17th Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Provost Corps - Military Offenders : Remission or Sentences - Demobilization : Vocational Training
– Has the Minister for the Army any knowledge of recent protests by non-commissioned officers in Queensland who have had long service, against having been drafted against their will to the performance of the duties of military police? Will the Minister give the assurance that only volunteers will be required to perform such duties? Will he also undertake to release from them senior non-commissioned officers with extensive service in the field who do not desire to be members of the Provost Corps?
– I have not read reports of such protests, but am aware that the Army authorities experience difficulty in obtaining suitable men for the Provost Corps. In all armies, men invariably perform such duties as are allotted to them.
– Not in the Provost Corps.
– So far, the practice has been to instruct men to do whatever work has to bc done. I discussed this matter recently with the ‘ Adjutant-General. Every effort is being made to obtain volunteers for the Provost Corps, and to avoid the application of pressure. It is difficult to induce men to perform disagreeable tasks. I shall take the matter up again, and do my utmost to meet the wishes of the honorable gentleman.
– As it is the intention of the Government not to invoke the processes of the law against those it present disobeying them in the industrial field, does the Government propose to remit sentences imposed on militaryoffenders, other than those who have committed actual crimes, during the war and since the cessation of hostilities?
– As to the first part of the honorable member’s question, I did not at any time say1 that the Government would not take punitive action against any person in the community if it was convinced that; the interests of the community would be served by such action. On previous occasions, I have tried to make it clear to honorable members that when they seek information from me I am always prepared to supply it, but that if they wish to get in political propaganda in the guise of a question, I shall ignore it.
– Does that remark also apply to questions by Government supporters ?
– Yes, so far as I am concerned. Question time is a period in which honorable members may seek information. There has been ample time since last February to engage in political propaganda, and there will be further opportunities after next week. A3 to the second part of the honorable member’s question, I take it that the honorable member is referring to servicemen who are serving sentences for civil offences as well as those who have been sentenced for military offences.
– I had in mind military offences only, not sentences imposed on men who had committed crimes.
– The Minister for the Army is concerned with sentences imposed in respect of military offences and the Acting Attorney-General deals with civil offences. The former has received a report from .a special committee which was appointed to deal with the matter raised by the honorable member, and I think that he will soon be in a position to make a statement on the subject. I. also hope that at an early date the Acting Attorney-General will be able to make a statement to the House regarding the remission of sentences imposed on servicemen for civil offences.
– Some servicemen who desire to obtain vocational training for a profession are notified that the results of their examination for aptitude and efficiency have not been satisfactory. “Will the Minister for the Army make available to them their examination papers ?
– Who sets the examinations ?
– The Army sets the examinations, before it permits servicemen to commence a vocational training course.
– I shall have inquiries made, and inform the honorable member whether his wishes can be met. We are in sympathy with the soldier who has been on service and sits for an examination. Anything that we can do to assist him will be gladly done.
Office Accommodation in Sydney.
– In view of the lack of sufficient office accommodation for the Repatriation Commission at Chalmersstreet, Sydney, will the Minister for Repatriation state -whether arrangements have been or are being made to meet pr<>sentday requirements in that respect?
– As the honorable member knows, the building in. Chalmersstreet is an old one. It provided suitable office accommodation from the termination of the last war until the outbreak of the recent conflict, because the activities of the Commission were diminishing. It is not now sufficiently large to accommodate the big staff that is needed, which has been doubled in recent years, and I should say will be redoubled within the next six months. Arrangements have been made for office accommodation in the building owned by Grace Brothers, on the corner of King and York streets. The seventh floor of the building already ha.» been occupied, and the eighth floor will be taken over next week. I had an interview with General Donaldson, of the American Army, last Saturday. He is co-operating with us. and is endeavouring to vacate as many floors as possible within the next few months. Therefore, the honorable member may rest assured that we shall have the most suitable office accommodation in one of the best parts of the city.
We realize the necessity to make this essential provision for the many crippled and otherwise disabled persons who have to transact business with the Repatriation Commission. A branch of the department has also been opened at Newcastle and is now in operation. In view of the large population of Newcastle, it was thought inadvisable to require residents of that city to attend at Sydney.
Rationing - Supplies
– In view of press re ports that it is expected that petrol rationing will end in Australia within the next three or four months, and also a cablegram that petrol rationing in England is expected to end by February next, can the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping give any official information to the House in regard to the prospect of removing the restrictions on the sale of petrol in Australia ?
– It is only natural that newspapers should speculate on this subject, because it is hoped that at some stage petrol rationing will no longer be necessary. If they keep on guessing, they are sure to be right sooner or later. The Minister for Supply and Shipping has given close attention to this subject during the last two months. Cabinet has discussed the matter on two occasions in an attempt to see how far it can go to ease the present restrictions, but the dollar exchange position has made it difficult to reach a final decision. Perhaps the talks now taking place in Washington on lend-lease and dollar exchange may resolve the matter in a way that will meet the honorable member’s wishes.
– Last weekI asked the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping a question regarding future rubber supplies following the recapture of Malaya and regarding the quality of petrol. The Minister then promised to obtain a reply for me. Is he yet in a position to give me any information on the two subjects mentioned?
– In the usual way, I forwarded a request for information to the department. Unfortunately, a reply has not yet been received. I shall see whether I can obtain the information for the honorable member to-day.
Seizure of Supplies of Wholesale Butchers
– Last week, I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture a question about the seizure of meat from wholesale butchers in Melbourne, and the Minister said that he was not then able to reply to it. Is he yet able to do so?
– I have made inquiries and have been told that the action taken by the Meat Controller was for the purpose of preventing black marketing in meat in Melbourne. It is the wish of the Government that the available meat should be equitably distributed according to the rationing system, and that any surplus should be exported to Great Britain. The Meat Controller acted in order to safeguard the interests of the majority of the people, and to ensure that all would get their fair share.
– I have been approached by members of the Master Plumbers Association of South Australia, who claim that South Australia is not being fairly treated in the distribution of galvanized iron. Can the Minister for Munitions say whether increased supplies will be forthcoming soon, and is it a fact that there are in country districts supplies of galvanized iron which were formerly used on wheat stacks, but which are suitable for building purposes?
– I should be very surprised to learn that South Australia is not getting its fair share of the galvanized iron available. If any one has been remiss in this respect, I shall see that the trouble is corrected. The honorable member must be aware that the demands of the fighting services have made it very difficult to maintain supplies for civil requirements. I shall have an investigation made in order to see whether iron used on wheat stacks can be made available for building purposes.
– Can the Minister repre senting the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say what the Government proposes to do about the Field Peas Board? Is there any significance in the fact that no financial provision has been made for the board in the Estimates this year?
– I hope to be able to supply the information to-morrow.
Medical Examinations - Proficiency Pay - Fate of Rabaul Garrison
– by leave - Reports have been appearing in a section of the press from a war correspondent in Darwin that prisoners of war returning on the hospital ship Oranje were subjected to rigorous medical questioning. I have been assured that medical officers of the Australian Army were treating the prisoners of war with the greatest possible sympathy. The sole object of medical examinations on the hospital ship is to see whether the men are fit to go home on arrival at their port of destination, or whether they will need treatment in the base hospital. At present, questions are not being put to them which will later be put on discharge. It is expected that many of the men on the hospital ship will need hospital treatment and it will be some time before their discharge can be effected. Medical examinations of the men on the hospital ship are also to ensure that they do not carry infection into their homes on return to Australia. In other words, the medical treatment, and examinations being given men on the hospital ship are solely for their own protection and the protection of their relatives. There is no “quizzing” or unnecessary strain imposed upon the prisoners of war. The Army medical authorities assure me that the men are being given the best possible treatment by expert medical officers whose attitude is one of complete sympathy to the men. Prisoners of war are not being questioned upon any matters with a view to placing on record anything which might affect future pension claims. The hospital shit) medical officers are concerned only about the health of the men and their recovery and protection against infectious diseases.
– In 1943 an allotment of proficiency pay was made to members of the services of this country, contingent upon the passing of certain tests, or upon the certification of proficiency by senior officers. Are servicemen who have now been released from prisoner-of-war camps entitled to proficiency pay? I understand that they are. If that is not the case, will the Minister direct that proficiency pay shall be made available to liberated prisoners of war ?
– The honorable member answered the first portion of his question with his second portion, because it appears that I must ascertain the reason why the proficiency pay has been withheld. I shall do so.
Mr. FORDE (Capricornia - Minister for the Army). - Yesterday the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) asked me whether official advice had been received that a large number of members of the 2/22nd Battalion at Rabaul had been lost by drowning. I now desire to inform the honorable member that the most urgent prisoner-of-war inquiry at the moment is to ascertain the whereabouts of men of the Rabaul garrison who were captured in early 1942. The anxiety of next-of-kin of members of these units is fully realized, and as some officers of the garrison have been recovered from various areas, it is desirable to make public the information obtained from them. This indicates that between 700 and 1,000 Australian prisoners of war were evacuated from Rabaul by sea in about June, 1942, by the Japanese, and it was rumoured that their destination was Hainan. Prior to this evacuation, officers, nurses and female missionaries were separated by the Japanese from the troops, and they were evacuated separately several days later to Japan. It has not been possible to trace the movement of the vessel carrying the troops after its departure from Rabaul, and apprehension is felt that it failed to reach its destination. Urgent instructionshave been issued to advance field formations to make full inquiries from all possible sources, and also to interrogate, when located, Japanese personnel named by recovered prisoners of war and suspected of being in possession of information concerning the fate of the Rabaul garrison. The interrogation of Japanese prisoners of war, camp commanders, guards and interpreters from Rabaul is also proceeding, and it is hoped that this source may also divulge information as to the fate of the missing troopship. Any information gathered by forward units will be reported promptly direct to land forces head-quarters in Melbourne, and as soon as I am in a position to do so, I shall make a public announcement of the result. All definite information that is available to the present date has been supplied to next-of-kin, who will be informed from time to time as any further definite information comes to hand.
– I have received a number of requests from ex-servicemen who formerly were prisoners of war in Europe and escaped to various European countries in which they were treated with kindness and sympathy, for permission to send small parcels to assist their former benefactors. Apparently, the Government does not permit this. Will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General take steps to have this restriction removed, so that these ex-servicemen may express their appreciation of the people who assisted them?
– Any responsibility for the inability of any Australian citizen to send parcels abroad does not rest with the Postmaster-General of the Commonwealth. The country for which the parcels are destined first has to give approval before the Postmaster-General of this country will accept the goods for postage. If the honorable member for Griffith will indicate to me what countries are refusing to accept parcels I shall take the matter up with the Postmaster-General.
– Poland is the main country concerned.
– If there is any difficulty in sending food or other parcels to Poland, it is because of the failure of the Polish Government to notify the Australian Government that it is prepared to accept these parcels.
– I understand that the parcels are transmitted through thi’ British Government.
– The British Government does not act for Poland. It merely transmits the parcels through the British Post Office.
– That is the point. Apparently the British Government does not accept parcels for transmission to Poland.
– I shall ask the Postmaster-General to make inquiries and to deal sympathetically with the suggestion made by the honorable member. That, of course, applies not only to Poland, but also to other European countries to which Australian ex-servicemen, may wish to send parcels as an expression of their gratitude for the kindness and sympathy which they received in their days of travail from the inhabitants of those countries.
– I understand that a conference will be held shortly in Canada in continuation of the food and agriculture conference which commenced at Hor Springs in the United States of America some time ago. In view of the importance of this conference in increasing the marketing and consumption of primary products, will the Prime Minister see that Australia shall be adequately represented ?
– If the honorable member refers to the conference which will be held at Quebec, I inform him that arrangements have been made for the adequate representation of Australia. The selection of the personnel of the delegation has been completed, or is almost completed.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That the House, at its rising, adjourn to to-morrow, at 10.30 a.m.
– I ask the Acting Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether it is a fact that, despite the large percentage of the annual wool clip which is processed by Australian manufacturers, there is no representation of manufacturers on the Australian Wool Realization Commission? If so, will he investigate the practicability of appointing a manufacturers’ representative in order that the present percentage shall be increased ?
– The honorable gentleman no doubt heard my second-reading speech last Friday on the Wool Realization Bill, which was reported in the newspapers and which clearly sets out the proposed composition of the Australian Wool Realization Commission. Therefore, it is scarcely necessary for me to supply the information to him to-day. The bill will be debated in this House probably within the next week, and then it will be possible to discuss the claims of all other people who consider that they ought to be represented on the commission. The Government had very good reasons for arranging the representation on the commission as set out in the bill. As half of the cost of the commission is to be borne by the wool growers of Australia, it is important not to make the membership too large and too costly. It is necessary to keep it down to the minimum consistent with efficiency. Australian manufacturers use a comparatively low percentage of the total wool clip. I shall be glad to give the honorable member any further information on this subject when the bill is before the House.
British Empire: Proposed Reductions of Tariffs
– Has the Prime Minister seen a statement attributed to Lord Keynes after the recent discussions in America to the effect that there should be a reduction of Empire tariffs to enable some freedom of trade with America? Is the Government in consultation with Lord Keynes regarding the dollar bloc? Will the Commonwealth Parliament be consulted before any action is taken to amend Australian tariffs?
– A considerable time ago negotiations commenced between representatives of Australia, and the
United States of America on certain tariff matters. They proceeded for a considerable time, but were finally discontinued prior to the last presidential election in America. As the honorable member is no doubt aware, the President has power to make certain tariff reductions without submitting the matter to Congress, and an attempt was made to reach agreement on certain items, which I shall not enumerate now. Such an agreement would, in the main, have helped to increase Australian exports to the United States of America. In regard to the last portion of the honorable member’s question, Article 7 of the Charter of the United Nations, which has been quoted a great deal, sets as an objective the reduction of tariff barriers between various countries. One of the agenda for the discussion, now taking place in the United States of America, relates to commercial relations and policy. For that reason, the Commonwealth Government has arranged to be fully represented at the conference not only on the financial side but also with regard to trade and commerce, and tariff matters in particular. Wo are represented by the most capable men available. In addition to Sir Frederic Eggleston, the Acting Australian Minister in the United States of America, and Mr. Moore, Director of Import Procurement, who are already in Washington, Mr. Dunk, Secretary of the Department of External Affairs, who will also watch Treasury matters, and Mr. McCarthy, Assistant Secretary of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture are to leave for Washington immediately. We are taking steps to ensure that we shall have adequate representation at all discussions in the United States of America. I remind the honorable member that it would not be possible for any overseas government or conference to enter into an agreement on tariff matters affecting Australia without the consent of this Parliament.
– Some weeks ago the Prime. Minister was good enough to interview Mrs. Solly, who was evicted from her home in the Nambour district of the Wide Bay electorate, while her husband was serving with the fighting forces. In view of the fact that the war is now over, that her husband gave “ix years’ service in the first world war and is still in uniform, and that Mrs. Solly herself gave service in that war, will the right honorable gentleman have an early reply furnished to the request that action be taken to compensate her for the injustice that has been done to her? She was not allowed to arrange for the harvesting of her crop, and her furniture was removed a distance of 17 miles.
– It is true that the honorable member has brought to my notice on several occasions the claims made by Mrs. Solly with regard to the ‘ difficulty in which she found herself over certain property. At the instance of the honorable member, I interviewed Mrs. Solly on one occasion. Quite recently, the honorable member mentioned the case to me again, and I made further representations on the matter, but finality has not yet been reached. The matter in dispute falls largely within the jurisdiction of the State authorities. I can assure the honorable member that I have not overlooked his representations, and if I am able to assist in the direction indicated by him I shall bo glad to do so.
– Has the Prime Minister yet received from the Trades and Labour Council, Brisbane, a request for the suspension of the penalty sections of the Immigration Act in relation to Indonesian seamen? If so, what answer has been given?
– I have ascertained that a telegram was received yesterday, making certain requests iri regard to the waiving of sections of the Immigration Act. I have not yet seen it, nor have I given any consideration to the requests. I propose to discuss with the Dutch authorities at noon to-day certain matters affecting the position. I have nothing further to say at present.
Motion (by Mr. Chifley) agreed to -
That government business shall take precedence over general business to-morrow.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed from the 25th September (vide page 5862).
Defence and War (1939-45) SERVICES
Proposed vote, £152,962,000.
– I deem it desirable to open the debate on defence and war services, in order to reply to certain comment already made in connexion with the Department of Munitions and the Department of Aircraft Production, as well as to anticipate future comment.
– On a point of order. I wish to know whether the proposed votes for all the divisions under “ Defence and War (1939-45) Services “, are to be debated as a whole, or separately.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Riordan).Is it the wish of the committee that the proposed vote for defence and war services shall be taken as a whole?
– Then the proposed vote before the chair is that for the Department of Defence, £197.000.
– Then I shall reserve my remarks.
Department of Defence.
Proposed vote. £197,000.
.- I move-
That the amount be reduced by £1.
I do so as an instruction to the Government - te appoint a Federal Economy Commission to investigate Commonwealth departments, particularly service departments, with a view to indicating where and how economies can be effected.
There is ample evidence of the slovenly way in which the Estimates have been prepared. If confirmation of that statement were required, it was furnished last night by the Minister for Immigration and Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell), who admitted that the Estimates of the Department of Immigration, involving an expenditure of £216,000, were prepared several months ago, before the war in Europe had ended, and when it was expected that the war against Japan would continue for the remainder of the financial year. In the face of that explanation, the committee is asked to pass Estimates involving an expenditure of £360,000,000. The amount should really be £433,000,000, ,as the £360,000,000 is the proposed net expenditure after certain amounts have been deducted. It is the responsibility of the Opposition to see that expenditure is kept as low as possible, consistent with efficiency. I am not satisfied that the Estimates before us reveal that due economy is proposed in the expenditure of the taxpayers’ money. The Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) has told us that not more than a token reduction of taxes by 6i per cent, from the 1st January next is possible, but I am not satisfied that that is so, and therefore I have moved the amendment in order to enable a thorough investigation to be made. “We are told that £360,000,000 is the amount required to finance defence and war services for the year, but ten months of the year will be in the postwar period. I have not overlooked the fact that about £54,000,000 will be required for deferred pay to service men and service women. The sum of £360,000,000 has been arrived at after giving effect to certain gross credits, namely, £25,000,000 under Division 190, “ Miscellaneous Credits”, and £20,000,000 under Division 225. Those items are described as recoverable expenditure. Obviously, those two credits must relate to the previous financial year; otherwise the Government would be carrying out work of a war-time nature under peacetime conditions. There is another credit which also has the effect of reducing the gross amount, namely, the £28,000,000 which it is expected will be obtained from the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. The £433,000,000 total expenditure will be reduced by credits, which have relation to previous years, to £360,000.000. The people should not be deceived into believing that £360,000,000 is the total defence expenditure for the year. It is the net amount. Let us look at the items which represent increases.
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Riordan).The question before the Chair is the vote foi1 the Department of Defence, namely, £197,000. The committee has decided to take each division separately.
– A vital principle is involved, and I have taken advantage of the forms of the House to refer to it. I have moved that the vote for the Department of Defence be reduced by £1. If you, Mr. Chairman, rule that I may not. make a general survey at this stage, I shall repeat my amendment on every division. Such a ruling will not shorten the debate or prevent me from presenting my case. The proposed vote for the Department of Defence, namely £197,000, is a part of a total vote of £360,000,000 which, as I have said, should be £433,000,000. The proposed vote is slightly more than £22,000 above the expenditure in a full year of war. The proposed vote for the Department of the Army represents an increase of £1,138,884 over the expenditure for 1944-45, which was a war period. The increases over last year’s expenditure in respect of certain other departments is shown in the following table : -
– Order ! I have already informed the right honorable gentleman that the question before the Chair is the vote for the Department of Defence, namely, £197,000. He has moved that that amount be reduced by £1.
– In view of your ruling, Mr. Chairman, I shall have to repeat my amendment in respect of every division.
Mr. SPENDER (Warringah) [11.24’. - I support the amendment in principle, but if it means that there is to be an extra-Parliamentary Commission I shall be unable to support it, because I maintain that the control of the country’s finances must be vested in the Parliament. That is the sense in which I understand the amendment; and in that sense I support it. On more than one occasion I have said that this Parliament has lost its control over expenditure, and that we must restore that control. The means that I suggest is that a body, consisting of members of the Parliament, shall be given complete authority to ascertain the facts and report to the Parliament. It is appropriate that the amendment should have been moved in connexion with the vote for the Department of Defence, because that is the department under whose authority there is supposed to be a co-ordination of service departments. We must bear in mind that nine months of the financial year will be a period of peace. Compared wilh the actual war expenditure of the previous year, which was £4G0,000,000, the estimate of war expenditure for this year line been, by the strangest circumstance. reduced by exactly £100,000,000. 1 do not believe for a moment that this represents anything more than an arbitrary reduction. The Department, of Defence, more than any other department should be responsible for seeing that estimates of war expenditure are properly prepared. If that is not its function, what function is it supposed to discharge? If it is merely an organization superimposed upon the existing service departments, it is of no use whatever. Its only purpose should bo to co-ordinate the various defence activities of the country, and to watch expenditure on all of them.
– The original name of the department was “Defence Coordination “.
– That is so, and the name was dropped probably because the Minister in charge at the time did not like it. Wc have been told that it is not possible to reduce taxation by any substantial amount. It is of the very essence of this problem that a proper estimate should ‘ be made of war expenditure for this year. The fact that war expenditure is to bo reduced by exactly £100.000,000 forces one to the conclusion that no attempt has been made to work out the Estimates properly. Evidently, the word went round that the Estimates were to be cut by £100,000,000. As an ex-Treasurer, I have a fair idea who was responsible - the Secretary to the Treasury- and if that is the way the finances of the country are to be run. the sooner we close up shop the better. I should like to know how the proposed expenditure for various departments was worked out. Did the Minister peruse the Estimates, and carefully check all proposed expenditure? If he did not, I cannot see what his department is supposed to do. It is evident that estimates prepared during war-time were, within the space of three or four weeks, re-adjusted - I should prefer to say juggled - in order to meet altered circumstances when peace came. The proper thing to do would have been to issue interim financial statements, as was done in the early part of the war when expenditure was constantly rising, and it was not possible to estimate the rate of increase. I believe that if the Government had really desired to reduce expenditure substantially it could have done so. If Parliament accepts this budget without protest it will merely encourage the extravagant ideas which are current in the services. I support the amendment, and I should like to hear from the Treasurer and the Minister for Defence details of the method they followed in framing the Estimates. I should like to see the instructions that were sent round when it was decided that war expenditure should be reduced from £460,000,000 to £360,000,000. If the public keep those two figures in mind they cannot, but believe that the revision of the budget has been arbitrary and inefficient.
– The points made by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) are sound. In particular, I endorse the suggestion of the honorable member for Warringah that a statutory body should be created to investigate public expenditure and report to Parliament. As the honorable member pointed out, it is evident that Parliament has very largely lost control over the finances of the country. That was obvious from the statement of the Minister for Information and Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) last night who, in reply to criticism, said that the estimates for his department had boon compiled before the collapse of Germany, and were almost in print before the collapse of Japan. The treasurer (Mr. Chifley), with contemptuous disregard of honorable members, has thrown his budget on the table, and relies upon the weight of numbers to get it through Parliament. He may be able to afford to disregard Parliament in this way, but he cannot afford to disregard the feelings of the taxpayers who are finding the money.
During the debate on the Estimates, members of the Opposition have pointed out that too little money has been provided for certain departments, namely, the Department of External Affairs, the Department of Commerce and Agriculture, and the Department of Immigration. The estimate for the Department of Commerce and Agriculture has actually been decreased at a time when it should have been considerably increased in order to provide for peace-time expansion. It is also desirable that more money should be provided so as to put into effect a vigorous immigration policy. Every Minister whose department has been criticized in the course of this debate has admitted that the estimated expenditure shown in this document is not the total amount that will be expended during the financial year. They have all said in effect, “We propose to expend much more than tins. This is only a minor amount”. Obviously, every Minister knows full well that these Estimates are not the true Estimates of his department. It would have been much more honest had the Government introduced a Supply Bill covering the next few weeks to enable the Treasurer to compile a budget more in accordance with the conditions which will exist, during the next nine mouths. Because of these things, I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Australian Country party, and because the control of the affairs of this country is being taken away from the Parliament I voice this protest. How can. the Estimates for the
Department of Defence be justified ? For instance, the estimated expenditure of the administrative section is £112,000, compared with £107,323 actually expended last year. What is the reason for that increased expenditure during nine months of peace? Provision is made ako for an increase of expenditure under the control of the Department of Works and Housing from £114,923 to £.130,300, including an increase of nearly £6,000 on “ Buildings, Works, Fittings, and Furniture “. Is the Minister for Defence preparing for another war? The estimated expenditure under the Department of the Treasury is £66,000 compared with £59,305 actually expended last year. Under the control of the Department of the Interior expenditure on rent is estimated at £500 for the current year, which is the same amount as was expended last year. Do these increases make sense to honorable members or to the taxpayers of this country? As I said last, night when dealing with the Department of Immigration, this budget shows the contemptuous disregard of the Government for the rights of honorable members, and it is characteristic of that attitude that although we are now discussing expenditure totalling £360,000.000, there are only six honorable members on the Government side of the chamber. The sooner Parliament regains control of its own affairs the sooner we shall return to a proper method of budgeting.
.- I sec very little point in the amendment now before the chair. If it were a. motion for the appointment of a parliamentary committee to investigate all government expenditure throughout the financial year I should support it heartily, but every one knows that affairs to-day are in a state of flux. Opposition members admit that they know the budget was prepared while this country was still at war. No one can forecast accurately the expenditure for the next- twelve months, and the Government, is wise in reducing the Estimates substantially, and on that basis reducing’ taxation. I remind the Opposition that there is in existence a War Expenditure Committee which was appointed for the very purpose for which the Opposition seeks the appointment of another committee. The suggestion to appoint another body is absurd. If the Leader . of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) desired that the War Expenditure Committee should have its directive widened so that it would become a Parliamentary Standing Committee on expenditure, and so act as an auditor and report to Parliament on expenditure by various government departments, he would have my wholehearted support, but I do not see any sense in appointing another body to do the work of a committee that is already in existence. I regard the suggestion as little more than frivolous.
.- The Government spokesman who has just resumed his seat has lent point to the amendment moved by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden). Apparently, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) adopts the attitude that we should not worry about items in the Estimates because they cannot be right anyhow. That is the Government’s case as presented by its followers. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Beasley) so far has been silent. He has a capacity for engaging and disarming frankness, and I wish he would exercise it now. If he would agree to say to the committee right away that no notice should be taken of increases of the Estimates because they are all bogus, we would be able to save ourselves a lot of time, even if we did not save the country a lot of money. Are these figures genuine or are they not? That is what the Leader of the Australian Country party is driving at. We must have some means of discovering it. I invite the Minister to deal with the particular in this discussion. Let me illustrate my point by reference to a particular item. Under Division No. 87, “ Administrative, salaries and payments in the nature of salary”, the estimate is £92,000 and the expenditure for 1944-45 was £87,053. In other words, the estimate which is placed before us. and which is either honest or dishonest, shows that about £5,000 more will be required for salaries in the Department of Defence than was needed in the last year of the war. The Minister is bound to tell this committee the reason for the increase. Is it true that the expenditure will rise by £5,000? If so, why? I notice that this item has no relation to a variety of matters which, I can well imagine, will have to be considered during this year. For instance, it has no relation to housing, because a separate departmental vote for housing has been provided, or to demobilization, because that will be controlled by the Department of Post-war Reconstruction. Finally, it has no relation to Treasury items such as deferred pay and war gratuities, because in these Estimates the Treasury items are separate from those of the Department of Defence. Apparently, this item has no relation whatever to anything except the mere administration of this department, the function of which is to co-ordinate the activities of the other war departments.
– In time of war.
– Yes. So I say to the Minister, “ Let us get down to brass tacks on this matter “.
– Yes, let us deal with specific matters.
– Let . the Minister explain why an additional £5,000 will be spent on the administration of the Department of Defence this year compared with last year. I almost suspect that he knows the answer, because he looks so cheerful.
– Let the Minister also answer the other questions which have been put to him.
– W© shall give him a good start by allowing him to answer the question which I have asked, because evidently it is easy. When the honorable gentleman has answered it, he may, encouraged and flushed with success, proceed to deal with the really difficult questions.
– I understand that you, Mr. Chairman, ruled that these service departments should be discussed separately. I believed that it was with (hat purpose in mind that the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Makin) rose at the beginning of the discussion this morning, because the Department of the Navy was second on the list of wai1 departments. Naturally, every Minister must bear the responsibility for his administration and have a detailed knowledge of the reasons for any increases of expenditure. During the discussion which I expected to take place in accordance with the Chairman’s ruling, Ministers would have been able to obtain all the files and other information relating to questions which honorable gentlemen might ask. But the discussion, if I may be pardoned for saying so, went a little beyond the first department, and the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) endeavoured to show that the Department of Defence must determine the expenditure of the other war departments. I am prepared to answer questions relating to the Department of Defence, which is shown in the first division. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) very properly directed his remarks to it.
– So did I.
– We must admit that the Leader of the Opposition carefully followed rulings and the procedure of this chamber, and I thank him for having confined his comments to the department and asking the reasons for the increase of the specific item, “ Salaries and payments in the nature of salary, £92,000 “.
– So much for the hon d’æuvre. Let us now have the dinner.
– I am sure that the right honorable gentleman approves of arbitration, and would honour the decisions of the Arbitration Court.
– That is what distinguishes me from the Government.
– I am sure that the right honorable gentleman would be the last man in this chamber to say that a declaration by the court which involved the Government’s honour in connexion with this specific item - the provision of additional money for salaries and payments in the nature of salaries - should not be observed.
– Hear, hear! But the staff is exactly the same.
– That is true, but arbitration courts sometimes make decisions which entail the payment of: increased remuneration to staffs.
– The court does not provide th,at the Government shall retain the same staff.
– The right honorable gentleman realizes that although actual hostilities have concluded- and thank God for that - a tremendous volume of work remains to be done. He will agree that the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen and the payment of gratuities will entail a great deal of work.
– But not by this staff.
– Perhaps we shall be obliged to get another staff. However, my point is that the Government must carry a very large civilian staff. That is perfectly understandable. The work in this instance may be much heavier in the next twelve months than it was in the last twelve months. However, we must deal with specific matters. The amount of £92,000 for salaries and payments in the nature of salary is £4’,947 in excess of the actual expenditure in 1944-45. The excess was due mainly to the inclusion of the sum of £4,500 to cover additional salary payments consequent upon an arbitration determination providing for the payment of salaries to office staffs for time regularly worked, namely 40$ hours a week instead of 36^ hours a week, on which basis the salaries of office staffs was previously paid. Since the preparation of the Estimates, the hours of duty of office staffs have been reduced by the Government. Honorable members will agree that the Government owed that reduction of hours to public servants in recognition of the very valuable service which they rendered during the war. The reduction of the hours of duty of office staffs took effect from the 13th September last, and it is estimated that because of this change, a saving of approximately £3,400 will be made. That is something on the credit side, and may ease the taxation burden a little.
– For better or for worse, richer or poorer, the Minister’s story is that the same staff will be retained, but their salaries will be higher than they were last year.
– It is exactly the same staff, but additional reasons for the increase are that the Arbitration Court made a determination, working hours have been changed and an economy has been effected.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) referred to buildings, works, fittings, and furniture. He said it was a shame that we should be spending money on such work now that the war is over. The provision under Division 88 is for £6,300, as compared with an expenditure of £403 last year, and the provision under Division S9 is £12,000 as compared with an expenditure of £7,197 last year. The provision under each division relates to the Victoria Barracks area, Melbourne, the buildings in which are chiefly occupied by other departments. The estimated increase this year is necessary to enable urgent maintenance work to be carried out. I believe that honorable members will appreciate the necessity for this, because during the war the cost of maintenance work increased considerably. Furthermore, such work had to he deferred owing to shortages of man-power and materials, and where two coats of paint would once have been ..sufficient, three coats are now required. Therefore, the question of maintenance expenditure has become very important. The work provided for includes the painting of buildings, the reconstruction of roads, the replacement of electric light facilities, and commitments to the value of £3,000 carried forward from last year. My comments deal with the specific divisions of defence expenditure. I do not want to depart from your ruling, Mr. Chairman, that the Estimates must be taken in departments, although other honorable members may have violated that ruling. I understand that the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) intends to submit amendments on the separate divisions.
– As often as I can.
– The comments made by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) contained an unkind reference to the Secretary to the Treasury to the effect that, if the Government were to follow his advice, the sooner it shut up shop the better.
– It is a certainty that what I suggested actually did take place.
– That part of it was true. Somebody did say, “ Make it £100,000,000 “.
– What is unkind about it if it is, the truth?
– The honorable member made a reference which contained a personal reflection.
– I did nothing of the sort. I made a pretty good guess at the truth. Whether it is unkind or not I still say it. Will the Minister tell me whether it is the truth?
– The honorable member must not follow the methods of his profession in connexion with matters discussed in this chamber. He had no right, in my view, to make any reflection on the Secretary to the Treasury. After all, that officer has served more governments than this one and, as far as 1 know, he has served them well. He might not be as liberal as some of us would like him to be-
– What I said had no relation to what the Minister is talking about now. He is putting up an Aunt Sally and knocking it down. Is it true that the Secretary to the Treasury did what I suggested that he did ?
– The honorable member has put up an Aunt Sally himself. He is having great difficulty in adducing anything like a logical case in connexion with the matter, and the best that he can do is to say that some person made a “blind stab”.
– The Minister is having great difficulty, in explaining how the figure was reduced by exactly £100,000,000.
– The budget papers explain that. I consider that the honorable member is competent to examine them for himself. The Treasurer himself discussed this matter in some detail when concluding his speech on the first item of the Estimates. He dealt with the question of the heavy expenditure that had to be provided for this financial year. I cannot canvass that subject now, because it would contravene your ruling, Mr. Chairman.
– The honorable gentleman seems to be very happy on that account.
– I believe in adhering to the forms of the House. I have done so for eighteen years, and I have never been put out of the chamber.
– The honorable gentleman, has had a few narrow escapes.
– That is true. I have given my answers to the points which have been raised by honorable members.
– The disarming friendliness of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Beasley) has not taken us any further along what evidently is a very long, rocky and twisting road to the truth. The Minister reminds me of a very Irish member of the South Australian Parliament who said to a Minister, who also was of Irish descent, “ The Minister has talked all round the truth for an hour and a half but has never touched it once “. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) has taken a good point. The committee has not been candidly informed of the methods by which these estimates were calculated. To expect the committee to accept them at their face value is to place too great a strain on human good nature. I have heard nothing for a long time of that delectable body that was in existence when I was last a Minister, the Board of Business Administration. I am not sure whether it still exists, but I should not be surprised if some light could be thrown upon these Estimates if a parliamentary committee were appointed and given the authority to make a searching investigation as to the whys and wherefores of the figures presented to us. Another important point, on which a statement was made by the Prime Minister not long ago, but which has not been further discussed, is the question of the future defence policy of Australia. I have made passing references to it previously, and I do not intend to go into the matter deeply now. The responsibility for our defence policy devolves upon the Government, not upon the Opposition. The Government has shown no alacrity to declare its views on the matter. What is to be the peace-time relationship between the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and what is to be our munitions policy? Does the Government propose to have anything in the nature of a standing Army? It stands to reason that the Government cannot maintain a peace-time Navy and Air Force without also having a standing Army. I should like to know the method by which such a force will be raised. To put it brutally in language which Ministers and their supporters can understand, I want to know whether the Government intends to continue in peace-time the conscription methods which it was reluctantly obliged to adopt in war-time. Also, I want to know what status will be held by the various chiefs of staff of the services.
– The honorable member wants to know too much all at once. He will hear about it all in good time.
– And no doubt we shall get “the house that Laz.’ built “ in good time, although I have my doubts on that point. I also want to know whether the present set-up of the Department of Defence is to be maintained in peace-time. I have never known the department, which formerly was designated the Department of Defence Co-ordination, to be anything other than a bottle-neck in the prosecution of the war. I also want to know whether the Government proposes that a civilian shall bt- virtually the super chief of staff over the three service chiefs of staff as at present. That is a very bad position. I raise these points as food for thought in the hope that in due course a Government pronouncement will be made regarding them. I am not pressing the present Minister for Defence, because I have a strong suspicion that he will be departing at an early date for other climes. We all wish him well. He has carried on well in Australia under many varieties of circumstances, and has acquitted himself well in all of them.
– The honorable member must confine himself to the proposed vote under discussion.
– The question under immediate consideration is whether these Estimates are fit and proper to be passed by the committee. My emphatic opinion is that they should not be passed without a proper investigation by a committee of the House, on which the Opposition will be adequately represented.
– The honorable gentleman has always claimed that the Government should govern.
– Yes, but it has shown in this instance that it has not governed. In considering the expenditure which has been budgeted for, one can only come to the conclusion that the Government has made a series of stabs in the dark. I take for example the item of £60,000 proposed to be expended on “ home security “, forwhich activity the present Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lazzarini) was formerly responsible. Last year the expenditure under this heading was £70,172. For ten and a half months of this financial year we shall not be actually engaged in military operations, and the more one examines the Estimates the more concerned one becomes as to the method by which they have been presented. We have certain responsibilities as the representatives of the taxpayers, and I am afraid that we are not discharging them in a wholesome and whole-hearted manner.
.- I support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), and voice’ my protest against the manner in which the Estimates have been presented. Under our system of parliamentary government, we are supposed to scrutinize intelligently, when intelligible information is furnished to us, the proposed expenditure for the forthcoming year. I fear that the evidence is overwhelming that these figures have not been presented in a manner which is complimentary to the committee. There appears to have been a “ blind stab “. The slogan of the Government or its advisers appears to have been, “ Anything will do for them “. There will have to be an alteration of that outlook, and a reversion to the accepted parliamentary practice of British dominions. I note that there were 80 employees on the permanent staff of the Defence Co-ordination Department last year and exactly the same number of employees are shown for the coming year. The Minister’s explanation is that this is due to industrial awards, the reduction of hours and similar causes. No doubt that is the correct explanation, but the Opposition contends that the war bavins been decided in our favour there should be a reduction of such expenditure and a corresponding reduction of staff. We should now be devoting our energies to peaceful pursuits. It may be said that SO employees is a small number, and so it would seem to be in such an important branch of the Public Service as the defence of Australia, but later the estimates for the Department of Air and the Department of the Army will come before us.
The Department of the Army has some thousands of permanent officials, whilst the Department of Air has 5,680. It is generally recognized that these establishments will have to be maintained, but in dealing with the defence estimates we should bear in mind the necessity for a return to normal expenditure. The number of permanent employees last year in connexion with civil air services was 217, but the number is to be the same for this year, despite the fact that legislation has been passed to enable the Commonwealth to take control of interstate airlines. Apparently, no consideration at all has been give to the presentation of accurate budget figures. I support the contention of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender), that the presentation of a budget which arbitrarily reduces by £100,000,000 the amount estimated to be expended in the financial year, without any alteration of the details of votes that are of any consequence, is not a candid approach to the very serious financial problems of this country, but is merely an expedient which the Government proposes to enforce with the weight of its parliamentary majority. All members of the Parliament ought to show respect for parliamentary procedure, and the principles upon which budgets are framed, because of the inherent dangers in departing from such a stand. I am strongly of the opinion that, in the present instance, those principles have been totally ignored.
Question put -
That the amount proposed to be reduced (Mr. Fadpen’s amendment) be so reduced.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. W. J. F. Riordan.)
Majority . . 19
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote - Department of the Navy, £31,815,000- agreed to.
Department of the Army.
Proposed vote, £174,757,000.
– I draw attention to a matter which I endeavoured to raise at question time to-day, but was prevented from doing so by the rules of the House. There is a good deal of concern at what has been described as the “kid glove” methods which representatives of Australia have adopted towards Japanese soldiers who have become prisoners of war. I do not desire to canvass the matter, but merely refer to reports which, from time to time, have appeared in the press, having come from members of our forces in territories to the north of Australia to which prisoners have been taken. Those men have strongly protested against what has been described as the “molly coddling” of
Japanese prisoners of war, particularly in comparison with the treatment accorded to our own soldiers. The Sydney Sun published last Monday a report written by Mr. C. A. Burley from Darwin. I shall quote only the relevant portion of it -
If the Army Minister (Mr. Forde) is satisfied that the Japanese at Timor are nut being molly-coddled, he should go toKeopang and talk to men who resent this go-easy treatment. Mr. Forde gave war correspondents and others back from Timor the horse laugh when we heard on the radio that he had made a full inquiry which revealed that there was no foundation for the charge that Australians were too easy on the Japanese in Timor. Apparently. Mr. Forde has been fobbed off by senior officers for him to have issuedsuch a flat contradiction.
The report went on to say -
I wonder what Mr. Forde was told in explanation of Nips getting a half-hour break every afternoon - a concession that the Australians neither expected nor received - of Australians digging deep latrines out of coral with pick and shovel, and of Australians unloading barges, sometimes knee high in water, while the Japanese loafed ashore. I did not notice any canvas shade-shelters for Australians, but there were canopies on the beach for Japanese. I saw Japanese lounging under them, drinking tea.
The report pointed out that these statements could be verified by hundreds of witnesses in those areas. I note that, according to the Sydney Daily Telegraph of to-day, a change has come over the scene. That newspaper has published a large picture of Australian troops guarding Japanese prisoners of war while the latter were at work. There is this comment, which the Minister for the Army might note–” A week ago Australian soldiers were at work beside a Japanese working party . . . Watching them, a Japanese officer had then asked an Australian naval officer : “ Who are these other prisoners working here ? “ He was referring, of course, to our own soldiers. Many others will echo the wish that I now express, for a full explanation from the Minister as to the policy that has been adopted in respect of prisoners of war in the hands of the Australians. Has there been any “molly-coddling” of them? If so, who was responsible for it? Has tender consideration been shown to these prisoners on the instruction or at the instigation of the Minister or the Government? Australian soldiers who have been forced to witness the treatment that I have mentioned have expressed resentment at it, and the matter has been given wide publicity in the Australian press. I hope that the M inister will give an explanation.
I wish to refer to the facilities provided by the Army in various parts of Australia. I refer to camps, roads, sewerage systems and other conveniences in country districts. I notice with regret that it appears to be the policy of the Commonwealth Disposals Commission, or the Army, to tear up some of the conveniences such as water-pipe lines which have been provided and to sell them at junk prices rather than allow the residents of the area to have the use of them. I have received a letter from the Tenterfield Shire Council in this connexion. A large Army camp was established a few miles out of Tenterfield, and in order to provide it with water the camp was connected with the town supply. The camp is no longer occupied, but the pipe-line remains and could be used by farmers in the locality. I understand that the pipes were offered to the shire council for about £900 a mile, notwithstanding that if sold by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission they would, probably not realize sufficient to cover the labour costs involved in taking them up. The council and the residents of the district think that the pipes should be left in the ground for the use of persons living in the vicinity. I mention this pipe-line, not in order to draw attention to that specific instance, but because I think that it is typical of what may bo occurring in other places. Many of the facilities provided for war purposes could now bc used by local government authorities. It is inconceivable that aerodromes will be ploughed up because local authorities will not purchase them, or that roads will be destroyed because local bodies cannot afford to pay for them. These facilities should be made available to local authorities on gift terms, if necessary.
– The committee should not allow these Estimates to pass without endeavouring to obtain satisfactory information regarding many items of expenditure. The Estimates for the Department of the
Army show an increase of £1,138,884 over the expenditure for last year, notwithstanding that ten months of the present financial year will be in the postwar period. An examination of the items which make up the proposed vote of £174,757,000 discloses that it includes £120,000,000 for pay and allowances in the nature of pay to members of the Australian Military Forces. Last year’s expenditure under that heading was £104,927,921. No doubt, the proposed vote for this year includes £54,000,000 for deferred pay to service-men and women, but, even so, the huge expenditure set down for this year requires an explanation. I do not know why the amount should be so greatly in excess of the expenditure for 1944-45. Under Division 112 - Civilian Services - the sum of £1,050,000 is to be provided for salaries and payments in the nature of salary. That is only about £16,000 less than the expenditure last year. I do not know whether provision is made for Commonwealth Peace Officers under this heading.
– Peace officers come under the Attorney-General’s Department.
– For camp expenses, training and maintenance £25,626,087 was expended last year. This year the proposed vote is £20,000,000. I cannot understand why so large an amount has been set aside. I should also like to know what the peace-time functions of the inspection branch will be, and why an expenditure of £570,000 is expected. Also, I desire to know why the amount for the Army Inventions Directorate is to exceed last year’s expenditure by £11,476. For the acquisition, of sites and buildings only £24,000 less than was expended last year is to be provided. J cannot understand why so large a sum is said to be required. Under division 124, £10,000 is to be voted for rent. That is £3,674 more than was expended under that heading last year. What is the reason? The committee is entitled to more information concerning these items than has been presented to it, and therefore I again urge that a special committee of members be appointed to investigate all governmental expenditure. I am disposed to divide the committee on every division of these Estimates.
We on this side have not been treated frankly in connexion with the proposed expenditure for the year. In this matter we have a duty to the taxpayers, because the heavy expenditure is advanced as a reason for continuing heavy taxation.
The Estimates should be read in the light of the Auditor-General’s report for the year ended June, 1944. Unfortunately, that officer’s report for 1944-45 is not yet to hand. In paragraph 104 and subsequent paragraphs of his report, the Auditor-General says -
It was mentioned in my previous Report that departmental officers were investigating unsatisfactory features relating to stores transferred from the Middle East to Australia. Efforts to remedy the position have been unsuccessful and the Department is preparing a report seeking approval to close the investigations. . . .
The standard of accounting at many units leaves much to be desired. Staffs were appointed in the earlier stages without proper training in store accounting and until recently adequate instruction was not available. At some of these units discrepancies have been particularly heavy. . . .
Accounting for stores at these workshops in one area was found to bo unsatisfactory. In two instances it was not possible to effect an audit owing to the absence of stock records and relevant vouchers. In the majority of workshops a full internal check had not been exercised. No stocktaking results have been made available to audit. . . .
Large losses of stores and supplies have occurred in consignments to New Guinea and Darwin. Losses were particularly noticeable in “ rationed “ commodities and stores of an attractive nature. The department has given thematter much attention, and in a recent letter to thisoffice, after reviewing the steps taken to safeguard stores at ports of loading and discharge and in transit, stated, “ It is considered that the above precautions and the Service instructions issued from time to time provide as full safeguards as arc possible”.
Notwithstanding the safeguards in force, losses continue to occur on a considerable scale. . . .
The obligation attaching to such a liability would have had abearing on the tendered price for supply ofcattle. The position, therefore, is that a lower standard is accepted than tendered for with resultant extra profits to the contractor and loss to the Department. . . .
Field butcheries records disclosed considerable under-weight deliveries and condemnations due to emaciation, but rebates were not claimed from the contractor. The Department advised that the disposition of cattle in various areas and the maintenance of reserves required by the Army nullified the relative provision in the contract.
Another matter still under consideration by the Department relates to the unsatisfactory accounting for l,045 cattle on agistment areas during 1942. . . .
Other criticisms by the Auditor-General could be quoted in order to show that the position is unsatisfactory. There is an unanswerable case for a thorough investigation of the expenditure by the Department of the Army, which proposes to expend £174,757,000 of the total of £360,000,000 for defence and war services. The committee will be failing in its duty if it passes the Estimates without obtaining more information from the Government. I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later hour.
Leave granted; progress reported.
Sitting suspended from12.45to2.15 p.m.
Mr. A. M. Blain made and subscribed the oath of allegiance as Member for the Division of the Northern Territory.
– by leave - I take this opportunity on behalf of the Government to extend to the honorable member for the Northern Territory the warmest and most sincere welcome on his return to his parliamentary duties after having been a prisoner of the Japanese for three and a half years. Nothing that can be said by any of us here will ever be able to banish from his mind the bitter memories of the ordeal through which he has passed, or enable him to forget those whom he left behind in Malaya. In his absence, the interests of his constituency were very ably looked after by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron). If I, or any other Minister, can do anything to help the honorable member in his parliamentary work, we shallbe delighted to do it.
– by leave - Members of the Opposition desire to be associated with what has fallen from the lips of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley). We are all delighted beyond measure to see the honorable member for the Northern
Territory (Mr. Blain) back in his place. He is, literally, one of those who have come out of great tribulation. He has never been out of our minds ; he has been very much in bur hearts, because he is a brave man, a good comrade, and a fine servant of this country.
– by have - I desire to express the pleasure of members of the Australian Country party at the return of the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain). We all recognize and appreciate the wonderful service he has given, and we are conscious of the privations through which he has gone. We hope that time will erase the worst memories of his ordeal, and that he will realize that he is again among friends who appreciate his work. Hie has proved himself a great Australian, not only in this war, but also in the war of 1914-18. Indeed, it was only by being not too conscientious in stating his age that he was accepted for service in this war. He became a prisoner of war, and went through a long and terrible ordeal. However, knowing his spirit, and character and physique, I am sure that it will not be long before he is fully restored to health and able to resume the parliamentary service which was so much appreciated by his constituents in the Northern Territory.
Mr. BLAIN (Northern Territory).by leave - I thank the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), and the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) for the kind things they have said. I realize that honorable members do not expect to hear a speech from me, but I shall say a few words, if only so that I may get my mind, shall I say, out of the splints in which it has been bound during the last three and a half years. I am sure that the welcome extended to me by the three right honorable gentlemen who have spoken is sincere, and that they have expressed the sentiments of all honorable members of the House, irrespective of party. I ask honorable members not to worry about me. I am physically 0 K, although it is true that we have been through a few trials, which I do not wish to magnify. My mind is still very much in splints, as I have said, but this welcome has already had the effect of loosening the bandages. I thank those who have helped my constituents during my absence, and, particularly, 1 thank the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) for the way in which he has assisted the people of the Northern Territory, whom a small minority accused me of deserting. However, I know that that does not represent the opinion of a majority of those who dwell in that vast electorate, where men have on their brows the mark of those who gaze at distant horizons. The men of the Northern Territory were the first to answer the call of duty when war broke out. I feel confident when I think that I can go back to my electorate and tell the people that I did not ask them to do what I was not prepared to do myself, but I feel some trepidation when I remember how much my good friend, the honorable member for Barker, has done for the electorate in my behalf. As I resume my seat, Mr. Speaker, permit me to say “ Thank you “ to all my friends here.
In Committee of Supply: Consideration resumed.
– In the preparation of plans for demobilization the first and most pressing need is to give priority of release to men who wish to return to their former employment, or to their own businesses and professions. After that, arrangements should be made for the immediate release of men to the food-producing industries. The more quickly the Government can demobilize the forces, the less will be the financial strain on the nation. The points system was introduced- while the war was still in progress to control the release of long-service men. It was never suggested that the principle should be applied to general demobilization, but that is what has been done, with the result that much dissatisfaction has been caused. Obviously, the cheapest man to repatriate i3 the one who has a job to go to. The Government should give every consideration to releasing men on occupational grounds. In order to illustrate how demobilization is being bungled, I propose to quote from letters which I have received from servicemen. Here is one -
After reading your article on Army and Air Force demobilization in yesterday’s Courier Hail, the 20th August, we are all with you in your statement re priority given to men with positions waiting for them.
I have been four years and ten months in the service and served three of those outside Australia. My firm applied for my release four months ago to start wool classing. Manpower Brisbane granted same but the Air Force wouldn’t allow me to go - was posted to the above station four weeks ago as a telegraphist and since then have been eating my head off and no work.
Our signal staff is made up of twelve telegraphists, two cypher, six teleprinters and, if I recollect correctly, we have had one cypher message in the last four weeks, so you can see they aren’t over-worked.
If we have to wait for the Royal Australian Air Force administration for demobilization we might make it before the next war starts.
Another soldier from New South “Wales, with three years and nine months continuous service, writes -
Having noticed several of your articles in the press re discharge of servicemen with positions awaiting them, I would like to commend you on your clear thinking and sensible attitude.
My unit has been in disbandment for the past month, nearly all members having been despatched to an Army reinforcement depot, the remaining 20 or 30, of which I am one, are being’ kept mainly as batmen and mess stewards.
This soldier goes on to say that he had been called up for an interview with the Department of War Organization of Industry, which gave, him a letter to his commanding officer sponsoring his immediate release. However, he was told that his application could not be accepted because he did not come within the categories laid down by the existing General Routine Orders. He says that he would have a wonderful opportunity to get back on his feet if he were released, or even if he were granted leave without pay, bcause he would then be able to ensure the safety of his business. Here is a letter which I have received from the father of another serviceman -
The position in the shearing is rotten and I am already four weeks overdue and it looks as if it will be another fortnight before I start. My son will just about be able to give nic a hand through shearing, after that he will have to return to Brisbane to sit down at E.D.
Surely something can be done about him and boys like him who have useful jobs to go to straight away.
I have another letter from a man who has been trying persistently to obtain the release of an employee, but has not received any consideration from the manpower authorities. His letter contains the following paragraph : -
The application this year, after being recommended by the local War Agricultural Committee, was withheld pending further information from the Army. On further inquiry last month, I received a letter stating my application was refused. I have a sugar cane peak of S8 tons of sugar, 63 acres cultivation and have been milking up to fifteen head of dairy cows. I have been unable to cope with all the work, with the result that I have slipped behind with the production - of sugar and cream. He has served over three years in the forces, being eighteen months in New Guinea. It is annoying that one is trying to keep up food production while man-power bunglers are doing their best to keep it down.
I could cite many other cases in which servicemen are urgently required in their former occupations. For instance, a qualified solicitor is urgently required by his former employer, a Warwick solicitor, who is now in bad health through having carried on the business himself during the war. A former farm employee is required by the widow of a Cooyar farmer whose husband was accidentally killed three months ago. An application for the release of this man was rejected by manpower. Another serviceman is required by his father, a Toowoomba accountant and a soldier is required by his father, a Laidley storekeeper. A Rockhampton watchmaker and jeweller desires to return to his business, which has been carried on by his wife who is now ill through overwork. The whole matter requires investigation in the light of changed conditions. I repeat that the points system, in its present form, was not intended for general demobilization. It was introduced - I know the reason because I was a member of the Advisory War Council at the time - to cover releases, during the currency of the Japanese war, of servicemen who had given long and faithful service. I suggest that consideration be given to occupational releases in conjunction with the points system. I see no reason why both systems should not be employed concurrently, provided the points system is brought up to date to meet existing conditions. I urge upon the/Government the wisdom of introducing a system of occupational releases as the most effective means of carrying out general demobilization.
.- The outdated information given to this committee by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) indicates clearly that’ he .knows little of “the latest plans for demobilization. The honorable gentleman must be aware that general demobilization of the forces has not yet commenced, and can be inaugurated only when the necessary machinery has been set up. I am sure that every honorable member could cite individual cases in which claims for release, just as strong as or even stronger than in the cases mentioned by the honorable member, have been rejected; but we must be prepared to exercise patience and restraint. During a recent debate on this subject a quotation from a book by Mr. Churchill was read by one honorable member on this side of the chamber, setting out clearly the experiences of Great Britain after the last war. It showed that the system advocated by the Leader of the Australian Country party as the best basis for discharges led to chaos and riots, and finally had to be abandoned. It is in the light of that experience that the system of demobilization in this country has been evolved. Had the Leader of the Australian Country party taken the trouble to ascertain exactly what is the position to-day and what is proposed in the Government’s plans he would not have spoken as he did on this matter. The machinery necessary for demobilization is extensive. It is not just a matter of lining servicemen up and saying, “ You are released. You can go back to civil life and take your chance of being re-established “. That is not the Government’s policy. Demobilization must be orderly, and even if some heart-burning be caused, people will realize that in the long run orderly discharges will be to the benefit of the men themselves. We all could talk about the difficulties that are being experienced by industry in securing the immediate release of service personnel, but as the result of certain information which I have been able to obtain during recent weeks I am quite satisfied that those responsible for the demobilization of our forces are right on top of the job. Most of the men now in the services want to return to civil life as quickly as possible for all sorts of reasons. That is quite a natural desire. They want to return to their homes and to be re-established in industry. Those who have jobs waiting for them wish to resume their former occupations as soon as possible, but if demobilization be not carried out in an orderly manner chaos will result and the re-establishment of the men will be hampered.
– The criticism levelled at these Estimates by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) is pertinent. The honorable gentleman drew attention again to the Auditor-General’s report in which strictures were passed on the financial methods of certain departments. I hope that in this case the Minister for the Army will not adopt the same attitude as his colleague, the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin). The committee will recall that although most scathing criticism had been levelled at that Minister’s department he merely said that he had not even read the report. When an official of the standing of the AuditorGeneral, who is appointed to look after government expenditure is ignored by a Minister, we can look forward only to a continuance of “ phoney “ Estimates such as those now before the committee. I draw the attention of honorable members to the following paragraph in the Auditor-General’s report : -
Examination of the accounts paid to date revealed instances where payment has been made for goods left behind by merchants, and which are not a normal issue to the services, for example, pianos, spirits, liqueurs, soft drinks, tobacco, cigarettes, toilet preparations, &c, nor does there appear to have been any acknowledgment of receipt of, or accounting for, such goods. Many items, including motor vehicles, cannot be traced to ledger charge nor even located, and in regard to such cases, Cabinet has directed that action be taken to have them written off by competent authority.
There is a case in point.
– Is any estimate given of the amount of money involved?
– The <=um . of £519,000 was paid in respect of claims.
Of course, it is easy for the Army authorities to expend the taxpayers’ money, but when the Auditor-General criticized the method of accounting and drew attention to the fact that wholesale losses had been incurred in regard to certain articles, Cabinet, instead of appointing a special committee to investigate the matter, blithely wrote off the amounts. It is essential that a more adequate form of accounting be instituted in this department. The Minister has a duty to perform to the taxpayers, and should heed the strictures passed on his department by the Auditor-General; but he has not taken any notice of them at all. I could mention many items in the Estimates for this department which I should like the Minister to justify, but I shall confine myself to these two: Under the heading of “ Acquisition of Sites and Buildings “ expenditure last year was ±’324,000. I can quite understand that in time of war it is necessary to acquire buildings, and sites for camps, and provide for the housing of people engaged on administrative work. The expending of £324,000 last year, therefore, docs not seem unreasonable; but the Estimates now before us cover a period of nine months of peace when, according to the Government, Australian services will be demobilized to a substantial degree. Surely, in these months there will not be any need to acquire additional sites or buildings. Indeed, I imagine that Army Hirings should be able to get rid of many buildings and sites of which it is now in possession; but the estimated expenditure under this heading is £300,000. What is the justification for that? The Minister might be able to explain the matter, but it is puzzling to me, because this state of affairs is not peculiar to one department. Similar instances may be found in the Estimates of all the service departments.
Does the Minister for the Army propose to expend £300,000 on the acquisition of buildings and sites so that he may fight a private war against some phantom army? Past experience has shown that once the Army authorities gain control of buildings and sites they are loath to give them up. The Minister should ensure that they shall surrender the buildings and sites that they now hold, and shall not acquire any additional ones. Under the same heading we find the item “Bent”. I imagined that the maximum rent expenditure would occur in time of war. That would be perfectly logical. However, I find that the rent paid in 1944-45 totalled £6,326, and I am staggered that the estimate for this year, which will include nine months of peace, is £10,000, almost twice as much as in the peak year of the war. Is there any justification for that? The budget has been thrown at us like a mess of pottage, and, on the admission of various Ministers, the Estimates were compiled before Germany collapsed. Surely the Government must fulfil its responsibility with regard to the expenditure of taxpayers’ money. It is time for Parliament to regain .control of the public purse. On these two divisions alone, the Minister has charges to answer, and I want to hear what he has to say about them.
I shall now make passing references to subjects mentioned by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard ) . One matter has nothing to do with demobilization generally, but relates to the release of men from the Army. I want to know why the Minister has abandoned the discharge scheme which applied to men with five years’ service, including two years’ overseas service. Up to the 30th September, these men were given the opportunity to apply for release from the services. A man wilh the necessary qualifications serving on a distant island has very little chance of securing discharge under the points system. A man with dependants serving in the barracks in Sydney and having an equal period of service will receive preference over him. The five-year plan should operate in conjunction with the points system, and veterans should be given priority in the granting of discharges. In June last, I made representations on behalf of a limbless “Digger” of the 1914-18 war whose health had broken down and who wished to have his son released from the Army in order to work on his dairy farm. The father asked me to help to secure the release of the son, or, failing that, to secure compassionate leave for him for at least, two months so that the father might have a chance to regain his health. The son has remained in the Army, and I received no recognition of my representations until to-day. It seems as though the Minister, or whoever else handled the matter, anticipated a debate of this kind and thought that, by granting a release for the son at this stage, he would stifle any criticism which I might level against the department regarding its system of releases. I applied to the Man Power authorities in connexion with this case, and in August I spoke to the Minister for Labour and National Service. I was then told that the categories of employment for which priorities for discharge were granted did not include dairy-farming. If that be the case, all that the Minister for the Army has said, in his capacity as Acting Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, regarding dairy production has been so much “ hooey “ ! I shall read . the letter which the limbless exserviceman whom I mentioned wrote to the Man Power authorities.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Chairman. Is the honorable members in order in discussing on this division the pros and cons of the Government’s demobilization scheme?
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Riordan).The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), like other honorable members, has not discussed the general subject of demobilization. He has made passing reference to it in connexion with the release of men from the fighting services.
– Although the reading of letters of -this kind might not be palatable to honorable members on the Government side of the chamber, they cannot stifle me by taking points of order. The letter written by the dairyfarmer to the Man Power officer on the 27th August was as follows: -
I was surprised ‘to receive yours- (enclosed) as 3 had expected you would have favorably considered my case.
Obviously, he had been informed that his wm could not be released. The letter continued -
You see, I am a limbless “ Digger “ and I applied because my stump was giving trouble I got Dr. Whiting out from Parramatta and he said mv trouble was due to excessive pressure. X have not had a day off for two and a half years. Now my stump has broken down completely and I am on crutches, but even so I still nave to milk the cows twice a day and do many other jobs. I don’t know how long I will bc on crutches - i.t may be months. I’m getting over 40 gallons of milk a day at present, but of course I should be producing double that amount, but what chance have I on crutches of working the farm to advantage? I suggest that, in view of the circumstances, you could recommend my son’s release without fear of being accused of misplaced sympathy.
Is not the Government ashamed that a “ Digger “ who gave a limb in the defence of this country and who is now trying to carry on his farm should be treated like this ,at a time when the Government acknowledges that it cannot secure sufficient dairy products for Australia’s wants, apart from those of Great Britain ? It i3 disgraceful that the “ red tape “ associated with departmental procedure should be such as to prevent the granting of two months’ compassionate leave to the soldier son of a disabled ex-serviceman and to cause delay from June until the present date in granting the release of the man.
– Where does this dairyfarmer live? In Vaucluse?
– No, at Kellyville. Many electors from other districts come to me because they know that I will represent them well. I have done many jobs for residents of the honorable member’s electorate, whom he cannot represent adequately. This is not a matter for laughter, as supporters of the Government seem to think. It is serious and has human appeal.
– Can such things really happen in Australia?
– The honorable member may well ask. One can hardly believe that such things happen in this free and enlightened country. In cases such as the one I have specified, the points system of Army discharges should be waived. At the very least compassionate leave should have been given to the man. Members of the Australian Country party in this chamber frequently draw the attention of the Government to its failure to maintain primary production at an adequate level. It should take notice of such ca.ces and expedite the releases of servicemen who wish to return ti. the land so as to produce the food ri quired by ourselves and the people of Great Britain. I have frequently appealed to the’ Minister for the Army to grant the release of key men in industry. One case related to a man 48 years of age who had five years’ service. His release to industry would have paved the way for the immediate employment cf 35 ex-servicemen. The release of such men would assist the Government, but, because of some ridiculous value which it attaches to the points system, the Government refuses to give reasonable consideration to their prompt discharge. Men are being released from munitions industries and from the Allied “Works Council and they are obtaining jobs for which ex-soldiers should have a chance to apply. The soldiers’ chances are being prejudiced. The Minister for the Army should arrange for the early release of key men, while holding back men who have no jobs awaiting them. That policy would be of major value.
The Estimates will not fool honorable members on this side of the chamber. They do not give a true indication of the budgetary position. It would have been more honest of the Government to ask for supply now in order to gain time to prepare a budget more in keeping with the true position as it will be revealed later in the year. The Minister for the Army must account to the committee for the inflated Estimates in respect of his department. If he can give a satisfactory explanation of them I shall help to have the Estimates passed speedily.
– It must be borne in mind that accelerating the discharge of a soldier serving in the islands usually means that the discharge of some other serviceman in the islands must be retarded. Transport facilities are limited and the placing of one man on a ship means that another man must be held back in order to make room for him. Therefore, accelerated discharges should he granted only on exceptional grounds, after all factors have been weighed. The scheme under which releases are now being made provides that key men who are required to re-establish industries, men in whose families particularly com.passionable circumstances exist, and men who are required for special seasonal and other rural work may be released ahead of the normal order of their priorities. That is a good system as long as such cases are treated as exceptions to the demobilization system. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) has said that to make exceptional grounds the basis of demobilization would be the cheapest method of repatriating men from the fighting services. That may be so, but cheapness should not be the dominant factor in our repatriation scheme. The first consideration should be justice to the men concerned. That being so, there can be no better system than one which, as a general rule, arranges for discharges in accordance with length of service and family responsibilities, providing for exceptions only in very special cases.
.- I agree with the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) that it is remarkable that although about ten months of this financial year will be spent at peace, the proposed expenditure on the Army -is £1,138,884 greater than it was last financial year, when this country was fighting for its life. It is all the more remarkable when one realizes that the Government has no defence policy. Every honorable member must realize to-day, although, most of them did not before, that we must have a regular armed force. We have responsibilities to- the north much greater than we had before the war. That regular force must be well equipped so that we shall never again be in the position of having to ask young men whose military training has been limited to fourteen or fifteen days a year in a militia camp to face, the regular and battletrained armies of an enemy. I have searched the budget speech of the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and the Estimates, but have not found one word about the Government having decided as a matter of policy to set up a regular force. Many young men serving in the forces to-day would be glad to make a career of serving this country in its armed forces. They were ready to serve the country in war and are equally ready to serve it likewisein peace. I know that now that the war is over there is a danger that the “ red rag “ section that supports the Government will bring pressure on it to prevent the adoption of an adequate defence policy.
– What about the old Tories?
– In 1939 the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) said that he would not spend one penny on defence.
– Order !
– The honorable member for Ballarat declared in this chamber that he would not spend one penny on defence.
– So long as men were out of work and starving. Be fair, tell the whole story.
– The whole story! I can tell a lot more. The honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) said that the only reason why the then Minister for Defence, the late Mr. Street, wanted to establish a regular army in this country was that he desired to build up a strikebreaking organization. The Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) said something similar. So did a number of other Labour members. It is essential, I believe, that the Government should now determine its defence policy and decide that we shall have a regular force under arms in order that we may never again be placed in a position that confronted us when the war broke out in 1939 and threatened us in the crisis of 1938.
– Whose fault was it?
– The honorable member, who asks whose fault it was, was one of those who yelped against any expenditure on defence. The Estimates provide for the expenditure this year on “camp expenses, training and maintenance “, of £20,000,000, which is only £5,626,087 less than last year, and for the expenditure on “ arms, armament, ammunition, mechanization, equipment and reserves “ of £24,183,000, which is a reduction of only about £3,000,000, in spite of the fact that for ten months of this year we shall be living at peace with the world, whereas last year the war was at its peak. I cannot reconcile that expenditure with the fact that the Government has no defence policy and is unable to say that this money must be expended because it proposes to develop a permanent defence establishment. No, the Government has no policy at all; but it is high time that it had. Before the committee passes this proposed vote it should demand and receive from the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) a statement that the Government has determined its policy and proposes to establish a regular armed force. The Government should not ask us to vote more than £300,000,000 for defence without telling us what it proposes to do, or even whether it proposes to do anything. It is dreadful that this country, after all it went through in the war, should be controlled by a party that cannot even put forward a defence policy.
.- In this discussion we have heard a tremendous lot about the delays that are taking place in the discharge of men from the armed forces. The delay is owing, in many instances, to the fact that great numbers of men are in. divisions in the islands to the north of Australia. Not only do we want to know why men are not being discharged. We want to know, too, why they were sent there. We want to know who is to blame for the unnecessary loss of Australian lives in the campaigns to the north. Because those campaigns were conducted, many young men will never return to Australia ; their place in the community can never be filled. One thing shown very clearly in the surrender of the Japanese in New Britain and New Ireland, and in the Aitape-Wewak area was that the Army estimates of the Japanese troops in those areas were far short of the numbers of Japanese that have surrendered. Army Intellligence must have been very much at sea. We have read in the press in the last few days that Rabaul had been converted into a fortress, a kind of Gibraltar, by the Japanese, and that it would have required many Australian divisions and the loss of many Australian Jives to recapture it and destroy the Japanese troops there. That is equally true of all other parts in the area. Yet our troops were sent into one of the most pestilential and disease-ridden parts of the earth for apparently no sound reason. One has only to look at the men returning from those localities to see what they have endured. Their faces are yellowed by the atebrin that they have had to take te ward off malaria. Others have con’tracted scrub typhus and other tropical diseases that will leave their mark on them for many years.- Earlier in the year it was demonstrated quite clearly in debates in this chamber that the Australian troops in those areas were in many cases badly equipped.
– That was definitely proved on the evidence of troops returned from the front line. The excuse offered by the Government was that ships were unavailable. Ships were available to equip the American troops that were containing the Japanese in those areas, while the major forces leap-frogged ahead towards Japan under the strategy of the Commander-in-Chief, General Douglas MacArthur. No, there was never a shortage of ships to supply the limited requirements of the American troops, but, for some reason never explained to this Parliament, this Government entered into an entirely unnecessary campaign in the islands to the north that could not have had the slightest effect on the general campaign.
– Window-dressing !
– No, far worse than window-dressing; it was unnecessary slaughter of Australian soldiers. Some of the finest of our men, the very flower of our manhood, fell in those campaigns. Men died whom this country could not spare. The people of Australia are entitled to know on whose authority and at whose request the campaign was undertaken. General MacArthur apparently realized that those campaigns, which were fought with Australian troops, were not of the slightest importance to the final result of the war. He was quite content to hold the Japanese troops in the Archipelago with American troops and to pursue the major campaign ever nearer to Japan ; but we, apparently in order to “ save face “ with other nations, were not content to pin down the Japanese but had to engage them in bitter conflict at the cost of the slaughter of Australian sons and husbands. We sent inadequate forces inadequately equipped to clean up the Japanese in New Ireland and the other islands of the Northern Archipelago. We were told that they were not mopping up operations, and that it was necessary to destroy the Japanese military power in the area. We were also told that when Japan was conquered long arduous warfare would have to be waged to clear the Japanese out of the islands; whereas, immediately Japan accepted the Potsdam terms and surrendered, the mandate of the Emperor went out to his troops, wherever they were outside Japan, that they were to surrender. They did surrender. All the territories that they had conquered were surrendered without loss of lives.
– The honorable member is wise after the event.
– Wise after the event, indeed! Many of us were wise before the event. Our people want to know why the Government would not listen to reason before the event. It is all very well for the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) to shout and scream, but I know perfectly well that no one could give him wisdom, not even the Creator Himself, without re-creating him. When we were wise before the event we were jeered <a.t.
– Now honorable members opposite are admitting the wisdom.
– Yes. Thailand, Malaya, Java and Indo-China were surrendered to the United Nations without sacrifice of lives. The Japanese in those countries fell in with the general surrender of Japan, as did the Japanese in the islands north of Australia.
– Wise after the event!
– The Minister for Repatriation can mutter as much as he likes if he gets any comfort from it, but there is cold comfort for those who have lost their sons and daughters because of the Government’s policy. It is up to the Government to explain why and at whose request the campaign was undertaken. Was it undertaken at the request of the Commander in Chief in the South- West Pacific Area?
– Was it undertaken at the request of Great Britain and the United States of America, or does the Government accept full responsibility for the unnecessary loss of life that occurred ? Those questions must be answered. The reason for the campaign must be explained. If the campaign had not been undertaken we should not have before us the terrible picture of thousands of men marooned in the islands whom it is impossible to bring back to Australia in order that the wheels of industry may turn again and give the full employment that we all want the people to have. The Government has made a complete mess of the whole thing. It has put our men up there and it does not know how to get them back. The end of the war caught it unprepared. Lots of talk and writing has been going on about the formulation of plans for the discharge of men from the Army so that they may return to civil life and get back to civil work, but that is about as far as the Government has gone.
One other matter that I desire to touch upon concerns the irresponsible statements that we are accustomed to hear from Ministers in reply to our complaints. I said last Friday that it was impossible to obtain the release from the Army of scientists required at the Waite Institute, in Adelaide, and other government laboratories in Australia. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction said that my statement was incorrect and that he had experienced no difficulty in obtaining the release from the Army of men required by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. I was very doubtful of the accuracy of the Minister’s statement and I became more doubtful when I was handed the particulars relating to NX87606 Sergeant D. A. Cameron, an assistant plant breeder who, in peace-time, was employed by the Department of Agriculture in NewSouth Wales. That organization, which should receive as much attention from the Department of the Army as does the Ministry for Post-war Reconstruction, applied last January for the release of Sergeant Cameron to undertake essential scientific work. The application was recommended by the Deputy Director of Man Power in New South Wales, but the Army refused to grant it on the ground that Sergeant Cameron was in an operational unit. Last Wednesday - the Minister will admit that the war had ended a few weeks before then - the Minister for the Army wrote to the honorable member for Darwin (Dame Enid Lyons), lie referred to the honorable member’s representations on behalf of Sergeant Cameron, who had applied for his discharge from the Army on occupational grounds, and added -
I have to advise that the circumstances have received careful consideration but have been assessed as insufficient to justify accelerated discharge for this soldier.
However, it has been decided that the demobilization of the forces will commence not later than the 1st October and the new priority of releases will be based on age, length of service and family responsibilities.
The discharge of Sergeant Cameron will be effected in accordance with his individual priority assessed on a points system based on the abovementioned factors.
That letter gives thelie direct to the statement of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction last Friday. Scientific personnel who are urgently required in the research sections of the State Departments of Agriculture are not being released from the Army and the Minister for the Army must admit it.
No primary producer, regardless of his claims for release, can obtain his discharge from the Army on occupational grounds. On the 24th August last, a general routine order was issued amending General Routine Order No. 206 of 1945. It reads-
G.R.O. 200/1045 is amended by omitting paragraph 1 and inserting in its stead the following paragraph : - “1. Applications for discharge for the purpose of resuming civil employment in the undermentioned industries (hereinafter called discharge on occupational grounds’) will be accepted from all members of the Australian Military Forces -
Building materials and fittings.
Industrial chemicals and fertilizers.
Railway, tramway and omnibus services
Rubber manufacture and tyreretreading.
Sleeper cutting, timber felling, saw-milling and seasoning yards.
Water supply and storage.
Gas and electricity undertakings.
Wet battery production.
It is absurd to release men to engage in the manufacture of fertilizers when the Government will not permit the discharge from the Army of men who would use those fertilizers in the production of food. Every case which the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) cited this afternoon is duplicated in the applications which I have received for the release of men to engage in primary production. If Australia is to honour its obligations to the starving peoples of the world, the Government must permit the release from the Army of men who will produce food and clothing. It almost seems that it is the policy of the Government to convert Australia into a nation of nudists. Man-power in the woollen textile mills is so short that civilians and soldiers on their discharge from the Army after the 1st October, will not be able to get the new suits which they will require. There is an acute shortage of cloth, and the position will become worse. That is why I contend that it must be the policy of the Government - probably Ministers have been studying the new bathing costumes - to convert Australia into a nation of nudists. The most appalling delay occurs in discharging men from the forces, and as I have shown, the amended General Routine Order does not provide for the discharge on occupational grounds of men who desire to engage in food production.
I ask the Minister to inform me whether the Directorate of Research, which is attached to the General Headquarters of the Australian Army, is still in existence. If it is, does not the right honorable gentleman consider that this organization, which consists of highly paid temporary lieutenant-colonels, majors, and captains is unnecessary? It is under the command of a LieutenantColonel Conlan, who, I understand, in civil life, is a third-year medical student at the Sydney University. The Directorate of Research has reported on such important matters as man-power in universities and technical colleges, technical requirements of the services, the administrative duties of the AustraliaNew Guinea Administrative Unit, Wang Ching Wei’s declaration of war on the Allies, the Army Psychological Service, Shinto and Bushido, problems in regard to pay, uniform, and other matters in relation to allied servicemen in Australia, a general analysis of administrative arrangements in the United States Army, the requirements of the Army in connexion with the administration of occupied territories, the plans of the School of
Civil Affairs under a Cabinet subcommittee which is under the control of the directorate, and the translation of materials of German scientific expeditions relating to islands in the Pacific and from the Dutch relating to entomological controls in Indonesia.
The directorate has inquired into everything in Heaven and on earth. On Friday afternoon, I saw LieutenantColonel Conlan wearing the full uniform of a Staff Colonel in the Australian Array. Does not the Minister consider that this organization, which makes these extraordinary inquiries and which, consists of highly paid professors disguised as temporary lieutenant-colonels and majors, is a luxury which taxpayers can afford to be rid of ?
– I agree entirely with the remarks of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) regarding the famous Directorate of Research attached to the Royal Military College, Duntroon. It is only one of the mistletoes which at present is growing on the oak of the Australian Army. I do not believe that any military organization has so many parasites attached to it in the form of research institutions as has the Australian Army. An investigation by a competent parliamentary committee would reveal the ramifications of some of these institutions. The honorable member for New England referred to some of the subjects into which the Directorate of Research has inquired. A Cheshire cat would have cause to grin at quite a number of them. What relationship they bear to the conduct of military operations is one of the unsolved mysteries of this war - a mystery which is not likely to be completely solved by any one who investigates it. I am left with the uneasy feeling that the principal purpose of the Directorate of Research was to provide military employment, nominally at least, for some people who were not qualified to engage in any other military operations. These organizations have a very detrimental effect on the men who are really in the armed forces. They see in the uniforms of lieutenant-colonels and majors all kinds of people who have never engaged in military operations and who have not. taken the slightest risk. We meet them one day in .the parliamentary library as special research officers, and then as anthropologists, or as scientists about to embark on a mission overseas to delve into matters of which they have only a most rudimentary knowledge. It is high time that some of these organizations were disbanded.
I invite the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) to elucidate, if possible, the policy which the Government proposes to pursue regarding the future of the Royal Military College at Duntroon. I raise this matter because some honorable members on this side of the chamber, who may be described as “ bits of narks “, have long memories. I recall a previous occasion during this war when it was the deliberate intention of the CommanderinChief to close down the Royal Military College, if he could. He failed, and that was about the only time that the Government won a battle against the Commander-in-Chief. My memory goes still farther back to the transfer of the Royal Military College from its present situation to Paddington, Sydney, where it was utterly incapable of carrying out its functions. In the long-range peace-time defence policy of the Commonwealth, the Royal Military College has an important role, and the Parliament is entitled to know whether the Government has formulated a policy on this matter.
I notice that the amount which the Minister proposes to expend on the acquisition of new sites and buildings in this financial year is no less than £300,000. Yet the war has ended ! It is a staggering figure. I would not be- surprised if the power to acquire sites and buildings is much greater than the Government’s power to erect houses at the end of that period. I saw also under Division No. 124 that an item “ Rent “ has increased from £6,326 to £10,000, and that an amount under the control of the Department of the Interior is reduced from £330,000 to £310,000. It is not a satisfactory reduction. Under Division 125 there is an item “ Buildings, works, fittings furniture and maintenance, £2,000,000 “. Yet the war has ended !
– Those buildings should be for sale.
– The Government is selling the buildings in some camps. I understand that the military camp at Sandy Creek, in the Wakefield electorate, is for sale, but at the same time I have had a hint that another camp will he erected close to Adelaide. I am interested to know what is meant by “dispersal areas “. I have read the document relating to this matter and I hope that you, Mr. Chairman, will permit me to make a “ passing reference “ to it. How people can be concentrated for dispersal I do not know. That is a contradiction of terms. But that is a mere bagatelle compared with the cost involved in these matters. My own experience is that people have more difficulty in getting out of the Army than they had in getting into it. Most of them would be quite happily dispersed if they went to their own homes while awaiting the pleasure of the base authorities to examine them -before their discharge. Therefore, I am quite unable to appreciate the reason for such heavy expenditure under this heading, unless the purpose of the Government is to dispose of a lot of material which, otherwise, could be used for some useful purpose. The information we are seeking will have to be made available to us sooner or later, but if I am any judge of the manner in which the Department of the Interior does its constructional work, I am safe in saying that the great majority of the men for whom these camps are intended will have returned to civil life before the camps are ready for their reception.
A great deal could be said about some of the other items of proposed Army expenditure listed in these Estimates, but I fear that even if we made special reference to them we should not be enlightened to any marked degree. It is probably quite true, as some honorable gentlemen on this side of the chamber have said, that these so-called estimates are a stab in the dark. The figures do not deserve to be described as estimates; rather are they hasty ministerial guesses.
– I also realize the futility of discussing these Estimates. Our criticism is not likely to have any effect, for at the right time the docile supporters of the Government will troop into the chamber and record their votes in favour of the Government’s proposals. I support the protests of the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) against the delay in releasing men from the services. I could cite instances similar to those that have already been cited, but I shall not do so. 1 wish to refer, however, to one bottle-neck in Army administration which is causing a great deal of irritation. It is the failure of head-quarters staff to answer the letters of honorable members. I realize that the staff is working under heavy pressure and is probably inundated with correspondence, but that is no excuse for the failure to extend to honorable members common courtesy. In my opinion, the head-quarters staff has adopted an attitude of dumb insolence. More than three months ago, I wrote a letter to head-quarters in support of an application for the release of four men from the Army. Not having received an acknowledgment after many weeks, I sent a reminder on the 7th August last, but that also was ignored. On the 7th September, I wrote to headquarters again on the subject, and I am still awaiting a reply. I do not believe that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) would approve of that procedure. Honorable members are entitled to proper consideration.
I have sought the release, as have other honorable .members, of men required for food production, timbergetting, coal-mining, laundry work, and essential rural industries in general, but my representations have met with no success. Although I appreciate the pressure under which head-quarters staff is working, I consider that we who are the representatives of the people in the Parliament are entitled to courteous treatment from those who are the servants of the Parliament in the Army. Three months is too long a time to await an answer to a letter. As the honorable member for New England (Mr. Abbott) has pointed out, the men for whom release is sought on occupational grounds will become involved in the general demobilization scheme which is to become effective on the points system on the 1st October. For that reason, also,
I urge that prompt consideration should be given to all applications that are made for prior releases on occupational grounds. I make these remarks not in a spirit of antagonism, but in a desire to rectify what I regard as a legitimate grievance of many members of Parliament. I consider that at least we should, have ordinary courtesy extended to us.
– I have listened with great interest to the discussion of the Army estimates now before the committee. Having been a member of this Parliament for twenty years I know that it is the custom for Opposition members to charge governments with having submitted ill-prepared and ill-considered Estimates for consideration. Honorable members opposite are in a long succession of those who have accused governments of tossing carelessly prepared Estimates on the table. It is no new charge that Estimates are a “stab in the dark”.
– In other days the right honorable gentleman himself peddled similar criticism.
– I have sat in the House as an Opposition member as well as a member of governments, and I realize that honorable members opposite are simply “ doing their stuff “. They would have the country believe that if they were in office everything would go smoothly, the Estimates would be substantially reduced, the fighting services would be demobilized at a more rapid rate, and, in short, men would be coming out of the Army with the regularity with which cartridge shells are ejected from a machine gun. To put it in another way, if only they were in office dislocation would be ended, the cows would be milked, the sheep would be shorn, and the crops harvested with complete efficiency. However, the people of Australia, being a sensible community, are not likely to be misled. At the last elections they showed their readiness to trust this Government, and I believe that they will do so again at the next elections. We must be realistic. The people will appreciate that it is impossible to fold up huge organizations like the Navy, the Army, and the Air Force immediately a war ends.
The honorable .member for New England (Mr. Abbott) asked whether the Government would announce its peacetime defence policy. That will be done at the right time. I will say, however, that we hope that something will have been learned from the mistakes of the past. Whilst I sincerely trust that the United Nations organization which emerged from the conference at San Francisco will succeed in putting an end to war, we must take care that Australia shall never again find itself in the position it was in at the outbreak of this war. Such unpreparedness must be avoided. This subject transcends in importance all party consideration. I shall not claim any special credit for this Government for what has been achieved, apart from saying that in the darkest hour of our country’s history we grappled with a stupendous problem in devising ways and means of meeting the ruthless enemy who has attacked us. Drastic action had to be taken. Some roads which were most objectionable to the Government had to be trodden and some decisions most distasteful to Ministers had to be taken, but what matter was that the nation was geared into an all-in war effort. In such circumstances it was inevitable that mistakes would occur. It would be quite impossible to transfer 300,000 men from civil employment to the fighting services and another 300,000 from peace-time occupations to war production without making mistakes. But the job was done well. The heroism and gallantry of the members of the fighting services and the hard and faithful work of the men and women in our war factories enabled victory to be won. Avoidable expenditure of some thousands of pounds may have occurred here and there, but we must bear in mind that the country was saved. A Defence Committee appointed by the Government is now considering a comprehensive scheme to provide for the defence of Australia in the years ahead of us, and at the appropriate time a definite announcement will be made on this subject by the Prime Minister, who will outline the plans of the Government in respect of the three arms of the fighting services. The people generally may rely upon those plans being adequate and effective, having in mind our population, the area of our territories, and the capacity of our people to bear the cost of defence measures.
The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) asked for a statement of the intentions of the Government concerning the future of the Royal Military College at Duntroon. The Government intends to maintain that institution at a high standard of efficiency. The college has a great tradition which must be preserved. It must be enabled to function and develop in accordance with the needs of the country. To the lasting credit of the Duntroon Royal Military College, it provided the nucleus of the Army organization, for when war occurred graduates of the college were to be found serving efficiently in every part of the citizen army, ana” since the outbreak of the war a constant stream of qualified military officers has flowed out from Duntroon. We can say with pride that these men comprise some of the best trained military officers in the British Empire. We desire to maintain the efficiency and traditions of the college. The Government has never had any intention whatever to close the college, and it is only fair to the Commander-in-Chief to say that he did not ever suggest that the college should be closed, for he knew of the great work that it had done. The Commander-in-Chief has always been actuated by a desire to make the best possible use of the facilities at Duntroon to meet any emergency. Neither he nor, so far as I know, any other senior army officer has suggested that the college be closed. I trust that the activities of the Duntroon Royal Military College will continue to expand until we are sure beyond doubt that an international organization has been developed which will safeguard the world from any recurrence of the tragedies of the past. I believe that the United Nations organization, having the power to discipline recalcitrant nations, will he a success. It will have the wholehearted support of the . Australian Government. But, as an additional insurance, we must “ keep our powder dry “ ; we must maintain an adequate defence force to meet any emergency that may arise, because Australia might not be given another opportunity to save itself, such as it had in the dark days when it seemed likely that we would be overwhelmed by a ruthless enemy.
I shall now deal with the criticism of various items of expenditure. “Within the last fortnight, I have made a survey of Army estimates, and have clearly indicated the basis on which they were prepared. No amount has been included m them which, on present indications, is not necessary. They were prepared after the closest scrutiny and the most careful consideration by senior officers of the department, in consultation with me. That applies also to the Estimates of other service departments. The criticism of tha Army estimates by the Leader of the Australian ‘ Country party was largely a recapitulation of the speech that lie made on the budget. In both speeches, he was severely critical. It is clear that he has bad no regard for the full explanations that I have furnished within the last ten days. He has referred to Division 111. That division makes provision for an expenditure of £120,000,000 on pay and allowances, an increase of £15,000,000 compared with last year. The provision includes special items totalling £43,000,000, consisting of S,000,000 for demobilization leave pay, 68,000,000 for arrears of pay due to recovered prisoners of war, and £27,000,000 for deferred pay. These provisions are the. direct outcome of the cessation of hostilities, and no one will regret that they have to be made.
Division 112, which makes provision for civilian services, shows a slight reduction compared with last year, due to the fact that whilst a considerable number of civil personnel will have their services terminated, other civil personnel now serving in the Army will revert to the civil staff in time of peace ; therefore, the vote for this year cannot be greatly” reduced. There will be a much bigger reduction next year.
Division 113 makes provision for camp expenses, training and maintenance, amounting to £20,000,000, a reduction of nearly £6,000,000. That will be a diminishing expenditure. Owing to demobilization, expenditure on fares and subsistence of the forces will be greatly increased this year. There will be a further increase because of the necessity to pay cash for petrol, oil and lubricants, and many other items for which provision was made under lend-lease in previous years. It is most difficult to make a true comparison of this year’s provision with last year’s expenditure.
Division 114 provides for an expenditure of £6,000,000 on general services of the Army, the biggest item of which is freight and cartage, which will be much heavier this year than in war years on account of demobilization. The only increase is that which is shown in the provision for educational facilities; this has been raised from £166,000 to £212,000, due to increased facilities on demobilization. I do not think that any one will begrudge that increase.
The total provision in Division 115 for the Royal Military College is comparatively small. There has been some increase, but it is amply justified.
Division 116 relates to the Inspection Branch. Some honorable members have asked why this branch cannot he eliminated. It has been the subject of criticism in the press, as well as in the Parliament. The expenditure upon it has been reduced from £1,500,000 to £500,000. It must be realized that there will be a considerable reduction of the inspection staff during the present financial year because of the termination of the war. The inspectors will not be continued in their present employment for longer than is absolutely necessary.
Division 117 makes provision for the Army Inventions Directorate - which, it has now been decided, will terminate its activities next December; therefore, the full amount of the vote will not be needed. In many items, there are outstanding liabilities which have to be met.
In Division 118 there is provision of only £2,000 for rifle clubs and associations. Small subsidies will he paid to existing clubs and associations. The whole policy in regard to the future of rifle clubs is now under review, and when the review has been completed a definite statement will be made. I fully appreciate the important part which rifle clubs have played over the years, and should be? sorry to see their importance diminished or the vote for them whittled down.
Division 119 makes necessary provision for the maintenance of internees and prisoners of war; that cannot be avoided.
Division 120 is one of the few votes on which there is provision for an increase. Ho one will object to the maintenance and beautification of war graves and cemeteries.
Division 121 provides for an expenditure of £370,000 for the maintenance of the Australian Imperial Force overseas. There was no expenditure under this vote last year, and honorable members have asked to be given the reason for the present provision. I remind them that it is required because of the recovery of men who were prisoners of war in Europe, and for their maintenance while they remain in the United Kingdom. There were 7,111 Australian prisoners of war in Europe, of whom 6,800 were recovered. They had to be taken 10 England. An Army organization was sent to the United Kingdom twelve months ahead, so as to be in readiness to receive them. Buildings were hired at Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. I had the pleasure of inspecting that Army organization while I was in England a few months ago. It Ls under the control of Brigadier Gorman and his staff. The Red Cross also was represented, having what is known as the Gowrie Bed Cross home. The organization has rendered splendid service to released prisoners of war upon their arrival from Europe. Therefore, that expenditure of £370,000 can be absolutely justified.
Division 122 makes provision amounting to £24,000,000 for arms and ammunition, &c. This has been the subject of much criticism. I have already explained that almost the total provision is required to meet liabilities outstanding from other years; at the termination of the war, an amount of £20,000,000 was owing overseas.
Division 123 has an amount of £300,000 for the acquisition of sites and buildings. Also involved are obligations that were outstanding at the termination of hostilities, because of agreements that had been entered into but not completed prior to that event. The Leader of the Australian Country party, who is an accountant, knows that all the accounts in respect of an undertaking are not rendered at the one time.
The provision of £10,000 for Division 124 is self-explanatory. The amount will diminish.
– It is almost double the expenditure of £6,000 last year.
– It will be a diminishing amount. Immediately the Army authorities can vacate buildings that the) now hold, these will be restored to their owners. In Melbourne, eighteen of twenty private residences have reverted to their owners. One of the remaining two contains complicated signals equipment, which is being used for the purpose of obtaining information in regard to prisoners of war.
– Then why increase the amount for rent?
– Contracts cannot be terminated overnight. All the officers in the Department of the Army are not fools. The honorable gentleman may consider that he knows much more about the way in which the Army administration should be conducted than is known by any Army officer. I give him full marks for having such a good opinion of himself, but remind him that all these items of expenditure have been carefully scrutinized and considered, and can be justified. This £10,000 is a mere bagatelle in the huge total expenditure of £174,000,000. I hope that expenditure under this head will be no longer necessary after this year.
Division 125 makes provision amounting to £2,000,000 for buildings and works, largely to meet outstanding liabilities for accommodation already erected.
It is clear from the statements I have made that the requirements of the Army have not been prepared haphazardly, but have been very carefully determined. No business organization could cease ite operations suddenly without having to meet outstanding liabilities. That is the position in regard to many Army commitments. The war ended only a few weeks ago, and those liabilities have to he honoured. Surely it is understandable that, in an organization of the size of the Army, the outstanding liabilities must amount to many millions of pounds !
It has been, necessary to make provision for these in the Estimates.
The Leader of the Australian Country party quoted extensively from the Auditor-General’s report, and suggested that criticism by that officer proved that the Army administration is defective. I have always had very great respect for the criticisms of this independent authority and have carefully read his report. The different matters referred to in it are being investigated, at my direction. When due consideration is given to the magnitude of the task that confronts the Army authorities, it must be conceded that many matters must arise from time to time which may reasonably be the subject of constructive criticism by the Auditor-General. That is his function, and I believe that he discharges his duties efficiently. One matter relates to the period during which the Australian forces were sent to the Pacific to confront the Japanese hordes that were advancing on our shores. Could it be wondered at that at such a time all Army stores were not properly accounted for? The expectation was that the Japanese would land on Australian soil at any moment. Stores had to be rushed up north, and there was a period during which the check on them was not so effective as I should like it to have been. This defect has been rectified, and my investigations have satisfied me that the dislocation of the accounting procedure was understandable.
The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) asked that a policy be adopted by which pipe-lines and other facilities at country camps and installations should be allowed to remain in return for a token payment by the municipalities concerned. The general question raised, and his representations in regard to the particular installations at Tenterfield, will be given full consideration.
The honorable member also criticized what he called the soft, treatment of the Japanese in Australian hands, particularly in Timor. T made immediate inquiries, and I was assured by the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Thomas Blarney, that there was no justi fication for the complaint; that all the commanding officers had received instructions that the Japanese should be treated with the utmost severity, having due regard to the claims of humanity. Brigadier Dyke, who is in charge at Timor, was faced with a difficult situation because the territory is not British or Australian. He is a trusted, level-headed officer of the Australian Army, who has had experience in the Middle East and in New Guinea, and he may be trusted to do the right thing. I am told that it is possible that on the first day when the Australians landed at -Timor, they may have had to do certain work, but at the beginning it was not possible to trust the enemy, having regard to the fact that it was not British territory. Therefore, Australians had to be used, and I have no doubt that they did the work willingly. The Government does not stand for kidglove treatment of the Japanese, who are the most ruthless and barbarous enemy we have ever had to face. They must be treated justly, but ruthlessly. Those responsible must be brought to book for the atrocious crimes they have committed, crimes of the kind which were investigated by the Chief Justice of Queensland, Sir William Webb. He was the first commissioner to be appointed by any of the democratic governments to inquire into war crimes, and he submitted a report which has shocked the world. The Government, realizing the gravity of the situation, appointed two additional Supreme Court judges to strengthen the commission. They are now in the north obtaining evidence with which, it is hoped, to bring to book the perpetrators of atrocities. On the order of General Blarney, who is acting on instructions received from the Commonwealth Government, steps are being taken by commanding officers to arrest the Japanese responsible for atrocities, and evidence against them is being collected. The Government does not desire to create uneasiness in the minds of the public. It is a grave reflection upon the members of the fighting forces to suggest that they would frater,nize with the Japanese, or be lax in bringing them to book for their misdeeds. For years our soldiers have been fighting the Japanese. Can they not be trusted to apprehend those of the enemy who were responsible for outrageous crimes against society, and for atrocities of the kind committed against Australian Army nurses - women who are the salt of the earth, and are revered by all Australia’s fighting men? Are our soldiers likely to handle the Japanese with kid gloves, knowing that they have the backing of the Government and special instructions from their Commander-in-Chief?
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) quoted the report of the Attorney-General regarding claims for chattels impressed or taken over in evacuated areas. A careful study of the report shows that the claims were settled at the direction of the Government. They were examined by a special investigator, Mr. Harry Alderman, K.C., and by the chief military accountant for the Army. In no case was payment made until the claim had been carefully investigated. Certain of the claims related to property which had been left behind by evacuees, but regarding which there was some doubt whether or not it had been used by the services. In such cases, the decision was given in favour of the claimant. Having regard to the unsettled state of affairs in those areas, it was only to be expected that some problems of this kind would arise, but decisions were not given until a full investigation had been made by the government representatives.
Reference has also been made to the Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs, which is now under review. Now that the war has ended, many war-time departments are being cut down or abolished. Three special committees were appointed by the Department of the Army, and for the last two years they have been inquiring into ways and means of reducing staff and eliminating waste. One committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Conde, was appointed to investigate the staffing of Army Head-quarters and base establishments, and its recommendations are now being implemented. The Directorate of Research and Civil Affairs was responsible to the Army administration for former civil territories, and was associated with the Department of Externa] Territories. It was regarded by the Commander-in-Chief as an. essential organization. It will be considerably reduced in the near future, but will be continued on a reduced seal, until the Army hands the territories over to the civil authority. The Department of External Affairs recognizes that th, directorate has done a splendid job during the transition period.
I do not propose to go into details regarding rehabilitation or dischargefrom the Army. Honorable members will admit that it would be impossible to devise a scheme that would meet with th approval of everybody. Some honorable members have said that there should bt. no points system of discharges - that any one with a job should be discharged. ] remind them that the points system was evolved after close investigation by a special committee, and after consultation with representatives of the fighting services. Although it is not perfect, it is the best that could be devised. This afternoon, I had a discussion with LieutenantGeneral Sir Leslie Moreshead, a man . with a splendid record of service in this war. He has examined the points system, and is satisfied that ti would be tragic to abandon it now, because he regards it as the fairest, in all the circumstances. He said that the system should be continued on the line? laid down by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction. It would be unfair to long servicemen if we were to let out of the Army every one who wrote to a member of Parliament that he had a job to go to.
The Department of the Army has s record of service of which it can ha proud, and the expenditure provided for in them, Estimates can be justified. It is not true that the Estimates have been just thrown together. They have been compiled after the most careful consideration. Expenditure will be cut steeply during the next six months. Indeed, every week items of expenditure are being scrutinized. 1 remind honorable members, however, thai it is the responsibility of the department to look after 170,000 members of the services who are outside Australia. Until they are brought back, lines of communications and base establishments must bc maintained in order to supply them with food, clothing and other necessaries. The guarding of certain areas has been entrusted to our forces, and the men ob. garrison duty must be supplied. We cannot fold up a great organization like the Army overnight. Honorable members must be realists. The Government is trying to p-t more ships to bring the men back as fast as possible. I do not think that anr honorable member really believes that the Government is heartless, or that vrc are disregarding the wishes of the men themselves or of their relatives, who naturally wish their loved ones to return to them without undue delay. Cn the interests of this country we must get them back as soon as possible, but, with inadequate shipping, it is impossible to bring 170,000 men back within the next two or three months. A certain number will be required to remain there for a time. The others will be brought back at the earliest practicable date. We have communicated with the British Army Authorities, the American Army Authorities and the British Government about additional shipping, and I give honorable members the assurance that the Government will not let the grass grow under its feet in getting the men back to Australia, to their homes and to industry as soon as possible.
.- The observations of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) are most unsatisfactory.
– I have heard that before.
– I have listened to a long dissertation in which all the main issues raised by this side were avoided. I do not intend to let pass the fact that the Government, so far as I have been able to ascertain from the Minister - and every one will agree that I have not been lacking in my endeavours to get the information - is shirking the task of bringing Japanese war criminals to book. I have asked the Minister how many Japanese war criminals who maltreated our forces nave been arrested. He has given me no information. It is useless for him to talk about the atrocities committed and express his sorrow. We all are sorry. But we are entitled to know what action the Government has taken and what results have followed. I again ask the Minister to say whether he can tell us how many Japanese war criminals have been arrested, what their crimes have been and what posts they held.
– And their names?
– Yes, their names. We cannot get any information whatever. The public will no longer allow themselves to be sidetracked. They demand that the war criminals be brought to justice at once. All the Minister has said is that he regrets the atrocities. Every one regrets them, no one more than the families of those ill-treated by our enemies. I appeal to the Minister to make a statement on the adjournment to-night, if he has not the information now, showing how many Japanese war criminals have been arrested and what court has been set up to try them.
– The Minister said on Saturday that none had been arrested.
– He has said no more to-day. Another matter requiring the Minister’s attention and co-operation with his staff is the need to give immediate relief to men who for two years have been stationed on small Pacific islands. I specify the island of Emirau. As far back as June, I spoke at length of the plight of the men there and quoted from letters that I had received from members of the 474th and 475th anti-aircraft troops and other units on that island. The Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) may be interested to know that some members of the Royal Australian Air Force are there.
– I shall have to look up my geography.
– I have received another letter only to-day from a trooper at Emirau. After having thanked me for the representations previously made by me on behalf of the men there he says -
We put the delay down to the fact that the war finished so abruptly. Then, of course, there are the prisoners of war to take into account which is only natural as they are the fellows whom everybody wish a speedy return to their homes. There are only about three hundred of us fellows at the most, so I can’t see why we should be held up for transport. We should travel on a tramp steamer or anything that would sail for that matter. I can honestly say about 60 per cent, of these chaps have just on two years straight in the tropics, which to my way of thinking, is just a little too much for any man to bear. I have just on twenty-one months straight in New Guinea and Emirau Island and there are dozens in the same class as me and dozens who will have two years straight on the 26th of this month, lt is twenty-three months since T saw my wife it uri kiddies nuri I >i,n sure it must be at least twenty-eight months since some of the others have seen their families. There are also a lot of chaps who have had to come away and leave tiny babies and also a lot whose wives have had kiddies since they have been away, so you can well imagine our fueling when we see the remoteness of the situation at the present stage.
I should like to state some of the conditions that exist on the island. Another correspondent says -
The position from day to day seems to be rapidly worsening. Our officers say they are unable to make any hopeful announcement. Witu our sister troop (474 Hy. AA.TP.), which has a similar record of service, and our battery head-quarters (comprising in all less than 300 men), we are and have been for some time the only sizeable body of troops on this small island of Emirau. There are a few small Royal Australian Air Force units and a small number of allied personnel besides.
Their service in the tropics has been from the 27th September, 1943, to the 26th September, 1945 - two years. Concerning leave, the writer says -
More than 50 per cent, of all this troop’s personnel have served in New Guinea and this island for from 21 to 24 months without leave.
Concerning the nature of the service, the writer says -
For extensive periods during the last two years many of these men (the original personnel) have been used as labourers, doing heavy manual work, loading ships, cleaning up camp areas, besides demolishing and building heavy A.-A. gun sites, &c. Most of the reinforcements have a similar record.
About health he says -
Some men have lost a good deal of weight, from one to three stone. It is not surprising that they have a feeling of extreme lassitude and very little appetite for the monotonous diet. Even the younger fellows are showing tangible signs of their prolonged stay in the tropics.
In regard to food, he says that the supply of potatoes that had last been received wa3 only sufficient for one meal and that the unit had received only 24 apples for 90 men. Their fresh food has been scarce and they have had to live almost entirely on bully beef, “ M. & V. “, a mixture of meat and vegetables and baked beans. They find it difficult to work up the necessary appetite on that diet to sustain health and energy. They say that they attempt daily to procure fish with explosives but with only occasional success.
– Does that apply generally to the troops there?
– Yes, to the 30u troops on the island. They have been there for two years. They are the people I brought to the Minister’s notice in June. He promised then to effect their release immediately, because they had then spent 21 months on the island.
– Yes. I promise the honorable gentleman that I shall have the honorable gentleman’s complaints investigated immediately. I am amazed to hear that they do not have adequate and proper food. Does the honorable member say that they have not?
– Yes; they are. indeed, a lost legion.
– Where did the honorable gentleman get his information?
– From the troop.themselves, this afternoon.
– I shall have a signal sen: straight away and have the matter examined.
– I remind the Mini*ter that when I showed him a somewhat similar letter on Thursday, he promised to send a signal immediately.
– That is so.
– I believe the Mini? ler will do so, but, before he sends th+ signal he should know all the facts, because the problem is difficult. The men have had no fresh food for a considerable time, and their health is being undermined. Concerning medical facilities the writer says -
There is a medical officer on the island, but the lack of hospital equipment is such that his ability to deal efficiently with any sudden serious illness or accident must be consider ably prejudiced. Last week a man with a broken wrist had to wait three days foi transport to Bougainville and the requisite equipment for properly setting it.
– Did a soldier on an islaD’1 write all that to the honorable member?
– Yes, and I am glad that he did so.
– T am glad too. But I am sorry that the letter was not sent to me. for, if it is true, there has been a serious dereliction of duty on somebody’s part.
– The letter says that no possibility of obtaining dental treatment has existed for more than five weeks. The writer proceeds -
Supplies of cigarettes have been unprocurable for some ten days, and I am told that tobacco is now exhausted, with no sign of stocks being replenished from Bougainville at present.
The story about beer is the same. They have had no beer since V-P day. The writer claims that since the 13th April last they have been paid only three times and at irregular intervals, the last occasion having been the 19th August. There is more of this story, but I do not want to delay the committee. This is the case that I brought before the Minister’s notice on a previous occasion, quoting from the huge file of letters that I have received from men on the island. Last June, I spoke at considerable length on this matter.
– I was in America. I returned early in July.
– Well, I have letters that I received on the 7th July. They are probably the ones that I placed before the Minister. This is an old problem. In the temporary absence of the Minister for the Army a considerable time ago, I extracted from the Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) a promise that men in the tropics would he relieved at least after twelve months’ service. The problem of leave for men in the tropics has been raised several times. I know that the end of the war and the need to rescue and repatriate Australian prisoners of war held by the Japanese has accentuated the difficulties of transport both in the air and on the sea, but the lads at Emirau have been neglected. Something must be done for them immediately. As the first step to get them home they might be taken even to Port Moresby. That should not be difficult. The ship that calls for them must take supplies. When the men reach home, they should be given the leave that they are entitled to. It is not fair to the men themselves or to their families to delay their repatriation. Their health is being undermined. The cost of repatriation will he enormously increased if they are Billowed to stay at Emirau and develop neurosis. Will the Minister advise me as soon as he receives a reply to the signal that he has promised to send?
– Of course ; I shall be glad to.
.- I have had more experience of my party being in opposition than I have had of its being a government, and I know something of the methods that are employed by an opposition, from the leader down. As the result of my somewhat chequered experiences in this chamber recently, I have found that the methods of the present-day Opposition are not vastly different from the methods of the various oppositions of which I have been a member. I realize that the Minister for the Army has a job of colossal dimensions, involving extraordinary responsibilities, some of which are widely distributed throughout Australia. He will exonerate me, I am sure, from even a suspicion of indulging in captious criticism, when I ask him to inform me whether the Government can accelerate the discharge of servicemen who are now in Australia and are urgently required by their former employers. Compelled by the exigencies of war temporarily to abandon their jobs, they now desire to return to them just as strongly as their employers desire that they shall return. As the men to whom I refer are stationed in Australia, their speedy discharge is not complicated by shipping difficulties. Some of the men are even prepared to make their own transport arrangements.
This matter is wrapped up in the wider problem of post-war reconstruction. It is a part of the Government’s policy to assist servicemen to return as speedily as possible to the jobs with which they are familiar and from which they were called by the necessities of war. I strongly desire to help those men who, being stationed in Australia, are eager to return to their former employment without delay. Their early discharge from the forces will assist in implementing the Government’s post-war programme. These men are urgently required to stimulate production in order to overcome the many shortages of goods which are causing inconvenience at the present time. This is less a matter of sentiment than of practical necessity. I should like tie Minister to inform me why these servicemen should not be’ allowed to resume their civil employment without delay.
.- As the speech of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) demonstrated, honorable members on both sides of the chamber are of the same opinion regarding the necessity for the speedy discharge of servicemen, and the adoption of some other means, if necessary, in addition to that which the Government is seeking to put into operation, to accelerate demobilization. The remarks of the honorable member for Batman were similar to those which I intended to make before he rose. I shall supplement his speech by stating that the contention of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) in support of the points system has weakened the Government’s case. The honorable member for Batman placed his finger on that weakness. According to the June number of Official Facts and Figures of Australia at War, which is the only document upon which a private member can rely, there are 500,000 men in the Australian forces. The Minister described the difficulties which would be experienced if the Government attempted to discharge them according to any system of priorities other than the points system. He mentioned that 170,000 men were now outside Australia, and referred to the shipping difficulties involved in transporting them back to Australia. If. 170,000 men are outside Australia, obviously, 330,000 must be stationed in Australia, and their discharge is not affected by limitations imposed by lack of shipping.. As the honorable member for Batman rightly pointed out, the discharge of servicemen in Australia is a matter of extreme urgency, not only in their personal interests but also in the interests of the nation as a whole for the purpose of stimulating the production of food. Numbers of service personnel are keymen whose release is necessary before employment can be provided for others. Many men in the Army were formerly employed in the building trade. If the Government were to allot first priority to the release of .carpenters, they would not he able to resume their civil occupation until building materials, such as roofing tiles, galvanized iron, doors, and window fittings were available.
Recently, in my electorate, people obtained permits under the new system for the erection of homes. They managed to get a variety of materials, but could not secure the necessary timber. At present, those permits are worthless to them, and the carpenters who should be engaged in building homes will not be able to do their job until sawmillers, log-haulers, and other key-men are released from the Army. As honorable members on both sides of the House have emphasized this matter, I urge the Government to give further consideration to the suggestion that, in addition to the points system, releases of key-men in camps in Australia should be approved more rapidly than is at present contemplated. Whatever difficul ties may exist in relation to shipping, and undoubtedly there are some, they do not apply to. men in camp near Brisbane whose home is at Lismore. I have had several such cases brought to my notice. Men should not be kept in idleness in a camp 50 miles away from where they could be doing extremely useful work in primary-producing industries. It is entirely unreasonable to hold such men to a points system in which seniority of service is the main consideration. I submit that men who have a job to go to and whose services are required urgently should be released. Such men would be able to do the basic work necessary to provide employment for other men who will later be discharged, and unless the former are released it may be extremely difficult to make proper plans for the employment of the men who will subsequently come out of the services under the points system. The honorable member for
Batman (Mr. Brennan) put his finger on the right spot. The difficulties that he described in relation to his own electorate are to be found in the electorate of every other honorable member throughout the Commonwealth. Unless these men are released the whole process of providing employment will be retarded. Wherever possible men should be made available to undertake essential work in which they were engaged prior to joining the armed forces. Employers do not make urgent application for men unless they really need their services. I can see no earthly reason why everything possible should not be done to bring the man and the job together.
– Nothing is being done to prevent that at present.
– The honorable member is inaccurate in that statement. If he will make representations in respect of some of the cases in which I am interested I shall be happy.
– The mere fact that the honorable member for Richmond says that special circumstances exist is not proof that they do exist.
– I am making my representations through the Chair to the Minister, and I am not inclined to accept as an adequate reply the irresponsible remarks of a back-bencher. Honorable members on both sides of the chamber have experienced great difficulty in securing releases, for the Army refuses to grant releases unless the applicants come within certain limited classifications. There may be fifteen or twenty of these classifications. Urgency is not admitted by the Army in respect of scores of other callings in which the services of men are greatly needed. Unless a man can obtain release on compassionate grounds or for occupational reasons which must fall within certain categories to which the Army appears to adhere strictly, it is impossible for him to obtain his discharge. I ask the Minister to give his earnest consideration to devising ways and means to remedy this thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs.
I wish now to refer to the remarks of the Minister concerning the treatment of Japanese prisoners of war in Timor. T accept the right honorable gentleman’s statement that these prisoners are being treated with justice and severity. I do not suggest that we ought to adopt sadistic methods of retaliation against Japanese prisoners because of the treatment that our own people have received, for to adopt that course would be to bring ourselves down to the low level of the Japanese, but I say emphatically that the Japanese should he treated with stern justice and lie forced to realize that Japan has lost the war. They should not be treated as “ honorable “ foes, and be permitted to live under picnic conditions. It is amazing to read reports, which are well substantiated, that the Japanese in Timor are still receiving kidglove treatment. As the surrender terms have now been fixed and the requisite documents signed, I ask the Minister to tell us, and also the people of Australia, who are very concerned about these reports, exactly what is being done to bring Japanese war criminals to justice. So far, we have not heard of a single specific measure that has been adopted. It will not satisfy us for the Minister to say that action is being .taken and that some other authority is doing the job. What is everybody’s job is nobody’s job. I wish to know what specific action the Government is taking in this connexion, particularly in New Guinea and in other localities where our own people have been persecuted by Japanese sadistic terrorists. We have not yet been given the name of even one Japanese war criminal who has been apprehended. Every “day and every week that passes will make it more difficult to identify war criminals, for the survivors of Japanese bestiality will not be available to identify the individuals responsible for the war crimes that have shocked the world. Just retribution should be meted out to these offenders, and the people of Australia are waiting anxiously, and with growing impatience, to hear what the Government is doing in this matter.
– I bring to the notice of the Minister for the Army what I regard as the cruel and heartless treatment that has been meted .out by the Brigadier of the 26th Australian Infantry Brigade to NX106505 Lance-Bombardier 0. A. Duval, of Armidale, who is a member of the Brigade. The details of the case are quite definite. On the 11th August, 1945, a signal w.as received from Milbase, Sydney, advising that the soldier’s mother had been admitted to hospital in a serious condition as the result of injuries received in an accident, and that compassionate leave was recommended. On the same day Duval made application for compassionate leave, which was recommended by his battery commander and the commanding officer of his regiment. The application was forwarded to the brigade for decision. On the 13th August, the regiment was advised by the 26th Brigade that the application would not be approved. On the 26th August, Duval received word that his sister had also been involved in the same accident, and had been admitted to hospital. He then made a second application, which was strongly recommended by bis commanding officer, LieutenantColonel A. F. Young. Brigade head-quarters replied to the second application on the 27th August, refusing to reconsider the previous decision, and pointing out that they considered it would take the soldier six weeks to reach the mainland from Tarakan, where he was still serving, and that by that time his injured sister would have recovered sufficiently to take charge of the family affairs. A further signal was received from. Milbase, Sydney, on the 12th September advising Duval that his mother had died and that his father was also in hospital. On receipt of this signal, Lieutenant-Colonel Young made personal representations to brigade head-quarters in the hope of obtaining immediate leave for the soldier, but the brigade again refused to reconsider the previous decision. At the time of this application, the position of Duval’s family was made known to brigade as follows : His mother had just died ; his father, an invalid pensioner aged63 years, was in hospital ; his only single sister was under treatment for a broken arm; and his only married sister in a position to be of any assistance, whose husband is at Balikpapan, was seriously ill in hospital. The other members of the family were two married sisters with families who were living at Sydney and “Warwick, Queensland.
The officer who has given me the particulars of this case writes -
In reply to the suggestion made by Brigade that the soldier could not be transported home under six weeks, it is pointed out -
transport planes are regularly leaving Tarakan for various points towards the mainland;
it has been the practice to provide air travel for junior officers attending all schools or for reposting on the mainland;
a few days ago a Dutch transport plane, which was prepared to carry passengers, left Tarakan for Australia with only one passenger on board; and (d)I believe the question of air travel could have been satisfactorily arranged had the brigade taken a more sympathetic view of the case.
Duval has served under me for almost four years and has been one of the most conscientious and reliable soldiers I have ever known. The effect of this affair on him has been disastrous, and has led other members of the unit to wonder whether such a thing as justice remains in the Army.
Last week, as soon as I received the letter from the soldier’s sister, I took the matter up with the Minister, and I understand that Major Howe made inquiries into the case from Colonel Parks, who advised -
On 10th August Army Officer Armidale advised N.S.W. L. of C. that soldier’s mother had had serious accident and recovery uncertain.N.S.W. L. of C. recommended unit by signal to grant compassionate leave. On 3rd Sept. unit advised L. ofC. leave not approved. On 8th Sept. Armidale police sent medical certificate to effect that mother not expected to live. On 12th Sept. L. of C. H.Q. signalled unit that soldier’s mother had died and that father was in hospital in desperate condition. This H.Q. signalled unit to grant leave.
It is deplorable that, in the circumstances that I have outlined, this soldier was not given immediate leave and provided with facilities to return to Australia. I ask the Minister to take immediate action in this case, as the man’s father is still desperately ill. I also ask that suitable action be taken against the brigadier because of his cruel and callous conduct.
.- The Government has acted wisely in having adopted the points system in relation to the discharge of servicemen. During the war, men were discharged on the recommendation of the Man Power Directorate, for the purpose of engaging in certain occupations. Possibly, that consideration will have a bearing also in the application of the points system. The Government estimates that men will be discharged at the rate of 50,000 a month from the 1st October. Up to 10 per cent, of those will be key personnel. No honorable member is able to prove that 5,000 key men will be urgently required every month. A big percentage of the remaining 45,000 men will take up the jobs of which we have heard so much. The points system has been adopted not only by Australia but also by Canada, Britain, New Zealand and the United States of America, with slight modifications. Australia may give a few more points to a married man, and the United States of America a few more points to a man who has won certain decorations in the field. This system was submitted some time ago to the Chambers of Manufactures and the Australasian Council of Trade Unions, and received their approval. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) reads a few letters, and makes a political cheapjack of himself. I have utter contempt for any one who attempts to exert pressure on the Minister or the services in order to have men released. The honorable member for Richmond has information that is out of date. Had he examined the points system, he would know that recommendations for releases will be made not by the Army but by the Man Power Directorate, if it believes that the discharge of a key man would he of advantage to an industry and increase the avenues of employment for men still in the Army.
– That is an absolute misstatement.
– It is a bedtime story.
– The honorable members who have interjected are not able to take an intelligent interest in the system that is to operate. They have been told that it is to commence on the 1st October. Although little more than a month has elapsed since the cessation of hostilities, the discharges are now at the rate of 35,000 a month. That indicates what will be achieved when the points system is in full operation, and is applied with the common sense that has always characterized the actions of the Government.
– I was delighted to notice that the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) was again in his place to-day, restored to good health after an illness from whch, unfortunately, he has been suffering for some time, and to hear his eloquent voice making representations on behalf of his electorate. Like the rest of us, he is concerned about the speed at which members of the fighting services will be discharged. I can well understand his wanting to know what is to be done in regard to the large number of servicemen on the mainland, whose discharge is not governed by the availability of shipping. It is estimated that under the demobilization plan that is to commence .on the 1st October, 100,000 men at present engaged in Army establishments, lines of communications, ordnance stores, and the QuartermasterGeneral’s department on the mainland, will be discharged up to the 31st December. It is also estimated that during that period between 60,000 and 70,000 of the men who are overseas will be discharged, provided that the requisite shipping becomes available. If more shipping can be obtained, the number discharged will be greater. Meanwhile, discharges are being made on occupational and compassionate grounds from the ranks of those men who are on the mainland as well as those overseas. I remind the honorable members for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) and New England (Mr. Abbott) that the number of discharges already made for rural industries alone is 50,000, showing the importance which the Government attaches to the food production front. I am indebted to the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Lemmon) for his lucid explanation in support of the points system. Anybody who has given consideration to it knows that, whilst it is not perfect, it is much fairer than would be a system of “ catch as catch can “, under which releases would be made as the result of representations because the men concerned were supposed to have a job to which they could go, whilst tens of thousands of men with long service in the islands and on the mainland would be denied release. Probably, many of these were temporarily out of work when they were called up or enlisted. Their release now might enable them to obtain employment before the competition becomes too keen, and thus be made secure economically for life, whereas a great injustice would be done to them were they denied that right, on the “ say so “ of an honorable member or some other influential person. Consequently, I stand by the decision of the Government co adopt the points system, which I regard as the best in all the circumstances.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Arn
Proposed vote, £86,208,000.
– Air crew trainees called up early this year have been refused promotion and pay in accordance with the conditions that were promised to them upon enlistment. Royal Australian Air Force form P/P 78/60 issued to trainees at the time of their call-up reads -
The daily rate of pay applicable to your appointment is 6s. 6d. per diem for the ‘first period of the initial training course. After this period of initial training, candidates selected for training as pilots, navigators or wireless air gunners will be reclassified as follows : - Pilot: - Leading aircraftman, group 2 - 10s. 6d. per diem. Navigator - Leading aircraftman, group 2 - 10s. Gd- per diem.
Initial training course No. 63 completed training six weeks before the schools were closed down. The men who had passed the course were selected for air-crew musterings - pilots, navigators, &c. - and as from the date on which they had completed their initial training should have been advanced to the rank of leading aircraftman at 10s. 6d. a day, but their services have been retained at the lower rate of 6s. 6s. a day. This appears to be a gross injustice to young men who spent months of “ free “ time in preparation for their training as aircrew members and is in sharp contrast to the Government’s desire to police every award or provision that favours trade unionists. I should like the Minister to explain the reason for this prejudicial treatment. These young men have devoted “ free “ time on two nights weekly to’ fitting themselves for these higher musterings ; yet, having completed their training, they are retained in the service at the lower rate of pay, notwithstanding the promise that the additional rate would be paid to them if they qualified for it. The Minister may not be aware of what has happened. If I have correctly stated the position, I hope that he will remove the injustice.
.- The criticisms that have been levelled against the Army department in respect of tardy releases apply with equal force to the Royal Australian Air Force. All of us know, but every one will, not admit, that the establishments were kept at a strength which was unnecessary during a great deal of the war period, and certainly cannot be justified now. If the Minister and his officers were to rake over the table of establishment they would find that a great number of men could be released almost immediately.
I suggest that difficulty will he encountered in the rehabilitation of members of air crew. Many of these young men went into the Air Force straight from school, or at most had been employed in a quite junior capacity. In the course of their service, thousands have gained commissions, and have borne heavy responsibilities. They have lived in officers’ messes, and have acquired a .certain status, as well as great prestige. Having regard to the danger and value of their service, every one would wish that they might be established in civil life on a fairly good basis, hut that will not be easy. Some have had jobs offered to them, and I suggest that a priority system of releases be inaugurated for members of air crew according to length of service, and the requisite period of service in the case of the Air Force would be very much less than for the Army. Thousands of members of air crew have been unfairly discriminated against, although it was unavoidable in the circumstances. I refer to those who were not given commissions. Under the Empire Air Training Agreement, a stipulated percentage of pilots, wireless operators, air gunners. &c, received a commission, but that agreement, no longer operates. I suggest that il would be a suitable gesture if the Government were to commission all members of air crew before their discharge. Perhaps some reservations would have to be made. Perhaps, it should be stipulated that commissions were to go only to those who had been in combat, or who had flown on a stipulated number of missions. It seems altogether wrong that young men, who were captains of multiengine bombers with commissioned men serving under them, should be denied this recognition at the end of their service. The cost to the Government would be virtually nothing, but the promotion would mean a great deal to the men concerned.
I draw attention to the inadequate rank conferred upon the head of the Royal Australian Air Force, Air Vice-Marshal Jones, who commands a force of approximately 150,000 men. I know, approximately, how many squadrons are involved, and, perhaps, the Minister may care to disclose it.
– There are 53.
– The honorable member is referring to the home defence Air Force only. In addition, there are eighteen squadrons serving with the Royal Air Force, and there are enough Australians in’ the Royal Air Force to man many more squadrons. Let us not forget that 28 per cent, of those serving with the Royal Air Force, which is the most wonderful air force in the world, are Australians. In addition to sending so many Australians to serve with the Royal Air Force, Australia has created a powerful home defence Air Force. Therefore, it is surprising that the commanding officer of the Royal Australian Air Force, who has done such a wonderful job, and carried so much responsibility for nearly four years, should have no higher rank than that of air vicemarshal, which is the equivalent of .a major-general in the Army. There are nearly half as many men in the Air Force as in the Army, but the Army has a full general in command, as well as eight lieutenant-generals, and eighteen majorgenerals. No valid reason can be advanced against the proposal to give the commanding officer of the Royal Australian Air Force a higher rank, and I trust that that Government will remedy the present defect as soon as possible. This matter affects more than the commanding officer himself. It seems to indicate an attitude of mind on the part of the Government to the whole Air Force. Rank means more to servicemen than to civilians, and the Air Force as a whole feels that it has been slighted by the failure of the Government to give proper recognition to the service in the matter of the rank of its commanding officer. Decorations and honours are sometimes given to officers, not because of their own deeds, but as recognition of the deeds of a whole formation or unit with which they are associated. In the case of the Air Force, the failure of the Government to accord the commanding officer a proper rank is likely to be misconstrued as an indication that the Government has failed to recognize the importance of the Air Force itself. 1 do not impute any reason for the Government’s attitude in this regard. I believe that it arises out of simple neglect, but I hope that it will shortly be corrected.
.- I draw attention to a number of young Australians who went to England in the early part of the war in order to enlist in the Royal Air Force, because at that time it was not possible or convenient for them to get into the Royal Australian Air Force. Some of those men have married Australian girls in England, and I have received letters from them complaining that they are not recognized as Australian servicemen in the matter of repatriation benefits, or even for getting transport back to Australia. They have made representations to Australia House, but have not been able to obtain recognition of their claim to be brought back teAustralia with members of the Royal Australian Air Force. Apparently, they are to be treated as if they were not Australians, as if they had committed some kind of misdemeanour in enlisting in the Royal Air Force. I realize that there may be difficulties, but I suggest that each case should be examined on its merits. Australians who went to England to defend the Empire during the most desperate stages of the war have, by their very eagerness, been landed in this predicament, and I suggest they should be treated with great consideration. At least, the Government should repatriate them, and their wives and children if any, free of cost to themselves.
Sitting suspended from 5. SO to 8 p.m.
.- When the Estimates are under consideration there must be the opportunity for criticism to be offered by honorable gentlemen on both sides of the committee. I think I can say that the criticism offered has not. been hostile. Where it is constructive we should appreciate the views expressed by honorable gentlemen as to the carrying on of the departments, particularly the war departments, such as the Department of Air, because large sums of money are involved, and it is quite natural that honorable members feel that they have to express views that they think will be of value in enabling the departments to function efficiently and economically. Several honorable members have questioned the justification for the provision on the current year’s Estimates of £50,000,000 for pay and allowances in the Department of Air compared with £49,000,000 expended in 1944-45. That arises, I suppose, from the view that now that the war is over the expenditure should be less than it was last year when the war was in progress. For the information of honorable members I must state that actual expenditure on Royal Australian Air Force pay and allowances last financial year totalled £51,500,000, against which there was a credit of £6,270,000 received from the United Kingdom Government in respect of pay, &c, of Royal Australian Air Force personnel attached to the Royal Air Force. This resulted in a net expenditure of £45,230,000, as shown in the Estimates. The basis of the £50,000,000 provision f or the current year is made up broadly as follows : -
Special mention should be made of the fact that not only does the current year’s proposed appropriation include £16,500,000 for accrued deferred pay payable to personnel to be discharged during 1945-46, but also the provision of £35,000,000 for normal pay and allowances, which includes the necessaryprovision to cover not only pay and allowances of personnel to be retained on strength, but also payments to dischargee* in respect of credits of recreation leave accrued, re-establishment leave and war service leave. These last-named payment* are made only to personnel on discharge. From the figures I have given honorable members will appreciate that there it no hidden reserve included in the £50,000,000 provision, well over £20,000,000 of which amount is payable to personnel to be discharged during th* current year, in respect of accrued deferred pay, recreation leave, reestablishment leave and war service leave. Perhaps I would do well to anticipate further criticism by giving some information about Division No. 127 - Civilian pay.
The current year’s provision closely approximates expenditure last year. Civilian personnel are employed in practically all branches of the Department of Air and Directorates. Owing to the demand for large numbers of civilian employees in connexion with the discharge of personnel, cancellations of contracts, stores, equipment and inspectional duties, it is not possible to effect any material reduction in civilian staffs until, at the earliest, towards the end of 1945-46, while a further factor requiring the financial provision made on the current year’s Estimates under this vote, it that numbers of civilian employees will be required to replace, in certain branches, uniformed staff who will, in the interim, be discharged.
The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) drew attention to delay* being experienced in the repatriation from overseas of wives of Royal Australian Air Force personnel who married abroad. While the provision of passages for those wives is one directly under the control of the Repatriation Department, the Department of Air is co-operating with repatriation representatives in London, with a view to ensuring the fullest possible allocation of berths. Inadequacy of shipping is the bottleneck, but every action is being taken by the Government to ensure that our full requirements shall be met at the earliest possible date.
It was hoped, although I made no announcement, because I considered that I should not, for one never knows what arise in the circumstances that exist o-day respecting transport, that we mould have all Royal Australian Air Force personnel in the European theatre returned to Australia by Christmas. We were told, as the result of our negotiations, :hat that was likely to happen. After that, however, the United Kingdom Government decided that its forces should play a more active part in the Pacific aone, and, in consequence, the ships originally intended to transport Royal Australian Air Force personnel to Australia were taken for what was regarded as a more urgent purpose. Consequently, the prospective date of their embarkation was put back. But the war ended, and, in consequence, it seems likely that we shall be able to get the ships to return most, if not all, Royal Australian Air Force personnel in the European theatre by Christmas. [ do not want honorable gentlemen to hold me to that, because something else more urgent may intervene, but we are doing everything and will continue to do everything we can to ensure the availability of transportation no that Australian airmen and their wives -my department is not directly concerned with wives, who come under the Repatriation Department - shall be in Australia by ‘Christmas. I know the irritation that arises from delays. It is our desire to avoid it. No one realizes more than I do, because of my close contact with the Air Force, that the airmen overseas must receive the utmost consideration. I shall do everything that I can, and I believe that the Government itself will do everything it can, to have the men returned to Australia as soon as can be.
– Has the peace-time personnel of the Royal Austraiian Air Force been determined yet?
– No. I think a similar question was asked of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde). The Defence Committee is busy preparing for the consideration of the Government a plan of our post-war Air Force establishment. That will have to be related to the needs of the other services.
– Who will determine those needs?
– I should say that it is the duty of the Government to determine them.
– Why? This Government alone or in concert with others ?
– I should say that it will depend very largely on the area that Australia will have under its control or jurisdiction as to what will be necessary in the provision of a balanced defence force. Until that is determined we cannot get down to la. proper basis on which to decide just what the Air Force personnel will be. The matter is being examined by the experts. The particulars that they gather will be presented to the Government, which will be called upon to make the decision. In due course, the Government’s proposal will have to be brought before the Parliament for consideration.
– Has the Government any idea of the zone or region over which Australia is to maintain aerial reconnaissance ?
– It has no definite knowledge. I do not want it to be thought tha:t the Government has, uo ideas. I myself have ideas on the subject and, doubtless, other Ministers have, too, as to what is likely ; but at this stage no one can decide with certainty. I see no reason why a detailed plan for a defence establishment cannot be drawn up as the basis. It may have to be expanded or reduced later. That is being considered now.
The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) put forward his views regarding the higher positions in the Royal Australian Air Force. As a former Minister for Air, he has some knowledge of the development of this service. It is true that, we have in the Air Force only one air marshal, a rank the equivalent to that of lieutenant-general in the Army, seven air vice-marshals, the equivalent of major-generals, and 22 air commodores, the equivalent of brigadier-generals. Whether the view expressed by the honorable gentleman is to be accepted or not is a matter for consideration; but I should not like it to be thought that I am not appreciative of the services rendered by the occupants of those most responsible positions in our most critical days during the last four years or so. Long ago, I made recommendations that would have the effect, if adopted, of carrying out, to some extent at all events, what the honorable gentleman suggested.
Another matter that I should touch upon is that of air crew commissioning, which some honorable gentlemen opposite seem to think has not been dealt with as fairly as should properly be the case.
– Is that the matter that I referred to?
– No, the honorable member referred to leading aircraftmen.
– Will the Minister deal with the matter I raised before he sits down?
– I hope to, but whether I shall be able to do so to the honorable gentleman’s satisfaction is another matter.
– I am a very reasonable man.
– I accept the honorable gentleman’s estimation of himself, but I have heard him offer criticism that, if I were the judge, I would not describe as reasonable by any means.
The original Empire Air Training Scheme Agreement provided for commissioning of cadets on graduation, on the following basis: - Pilots and observers, 33-J per cent.; wireless air gunners, 10 per cent.; and air gunners, 5 per cent. Provision was made for further commissioning after operational experience on the following basis: - Pilots and observers, 16§ per cent. ; wireless air gunners, 10 per cent.; and air gunners, 15 per cent.
In March, 1943, it was agreed to alter the rules to enable all aircrew recommended for commissions by their commanding officers to be granted commissions, provided they were up to Royal Australian Air Force standards. The extent of the granting of commissions depended entirely upon the recommendation of commanding officers. They had the power to recommend for a commission every airman whom they considered was worthy of it, and there are very few cases in which the recommendations of commanding officers were not given effect.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) complained that some men had been kept in musterings other than those for which they had originally enlisted.
– And qualified for.
– It is true that at one period we did expect to have to train larger numbers of men than were eventually required, but it would have been foolish for us to attempt to give those men the opportunity to become aircrew when flying was no longer available to them. With the cessation of hostilities in Europe, many men who had been trained or partly trained had to be given ether work in the Royal Australian Air Force. We could not offer them flying duties, because aircrew were returning from overseas who still had long period* of service ahead of them Therefore, weoffered the men about whom the honorable member complained an opportunity to remuster to other positions, and, in many cases, they accepted it. As a matter of fact, those who had reason to feel the altered position most keenly were the men who transferred from the Australian Imperial Force at the invitation of the Royal Australian Air Force to train as aircrew and later found that we were not able to proceed with their training, because the need for their services as aircrew no longer existed. I myself wouk feel very disappointed if I were one of those men. But we could not continue their training when there would he no justification for the expenditure. The training of a pilot costs approximately £3,000, an observer or navigator about £2,000, and an air-gunner more than £1,000. The average cost of training a member of aircrew is about £2,000. The overhead expenses are high, and considerable numbers of personnel are engaged in the work. So the time arrived whenAir Board considered that these men should be informed that they could not be given flying duties. Many accepted a re-muster, although it meant that they would remain leading-aircraftmen; they had hoped to become pilots, or observers., or air gunners and be granted commissions. That must have been very disappointing to them, but it was inevitable as the result of the altered course of the war. I hope that honorable members are convinced that nothing was done which showed lack of appreciation of th<= spirit of these men in volunteering for me of the most dangerous branches of
A-ar service. If the matter be closely examined, the honorable member for Wentworth will see that it would have been impossible to adopt any other policy. If he knows of specific instances of men having been treated unjustly, I j hall examine them, and, if possible, remedy them.
– Will the Minister inform me whether Australians who enlisted in the Royal Air Force will be given passages to Australia for their wives and themselves?
– Australians who joined the Royal Air Force are being provided for by the British authorities.
– But they are not.
– The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) should remember that those who joined the Royal Air Force probably obtained more rapid promotion than the mcn who enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force. Members of the Royal Air Force could not be taken into the Royal Australian Air Force without doing an injustice to the men who had enlisted in Australia. They received any advantages which accrued from joining the Royal Air Force, and I assume’ that the British authorities have made provision for them.
– The British authorities have not made provision for the return of those men to Australia. I am not asking that they be granted repatriation benefits.
– The responsibility for their return to Australia does Dot rest with the Commonwealth Government. I assume that it lies with the British authorities.
– That is true. They ave no claim on the Commonwealth Government, but can not the Commonwealth on compassionate grounds, provide passages for these men and their wives.
– The Minister -for Repatriation (Mr. Frost) informs me that the British Government is accepting the responsibility for their return. That assurance should satisfy the honorable member. I would be sorry indeed if it was considered that we had treated shabbily any of these men who have given heroic and invaluable service to Australia. It will be my aim and ambition to give to them the best possible treatment, and if I can remedy any difficulties which may arise, I shall endeavour to do so.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Munitions
Proposed vote, £7,432,000.
– I propose at this stage to give an explanation of the Estimates for the Department of Munitions in the hope that it will answer many of the questions which honorable members would otherwise ask. We have already had a “ curtain-raiser “ on this discussion. Last June the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) referred to many matters associated with the production of munitions and, in particular, to the Auditor-General’s report upon them. On that occasion I submitted a general reply to certain criticisms levelled at the department. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) did not appear to appreciate some of my explanations, and elaborated the AuditorGeneral’s comments.
– The report upon which I commented was for 1944-45, but the Minister referred to the report foi 1943-44.
– I was under the impression that the right honorable gentleman dealt with the more recent report of the Auditor-General.
– Yes, the latest report. The Minister said that he had nol seen it.
– I cannot be expected to remember every detail when I am asked a question, but the report of the debate will prove that some consideration was given to this matter. I made a general explanation of it. That disposes of a matter which has been the subject of some unjustifiable comment.
– It could not be unjustifiable comment. The Minister is reflecting on the Auditor-General, who made the criticisms.
– I am referring to certain recent comments regarding my admission that I had not read the report. The fact is that the report had definitely been brought to my notice, and the Department of Munitions has devoted the most careful consideration to various aspects of it. Honorable members, in considering this matter, should not forget ‘that the Department of Munitions had to preserve records covering the expenditure of £400,000,000. That required a tremendous amount of effort, the making of almost innumerable examinations, and an enormous volume of accounting and checking. It embraced the entire engineering capacity of Australia, and it related to the whole extraordinary effort of Australia to produce munitions on a colossal scale.
When Japan entered the war, many experienced men hastened to enlist. In other circumstances, their services might have been available for the work of accounting and checking. A very limited number of experienced persons was available to assist in this tremendous task. Another fact, which must not be forgotten, is that for the administration of the munitions programme we obtained the best brains in Australia. As DirectorGeneral of Munitions, Mr. Essington Lewis did a marvellous job. The present president of the Liberal Party of Australia, Mr. Malcolm Ritchie, was Business Administrator in New South Wales. The Director of Finance was Mr. E. V. N”ixon, one of the keenest financial brains in the country. Their subordinates were experienced permanent members of the Commonwealth Public Service, who strove hard to maintain an efficient method of accounting and general administration in order fully to safeguard the interests of taxpayers.
After the entry of Japan into the war, the Government had to accelerate the production of munitions and provide in the shortest possible time arms and equipment for our fighting men. The nation was engaged in a life-and-death struggle, and it is a little hard when honorable members opposite, and some newspapers, now allege that maladministration and extravagance occurred in the department. The vital factor was to produce for our fighting men munitions which were essential to victory. Without equipment, the war could not have been won. Regardless of the cost, the weapons of war had to be forged in our workshops. I admit that every possible check should be made for the purpose of safeguarding the taxpayers’ money, and the best proof that a good job was done i« that not the slightest evidence has been adduced of any scandal or questionable methods.
The War Expenditure Committee, consisting of members of all parties in this Parliament, inquired into various aspects of munitions production; but, to the best of my knowledge, no charge of maladministration has been levelled against the Department of Munitions. I make these statements because, unfortunately, those who criticize departments, and a production department in particular, make general observation? which cannot be justified by the facts. Those remarks may be regarded as introductory.
The Auditor-General has offered certain criticisms of the Department of Munitions which, of course, should be noted. As far as possible the requirements of that officer should be met, but I remind honorable gentlemen opposite that when their parties were in office they also had their difficulties with th, Auditor-General. I hold in my hand the report of the Auditor-General for th* year ended the 30th June, 1’941, and it contains certain comments which are not very different from those made in hi= report for the year ended the 30th June, 1944.
– It would appear to b* time that the complaints were remedied.
– The latest report of the Auditor-General is for the year ended the 30th June, 1944, which is fifteen months ago. Consequently it may be taken for granted that many of the criticisms it contains have been met, and that much of the information he desired has been supplied. It will be remembered that last year I made some strong comments about the Auditor-General’s report for the previous year, because I considered that some of his criticisms were extravagant and unjustified. The AuditorGeneral has occupied considerable space in his current report in stating hi* own case in reply to my observations. 1 do not offer any objection to that procedure or begrudge him the opportunity to reply to my remarks. I merely state the fact. I repeat, also, that some of the criticisms of that officer in his latest report, which is now fifteen months old. have been met, or the rectifying measures he has suggested have been taken.
The proposed vote of £7,430,000 for the Department of Munitions may seem high having in mind the fact that hostilities have ceased, and that the demand for munitions has practically vanished, but I point out that £3,150’,000 of the proposed vote is required to meet expenditure in connexion with the construction of standard ships. This is apart from £1,750,000 referred to in Division 137 under the heading “ Administration It will be appreciated that a substantial sum of money will be required to meet claims that have yet to be received, and to meet the cost of the ordinary services of the department.
– What kind of ships are being constructed ?
– Our programme of 9,300-ton freighters is being completed, and the programme also provides for 2,500-ton and 600-ton vessels. I can give the honorable gentleman detailed information later if he desires it.
– What is the position in regard to,the wooden ship programme? Are any wooden vessels in commission?
– My reply to the honorable member for Denison (Dr. Gaha) related to steel ships. I shall deal with the wooden ship programme presently. The amount of £1,750,000 is being provided for staff, stores, the maintenance of records, and the liquidation of certain commitments in connexion with small craft, stores organization, and contracts which have been cancelled in consequence of the termination of hostilities. This work will require a great deal of accounting and clerical assistance. It will be realized that the sudden cessation of hostilities rendered unnecessary the supply of many items for which contracts ‘had been entered into, and the Government is desirous of winding up these matters as effectively and quickly as possible.
Of our wooden ship programme, to which the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) has just referred, the
Auditor-General said, in effect, that it would have been wiser had vessels beer built of steel rather than of wood. The Department of Munitions was required to provide the equipment ordered by the fighting services. If steel ships were required they were provided and if wooden ships were required they were provided. The Governments of Tasmania, and Western Australia rendered fine service in connexion with the construction of wooden ships. At one stage of the war all the small craft available on the coast line of Australia were impressed. The vessels which had been used for trawling and for the maintenance of supply services between Australian ports had now to be used for urgent war purpose’s. Every vessel that was available had to be used to maintain essential services. The Army indicated that it needed small wooden ships, and with the co-operation of the Governments of Tasmania and Western Australia these were provided. I appreciate the patriotism of all those who assisted the Government in this connexion. Many difficulties had to be overcome in the provision of wooden ships, but I am glad to say that the needs of the case were met. It should never be forgotten that this department has had to operate under the severe and overriding pressure of war conditions, when the liberties and even the very lives of the people were at stake. It was the bounden duty of the Government to provide, whatever the cost, equipment of all kinds in the quickest possible time, and a magnificent job was done in that regard. I regret that some Australians do not seem to realize the magnitude of our task or of the success that was achieved. Distinguished visitors from overseas who were competent to express an opinion have paid unbounded tribute to the deeds of our 7,000,000 people. They have praised both the prowess of our fighting men and the ingenuity of our working people, and it is unfortunate that so many Australians have not shown the same generous appreciation of the work of their fellow citizens.
– The Auditor-General among them.
– The Auditor-General has had a good deal to say about the administration of our public departments, but probably if be bad been required to report upon private enterprise he would have found even then much to invoke criticism, no doubt, but that does not destroy the record of a marvellous industrial achievement in this country. We ought 1;> take the utmost pride in our achievements. I am proud to have been associated with the Department of Munitions and with the executives and artisans of both our public and private industries through the war years. Magnificent deeds have been done to the everlasting benefit of the Australian people in the greatest emergency that this nation has ever faced, and the nation should be generous in acknowledging the fact.
– I have listened with great attention to the remarks of the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin). Yet I remember that the honorable gentleman, when referring to the Auditor-General’s report in this House some weeks ago, indicated that he had not then read the document. Apparently he has since done so. It is important that we should realize the significance of the office of AuditorGeneral. The occupant of this important public office is required by statute to audit government accounts and to give government departments an audit clearance, or else to call them to account for deficiencies in administration or otherwise. Charges levelled against public departments by the Auditor-General should receive the most serious consideration, but apparently the Minister for Munitions was not greatly concerned about ths strictures of the AuditorGeneral on his own administration, for he had not read that officer’s report until comparatively recently. It is true that these Estimates were prepared before the Auditor-General’s report was made available to tie Parliament or to Ministers, but it u equally obvious that the Estimates T70ie prepared, if not before the i German capitulation, certainly before the surrender of Japan. For that reason we are entitled to accuse the Government of asking U3 to agree to the Estimates “ on the blind”.
Let us consider some of the estimate* for this department. Under Division 138, the expenditure last year was £28,685. At that time, the war was at its peak, and expenditure of a major character was to be expected; yet the amount voted was only £50,000. This year, which will include nine months of peace, the proposed vote for “ Genera) Expenses” is £500,000. The AuditorGeneral, at page 83 said -
A matter which attracted attention hat arisen from the reduction in the volume of munitions production. The reduced demand required fewer operatives but there were manpower difficulties in transferring the surplus to other employment. Production of stocks of components was therefore continued it excess of service requirements and the cost was charged to production as for service orders.
How can this large expenditure be justified, when production in 1943-44 was in excess of service requirements? It seems that the practice is to be continued.
Under Division 139, the expenditure last year was £333,741. The estimated expenditure for this year is £317,000. Again I ask, where is the justification for the continuance of such, extraordinary expenditure ? It is a drain upon the taxpayer, which none should be asked t<> bear.
Under Division 145 - “ Ship Building - Plant, Equipment and Buildings and Reserves of Materials “ - the expenditure last year was £3,72S, and the estimate for this year is £150,000. The expenditure last year upon the construction of standard ships was £2,690,456, and the estimate for this year is £3,000,000. That brings me to the criticism that I levelled against this department a little while ago. in regard to the construction of wooden ships. I believe that I then proved my case conclusively. The Auditor-General has severely criticized the methods of accountancy adopted in connexion with the Tasmanian Wooden Ship Building Board. His report in that connexion reads -
The Secretary, Department of Munitions (memorandum dated 0th March, 1945) advised the Department of the Army that an estimate of the total cost of the 32 ship.” (including engines) is £2,000,000. This represents an average of £62,500 each. The Commonwealth is paying an exceptionally heavy price for these 300-ton wooden vessels, the cost per ton being much greater than for the standard 9,000-ton steel ships.
The figures that I gave in an earlier debate showed that the cost of wooden ships of 300 tons built in Australia was £256 a ton, whilst the cost of steel ships was approximately £63 a ton, compared with £25 or £26 a ton in the United Kingdom. I cannot see how the Minister can justify such a discrepancy. In view of the statement of the Auditor-General in regard to the accounts of the Tasmanian Wooden Ship Building Board, one wonders what costs were included in the extraordinary figure of £256 a ton. The report of the Auditor-General is a scathing indictment of the department.
– It is not. I invite the honorable member to read it.
– I shall read one extract from it.
– Read the lot.
– I can devote my time to a better purpose. I ask for permission to have the matter incorporated in Hansard.
Leave not granted.
I quoted the matter in a previous speech ; consequently I am not concerned at the refusal of the committee to grant the leave that I have sought.
I listened to the Minister with a good deal of attention. I am not so foolish as to contend that his department has not done a good job, or that all waste can bc avoided in time of war. But I stress that the Minister openly admitted that he had not read the criticism of the Auditor-General, and that the Estimates reveal that he has not attempted to correct the position. Even were we to agree - which I do not - with everything the honorable gentleman has said in regard to war-time expenditure and the administration of the department, can he explain the action that I am now about to relate? Auction sales authorized by the department were held at Forbesstreet, Woolloomooloo, on the 6th June, and at Villawood on the 20th June last. Tank bogie wheels, the cost of which, produced in America, was £19 5s., and produced in Australia was £29, were sold for 25s. and 30s. each. One might seek to justify that by saying that anything is likely to happen at an auction sale. But when one learns that a prior offer of £350 for the lot, which works out at £3 a wheel, was made by an engineering firm in Sydney, and was not accepted by the officers of the department, one want* to know the reason. A 900-gallon hotwater tank, which had cost £395, was sold for £42 to a dealer. An offer of £150, which is recorded in the files of the department, was refused. The dealer advertised the same lot for £250 on page 13 of the Sydney Morning Herald of the 23rd June last. Twelve work benches, the cost of which was £207 5s., were sold to dealers for £5. An offer of £1 a piece had previously been made by an engineering firm in Sydney, but had been rejected. A grinding machine was purchased at the Forbes-street auction sale for £150, and was sold at a profit of £100 without being removed from the premises. A machine valued at £800 was sold by the department for £60. An offer from a Rutherford firm to ‘purchase it for £500 was rejected. The cost of dismantling v. and transporting it to Sydney was £400. The intention was to use it at Garden Island, but it proved to be unsuitable. It depreciated, through neglect and exposure to the weather, and eventually was sold for £60. These things are taking place in the post-war period.
The Minister has not seen fit to reply to statements that I made on the budget in regard to auction sales that had been held under the authority of his department. I have since made further inquiries, and have learned that technical men recommended the acceptance of offers on the spot, but the liquidation officers refused to sell. The senior liquidation officer, before joining the department, was a third-grade railway clerk. The next officer in charge was previously a postmaster. The department’s disposals officer was previously a demonstrator of washing machines. The auction sale clerk had not had previous experience except as a junior salesman. Can one wonder at such a state of affairs existing in connexion with the disposal of surplus goods, when men of such ranking are authorized to conduct sales? These matters cry to high heaven for investigation and ministerial explanation.
I pass to the case presented by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir
Frederick Stewart) in regard to the conditions that are imposed upon the disposal of machine tools.
– Did not the honorable gentleman say to me that when he made these charges previously he was mistaken in saying that they affected my administration, and that responsibility rested with some one else?
– The Minister is quite right. I said that I was mistaken in believing that the matter of disposals came under the control of his department, and that I had. learned that the Departmen of Supply and Shipping was responsible. But I have since ascertained that these auction sales were authorized by the Department of Munitions, and have no connexion with the disposal of surplus materials by the Department of Supply and Shipping.
– I have received a report from the Department of Supply and Shipping in reply to the statements of the honorable member.
– I advise the Minister to be very careful before committing himself to the statement that these auction sales were not authorized by his department. I have some knowledge of the transactions, and have gone so far as to tell the honorable gentleman what appears on the files in his department. T have received from the honorable member for Parramatta a letter regarding a small firm that is using tools for the manufacture of munitions. The facts stated are, that the department valued the tools at £2,000. The proprietor of the business offered for them £500 in cash, and three payments of £500 each at six monthly intervals, but was told that he had to find spot cash in seven days. The Director of Machine Tools and Gauges wrote a letter from which the following is ian extract: -
There is no objection to you making your own private arrangements to obtain the money, either through your own bank or through one of the finance agencies who are now arranging to pay cash for machine tools required by people like yourself and then reselling them to you under hire-purchase agreement.
It is wrong of the Minister to suggest that private financial agents should, arrange finance at high rates of interest for the purchase of these tools. The handling of this matter by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission has been severely criticized by the trade. The commission, it is claimed, has held a gun at the head of manufacturers. The sale price fixed for the tools is the cost price, plus sales tax in the case of locally manufactured tools, or landed cost, plus duty, plus sales tax, in the case of imported lend-lease tools. Contractors have been given as little as three weeks in which to decide whether or not to purchase machine tools in their possession, and the onus of arranging finance is thrown on them. During the war, the prices of tools rose to approximately three times what they were before, but they are expected to fall in the near future. Reasonable, depreciation has been allowed, admittedly, but little discrimination has been shown between machines that have been operated for 24 hours a day and those that have been operated for only a few hours a. day. The trade has suggested that machine tools not worth reconditioning should be scrapped, while those in fair working condition should be made available to manufacturing firms on reasonable terms, say, 24 to 30 months, at not more than 5 per cent, interest. It is also suggested that tools regarded as no longer required for munitions projects should be returned to the Commonwealth store, and offered to merchants for sale, allowing an appropriate rate of commission. It is further suggested that tools be offered direct to manufacturing firms at a fixed sale price, with no discount, the terms to be the same as before. The Government should investigate the legality of charging sales tax and duty on the sale of machine tools. Some authorities say that there is no precedent - before the war, at any rate - for charging tax on second-hand goods. It is also doubtful whether the Government can legally charge sales tax, plus duty, on machines which were supplied under lend-lease.
.- I am prompted to say a few words on the estimates for this department, because I am particularly concerned with the disposal of surplus machinery by the Munitions Department. I am not much con- cerned over what the AuditorGeneralhas to say about it. After all, what did the Auditor-General do to win the war ss compared with those who were responsible for creating and developing the Munitions Department? It is always easy to criticize after the event. The Auditor-General is like a man who sits tu a railway carriage with his back to the engine ; he sees the scenery only after the train has passed it. The AuditorGeneral was not responsible for originating anything in connexion with the war effort. All he does is to criticize after mistakes have been made. I was a member of the Man Power and Resources Committee which toured Australia from end to end, seeking man-power and mechanical resoures, and we made recommendations to the Government regarding the establishment of a munitions manufacturing industry. At that time, the position was very serious. We, as a committee, did not have to take any risks; we only had to look for machinery and labour. The responsibility for the war effort devolved upon the Government. It has happened from time to time that projects have been started and subsequently abandoned. For instance, Australia was told to go ahead with the building of tanks, and it is not possible to embark immediately upon the manufacture of tanks at a profit. It is first necessary to establish factories and to tool-up. So far as the manufacture of tanks is concerned, we were at that time innocents abroad. We did not have in Australia one tradesman who knew anything about the building of tanks. We had expert mechanics, but they did not know how to build a tank. We did not even have suitable workshops, and contracts were let to small engineering firms, including country garages, for the manufacture of tank parts. All these preliminary arrangements cost millions of pounds, and we did not make any tanks because, just as we were about to begin production we were told by the authorities overseas to drop the project and to concentrate upon something else, because they were able to supply us with all the tanks we needed. If honorable members opposite had been in power would they have refused to begin building tanks when they were asked? Would they have been able to avoid the expense which has been criticized by the Auditor-General?
– We started the tankbuilding project.
– I am glad to have that admission. Honorable members opposite, who were then in power, started on this blunder which has been condemned by the Auditor-General. It is easy for that officer now to say that so many millions of pounds were wasted on the tank project, but had we proceeded with the mass production of tanks we should have made them-just as efficiently and cheaply as has been done anywhere else in the world. When the Japanese were breaking through in New Guinea, there was an urgent need for small arms, and Australia was told to produce them. We expended thousands of pounds on setting up plant for the manufacture of these arms, but again, when we were just about ready for production, we were told to turn to something else. We do not need the Auditor-General to tell us that so much money was spent and very few revolvers produced. Had we gone into production fully for, say, a couple of years, and the initial cost had been spread over, the total numbers of revolvers produced, the cost would have been as low as anywhere else in the world.
It is unfair to quote criticism by the Auditor-General as criticism of government policy. The Leader of the Australian Country party has admitted that he started one of the projects upon which most money was lost. The AuditorGeneral, when writing his criticisms, 5? like the long-haired professors who sit with pencil and paper telling other people how things ought to be done.
However, the matter that I rose to speak about, is the disposal of excess machinery held by the Munitions Department. The other day the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) asked the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) the estimated total value of machine tools and appliances in the hands of the Government for disposal, and was told that the amount was £10,000,000, and that the value of machines let out by the Government, under the hire-purchase system was approximately £500,000. As the result of the defeat of the referendum, the Government is unable to use the machines in government factories, and they have to be disposed of. On what terms should they be disposed of? Early in the war there were many developments. One was that a great many engineering firms bought second-hand machines, reconditioned them, and entered into profitable war production. The production was insufficient, and to meet needs the annexe system was brought into being. No firm was prepared to erect buildings for the installation of additional plant merely for war purposes. It was too big a risk. So the Government built and equipped annexes to engineering workshops for war production. But beyond the normal engineering works that were asked to undertake additional work, other people required more machines. We went so far as to incorporate into the scheme motor garages in country towns. Wherever skilled mechanics and a certain amount of plant were to be found, the Government added machinery and the operators of the plant did bits and pieces of the war production work. So spread throughout the Commonwealth were government annexes and governmentowned machines. Some engineering works were able and willing to pay for such machinery as the Government could provide. Others were prepared to do the work, but not prepared, because they did not know their post-war prospects or how soon the war might collapse, to undertake huge expenditure. They said to the Government, “ We have the workshops and some plant. We are prepared to increase production, but we cannot afford to spend money at war prices on additional machinery. We are not prepared to take the risk.” That is quite understandable. If a small engineering works was asked to double its plant and double its effort, it could not be blamed for refusing to outlay the capital entailed in the expansion, because it realized that such additional plant as would be required for war production would have no further use after the war. This is the position as I see it: Some firms bought plant. Others were not prepared to buy plant, but agreed to take it on a hire-purchase basis. Yet other firms took over and operated machines that remained the property of the Government.
We now come to the matter of disposal of those machines, which is tha matter that concerns me. There is about £10,000,000 worth of plant owned by the Government in all sorts of places in Australia - big cities and remote towns. The job of the Commonwealth Disposal* Commission on behalf of the Government is to sell it, preferably to the people on whose premises it is installed. I think that is an excellent idea, having regard to the need for a wider spread of engineering establishments in Australia. We must remember that during the war we have not only spread machinery all over Australia but also increased the number of tradesmen available to develop Australian secondary industry. So it is to Australia’s advantage that wherever that plant is situated, no matter how remote the spot is, it should stay there, if the Government can dispose of it on reasonable terms, through the Commonwealth Disposals Commission, to the proprietor of the firm where it stands, because, after all, he has much more claim to it because of his war effort than have many other people who made no war effort at all and are looking around for bargains in machinery.
– And getting them.
– Yes. My complaint is about a case that has been brought to my notice by a firm in my electorate. I am not being parochial in citing that firm. I regard it as a typical case. Its complaint can be duplicated all over the country. Before the war six or seven trained men were on the payroll, but now the firm employs 50 men who were trained on the .machines that were installed in the shop by the Government on a rental basis. It is obvious that a firm employing only six or seven men before the war would not be prepared to buy sufficient plant on which to engage 50 skilled mechanics without knowing its post-war prospects or whether it could pay for the machines. The firm was prepared to pay for the plant on the basis of the price fixed by the Prices Commissioner for second-hand machines, but it was not prepared to pay cash. Its offer for a certain section of the machinery was accepted at the price fixed by the Prices Commissioner, if it paid cash within seven days, but it was told that it could not have a certain machine because it was wanted for a government workshop. 1l transpired that the machine is not wanted for a government workshop and the firm has been offered it at 10 per cent. over the price that was asked for it before. For what reason [ do not know. Whether it was to choke the firm off, I do not know. Cash in seven days! I hope that the Government’s advisers are not those who advised it in tho building-up of war industries. If they ase the same people, I say without hesitation, from my own observation, that they were there as advisers to get what they could for the interests they represented and that they will be there to get it for those interests in the disposal of machinery. If the Minister is acting on their advice, that is why it is being made so difficult for the average person to buy the machinery. The Commonwealth Disposals Commission offers the machinery for cash in seven days. There is £10,000,000 worth to be disposed of. That is a large quantity of machinery. If the Government is to restrict the potential buyers of that machinery to people who can pay spot cash, it is going to leave itself at the mercy of the machinery agencies and the large corporations that have the money to pay with, because, obviously, they will say, “You have £10,000,000 worth of plant and we know that 90 per cent, of the people who have that plant installed cannot pay cash. It will be left on your hands, and we will pay you what we want to pay you after you have been turned down by the other people”. That is the obvious position. The more difficult the Government makes it to purchase the machinery, the more potential buyers it will throw out of the market, and, obviously, the offer made at the finish will he the price of scrap iron. So I ask the Government to take this matter into serious consideration.
My last point is the matter raised by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir Frederick Stewart). He apparently has a constituent in the same position as that occupied by mine. That constituent was asked to pay cash in seven days. He was not able to pay it. He received a letter signed by C. J. Pawson for the
Director of Machine Tools and Gauges, iD which he said -
It is regretted that the Commonwealth car no longer arrange to sell machine tools under hire-purchase terms. . . . However, there is no obJection to you making your own private arrangements to obtain the money through your own bank or through one of the fina nee agencies, who are now arranging to pay cash for machine tools required by people’ like yourself and then reselling them to people like you under hire-purchase agreement.
That is an outrageous proposal.
– I agree with the honorable gentleman.
– I am glad to have that admission. It is an outrageous proposal, because the very fact that these machines are scattered in workshops of all dimensions throughout Australia is testimony to the fact that the owners of the factories where they are located are people who did their bit in the war to build up the munitions potential of Australia. It is disgraceful to say to them, “ We are not prepared to sell these machines on the same terms as we were prepared to offer while you were working for us, when you could buy them on a rental basis, but now, the war being over, you must pay spot cash, and ir you cannot pay spot cash go to a moneylender, whose only effort during the war was to exploit the people through the profit on lending money “. It is an outrageous proposal to make to any one. The man referred to wrote the following letter : -
Following the suggestion made by the Ministry of Munitions … I interviewed the Australian Guarantee Corporation with a view to obtain their assistance in the purchase of the machine tools I now have in hand. As a result, I find that the best terms offering demand half deposit (£1,000), the balance plus 0 per cent, flat over a period of twelve .to eighteen months and equal monthly payments.
Nine per cent, flat means 20 per cent.
– Nine per cent, flat over eighteen months would be about 34 per cent.
– I accept the mathematics of the right honorable member for Darling Downs, who is an accountant, as superior to mine. The treatment of this man is typical of that being meted out to men who made their resources available to Australia in it* hour of need in order to develop the munitions industry. They are being told that they cannot buy the very machines without the operation of which our war effort would have failed, on the same terms as those on which they dealt with the Government when their help was needed, but must pay cash even if they have to go to a money lender for money at the interest rate of 34 per cent.
– Was that advice given by the Business Board?
– .That is what I desire to discover. I am not criticizing the Minister, because I know that he is heartily in accord with the views which T am expressing.
– Hear, hear!
– When machinery to the value of £10,000,000 must be disposed of in Australia, where the potential is not extraordinarily great, the proper course to adopt for the purpose of spreading industry throughout Australia is to leave the machines in the factories and workshops where they are now located and, if possible, come to reasonable terms with the managements who rendered valuable service to the war effort. These factories and workshops, dispersed throughout the country, will not only decentralize industry but also provide employment for exservicemen who gained some mechanical knowledge during their war service. Cf the Minister finds that the scheme for the disposition of this machinery emanated from any advisory committee, the best course for him to adopt in the interests of the country and the Government will be to sack the lot of them immediately.
.- [ strongly deprecate the opening remarks of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) in which he unwarrantably criticized the Auditor-General for having fulfilled the function which the Parliament has assigned to him. The duty of the Auditor-General is to supervise all public accounts and keep a watchful eye on what is occurring in the administration of government departments. He is the watchdog and guardian of the taxpayers’ interests. The Parliament has made him an independent reporter and f was astonished to hear an honorable member, who possesses such authority aa the honorable member for Dalley does, declare that such reports should be disregarded and that the Auditor-General knows nothing about the war effort. 1 enter an emphatic protest against this dismissal of one of the most serious reports which could be presented to th* Parliament.
– The AuditorGeneral was rather critical of Mr Speaker.
– I realize that possibly the honorable member for Dalley might not have been without prejudice against the Auditor-General. Referring to the Auditor-General’s report last year, the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) said -
The comment of the Auditor-General cao be discarded as exaggerated and giving » distorted view of the situation.
If the Minister would heed his critics, especially those who are appointed by the Parliament, he would discharge his duties with greater satisfaction to himself and the community. Undoubtedly, the honorable gentleman is extremely conscientious in discharging his duties, but he has an enormous department to administer, and one man cannot possibly supervise all annexes and munition* establishments. Therefore, the Minister should listen to criticism which is designed to assist him and the community. The Auditor-General’s report, and the criticism which honorable members offer, come within that category. When the Minister made his peroration, he appeared almost as a defendant in th* dock with honour and even liberty at stake. The honorable gentleman need not adopt that attitude. We all agree that he has done his utmost honestly to administer his department, but he will admit that there is ample room for improving his department, and probably every department, and when attention is directed to weak spots, he should, instead of stoutly repudiating them because of his loyalty to his officers, examine th« matters himself.
I do not desire to recall ancient history, but I propose to refer to an injustice which the Minister did to m« recently, and I hope that he will make an amende honorable. A few months ago
I directed attention in the House to certain statements which had come to my notice that some employees of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory were taking certain weapons, parts of weapons and ammunition, and selling them to members of the underworld.
– The honorable member vouched for the accuracy of the statement.
– At that time the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) described me as a liar.
– I said that people called the honorable member “ Larry the Liar “.
– I shall prove that my statements on that occasion were justified, and when I have concluded the Minister should apologize to me. In Hansard of the 12th June last the Minister for Munitions is reported as having said -
In the course of his question, the honorable member for Richmond made the following statement: -
Allegations have been conveyed to me that some of these weapons have been supplied to the underworld by certain employees of the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, who appropriate weapons which are not up to Army standards, or parts of such weapons, assemble them, put them into a usable condition and then dispose of them at high prices to members of the underworld. [ stated that those allegations had come to my notice, and asked for an inquiry. The Minister repudiated everything that [ said, and his concluding statement did me a great injustice. He said -
It is unfortunate that this kind of attack, which is utterly without foundation, should be made against a government owned and controlled factory. The honorable member for Richmond definitely singled out the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow for the most sinister allegations. I am happy to be able to report that there is not the slightest justification for any suspicion, and I strongly deprecate speculation upon matters of such grave concern. Before such allegations are made, there should be a reasonable basis of evidence to justify them. Otherwise, they can only do irreparable harm to all persons concerned - manufacturers and operatives alike - who have taken any Part in the production of these weapons.
The Minister made that statement in reply’ to my very reasonable request for an investigation of the allegation.
– The honorable member concocted it.
– In the Lithgow Mercury, dated the 6th August, the following report appeared: -
Alleged Thefts of Monitions Results is Three Arrests. Following a sensational series of arrests on Friday night when police searched three dwellings in the Littleton area, and recovered a large quantity of ammunition, rifles, components, tools, two spanners manufactured at the Small Arms Factory and two telescopic sights, a man was charged with stealing £140 worth of Commonwealth property, and two others with having stolen goods in custody.
I am waiting for the Minister to apologize. On the 17th August, the Lithgow Mercury, which circulates in the electorate of the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), published a further report, as follows : -
Arms and Ammunition Thefts - Gaol Sentences Imposed
During the war, too many people thought they had a perfect right to go off the straight and narrow path, said Mr. Soiling, P.M., in Lithgow police court on Tuesday, when he sentenced two employees of the Small Arms Factory to imprisonment on charges of stealing Commonwealth property. A third man was fined and placed on bond on associated charges. William Mostyn Tanner (28), a Small Arms Factory mechanic, who the Police Magistrate said had stolen enough ammunition to start a war of his own, was convicted on a charge of stealing Commonwealth property to the value of £155 15s. 9d., and sentenced to six months’ hard labour.
Mr. I. Higgins, who appeared for the three defendants, pleaded that both Tanner and Stoltenberg had been used by other persons as tools.
That conveys a sinister suggestion that possibly some members of the underworld “ used “ the accused persons. I am rather surprised that honorable members opposite, by their demeanour, appear to defend these thefts from the Small Arms Factory.
– Every interjection shows that honorable members opposite sympathize with the men who were getting away with Commonwealth goods and, possibly, supplying them to the members of the underworld. I shall not read the full report, but shall make it. available to the Minister if he so desires. My remarks may not be palatable to honorable gentlemen opposite, but
L cannot allow that consideration to deter me from making them. The report proceeds -
In respect to the charges against Stoltenberg, Detective Sergeant Mabbutt alleged that when he searched a house at Littleton on August 3, and found two rifles, Stoltenberg admitted that he had taken them from the factory in parts and assembled them at his home.
Everything that I said on this subject three months ago was justified -by the police court conviction, and by the proseration of some, though I do not say all, of the persons concerned. In making these remarks I am not criticizing the Minister .personally, but I expect the honorable gentleman to take notice of what I am saying, and to make any necessary investigations to satisfy himself as to the facts.
– The information may have come from the New Guard.
– I realize that the Minister for Transport (Mr. Ward) has certain obligations to some of his constituents which he must discharge.
-Order! The honorable member for Richmond must address the Chair.
– I shall not labour the matter, but I am justified in saying that I was the victim of a grave injustice three months ago. Those who attacked me, and reflected upon me personally on that occasion, should have the decency to admit that I was justified in what I said. I have not finished yet, and I shall prove my points in the Pedvin case before I am through with it.
I wish now to refer to certain unjustifiably high costs that have been incurred in the manufacture of Webley revolvers. Again I make no personal charges against the Minister for Munitions, but I feel obliged to direct public attention to this matter for, in my opinion, the circumstances indicate a serious mismanagement, or a lack of wisdom and perhaps some dereliction of duty, though I make uo charge of corruption. On the 13th June, in this House, I asked the Minister for Munitions the following questions : -
The honorable gentleman replied a» follows : -
It will be seen therefore that the cost of these Australian-made revolvers was £672 17s. each, and that price does not take into account £116,S06 representing the cost of plant, and machine tools and overhead. The Minister , was also asked whether at the period of the production of these weapons representations had been made to him by Mr. Rodgers, the managing director of Howard Auto Cultivators, Sydney, about the high costs involved in this job. Mr. Rodgers considered that the work was too expensive and that something ought to be done about it. .Something was done about it, for the work was taken away from his factory. I do not criticize the Minister for Munitions personally in this connexion, for it is impossible for him to supervise from his office in Canberra, or from an office in Melbourne or Sydney, the work that is done in factories scattered all over the countryside; but the honorable gentleman should listen to reports that are submitted to him bv members of the Parliament who, it will beadmitted, should have some sense of responsibility to the taxpayers. I hope that the Minister will investigate the Lithgow reports that I have brought to his notice. If he does so, he will be satisfied that the stand I took three months ago has been vindicated.
.- I was most interested in the remarks made this evening by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) concerning machine tools. I hope that the Minister for Munitions will give consideration to the representations that have been made. I am interested in the subject because a situation similar to that described by th* honorable member for Dalley, but on s larger scale, exists in my own electorate. I hope that a policy will be applied which will enable the persons who have been using these machine tools to acquire them on a fair basis, so that they may continue to be used in the establishments where they are located.
I participate in this discussion principally, however, to urge the Government to indicate its plans for the continued development of the Australian shipbuilding industry, for it is important to Australia that this industry should be expanded. The Australian ship-building industry has won warm commendation from industrialists and ship-building executives from other parts of the world. It is fundamental to the future progress of Australia that ship-building should be fostered, in order not only to provide vessels for the Australian shipping services, but also to assist in implementing the Government’s full employment policy. Possibly in the early stages of shipbuilding in Australia costs were rather high in comparison with those of other countries, but it can now be said that we have passed the experimental stage and that our ship-builders are in the front t ank of the industry.
One of the outstanding achievements of Australia’s ship-builders has been the construction of vessels for the United States forces, and I had the pleasure recently, in my own electorate, of listening to a well-deserved eulogy of Australian ship-builders by General Hester, of the American Army, on the occasion of the launching of certain vessels at Green Point Naval Yard. I was reminded of General Hester’s remarks when I heard the Minister for Munitions refer this evening to the tendency of some Australians to criticize the work of our own people, notwithstanding that distinguished overseas visitors had on numerous occasions spoken in the highest praise of our industrial achievements.
The ship-building industry of Australia has made enormous strides during the war. I understand that since this Government has been in office our construction programme has included the completion of 77 large naval vessels, eleven 9,000- ton merchant ships, and 28,000 small craft of all types. Extensive maintenance and repair work has also been done in our ship-yards in the last four years, for 18,000 vessels, aggregating 60,000,000 tons, have been serviced and repaired. Many of these had to be dry-docked or hipped for extensive repair work. More than S,000 persons have been engaged on naval and merchant ship construction during the war, and approximately 15,000 persons have been employed on ship repair work. Much additional work has been undertaken in various shipyards in the manufacture of main engines and auxiliary equipment.
I have been specially interested in the development of the ship-building industry in my own electorate. The Green Point Naval Yard, for example, was a bare paddock a little more than two years ago, but it provided employment at the peak period of its operations for about 600 persons, and still employs about the same number. In all, about 70 vessels have been constructed there, and repair work to the value of £42,000 has been done. General Hester’s commendation of this work was thoroughly deserved, and his remarks justify me in urging upon the Government the development of this important industry. I understand that a Cabinet sub-committee is investigating the subject of ship-building yards. I have instanced only one yard, but there are others in my electorate. In order to allay the fears that have been caused, the result of the deliberations of the Cabinet sub-committee should be made known, and the people should be advised of the Government’s intentions in regard to this important section of Australian industry. The matter of shipbuilding cannot be brushed aside lightly. Every person who is interested in the future development of the nation must be vitally concerned about Australia’s exports and its overseas trade generally. The Government would be well advised to consider seriously the purchase of a large shipping line, in order to safeguard our overseas markets and everything else associated with our export trade in the post-war years. Those who remember the Commonwealth shipping line that was sold “ for a song “ by an anti-Labour government to an overseas company will realize the great value which such a line can be to this country. With a little more deliberation, experimentation and effort, we could produce vessels which would be the nucleus of an Australian Government shipping line, and thus solve the problems that are associated with the overseas transport of our products, and other sea-going traffic, in the years that lie ahead. Nor must we overlook the employment which a shipbuilding industry would offer to our skilled tradesmen and other workers. It would also open up a wide /field of employment to young men and women who desired to reach a high degree of skill in a thoroughly organized industry. In it, they would obtain all the experience that would enable them to become foremost in this line of employment in the world. I urge the Minister not to be diverted from his course by the ill-advised criticism of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), but to view the matter wholly in a national light, and to consider its value to our primary producers and to the country as a whole. If a shipping line could be built in our own shipyards, providing employment for thousands of men and women, the initial outlay on the establishment of the yards would be more than repaid, and those still engaged in the industry, who have made such great efforts during the war, would be given an incentive to continue their endeavours, because they would have the knowledge that, in the post-war years, Australia would benefit immeasurably from the activities of the industry.
– I regard the Munitions department as the most important industrial war-time department. Having regard to the cessation of the war, I should like the Minister to state the Government’s future policy in regard to its activities. Its accomplishments can best be described as “ an industrial romance “. Due to the fact that its activities had to be established expeditiously, and expanded enormously, some errors were to be expected. I take particular pride in the department for many reasons, but primarily because it was established by a preceding government and was a legacy to the first Labour administration, making possible the all-in war effort that was witnessed in later years. ‘ The Minister mentioned with pride the wonderful national service that was rendered by Mr. Essington Lewis and Mr. Malcolm Ritchie. I remind him that both of those gentlemen were appointed by the Menzies Government. I regret that the Minister worked himself up to such an emotional state, because he must realize that any criticism of the department is not directed at himself. Any reasonable person will admit that he has a gigantic task to perform. He should welcome constructive criticism. 1 was interested in the remarks of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear). It is important that we should have an exact knowledge of what the future activities of the department, and the likely expenditure, are to be.
Under Division 138, the proposed vote for “General Expenses” is £500,000, compared with an expenditure last year of £28,685. Only meagre particulars have been furnished, and further information should be supplied. Under Division 144, the proposed vote for “ Electric Supply in Australia “, at £135,000, is almost double last year’s expenditure. I should like to know how much of the expenditure is to be incurred in country centres. Under Division 148, the expenditure last year on the maintenance and rehabilitation of munition factories and annexes not in production, was £144,618. The proposed vote for this year is £200,000. Under Division 155, the expenditure last year on the maintenance of munitions factories and establishments was £89,334, and the proposed vote is £340,000. All of these items call for an explanation.
I particularly draw attention to the salaries and allowances of personnel. In this year of peace, there is to be a reduction of only one in the number of members of the staff, from 225 to 224. That seems entirely insufficient.
I come now to the criticism of certain aspects of the finances of this department by the Auditor-General. It was appalling to hear the Minister for Munitions give such scant consideration to the observations of this responsible officer who is the impartial servant, not of the Government, but of the people. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) said that the Auditor-General was like a train traveller who sat with his back to the engine - he did not see the scenery until it had passed. Surely it is obvious that the Auditor-General can only criticize past actions. Any criticism offered by the Auditor-General must be fair and factual. He is appointed under the Audit Act, section 8 of which provides -
The Auditor-General before he shall enter upon the duties or exercise the powers vested iii him by this Act shall make and subscribe before the Executive Council a declaration in the form contained in the First Schedule to this Act.
The form of the declaration is as follows : -
I, …. do solemnly and sincerely promise and declare that according to the best «f my skill and ability I will faithfully, impartially and truly execute the office and perform the duties of Auditor-General (or as the case may be) according to law.
I mention this matter to show that not only this Parliament, but also the taxpaying community of Australia, must look to the Auditor-General to ensure that there shall be proper accounting of government revenue and expenditure, in accordance with the requirements of the law, and in accordance with prudent business methods. Unfortunately, the Minister for Munitions said that he would prefer to have the opinion of Mr. Essington Lewis, a production executive, than of Mr. Abercrombie, an accountant. That is a ridiculous statement. The responsibility of Mr. Essington Lewis obviously is confined solely to the production side, whereas the Auditor-General has to be the impartial examiner and recorder of the financial activities of all Government undertakings. The honorable member for Dalley, who is recognized in this chamber as an astute debater - unfortunately for himself he is rather out of practice - tried to draw a red herring across the trail, but his efforts met with little success. The honorable member claimed that the Auditor-General’s criticism should not worry the Government, because the Auditor-General was merely an accountant. He said also that the AuditorGeneral bad reported adversely on government expenditure in connexion with tank production in this country. Incidentally, Mr. Chairman, it is regrettable that when I am making this very important statement, I cannot secure the attention of the Minister for Munitions who is conversing with a. colleague at the table. He will neither heed the Auditor-General, nor listen to a responsible member of this House, and the Leader of a responsible party, who is endeavouring to place the position as he sees it before the Minister. I deprecate the discourtesy that has been shown to me whilst I have been addressing the chamber. I do not talk recklessly. I give close consideration to my utterances.
– I have been conversing with the Minister for the Army on a most important matter. If the right honorable gentleman were aware of the subject of the discussion, he would recognize the justification for it. He should have more consideration for the responsibilities of Ministers.
– I have every consideration for Ministers, but I believe that more consideration should be given to me. I am not talking merely for the sake of talking. I repeat that the honorable member for Dalley, in order to divert attention from the real purport of the Auditor-General’s report, stated that reference had been made to money expended on tank production in this country. The Auditor-General made no such reference. The phase of his report referred to hy the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) and myself, relates to the year 1944. The responsibility of the Auditor-General is to make an impartial and factual report on conditions as he finds them. The AuditorGeneral said -
The financial statements relating to one factory remain uncertified by audit as far back as 1940-41 and for another to 1941-42 as it was considered that the statements presented do not show accurately the factories’ financial position. Statements in relation to 1942-43 for a few factories also remain uncertified pending departmental explanation of audit queries.
Surely the Minister cannot take objection to that. Nobody expects the Minister to attend to these matters personally. The report then proceeds to deal with other matters, but there is not one reference to tank production. It refers, for instance, to machine tools and manufacturing equipment - the very matter which concerned and aggravated the honorable member for Dalley, and the honorable member should welcome that criticism. The report states -
The department advises that the assets register, to which reference was made in my last report,has been recently reconciled with the appropriation ledger expenditure to 30th June, 1944. This reconciliation could not be verified by audit owing to the lack of certain detailed information. Details of all machine tools purchased are recorded in the assets register but verification of the existence of machines held in pool has not, at date of preparation of this report, been proved by stocktakings. However, during the year action was taken by the department to carry out stocktakings of machine tools held on loan at contractor’s premises throughout Australia. The results of such stocktakings have not yet been advised toaudit.
No one would hold the Minister per sonally responsible for that, hut the matter has been brought to his notice so that he might know the facts and take remedial action. The report continues -
The position of outstanding amounts due to the department in respect of machine tools sold and loaned on a rental basis is not satisfactory. The necessity for the prompt collection of the arrears has been represented to the department from time to time.
Nobody can blame the Minister for that either. The report further states -
Departmental accounting instructions require the establishment within the trust account of certain subsidiary control accounts hut action has not been taken to implement the instructions. Until such control accounts are introduced a satisfactory audit of these accounts cannot be completed. . . .
Delay has occurred in establishing departmental control accounts for all the approved projects. When this report was prepared the expenditure incurred in connexion with projects for which control accounts had not been established totalled £1,974.897. Where controls are operating theaccounts have been balanced to 30th June, 1943, only. A satisfactory audit of the transactions of the various projects cannot be completed in the absence of control accounts.
And so it goes on : Dozens of matters are brought to the notice of the Minister, not as a criticism of the Minister personally, because everybody knows that it is not physically possible for the Minister to attend to all these matters. He has to rely upon somebody, and the first person he relies upon is the Auditor-General, a responsible and impartial officer, whose duty is to bring these matters under the notice of the Minister in order that they may be explained. The Auditor-General is notconcerned with excuses or reasons for Government action or inaction. His report is purely factual. It is the duty of Ministers to heed the AuditorGeneral’s comments and to give explanations where they are required.
The Minister stated that the AuditorGeneral had recommended that wooden should should not be built, and that the Government should stick to the construction of standard ships.
-no, he did not say that He directed attention to the fact that wooden ships cost so much more per ton to build than steel ships.
– That is so. I quote the following from the Auditor-General’? report : -
This represents an average of £62,500 each. The Commonwealth is paying an exceptionally heavy price for these 300-ton wooden vessels, the cost per ton being much greater than for the standard 9,000-ton steel ships.
It will be seen that the Auditor-General merely brings the facts under the notice of the Minister. He doesnot say whether the Government should or should not do certain things. I hope the Minister will recognize that any criticism that I may have to offer is not directed against him personally. 3 have been associated with him too long not to recognize his conscientiousness, and his desire always to do the right thing. However, I do not think he was quite fair when he said that because the Auditor-General was not a production man, he ought not to be listened to. As 1 have said, it is his duty to bring the facts to the notice of the Government, and it is then for the Government to take such action as may be called for, having regard to its policy.
– I support the proposed’ vote of £3,000,000 for the construction of standard ships, and I hope that the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) will see that the work is distributed throughout Australia,rather than confined to Sydney. During the last war. there was only one shipyard in Australia which stood up to the production demands made upon it. I refer to the shipyard at Maryborough, in Queensland, which produced the two steel ships Echuca and Echunga. During this war. I made representations to the department on behalf of the Maryborough yards, and the Minister for Munitions, with his usual courtesy, heeded my representations and gave this -firm a share of the work. Now that the war is over,I hope that the Maryborough shipyards will continue to receive contracts. There are competent engineers and craftsmen there, and they are backed by the big engineering firm, of Walkers Limited, which has such a fine record of service.
Recently, there has been some justifiable criticism in the newspapers of the Government’s proposal to dispose of certain munitions factories. The fact is chat private firms do not wish to take over these factories, which are situated ia isolated country districts, because there is not an adequate labour supply in the area. The Government properly established the ‘factories in such areas for security reasons, and it was able to taff them under its man-power regulations, but private employers would not have this advantage. The same difficulty does not exist in Queensland, where decentralization has been practised for many years. That is another reason why the Government may safely let contracts to the shipbuilding firm at Maryborough.
I hope that the Government will shortly arrange for the manufacture of wire, wire netting, and galvanized iron, which are so urgently needed by the primary producers. There is provision in the budget for the manufacture of locomotives. Here, again, I urge that a share of the work be given to Walkers Limited, of Maryborough, who are specialists in the manufacture of locomotives.
Only £135,000 is provided for the development of electric power. I cannot imagine that such an amount will go very far towards providing urgently needed electric power for country districts. An amount of £300,000 is set down for the maintenance and rehabilitation of munitions establishments, as compared with only £144,000 last year. For the maintenance of factories, buildings and services £340,000 is being provided as compared with an expenditure of £89,000 last year. In addition, £132,000 is to be provided in respect of salaries for munitions factories, making a total appropriation of £7,432,000 in respect of the department during the first year of peace. Having regard to the magnitude of this appropriation, it would seem that the Government is not planning an early change-over to the produc tion of civilian requirements. I should like the Minister to explain the reason for this high expenditure. The proposed appropriation of £185,000 for rents is the same amount as was voted for this purpose last year. Provision of £300,000 is being made in respect of buildings, works, fittings and furniture. That amount appears to be high, having regard to the fact that much of this equipment is to be sold during the current financial year. The AuditorGeneral in his report for the year ended the 30th June, 1944, raised certain matters upon which I should like to address the following questions to the Minister - Have the financial statements relating to one factory as far back as 1940-41 and another for 1941-42 yet been certified by audit? Have statements in relation to 1942-43 for certain factories yet been certified, and has the department yet explained the audit queries? Has the department’s reconciliation of progress payments in respect of armament annexes, annexe records and accounts for production costs, which the Auditor-General declared was so much in arrears, yet been brought up to date? Have all contract documents between the Commonwealth and annexe operators yet been completed? Have outstanding amounts due to the department in respect of machine tools sold and loaned on a rental basis yet been brought to a satisfactory basis? Has any stocktaking of material held by contractors on behalf of the department yet been effected by the department ? What action has been taken to correct the discrepancy between the control account and the sundry debtors ledger? What has been done to remedy unsatisfactory features in departmental accounting in respect of materials for use in the production of armoured fighting vehicles? Has a financial statement of the munitions stores and transport branch for the years ended the 30th June, 1943 and 1944, yet been submitted to the Auditor-General? These questions are based on commen- s made by the Auditor-General in his anual report for the financial year ended ihe 30th June, 1944. Surely, the Minister and his officers must have known r>f the unsatisfactory state of affairs which they disclose. I now ask the Minister whether action has been taken in the matters I have raised.
– I assure the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) that the Government, in its future shipbuilding plans, will give due consideration to the claims of all shipbuilding yards, including the yards at Maryborough under the control of Walkers Limited. On behalf of the Government, I express appreciation of the work which that company has performed in the interest of the nation during the war. It is a progressive company, and is deserving of every possible consideration. The right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) asked for information with regard to electric supply development for which the proposed appropriation is £135,000. The chief provision under this item is in respect of plant which recently arrived in Australia, and which it is intended to install at the Zara-street Power Station, Newcastle. The Commonwealth will be reimbursed for that expenditure by the New South Wales Government. The reason why expenditure exceeded the amount estimated la-st year in respect of munitions factories and annexes not in production was because the provision had to be broadened to include factories not provided for. The maintenance of certain classes of annexes, particularly those producing chemicals, must be provided for until they are disposed of. The Government cannot allow its property to deteriorate. I inform the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden) that provision is being made to meet expenditure on the maintenance of buildings and engineering services and factories controlled by the department, including the following : - Explosives Factory, St. Mary’s, £47,770; Ammunition Factory, Rutherford, £27,080; Explosives Factory, Salisbury, £63,980; Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, £15,200; and the Explosives Factory, Villawood, £15,470.
I assure t te honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) that the Government intends to develop the shipbuilding industry in Australia under peace-time conditions. The Government realizes the necessity to maintain a pool of tech nical skill and knowledge in this industry During the war we realized the necessity to have at hand a pool of skilled workmen capable of undertaking construction of this kind. Possibly, one reason why the provision in respect of shipbuilding is so high is because many of the employees have frequently been transferred from construction work to repair work. This has involved delay in construction, and expense in respect of tintransfer of tools and men. That was a war-time need. Ships had to be repaired as well as constructed.
– The Minister has indicated that it is the policy of the Government to maintain the Australian shipbuilding industry. Is it intended to allow private enterprise to assist? I have particularly in mind the Brisbane firm of Evans, Deakin Limited.
– Firms such as that, which helped during the war, will be encouraged to give us the advantage of their organization in days of peace.
– The Minister has no; referred to the amount of £500,000 under the heading of “ General Expenses “ in Division No. 13S - Munitions Factories.
– There are some factories that we desire to maintain as an essential to our defence needs. Having to keep the factories open, we also have to keep an administrative staff there. That involves overhead. We have to make the provision contained in that item to avoid the possibility of a greater charge against those factories.
I agree with the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly) that we should continue the shipbuilding industry and thai the plant and equipment that we have for that purpose should not be lost to the country in the development of our peacetime economy. I substantially agree with much of what the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) said about th*> disposal of machine tools. I deprecate any officer of mine taking it upon himself to include in a communication to a member of the community such a suggestion as that contained in the letter that the honorable gentleman read. The honorable gentleman knows quite well that .1 would not countenance the suggestion that that letter made, and that it was not made with my concurrence. Of course, the disposal of machine tools is not a matter that I finally determine. It comes under the control of the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. The policy laid down is agreed upon by the commission itself, the Treasury and the Munitions Department. I understand that the representatives of the three bodies were to have met in Melbourne to-day. I strongly desire that arrangements be made whereby the small engineering firms r.hat gave such valuable assistance in the war shall have the right to retain on a reasonable basis the machines installed by the Government in their workshops. Until a month ago I had discretionary power to decide whether or not the hirepurchase system should continue in certain instances, and I believe that gave reasonable satisfaction. A month ago, however, - as the result of consultations between the bodies mentioned, it was decided that the hire-purchase principle mould cease.
– Do they consider that a. better price can be got for the machinery by confining purchase to those who can pay cash?
– I do not think it is just that alone. I think it was decided that continuance of the hire-purchase system would involve the establishment of a large accounting section and collecting agency which would have to collect instalments from the purchasers of machines on hirepurchase terms. Loss through bad debts was also feared. I think it is reasonable to state that the decision to end the hirepurchase system was made on the premise that it was better to take a loss on a cash basis and complete the transaction than to have to maintain for many years a debt-collecting and accounting section g3 a part of the hire-purchase system.
– I wonder if the men who made the decision have read anything about the disposal of machines in Great Britain after the last war.
– I hope that the deliberations to-day have resulted in a better arrangement.
– Could the Industrial Finance Department of the Commonwealth Bank assist?
– That is a good suggestion, which will be investigated in the hope that something may be done in that way.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) referred to the remarks of the Auditor-General about the disparity in the costs of building ships of steel and timber respectively. Whoever advised the Auditor-General on that matter did not have the slightest technical knowledge of the subject or he would never have induced the Auditor-General to make his comment. I say that with all possible kindness. The cost of building a 300-ton wooden ship cannot be compared with the cost of building a 9,300-ton steel freighter. That bears out what I said before, namely, that only a technically qualified man has the authority to speak on a. matter like that.
– But £256 a ton for wooden construction as against £68 a ton for steel construction shows a very big disparity.
– A vessel of 300 tons would have to have many of the auxiliaries required in larger ships. There is no possibility of comparing the costs.
– But the Minister does not suggest that the costs were not unduly high.
– I am not challenging that. The earlier construction of wooden vessels Was, under the supervision of the Government of Tasmania, not under my control. Perhaps much of the difficulty arose through lack of experience. Ships were required urgently and overtime had to be worked. That resulted in higher costs than would obtain in peace-time.
Regarding the matter raised by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), I do not for a moment doubt his sincerity or good faith in the case that he presented in questions and in speeches some weeks ago, and I hope that he will accept my assurance that I had no desire to do him an injustice.
– The Minister will admit that the honorable member’s reply puts a different complexion on the matter.
– I do not want to enter into a discussion on that matter at the moment. All I say is that I know that lie spoke in good faith. Even the matters that he raised to-night may be the subject of investigation. He invited me as Minister to examine certain weapons at police head-quarters, and I gave the history of each one of them. It was necessary for me to investigate the circumstances before I could offer an observation as to whether the statements made by the honorable member were justified, but I do not question his good faith in the matter. I have received an assurance from the manager of the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow that there is no justification for the allegations of the honorable member.
– Has any investigation been made by the department?
– We are constantly making investigations, and if the honorable member will address a question to me on the matter during the next day or two I shall be glad to have an answer supplied to him.
Now I turn to statements by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) regarding the disposal of surplus war equipment. I understand that he raised the same matter several days ago.
Honorable members will recall the incorrectness of charges made about a fortnight ago by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), against the Commonwealth Disposals Commission regarding the sale of certain goods, particularly in Queensland. On that occasion, the right honorable gentleman represented that officers of the commission were selling goods by private treaty to their friends. Those charges were entirely false. Now the honorable member for Wentworth complains that the commission is selling goods by public auction and not by private treaty. It is correct that certain goods are sold by public auction, and this method of reaching the small buyer will continue to be utilized by the commission. I am., however, happy to demonstrate that the charges of malpractice levelled by the honorable member are as false as were those of the Leader of the Australian Country party.
I take the first charge made by the honorable member for Wentworth, namely, that American tank bogie wheels which cost £19 5s., and
Australian wheels which cost £29, had been sold for £1 5s. and £1 10s. each at public auction; whereas, according to the honorable member, a much more advantageous offer by private treaty would have brought in an average price of £3 a wheel, or a total of £350 for the lot. It is quite correct that an engineering firm did make a private offer of £350 for this particular lot of surplus equipment, and it is also true that that offer was rejected and that some of the wheels were offered for sale at public auction. The return for the portion sold at public auction was £1,721 12s. 6d., and the department still has on hand remaining equipment valued at £1,357 10s.; or, in other words, the department will realize a total of £3,109 2s. 6d. as against £350 offered by the engineering firm. I wonder what the Leader of the Australian Country party would have said had we adopted the suggestion of the honorable member for Wentworth and sold these goods for £350?
The second matter raised relates to the sale of a hot-water tank. This equipment, and its installation, cost £395. It was in use for four years and then dismantled, and every endeavour was made, to place the residue equipment with Commonwealth and State Government instrumentalities without success. The equipment was then offered for sale by public tender, and it was sold for £42 10s. It is entirely incorrect that an offer of £150 was made for this equipment, and there is no record on any file of such an offer having been made. It might be true that the buyer has offered the goods for sale at £250, hut my advice is that the goods are still with the dealer, and apparently are likely to remain with him for a long time, unless he drastically reduces the price he is asking for the equipment. The Commonwealth Disposals Commission is satisfied, and the Government is satisfied that it has sold the equipment to the best advantage. As the sale was by public auction and was. widely published, every endeavour was made to obtain the best price for the equipment. I would not have felt so happy about the sale, if it had been made by private treaty, as the honorable mem1 ber for Wentworth suggested the tank bogie wheels should have been sold. ‘
The honorable member’s third point has nothing to do with the Commonwealth Disposals Commission at all. It relates to the disposal of certain rags by the Commonwealth Salvage Commission, which matter is being attended to by the Minister in. charge of that commission (Mr. Lazzarini). The next charge by the honorable member for Wentworth on the subject of work benches is equally unfounded. It is quite correct that the work benches cost £207 5s. and all honorable members will, I am sure, realize that in the liquidation of goods specially . produced for war purposes, there is no alternative but to quit them for what they will bring in th© open market for commercial purposes. These work benches were of a heavy type, specially designed for Bren gun production. Here again, as in the case of the hot-water tank, they were offered for sale at public auction and sold to the highest bidder, [t is untrue that an offer of £10 apiece had previously been made by an engineering firm.
The honorable member reached the height of his incorrect criticism in referring to the sale of a grinding machine. This was not sold for £150, but for £300, which is the ceiling price for this machine in its present condition, as determined by the Commonwealth Prices Commissioner. Great care was exercised in the fixing of the ceiling prices for machine tools at this sale, and the Government would be recreant to its own policy of maintaining its price structure and avoiding inflation, if it did not ensure that these Government-owned goods were sold under the same price ceiling arrangements as apply to goods sold by private firms. The responsible persons who pegged the prices were the experts from the Machine Tools and Gauges Division of the Department of Munitions and the Prices Branch, and as they pegged the price and the goods were sold at twice the figure mentioned by the honorable member for Wentworth, perhaps honorable members will have more faith in their own judgment than they have in that of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
In view of the facts which have been brought forward by the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley), which entirely refute every charge made by the honorable member for Wentworth, it is not proposed to waste any time on his criticism of the alleged faulty administration of those responsible for the disposal of surplus war goods. The Commonwealth Disposals Commission has a tremendous job in front of it. For the current financial year, it ha3 been called upon by the Government to return to the Treasury the amount of £410,000,000. Furthermore, it has the responsibility of ensuring that in the liquidation of surplus war stocks it shall not affect the re-employment of ex-service men land women, but that, on the contrary, by the wise liquidation of stocks, and particularly by the rapid provision for industry of capital goods and those which will provide employment, it shall give every assistance to the Government in the rehabilitation of our industries on a peace-time basis. Although the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) levelled this charge against the Department of Munitions and my administration, I remind him that this matter comes not under my administration but under the Department of Supply and Shipping.
– I was gratified to hear the statement of the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) regarding matters which I raised a few days ago about certain auction sales held, I understand, under the direction of the Department of Munitions but executed by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. I have given some information about what is contained in official files, and my allegation will become more pointed in the next few days when I shall ask the Minister to lay certain files on the table of the House. I hope that he will do so. My request is perfectly legitimate. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has already proved, by reference to police court proceedings, that statements which- he made regarding allegations of thefts of lethal weapons and ammunition from the small arms factory at Lithgow, were justified. The honorable member recalled that previously the Minister had denied their accuracy. I do not” assert that the Minister is responsible for incorrect statements in reply to our allegations, because obviously he does not know everything that happens in his department. However, I know that after I made my disclosures a few days ago about the auction sales, a heresy hunt began in the department and certain work was suspended in an endeavour to trace the source of the information. That indicated that the department was very concerned about the matter.
– More “ Alice in Wonderland “ stuff.
– The Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lazzarini) will have something to answer when the Estimates for bis department are being considered. If I am unable to prove that the statements of the Minister for Munitions are wrong, I shall be the first to apologize to him. I hope that when I ask for the production of certain files, the honorable gentleman will be courteous enough to make them available. If 1 am able to prove my point, he should acknowledge that he has been wrongly informed, as no doubt he was in regard to the matter raised by the honorable member for Richmond. In connexion with the auction sales to which I referred, there may not be police court proceedings to substantiate my disclosures, but nevertheless, I hope to prove my point by reference to certain files in the possession of the Department of Munitions.
– The most interesting speech this evening was made by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), who chastised the Government with a whip of scorpions in the old-fashioned manner which we have not witnessed for some time. Two points arose out of the honorable gentleman’s speech. The first is his obvious desire that the Government shall dispose of certain machinery and odds and ends, not on a basis of a cash payment, but on terms. Before the outbreak of war, he was a caustic critic of a previous administration for having sold some ships for which it did not receive payment.
– Hear, hear!
– The last occasion on which the honorable member took part in a discussion in committee in this chamber was during the consideration of the Commonwealth Bank Bill. I thought that as the result of the passing of that legislation, no business man would need to approach a private financial institution or money-lender for accommodation. I believed that every one’s financial troubles would be settled iD quick time as soon as the legislation became law. But, obviously, on the case submitted by the honorable member, the millennium has not arrived, although it may be due as soon as the present session terminates.
The problem of the Department of Munitions is very complex and important, and the taxpayer is deeply interested in it. I have some information from a man who was present at sales held recently in Adelaide. Goods which might have been useful to small buyers were submitted in lots so large that no small buyer could possibly bid. One person bought half a dozen steel ammunition containers. Afterwards he saw big lot* sold at 3d. a container. Within the next week they were offered for sale in Adelaide at 4s. a piece. This is Commonwealth property, and any bargains which are offered should not be the special prerogative of those who have some spare cash. They should be offered in small lots and under conditions which will enable small buyers to purchase them.
What I said a few moments ago would not have come as a surprise to the honorable member for Dalley, who, doubtless, expected me to make those remarks; but I contend that if the Commonwealth can assist certain factories, which have machinery and premises, by allowing them to purchase the machinery on terms, no honorable member can reasonably object to the adoption of that course. Bui if the Commonwealth Disposals Commission works on the principle of getting cash, regardless of the effect on either the Treasury or the taxpayers, it will be a poor outlook for many industries.
The only other observation which I desire to make relates to the remarks of the honorable member for Martin (Mt. Daly) on shipbuilding. His statement* were supported by the Minister. I have carefully examined the Estimates and the Auditor-General’s report, and am mindful of certain propaganda which is appearing in the country press of South
Australia indicating that certain persons are very interested in creating a psychology in the electorate in favour of the establishment of another Commonwealth shipping line. Unless such an organization is established on a different basis from the former Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamships, the Parliament should have nothing to do with it. The costs disclosed are enormous. The Minister may lay on praise with a shovel about our wonderful war effort and the wonderful Australian worker, but the hard cold economic fact is that, according to the Auditor-General’s figures, the standard ship costs approximately £70 a ton. The cost of constructing similar ships in the United Kingdom, where methods are supposed to be out of date, and where shipyards are regarded as worn out places run by some rather despised “ Pommies “ is a mere £25 a ton. Therefore, if the best workmen in the world, working under the best conditions cannot construct these ships for less than £70 a ton, and the out of date, despised “ Pommies “ can build them for £25 a ton, the effect on freight rates will be most important to certain export industries in which some of us on this side of the chamber are interested and in which some honorable members opposite will perforce be interested. When we examine the cost of these wooden ships, which should be widely used around our coasts, we must take rather a bleak outlook of the prospects of establishing a coastal mercantile marine on the basis of wooden ships. We can pat ourselves on the back and tell those engaged in the Australian shipbuilding industry that they are the finest fellows in the world and have done a wonderful job, but while those figures stand there is little hope for the establishment of a mercantile marine, either for overseas trade with 9,000-ton vessels, or for coastal trade with wooden ships.
.- In certain establishments in the departments of the Navy, Munitions, Aircraft Production and Supply and Shipping cafeteria services have been provided. I have no complaint to make regarding the provision of such services. Indeed, I claim that the welfare section of the Department of Labour and National Service, which I created when Minister in charge of that department, has been a very valuable contribution to the country’s war effort in that it has increased efficiency by providing hot meals for employees at low prices. The aspect of these services which gives me concern is the losses which I understand have resulted from the operation of the cafeterias. I believe that the meals served to employees should be provided at the lowest possible cost, and that no profit should be made, but I see a prospect of difficulties arising in the future should the taxpayers of the country be asked to meet losses in these establishments because the prices charged to employees are lower than the cost of providing the meals. I could not find in the Auditor-General’s report any precise indication of the cost to the taxpayer of providing meals for the year which has been surveyed by him, but I am informed by departmental officers with whom I have been in consultation that the difference between the cost of the meals and the prices charged to employees for them represents about £4 per annum in respect of each employee. That may, or may not, be regarded as a large sum; but should the position be allowed to drift it could become a considerable amount. At a time when pegging regulations are in force the provision of meals at below cost could represent a departure from the wagepegging principle. Should those Government factories produce articles which are also being produced by private manufacturers, it would be entirely unfair for losses in Government factories to be subsidized by taxpayers, because that would represent unfair competition. I hope that the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) will be able to give some information on this subject, and will say whether steps have been taken to avoid trading losses by these cafeterias.
– I shall consult with my colleague the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holloway) and will let the honorable member know the result.
.- The Rocklea Munitions Works were designed and erected for the production of munitions but later a portion of the buildings was used for aircraft production. I desire to know what is to be done with these establishments and with the equipment in them. That equipment consists of gauges, tools, lathes and machines of various kinds. On the 18th September I asked the following question: -
Has the Minister representing the Minister for Aircraft Production seen the report in to-day’s Courier Mail that Queensland’s secondary industries have not had an opportunity to tender for plant and equipment at the Rocklea factory of the Aircraft Production Commission, quantities of which, although ostensibly required for the department’s works at Melbourne and Sydney, have gone to southern States as so-called surplus equipment, and therefore to private enterprise in those. States? If so, what explanation has the Minister to offer, and will he explain why, if a statement attributed to an official is correct, machines, including machine tools and gauges, lathes and other heavy equipment weighing from G to 7 tons, and worth from £4,000 to £0,000, are being sent as far as Adelaide? Will he say why such plant has not been made available to encourage and develop secondary industries in Queensland? The Minister for Munitions replied that he would have an examination made and would advise me regarding the proposed transfer of tools,
– I have received advice that the machine tools and plant at Rocklea will not leave Queensland.
– What about the future use of the establishments?
– That is a matter for the Secondary Industries Commission, which does not come under my control.
Proposed vote agreed to.-
Proposed vote, - Department of Aircraft Production, £4,724,000 - agreed to.
Department of Supply and Shipping.
Proposed vote, £8,326,000.
– I desire to obtain from the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping some information relating to power alcohol distilleries and coal production mentioned in divisions 170, 171 and 175. In view of the criticism by the Auditor-General in relation to power alcohol distilleries, can the Minister 3ay whether there is any necessity for further expenditure in connexion with them? Further, can he say why an amount of £30,000 is to be voted under division 175 - Coal production (war-time) - plant and advances - in view of the fact that there was so little coal production in war-time? The coal- production loss this year, 1,215,000 tons, is 200,000 tons greater than was lost last year. About two days ago eleven mines in New South Wales were idle. One wonders why this amount has been placed on the Estimates when strikes are so numerous and the Government is not taking any steps to obtain the maximum production of coal. I shall refer to only two strikes, in order to show the attitude of the ‘Government towards observance of the law of the land by the coal-miners. The Rhondda stay-in strike was a very fine example. On the 20th August, about 30 employees staged a stay-in strike as a protest against the failure of the management to complete a new mine bathroom. The men came out of the mine on the following Thursday, after having been underground for 75 hours. The employees at adjacent mines had struck in sympathy with them. Concerning this strike, the Coal Commissioner appointed by the present Government, Mr. Mighell, said -
Owing to the stupid sit-down strike at the Rhondda colliery and its extension to other mines, the position of the coal stocks is very rapidly going from bad to worse. Not only did the men stage a stupid sit-down strike, but several other mines struck in sympathy and were demanding new bathrooms at .their mines. Doubtless, the housing authorities will determine in due course whether building materials already in short supply and likely to become shorter because of coal strikes, are to be made available to build new and better bathrooms for miners, who are already provided with bathrooms of a type approved by the Mines Department, or whether the same materials are to be used to build houses for people who have neither houses nor bathrooms.
Those are very pertinent observations. They were made, not by the capitalists who own the coal mines or by members of the Opposition, but by a responsible officer who was appointed by the present Government. It is a scathing indictment. The Government is still reluctant to complete the legal proceedings which it commenced against these miners, 25 of whom were charged on the 24th August with breaches of the coal control regulations. A week’s adjournment of the hearing of the charges was granted on the application of counsel for the Commonwealth. On the 31st August, a further adjournment of one week was granted, and on the 7th September the hearing was adjourned until the 5th October. I have no doubt that eventually the charges will be dropped and that the Government hopes that the matter will be forgotten. That is one example of the Government’s timidity in handling stand-over strikers.
The Government issued a regulation providing that two days’ holiday on full pay should be granted throughout the Commonwealth in connexion with the observance of V-P Day. In order to qualify for the payment, an employee had to report for duty on the day following the celebrations. On V-P Day, the deputies employed on the Maitland field were on strike, and the strike continued on the following day; consequently, the men did not qualify for the holiday pay. Of course, that did not mean that they would not receive it. If honorable members will follow the Government’s tortuous path, they will learn what was done to ensure that the men should receive it. In the Newcastle Morning Herald of the 14th August, the ubiquitous Mr. Wells, the Communist leader of the coal-miners, was reported to have said -
In my opinion, the stand of the deputy is necessary as a challenge against the right of the management to decide for itself on the sacking of employees.
The next pronouncement of the Government was that the miners should receive two days’ holiday pay if they reported for duty on the first production day worked after the strike. If honorable members have followed the matter closely, they will have noticed that that was the first backward step which the Government made from its original determination in regard to this holiday pay. But even that did not suit the men, and certain mines were again on strike on that day. Therefore, the Government decided to have another look at the matter, and the regulations were amended to provide that the employees should be paid so long as they had worked on the working day prior to V-P Day. The amended regulation affected all industries, but there is no doubt that it was drafted with a view to accommodating the coal-miners.
In both of those instances, the Government retreated from every attempt by the miners to enforce their will. I have no doubt that the Minister has heard the miners’ story so often from their representatives that he has become quite blase. I assure him that the people are not so blase. The stocks of coal in New South Wales, which stood at 1,165,000 tons on the 31st December, 1942, had been reduced to 419,000 tons at the 9th June, 1945, a reduction of 64 per cent, In other words, we now have only 36 per cent, of the stocks that we had when the Curtin ‘Government took office. There is another matter into which I should like the Minister to inquire. Certain information which has come into my possession has caused me some concern. It relates to the sale of eight crash boats in New South Wales to an alien Jew. It is reported that these boats, which cost £2,000 new, were sold for £50 each, and that they each contained three Chrysler marine engines. Some of the boats are at present being repainted and reconditioned on instructions from the purchaser. I have the name of the purchaser in my possession. I do not wish to make it public in this chamber, but the Minister for Defence may have it if he so desires. Knowing how the Minister feels in regard to matters of this kind, I am sure that he will have inquiries made and that if he finds that the. price paid for these craft was not commensurate with their value, he will take action against the individuals responsible for their sale.
– Is the honorable member referring to the Commonwealth Disposals Commission?
– Yes. There is a boat of similar construction at Rose Bay which the Minister may examine if he so desires. I believe my information on this matter to be authentic, but I am not prepared to state definitely that it is so. However, I urge the Minister to have inquiries made.
.- It is a great pity that the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) is not a little more accurate in the statements he makes in this House. He always says that he has authentic information, but earlier to-night he made certain statements in regard to the Department of
Munitions which, the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) subsequently proved to be inaccurate. The honorable member’s conduct in this chamber has been such that most honorable members do not take any notice of him. I believe that he is one of the worst political propagandists ever to enter this chamber. It is regrettable that he persists in referring to an industry about which he obviously knows little. He obtains his information, of course, from an old colleague who belongs to the same organization as the honorable member and who, although he has never been associated with coal-mining, has caused more disturbances in the coal-mining industry since he was appointed to Northern Collieries Proprietary Limited than ever occurred there before. The honorable member referred to certain happenings at the Rhondda colliery. I do not seek any publicity for the work that I do in regard to the coal-mining industry, but I do know the facts -of this case. The honorable member for Wentworth stated publicly on one occasion that he was prepared to go into a mine and work side by side with the coal-miners. He has not yet fulfilled that promise. One honorable gentleman from his side of the chamber did go down a mine in which a dispute had not occurred for eighteen years and after he left there was a twoday stoppage. I fear that if the honorable member for Wentworth were to fulfil his promise, no more coal would be produced at that mine for the rest of the year. However, I should like to see the honorable member make good his boast and go down into a coal mine. I assure him that no physical violence will be used against him although, of course, he deserves it. An inspection of coal-mining conditions would very soon change his views towards this industry. I saw the bathroom of which the honorable member spoke and I can say honestly that I have never seen a more unhygienic place in my life. Miners using it contracted tinea frequently, yet they tolerated it for years. Finally, they had to make a stand to focus attention upon it.
– It was Mr. Mighell who referred to the bathroom.
– What Mr. Mighell says and what the press reports him as saying may be quite different. I do not criticize Mr. Mighell because I have the greatest respect for him and for the views h« holds. I inspected this particular mine, and for that action I may be placed in the same position as the President of the Northern Miners Federation who, at the instigation of Northern Collieries Proprietary Limited, with which Mr. Gregory Forster is associated, is being prosecuted for trespass because he visited the mine in the course of his duties. Apparently Mr. Forster does not know that I was there too. I say definitely that the miners were justified in taking the stand they took on this occasion, although I do not agree that the stoppage should have been of such a long duration. To show that material could be procured, the colleagues of the Rhonda miners from other collieries, working voluntarily whilst their comrades were in the mine, dismantled an adjacent building and repaired the bathroom. The’ men then came out of the mine. The provision of this labour for the bathroom did not cost the company a penny. The men worked throughout the night to repair the bathroom to that their comrades would come out of the mine. Those are the facts of the case.
What has happened at this colliery since? The colliery has one of the hardest coal seams in Australia and the cutting was done by machines. The company informed officials of the miners lodge that in the course of a few weeks the machines would be taken out. The final word when work ceased on the Friday was, “ We are considering taking the machines out “. On the Monday, when the men turned up to work, the machines were taken out, thus absolutely changing mining conditions. Regulations pegging conditions ruling in March, 1942, were disregarded. Without consulting anybody, the company removed the machines and told the miners to hew the coal, by the old method - the pick. The same company, when it suits it to exploit a higher seam of coal, will advocate the installation of machinery so that the work may be done more cheaply, but it withdraws machinery which would be of benefit to the mine workers. The result is that in some parts of the mine it is impossible to hew coal by the obsolete method practised when I first began work as a miner.
On a previous occasion, I quoted in this chamber extracts from a letter written by this man Forster in an attempt to bodysnatch members of the old Coal Proprietors Association into his new organization. I deprecate press propaganda against the miners, who, with their families, constitute 85 per cent, of my constituents. This propaganda campaign has had the effect of making the public believe that the miners are not patriotic, but that is entirely wrong, as their record in the war of 1914-18 and the last war clearly proves. During the depression, the unemployed sons of miners could not even get the dole because they lived at home with their parents, and the family income was more than 50s. per week. Many of those young men attained the age of 2G years without ever having had a regular job. When war broke out they entered the services and some won commissions and died overseas fighting for their country which could not find them employment. These are the kind of people who are being constantly decried in this rotten press propaganda. Reference has been made to the fact that eleven mines are idle. It is a wonder that any mines are working which are under the control of this would-be dictator. There are 75 mines in my electorate, and some have been producing coal for twenty years without losing a day’s production. The newspapers, and some honorable members opposite, condemn the miners as a body if the members of a craft union go on strike, although the miners are really in no way responsible for the hold-up. The blame rests on those who deliberately attempt to create industrial trouble, particularly on the eve of an election, because they know that the public are incensed against those who hold up production.
It is possible that I may become a little heated when discussing this subject, but never, in the seventeen years that I have been a member of this Parliament, have I ever tried to mislead honorable members. The honorable member for Wentworth, however, is prepared to put forward as authentic any information supplied to him, although he has no guarantee of its authenticity. When Parliament goes into recess, I should like to take the honorable member for Wentworth with me to inspect the conditions under which the miners work in some places, and particularly to inspect the bathroom of which mention has been made. I would be his bodyguard, and would see that nothing happened to him. Indeed, I should like to escort a delegation of honorable members, representing all parties, over the mine fields so that they might see conditions for themselves.
When I was appointed by the late Prime Minister as liaison officer between the Government and the miners, my first job was to investigate some friction which had occurred between a lodge official and the mine manager at the North Wallarah Colliery. These two men had a fight. Well, I have seen some would-be fighters walk out of this chamber with the avowed intention of engaging in battle. In this respect, members of Parliament are no different from miners, except that they are generally a bit too shrewd actually to come to blows. With them, it is a matter of “ hold me back, let me at him “. A summons was issued against the lodge official as the result of that fight. But it was not an offence against the regulations. Honorable members can fight outside this chamber, and not incur a penalty under the Standing Orders. These men did not fight at the mine. They were at the hotel, and, perhaps, they had had a few too many drinks. However, as the result of the fight, a summons was issued against the lodge official, and the company sought to dismiss him. But the lodge official won his case on the ground that his action did not constitute a breach of the regulations. That colliery is still experiencing trouble. For many years, colliery owners have attempted, to force miners to fill ‘two skips at the face. When one skip is placed behind the other, and the coal is not close to the second skip, the miners have to throw the coal, or side the first skip over and run the other past it. Mr. Connell, the chairman of the local coal authority, decided that the filling of one skip at a time would suffice, and the wheelers guaranteed that on that basis they could maintain the same output. Mr. Connell based his decision on the result of an inspection of the mine by one of his inspectors. This system was applied in one tunnel; but immediately afterwards the coal-owners took the point that Mr. Connell’s decision did not apply to the second tunnel, that the two tunnels constituted two separate mines. That can be said of many mines. However, both tunnels were controlled by the same manager and the same set of deputies, and the same set of cavil rules was observed in both tunnels. The coalowners, however, maintained their point, and locked out the men until Mr. Connell gave a decision that the system was to apply in both tunnels. I say in justice to the miners that many of them are incensed by the remarks of individuals like the honorable member for Wentworth, who does not miss an opportunity in this chamber to ridicule them. When we are told that eleven mines are idle, we should remember that 60 other mines are continuing in regular production. I admit that stoppages involve serious loss of coal ; and. I do not attempt to justify many stoppages. Machinery has been set up by this Government and previous governments in order to enable the miners to ventilate their grievances. The miners should use that machinery before agreeing to a stoppage. However, when the honorable member for Wentworth seeks to make party political capital out of the stoppages he does not qualify bis remarks. He condemns the miners as a whole, despite the fact that the great majority of them are regularly at work.
On some occasions, I rise as early as 4.30 a.m. in order to visit pit tops where disputes may be impending. By that means, I have been able to nip many disputes inthe bud. This method of preventing disputes should be extended. The Government should make more men available to go round the mines and explain matters fully to the miners. But, invariably, when I go to a pit top the miners greet me with the remark, “ Who is this Harrison? Why don’t you ‘job’ him ? “ I am able to appreciate the miners’ point of view. They do not realize that the honorable member for Went worth is simply endeavouring to make party-political propaganda out of stoppages on the coal-fields. Perhaps, when honorable members on this side were in Opposition they were not averse to gaining a party-political advantage in much the same way; but I, personally, have never condemned all workers in an industry when only a small section was deserving of censure. The honorable member for Wentworth usually speak? on this subject when I am not present in the chamber. To-night, I happened to be here, with the result that he has not “ got away with it “. Probably, the press will not report what I have said in reply to him. I have not hesitated to condemn any group of miners whom I believe to be wrong; but I shall not fail to reply to any honorable member who unjustly criticizes the miners. I know what they have to put up with. Perhaps, the industry may revert tothe days when, if a miner were injured in a mine, he was not allowed to be carried out of the mine until knock-off time, simply because stopping the rope for that purpose would cause loss of production, and consequent loss of profits to the colliery owners. I know from my own experience that so far as the colliery owners are concerned a horsein a mine is more valuable than a human being, because a human being can be got for nothing, whereas a horse has to be paid for. I speak in this matter from experience. I have had the sad duty of breaking to relatives the news of the death of, or of a serious accident to a miner. Casualties in the industryare higher than in any other industry.
In Great Britain men have been forced to work in the mines when they wanted to join the armed forces. Thousands of young miners in Australia would rather have joined the services than continue to work in the mines ; but they were not allowed to leave the industry. My experience in the industry has been a sad one. I am the youngest of a family of eleven children. My father was crippled and my brother killed in a mine. The struggle that, the miners’ wives have is known only to them. The way the newspapers criticize the miners disgusts me. The miners live to themselves admittedly, because they know that no one cares a tinker’s curse about them. The only time that they get sympathy from the public is when a mine explosion hurls 10, 20, 30 or 100 of them into eternity. Then public subscription lists are opened for the benefit of the widows, but no one cares that day in and day out men are being crippled in mines. The miners’ prayer is that an explosion shall kill the lot in order that their dependants may get from the public the fruits of sympathy in hard cash rather than that they should be crippled and left on the industrial scrapheap, ignored by the public. The miners, however, have had sufficient foresight to look after themselves. My mind travels back to the days when the Lyons Government introduced into this Parliament the aborted National Health and Pensions Insurance Bill, which proposed to bring to an end the miners’ social service scheme, which, together with all friendly society benefit schemes, makes better provision for the participants than was proposed in the legislation then before the Parliament. An amendment submitted by me and supported by the late Sir Henry Gullett, a member of the United Australia party, and aimed at safeguarding the miners’ benefit scheme and friendly societies, was carried. Those were to be the approved societies and not the largeinsurance companies, proposed by the then Government. The miners? scheme provides for medical and hospital benefits. I am wearing a pair of glasses that did not cost me anything beyond the 3d. a week that I, as a member of the miners’ federation, contribute each week to the fund. That contribution entitles my wife and any children, not of working age, to all the benefits that I am entitled to. Should I be killed in a mine or die from natural causes my wife is entitled to £50 from the federation and £50* from my lodge. I have not spoken about this matter since the debate on the national insurance legislation. I should have liked to speak, but I am- better in opposition than as a Government rapporter. I am not a prop. My strength is in attack rather than in trying to make excuses for things that may be wrong. I do not wish it to. be thought that I am suggesting that the Government has done anything wrong. On the contrary, it has done more for the social and industrial advancement of the people than any of its predecessors have done. I invite honorable members who persist in trying to make political capital out of the coal-mining industry, to go to the coal-fields. I assure them that they will be treated well. They will be shown the best and the worst mines. Only then will they be qualified to talk about coal-mining land those engaged in it.
Thursday, 27 September 19^5.
– I did not intend to participate in a debate on coal production in this country, but I must say a few words in reply to the speech of the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James). I hope that many honorable members will accept the invitation he has extended to them to go to the coal-fields. No member of Parliament has completed his political education until he has seen mining operations in not only the worst, but also the best mines in Australia. When all honorable gentlemen have seen coal-mining operations the speeches of the honorable member for Hunter about coal-mining will be no longer listened to with the interest that is shown in them to-day, because honorable members will then know that the facts that I intend to place on record are irrefutable. Conditions on the coalfields are extraordinarily good, as also are the safety regulations. The coalminers are highly paid. Their conditions are infinitely better than those of the men that work in the gold mines and other mines in this country and, indeed, in heavy industries. It is about time the honorable gentleman’s “ sob-stuff “ about coalmining was banished from this chamber. It will be banished with scorn, when all honorable gentlemen have accepted his invitation to see the conditions on the coal-fields for themselves. Then all’ the sympathy wasted on people that hindered the war effort throughout the war and are to-day holding to ransom thousands of good Australian workers^ endangering their jobs and placing in jeopardy the programme for the “ boys “ coming home from the war will come to an end. Honorable members will demand that the Government discipline and otherwise deal with the irresponsible elements responsible for all the trouble on the coal-fields. A significant passage of the speech delivered by the honorable member for Hunter was his admission that the miners were sometimes wrong, to which he added the rider “But let any one criticise them !”. The inference is of course, “ It does not matter two hoots whether the miners are right or wrong, if they are challenged we will all stick together “. The one-out all-out policy of the miners is the root of the evil on the coal-fields. No matter what sort of humbug a man may be, or how irresponsible or unpatriotic, if he likes to throw down his billy of tea and go home, his workmates, good Australians as they are, will follow him like a flock of sheep. That is the trouble on the New South Wales coalfields, and it is only on those fields that it occurs. If the Government, the lodge officials and the decent men among the miners link arms in a united effort and say that the coal-fields shall be rid of the irresponsible humbugs who cause the continual strikes in the mines, we shall get the coal production we need. We shall get the continuity of industry and production that alone can lead to higher wages and better standards for the Australian people. That is the only solution and the Government cannot sidestep it. The honorable member for Hunter knows as well as I do that the unruly elements must be disciplined. He has said so in this chamber.
I heard the honorable member say that mine-owners had taken machinery out of mines. Was a statement so wide of the truth ever made in this chamber? The plain fact is that the owners want to mechanize the mines. They know that thereby they will be able to win more coal and that more coal means lower costs of production and the opportunity to sell more to the people. I had the privilege of accompanying the honorable member down the Burwood mine which, I believe, is the finest example of a mechanized mine in New South Wales. The honorable member admitted that he had not been down a mechanized mine for years. When we returned to Newcastle he made a statement to the Newcastle press that he was in favour of installing machinery in the mines. The statement that the owners are opposed to mechanization of the mines is absurd. The boot is on the other foot. The miners, fearful of the safety of their jobs and ignorant of the fact that efficiency will never kill an industry, oppose the installation of machines in the mines. The statement that the owners put machinery in and take it out when it suits them is unfounded. The honorable member for Hunter referred to the dole on the coal-fields in the depression years. The dole will reappear on the coal-fields unless the miners display common sense. In the past they have forced up the price of coal until every person who could do without it has done so. They will ruin the industry if they persist in their foolish behaviour. Every person who now uses coal as a fuel is looking for an alternative fuel. The whole community will not be held up by a gang of irresponsible persons who are apparently allowed by the government of the day to dominate the industry.
I desire information from the Minister at the table (Mr. Beasley) regarding the flax industry. Like many other members of the chamber I am much concerned about the future of the industry. We all hope that industries established under war conditions will be continued in the post-war period, in order to provide avenues for employment. Before the war, flax production in this country was confined to a few hundred acres. After the war, a keen demand arose for commodities manufactured from flax, and I understand that the Government of Great Britain asked the Commonwealth Government to produce as much flax as possible. At the same time, it entered into a financial partnership with Australia which still obtains. We have witnessed the production of flax increase from the cultivation of a few hundred acres immediately prior to the war to roughly about 60,000 acres. I understand that the fibre from 20,000 acres would easily satisfy Australia’s total requirements, but I believe that plants »re being built for the treatment of the fibre from 60,000 acres of flax, which means that the product from 40,000 acres must be exported. The present cost of production is about £250 a ton and the highest pre-war price for flax of the finest quality was £90 a ton. It is reasonable to assume that the post-war price may be a little higher than the prewar price. We may expect a post-war price for the best flax of between £100 or £110 and £120, but we are producing it at a cost of £250 a ton. The prospects of the industry are not bright. If we are to lose over £100 a ton when we export flax fibre, the taxpayers will be called upon to subsidize the industry. I hope that the Minister will give to the committee the benefit of his views on the matter, because unless the cost of production can be reduced to about £100 or £110 a ton, it will not be worth while continuing the industry. There is no hope for industries that have no prospect of becoming economic.
– We have heard a. powerful speech by the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson), and I hope that the Minister at the table (Mr. Beasley) will be able to indicate to the committee that a definite policy regarding the future of the flax industry is being evolved, I shall refer to another matter, which was touched on by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), that of power alcohol production, and I propose to do it for a purpose similar to that in the mind of the honorable member for Deakin. We are not only concerned with the passing of the Estimates and the paving of the way for the appropriation of sums of money, but we must also be satisfied that the subject matters in regard to which we provide the necessary funds are matters in respect of which some inherent policy for the future exists. The power alcohol distilleries were set up originally as an emergency provision. There was a shortage in the supply of petroleum and petroleum products from abroad, and it was thought necessary that our natural resources should be used for the production of power alcohol.
Provision was made for the establishment of certain distilleries, which I sup pose the Minister will agree were never expected to be economic in the ordinary sense. Up to that point I have no quarrel about the distilleries generally, although I have considerable quarrel as to where the distillery in Victoria should be situated. That is a shabby story which I shall not go into now. The AuditorGeneral, in his report on the public accounts for the year ended 30th June, 1944, indicated that the expenditure on the construction of power alcohol distilleries up to that date had been about £1,250,000, and I notice that the Estimates for this year indicate an expenditure on construction for 1944-45 of £470,797. If we take those two figures, it appears that the cost of constructing power-alcohol distilleries to the 30th June last was about £1,720.797. For the year ended the 30th June, 1944, the deficiency on operations - we now come to production and sale - was £6S,000. I notice tha t for the last financial year the amount which was laid out in relation to production is not stated. I shall assume for the time being that there was no production. That brings me to this point. A series of distilleries has been erected at a cost to date of £1,720,797. The operational result to date is a loss of £68,000. I should like the Minister to explain to the committee how it comes about, under those conditions, that in this year’s Estimates there is a proposal to expend another £68,500 on construction, and another £20,000 on production? Is it proposed to continue to spend more and more money on the construction of these distilleries? If so, will the Minister inform me what is the estimated future of these undertakings? In other words, notwithstanding the fact that the war is ended and the importation of petroleum and petroleum products can in the course of nature he resumed on a substantial scale, does the Government propose to go ahead with the production of power alcohol from those distilleries? If it does, what is the picture of the future that it has to present to us ?
It may well be that the Government proposes to keep these distilleries as an emergency provision against the future. If so, we should like some definite statement so that we shall understand what that proposal involves; but on the face of it, as the Minister will see, and I raise this matter as one who seeks information about it, it appears as if in the new financial year we shall throw another £88,500 of good money after bad. The Minister will see exactly what I have in mind. This calls for a statement of government policy. What is the future of poweralcohol distilleries in Australia, as the Minister sees it ? How far is the present proposal related to a real policy? We should relate our appropriation to a real policy for future production in Australia, whether it be the production of flax, power alcohol or coal.
– I desire to deal with the item “ gold mines withdrawn from production - maintenance, £8,000”. In 1944-45, £40,000 was voted, and £58,064 was expended. Why has the estimate this year been reduced to 8,000? As the Minister (Mr. Beasley) is doubtless aware, Bendigo is the centre of gold-mining in Victoria, and is one of the richest fields in the world. It has yielded approximately 21,000,000 oz. of gold. Possibly the richest reefs have been worked, but large quantities of gold are still to be won. The proof of that statement is that the North Deborah mine has paid in the last few years dividends totalling £400,000. The shares are held not by a large mining company, but by thousands of small investors.
When the Government decided that gold mines should be closed during the war, many mines in Victoria, particularly those in the Bendigo field, were affected. Indeed, only three mines are now in operation there, although 24 mines are fully equipped, except for certain machinery, including compressors, pumps and pipes, which were made available to the Department of Defence and the Allied Works Council. The mining companies willingly provided that equipment for the purpose of assisting the war effort, but now they have practically no machinery for de-watering the mines. One of the three mines now in operation has produced £12,000 worth of gold during the last two months.
Companies on the Bendigo field are unable to rehabilitate their mines at present, and something must be seriously wrong when the Government, decides to reduce the vote from £40,000 last year to £8,000 this year. The gold-mines in Western Australia have received practically the whole of this money, because the mines in that State are different from the Bendigo field. If the Western’ Australian gold-mines are not de-watered, the drives will fall in. In most of the mines on the Bendigo field, the shafts are driven through rock, and water may be permitted to rise without doing serious damage. But the companies will incur substantial expenditure in de-watering their mines. Through the Bendigo mines flow a number of underground streams, and some of the richest mines require the most modern machinery to dispose of the water.
The United States of America has decided to rehabilitate its gold-mining industry, realizing that it must produce as much gold as possible in order to build up its currency and exchange. South Africa is trying to stimulate the production of gold for dollar exchange. The Minister should examine the advisability of re-opening our gold-mines, because Australia will require .gold for the purposes of dollar exchange. Shortly after the entry of Japan into the war the American Army authorities conferred with the Victorian Chamber of Mines and emphasized the necessity for closing the gold-mines so that experienced miners could be released for the purpose of engaging in the production of certain essential metals. To assist the prosecution of the war, the Commonwealth authorities controlling gold-mining acceded to the request, but the Commonwealth Government promised that the mining companies would be reimbursed in respect of any expenditure subsequently incurred in de-watering the mines. More than twenty mines on the Bendigo field were closed, and many of the companies are now seeking financial assistance to enable them to de-water the workings. As I stated earlier, large quantities of equipment used in the mines, including1 compressors, pumps, piping, and electrical machinery, were commandeered for war purposes. If they have- to buy those things- to-day they have to pay greatly increased prices for them. I am- reliably informed that prices to-day are double the original cost. The-
Mine Managers’ Association of Bendigo says that it costs practically £1,000 to de-water a mine. In the Bendigo district there are at least twenty mines in which there is a good chance of striking payable gold. Mines that were in the developmental stage when operations ceased will be seriously handicapped unless the restrictions on stock exchange trading are lifted. The incidence of the sales tax on mining requisites is also a factor which hampers the development of the gold-mining industry. A return to the pre-war system of allowing as a deduction from income for income tax purposes calls paid to gold-mining companies would prove a great incentive to the investment of new capital, and would help appreciably to restore the industry to its pre-war level and thereby enable it to absorb labour in the post-war period. It is true that many fortunes have been made at Bendigo, Ballarat and Kalgoorlie, but, on the other hand, hundreds of thousands of pounds have been expended for no return. There is always considerable risk associated with goldmining. In many ways the industry at Bendigo has had a bad deal compared with gold-mining interests in Western Australia. In that State mining companies have been able to retain skeleton -staffs, if not a full staff. In the Bendigo district only three mines have been kept working during the war. In many cases the men who were retained were not thought by the man-power authorities to be fit to go to other fields. The revival of gold-mining is essential to the progress of the Bendigo district and to -the shareholders in the companies operating the mines; it is essential also that this country shall obtain all the gold possible in order to obtain dollar exchange for overseas trade.
When there was grave danger that oil fuel supplies would be cut off from this country it was decided to establish a number of distilleries for the production of power alcohol. The Commonwealth Government asked the Government of Victoria to appoint a committee to select areas in which such distilleries should be established. A Commonwealth committee also was appointed. I understand that the State committee recommended Dimboola, Bendigo, and Shepparton, in that order, whilst the order of preference of the Commonwealth committee was Bendigo, Shepparton and Yarrawonga. Despite the fact that neither committee recommended Warracknabeal, a distillery was established there. In the vicinity of Dimboola wood fuel was available, but it had to be trucked about 150 miles or transported by road a distance of about 60 miles. Road transport necessitated petrol and rubber supplies. The Warracknabeal distillery is referred to by all sections of the community, even the school children, as a white elephant. It has not yet produced one gallon of power alcohol. It is a disgrace that the people of Australia should have to pay for the distillery there. However, it gave the Government an additional vote in the Parliament, and I suppose it thought that it was worth while.
.- The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) has referred to gold mines in the Bendigo district of Victoria and in Western Australia; The sum of £40,000 was made available last year because it was known that the mines in Western Australia had to be de-watered. An amount of £58,064 was expended. It was thought that £8,000 would be sufficient for the current financial year.
The acreage approved for planting with flax in 1945 was 62,500 acres. The total capital programme included £611,808 for machinery and plant, and- £547,256 for buildings and sites, making a total of £1,159,064. The. United Kingdom and Australian Governments share profits and losses in respect of operating costs and on realization. Interest at 3 per cent, per annum is charged. The basis of apportionment is the quantities of live fibre taken by the United Kingdom and Australian Governments and will work out at approximately in the ratio of two to one. The Leader of the Opposion (Mr. Menzies) referred to the amounts included in this year’s Estimates in connexion with this project, and questioned the wisdom of making them available. It will be appreciated that when the Estimates were prepared these amounts had to be provided, because we were working under a contract with the Government of the United Kingdom in connexion with supplies. I am sure the committee will agree that it would be unwise for us to withdraw from our commitment in that regard. Increased costs have been due to growing, not to treatment’, charges. There -have been unsuitable areas, all of which could not be eliminated previously. They must now he discarded. Australian needs will be met by the planting of 20,000 acres. The treatment methods have been mechanized and modernized. The average yield of fibre has been improved by nearly 75 per cent., indicating the determination of the Government to have the industry equipped for the post-war period.
– If the yield has been improved by nearly 75 per cent., it must have been very low previously.
– The industry had to be started from scratch, with very little knowledge of how it should be conducted.
– It has had to contend with droughts.
– It has encountered not only droughts, but also too many fires in some places. Mr. Stevenson has done his utmost to raise it to the highest level. Our experts have had conferences with experts from New Zealand.
– Is the industry now in a position practically to supply our requirements?
– Our requirements will be met by the planting of 20,000 acres. This year, the area planted was 62,500 acres. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has correctly stated that steps will have to be taken to provide an export market for the surplus flax produced. The area mentioned was planted for the purpose of meeting the needs of the Government of the United Kingdom as well as our own. It is interesting to note that, in accordance with the request of the Government of the United Kingdom, there has been a total production of 10,000 tons of flax fibre, worth £2,000,000. Of this quantity, approximately -60 per cent, went to the United Kingdom and 40 per cent, was used in Australia. The agreement with the Government of the United Kingdom provides f or the sharing of profits and losses, and realization losses, .on the basis of the live fibre taken. I remember the argument about the United Kingdom paying more for fibre from Northern Ireland than for Australian fibre. We considered that we ought not to be required to carry that extra burden, and the Government of the United Kingdom willingly agreed to share the losses with us. The future of the industry is a matter for serious consideration. It is on all fours with other industries, that had to be established in this country during the war. Now that the war is over, there will be little prospect of meeting competition successfully, unless our costs are reduced to a basis that will be comparable with those of other countries. Modern methods will have to be applied. While I was Minister for Supply and Shipping, I prevailed upon Senator Gibson to inspect the flax industry in Victoria. I considered that, as he was a practical farmer, he might bc able to suggest means for assisting the industry. The view that I held was .that many persons had engaged in the production of flax, and their circumstances after the war had to be considered. The industry having been established, it is important to Australia, and the best that we can do is to see whether it can be placed on a competitive level.
The committee will recall that the proposal to establish power-alcohol distilleries had its origin prior to 1941. The previous administration considered that it was desirable to enter into negotiations with the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited.
– We appointed a committee.
– The government of the day went further, and had costs supplied by the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, both for erecting and for operating the plants. It appeared to that Government, as well as to the succeeding Labour administration, that the company could most efficiently conduct the industry. Four distilleries were agreed upon, and the total estimated cost is £1,7S7,000. Unfortunately, the distilleries at Wallaroo and Collie have not yet. been completed. The provision in the Estimates for their completion has been the subject of some criticism. The contracts in connexion with their erection were made three years ago, when it was considered necessary to proceed with them, and they have been partly completed. The committee must decide whether the contracts shall be cancelled, leaving them only partly completed, or whether we should proceed to their completion. The compensation payable on the cancellation of the contracts might make the total cost equal to the amount of the original tender. The distilleries will find it difficult to compete with flow oil from islands adjacent to our shores, and will have to lie given some subsidy. Whether the subsidy should be spread over the petrol users, at a certain amount a gallon, might well be determined in due course.
The object at the outset was to provide a market for the abundance of wheat that we bad at the time. I am sure that honorable members who represented wheatgrowing areas would have been very critical had the Government two or three years ago failed to proceed with the project. The idea had been firmly established in the minds of the people* in the districts chosen for the erection of the distilleries, as well as of the wheatgrowers; consequently, we proceeded to carry out the plan. The circumstances have now altered. Unfortunately, we now have no wheat that can be used in the distilleries, and the only distillery that has worked is that which has been erected at Cowra; I believe that it worked for about four months. The cost of each distillery was about £420,000. The remarks of the honorable member for Wentworth in regard, to the sale of certain boats will be investigated.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Department of Home Security.
Proposed vote,. £60,000.
– The estimated expenditure by this department during the current year is £60,000, but it is not expected that that amount will actually be expended. The Government has been considering for some time the transfer of the Department of Home Security to the Defence
Department. The Defence Committee has advised the Government that it will be necessary to maintain a nucleus of Home Security officers so that in the event of a future war there will be a foundation for a Home Security organization. The ‘Government had hoped to transfer the Department of Home Security to the Defence Department before this, but there remains in the control of the Department of Home Security awaiting disposal, a substantial quantity of fire-fighting equipment which was obtained from the United States of America under lend-lease. It is expected that the sale of this equipment will return to the department more than it” estimated expenditure of £60,000. In the very near future the Salvage Commission, which at present is associated with the Department of Home Security, will be linked with the Commonwealth Disposals Commission.
The estimated expenditure of £60,000 includes £6,000 for salaries and payments in the nature of salary. Probably two-thirds of that money will be spent, because certain officers of the Department of Home Security will he transferred to the Defence Department. The sum of £13,000 is provided for the storage of respirators and anti-gas equipment. It includes £12,000 payable to the Department of Munitions for the rental of storage space. That expenditure has been approved by the AuditorGeneral about whom we have heard so much to-night. The sum of £21,000 is provided for the purchase of equipment. That sum represents payments for refugee cargo not yet invoiced to the Department of Home Security. All of this cargo has been issued subject to recoupment of cost. It is estimated that £20,000 will be recovered, leaving an adverse balance of £1,000. The sum of £10,000 is provided for demolition work at Commonwealth establishments excluding defence services and the Postal Department. This work is mainly the removal of structures erected as protection against bomb blast. .These items represent the hulk of the estimated expenditure, and most of it would be expended whether the Department of Home Security were transferred to the Department of Defence or not. I make this explanation because [ do not wish honorable members to believe that the Government intends to carry on the Department of Home Security for another twelve months.
The inquiry sought by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) into the affairs of the Salvage Commission is still proceeding. My attention was drawn to the matter some time before the honorable member mentioned it in this chamber, and as soon as I heard of it, I asked officers of the Auditor-General’s Department to make an inquiry. They cannot be hurried. They are a law unto themselves. As soon as I receive a report, I shall make it available.
– We have listened to a most extraordinary statement by the Minister for Home Security (Mr. Lazzarini). The Minister has told us that it is the intention of the Government to retain a nucleus of this department against the possibility of another war - this, in the face of the San Francisco Conference and other efforts to preserve world peace! The Minister then went on to say that the estimated expenditure of the Department of Home Security would be almost offset by receipts. He also announced that the Department of Home Security would shortly be associated with the Department of Defence and that the affairs of the Salvage Commission also will be wound up. It is time that the Salvage Commission was wound up. The Minister had three weeks in which to conduct the inquiry for which I asked. He has admitted that he knew of the matter some time before I mentioned it in this chamber. To give the Minister an indication of the intention of the Opposition’s determination to secure satisfactory action in this regard, and in view of the fact that he promised a royal commission - he said I could have half-a-dozen royal commissions if I wished, I move -
That the amount be reduced by £1 . [ wish this to be regarded as a direction to the Government to take immediate steps to have a royal commission appointed to inestigate the operations of the Salvage Commission.
This fs not a matter of idle moment, and the Minister knows it. He has admitted that a Treasury official first con ducted an investigation and that, upon the receipt of a report from that official, the matter was put into the hands of the Auditor-General. That gives honorable members and the people in this country some idea of what the Minister thinks of the racketeering that is going on in hig department. On the 6th September, I alleged that senior officers of the Salvage Commission had been parties to the sale to a refugee firm of large quantities of clothing as rag at £20 a ton, and that several deals had been made with the one firm. The Minister said by interjection that he knew all about it. The Materials Officer of the Salvage Commission, who had been reinstated in his position after having been “ fired “ for knowing too much, was authorized to make sales at prices approved by the head office in Melbourne, and recorded on an official price list. Gross profits on trading in the thirteen months during which this officer was. engaged as Materials Officer was £25,000. In June of this year, two senior officers of the commission came to Sydney from Melbourne, and proceeded to sell practically everything in the Salvage Commission’s store at Redfern. Much of the clothing was already sold, or was under offer to other firms. It included the following items : - 500 Royal Australian Air Force jackets (blue) already sold at Ss. 5d. each; 3,000 Royal Australian Air Force jackets (drill) under offer “at 6s. 8d. each; 270 pairs riding breeches at 12s. 6d. a pair; 300 Royal Australian Navy woollen jumpers at 5s. each; 4 .tons blanket ends at 10id. a lb.; woollen socks at ls. Id. a lb.; woollen and cotton singlets and- underpants at 7-id. a lb.
Those are all official list prices, but the whole lot was sold as “rag” at £20 a ton, or approximately 2d. per lb. When I last mentioned this matter, I challenged the Minister to appoint a royal commission, and he said that I could have half a dozen royal commissions if I liked. I now propose to give him an opportunity to honour his promise. These were the words he used: “If the honorable members desires an inquiry into my administration, he can have a dozen royal commissions, if necessary”. However, the allegations do not stop there. It is stated that 47-J lb. of garments, not even inspected by the parties to the sale, were sold at the rate of £20 a ton. I believe that at an inquiry held later by a Treasury official it was admitted by one of the senior officers of the Salvage Commission that he did not know what was in that lot. Eighteen tons of clothing arrived from Brisbane for delivery to the same refugee firm. Upon inspection, it was found that this lot contained a large quantity of American overcoats, yet it was all sold as “Tag “ at £20 a ton.
– And, having been sold at so much a ton, was the clothing then sold by the refugee firms at so much a garment ?
– I have no doubt that it was. I have further charges to make against the Minister. He will recall that it had come to my attention that the two firms, to one of which the blue Royal Australian Air Force jackets had been sold, and the other to whom the drill Royal Australian Air Force jackets were under offer, asked whether the garments were still available to them, and they were told that they might understand that they were no longer available. The Minister has not inf ormed honorable members whether he received communications from these firms. If he did receive them, we should like to know the nature of his reply. A period of three weeks has elapsed since T first raised this matter, but the Minister has not stated whether he received the communications. We do not know whether he has told the firms in question that they may now take the garments on the terms proposed, or whether it is still proposed to sell them at £20 a ton as “ rag “. If so, the Minister has something to answer for. I have received word that Morrison, the materials officer, and Fitzpatrick, another officer, who disapproved of the Melbourne officials’ attitude with regard to the sale of salvaged garments, nave been reinstated by the Minister.
This occasion may be opportune to bring to light some further information that has reached me since the 6th September, although it has to do with transactions which took place before that date. For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth Salvage Com mission, so far as New South Wales is concerned, at any rate, an advertisement appeared in the .Sydney press, including the Telegraph of the 25th August, a copy of which I have here ; it is headed “ Commonwealth Salvage Commission - sale of rag - quotations invited”. lb this an indication that the commission’s conscience has become uneasy regarding its previous transactions which were, apparently, made without advertising, and without quotations having been received from other dealers?
I have been advised that the United Kingdom Navy is prepared to accept unwearable Royal Australian Air Force jackets as wipers, and is prepared to pay £140 a ton for the material,, seven times as much as the refugee firm paid. Another transaction worth investigating is the sale of 50 tons of cotton sandbags to this same Sydney refugee firm by the American authorities. The sale took place in Brisbane. The Commonwealth Salvage Commission knew of the deal, but made no offer to the American authorities for the sandbags. Later, the commission bought the sandbags from the refugee firm, washed them, and sold them to the British Navy as wipers. I should like to know what price was paid by the refugee firm to the American authorities, and at what price they were transferred to the Commonwealth Salvage Commission.
The Army Salvage Bulletin No. 2, issued by the Minister for the Army, says that 3,000,000 articles are returned each month to the stores depot. Forty per cent, of these are sent to the Army Salvage Department, not to the Commonwealth Salvage Commission. Ten per cent., which are regarded as usable, are sent to base for re-issue, and 50 per cent., which are regarded as repairable, are sent to the Commonwealth Salvage Commission. I take it that the Navy and the Air Force have a similar scheme in operation; yet, after all the care exercised, the articles are sold by the Commonwealth Salvage Commission at £20 a ton.
Criticism of the Salvage Commission is not restricted to Brisbane and Sydney. A Melbourne correspondent in a letter dated the 18th September, writes as follows : -
Of all the controls under which we were compelled to exist during the war, none, I am sure, reached the dizzy heights of bungling and inefficiency (and probably worse) than the Salvage Commission attained where thousands and thousands of tax and loan money were wasted.
Lt appears that wiper rag was valued at ls. 8d. or ls. 9d. per lb. I say “ valued “ not “ sold “, except in small lots, because in the opinion of outside dealers this salvage was never worth more than Sd. or 9d. per lb. The demand outside the services and government departments for this salvage material, at the price the commission fixed, viz., ls. 8d. or ls. 9d. per lb., was never in excess of 5 per cent, of the total wiper rag used in industry. On the face of it, that might appear to be a strange statement ; but I. suggest tha t it explains some of the commission’s activities, remembering that a particular firm succeeded in purchasing excellent materials for wiper rag, e.g., air force jackets, drill, cotton singlets and underpants, blanket ends, American overcoats, &c, at £20 a ton, or 2d. per lb. But these were not purchased for re-sale as wiper rag; they were quite saleable as second-hand clothing. The point I want to make is that they could find a market in the trade as wiper rag for ls. 8d. or ls. 9d. per lb.; but for some mysterious reason they were sold at 2d. per lb. The circumstances are suspicious. They may explain, too, the reduction of the Merchant Distributors’ Panel from eight to three members. It would appear that transactions have been kept within a small inner circle. Referring to the activities of one of the officers of the Salvage Commission, also concerned in the Sydney transactions, my Melbourne correspondent says -
My contact with this gentleman left me with the impression that he was as straight as a corkscrew.
The officers of the department, knowing what was going on, sought legal advice as to their position should these transactions be made public. They were advised that they would be in a rather peculiar position if these charges of which they had some knowledge were proved. What did they do? In order to protect themselves they wrote a letter to the Minister, and every member of the staff, with the exception of one officer, signed it. I think that the Minister took action upon the receipt of the letter. It would appear that all members of the staff knew what was going on. Two of them were dismissed because they knew too much; the Merchant Distributors’ Panel was reduced from eight members to three in order to keep the racketeering within a limited circle; and all these goods were sold to one firm as rag whilst the offers made by the other firm were rejected. What reply did the Minister make to those firms which offered 8s. 5d. and 6s. 8d. a garment? Did he tell them that their quotations would be honoured, and that they could take the goods ? Or did he hold his hand and allow the goods to be sold to the refugee firm at 2d. per lb.? The Minister must answer ‘ those questions, because these charges have been made by responsible officers within the department. Nothing short of an inquiry by a royal commission will clear up the matter. I ask the Prime Minister to appoint a royal commission for that purpose.
– Has the honorable member seen the letter which the members of the staff wrote ?
– No ; but the officer who gave me my information is prepared to give evidence before a royal commission. I have already mentioned his name. He is the Materials Officer of the Salvage Department. He has authorized -me to use his name in this matter. Therefore, he does not make idle charges. He was discharged by the Salvage Commission because he knew too much, but he has been reinstated by the Minister. He i* still employed by the department, and is prepared to allow his name to be used.
. - I need say very little in reply to the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) because he raised this matter on a previous occasion. Some of his statements are correct, but others are wild exaggerations. I said previously, and I now repeat, that certain information came to my knowledge, and as the result a Treasury official was appointed to look into the matter. On receipt of his report, I asked the
Auditor-General to conduct a more detailed investigation; and I have already told the honorable member for Wentworth that I have not yet received a report from the Auditor-General. I also aid that when I received that report, it would be placed before the House, and should the Hou.se, after considering it, believe that the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the matter was warranted, a commission would be appointed.
– But the House will not be sitting then.
– The House will be sitting subsequently. The honorable member for Wentworth has made a number of wild charges. I am satisfied that when the Auditor-General’s report comes to band it will show that many of the honorable member’s statements are just as wild as those which he made earlier and to which the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) effectively replied. The honorable member hag a mind like a vacuum cleaner, picking up rubbish all over the place.
– I support the amendment. I trust that the Minister will keep his promise to appoint a royal commission to inquire into this matter. These charges concern the good character of many high officials in the department. Personally, I have not come into close contact with the officers of the department, but I know that in both Sydney and Melbourne the department is in rather bad odour. Allegations are being made which are tantamount to charges of graft on the part of executive officers of the commission. If [ were a high officer in the employ of the Salvage Commission, and were jealous of my reputation for integrity, I should welcome nothing more than the appointment of a royal commission to inquire into these matters. I take this opportunity to place before the committee several other transactions which call for investigation. I refer first to a contract that was entered into between the firm of Paterson and Read Proprietary Limited and the commission for the supply of a number of tons of salvage material. It was known that there were in Victoria at that time, and for some time afterwards, very great quantities of salvage material to satisfy the requirements of that contract which was entered into on the 20th April and was to be completed some time in October next. Later, it was ascertained that this material was sold to another firm, and was eventually shipped to Great Britain. The firm that obtained that material is the refugee firm to which the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) has referred. Why was that material sold to that firm, and what was the price paid, when, at the same time, the commission failed to fulfil its contract with Paterson and Reade Proprietary Limited? Why was it represented to Paterson and Reade Proprietary Limited that the material would be obtained from another State when, in fact, the material could have been supplied from Victoria. These are facts which can and must be investigated.
– What was the amount of the contract?
– I do not know, but I understand that a large quantity of material was involved.
– The value amounted to some thousands of pounds.
– It seems that the contract cannot be fulfilled because October is nearly here and the material cannot be obtained from another source to satisfy Paterson and Reade
I give a further case that could be investigated. A quantity of mixed rag and soft woollens, which arrived in Melbourne from Sydney last November, was stored in the wet store at the Harbour Trust building in Cowper-street, West Melbourne. Why it was placed in a wet store is a matter for conjecture. Later, the material was offered to certain people in the sorting trade in Melbourne. When they went to inspect it, bales of soft woollens valued at £300 were missing. Where did the material go? Why was it stored in the Harbour Trust building, where it had to carry high storage cost3 that were not necessary because it could have been stored and sorted in a few weeks? Why was the material not taken into consideration by the Salvage Commission, as I understand it was not, when it was preparing its books up to the end of June last? Those are questions that must be answered.
A contract was made between the Australian Paper Mills Proprietary Limited and the salvage commission for the supply to the mills of rag suitable for the manufacture of A grade paper. I understand that the contracts stipulated the supply of a certain quantity. For some time supplies were provided, but they then ceased. “Why did they cease ? Paper is an essential commodity still in short supply and with the rag, the Australian Paper Mills Proprietary Limited could have manufactured paper. The rag went to flock merchants. I understand that it realized less than it would have realized had it been supplied to the paper mills. Therefore, the commission has lost money under this transaction that it could have got.
An arrangement was made by the commission that rags suitable for flock should be offered to different persons in the flock trade through a panel headed by Mr. Caldicott, of Robertson and Marshall Proprietary Limited, who is president of the Flock Manufacturers Association. It was his task, as head of the panel, he thought, to allocate the flock on an equitable basis amongst those engaged in the trade. Later, although the panel had been set up for the allocation of the flock, direct orders came from the commission that the sorters engaged on sorting the rags were to hand so many tons over to a certain gentleman ‘named Arthur. I am told that that happened two or three times. It was done behind Mr. Caldicott’s back. He is anxious to know why that action was taken, why he was appointed as the head of the panel to distribute the flock, when, at the same time, the commission was going over his head and diverting the flock elsewhere. Is there not. something peculiar about these transactions that gives room to people to think that everything is not well? I have information of a much more startling character that I could divulge if I desired, but I do not need to say more than I have said. The matters that I have brought before the committee merit investigation, as do the matters raised by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison). I believe that nothing less than an investigation by a royal commission will suffice. If I were a high officer of the commission and knew that people had knowledge of certain transactions that looked shady. I would not be satisfied until a royal commission had inquired into them.
– I am glad that the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) is present, because I urge upon him that he should give the most careful and most serious consideration to this matter. I think it would be a pity if the Minister in charge of the Salvage Commission felt bound to adopt an attitude of defence. What is concerned here is what has been done between certain public officials and certain persons dealing with them, and I am sure that the Minister will agree that if it turned out that dishonest transactions had occurred, the greatest possible punishment should fall upon those responsible. What is put before the committee is this: First some transactions referred to by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison) and second, some transactions referred to by the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson). As to what the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has said, I merely say, as a result of Me statement and of some documents that he has been good enough to show to me, that there is here very strong ground for believing that garments capable of being sold as garments, and, in fact, sold as garments ultimately, have been sold on very advantageous terms as rag, with the knowledge of the seller and the buyer that what was being sold as rag was in fact, capable of being sold at a very handsome profit in another way. That, of course, if it is established, is a piece of gross corruption. The honorable member for Deakin has referred to various firms in Melbourne. I speak with no first-hand knowledge of these very disturbing matters except to the extent that I do know a partner in one of the firms referred to by him. He had a conversation with me about the time when the honorable member for Wentworth first raised this matter in the House, and the conversation that J had with him was very disturbing to me. I am bound to say that I was not thinking of it as something that involved some politician and that I am not thinking of it now in those terms; but it did leave the disturbing impression upon my mind that some very curious business had been going on, because the man with whom I talked is a reputable tuan. So I do urge upon the Prime Minister, that for the sake of the reputation of the public officials that serve the country in the capacities referred to, a really searching investigation ought to be made. It is said by the Minister that the Auditor-General is looking into the matter. The Auditor-General is admirably qualified to examine accounts and to pronounce on matters associated with an accountant’s investigation, but, as the Parliament is about to go into recess, I believe that nothing can be half so satisfactory as a royal commission appointed to investigate the matters that have been specifically and categorically put before the committee by my colleagues. If the result of that investigation is to show that there is no foundation for all these suspicions, that will be eminently satisfactory to every honorable gentleman, ff the result is to show that there is real ground for the suspicions and that corruption has taken place, I am perfectly certain that Ministers will desire to be the first to drag, it into the light and inflict punishment upon the wrongdoers.
– I! have some knowledge of the charges made with regard to this matter. An investigation of it has been made by a reputable and highly efficient officer of my department. Accusations other than those concerning which I have been informed have been made, but the charges by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) were mentioned long before he levelled them in this chamber, ill I have to say at this stage is that whatever reflection the Opposition may claim to have been cast on the Government, I am sure that it will not contend that the Government has been dishonest itv the matter. I shall not promise that a royal commission will be appointed, but the whole matter will be thoroughly investigated. If I have any doubt as to what should be done, the matter will be referred to the Cabinet, and if, in the opinion of the Cabinet, a commission should be appointed, honorable members may rest assured that that will be done.
– Has the Minister for Home Security received any advice from the city firms, and, if so, what answer was given to them?
– I shall look into that matter. I can assure honorable members that nobody will be shielded by me. I do not think that it has been suggested that the Minister concerned is trying to cover up any dishonesty. The Government certainly will not do so. If, on inquiry, it is shown that a special investigation is necessary, it will be made, but I shall make no further promise at this stage.
– I have been specific with regard to the matters that I have raised. The Minister (Mr. Lazzarini) only comes into this dispute with regard to the answer which he gave to the city firms which advised him that they had submitted a price for the garments. Have they advised him in that matter, and will the Minister say what answer he gave to them? If the Minister replies to that question the country will then know whether, having been aware of the offer, he was or was not prepared to allow the goods to be sold as rags. If he says that he received a request from the firms and stopped the sale of the material until he had had an investigation made, he will have answered the question which I have submitted. If he does not do that, he must leave a suspicion in the minds of honorable members and of the public that, although he had been advised by these firms regarding the matter, he took no action to safeguard their interests or to stop the sale of the garments to the refugee firm at £20 a ton.
– The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) can press as much as he likes, but there is a file dealing with the matter, and it is now in the hands of the Auditor-General. That officer will report on the whole transaction and will deal with any action taken by me in the matter. When that report has been submitted I shall give it as much publicity as possible.
– What is the Minister afraid of?
– It is regrettable that the Minister at the table (Mr. Lazzarini) has not been frank with the committee. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) and all other honorable members must have been impressed by the seriousness of the allegations made. They must recognize that a cloud of suspicion hangs over certain responsible departmental officers. I am prepared to accept the assurance of the Prime Minister that a searching investigation will be carried out by the Auditor-General and by an officer of the Treasury. The Minister at the table should welcome such an investigation.
– I initiated it.
– Members of the committee would be more satisfied if he would be sufficiently frank to say whether a letter such as that referred to by the honorable member for Wentworth was received by him. Obviously it was, or an investigation would not be carried out on the lines indicated by the Prime Minister.
The Auditor-General’s report for the year ended the 30th June, 1944, contains the following reference to the Salvage Commission appointed in connexion with the Department of Home Security: -
The commission was established in July, 1943, under the National Security (Salvage) Regulations to deal with the collection, treatment, disposal and use of salvage materials and the provision and use of salvage services. The commission controls departmental salvage, the most important items of which are partly worn obsolete military clothing, unserviceable clothing, and other related items. The expenditure by thecommission for the year was £27,165 met from Division 134.Receipts were £23,284.
So there was a loss of about £4,000 for the first year’s transactions of the commission. The Minister should be able to say what was the financial result of the commission’s transactions for the year ended the 30th June, 1945.
– A profit of about £96,000.
– Whether that was an adequate profit or not is a matter which could be decided only by an investigation. There is no gainsaying the fact that the information conveyed by the honorable member for Wentworth is of such a nature that a most searching investigation is the only way to satisfy the members of this committee and the taxpayer generally, as well as to satisfy the Minister concerned and his own trusted officials. If there is dishonesty in his department, it should be discovered and rooted out. I hope that I shall be pardoned for asking the Prime Minister for a searching investigation by competent officers of his department, and of the Auditor-General’s branch intothe salvage operations of the Department of the Army. I shall take the first appropriate opportunity to bring under notice certain information of a most serious character in respect of certain transactions of that department. I should like the investigation extended to cover that particular activity.
– Will the right honorable gentleman indicate what activityhe has in mind?
– I shall do so tomorrow. I have definite information. There are people who are not “ game “ to disclose their names or the circumstances for fear of the consequences; but if the Prime Minister will -give me a definite undertaking that these men will be protected in every possible way I shall disclose the information. In the meantime, I suggest that the right honorable gentleman should grant me permission to confer with the Auditor-General regarding the line which the investigation should take in order to clean up what is undoubtedly going on under the nose* of very important army officers, particularly in Queensland. The Government will not desire to be associated with what is happening and should clean it up at the first possible opportunity.
Question put -
That the amount proposed to be reduced (Mr. Harrison’s amendment) be so reduced
The committee divided. (The Chairman– Mr. W. J. F. RlORDAN.)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Proposed vote agreed to.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for - Commonwealth purposes - Victor Harbour, South Australia.
Postal purposes - Melbourne, “Victoria.
National Security Act - National Security (Prices) Regulations - Declarations - Nos. 156, 157.
Orders- Nos. 2113-2196.
House adjourned at 1.48 a.m. (Thursday).
The following answers to questions werecriculated: -
n asked the Acting AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
Australian Prisoners of War: Increased Food Ration.
e. - On the 18th September the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) asked a question concerning the issue of extra ration coupons to returned prisoners of war.
The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following answer: -
Arrangements were made some weeks ago with the Department of the Army, asa result of which a Land Head-quarters direction was issued on the 11th September to all Lines of Communication Areas, authorizing the issue of double rations of meat, butter and sugar, and a 50 per cent, increase in tea rations to all returned prisoners of war for the first 28 days of the period of leave.
Sugar : Rationing.
e. - On the 18th September the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) asked a question concerning rationing of sugar, which he suggested was retarding the development of secondary industries. The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following answer: -
There is no immediate prospect of sugar rationing being abandoned. There is a serious world shortage of sugar, which will continue until the Philippines anil Java are producing again. Great Britain is in urgent need of all the sugar we can spare, and, in order to meet our overseas commitments, it will be necessary to maintain rationing for the time being.
I should soy that sugar rationing is not retarding the development of secondary industries, particularly food industries. Bight throughout the war years, it has been the policy of the Government to meet all the demands of fruit and milk processors, so that no primary products would be wasted for want of sugar. This policy is still in force. Having in mind the very large number of service contracts for both our own and Allied services which have been mct by the issue of special sugar permits, I should say that many secondary industries have expanded during the war years. Nevertheless, it is not possible at present to allow unlimited quantities of sugar to secondary industries. In accordance with rationing policy, available supplies must he equitably distributed to all sections of the community.
y. - On the 14th September the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) ashed a question relating to supplies of galvanized iron for country districts, in the course of which it was suggested that practically the whole of the output of galvanized iron by Lysaght’s Proprietary Limited is still being absorbed by the Government for the use of the services.
I inform the honorable member that, of this firm’s present weekly production of 1,370 tons of galvanized iron, approximately 90 per cent, is allocated for civilian use.
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the right honorable member’s questions arp as follows: -
Armed Forces: Releases: Coordination of Demobilization and Dispersal.
e. - Yesterday the honorablemember for Warringah (Mr. Spender), stated that a number of instances had been brought to his notice of men who were entitled to release under the fiveyear plan and who were just about to be discharged, having been told that their discharges had been cancelled and thai they would come under the demobilization points system, which would result in their discharge being deferred for some considerable time.
Instructions were issued in August. 1945, that the long service release scheme which provided for the release, at their option, of members of the Australian Military Forces with five years’ service, including two years’ service overseas, would cease to operate with effect on and from the 31st August, 1945, but that any members who came within the provisions of the scheme as at the 31st August, 1945, would have to the 30th September, 1945, to exercise their option. As from the 1st October, 1945, the general demobilization scheme will come into force, and whilst under the points system, some distinction is made as between married and single men, according to age, it will be appreciated that single men with long service will come within a relatively high category for demobilization. The greatest problem confronting the Government at the present time is the provision of transport, and honorable members will be aware that with all the transport that can he made available some difficulties are being experienced in repatriating our prisoners of war to Australia, even though at the present time practically the whole of our transport is being made available for this purpose. When the transport of prisoners of war 10 Australia has been completed, priority of transport will be given to long service personnel who, at the 31st August, 1945, were eligible for release, and who elected to take their discharge.
– Yesterday the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Bernard Corser) asked a question relating to the offer made to Lieutenant-General Savige of the post of Co-ordinator of Demobilization and Dispersal.
I inform the honorable member that a reply has been received from LieutenantGeneral Savige indicating his willingness to assist the Government in this work subject to some clarification as to the nature of hia duties. It is expected that Lieutenant-General .Savige will make a final decision within the next few days.
Broadcasting : News from singapore.
l. - Recently the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) asked a question concerning broadcasts from Singapore.
The Postmaster-General has now supplied the following answer : -
The Australian Broadcasting Commission nas informed the Postmaster-General that a correspondent was sent to Singapore to broadeast commentaries relating to events. At the end of each of his commentaries he added a few names of Australian prisoners of war, hut following strong representations from relatives, hoth through the press and the prisoner of war relatives’ association, he was instructed to include as many names as possible. The commission regards Mr. Lennard as a responsible correspondent and considers that he may be relied upon to broadcast only authentic names with the concurrence of the local military authorities. The commission states that it is glad to render whatever service it can In allaying the anxiety of as many relatives of prisoners of war as possible.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 September 1945, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1945/19450926_reps_17_185/>.