the royal commissioner appointed by the Minister for the Army to describe their characters. Of McLeod brothers, His Honour said -
The McLeod brothers- W. G. und D. A. McLeod - I find did not take a substantially active part in the conduct of Abbco.
With respect to W. G?. McLeod, the evidence shows that he was not averse from profiting by the misdeeds of others.
With regard to Raith, the manager of Abbco, who succeeded in regaining the contract after he had been convicted of fraud, His Honour said -
I find as a fact that the short weight proven on the 11th June, which was followed by the conviction of the company on the 20th June, 1940, was the result of wilful design on the part of the company’s general manager, J. L. Raith; that, his conduct falls within the description “improper conduct” follows ‘as of course. He, I find, was responsible not merely for the scheme to produce consistent light-weight bread with the object of defrauding the Commonwealth, but for the execution of the scheme - notwithstanding the attempt to defraud was frustrated … I find that Raith was guilty of improper conduct in his actions in attempting to ensure that R. J. White should have insuperable obstacles placed in the way of carrying out his contract. The forwarding of the two anonymous letters - one to the Department of Labour and Industry - was part of a scheme to get the contract away from White and back to Abbco.
His Honour therefore recommended that the Abbco Company be struck off the list of contractors to the Department of Supply. What character was given to Rigney? Of him, His Honour said -
Giving full weight to Rigney’s explanation of both Blanning’s debt and his own bankruptcy, I am of the opinion nevertheless that his dealings as to the former and his failure to disclose to the Army the latter, require that his subsequent conduct should be closely scrutinized and his testimony during the commission should bc approached with caution.
His Honour said further -
On the other hand, there is no doubt that when called upon for a report as to the 11th June, Rigney accepted blindly the statement!! put before him. Whilst on Mr. Davies’ investigation he was not frank, and manifestly attempted to cover up the serious default of his subordinate in his failure to carry out proper weighings at the factory. Moreover, in his evidence before this commission he maintained thu same attitude; in the result his earlier evidence at any rate T find to bo unreliable.
I have already read the remarks of His Honour in regard to poor old Sergeant Benjamin. Then we come to the Davis brothers, who sought to purchase the bakery and sell it to the Commonwealth. Of them, His Honour said -
There is no room for doubt that they committed perjury on a number of occasions in the course of their evidence.
With regard to White, the man who was “ railroaded “ out of the contract, His Honour said -
As to thu bona fides and. general standing of the contractor (E. J. White, in fact, tendered on behalf of the firm in which he and his brother were partners), there was not the slightest question.
His Honour has said sufficient to justify the Government making a searching inquiry into the methods of both the Army - in respect of the supervision of contracts - and the Contracts Board - which, after all, is responsible to the Government. As His Honour said, the Contracts Board is responsible for satisfying itself that a contractor is capable of carrying out a contract, and it ought to accept the responsibility of seeing that the contract is properly carried out, not wait for the Army officials to do it: for, after all, Army officials are only human, and if fraudulent practices are taking place within their knowledge it is obviously to their benefit to smother things up. In this case, they did not hold any inquiry. His Honour said that one ought to have been held. Out of this evil, good may come, if the Government takes notice of the finding of its royal commissioner. What we have to ask ourselves is, not whether the paper should be printed, but what is the Government going to do in the matter?
– No one would dispute that this commission has been justified, and that it arose as the result of questions asked and criticism voiced in this House, directed to the subjectmatter of the commission ; but to support some of the allegations of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) is quite a different matter. I trust that he will forgive me if I call his attention to some of the charges that he made before the commission undertook its investigations - charges which could bear only one moaning, and from which he is not prepared to recede even at this stage, despite the clear findings of the commissioner. I am reminded of the force of the adage “ A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still “ The conviction is contained in the findings of the commissioner. So much of the honorable member’s speech was directed to White’s contract, which was of peculiar interest to him, that I also am obliged to address some remarks to it. ‘ May I recall precisely what the honorable member said when he raised the matter in this House? He made it quite clear that the man named Rigney had no right to hold any position in the Army.
– The honorable gentleman “sacked” him.
– I suspended him, pending the determination of the honorable member’s charges. The honorable member said that this man was working in direct concert with Raith, the other contractor, and was clearly subjugating his obligations and duty to some private or ulterior motive, that he was working with Raith to “ railroad “ White out of the contract.
– Hear, hear!
– Those of us who understand the vernacular know what the honorable member meant. He meant that this man had deliberately conspired with some one else to deprive White of this contract so that the Abbco Bread Company Proprietary Limited would get the contract. He meant that this man’s motives were sinister.
– That is a clear definition of what I said and meant.
– When a commissioner is appointed he is invariably a man in whom those who appoint him have confidence. Honorable members will recollect that the honorable member for Dalley has displayed an amazing interest in this matter. He challenged both the commissioner and the counsel who appeared for the Crown. Is it forgotten that the honorable member for Dalley, acting entirely upon what I suggest was an ex parte statement made by White himself - a man whose evidence was criticized trenchantly hy the commissioner - was prepared to level against a member of the bar the most definite and serious allegation that he had deliberately refrained from tendering certain evidence?
– I did not retract that statement in the witness box.
– No, but honorable members might derive some amusement from reading the account of the cross-examination of the honorable member. Such reading would at least show how idle some allegations can be, and how some honorable members forget their responsibilities when under privilege they make in this House allegations against people who have no chance to reply to them. The honorable member also alleged that Mr. Justice Maxwell, the commissioner, was prejudiced in his approach to this problem. The fact that he was not prejudiced is revealed in his findings. The honorable member’s allegations against Rigney have been negatived by the finding of the commissioner.
– Not at all.
– I shall draw attention to those findings presently. The honorable member for Dalley says that, despite what the commissioner found, there is something sinister about this matter. Of course, he draws attention to the adverse comments in the commissioner’s report, and glosses over the ultimate findings of the commissioner in respect to the same. I draw attention to what the commissioner ultimately did find. He said -
It becomes necessary to deal with the part played in these happenings by Raith and by Major Rigney. It was suggested in the course of his address by Mr. Manning, counsel for White, that Raith and Rigney acted in concert.
That is precisely what the honorable member now suggests. Obviously, unless the commissioner finds what the honorable member wants him to find, something is wrong with the commissioner! The finding continues -
I have examined the evidence again very carefully in order to arrive at a conclusion especially with respect to this suggestion. I am satisfied that no such concert has been established. Whatever part was played by Major Rigney was played independently of Raith’s activities.
There could be no clearer finding. I suggest that unless there be clear evidence that the findings are wrong, it is improper to challenge the findings of a competent commissioner. The honorable member will agree that every opportunity was given by the Commonwealth to ascertain the facts.
– I have already said that.
– Yet those findings are challenged by the honorable member. The finding establishes clearly that Major Rigney was not acting in any conspiracy with Raith. I have no brief for Raith. I do not defend him either here or elsewhere. Rogues can only have the condemnation of all decentthinking people. So far as Rigney is concerned, I do not speak out of a sense of loyalty, but out of an elementary sense of justice. When a man in a department under my control is unjustly charged with certain offences, if I do not defend him, who will do so? I do defend him. Although it is true that he was adversely commented upon in respect of his evidence, two things stand out clearly:First, that he was actuated by the best motives, and, secondly, that he was an efficient officer.
– His Honour said that no reliance could be placed on his evidence.
- His Honour said that this man’s earlier evidence was un satisfactory. He was not prepared to accept Rigney’s explanation that his earlier evidence could be explained by his illness. His Honour said that Rigney was prevaricating then; but he said finally that Rigney’s actions were motivated solely by the desire to get the best possible deal for the Army.
– That is the only paragraph in his favour.
– Evidently the honorable member has not read the report. I shall read a little for him. Further His Honour stated -
It is clear that at the outbreak of war Rigney undertook a large and rapidly increasing task with the aid of a more or less untrained staff, which itself was liable to change, owing to enlistments for overseas. Both Colonel Millner and Major Brigden referred in the highest terms to the work of Rigney. Major Brigden referred to the difficulties associated with Rigney’s department, which, he said, were efficiently and effectively overcome by Major Rigney, who had done an excellent job for the Army.
In the face of that statement, it is only fair to let the matter rest. I do not know Rigney and, so far as I am aware, I have never seen him.
– Nor have I seen him.
– This man’s name has been bandied around the country. I shall not say much more, but I do desire to say that, despite the adverse comments in respect of the earlier parts of his evidence, the judge finally found in his favour. Common decency entitles a. man to rest upon the findings of the commissioner, who exonerated him from any sinister motive and said, on the contrary, that he had done an excellent job for the Army.
It as pertinent to observe that this contract was let early in the war - in July, 1910.It is also pertinent to observe that the commissioner drew attention to the great difficulties confronting the Army, with its huge and rapidly expanding programme. I do draw attention to that fact in excuse of what took place, but only in mitigation of what happened. No honorable member will deny that, in the circumstances, that is a vital factor. It is well to point out that, before this matter was dealt with by the commissioner, certain action had been taken as the result of the findings of the Inspector-General of Administration.
At this stage, I wish to deal with a minor matter. The honorable member for Dalley referred to the report given by officers at an earlier period as an expression of my own opinion.
– The Minister submitted that report to the House in reply to a question.
– The honorable member is confusing two reports. The only report that I tabled was one from the Inspector-General of Administration. I tabled it, and was asked to read it. I did so, although I did not then see, any more than I do now, that any good purpose was served by doing so. Having read it, I was subsequently charged by the honorable member for Dalley with having expressed as my own opinion things which were contained in the report. I have yet to learn that if a man tables, in this House or elsewhere, a report supplied by an independent person, he himself adopts as his own opinion every word in that report.
– I should not table a report if I was not prepared to stand by it.
– If an honorable member asks in this House whether some person has been directed to prepare a report, and requests a Minister if such person has in fact made a report, and if so, requires that that report be tabled, it is purely fatuous to suggest that, when the Minister tables that report, he entirely agrees with it. Following that report, the terms of reference to the commissioner were determined. Honorable members will recollect what took place in respect of those terms. It was made clear that the terms would be as wide as possible. What was the result? I shall deal with those terms and the action taken in connexion with them. The first matter upon which the commissioner was appointed to inquire into and report related to the conviction, on the 20th J une, 1941, of the Abbco Bread Company Proprietary Limited, for supplying shortweight loaves. There can be no doubt whatever that there was fraud in respect of that contract. No one disputes that. But it does not follow that there was fraud or collusion on the part of the
Department of the Army or the Department of Supply, although there may have been negligence. That matter was the subject of inquiry under the next heading - “ The entering into of a new contract with the said company after the said conviction “. I do not in any way defend the making of that contract.
– Hear, hear!
– I do say, however, that any one can be wise after the event.
– I doubt it.
– So do I, after looking at the honorable member. I qualify my former statement, and now say that some of us can be wise after the event. It is now clear that there should have been a greater check in respect of these matters.
– Was not the new contract entered into about a fortnight after the company was convicted?
– The Minister for Justice in New South Wales went through the documents in respect to the matter and said that, on the information before him, there was no evidence of fraud. But evidence of fraud was revealed in the fuller investigation before the commission. In the previous inquiry, His Honour said that there was no reason to challenge the bona fides of the Minister for Justice in having reduced the penalty. It may well be argued now, looking retrospectively at the facts, as then known, that there was no evidence to justify a finding of fraud. It seems clear, however, on the facts as we now know them, that there was a deficiency somewhere. What took place then does not affect what is taking place now, as it is the duty of the Assistant Director for Supplies and Transport in each military district to investigate the bona fides of prospective contractors, and to maintain close touch with the District Contracts Boards in order to ensure that contracts are let only to persons with satisfactory records.
– Out of evil comes good.
– I am glad to have that admission from the honorable member. I did not resist the appointment of a royal commission. I recognize that, in this instance, the commission has discovered the truth, and its recommendations have proved of value in the work of administration.
Term “ D “ had to do with the circumstances relating to R. J. White’s contract. It is clear that White threw up the contract because of the insistence by Rigney and others as to how he should carry it out, but the important point to consider is the motive which actuated Rigney. That is the point upon which I differ from the honorable member for Dalley. He has contended that there was a conspiracy between Raith and Rigney, but it is clear from the finding of the commissioner that there was no such conspiracy, but that Rigney acted in what he considered the best interests of the Army.
– In order to cover up fraud.
– There could be no suggestion of fraud unless there was a conspiracy between Raith and Rigney to preventWhite from carrying out his contract. That suggestion has been negatived by the commissioner. It is true that Raith was trying - if I, too, may be permitted to use the vernacular - to “jockey “ White out of the contract, and it is also true that White, for his own purposes, was writing anonymous letters to disadvantage his competitor. White’s evidence was not believed by the commissioner in toto. The commissioner commented adversely on his evidence, and I rely on the commissioner’s finding.
Term “ E “ related to the system of checking Army bread supplies, both at the bakeries and at the Army’s receiving depots. The commissioner’s conclusions were -
In respect to this finding I make the following comments: If the prescribed instructions had been carried out the complete check of weights received would have been made. Partial checks were not authorized, and should not have been used, but their adoption, and the resultant laxity, may be attributed to a lack of trained staff, insufficient full-time duty personnel, insufficient officers to check supervision, and the impossibility of Major Rigney exercising personal supervision over all the activities of his Supply Personnel Company. Those matters have now been fully dealt with, and the utmost care has been taken to ensure that the laxity which arose out of those factors will not occur again.
I come now to term “ F “ - the selection of personnel acting for, or on behalf of, the Department of the Army for the Department of Supply and Development, and concerned with the supply of bread for the Army. The commissioner endorsed the appointment of Major Rigney as officer commanding the 12th Supply Personnel Company on the grounds of his previous experience in a similar capacity in the last war, and his excellent record of service. An experienced man in the handling of bread would have been desirable at the bakery, but none other than Sergeant Benjamin was available from those under Major Rigney’s command.
Under term “G”, the commissioner inquired into whether there was any negligence or improper conduct by contractors, by personnel acting for, or on behalf of, the Department of the Army or the Department of Supply and Development, in relation to any of the foregoing matters, or whether the facts disclosed called for action against any persons connected with those matters. That was a drag-net provision, and no one can deny that a full investigation was made. Only three men are finally mentioned, Major Rigney, Lieutenant Hart and Sergeant Benjamin. As for Lieutenant Hart, he has been called upon to show cause why his commission should not be cancelled, and honorable members can rest assured that the appropriate action will be taken. The commissioner commented most adversely on Lieutenant Hart. He stated that this officer had given false evidence, that he did not value his oath, and, in short, that as an officer or as a witness he was not worth a snap of the fingers. I cannot see any circumstances that might mitigate his offence.
– Does the Minister think that the taking away of his commission is sufficient penalty?
– That is only so far as the Army is concerned. The whole evidence has been referred to the Crown Law authorities, who will determine what further action should be taken. He will be dealt with according to his desserts. Sergeant Benjamin will be discharged. He was adversely commented on by the commissioner, and I have nothing to say in extenuation of his offence.
The only other point considered was whether there exists between the Department of the Army and the Department of Supply and Development an adequate system of co-ordination of information concerning contracts and contractors’ business bona fides, and, if not, in what respects that system is inadequate.I. have stated that the system was not adequate, but steps have been taken to put the matter right.
– What about the Davis brothers and McLeod?
– There you have a pretty crowd of rogues. I agree with all that has been said regarding them, except that I fail to see the significance of the honorable member’s reference to them in connexion with the Department of the Army or the Department of Supply and Development. I cannot see how we are to prevent rogues from seeking to get away with their roguery.
– They nearly got away with it, too.
– Yes, but they did not succeed, because they had to deal with an efficient officer. There is no doubt that the Davis brothers were rogues, and I have little better to say about Mr. McLeod. They were all out for their own ends, but that is no reflection on the Department of the Army or any other department of State. In fact, the effect is rather the opposite, because they were not able to get away with their roguery. In this case the appointment of the royal commission has been justified, and good has come of it. The deficiencies revealed by the inquiry havebeen attended to, and I believe that there will not be a repetition of the trouble.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) proposed -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn until
Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
.- I protest against these frequent adjournments of the Parliament. We have been here for only two days, and now it is proposed to adjourn before the proper time. According to the newspaper reports, the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) said that Parliament would sit on Friday of this week, and I want, to know why he has changed his mind. Private members have plenty of business to bring before the House, even if the Government has none.
.- I add my protest to that of the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) against the action of the Government in scurrying into recess at every possible opportunity. I came here on Wednesday of this week fully prepared to take my part in attending to the business of Parliament. I did not understand, nor, I think, did other honorable members, that we had come here merely to discuss a few minor matters, listen to two statements by Ministers on international affairs, and then close up the Parliament until the budget was brought down on Wednesday of next week, as if nothing mattered but the budget. Surely honorable members realize that there is a war on, and that the statements made yesterday by Ministers merit some debate. We should be allowed to debate them tomorrow. The war situation is not such as to give us any comfort at the present time, yet it is proposed that Parliament should adjourn from to-night until Wednesday afternoon of next week, when we shall hear the Treasurer tell us of the Government’s financial proposals. This is a travesty upon parliamentary government, and. a gross reflection upon those members of the Parliament who acquiesce in it. Surely there is sufficient business on the notice-paper to justify the House meeting again to-morrow. There may be other reasons why the Government wants to terminate the sitting to-night; hut from the national point of view, there are many matters that honorable members want to discuss. Some honorable members opposite have seen fit to gibe me because I sometimes utilize the very few opportunities that members get in this House to bring to the notice of the Government matters of urgent public importance. If I am industrious enough to try to represent my electors properly, it Ls surely not a matter for reproach. I shall continue to take advantage of every opportunity to say what I think ought to be said in the interests of this country. On this occasion I again charge the Government with treating the community in a cavalier fashion, with treating members of the Parliament as though they had no rights at all, and of attempting to establish some sort of dictatorship under which only Government business of the most insignificant kind will be placed before the Parliament. After two days spent in discussing minor matters honorable members are expected to go home and come back again next week just because it happens to suit the Government’s convenience. I hope that other honorable members will make some protest against this further curtailment of honorable members’ rights and the failure of the Government to discharge its responsibilities. The Prime Minister announced per medium of the press on “Wednesday last that the House would be expected to sit to-morrow. I can only surmise that something has happened to make him change his mind, and to make him think tha t the Government may lire another week longer if it fails to meet the House to-morrow.
– in reply - The main reason for this special adjournment is to allow the Government to get on with the preparation of the budget. Certain factors have caused the original draft of the budget to be modified. If the budget is to be presented next Wednesday and meetings of the Cabinet, the War Cabinet and the Advisory War Council are to be held before then, a sitting of the House to-morrow is impracticable.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– by leave - At the request of the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden), I move -
That the following signal be conveyed to the men of Tobruk through the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army: - “ The Parliament of the Commonwealth has placed on record its appreciation of your magnificently stubborn feat of arms. The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army, therefore, convey to you this Parliament’s congratulations on your most effective, gallant and courageous resistance. When the history of this war is written, the epic of Tobruk will certainly be one of its most glorious pages.”
– The motion has the support of every member of the Opposition, and I am certain expresses what is in the heart of every Australian.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Public Administration : Use of Intelligence Service Funds - Funeral Expenses of Militiamen - Russia : Representation in Australia - Australian Imperial Force: Leave; Female Relative’s Badge - Compulsory Military Training - Extraction of Oil from Coal and SHALE - Communism. - Australian Wheat Board: Salary of General Manager - National Oil Proprietary Limited - Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation: Lidcombe Factory - Munitions Annexes - Granville Municipal Council: Grant for Roads.
Motion (by Mr. Spender) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– The Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) Knows that the question I put to him yesterday involved the payment of Government funds to a person or persons for purposes not approved by the Parliament. I now ask the honorable gentleman what course the Government has decided upon in order to enable this House to determine the propriety of what has been done.
– The question asked by the honorable the leader of the
Opposition (Mr. Curtin) related to the use of certain limited funds for purposes connected with action against subversive elements within the Commonwealth of Australia. It will be realized that such matters do not lend themselves to public debate, particularly during time of war. I therefore content myself by stating first that the Government is satisfied with the propriety of the steps that have been taken; and, second, that, in order that the Leader of the Opposition may be fully satisfied in relation to these matters, I am quite prepared to put full particulars of them before the members of the Advisory War Council at its next meeting so that the responsible leaders of both sides of the House may be in a position to know and appreciate the facts.
.- Some time ago, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender), stated in reply to a question that the department is prepared to pay all reasonable expenses incurred in connexion with the funeral of trainees who have been killed in the course of their duty or who died in militia camps. A member of. the 26th Machine Gun Regiment died in camp about two years ago, but the department refused to pay funeral expenses in excess of £12. The deceased soldier lived near Balmoral, 200 miles distant from the camp in which he died and the funeral expenses amounted to £28. A committee of the regiment decided to defray the cost, in excess of the departmental allowance of the £12, out of regimental funds.
– I did not suggest that burial expenses should be limited to £12. I did not specify any amount; I promised that the department would pay reasonable expenses.
– An allowance of £12 is not reasonable to meet the case to which I have directed attention. In due course, however, the department interfered through the District Finance Officer and said that funeral expenses were not a just charge against regimental funds, and the excess was met by officers and sergeants of the regiment out of their own pockets as they did not believe that his unfortunate parents should bear this expense. The attitude taken by the department in connexion with this matter was unfair and unjust. This lad was killed in the course of his duty, and it was not his fault that he was in a camp so far away from his home. I ask the Minister to look into the matter.
.- I desire to make some reference to the remarks of the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) when he replied to the question asked a few minutes ago by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). Like many members of this Parliament, I am most curious to learn about the mystery.
– I can understand that.
– Despite that interjection, I assure the Prime Minister that I apply to the moneys that the Government has paid out of the secret fund a different name from that which he employed. When the Prime Minister implies that I know of the quarter to which the money was paid, I tell him that that is a deliberate untruth and I challenge him to disclose the facts, not to members of the Advisory War Council, who are sworn to secrecy, but to this Parliament. The Advisory War Council was never established for that purpose. I understand that the object in creating it was to enable representatives of the Opposition to confer with representatives of the Government, and to tender advice regarding the conduct of the war and nothing else. The present matter does not come in that category. From what I can gather from the wild rumours which have been flying around the House since the question was originally asked, certain sums of money have been paid to persons in this country in order to corrupt them so that they will support the Government’s crooked policy. That is the point. The purpose is to try to buy up and stifle criticism of the Government’s policy. Whilst I am a member of Parliament, I refuse to allow the Government by hole-in-the-corner methods to smooth these things over. We want them dragged out into the light of day. If any person has received money from a private or confidential fund which has been established by the Government, and the payments amount to the bribery of individuals in the community, the matter is one, not for the Advisory War Council but for the Parliament and the people.
We want the facte, and we will not be satisfied until we get them. I do not know what evidence is in the possession of individual members of the Government, but I do know of a tendency on the part of representatives of the Government to prevent members of Parliament from knowing what has been happening in regard to these very shady dealings. Let the Prime Minister produce the facts. I understand that he does not require time in which to conduct inquiries. He does not deny the existence of the fund, which, he stated, is for the purpose of dealing with subversive elements. We desire to know in what way the money has been distributed ; the persons who have received it; and for what purpose they received it? Was it for some service that they had to render to the Government, or was it to bribe them to support the Government and its policy regarding certain matters?
– There are laws in this country to deal with what are termed “ subversive elements “.
– That is true. The public of Australia must be greatly concerned and alarmed at the fact, which has been forced into the light of day, that the Government created a secret fund from which secret payments are made to undisclosed persons for purposes that have not been revealed to Parliament-
– They may be agents provocateurs.
– That is so. Honorable members are entitled to know the facts.
– The payments may not have been authorized by Parliament.
– It is generally admitted that the payments have not been authorized by Parliament.
– According to rumours, that is so.
– The Prime Minister does not deny that the establishment of the fund and the payment of the moneys has never been authorized by Parliament. I wonder whether the Government believes that that is the proper way in which to conduct the affairs of the country. I shall not be satisfied, and I believe that many other honorable members will not be content, to have the facts submitted to the Advisory War
Council. Why should they not be submitted to Parliament? We are told that we live in a democracy. Does not the Government trust the representatives of the people? Are Ministers afraid to let us know the facts? I am clear in regard to any of the suggestions which have been thrown about from side to side, and I challenge the Prime Minister not to go away, and by whispering in corners to selected individuals, endeavour to satisfy the public that all is well. Let us have an open discussion. I also challenge the Prime Minister to reveal the facts at once, not in some weeks’ time when lie has had opportunity to prepare the scene and destroy records that may be in existence regarding the fund and the distribution of moneys from it. He admits that he has the facts. He knows of the fund, the payments that have been made from it. and the purposes for which they were made. The disclosure of the information should not be delayed a moment longer.
.- In his speech yesterday, the Minister for External Affairs (Sir Frederick Stewart) suggested that if Russia desired to establish diplomatic relations with Australia, the onus was upon the Soviet Government to send its consular representatives here. In my opinion, that is not the proper way in which to approach the position. Just as we have sent, ambassadors or Ministers to China, and Japan, so. we should be prepared to send an ambassador to Russia. We should not impose upon the Russian people the onus of trying to open trade relations with us. but should treat them frankly as allies, in the same way as the Government of the United Kingdom has done. Tha t we should send a Minister or ambassador to Russia is tuy personal opinion, which, I believe, is shared by the vast majority of Australians, regardless of their views of the ideals or ideology of the Russian people. They are our allies. Repeatedly, I have commended the attitude adopted by the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) upon this matter, and it finds a ready response among Australians. The Government will be derelict to its duty if it does not, at the earliest possible moment, announce its intention to send an ambassador to Soviet Russia.
.- Yesterday, without notice, I asked a question relating to ministerial duties and representation, and the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) told me that the matter would be considered. To-day, I listened to a statement by the former Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), the great poohbah of this Parliament, who at one period held three major portfolios. When I asked himto supply some information to me, he replied, in his own sneering, sarcastic way, that I could obtain it probably by making inquiries of the Minister for Supply and Development ( Senator McLeay), failing that, of the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page), and failing that, of a third Minister. When I asked this right honorable gentleman, who is the Minister for Defence Co-ordination. I imagined that at least he would be able to tell me something; but. I found him just as ignorant of the matter as is the man in the street. Instead of stating that he would make inquiries, he wantedto show his superior wisdom by making me look small, and causing, by his cleverness, a laugh at my expense among supporters of the Government and. some public servants. A person, though educated at a university, may still be grossly ignorant. That describes the Minister for Defence Co-ordination.
.- Before dealing with a number of matters which I wish to bring to the notice of the appropriate Ministers. I take this opportunity to make my position perfectly clear with regard to the question just asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and the reply given by the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden). I am not warlike by temperament, butI say, frankly, that I am not prepared to accept the arrangement which the Prime Minister has suggested, namely, that the Advisory War Council will be called together immediately and a statement made to that body. I want to know something more of the facts. Parliament is certainly entitled to know something about it. However, we are now informed that the Advisory War Council is to be told about it. Members of that body are bound by an oath of secrecy. Labour representatives on it cannot tell their party colleagues of what transpires at a meeting of the Advisory War Council. All that they can say is that certain information was given to them, and that they are either prepared to accept the information, or not.Such an arrangement, in this instance at least, does not satisfy me, and unless the Prime Minister alters his present intention I shall have something further to say about it later.
It has been reported in the press that troops now serving in the East are to be given leave as opportunity presents itself.
– I have not made any statement to that effect. What I said was that men serving in tropical stations in Australia, or in any territory of Australia, would be relieved after twelve months’ service in those stations.
– Possibly I have misapprehended the Minister’s statement. I suggest that nurses also should be given leave after they have served for a considerable period in those stations.
-That seems to me to be a fair proposal.
– The next matter with which I desire to deal concerns the issue of what is known as the female relative’s badge, to relatives of men who see activeservice.I have received the following letter from an Australian who is serving in the Royal Air Force: -
Being anxious to obtain a female relative’s badge, my mother recently wrote the Air Board and forwarded one of the usual applications. The difficulty, however, is that I am a member of the Royal Air Force, and the badge is only issued in respect of members of the Australian Services. Am enclosing a copy of the Air Board’s letter to the mater. They were very prompt in their reply and it was worded very nicely, as you can see, but 1 was wondering if the regulation to which they refer could not be amended to make it applicable to relatives of all Australians on active service, whether with the Royal Air Force, orthe Royal Navy.
The letter which this man’s mother received from the Air Board was as follows : -
With reference to your application for a Female Relative’s Badge in respect of the serviceof your son, at present serving in the Royal Air Force.
One of the regulations laid down by the Commonwealth Government for the issue of this badge is that the member cited in a claim has to be serving in one of the Defence Forces of the Common wealth of Australia. Since your son is a member of the Royal Air Force it is regretted that your application cannot bc granted, lt is not known whether the British Government is issuing any war service badges, and any application in this connexion should be addressed to the Under Secretary of State, Air Ministry, Adastral House, Kingsway, London, W.C*2, England.
I ask that in not only this case, hut all similar cases, the Commonwealth Government issue the female relative’s badge. If it be necessary, the relevant regulation should be amended in that direction. “We must always bear in mind that these men are Australians. They happen to be serving in the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, or other branches of the Forces, simply because it suits Australia that they be permitted to serve in those forces. This Government, therefore, should provide these badges, rather than oblige these women to apply to the British Government in order to secure recognition of this kind. Some mothers, or wives, may not be very interested in this matter. In any case, the number of persons concerned is comparatively few. However, it is a matter of principle that this recognition should be accorded to them not by the British Government but by this Government,
I also desire to refer to the calling up of men for compulsory military training. I agree that under the Defence Act men are liable to be called up for such training, and that such call-ups should be made. However, one ov two aspects of this matter call for clarification. For instance, we might well ask ourselves whether, in making these call-ups, due regard is paid to the requirements of our internal economy, and whether adequate stock is taken of our man-power in order to ensure that full advantage is taken of our available man-power in industry., particularly in rural areas. I do nol reflect upon the officers of the DefenceDepartment, who are simply doing their duty, and carrying out the policy of the Government, in supervising these call-ups. I am aware that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) intends to make a report to the House on this matter. However, we cannot escape the delay which is invariably associated with such a procedure. Honorable members are frequently requested by their constituents to use their influence to secure an exemption for them from military service. It is obvious that in many instances exemption cannot be granted because the application is not based on reasonable grounds. However, in some instances the reverse is the case. Consequently, honorable members generally should know exactly what classes of men are eligible for service. With this object in view the Government should make a complete survey of the position. I am particularly concerned that some men, possessing high qualifications for military service, have offered their services to the Defence Department, but such offers have been refused. Other men who have been called up can ill be spared from industry particularly in rural centres. The Joint Committee on Rural Industries has submitted an interim report in which it recommends that greater use should be made of women in industry. Some of the primary industries are so bereft of men that if their remaining employees are called up for long periods of military training, they will not be able to carry on. Dairies in my electorate will have to be closed clown if the few men remaining are called up. Only last week, a dairyfarmer, milking 100 cows and with only one .man left, told me that if that man is called up, his dairy will have to be closed. Such a policy as that cuts right across our internal economy. The Minister should make a. complete statement of the position and agree to a review of policy in order that seasonal industries and the dairying industry, in particular, shall be given reasonable consideration.
– I thank the Minister for his interjection, but it hardly meets the need, because men in essential industries have been called up and are still being called up. Some are to go into c-arn.p on the 1st October, only twelve days from now. Unless action to prevent the depletion of dairy farms of labour be taken immediately, the effect on the industry will be disastrous, because, with no one to milk the cows they will have to be turned out. They will go dry, causing needless injury to the cattle and depriving people of their living as well as having a detrimental effect upon the community.
– With reference to the matter raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and replied to by the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden), certain honorable members have indicated an ingenuousness about certain aspects of public administration which must come as a complete surprise to most members of the Parliament. Surely, it is not denied by any honorable member that he has never had knowledge of the fact that every government maintains for its own special purposes its own intelligence vote. Is it suggested that the intelligence vote, which, in this instance, is administered by the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) and is part of the vote of the Attorney-General’s Department, is one which should be made public property, as it would be if it were disclosed to Parliament? I ask honorable members to adopt a commonsense attitude. Could it be expected that any government would make public the vote which it applies for its own intelligence purposes and the purposes for which that vote is applied?
– Yes, if the government were corrupt, as is this Government.
– The honorable member is entitled to his own opinion and the people will put their own interpretation on his opinion. No man with a realistic approach to problems would fail to appreciate the necessity for a government to maintain its own vote for its own intelligence service, and the futility of making known through the Parliament to the public the purposes for which that vote is expended.
– I am at a disadvantage, because I was not in the chamber when the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) spoke on certain alleged charges or when the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) replied. I came into the chamber only when the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was speaking. I have, however, heard certain rumours and I understand that the organization of which I am a member, and which is industrial and not sectarian, is involved. As one who has belonged to only one organization throughout my life, I feel concerned about the rumours regarding that organization, andI ask the Prime Minister to be fair, not only tome, since I, as a member of the organization, am involved, but also to this House, by allowing an open inquiry into the charges instead of confining the matters to members of the Advisory War Council, who are sworn to secrecy. I make that request, particularly because a friend of mine has heard of the charges that are being levelled and he wants the matter sifted to the bottom. This man holds a very responsible position now, and he probably will be elected to a more important position in this Commonwealth.
– That would not be Mr. William Orr, the late secretary of the organization ?
– Never mind names. The honorable member is not going to bait me. I speak on behalf of an organization which, at least, has the reputation of honesty and fair dealing. It is time that the Prime Minister had at least the courage to tell openly what he knows. I say that heatedly, because, if certain people are involved in taking bribes and other things in order to maintain peace and harmony, well, let us know who they are. I have introduced many deputations of members of the organization and I, at least, should have the opportunity to be cleared. This matter demands something more than a discussion in a secret society like the Advisory War Council. I challenge the Prime Minister and Parliament to do justice. That justice can be done only by the appointment of a royal commission. I am sick and tired of being asked my views on current rumours. Journalists, in particular, are in the habit of coming to me and asking, “ Have you heard this ? “ or, “ Have you heard that? “ I am quite innocent in these matters, and I have sufficient confidence in the leaders of the organization to which I have belonged all my life to believe that they are honest men. I shall continue to believe them to be honest until the contrary has been proved. Let the Government be fair and open in this matter. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) has admitted that the Government has at its disposal what has been called an “ intelligence vote “, which means that it has money available to pay for information that may lead to conviction of persons who make subversive statements. That may be all right so long as the vote is expended fairly, but unless such money is used judiciously - and not politically - we are in danger of losing our political freedom upon the information of some “crook” paid out of this fund. There is an old saying, it is all right to go in a hansom cab with some one so long as it does not leak out. Apparently some information has leaked out, and current rumours have cast aspersions upon the organization to which I have referred. I want the Government to be straight and above-board in this matter. Surely the organization concerned is entitled to know of any charge that has been made against it. If the so-called “intelligence vote” has been used to obtain information I want to know what the information is. I quite appreciate that the Prime Minister is new to his office and that he must be given time to find his feet, but I regret that he has apparently decided to refer this matter to the Advisory War Council. I consider that he should take the Parliament into his confidence because honorable members have confidence in him. He will make a mistake unless he “ comes clean “. I believe that he is an honest man, but that is only another reason why he should be quite open on this subject. Any other policy will be disastrous to him. If he contents himself with referring the subject to the Advisory War Council he will undoubtedly be putting a nail in his political coffin. Such action may even lead the electors of Darling Downs to reject him when he has to appear before them again. I urge the honorable gentleman to show some confidence in the organization to which I belong, for it has been above suspicion throughout its history.
I wish now to make an appeal to the Government on another matter. During the fourteen years that I have been a member of this Parliament I have, on many occasions, urged that action be taken to establish enterprises in Australia for the extraction of oil from coal and shale. We are in a deplorable position to-day because of our lack of oil fuels. The Government has been more concerned about the attitude of the major oil companies to this proposal than it has to the welfare of the general community. In Great Britain, Japan, Germany and many other countries, large quantities of oil are being extracted annually from coal and shale and it is sad to think that though we have immense coal resources we are doing nothing with them in this connexion. The Minister for External Affairs (Sir Frederick Stewart) made an investigation into this subject in Great Britain some years ago and on his return to Australia he spoke in glowing terms of what was being done at Billingham-on-Tees. He also submitted a voluminous report to the Government on the subject. During a visit to my electorate he spoke at Cessnock of the wonderful possibilities of this new industry. I ask him what he is doing now on the subject ? Has he lost all his enthusiasm ?
.- After listening to-night to the question asked of the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), in which it was inferred that an unsavoury action had been taken by certain Ministers or some members of their staffs, I was shocked to learn that we were not to be given a reasonable explanation by either the Prime Minister or the Attorney-‘General (Mr. Hughes). The only attempt at an explanation of an allegation implied by the Leader of the Opposition, and expressed in more forcible terms by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), is the statement by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), who blandly informed us that every country has an “ intelligence vote.” He thus endeavoured to convey to us that every country has an intelligence service which from time to time receives a government vote with which to carry on tie work of inquiring into the activities of various people and organizations which may be regarded as subversive and detrimental to the welfare of the public. Nobody denies that, but he would be a very courageous Minister who would be prepared to tell the House that money not appropriated by Parliament has been used, not for the purpose of paying Commonwealth or State police to ferret out individuals indulging in subversive activities, but, according to rumours current in the corridors, for the purpose of obtaining from members of industrial and religious organizations, information of a character which may be of no assistance in fighting the enemy, but useful in preventing the working man from getting a fairer deal than he receives to-day, and, incidentally, in preventing the Labour movement from ultimately realizing its ambition to govern Australia.
Where are the Minister for Defence Co-ordination (Mr. Menzies) and the present Prime Minister? We have had no forthright denial to-night of these activities or intimate details regarding them. It would not be of advantage to the enemy if honorable members were informed here and now as to the nature of the organizations or individuals that have been bribed. To whom has payment been given, for conveying tittle tattle to the Government, information which, if they were good citizens, they would be prepared to supply without being paid a copper piece? If a member of this House knew of anything being done to hinder Australia’s war effort, I cannot imagine his going to the Government and saying, “ If you pay to me a few hundred pounds, I will come over with a story “. The man who would require payment for information of that kind would “ frame “ his fellow men on any pretext. I venture the opinion that men are now suffering punishment in internment camps in this country because they have been “ framed “ by contemptible individuals allegedly paid out of the Government’s “ slush “ fund for supplying certain information. It is well known that as far as military intelligence is concerned, ‘the information on which the least reliability is placed is that furnished by paid spies.
Where is the Attorney-General against whom, by implication, a charge has been made? Why are we not informed of the facts to-night? In the daily press to-morrow there will be black headlines, and the public will be wondering why the Government- that is charged with the control of the war effort has not furnished an answer to the implied charge, and satisfied the public that it has not used either industrial or reli gious organizations or their officers, or any persons associated with them, for the purpose of obtaining information which 1 contend would be of no value whatever. This matter raises the indignation of every honest thinker.
Since the outbreak of war, a campaign of vindictiveness towards alleged Communists has been witnessed. The homes of members of the Left Book Club have been raided, and attempts have been made to suppress literature of various kinds. It is known that information has been given by certain individuals against persons reading literature of a particular kind, and connected with certain organizations. It is possible that the homes of some citizens have been visited, and that unjust charges have been made against them. This information has been conveyed, not by members of the Commonwealth or State police forces, but ‘by contemptible individuals who, it is alleged, have been paid from a secret government fund, f am a member of ari organization which has had to refute charges made against it from time to time that it has obtained money from Russia, or from, this and that source. The fact is that we have always been able to prove that the allegations are untrue. It is now incumbent upon the Government to show that it is not using public funds in an utterly wrong manner without the approval of this Parliament. This House should not be allowed to adjourn until the facts have been made known. The public should at least be satisfied that the Government’s hands are clean in this matter, and that it is not using its funds or its power to corrupt certain individuals.
Mr. ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) [10.58 J. - The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) asked a cryptic question yesterday, and the answer furnished by the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) Was equally interesting and uninformative. To-night, private members were given to understand that, subsequent to a meeting held in this building, a certain statement would be made on the motion for the adjournment of the House ; but what was said was entirely different from what has been published in certain newspapers. I now ask the Prime Minister to look at the reports published in certain daily newspapers to-day, and compare them with the- statements made in this chamber to-night. If he does that he will not be able to allow this matter to rest where it now stands. He will not be able to refer it to the Advisory War Council, because that body, according to some newspaper statements, is implicated in a way which may yet require the attention of this Parliament. Certain financial houses are referred to in some of these reports as having received information which they have no right to get. Some of us have recollections of a gentleman commonly known as “ Jimmy “ Thomas, who was once a member of the British Government. Something happened to him because he possessed certain confidential information at the time of the year when a budget was being prepared. I simply ask the Prime Minister whether he will look at the newspaper reports, and come to Parliament next Wednesday prepared to place the responsibility, if responsibility there be, on the shoulders where it belongs, and not leave certain nasty imputations in the daily press unanswered.
.- The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has said that the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) is wrapped in enigmatical phrases. The Minister for Labour and National Services (Mr. Holt), while defending the principle of maintaining an intelligence vote, did not touch the real question at issue. I do not think that anybody denies the right of a government to maintain an intelligence fund; certainly I have never known of any opposition being voiced in either this or any other Parliament to the appropriation annually of a sum which will enable the Government to defend the country effectively against internal and external enemies. The question at issue is whether certain rumours containing certain allegations, which are circulating in the corridors of this Parliament, are true or untrue. Honorable members of the Opposition have heard certain statements. I assure you, Mr. Speaker, that newspaper men in this building appear to know everything there is to be known. Where they have received their information I do not know. I have heard it rumoured that leading men in certain newspaper offices in Melbourne and Sydney were telephoned early this week, and given certain statements. Because of that, and subsequent happenings, there have been other developments. I do not. think that the Prime Minister has handled the matter in the best manner. Reference of it to a committee of this House will not be satisfactory to the House. The Advisory War Council is, in effect, a. committee of this House. Taking a question of this sort to men sworn to secrecy is not placing in honorable members the confidence they are entitled to expect, and is not treating them as fairly as they should be treated. lt is a weak -compromise between saying nothing and telling everything. If the Prime Minister has a ease, he ought, to say that the Government has taken certain action, accepts full responsibility, and does not intend to disclose details. Such an attitude would be understandable. Alternatively, he must Sell the House everything. Reference of the whole question to an advisory war council, which was formed for a purpose entirely different from that for which it is now to be used, may satisfy the members of that body, but I believe that it will not satisfy any other person. Honorable members opposite may be given a little further information at a joint party meeting, and eventually honorable members of the Opposition may be told certain things at. a. meeting of their party; but as the subjectmatter has been more than adumbrated, and as certain charges are rumoured, it would be far better to have the matter cleared up to-night. Honorable members have abandoned the opportunity to achieve finality with some speed, because they have voted that the House, al its rising, shall adjourn until Wednesday next.
– Honorable members opposite did not vote against that proposal.
– They were urged effectively enough to do the right thing by another honorable member and myself.
– The honorable member is only a newcomer here.
– And. I hope, an acquisition also. We have decided to adjourn until Wednesday, and the honorable member for Barker cannot take solace from the fact that he was slow to realize the full implications of the vote which was taken. My impression of to-night’s performance, particularly in the matter of adjourning without rightful excuse until next week, is that democracy in this country is degenerating and that Parliament is not as fully alive to its responsibilities as earlier Parliaments would certainly have been in similar circumstances.
We have heard a lot concerning the plight of the wheat-growers in recent times. Not long ago, I addressed a letter to the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page), in order to ascertain the salary and allowances received by the general manager of the Australian Wheat Board. That gentleman is paid £3,000 per annum for managing the Wheat Board. A most interesting item is the receipt by him of a disability allowance of £1,000 per annum. I do not know what his disabilities are, seeing that he is paid a salary of £3,000 per annum. Surely thai is ten times more than probably the most prosperous wheat-farmer on one of the smaller farms can make in a year! Why a gentleman in receipt of £3,000 a year needs an additional disability allowance of £1,000 a year, passes my comprehension.
– Last year, he received a disability allowance of £2,000.
– If he received £5,000 last year, and is to receive £4,000 this year, he is doing very well, in view of the plight of the wheat-farmers. He is also paid £2 2s. a day as a travelling allowance, if absent from his home overnight in connexion with the business of the board. - It would seem that a very generous attitude is adopted towards the general manager of the Australian Wheat Board, and an entirely different attitude towards the struggling wheatfarmers of Australia.
.- Like other honorable members, I consider that I should fail in my duty to my constituents did I not make some reference to what has now become a very important subject for discussion in this House. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) has endeavoured to draw a red herring across the trail, by stating that there is provision in the Estimates for an amount to be used by the Government as an intelligence fund. Nobody would deny that there is very great necessity in peace-time, and more particularly in war-time, for the provision by the Parliament of funds which will enable a secret service to be maintained. I say very deliberately, however, that I have been reliably informed that the moneys expended from this fund by way of bribes and for corruptive purposes have been used not for secret service work but for party political objects. The Minister who is most particularly concerned in the matter - the AttorneyGeneral - is not present to inform honorable members of his side of the story. If the Prime Minister were fully seised of the gravity of the matter, he would at once instruct the right honorable gentleman to come into the Parliament; and if the Attorney-General could not give a satisfactory explanation, he should be suspended pending the determination of the matter to the satisfaction of Parliament. I feel very seriously that it requires the urgent attention of this national legislature. I have not heard or read of any matter of such great public importance for a long time. In my opinion, the Parliament ought not to adjourn until the’ subject has been thoroughly investigated. I do not know whether it would be competent under the Standing Orders for the Prime Minister to give an undertaking that the House will sit to-morrow.
– He could make a statement, by leave, now.
– Even if the information necessary for a complete reply be not available to him at the moment, it is the Prime Minister’s duty to see that this matter is fully investigated before honorable members leave Canberra this week.
.- I protest against the methods adopted by the Government and the Army authorities in calling up men for full-time military service under thu National Security Regulations. Early in the war numbers of young nien enlisted in the Militia Forces and spent a period of three months .in training in various camps. Believing that having completed three months training they would not be called up for further service for another twelve months, many of them married, only to find that the Government had decided to make them serve a further period of 90 days in camp. On marrying, many of these young men undertook financial obligations in respect, of the purchase of homes and furniture, and now they find themselves in financial difficulties through being called into camp. I should like to know under whose authority this is done. Some of these young men are regarded as specialists. It is strange that men with only 70 days’ training are regarded as specialists, especially when, they had no say as to the unit to which they should be attached. The injustice lies in the fact that some men who were placed in certain categories by the military authorities are released from camp after a certain period of training, whilst others who are classed as specialists are told that they must serve for the duration of the war. The Government should see that none of these young men are victimized. I hope that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) will not become a mere rubber stamp and allow the “ brass hats “ to continue in the way that they are now acting. In my electorate large numbers of young men volunteered for service with the Militia Forces and decided to undertake courses for non-commissioned officers. Now they find that they are being called up for full-time duty. Some of .them are studying for professions, but, when they apply to their officer in command for exemption from further training their applications are refused. In such circumstances, it is only natural that they should appeal to their representative in this House. Despite what the Minister for the Army may say about representations being made in cases which have no sound foundation, I wish to make it clear that every case which I have brought before the Minister has first been personally investigated by me. Only after such investigation, and failure to get satisfaction from high army officers, have I appealed to the Minister.
– And then the honorable member gets every satisfaction?
– I hope to do so, but so far I have been greatly dissatisfied with the Minister. Indeed, if he does not give greater satisfaction, I am afraid that he will have to be replaced by another Minister. I have consulted high officers of the Northern Command in Queensland about a number of cases, and after some weeks have elapsed I have received the reply that it is a matter for the officer in command of the camp. That is a stupid attitude to adopt, because that officer has already dealt with the cases. It frequently happens that several weeks elapse before cases submitted to the Minister are dealt with.
– Do not be too hard.
– In a number of cases I have not yet received replies to representations made to the Minister over a mon till ago.
– If the honorable member will give me details of such cases I shall look into them. On a previous occasion the honorable member made a similar complaint, but I found that in every case a reply had been sent to him.
– To-morrow I shall submit to the Minister particulars of a number of cases which I submitted some time ago and in respect of which I have not yet received any reply. I consulted Major Howe in regard to them.
– A very good man.
– I agree that he is a very good man. I have received more consideration from Major Howe than from any other officer connected with the Department of the Army.
– I shall arrange for his promotion immediately.
– Yes ; I suggest that the Minister make him a lieutenantcolonel li’ke himself. The Minister for the Army should take this matter up personally. A great many young men have been married since the issue of the proclamation calling up all men of certain ages for military service. They have entered into obligations of various kinds, such as the purchase of homes and furniture. We have been told that Australia must populate or perish. These young men are trying to do their part to populate the country, yet they have been called up for full-time military service. I trust that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to their claims.
.- I. too, regret that the Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) has not seen fit to relieve the minds of honorable members regarding the important matter mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) this evening. Whilst it has been suggested that the fund referred to is used for intelligence work, if there is any basis for the rumours that have been flying around the House that the money has been used for corrupt purposes such as spying on innocent people, it would appear that the methods of the Gestapo have been introduced into Australia. Practices of this kind should not be tolerated outside totalitarian countries. They strike at the very roots of the democratic system, and I hope that more light will be thrown on the matter.
I sometimes wonder how the Government justifies the expenditure of the money which it takes from the people by taxation. I have been seeking for some time to obtain information regarding certain aspects of the Newnes shale oil undertaking, upon which the Government has already expended £1,000,000, although only £600,000 was voted in the first place. An additional £400,000 has been handed out without consulting Parliament, or without requiring any proper agreement to be made. When I raised this question in the past I was told merely that the agreement was in course of preparation. If a private person did business in that way he would land himself before long in the Bankruptcy Court, if not in gaol. The management of the Newnes undertaking was handed over to representatives of the major oil companies. One of the first things they did was to tear up valuable rails which were sold for a song, and afterwards sold back to the Government at an enhanced price. The same thing happened in regard to rolling stock and locomotives. Certain valuable plant was blown up, and the drawings associated with the plant have disappeared. Retorts and other machinery costing hundreds of thousands of pounds have been installed against the advice of Government experts. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil has leaked away from the pipes and become a total loss. These things are happening because no proper supervision is exercised. Much the same sort of thing has happened in connexion with the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation’s factory at Lidcombe. The Government has expended £1,500,000 on this under-taking, which is now ready to go into production, but no proper agreement has yet been drawn up between the Commonwealth and the corporation. I have repeatedly asked questions on the subject, and I have been told, as in the case of the Newnes shale oil enterprise, that the agreement is in course of preparation. I received that reply again only this week. The Government has advanced money for the construction of numerous munitions annexes in the vicinity of large factories, but no formal agreement appear to have been entered into regarding the expenditure of the money or the use of the premises. I submit that these agreements should be placed before Parliament so that honorable members may know whether the money is being properly expended. I doubt whether the Government itself knows what is going on. The Prime Minister should apply himself to these matters for his own protection, as well as for the protection of the public interest. While large sums of public money are being expended in this way without adequate supervision, the Government declines to make money available for certain necessary works associated with the war effort.
For a considerable time I have been making representations to the Treasurer for some assistance to the Granville Municipal Council, which desires to construct a road giving access to certain large factories, including the Australian Aluminium Company and the Goodyear Tyre Company, which are engaged upon the production of war materials in that district. The construction of the road, and of a bridge over a creek nearby, would cost only £12,000. The council is asking for a grant of £6,000, and for permission to raise a further £6,000. I wrote to the Treasurer on the 12th June regarding the matter, and have written several times since, but to all my communications I received only a formal reply stating that the matter is being considered. If there were a better system of co-operation between the Commonwealth Government, the State Government and local authorities, matters of this kind could be dealt with much more expeditiously. Seeing that the Government is able to make millions of pounds available in certain directions without even entering into agreements, there seems to be no reason why it cannot advance £6,000 for urgent work of this kind.
– I marvel that honorable members on either side of the House can be concerned about any matter at this time except the serious question raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) this evening. If I were on the government side I doubt whether I could-
– We know nothing about it.
– I am very sorry that honorable members opposite know nothing about it. We did not know anything about it until, unsought by him, the information was placed in the hands of our leader. As the matter involved him and the members of the Opposition, he owed it to his followers to clear them of any responsibility for these alleged corrupt practices. The alternative was to sit down quietly and acquiesce in something which was sure to be made public sooner or later and to share the blame for it. The question was first raised privately by the Leader of the Opposition with the leaders of the parties supporting the Government in an honest, decent and restrained way. Then, the question was raised publicly on the floor of the House; but no satisfactory answer has been given. I disagree with some of my colleagues who say that the matter should be settled to-night.
– We should at least be told to-night all that is known regarding it.
– I do not expect the Prime Minister or any other Minister to give a complete answer to these allegations to-night; but we demand that the fullest inquiry be made and that all the facts be placed before us. When the question was raised for the second time to-night the answer conveyed the impression that at least some, if not all, of the allegations were correct. In common with every honorable member of this Parliament I am involved in allegations of this kind. My reputation and my honesty are at stake. If the allegations are correct those guilty of these serious charges should be justly dealt with. It is an insult to the intelligence of honorable members to say that this matter will be referred to the Advisory War Council. The members of that body are sworn to secrecy and will not be able to divulge the result of their inquiries. In any case it is not the function of the Advisory War Council to deal with matters of that kind. Tomorrow’s newspapers will carry the story of these allegations under streamer headlines an inch high. Surely, then, the Prime Minister should leave no doubt in the minds of the people but should promise that, after the fullest investigation, he will make a public statement in regard to them. I am quite aware that it is impossible for the Prime Minister to collect, tabulate and present all the facts to-night; but it is not unreasonable to expect the honorable gentleman to give an undertaking that the members of this House will be taken into his confidence in regard to the matter.
Question put -
That the House do now adjourn.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. W. M. Nairn.)
Majority . . 3
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determination by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1941 - No. 23-
Australian Third Division Telegraphists and Postal Clerks’ Union.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for Defence purposes -
Bairnsdale (near), Victoria.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and
Northern Territory (Administration) Act-
Ordinance - 1941 - No. 13 - Medical Benefits and Hospitals (No. 2).
Regulations -1 941 -
No. 9 (Darwin Administration Ordinance).
No. 10 (Motor Vehicles Ordinance).
House adjourned at 11.45 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated : -
– The attention of the honorable member is invited to section 356 of theVictorian Companies Act 1938 which provides that no person shall, whether by appointment or otherwise, go from place to place offering shares for subscription or purchase to the public or to any member of the public. A similar provision is contained in the companies acts of each of the States, other than Victoria, namely : - New South Wales Companies Act 1931, section 343; Queensland Companies Act 1931, section 368; South Australia Companies Act 1934-1935, section 368; Western Australia Companies Act Amendment Act 1938; Tasmania Companies Act 1927, section 3. As all the States have legislation prohibiting share peddling, no action by the Commonwealth Government in the matter is necessary.
y asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
Will he give further consideration to the matter of eligibility for pensions of wives and other dependants of soldiers killed or injured overseas whilst absent without leave, whose ineligibility for pensions may have been due to a breach of discipline by the soldier or the failure to enforce discipline by the proper authorities of the army on service?
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following answer : -
This will be a matter for consideration by the Government when, in due course, the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act comes under review.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
r. - On the 27th August, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) asked, without notice, whether the Government had received any information regarding the hoarding of petrol by certain wealthy private persons, including Colonel Michael Bruxner and Mr. McCarthy of Tenterfield, and Mr. Edmund Resch, the well-known brewer, of Darling Point, Sydney, to whom supplies were made available by the Atlantic
OilCompany, and whether any inquiries had been made into this matter; if so, what was the result of those inquiries?
The Minister for Supply and Development has furnished the following reply : -
The Government has had no objection to the hoarding of petrol by private individuals. Our chief concern has been to allocate it to all consumers on an equitable basis, and there is no evidence to show that the persons named have received petrol in excess of their assessed requirements. It should be noted, however, that this Government has taken over the control of all stored petrol in excess of 12 gallons irrespective of ownership, to the extent that such stocks cannot be used or removed except with the express permission of the Controller of Liquid Fuel.
Launceston Munitions Annexe.
r. - Yesterday the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) asked, without notice, whether the Minister for Munitions would indicate when the munitions annexe at Launceston would be completely equipped and ready to begin production.
The Minister for Munitions has furnished the following reply: -
It is expected that the annexe will be fully equipped for production in approximately six weeks’ time, but due to the position in relation to shell forgings, there may bo a short delay before production actually commences.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made and a replywill be furnished as soon as possible.
d asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
New Guinea : Capital Site.
d asked the Minister for
External Territories -
What is the total amount of money spent atRabaulon buildings, public works generally, and on reconditioning the town since the volcanic eruption of 1937?
Upon whose advice did the Government defer the removal of the capital to the mainland following the 1937 eruption?
Why was the expert adviceof Dr. Stehn and Dr. Woolnough, Commonwealth Geological Adviser, disregardedinreference to their recommendation that the capital be moved to a safer locality?
What is the estimated cost of moving the capital from Rabaul to Lae?
d. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Wheat Industry : Activities of Sir Earle Page; Effect of National Security (Wheat Industry Stabilization) Regulation.
asked the Prime Minis ter, upon notice -
n. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Commonwealth Financial Arrangements.
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
n. - Inquiries are being made and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 September 1941, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1941/19410918_reps_16_168/>.