18th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. J. S. Rosevear) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read, prayers.
– Can the Minister for Immigration say whether there is an officially organized movement for the migration of Yugoslav people from Australia? Further, can he say whether there is any truth in the published statement that the Yugoslav Government proposes to send a ship to Australia for these people, -who are mostly sturdy, diligent workers, engaged chiefly in market gardening and farming? If there be any truth in the statement, -will the Minister inform the House of the numbers of persons involved, and will he take all steps necessary to encourage Yugoslavs now in Australia to remain here?
– I am not aware of any official movement sponsored by the Yugoslav Government or any one else to encourage Yugoslavs in Australia to return to their homeland. There is nothing to prevent Yugoslavs or. other nationals from leaving Australia for any part of the world. I shall ascertain if there is any substance in the published statement that such a move is being sponsored by the Yugoslav Government, and that a ship is being sent here to take Yugoslav people from Australia. If the Yugoslav Government wants to establish an immigration policy there is nothing to prevent it from doing so, but every effort will be made to dissuade people from leaving Australia for any other part of. the world. Persons who wish to leave Australia may have various reasons for wanting to go, but the reason cannot be that there is a better country than Australia.
– Can the Minister for Immigration say whether a man named Agostini is to be deported from Australia, or has already been deported? If so, will he lay on the table all papers in relation to the matter?
– A man named Agostini is now serving a sentence in a Victorian gaol for a criminal offence, and I have seen a newspaper report that his deportation has been arranged. However, as no person can be deported from Australia without my signature being on the document authorizing the deportation, the statement was certainly news to me, because I have never signed any such document. Moreover, no representations have been received from the Victorian police or any Victorian Government department asking that arrangements be made to deport Agostini. I expect that when this man has served his sentence the Victorian Government will recommend his deportation, but as his sentence was imprisonment for a number of years the question of his deportation will not arise for some time.
– What about the other man?
– The other man is being deported. I have signed his deportation order.
– Has the Minister for Information seen in this morning’s Daily Telegraph what is apparently a syndicated article by a Japanese woman, Foumy Saisho, in which she gives her impressions of Australia? Is the Minister able to say whether this is a further extension of syndication from other countries to Australia to the detriment of Australian journalists, and, if so, will he take action to prevent such developments?
– I shall consult with the Attorney-General, and see what action can be taken along the lines suggested.
– The hold-up on the Commonwealth Railways is seriously affecting the transport of cattle from Alice Springs to Adelaide. In this connexion I have received the following telegram from Alice Springs : -
Serious repercussions here 1,G00 cattle held up costing producers extreme rates drovers holding time. Drovers have also contracted return stations for further mobs cattle now in hand no means contact. Sixty-two vans next Monday cattle only two days out feed position acute. Drovers unable hold indefinitely. Mobs on road following weeks loading producers facing heavy losses including battling owners scarcity labour upsetting all stations routine.
Will the Minister for the Interior state what action is being taken to settle the dispute? Does he believe that it will be settled shortly, or is it likely to continue for months?
– It is true that, at the moment, Commonwealth railway services are at a standstill; but negotiations are continuing with the enginedrivers union regarding the matters in dispute. This morning, I conferred with the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, Mr. Gahan, in Canberra, and we have made an offer to the union which, we believe, will lead to a settlement. The offer includes a suggestion that the major items in dispute shall be referred to the Arbitration Court.
– To the Arbitration Court, or to the Public Service Arbitrator?
– Acting Chief Judge Drake-Brockman, will appoint the arbitrator to deal with those matters which cannot be settled by negotiation between the Commissioner, the union and myself. I understand that the union is prepared to accept the proposal that outstanding matters shall be referred to an industrial tribunal, and I believe that the men will return to work soon.
– Can the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture state the reason for the delay in implementing the legislation passed by the States to provide for the labelling of textiles? Will the Minister, in co-operation with the States, try to have this legislation, which is of great importance to wool producers and consumers alike, put into operation as soon as possible?
– It is true that, some considerable time ago, my predecessor in office, Mr. Scully, called a conference of State representatives who agreed, after discussion, that all State governments should introduce uniform legislation providing for the labelling of textiles so as to indicate the percentage of wool therein. The States have completed their part of the programme, and I understand that the Commonwealth will need to enact complementary legislation. I shall be glad to discuss the matter with the Minister for Trade and Customs to ascertain the position, and how soon the requisite legislation can he introduced.
– As the apple and pear season in Tasmania is now beginning, and the crop which is extremely light, has been reduced by gales, the growers are anxious to know what price will be paid under the Apple and Pear Acquisition Scheme this year. Oan the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture make an announcement with respect to the price to be paid for the present season, or whether he is considering any alternative form of compensation under the acquisition scheme?
– The determination of the price to be paid in respect of this season’s crop acquired under the scheme in Tasmania and Western Australia is now being considered. I can promise the honorable member that an early announcement will be made on this subject.
– I ask the Prime Minister whether it is permissible to forward food parcels to the British zone in Germany either direct, or through Great Britain? If so, can the right honorable gentleman, inform me the procedure to be followed?
– I am not sure of the exact procedure, but I shall obtain the information and convey it in writing to the honorable member.
– Will the Minister for Immigration lay upon the table all papers relating to the passports issued to the honorable member for Watson? Is it a fact, as stated by Mr. Falstein, that he is engaged on an important mission for the Minister? If so, will the Minister disclose to the House the nature of the mission he has entrusted to Mr. Falstein? Prior to issuing the passports, did the Minister ascertain the nature of the export and import licences issued to Mr. Falstein? If so, will the Minister disclose the details of such licences to the House?
– Where an answer is required to any question asked by the honorable member the answer is still “ No “. With respect to any statement based upon newspaper reports, all I want to say is that I am not responsible if the newspapers stated that Mr. Falstein said what he was going to the Far East to inquire about, or what his business was. All I know is that Mr. Falstein applied at the passport office in Sydney for a passport, as an Australian citizen is entitled to do; and was given his passport and went away with his wife and child to China. I also understand that he hopes while he is in that region to visit Manchuria and the maritime Provinces of Russia. From private information I have received I understand that he is engaged in some trading ventures of his own.. I should say that they are very honorable ventures; they are not like some of those in which the honorable member for Reid was engaged.
– I rise to order. The Minister for Immigration insultingly said that I had been engaged in some dishonorable practices in trade. I ask that the Minister name them or apologize to the House for his inaccurate statement.
– Since the honorable member for Reid has taken offence at the words used by the Minister - and the Chair already noted that they were uncalled for - I ask the Minister to withdraw them and to apologize.
– I withdraw the statement. I had the intention of defending the honorable member for Watson against certain charges and in doing so I made a counter charge. In deference to your direction, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw and apologize.
– If charges are made against an honorable member they must be made in the right way. The position is not improved by making counter charges, and such a practice is distinctly out of order.
– News items have appeared in the press during the last two days to the effect that the Government intends to make certain tax reductions and certain adjustments of pensions. If that be so, and in any case, will the Treasurer in adjusting pensions, ensure that the present inadequate pensions for war widows are increased and that the means test applied to dependent parents of deceased members of the forces is abolished ?
– The honorable member’s requests will be given consideration.
– Recently I have tried to buy a house in Melbourne. Of the many houses advertised for sale in that city I have inspected about a dozen during the last two months. With one single exception, however, as soon as I mentioned that I was interested in buying a house only at the pegged price, it was obvious that it was impossible for me to buy a house at all. One must either break the law and buy at a black market price or go without. Will the Prime Minister give consideration to the overhaul of the .regulations governing property sales in such a manner as to ensure that sales of house properties are carried out on a pegged price basis? Alternatively, will the right honorable gentleman consider altering the basis of land valuation to permit sales to take place in a legal manner?
– All honorable members will realize that, quite apart from the black marketing aspect of this problem, had there not been some attempt to control the price of land and houses during the war, values would have skyrocketed and much higher rentals would have had to be paid by occupiers of dwellings. There are of course some individuals who are prepared to break the laws relating to sales of property just as there are individuals who will break almost every other law, but the fact that prices are fixed means that a purchaser who has paid an illegal price for a property cannot secure permission to increase rents. In a case which came before the courts in Sydney recently, had a certain property been sold at the price fixed by expert valuers and agreed to by the purchasing institution, all the rates in the district would have had to be reappraised on the basis of that price and there would have been a general increase. I appreciate the difficulties of which the honorable member for Henty has spoken, but I assure him that this matter is reviewed from time to time. In fact, some relaxation of the regulations has already been permitted by the Government which realizes that the fixed price of some houses built many years ago is somewhat out of proportion to present day building costs. That is one problem; but, the Minister for Works and Housing, has drawn my attention to the fact that if prices generally were permitted to rise, this in turn would mean increased rents. I assure the honorable member that every effort is being made to find a satisfactory solution of this problem.
– In view of the Prime Minister’s announcement that dairymen in New South Wales are to receive a subsidy of 2½d. per lb. on butter for four months of last year, and despite the statement made in this House by a -Minister last Friday that the Queensland Government would not join in the payment of the subsidy on a £1 for £1 basis, will the right honorable gentleman consider making this payment available also to Queensland dairymen who have suffered to even a greater degree from drought than have dairymen in New South Wales? It is evident that dairymen must be given some assistance in time of need if they are to be encouraged to continue production.
– As the honorable member is aware, subsidies have been paid to dairymen in some districts of Queensland at various times in the last five or six years, particularly during the war, but there are some difficulties in the way of the proposal that the honorable member has made. In New South Wales, drought relief of various kinds has been paid in agreement with the State government, the Commonwealth contribution in some cases being 5:0 per cent, and in other cases 60 per cent., hut I understand that the policy of the Queensland Government is to grant assistance in the form of advances at a very low rate of interest to farmers who have suffered through drought conditions. Apparently, it is very reluctant to depart from that policy because it believes as the Premier of Victoria believed at an earlier stage, that during favorable seasons farmers should be expected to make some endeavour to repay money granted to them by governments in drought years. So it has not been possible to apply the system that has operated in New South Wales and Victoria in- conjunction with the governments of those States, but I assure the honorable member that the matter he raised is constantly under review.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs whether lighting and power kerosene is unprocurable in the Maitland district. Many farmers, who, I may say, are intelligent and are satisfied with the present administration, depend on kerosene to provide power for their farming. Will the Minister ensure the availability of supplies for them? Otherwise they may adopt the same militancy as that adopted by some unionists who live in the district.
Mi-. POLLARD. - I am not aware of any shortage in the district referred to, but I accept the honorable member’s word that there is difficulty. I shall be glad to make the Minister for Trade and Customs aware of it and ascertain when it will be possible to alleviate the position.
Overpayments to Relatives
– Have relatives of men who died while prisoners of war in Malaya and New Guinea been, asked to refund supposed over-payments to them retrospective to - the actual dates of the deaths? If so, is this not a direct contradiction of the assurance given on this point by the former Minister for the Army, Mr. Forde? Will the Treasurer reconsider the whole matter and ensure both justice and generosity to these unfortunate persons?
– The matter raised by the right honorable gentleman, was, I understand, dealt with previously by the Minister for the Army in reply to questions, but I shall examine the right honorable gentleman’s question and let him have an answer.
– Recently in various parts of the world many aviation disasters have occurred. Has the Minister for Civil Aviation arranged for his department to obtain the reports of (he inquiries into those disasters?
– A number of reports have been published about crashes, involving Dakota aircraft, in many parts of the world. The Department of Civil Aviation is responsible for keeping in touch with the causes of these crashes, but the public may not be aware that four-fifths of the total passenger traffic throughout the world is borne by Dakota aircraft. Because of that, the percentage of accidents in which this type of aircraft is now involved, must necessarily be higher than in- the case of other aircraft. In Australia, where Dakota aircraft are largely used, few crashes have occurred, and the department and I are satisfied that the Dakota is as safe an aircraft as one could expect to travel in,. Obviously, we cannot obtain reports on- air disasters involving Dakotas from other parts of the world, but particulars of those crashes are given in publications, and in communications which are made to the Department of Civil Aviation. I shall ensure that the department continues to secure that information with the object of being as fully appraised as possible of measures to prevent air crashes, if it is possible to prevent them.
– I ask the Minister for the Navy whether it is a fact that there are six British-type electric mines adrift in, Queensland shipping lanes at the present time ? Does this indicate that the protective measures which the honorable gentleman promised last year are ineffective? What additional steps are being taken in the interest of public safety ?
– I have seen a press report that certain British mines are coming ashore on the Queensland coast. Last week-end I visited Townsville, where I met Captain Wheatley, who is in charge of eleven mine sweepers. At present, these vessels are operating in these northern waters. The minefields which were laid off the Queensland coast, extend from ‘Cape York to a point just south of Townsville. During the past three weeks, no fewer than three minefields have been swept by the minesweepers operating in that area. It is quite possible that owing to cyclones a number of mines are breaking adrift from the minefields that have not, as yet, been swept, and are now coming ashore. I read in the press a report that some mines were in shipping lanes, but I inform the honorable member for Moreton that mines have been coming across shipping lanes ever since they have broken away from the mine-fields, and that the only tragedy to date occurred in a mine-field. Whenever a mine has broken loose, the safety device has operated and the mine rendered harmless. Therefore, the honorable member need not fear that a floating mine will damage any ship.
Reconstruction Training Scheme
– Is the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction able to inform the House whether he has had the final word on. the subject of increased allowances for ex-servicemen under the reconstruction training scheme? Will he state how much additional money will be required if the grant is increased to the level of the basic wage, as the ex-servicemen trainees have requested? Will he have a further consultation with these men on this vexed question?
– The whole matter of allowances for reconstruction trainees is still under consideration.
– Did the Minister for the Interior read in- Smith’s Weekly issued on the 14th September last a statement that Commonwealth Ministers had at their disposal at Jervis Bay a big cottage controlled by the Department of the Interior, and that this cottage had been occupied for fortnightly periods by Senator Collings, the Minister for Transport, the former Minister for the Army, Mr. Forde, and Mr. Speaker? If so, I ask the honorable gentleman whether the cost of upkeep of this cottage is borne by the taxpayers, or whether the Ministers pay rent? If they do, what is the amount?
– I have not seen that issue of Smith’s Weekly, and therefore I have not read the article mentioned by the honorable member. Smith’s Weekly is one of the newspapers that I do not find time to read. However, it -is a fact that there is a cottage at Jervis Bay that has been available to Ministers in vacation periods for a considerable time. That ministerial cottage was not provided by this Government; it has been available to Ministers for many years, and has been used by members of other governments. In my opinion, there is every justification for having a ministerial cottage at Jervis Bay, and it is the intention of this Government to continue the practice.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping aware that there is a widespread feeling in Australia that the time has arrived for the abolition of petrol rationing? Has consideration been given to this matter recently? If so, what are the prospects of petrol rationing being discontinued at an early date?
– The petrol rationing scheme is under continual review by the Government. Nobody is more anxious than the Minister for Supply and Shipping to secure the abolition of petrol rationing as soon as is practicable. However, the prospect of its abolition is bound up with the dollar position, and I am sure that the honorable member would not like the Government to make the position of Great Britain in that respect any more difficult than it is at present, as would undoubtedly happen if petrol rationing were abolished in Australia.
– Having regard to the inability of thousands of citizens to obtain telephones, the official excuse being a shortage of equipment due to the war, will the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral inform the House how many applications for telephones are at present held up in Australia, and how long it will be before conditions will return under which applicants will obtain telephone installations in the normal course of events ?
– The question is based upon a wrong assumption. The assumption underlying the question is that there is a shortage of materials. The honorable member said the official excuse is that there is a shortage of materials.
– “ Equipment “ is the word I used.
– There are several reasons why telephone requirements cannot be met in full, and the shortage of materials is only one of them. The difficulty in most capital cities is the absence of sufficient exchange buildings, and many people who want telephones in certain areas will have to wait for them until such time as new exchanges are built. I shall try to obtain the information requested by the honorable member in the interrogatory part of his question, and I shall supply it to him as soon as possible.
– I lay on the table the report of the Tariff Board on the following subject : -
Vacuum cleaners, domestic - local production in relation to the current demand.
Ordered to be printed.
– I address a question to you, Mr. Speaker, and as you have never hesitated to set a precedent it may be that you will set one on this occasion. I refer to the custom which has become established in connexion with the asking of questions without notice. It sometimes happens that a member rises in his place twenty, or even 30, times before he receives the call. It appears to me that you must know approximately how many members will receive the call before you intend to call on a particular member. I now ask whether you will consider this matter, perhaps after consulting the Standing Orders Committee and officers of the House, with a view to devising some better method than that now in operation.
– I pointed out recently to honorable members the great difficulties associated with giving the call to members at question time.For instance, about twenty Opposition members rose yesterday at the first call, and as sixteen questions were asked by Opposition members, that meant that the honorable gentleman who last received the call must have risen about sixteen times. I sympathize with the views expressed by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony). My personal view is that the whole system of honorable members rising for the call at question time is out of date, .and, therefore, I suggest for consideration by honorable members, and also by political parties, that the Whips should intimate, say an hour before the House meets, what members are likely to ask questions. Their names could then be placed in order on a list, and an intimation could be given to each member as to when he was likely to receive the call. That would eliminate the necessity for all members rising at the same time. Honorable members are aware that the proceedings during the first 35 minutes of a sitting are rebroadcast, and I have no doubt that most of them desire to be called before that period has elapsed ; but, of course, that is not possible when question time exceeds 35 minutes. I have tried to arrange the call so that those honorable members who did not receive the call in the first 35 minutes on one day shall be called early on the following day, in order that every honorable member will have a chance to have his question repeated in the re-broadcast. I seriously suggest that the parties should discuss the possibility of the Whips being informed by members who desire to ask questions, and that some system of priority of calls be then arranged. In that way Hie difficulty mentioned by the honorable mem-bor for Richmond would be overcome, and the spectacle of a large number of members continuing to rise until called would be avoided.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture whether the three representatives of primary industries who are to attend the International Trade and Employment Conference have yet been chosen, and if so. will he inform the House from what industries these gentlemen were drawn, and whether it is a fact that the pastoral, dairying and wheat industries will be com’pletely without representation at the conference?
– As far as I know, the three representatives of primary industries who are tn accompany the dele gation to Geneva have not yet been finally endorsed. With a limit of three it will obviously be impossible to have a representative of every section or faction of primary industry. In these circumstances it will be incumbent upon the three gentlemen who are selected to go to Geneva to represent not only the industry in which they are specialists but also the primary industries of which they have a very profound knowledge. I am sure that the Government’s selection will be such as will give entire satisfaction to all industries involved.
– I lay on the table the following paper: -
United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment - Report of the First Session of the Preparatory Committee, and move -
That the paper be printed.
The Preparatory Committee which met in London in October and November, 3946, to prepare for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Employment which the Economic and Social Council proposed to call at the end of 3947, consists of the representatives of the eighteen . nations appointed by the Economic and Social Council. The purpose of the London discussions was to provide for an informal exchange of views on international action which could be taken to promote the maintenance of full employment; the production, exchange, and consumption of goods; the reduction of trade barriers; and whether these purposes could be promoted by the establishment of an international trade organization. It is intended that, associated with these general discussions which will be continued in April at Geneva, direct negotiations for the conclusion of a multilateral trade agreement providing for “mutually advantageous” exchanges of tariff concessions should be conducted between participating countries. At some date following the Geneva meeting of the Preparatory Committee - later this year - it is proposed that there shall be a conference of all United Nations to consider the final report of ihe Preparatory Committee.
It will be seen from the report now being tabled that the work of the London conference ranged over a very broad field, including employment policy, genoral commercial provisions, tariffs and preferences, quantitative restrictions, exchange control, subsidies, state trading, restrictive business practices, and intergovernmental commodity arrangements. No doubt honorable members will have seen statements by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) regarding the tariff negotiations, in which reference is made to concessions which Australia will seek from other countries and those which are being sought by other countries from Australia. Much detailed work must be done in connexion with these matters before negotiations can be completed. It is sufficient to say here that the Government is filtering into these negotiations with an open mind. It will stand by its traditional policy of fostering the progressive industrial development of Australia, but at the same time it will be prepared to consider modifications of tariffs where these can be conceded without endangering this general objective, and where they are part of an exchange of concessions generally advantageous to Australia. A final decision will not be made until the Government is in a position to review the outcome of the negotiations as a whole.
Important though the tariff negotiations will be, the establishment of an international trade organization and the adoption of a charter embodying agreed principles for the conduct of international trade may well be of even greater importance to the future development of Australia. It is important that there should be no misunderstanding about the nature of Australia’s participation in the work of the Preparatory Committee. It was made clear by the Australian delegation that they were not in any sense committing the Government to acceptance of the charter or to participation in the organization. At the same time, it was clear that the establishment of the organization and the general world-wide adoption of a charter governing international f.”ade would be of great importance to Australia as a major trading nation. It was therefore decided that Australia should participate in the preparatory work in order to ensure that, so far as possible, the terms of the charter were advantageous to Australia, and the structure of the organization of such a character that it would function satisfactorily from the Australian point of view.
I propose now to review briefly the major points upon which the Australian delegation, in accordance with the general instructions given to them, sought to have the proposals which had been placed before the Preparatory Committee amended to accord with the Government’s policy. In doing this, 1 wish to make it dear that the Government is not committed to accepting the charter in its present form. A final decision will not be made by the Government until the whole of the proposals are before it and Ministers are in a position to judge whether it is in Australia’s interests to accept them.
A major success for Australia in the discussions was the acceptance of the principle that the charter of the international trade organization must bc written around the positive aims of full employment and economic development throughout the world, rather than around the negative idea of1 merely reducing trade barriers, to which the draft charter submitted to the Preparatory Committee by the United States of America gave most of the emphasis. On this point I mention that within the British Commonwealth .there is now a gratifying measure of agreement on the employment approach to trade expansion problems, for no country under the necessity of exporting large quantities of staple commodities can shut its eyes to the need for continuing full employment in the consuming countries if there is to be effective international demand for its output. The American delegation to the London conference also showed a welcome positive interest in the employment policy aspects of problems confronting the international trade organization. The draft charter now includes a positive obligation for all countries to maintain full employment with high levels of effective demand. This is as much a condition of the charter as is the obligation to negotiate for an exchange of tariff concessions. Failure to fulfil this obligation, and failure by a country to maintain a high level of demand for imports from others, would mean a breach of one of the conditions of the charter, and under the terms of the charter could be followed by a review of the obligations of members affected by that failure. It means to Australia that we can examine any proposed modification of trade barriers against the background of satisfactory international markets for our exports. In other words, of demand does in fact fall off because of the failure of other countries to maintain high levels of employment and economic activity, it would be open to us to have reviewed any tariff concessions or other obligations which we had accepted.
Australia also received a sympathetic and encouraging response to its insistence that any trade charter must contain provisions which will actively assist industrial development in new or underdeveloped countries. A country in a process of rapid industrialization cannot give up its choice between protective tariffs, quantitative restrictions on imports, and payment of production subsidies as a means of fostering its industrial growth. While they are in their present stages of growth such countries can, at most, agree to discuss questions of “ how much “ and “ in what circumstances “, and to develop criteria for answering these questions in practice. Australia found it necessary to press ‘for concrete recognition of its right to use such protective measures and clear provisions for their use in appropriate circumstances.
The representations made by Australia and other countries with a similar viewpoint resulted in a decision that the draft charter of the international trade organization should include a special chapter on economic development containing the following features : -
In the event of a country such as Australia being confronted with a difficult balance of payments position, it would wish to adopt measures to safeguard its position and to prevent such a flow of imports as would endanger its international reserves. Provision has been made in the draft charter for a country to impose import restrictions in the event of balance of payments difficulties threatening, and at the instance of Australia provision has been made for subsequent agreement with the international trade organization regarding specific criteria which would enable the imposition of restrictions without challenge by any other member. The draft charter also provides that, generally, there shall not be discriminatory administration of quantitative restrictions. This means that, in the event of any other country imposing quantitative restriction, Australia’s exports will not be discriminated against, and that it will secure a fair share of the reduced level of imports which that other member can afford.
The Preparatory Committee recognized the special difficulties facing producers of primary products, and the necessity to provide special arrangements for overcoming these difficulties. The charter enables the continuance of subsidies provided that these do not operate to increase the exports of products or reduce the imports of such products into the member’s country. It is expected that the charter will protect the continuance of Australian stabilization plans such as that which has in the past operated in respect of butter and sugar. In addition, Australia succeeded in having a special provision made for international commodity arrangements in order to stabilize the prices of primary products which may from time to time be in surplus supply. These international commodity arrangements will provide for consultation between the producers and consumers, and will provide for stabilization of the incomes of farmers.
One of the proposals in the charter is that members will, at the request of each other, engage in negotiations for the reduction of tariffs and preferences. Reductions that are agreed upon between any of the members will, furthermore, be extended to all other members of the organization. As a first step towards the realization of this objective of the charter, the members of the Preparatory Committee, concurrently with the further drafting of the charter, will meet together in Geneva in April to discuss mutually advantageous reductions of tariffs. These discussions will consider also requests for the modification of existing margins of preference within the British Commonwealth. The negotiations will be on a product by product basis, and the parties will he free to reserve from negotiation particular items of importance to their domestic policies.
In considering the effect of these negotiations on particular industries likely to be affected two points should be borne in mind : first that the charter leaves the participating governments free to assist industries by other means, and provides specifically for the modification of a concession if it proves to injure seriously an industry affected. Finally, of course, the Government will review the whole outcome of the negotations before reaching a decision as to whether, on balance, they are to Australia’s advantage.
The establishment of an international trade organization with a suitable charter and the freeing of the barriers to world trade promises a great expansion in international trade from which Australia has everything to gain. If we can avoid a reversion to the restrictions of the 1930’s, we shall have made an advance which will increase the welfare and standards of the people of Australia, and at the same time provide for the changing conditions of our economy, and the progressive development of this country. If an international trade organization can be established on an effective and satisfactory basis, we may well have achieved one of the most positive instruments for promoting world prosperity, and, therefore, world peace. I move -
That the paper be printed.
Motion, (by Mr. Harrison) proposed -
That the debate be now adjourned.
– I rise to order. If the debate on this motion is adjourned now the document may never come up for discussion. Yesterday, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) said that no decisions would be reached regarding international trade without the Parliament being consulted. To-day, it was stated in the document that has just been read to us that the decision will rest with the Government, not with the Parliament. If the House agrees that the debate be adjourned, it will be for the Government to decide whether the debate ever takes place. Thus, there may never be an opportunity for honorable members to learn the truth or otherwise of the statement made yesterday about the Parliament having to agree to any trade arrangements entered into.
– As this matter is of very great importance, I should like to ask whether it is proposed to arrange for an early debate, perhaps this week?
– I have already indicated to the press, if not in the House, that an opportunity will be given to the Parliament to discuss the statement. Just when the debate will take place I cannot say.
– Will it be before the House rises ?
– I cannot say whether it will be before the House rises at Easter, but it will certainly be before the midwinter recess. In the past, when I have suggested that statements of this kind be debated during the week in which they were made, I have been asked by honorable members to give them more time to consider the subject-matter.
– The Minister for Postwar Reconstruction is going to Geneva in a few weeks’ time. - Mr. Dedman. - This is the first I have heard of it.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Harrison) adjourned.
– Will the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture say whether it is a fact that, at the last meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council, he said that any one concerned with primary production must feel apprehensive as to future markets and prices for primary products? If so, how does he reconcile this pessimistic statement with the frequently repeated declarations of himself and his colleagues that the Labour Government had given producers greater stability than ever they enjoyed previously, and that they need have no fears for the future?
– I shall bring the honorable member’s question to the notice of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture who is absent from the chamber at the moment.
– I have received from the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely -
The arrangement to sell wheat to the New Zealand Government, and the necessity to appoint a Select Committee of this House to inquire into the whole of the circumstances surroundingthe arrangements made with the New Zealand Government to supply wheat at 5s.9d. per bushel.
.- I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
– Is the motion supported ?
Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,
– My object in moving the motion is to propose a further investigation of all of the circumstances surrounding this extraordinary transaction. First, there has been revealed an incredibly bad business deal. This was conducted in an atmosphere of unprecedented secrecy. It led to a deplorable sequence of evasion and equivocation on the part of the Vice-President of the
Executive Council (Mr. Scully), who was then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, which makes the phrase “lack of candour “ completely inadequate to condemn his action. This culminated in an exposure in the New Zealand Parliament of all of the proceedings which led up to the transaction, and revealed as an unpardonable misstatement of facts, to choose parliamentary language, the flat denial by the then Minister of the existence of an arrangement in the negotiation of which he had at all times been a principal. The sorry record of degradation of responsibility in public administration was ultimately capped by the astounding announcement in the New Zealand Parliament by the Prime Minister of New Zealand that had he been asked, he would have counselled suppression of the facts of this transaction until after the Australian general elections had taken place. When that statement by the Prime Minister of New Zealand is matched with reports published in the New Zealand press that, as a part of the negotiations, the Australian Government required an assurance from the New Zealand Government that the price of the wheat to be sold would bear a relationship to the New Zealand domestic price for wheat, there is presented a clear picture of political collusion between the two Labour Governments in which each has by act, or. by calculated suppression of fact, planned to affect the internal domestic politics of the other country. Viewed from the highest plane of imperial relationships, history will, perhaps, decide that that is the most serious aspect of this deplorable incident.
I shall recall to the minds of honorable members the sequence of events in order to try to recapture the complete picture. The scene was set in an election year in each dominion. The facts as they occurred, and as they were known in this Parliament, were as follows: The year 1946, so far as this Parliament was concerned, opened in an atmosphere of silence on the part of government spokesmen with respect to the subject of wheat. But honorable members in this part of the House provoked debates upon wheat which led to ministerial statements being made both inside and outside this chamber. The then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture made statements both inside and outside of the Parliament dealing with all aspects of wheat, such as prices, sales of wheat, prospects for the wheat industry, seasonal sale prices and the availability of wheat for the manufacture of dog biscuits; but I remind honorable members that not one statement was made dealing with negotiations, or impending negotiations, with the New Zealand Government for the sale of wheat. In July, 1946, there came into our possesion- records of proceedings in the New Zealand Parliament, which showed that the Minister for Supply in the NewZealand Government revealed to the Parliament of that dominion .that he had succeeded in making what he described as an arrangement with the Australian Government for the supply to New Zealand of wheat for a period of five years. The price in that year, which was an election year, was to be approximately 9s. a bushel, which was approximately the equivalent of parity early in that year. But the Prime Minister of New Zealand also stated that the arrangement also provided that Australia should supply New Zealand with its requirements of wheat for the subsequent four years at a ceiling price of 5s. 9d. a bushel, it being understood that should world parity fall below that figure New Zealand would receive the benefit of such reduction. That was the statement made by the Prime Minister of New Zealand in the Parliament of that dominion. Following receipt of that information, I asked certain questions in this House, and similar questions were asked by my colleagues, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin) and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) and other honorable members on this side, as well as by members of the Opposition in the Senate.
– When was that?
– In July, 1946. But in. this chamber, where the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was present, we could not obtain anything but evasive replies. For instance, when I asked a question upon notice in which I referred the Minister to the statement made on behalf of the New Zealand Government in the Parliament of that dominion, and inquired whether it was a fact that an arrangement had been made to sell Australian wheat to New Zealand at 5s. 9d. a bushel for a period of years, he replied that the only sales made that year had been made at approximately 9s. a bushel.
– Which was quite correct.
– Yes; but it was not an answer to the question I had asked. Guilt in this matter can be guilt resulting from silence as well as from misstatement of fact. It can be guilt resulting from evasion, equivocation, or the suppression of the truth. There are legal terms to describe the offence of suppressing the truth, just as there are legal terms to describe overt offences. Thus, when the last sessional period before the elections closed we were unable to probe from the Minister any revelation as to the existence of such an arrangement. But, curiously, he gave a direct answer -to a question asked in the Senate by the Leader of the Opposition in that chamber (Senator McLeay) as to whether any arrangement had been made to sell wheat for 5s. 9d. a bushel to New Zealand ; and his reply was “No”. I point out that Senator McLeay framed his question in language identical with the language of the questions asked on the matter in this chamber. Senator McLeay used the term “ arrangement “ which was the term used by Mr. Sullivan, who was the Minister who handled the matter in the New Zealand Parliament.
– The honorable member might quote the Minister’s reply to question No. 3 directed to his colleague in tha Senate.
– Order ! The Minister’s interjection is out of order.
– That was the position in this Parliament just before the general elections. We then went on the hustings, and this matter became an issue at the elections. By public statements, I still endeavoured to prod the Minister into revealing the facts. I was met with a stony silence.
– The honorable member alleged that the wheat-grower was being robbed of his money, which was untrue.
– Order ! The Minister must remain silent.
– However, there sprang to the rescue of the Minister, who himself was unwilling to speak in his own defence, one of the paid servants of the Government, no less a person than the Chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, Sir Louis Bussau, who, in an unsolicited published reply on the 7th September, said -
Neither was it correct that the board had entered into contracts for future sales at 5s. 9d. Up to the present the board had made no contracts with New Zealand for the sale of future seasons’ wheat. The Australian wheat Board was the only authority in Australia for sales of our wheat overseas.
When I said that, I did not address myself to Sir Louis Bussau, but was trying to prod the man politically responsible in connexion with this matter into revealing the position. Sir Louis said later -
As to sales of future wheat, the Australian Wheat Board was not selling at 5s. 9d. and it was the only authority in Australia selling Australian wheat for abroad.
Then the scene moves on. I am speaking now of what we knew in Australia.
– Is the statement he made still true?
– No ; I shall prove it to be completely untrue. The scene moves back into this chamber. When the honorable member for Hume (Mr. Fuller) asked a question-
– A “ Dorothy Dixer “ !
– When the honorable member for Hume asked the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) a question relating to the sale of wheat to New Zealand, whether through a political blunder I know not, the Minister answered the question frankly and revealed that at that time an agreement had been concluded in the terms announced by Mr. Sullivan in the New Zealand Parliament in July, 1946, six months earlier, the existence of which the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Mr. Scully, had denied in. July, and Sir Louis Bussau had denied in the last stages of the election campaign. It was revealed that a contract had been agreed to and the contract was subsequently signed.
– No contract was ever signed.
– I am glad to have at least that definite statement. Now, the Minister says that the terms of the arrangement - I leave it to him to decide whether there is any essential difference between a contract and an arrangement; an arrangement between two governments must surely be equivalent to a contract - were identical with those mentioned by Mr. Sullivan in the New Zealand Parliament. The scene now moves to New Zealand where, on the 5 th July, the Minister for Supply was prodded into announcing to the New Zealand Parliament this arrangement to sell Australian wheat to New Zealand at 5s. 9d. a bushel for a period of four years at a time when world parity was at about 12s. a bushel. That was in July. Then there was a complete silence in the New Zealand Parliament in respect of the matter. Not onew word could be prised out of the New Zealand Minister in respect of wheat. Was it a coincidence or was it part of an organized plan that that period of silence in the New Zealand Parliament lasted until the .Australian elections had taken place? It was not until September that the New Zealand Minister revealed the exact text of letters which had been exchanged between himself and the Australian Minister covering the negotiations on the subject-matter of this transaction. As I have read those letters before, and as the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden.) has also referred to them, there is no need to read them again in full. One of the letters addressed by Mr. Sullivan to the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Mr. Scully, on the 19th December, 1945, reads as follows : - 1 would like to place on record the understanding reached between us in connexion with New Zealand’s requirements of wheat from Australia. . . . You have agreed to supply our total requirements for the five years 1940-50 inclusive, at present estimated at 18,000,000 bushels, but with the proviso that we limit our demands to 4,500,000 bushels in 3’our wheat year ending 30th November, 1946.
In his reply the Australian Minister said -
I acknowledge your letter of 19th December confirming the understanding which we reached in regard to New Zealand requirements of wheat from Australia.
Subsequently the New Zealand Government cabled the Australian Government as follows: -
We desire to inform you that we accept on the following basis: - New Zealand to pay 9s. 6d. f.o.b. for the 4,500,000 bushels to be taken by 30th November, 1946, and thereafter for the following four years a price to be negotiated which will not exceed 5s. 9d. f.o.b.
There is the exposure in the New Zealand Parliament of the fact that, notwithstanding months of silence by the Australian Minister on a matter of great public importance and subsequent evasion and, ultimately, a flat denial in the ‘Senate, official negotiations had reached culmination in an exchange of letters between two Ministers, to the conclusion of a draft arrangement and finally to the despatch of a cable of acceptance by the New Zealand Government. Finally, to put the coping stone upon the matter, the New Zealand Minister said -
That the arrangement is enforced, and is being operated upon by the Australian Government, is evidenced by the fact that shipments of wheat have been, and still are, coming forward at the price arranged. No word was received from the Australian Government that the slightly delayed acceptance voided the contract.
The contract ! Here is the sorry story of what I can only describe as a culpable misleading of honorable members of this House, and the suppressing of vital information which should have been- made available to the taxpayers, and especially to the wheat-growers, of this country. The former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Mr. Scully, made a secret bargain of tremendous public interest to this country and it is a matter for the highest condemnation that the existence of such a bargain was suppressed. If this is to be accepted as the standard of political ethics in this country, not only is question time in this Parliament absolutely worthless but also the whole credibility of this Government is destroyed and political morality is dealt a staggering .blow. This matter cannot be dealt with in any other way than by the appointment of a select committee which should be charged with the task of rooting out the whole of the facts, of ascertaining what has occurred, and of taking steps to ensure that never again in this country even under a
Labour administration, will it be possible to get away with this kind of thing. Only .by that means will confidence in public administration be restored. This attack is launched not only on the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture because surely no government would permit one of its ministers to arrange for the sale of 18,000,000 bushels of wheat without Cabinet’s approval. If the Minister did inform his colleagues of the arrangement, then they are as culpable as he is, because they have subscribed to the suppression and evasion that has taken place. Surely a minister would not enter into an agreement to sell 18,000,000 bushels of wheat without first acquainting at least the chairman of the Australian “Wheat Board, if not the growers’ elected representatives on that board. Did the Minister deli-, berately withhold knowledge of the agreement from the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board? If so, what is the use of the board? If, however, the chairman of the board was aware of the transaction, then he was lending himself to the political machinations of the Minister and of the Government, and is not fit to occupy the position that he now holds. Similarly, if the Minister made the agreement without consulting the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, then the Minister is not fit to hold Ministerial office.
– 1 have listened with amusement and with a certain degree of interest to the diatribe of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen). It is amusing indeed to see the honorable member’s frustration. He spoke of political ethics; but in my long political experience I have never known any member of the Parliament to lower the standard of a parliamentary institution to the degree that the standard of this legislature has been lowered by the honorable member for Indi. Near and far, he is known as one who utters halftruths; today he has excelled himself. There can be no greater lie than a halftruth. It is the most despicable form of lying known to man. Knowledge of the facts and a perusal of Hansard will verify my assertion that the honorable member has been guilty of deliberate misstatements, and I propose to inform the House of the facts associated with the deal that was made between the Australian Government, through myself as the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and the Government of New Zealand, on whose behalf negotiations were conducted, by the Minister for Industries, Mr. Sullivan.
– The Minister admits that the deal was made?
– I do not admit anything. I have been too long in politics to allow the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), the honorable member for Indi, or any other honorable member, to put words into my mouth. The circumstances of the wheat agreement are as follows : In December, 1945, Mr. Sullivan, the New Zealand Minister for Industries, came to Australia with his wheat experts, to endeavour to secure a five-year contract, for certain assured suplies of wheat and to arrange details regarding price and other matters that are necessarily associated with such long-term agreements. The main object of the New Zealand Government, in proposing such an arrangement was that it should pay less than world prices when prices were high, and that, in exchange for this benefit, it would pay more than world prices for Australian wheat when world prices were low. Neither I nor other ministers concerned could find fault with that proposal. In fact, it seemed to have a lot of merit from the viewpoint of the Australian grower in the light of our own ideas regarding stabilization. The question then was how such an arrangement could be made. We believed that the 1945-46 season was too far advanced to permit of an arrangement being made which would bring the price substantially below world parity. Many alternative plans were discussed, but ultimately it was decided to make an agreement to supply 4,500,000 bushels out of the 1945-46 crop at the current price, viz., 9s. 6d. a bushel f.o.b. bulk. The Australian Wheat Board was consulted throughout these discussions. The then general manager, Mr. Thompson, and the Chairman, Sir Loui.3 Bussau, attended the conference and visited Sydney and Canberra to confer with me and my officers on the subject. Our decision ultimately was that we could only make a contract for one year, but would be pre pared to negotiate for the remaining four years at a later stage. Following this decision, informal discussions took place between Mr. Sullivan and myself at which the prices for the following four years were considered. The world parity price was then 9s. 6d. and the New Zealand Minister and his officers put forward the opinion rather strongly that during the ensuing four years, and probably within the next year, prices must be expected to fall. The figure of 5s. 9d. a bushel was mentioned, but the New Zealand representatives were of the opinion that within a year difficulty might be experienced, or the world price might fall below that figure. Ultimately it was decided that circumstances would be such during the next four years, that 5s. 9d. a bushel would probably be a sound price, but that it was possible that we would not be able to justify that belief in a year’s time. Before Mr. Sullivan left, I agreed that we should open negotiations before the next harvest commenced - some time later in 1946 - and that if an agreement were reached, the price would not be higher than 5s. 9d. a bushel - it might be less, but it would not be more. That is where the negotiations rested. When the question was raised later in the year, I made a statement that a contract had been made for the sale of wheat out of the 1945-46 crop, but that no other contract had been made. A longterm arrangement such as that which has now been made covers several points, on any one of which negotiations could break down. I committed myself on one point only, namely the maximum price that would he included in any contract that might be made. Subsequent negotiations that took place were carried on by my successor, and I shall leave him to explain what happened.
In my view at the time I made the arrangement, the undertaking that 5s. 9d. a bushel would be the maximum price for the following four years was not unsound, because a consensus of informed opinion was that high prices would not continue for a prolonged period. That is the opinion that is held by wheat authorities. Another point that I had in mind was that the home-consumption price for wheat had been held at 5s. 2d. a bushel, bagged, for many years, notwithstanding the fluctuation of the external market. In my opinion, it was a very good move to establish the homeconsumption price and this principle has been commended by all parties and all wheatgrowers. It was when we were discussing the long-term plan that it was mutually understood that New Zealand might be prepared to continue buying wheat at regular prices, irrespective of world conditions. Five and ninepence a bushel bulk is nearly ls. higher than the home-consumption price of 5s. 2d. a bushel bagged.
Those are the facts. The honorable member for Indi has made some astounding statements. For instance, he quoted portion of the reply given to a question asked some time ago in the Senate. In his usual evasive manner, he did not read the questions, nor was he honorable enough or man enough to read the questions that he asked of me in this House, or my replies.
– Let the Minister read them.
– I shall read them and let the House judge for itself what truth there is in the honorable member’s dramatic assertions of secrecy and so on. Hansard of the 16th July, 1946, at page 2561, contains a series of questions asked by the honorable member for Indi about sales of wheat to New Zealand. In his first question he asked about a speech in the House of Representatives in New Zealand by Mr. Sullivan. Then, he asked -
The remainder of the questions continue in the same strain. My answer in full was as follows: -
The Government sold 4,500,000 bushels of wheat to New Zealand in January last at the price at which all other sales were being made at the time. This was done in consultation with the Wheat Board and with its full knowledge. The Government undertook to meet New Zealand representatives at a future date on the subject of future sales. This meeting has not yet taken place.
That is where I am supposed to have been evasive, but that answer was in keeping with the facts. The only distortions were of those members of the Australian Country party.
The honorable member for Indi, who is adept under the cover of privilege at attacking men who, being outside the Parliament, have no chance of defending themselves, cast reflections upon a man than whom no one is held in higher esteem by wheat-growers in the person of the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, Sir Louis Bussau. That is despicable. Then I was accused of not having taken the Australian Wheat Board into my confidence and robbing the Australian wheat-growers of a huge sum of money in a wheat deal that might have been concluded at some future date. But the following is an extract from the minutes of the meeting of the Australian. Wheat Board of the 14th August, 1946 :-
The chairman duly communicated with the Minister and reported as follows on the conversation -
Discussions have taken place between the Government and New Zealand authorities regarding future supplies, but, no agreement has yet been made. Any arrangement that may be made between the two Governments will hot affect the board which will get its export parity for wheat - i.e., the price at which the wheat is selling to other destinations at time of New Zealand shipments.
New Zealand wanting a contract but that would be purely a matter between government and government and the board will not be involved in any way in arrangements made.
So where was the alleged secrecy as far as the elected . representatives of the wheat-growers on the board were concerned ?
– Did the Minister tell the board what happened in January?
– The honorable member for Paramatta should hold his tongue! I welcome interjections only from men- with a technical knowledge of the subject.
– He has a -technical knowledge of the law.
– Yes. No attempt has been made to hide anything; everything has been above board. I have given the facts. It is in keeping with the attitude of the honorable member for Indi (Mr.
McEwen) - the Leader of his party is not quite so bad - to indulge in halftruths, misrepresentation, and dramatics. What angers him and his colleagues is their frustration. They have made outrageous charges without having anything to substantiate them.
I now reveal what led up to the early discussions about this matter with New Zealand. Australia, with a devastating drought prevailing, was in dire trouble; I asked the New Zealand authorities if they could assist us by supplying fodder, our supplies being exhausted. The response was magnificent. They depleted their own larder, as it were, and made thousands of tons of fodder available to Australia at much less than half the price that would have been charged had it been obtained by private treaty. So we were able to provide livestock owners with fodder that kept alive many thousands of head of stock that would otherwise have perished. Just because Labour is in power in Great Britain and New Zealand, any contract that Australia makes with either is anathema to the biased and prejudiced minds of members of the Australian Country party. This Government knows how much we owe to the New Zealand people. It was the co-operation of Australian and New Zealand forces in World War I. that coined that famous word “Anzac”. Australian and New Zealand troops have battled side by side in two blood baths. So we look upon New Zealanders and Australians almost as one people. If the New Zealand people have gained some monetary benefit from tins deal 1 do not think the average Australian with his fair outlook has the slightest objection, but fair treatment of a friend is foreign to the mentality of men like the honorable member for Indi. I make no apology for this transaction. I can look the Australian wheatgrowers and the Australian nation in the face. I am proud of my association with this deal because it was transacted in ari honest attempt to meet the needs of the Government and the people of a dominion that richly deserved assistance.
– The impassioned speech of the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) does not throw any light on a very dark page in Australia’s fiscal history. If the honorable gentleman becomes much more impassioned I shall expect to find him wearing a waistcoat made from a Union Jack and with a bulldog on a leash. The facts that we have tried to sift relate to the contradiction in statements on the part of Ministers in Australia and Ministers in New Zealand. The Vice-President of the Executive Council went to great trouble to point out to the Opposition that both of these Ministers are members of Labour governments. That is his statement. He called attention to that fact. He referred also to certain statements which he made on the 16th July last, to the Australian Wheat Board, but those statements are a flat contradiction of what Mr. Sullivan told the Parliament of New Zealand on the 5th July, eleven days before. I put it to the VicePresident of the Executive Council that either the statements which Ministers have made in this Parliament, and which Sir Louis Bussau made outside it are false, or the statements made by Mr. Sullivan to the Parliament of New Zealand are false. One or the other! So far, the Government has not attempted to sift what is fact, what is fiction, and what is falsehood in this rather serious state of affairs with which the Commonwealth Parliament is confronted to-d.ay. Only a select committee of this Parliament, or a similar form of inquiry, will uncover the facts. If the Government has nothing to fear and if its bill of political health is as clean as it claims, the Administration should have no hesitation in entering, at our invitation, into a short period of quarantine, to enable these negotiations to be examined by competent authorities. Then we shall discover what is fact, what is fiction and what is falsehood. Under the present relationship between the two dominion governments, the ‘Commonwealth Government cannot say that it would not be advised of what was taking place in the New Zealand Parliament. For a long time, Australia has had in New Zealand a High Commissioner and a Trade Commissioner, and it is unthinkable that statements attributed to Mr. Sullivan in New Zealand Hansard - we have the corrected copies of it - would not ,be referred to the Commonwealth by any of its representatives in Wellington. From the standpoint of both dominions, the subject of Mr. Sullivan’s statement last July was “ hot politics “ in New Zealand and Australia, because elections were pending in both countries. That is confirmed by the subsequent statement of the Prime Minister of New Zealand that, had he been consulted, he would not have allowed Mr. Sullivan to make in the Parliament his announcements regarding the Australian wheat transaction.
A few minutes ago, the Vice-President of the Executive Council declared that he would state the facts relating to this arrangement, and he proceeded to try to show that there was nothing in the arrangement at all. I am perfectly satisfied that there was an arrangement, and I consider that this matter should be sifted by a properly constituted committee. Since the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) took office, I have endeavoured to obtain information about the matter. The honorable gentleman may possibly have forgotten the correspondence, because he must have a quite thick file on the subject. In January, I asked him certain questions relating to this agreement. After some delay, he declared in reply that he would make a statement at an early date. He volunteered that statement when the Parliament met last week and I believe that he acted in a very brave manner in doing so, knowing that the Government would be subjected to a motion of want of confidence shortly after he had resumed his seat.
There is another interesting point which should be rammed home to the Government. Mr. Sullivan considered that ‘the agreement was of sufficient importance to be put into writing and submitted to the Vice-President of the Executive Council for his concurrence. I believe that the New Zealand Government obtained that concurrence, and that the agreement, when taken back to New Zealand, was used by the Government of that dominion to beat down the price that it proposed to pay to New Zealand wheat-growers for their grain. The Australian Government and the New Zealand Government put themselves in a very peculiar position with the growers of each dominion. There is no doubt in my mind that the Australian Government originally intended that the cost of this deal should be paid for by the Australian wheat-growers. Then this proposal became altogether too hot for any Minister to handle, and the Commonwealth thereupon considered that that very generous old gentleman, John Citizen, the taxpayer, should shoulder the load. Now, the Australian Government stands charged with the necessity to convince the taxpayer that the deal of which the Opposition complains, and to which we call attention, is one which it should have entered into. The facts surrounding this deal are most notorious and unsatisfactory. I claim that the Australian Government stood in the position of a trustee of the Australian wheat-grower, and from the way in which it has handled the produce of Australian growers on more than one occasion during World War II., I wonder whether the Labour party believed itself to be the trustee or the owner of the produce in question. In my opinion, the Australian Government did not act up to its trust, in the way in which it handled this matter with the Australian Wheat Board. There were too many complaints about ministerial directions, and failure to consult the Australian Wheat Board. Unless growers’ boards are actually handling and determining the fate of the produce allegedly entrusted to their care, they are not worth persevering with. A select committee should be appointed to examine the books of the Australian Wheat Board, the minutes of its meetings, the cablegrams which no doubt passed between the Australian and New Zealand Governments, and the cablegrams and letters which no doubt passed between, the Australian High Commissioner and the Trade Commissioner in New Zealand and the Australian Government, pointing’ out what was being said in the New Zealand Parliament. All these documents should be scrutinized, because no Opposition worthy of the name can tolerate the state of affairs with which we are confronted to-day. It must continue to demand what it requires, until its demands are met, so that this very unsavory and unsatisfactory condition of affairs may be cleaned up. The Parliament, the people and the growers in both dominions, for they are interested, must know what is fact, what is fiction and what is falsehood.
– The Opposition is attempting to create an atmosphere of sensationalism, and convince the Australian people that something of a dishonorable nature has been done. Had the Government not decided to make up the difference between export parity ana the agreed selling price to New Zealand, the Opposition would have complained bitterly that Australian wheat-growers were the victims of a “ shocking steal “. This element of sensationalism is not supported by one tittle of evidence. Were I a member of the Opposition, with a desire to embarrass the government of the day by decent and honorable means, the only basis upon which I could attack it would be on the ground of an unjustifiable delay between the date of the talks between the New Zealand representative, Mr. Sullivan, and the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) and the completion of the negotiations. That period extended from November, 1945, until February, 1.947. That is the worst that can be said about the Government’s actions. The fact is - and this is where the element of time is all-important - that when the price factor was discussed in 1945 - and it has never been denied that the price factor was discussed - a price of 5s. 9d. a bushel for a period of five years would have appealed strongly to any thoughtful individual. Any responsible Minister or government would have thought seriously about seizing such an opportunity with both hands at that time. From that time until the present, I do not believe that any responsible wheat authority in Australia, or, for that matter, in any part of the world, would have prophesied that the price of wheat would have soared to the present rate of 14s. 6d. a bushel. Because of this unprecedented rise, the attack launched by the Opposition is invested with some element of sensationalism. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has seen in the delay in finalizing this arrangement, as he sees in most things, some sinister underlying motive. He said that the delay was due to the approach of the elections both in Australia and in New Zealand. How fallacious! How utterly stupid! Had this Government been dishonest, had it not been preoccupied with the transition from war to peace, and had it desired to obtain an unfair electoral advantage, it would have busied itself prior to the elections and announced a decision that the growers would definitely be paid the difference between the price received for their wheat from the New Zealand Government and the export parity price at the time of sale. That would have been a very shrewd electioneering move. However, this is an honest Government. It was not concerned about taking advantage of the excellent opportunity that was open to it to make political capital. Notwithstanding the fact that the honorable member for Indi toured the country half -lying, and wholly lying on occasions, about this matter-
– Mr: Deputy Speaker-
– Order! The honorable member is not entitled to interject.
– I rise to order. The Minister said that I toured the country half-lying and wholly lying. I take exception to that statement, and “ask that the Minister withdraw it and apologize.
– If the honorable gentleman takes exception to the statement, I must withdraw it. Nevertheless I still believe it.
– Mr. Deputy Speaker–
– Well, I make an unqualified withdrawal. Notwithstanding the wild statements made by the honorable member that a “great wheat steal “ was being perpetrated, the Government knew that it stood high in the esteem, not only of the wheatgrowers, but also of the general body of electors. It did not hastily summon a Cabinet meeting and say, “ This ‘ bird ‘ McEwen is putting one over us. We will get busy and announce publicly to the wheat-growers that we will recompense them for the difference between the ruling price in the world’s markets and the price of 5s. 9d. a bushel “. The Government was quite unmoved by the honorable gentleman’s campaign. Lt had implicit faith in its capacity to retain the support of the electors. Action was taken later, after the Labour party had won the elections and when there was no political advantage to be gained. Upon taking office as Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and knowing that the negotiations had to be finalized, I communicated with the New Zealand Government and said, in effect : “ These negotiations have never been finalized. They have no basis in fact from the point of view of a binding obligation on the part of either government.” Because of this, it was necessary for Mr.. Nash, myself, and various officers of the respective governments, to meet in Parliament House at Canberra only a few weeks ago and bring to a successful conclusion an arrangement, or agreement - call it what you will - that had been discussed a little over twelve months ago. Had these negotiations been finalized by the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, as the Opposition has claimed, why was it necessary for me to meet Mr. Nash on three occasions and, ultimately, for both of us to sign a document binding the governments which we represented? In fact, either one of us could have said: “ No, I cannot conclude any arrangement or agreement. The arrangement, or agreement, is not satisfactory. I will not sign it.” The New Zealand Government need not have claimed any wheat, and this Government could not have forced its hand by claiming that there was a final contract.
I turn now to the price aspect of the contract which now exists with New Zealand. Scarcely any responsible authority in the world to-day-
– The. Minister said a few ‘minutes ago that nothing had been signed.
– The honorable member tries to befog this Parliament, as he tries to befog the electors, by using such words as “ arrangement “, “ agreement “, and “ contract “. As a matter of fact, it does not matter “ two hoots “ whether he calls it a contract, an arrangement, or an agreement.
– That is what we have been saying.
– All these attempts to confuse the issue have no material influence upon the situation. The fact is that two dominion governments, over twelve months ago, at a time when world prices had reached what appeared to be a peak, considered it a wise and businesslike action to negotiate a wheat deal covering a period :of five years, four years of which then remained, at a price of 5s. 9d. a bushel f.o.b. bulk, which is the equivalent of about 6s. 2½d. a bushel f.o.b. in bags. That is all that happened. The arrangement that has been concluded and that now has legal entity is of an advantageous character.
– Order ! The Minister’s time has expired.
– This is a time not for dramatic speeches such as we have just heard but for logical consideration of what has happened during recent months regarding the sale of Australian wheat to New Zealand. The statements of the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, who is now Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully), are still fresh in our minds to-day. I shall deal with what he said and point out the logic or otherwise of his statements. He began his speech by saying that he had listened to the speech of the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) with a great deal of amusement. If he was amused by what was said, he gave no visible sign of the fact. In any case, this is not a cause for amusement either in this House or elsewhere. He said that when New Zealand representatives visited Australia in December, 1945,. to make a fiveyear contract for the purchase of Australian wheat, it was suggested that New Zealand should pay less than the world parity price when prices were high and more than world parity when prices were low. The honorable gentleman described this as being based on sound stabilization principles. The position is that, under this contract, as has been revealed, the New Zealand Government will pay less than world parity when prices are high but will not pay a higher price when the world parity price is low. It is stated clearly in the contract, according to the Minister’s statement, that 5s. 9d. a bushel is to. be the maximum price.
That means that should the price of wheat fall, New Zealand would have the advantage of the lower price prevailing in the world’s market. The Minister went on to say that the only definite assurance that he gave to the New Zealand Government regarding the following four years was that the maximum price would be 5s. 9d. a bushel. That has been made clear also in the New Zealand Hansard. In the Parliament of that dominion the Minister for Industries and Agriculture, Mr. Sullivan, said that efforts would be made to secure a lower price than 5s. 9d. a bushel f.o.b., and in a letter to the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture that was stated to be a definite part of the contract. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that he thought that 5s. 9d. a bushel was a good price in view of the fact that the Australian price of wheat for all purposes had been 5s. 2d. a bushel f.o.r. ports for a number of years. He also said that the Australian wheat-growers regarded it as a good price. Does he not know that the wheat-growers of Australia regard the home-consumption price of 5s. 2d. f.o.r. ports as too low, and that his successor appointed a committee to inquire into the cost of producing wheat? The wheat-growers of Australia claim a reasonable price for their product in the light of the present-day costs not a price fixed in 1938. It is not right that wheat-growers should have to accept for their wheat a price fixed over eight years ago when they have to pay post-war prices for all their requirements. It is no wonder that the Government’s wheat stabilization scheme has met with such adverse criticism and action throughout Australia. The former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture committed Australia on one point only. He said that he committed Australia to a maximum price of 5s. 9d. a bushel for the following four years.
– That is. correct.
– The price is the most important factor to the producer of wheat.
There has been some discussion in this Parliament of the terms “ contract “ and “ agreement “ but to any man worth his
salt an agreement is as binding as a contract. The Minister completed the agreement when a contract with the New Zealand Government was signed later. The present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture said that before the recent elections, the Government could have revealed that the difference between 5s. 9d. a bushel and world parity would be made up to the wheat-grower, in which event every one would have been satisfied. But he knows that the wheatgrowers of Australia form only a small part of the population, and that the taxpayers include many persons besides those who grow wheat. If the wheat-growers were disgusted at the low price, what would have been the attitude of the taxpayers had they known that the Government had committed them to pay the difference between 5s. 9d. a bushel, or even a lower price, and world parity, particularly as the Government was saying at the time that taxes could not be reduced? The result would have been an overwhelming defeat of the Government at the elections, and those who negotiated the contract knew it. The Prime Minister of New Zealand also knew it, because in the New Zealand House of Representatives he said that if the Minister who had negotiated the agreement on behalf of New Zealand had been asked for an explanation before the Australian elections he would have advised him not to make it. The further we delve into this matter the more complicated it becomes, and the more clearly it is revealed that the ‘Government had to stand up to the arrangement made with New Zealand. The Minister has told us that he finds fault only with the delay which occurred between the making of the first arrangement and the subsequent signing of the contract. That period should have revealed to the Minister that world wheat prices were soaring. It is true that at the time the agreement was entered into the price of wheat was approximately 9s. Id. a bushel, but when the contract was signed it had risen to 14s. 5-J-d. a bushel. That time lag should have benefited Australia, but the Minister could not gain any advantage from it, because of the arrangement that the price of wheat sold to New Zealand could not be more than 5s. 9d. a bushel.
Air. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Mulcahy). - The honorable member’s time has expired.
.-The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) has a long way to go before he reaches the standard of subtle misrepresentation to which the honorable member for Indi (Mr. MoEwen) has attained.
– I rise to order. I take exception to that statement as being unparliamentary and ask that the words “ subtle misrepresentation “ be withdrawn.
– In deference to you, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker, I withdraw the words to which exception has been taken, but I still have reservations.
– Is it not provided in the Standing Orders that a withdrawal must be without qualification? I ask that the honorable member be called upon to withdraw the words unreservedly.
– I ask the honorable member for Wannon to withdraw unreservedly the words complained of.
Mi-. McLEOD.- I withdraw them, but I mean what I said all the same.
– I claim your protection, Mr. Acting Deputy Speaker.
– The honorable member for Wannon will have to withdraw the statement without reservation.
– Very well, I withdraw the statement. The honorable member for Indi worked himself up into a had temper trying to convince the House that he really meant all this humbug. I do not know what his real motive is. He really had very little to say about the merits of the agreement between Australia and its sister dominion, New Zealand. In the course of his remarks he cast aspersions on a very honorable man, the chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, and he did so under protection of the privileges which he enjoys as a member of this House. The honorable member for Indi is very subtle. Some time ago he took me to task because I challenged him for having posed as a returned soldier. He must be very subtle, indeed, because he even convinced newspaper men that he was a returned soldier. The fact is that Australia and New Zealand have mutual interests, both in regard to defence and trade. New Zealand does not grow enough wheat for itself. It is a good customer of Australia, and we wish that state of affairs to continue. Not long ago, New Zealand came to our aid by supplying us with leather. Perhaps the honorable member for Indi would be going short of boots to-day but for New Zealand. The agreement now under discussion represents a step towards establishing and maintaining reciprocal trade. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) mentioned the farmers. One would think to listen to him that the farmers were going to lose something over ‘this deal, but the honorable member himself is well aware that that is not so. Is the honorable member a prophet ? Can he say what will he the price of wheat in the future?
– I also mentioned the taxpayer.
– 1, too, pay my share of taxes. Many of the primary producers receive subsidies which are paid out of the revenue raised by taxation. In this way, for the first time in the history of Australia, the farmers are getting something like a fair return for their labour. It may yet turn out that this deal will prove to be a good one for Australia, and that the Treasury will benefit from it. No one can tell. However, I do not think than any one really expects the price of wheat to remain at its present level. For one thing, the present high price will induce a great many more people to go in for growing wheat, and, in four years’ time, the world parity price may be 3s. or 4s. a bushel, as it was not so long ago. The honorable member for Indi said that he had to prod the Government in order to get any information, but the fact is that the Government had nothing to hide. However, no amount of prodding has ever been able to get out of the honorable member for Indi the reason why he, when a Minister, agreed to accept lOd. per lb. for Australian wool in 1939, a price which was below the cost of production. This wheat agreement between Australia and New Zealand is a direct deal between the two governments. No agents are involved, and I really believe the honorable member for Indi is more concerned with the interests of agents than he is about the farmers or the taxpayers. We know that, whenever a bill is brought down to protect or assist the farmers, the honorable member opposes it - he and his satellites, including the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) who was at one time a radical in regard to finance. For my part, I am very pleased that the deal was made directly between the governments of Australia and New Zealand, and that no middle men are getting a rake-off. I do not know whether the honorable member for Indi is disgruntled because he has been so long out of office, or just why he feels called upon to set himself up as a champion making sensational charges against the Government. He has asked for an inquiry into this matter, but he must know that there is nothing to inquire into. The files relating to the matter are open to inspection. As a matter of fact, the action of the honorable member in raising the matter to-day is simply a piece of political propaganda. I hope that there will be more deals of this kind between sister dominions, and between various parts of the Empire. In this particular instance, the deal was made in accordance with the policy subscribed to by both governments for preventing inflation. If similar action were taken by other nations the world would be a better place.
.- -I am the member whom the. Vice-President of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) told to hold his tongue because I interjected to ask whether or not he had communicated to the Australian Wheat Board information concerning the arrangement entered into with the New Zealand Government at the end of 1946. That was the only answer which he could make to my question, but I do not intend, any more than do other honorable members on this side of the House, to be silent on a matter so deeply affecting the honour and integrity of this Parliament. There are two* aspects to this matter, the first of which is the commercial aspect. Was this arrangement with the New Zealand Government a wise arrangement or not. As to that, there may be two points of view. We have listened to an attempt by spokesmen from the other side of the House to justify the deal, and we have heard it criticized from this side of the House. I do not pretend to be qualified to embark upon an argument about the merits of the deal itself. But I contend that I am well qualified to argue the second aspect of this debate whether or not Ministers of theCrown in this House and in the Senate misled the Opposition and the people of Australia. I notice that the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) embarked the other night on a spirited justification of what his predecessor had done, but he was so roughly handled that, on the following day, the Minister for the Army .(Mr. Chambers) felt obliged to come to his defence. I note too that whereas on that occasion the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture attempted to defend his predecessor’s statements denying that any arrangement or contract had been made, to-day he was not so ready to do so. Today he was more concerned with the merits of the agreement as such. This was prudent of him, but the important issue is this: Did a Minister of the Crown make false and misleading statements to the House about this wheat deal with New Zealand? Were such statements made? Was there, between December, 1945, and January, 1946, an arrangement entered into ‘between the New Zealand and Australian Governments ? I do not care whether one calls it a contract, agreement, arrangement or a deal ; it has been described in each of those terms by honorable members opposite. Every honorable member opposite who has spoken on this subject has, at one time or another, described the transaction which took place in December, 1945, and January, 1946, in one, or other, of those terms. ‘Similar terms have been used in the New Zealand Parliament to describe this transaction. It is a fact that a delegation from New Zealand came to Australia in December, 1945, or January, 1946 which, after contacting the Minister, went back to New Zealand ; and as the result of that visit a cablegram was sent in specific terms and a letter subsequently passed between the two Governments. Embalmed in those documents was a specific arrangement that Australia would sell to New Zealand wheat at 5s. 9d. a bushel? Could the Australian Government have gone back in any sense on that arrangement? Of course, the answer must be “ No “. Would the Australian Government have dared to go back on an arrangement embalmed in that cablegram and letter? If the answer is, “ No, it would not “, then, it was an agreement, a contract, an arrangement - it does not matter what one calls it - it hound this Government in honour and, probably, in law also. Test it another way : Could it have been acted upon it as it stood in those two documents? Could the New Zealand and Australian Governments have proceeded to implement the agreement they reached? Clearly, the answer to that question must be “ Yes “. And clearly, also, they did ; because, in fact, wheat was actually delivered to New Zealand under what this Government now has the temerity to say were only negotiations. If they were only “ negotiations “, why were thousands of bushels of wheat being delivered to New Zealand before any contract was entered into? Surely, this is the pinnacle of dishonesty and evasion on the part of somebody; and honest honorable members opposite cannot sit comfortably in their seats while they hear their responsible Ministers telling the Parliament and the people of Australia that there was no arrangement. I and other honorable members have established that there was a clear cut agreement in January, 1946. What did the Minister say in July, 1946? His representative in the Senate replied “ No “ to a question as to whether any arrangement was made for the sale of wheat at 5s. 9d. bushel to New Zealand. The answer given by the Minister through his representative in the Senate to that question was a plain, categorical “ No “. Either the Minister’s representative in the Senate did not know what he was talking about, in which case he was not fit to be a Minister, or he knew what he was talking about but, nevertheless, misled his questioner in the Senate in which case he was equally unfit. In. this chamber, when the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture was asked the same question about the same time he did not deny it, he did not say “No”; but, obviously, he evaded the question by saying that no wheat had been sold under certain other conditions. It was plain to all the world that that answer was an evasion. When a responsible Minister, sworn as he is to administer his office faithfully and honestly, is not prepared to be fair, even though his Government may suffer some disadvantage and even though an election may be looming and the wheat farmers may not like the facts - if, for considerations of that kind, he is prepared to mislead the Parliament, as the Minister has done in this case, his action is a matter for denunciation and inquiry. The real root of this matter is that the people look to the Parliament to set a standard. Is it to be wondered at that the moral standard of the community is declining, a fact which we all deplore, when the Government sets an example of this kind? Therefore, in order to vindicate the honour of the Parliament and to raise its dignity, there must be a full inquiry into this matter.
– I propose to deal with the merits of the arrangement under discussion.. I welcome the opportunity that this debate affords to the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) and the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully) to demonstrate clearly to the people that no secrecy, or dishonesty, existed in respect of this arrangement. It is typical of honorable members opposite to try to mislead the wheat-growers by making misstatements both inside and outside the Parliament. I compliment the Minister in arranging this sale of wheat to New Zealand in the interests of the Australian wheat-grower. I believe that the Minister’s explanation will satisfy any fair-minded person. It must be quite clear to every one that until the contract was actually signed, any arrangement under negotiation was worthless. Honorable members opposite are well aware of that fact. As these negotiations have been proceeding since 1945, surely they have had ample opportunity to ventilate any suspicions which they may have entertained. The Minister has stated that when negotiations were commenced in 1945 the world parity for wheat was far below 14s. 6d. a bushel and no one thought that it would reach such a high price. I believe that no wheatfarmer in Australia would refuse 6s. 2d. a bushel for his bagged wheat for the next four years. In the past, we have seen periods of high prices alternating with periods of low prices. No one can predict what the future holds for the wheat-grower. That is why I regret that the Government’s stabilization scheme was not carried through. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) has had much to say about evasion of questions. However, the Vice-President of the Executive Council has made the matter perfectly clear. One does not require a high standard of education to understand his answer. However, in the past, when I was a member of the Opposition, I had abundant experience of Ministers evading questions which I asked. For instance, I had to ask a question not once, but three times, of the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) when he was a Minister, and even then I failed to obtain a clear answer. I also recall that when honorable members opposite accused this Government of perpetrating a deliberate “ steal “ at the expense of the wheat-farmers, their allegations were proved to be completely unfounded. The people of Australia now know the facts in that matter. Under this agreement the wheat-farmer will not be deprived of one farthing. He has all to gain and nothing to lose. He has been guaranteed 6s. 2d. a bushel for his bagged wheat during the next four years, even should world parity fall below that figure. I shall be quite candid about it; I do not care where the money comes from as long as the wheat-grower gets it. The wheat-grower has been crucified long enough ; he has been made the plaything of honorable members opposite ; for many years he did not have a taxable income and he would not have one to-day if the Australian Country party were in office. What do honorable members opposite care if the farmer has to leave his property and his family starves? Since the present Government has been in office it has given to the wheat-farmers a decent price for their product. Honorable members opposite say to the Government, “You cannot do this”, and “you must not do that ‘’, but they otter no constructive suggestions for the betterment of the lot of the wheat-growers. They had their opportunity to remedy the evils that beset the industry in days gone by and no one knows better than the wheat-growers how sadly they neglected to take advantage of it. The wheat-growers hope as earnestly as I do that the Australian Country party will never again share the reins of office. As we have proved that there has been no dishonesty, no secrecy, no privacy about this agreement why should its terms have been discussed? It was not worth a “ cracker “ until a coup’.e of weeks ago when the contract was signed. I conclude by expressing the hope that the present Government will continue to remain in office and fulfil its policy in the interests of the wheatgrowers.
.- The debate which has taken place to-day in regard to the sale by the Australian Government in January, 1946, of Australian wheat for the ensuing year and for four years thereafter has ranged in all directions, honorable members opposite endeavouring, as usual, to cloud the real issues. To my mind two issues emerge from the facts surrounding this agreement. The first is one in respect of which the Vice-President of the Executive Council and former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Scully) is on trial, namely, whether he lied to honorable members in this House and to the wheat-growers of Australia in order to deceive them about an agreement or contract he had made with the New Zealand Government which was finalized in a series of letters and telegrams which passed between the respective Ministersacting on behalf of the Australian and New Zealand Governments. I propose to prove conclusively that he did so. The second issue is whether the Minister entered into a conspiracy with Sir Louis Bussau, chairman of the Australian Wheat Board, to mislead the wheatgrowers and the Australian public in order to assist the political party to which the honorable member belongs and in an effort to save himself from being defeated at the last elections. Let us consider what constitutes a contract in law. Anson’s Law of Contract has this to say about lapse and revocation of offer -
Acceptance is to offer what a lighted match is to a train of gunpowder. It produces something which cannot be recalled or undone. But the powder may have lain till it has become damp, or the man who laid the train may remove it before the match is applied. So an offer may lapse for want of acceptance, or be revoked before acceptance. Acceptance eonverts the offer into a promise, and it is then too late to revoke it.
The documents which, have been set out in the New Zealand Ilansard and the replies given in this Parliament show clearly that all the elements of a valid contract were present in this deal. In reply to a question by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) on the 16th July, 1946 the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture stated -
The Government sold 4,500,000 bushels of wheat to New Zealand in January last at the price at which all other sales were being made at the time. This was done in consultation with the Wheat Board and with its full knowledge. The Government undertook to meet New Zealand representatives at a future date on the subject of future sales.
He said that at that time no sale had taken place to the New Zealand Government in respect of the product of future years. The same statement was made in reply to a question asked by Senator McLeay in the Senate on the 31st July, 1946. Senator McLeay asked -
The reply to both questions was “ No “. We now have copies of the original documents which were embodied in the New Zealand Hansard at the request of Mr. Sullivan, the New Zealand Minister for Industries and Agriculture. Included in the documents is a letter written by Mr. Sullivan, on the 19th December, 1945, to the then Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Mr. Scully, setting out the full details of two alternative offers made by the Australian Government to the New Zealand Government in respect of sales for the ensuing and future years. On the 20th December the Minister wrote to Mr. Sullivan in the following terms :–
I acknowledge your letter of the 19th December confirming the understanding which we reached in regard to New Zealand’s requirements of wheat from Australia. I note that your Government will advise the Commonwealth of their decision in the matter before the 20th January, 1946.
That was the first element of the contract, an offer by the Australian Government. On the 26th January, 1946, the following cable was sent by the New Zealand Government to the Australian Government: -
We desire to inform you that we accept on the following basis-
Thereafter followed the full text of one of the alternative offers made by the Australian Government. In the New Zealand House of Represenatives on the 8th October, 1946, Mr. Sullivan said -
That the arrangement is in force, and is being operated upon by the Australian Government, is evidenced by the fact that shipments of wheat have been, and still are, coming forward at the price arranged.
In January, 1946, there was an acceptance by the New Zealand Government of the offer made by the Commonwealth Government. Valuable consideration passed and the contract was clinched, if it was ever necessary to clinch it, by deliveries of wheat throughout the whole year, as stated by Mr. Sullivan in the New Zealand Parliament. The VicePresident of the Executive Council, the former Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, Mr. Scully, is sworn by oath to uphold the honour and integrity of his office. He is a man who, all his life, has sold horses, and everybody knows that no one knows better than a horse-dealer the essential ingredients of a contract. Yet the honorable gentleman came to his satellite, the present Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) and said, “ There was no contract. It could not be a contract until it was written in precise terms”. No court of justice in the British Empire, or anywhere else, would accept a plea like that. I say that these people deliberately lied to the public of Australia.
– Order ! Such language is unparliamentary and must be withdrawn.
– I withdraw the statement that they deliberately lied and say that they deliberately misled the people of Australia with regard to the sale of wheat to the New Zealand Government.
Mr. SPEAKER. The honorable member would do well to tone down his language.
– The other point to which I desire to refer relates to Sir Louis Bussau’s association with this matter. The Vice-President of the Executive Council revealed this afternoon that Sir Louis Bussau and senior officials of the Australian Wheat Board, attended, and took part in the negotiations that preceded the making of the agreement with the New Zealand Government. Sir Louis, of course, is a ministerial nominee. He was not elected by the wheat-growers of Australia. This exemplifies the principle underlying the Government’s marketing legislation. Here we have a nominee of the Minister placed in a position of considerable responsibility, not to mention of considerable monetary value to the gentleman himself. Do honorable members imagine that Sir Louis Bussau is such a traitor that he would deny the man who made him ? Not on your life. When the call went forth from the Minister to save him from destruction, Sir Louis Bussau, regardless of truth or anything else, responded and went all over New South Wales baying like a bloodhound that the Australian Wheat Board had no knowledge of any sale of wheat to New Zealand apart from that provided for in the agreement for the first year, at 9s. 6d. a bushel. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has admitted that Sir Louis Bussau was present at the discussions in Sydney, and I have quoted from the New Zealand Hansard, from our own Hansard, and from letters. Does the Vice-President of the Executive Council deny that he wrote those letters ? Does he deny that he asked for the acceptance of the Australian offer by the 20th January? Does he deny his signature? There is the greatest, need for an inquiry into the honesty of this Government, of this Minister, and of the whole administration in regard to this matter.
– Order ! The honorable member’s time has expired.
– I rise to oppose the motion because honorable members opposite who have supported it have demonstrated not only that they do not know the terms of the contract with New Zealand, but also that they are prepared to misrepresent the many statements that have been made by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard) and by his predecessor, the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Mr. Scully). I desire, therefore, to have recorded in Hansard the true text of the contract which was signed by the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture on behalf of this country, and by Mr. Walter Nash on behalf of New Zealand, on the 6th February, and confirmed by the Prime Minister of New Zealand on the 19th February. The contract provides that wheat from the 1945-46 crop shall be mid at 9s. 6d. a bushel, and that of the remaining quantity, namely, 1S,000,000 bushels, to be supplied in the following years, 13,500,000 bushels shall be provided at 5s. 9d. a bushel f.o.b., bulk basis.
– What is the date of that contract?
– The 6th February, 1947. One would have expected the mover of this motion to have made some assessment of what the effect of the contract will be, because after all the important; considerations are not what happened prior to the making of the contract, but what the contract provides, what it will ultimately mean to the wheat industry of this country, and whether it contains anything that is contrary to Australia’s obligation to adhere to the broad principle of an international wheat agreement. These are the matters with which I am concerned as the representative of a wheatgrowing electorate, and it is to these matters that one would have expected a member of the Australian Country party to direct his attention when submitting a motion such as this. To place the agreement in its proper perspective it is necessary to bear in mind world wheat conditions after the war of 1914-18. Honorable members will recall that the high price of wheat at that time resulted in the extension of wheat-growing into uneconomic areas, and the growing of wheat in countries which normally would have produced other crops. Very soon, of course, there was a world glut of wheat, followed by a crash and a slump in prices. Wheat-growers in every country suffered. In the light of this experience, what has been the attitude of the Labour Government? We have expressed our support of an international wheat agreement, the object of which will be to iron out the booms and slumps in world wheat prices. To this end, it will be necessary to control production, with, of course, due regard to world demand, and to fix a maximum and minimum price acceptable to the main wheat .exporting countries of the world. We have endeavoured to put this principle into operation for many years, and another attempt will be made within a few weeks by this Government to play its part in the making of an international wheat agreement. We believe that the agreement with New Zealand has a practical application to the principle of an international wheat agreement. It is certainly an indication that this Government is prepared to become a party to such an agreement. But what is being done by some countries that are supposed to be parties to the international wheat agreement? For instance, the bilateral agreement between Canada and Britain is to a certain degree contrary to the spirit of an international agreement. The same may be said of Argentina’s negotiations with Spain, Brazil and Switzerland. In their endeavour to secure as high a price as possible for their wheat, certain countries are creating conditions which will encourage wheat production in uneconomic areas. In making a contract with New Zealand, our desire was that that country should not be forced to undertake the uneconomic production of wheat. New Zealand is our nearest customer, and therefore one of our best customers. We have agreed to sell wheat to New Zealand for a period of years. Without this agreement New Zealand would have had to plough up pasture land which is now devoted to the production of dairy commodities and fat lambs, and the result inevitably would have been a reduction of New Zealand’s export of these commodities to the United Kingdom. It would also have meant that when the international price of wheat became low, we would have lost our best customer because we had compelled it to undertake other forms of production. The honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) asked : “ How does it affect poor old John Citizen, the taxpayer?” I remind the Opposition, particularly members of the Australian Country party, that it is not long since we debated a wheat stabilization bill in this House. The cry from honorable members opposite on that occasion was: “This is not stabilization; it is simply equalization, because the Government is not makin? any contribution to the fund “. What is the Government other than the representative of the taxpayers ? A little while ago the Opposition claimed that a scheme was no good because the taxpayer was not making a contribution, but to-day it objects because the taxpayer is required to make a contribution to a practical step towards world wheat stabilization.
– They are humbugs.
– Yes. I wonder what would have happened had the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) who submitted this motion been Minister for Commerce and Agriculture in the same circumstances. Would he have refused to negotiate the sale and thereby caused New Zealand pastures to be ploughed up and sown with wheat, to the detriment of Great Britain, or would he have made a similar agreement? When he was Minister for Commerce, and wheat was at about ls. 8d. a bushel, I was one of the farmers who contributed a few pence to send a representative to this “ national grindstone “ with a request that the Commonwealth Government subsidize wheat prices by 3d. a bushel. He said that it was unfortunate, but he was not prepared to embarrass the Government by asking it to provide a mere pittance of 3d. a bushel in order to keep wheat-growers on their farms. One of his ministerial colleagues said in Western Australia that he would try to get us 10s. a bushel, but when he returned to Canberra he was thrown out of the Ministry because he had done so. This professed champion of the wheat-growers was a colleague of the man dismissed. If only the Cabinetroom walls could speak what tales they would tell ! This motion will certainly be rejected because it is another indication of the honorable member’s humbug and hypocrisy.
– Order ! That is unseemly language. Anyway, the Minister’s time has expired.
– Mr. Speaker-
– Order ! The honorable member for Bass and the honorable member for Corangamite rose. If I called the honorable member for Indi, he would close the debate. I want that clearly understood.. Does the honorable member for Bass want the call?
– I call the honorable member for Bass.
– We have witnessed an extraordinary spectacle this afternoon. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) moved the adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, the wheat agreement between the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government, and the need for a select committee to investigate the circumstances of that agreement. One would think from the arguments advanced by the Australian Country party that something sinister-
Motion (by Mr. Bernard Corser) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. J. S. Rosevear.)
Majority . . . . 11
Question so resolved in the negative.
Debate interrupted under Standing Order 257b.
Question put -
That the House do now adjourn.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. j. S. Rosevear.)
Majority . . 11
Question so resolved in the negative.
Debate resumed from the 21st February (vide page 130), on motion by Mr. Dedman -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– I listened with deep interest when the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) explained that the purpose of the bill was to provide for “ the transfer to the Commonwealth Service of certain employees of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission, and for other purposes “. When the Minister sought leave to introduce this bill, his voice developed a peculiar lilt as he recited the words “ and for other purposes “. This note reminded me that the honorable gentleman’s voice had in it a similar inflection when he introduced the Re-establishment and Employment Bill, and I became suspicious, as I was suspicious on the previous occasion. Therefore I set out to discover for what other purposes this bill was introduced. I listened intently to the Minister, and I also read the report of his speech, which was very brief. After studying the bill, I have come to the conclusion that that speech was a masterpiece of evasion. It consisted of a few phrases underlining, rather than passing over, the incidental purposes for which the bill was designed. It camouflaged the true intent of the measure, which represents an attempt to destroy what remains of the rights of ex-servicemen to preference in employment within the Commonwealth Public Service and under instrumentalities of the Commonwealth. But the bill has an even more sinister aspect than that. It will deny to ex-servicemen certain benefits which they now have in the vital matter of repatriation, because it aims to eliminate from the administrative staff of the Repatriation Department men who have a sympathetic understanding of the problems of exservicemen. The Minister said in his speech -
It will be generally agreed that, unless there are very special reasons for a contrary course, no Commonwealth activity should stand alone., and, in effect, be excluded from the oversight and review of its organization, methods, &c, on lines which Parliament has laid down in sec tion 17 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, just as none with financial responsibility is free from checks imposed by the Audit Act.
– What is wrong with that?
– Nothing whatever. I find no fault with that observation, but I draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that for special reasons this department is not subject to the Commonwealth Public Service Act. If the Minister believes what he said in his speech, he must be cynically regardless of all repatriation problems. Indeed, he has proved by his handling of exservicemen’s problems that he has no regard for the rights that should be accorded to exservicemen. His approach to this subject is typical of the callous disregard for the welfare of ex-servicemen which he showed when he introduced the Re-establishment and Employment Bill in this House last year. In order to show the special reasons why the Repatriation Department should be excluded from the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, 1. refer to the speech made by the late Senator E. D. Millen, the then Vice-President of the Executive Council, on the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill 1917, vide Hansard, volume LXXXII., page 366. In closing the second-reading debate on that measure, Senator Millen said -
I have admitted that what 1 am attempting to do is an innovation - an attempt to graft on to an ordinary public department some element of citizen life.
He realized that there were special reasons why the staff of the new Repatriation Department should be free of restrictions which apply to the Commonwealth Public Service generally. He amplified his statement by saying -
We are dealing with a problem in which human nature enters very largely. We must not act as military officials who give orders and expect them to be obeyed.
Honorable members will notice that the last remark which I have quoted applies aptly to the Commonwealth Public Service. Senator Millen continued -
We will be dealing with a large number nf men - it may he 250,000 private citizens - each man with his own peculiar temperament and capacity. We cannot expect any set of hard-and-fast rules to opera.te satisfactorily. and, because of the tremendous amount of interest which the public takes in this matter, it seems to me worth while bo make an experiment, to see whether we cannot secure some of the softening influences which will come from joining with the official organization some of the elements of our ordinary private life.
That was the considered opinion of Senator Millen when he introduced the original Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill. He said then that the legislation might deal with 250,000 private citizens. In practice it has operated more extensively than he expected and, as the result of World War II., the department will continue to expand. Senator Millen drew special attention to the human problems associated with the working of the department, pointing out that those problems would be peculiar to ex-servicemen. He believed that the only way to obtain true and sympathetic understanding of such problems was to ensure that the department should- be free of the restrictions of the Commonwealth Public Service Act and administered by men with” an intimate knowledge of the problems of ex-servicemen. Senator Millen also said on that occasion -
It is advisable that the treatment to be meted out to the individual soldier should be lifted as much as possible out of the hands of departmental officials or of parliamentarians.
I am sure that honorable members will agree that that was a very wise observation. Sympathetic understanding of the problems of ex-servicemen cannot be expected from departmental officials who obey the word and the letter of ;the Commonwealth Public Service Act and have no regard for human elements. Honorable mem.bers on this side of the House have repeatedly stressed the need for the appointment of ex-servicemen to the staff of a department which protects the welfare of ex-servicemen. We have pointed out the importance of ensuring that the problems of ex-servicemen are dealt with by men who understand those problems. Nevertheless, this bill will make it possible for this work to be taken away from exservicemen and placed in the hands of public servants who are accustomed to administering the act in its literal sense only, perhaps an admirable trait in some circumstances, but not in this instance.
– The honorable member does not seem to like public servants.
– I have a great admiration for them. This trait which I have mentioned is an admirable feature of their character. However, we need something more than that in the administration of the Repatriation Department. I suggest that the Minister has lost sight of the need for sympathetic treatment of repatriation problems. Although he has charged me with a lack of sympathy for public servants, I charge him deliberately with having a cynical disregard for the welfare of ex-servicemen, to whom he has done a great dis-service by introducing this bill.
– I have done more for ex-servicemen than has the honorable member.
– The Minister must stand by his record, which I shall discuss in dealing with this measure. The Minister said in his second-reading speech -
Representations that the staffs of activities such as these should be brought under the Public Service Act have been made to the Government , by Public Service organizations whose membership covers most of the classes of employees affected. The committee which, at the request of the Government last year investigated departments, by majority report also recommended that the staffs of Commonwealth activities generally should be under the Public Service Act.
I stress the fact that that recommendation was contained in a majority report of the committee. I should like to know the contents of the minority report. Did that report stress the need for consideration of the human problems associated with repatriation work? That minority report is not available to us. I have tried to obtain a copy of it, but apparently it is treated by the Government as a confidential document. The House is entitled to know what was recommended in the minority report, if there was such a report.
– It is wonderful how confidential reports are used by the Government when they suit its purpose. _ Mr. HARRISON.- It is. The question is whether the Government regards this as a human problem.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the men who signed the majority report were inhuman?
– No. They were probably similar men to the Minister himself in that they regarded the matters that came before them purely as nonpersonal matters of administration. I believe that they were not concerned with the human problems associated with repatriation. It would be interesting to know how many ex-servicemen were on the committee. If the committee was constituted as is the Minister’s own department it would have had on it a majority of men who were not exservicemen.
– That is untrue.
– The Minister gave me that information himself, and it is contained in Hansard. I shall supply the figures to the Minister to-morrow morning, and I hope that when he sees them he will have the decency to offer an apology in the House. Let us see to what degree the Repatriation Commission regards the matters that come before it as human problems. The history of the commission will show whether or not it should be brought under the Public Service Act. It was staffed exclusively by ex-servicemen in the male section, whilst the female section consists of wives and widows of ex-servicemen and children of deceased servicemen. Why has the Repatriation Commission insisted on such a staff? It has done so because of the desire to build up a tradition of sympathetic treatment of problems by men who understand them. That tradition is something of which the commission is proud, but it will be destroyed if this billbecomes law. All the members of the commission are ex-servicemen, and every tribunal and committee appointed toconsider the claims of ex-servicemen consists entirely of men who have seen service. That is true also of the medical section Even such matters as hospitalization have been removed entirely from civilian hospital administration. Thesame is true of the War Service Home administration ; it is staffed exclusively by ex-servicemen. It is not tobe wondered at, therefore, that the history of these departments is a record of understanding treatment of human needs and a right approach to the diversified and complexproblems associated with ex-servicemen. If this bill becomes law the right of employment and dismissal, which has been a feature of this department because of the need to have on its staff only those with a proper understanding of the problems of exservicemen, will be lost. Numbers of men on the staff have been selected because of their understanding of repatriation matters. They may not have some of the qualifications necessary to entitle them to positions in the Public Service, but they are good officers because of their understanding of the needs of the men who come to them for advice and assistance. What is to become of these men? It is true that some of them will be given permanent positions as public servants, but that will be done at the cost of destroying a record of administration based on a complete understanding of the problems and difficulties of exservicemen. That is a price far too high to pay. In future those who seek advice and assistance will be met by coldhearted men with a purely governmental outlook, who are concerned only with the letter of the law, instead of by men with warm hearts and a sympathetic approach because they understand these problems. In my opinion, the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission should be staffed exclusively by ex-servicemen on the male side. If the Government is still intent on bringing these two departments under the Public Service Act, it should provide that only ex-servicemen shall be employed in them so that their traditions may be maintained. If the Government fails to do that its action will be open to the interpretation that I propose to voice in this
House. In committee I shall move an amendment to provide that these two departments shall be staffed exclusively by ex-servicemen. I understand that a “ gentleman’s agreement “ is in operation in regard to preference to ex-servicemen, but such an arrangement has no real value.
– There is nothing in the existing act to that effect.
– Let us examine the existing legislation. Section 22, subsection 2, of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act reads -
In the appointment of officers in pursuance of this section the Commission shall, where the qualifications of applicants are equal,give preference to persons who have been members of the Forces within the meaning of section one hundred and eight of this Act.
– That section is at present inoperative.
– It is still in the act, and so long as the Repatriation Commission is not under the control of the Public Service Act I take it that that provision is operative.
– It is not operative.
– It is proposed to repeal that provision. Sub-section 7 of section 22 provides -
In determining the status and salary to whichthe officer shallbe advanced, the Public ServiceCommissioner shall take into consideration the time (if any) which the officer served asamember of the Forces and the period of hisservice as an officer of the Department of Repatriation.
Does the Minister say that that provision also is inoperative? I say that it is not inoperative. It takes into consideration a man’s service as a member of the forces, as well as his service as an officer of the Department of Repatriation. If it is excluded from future legislation exservicemen will lose certain rights. It would appear that all the rights and privileges which an ex-serviceman is supposed to enjoy are to be denied him in future by the repeal ofsection 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act.
Sitting suspended from 6 to8 p.m.
– It is obvious that the repeal of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act will have the effect of denying to the administrative staffoftheRepatriation Department the measureof preference which they have enjoyed up till now. Sub-section 7 of section 15 of the War Service Homes Act contains the following provision: -
In determining the status and salary to whichtheofficer shallbe advanced, the Public ServiceCommissioner shall take into consideration thetime(if any) which the officer served as an Australian soldier and the period of his service as an officer employed under this act.
Thus, both in regard to the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act and the War Service Homes Act, it is proposed to take away from ex-service employees something which they have hitherto enjoyed. This appears to be the final step taken by the Government to give effect to its callous disregard of the rights of ex-servicemen - not those employed in the Commonwealth Public Service because their rights have already gone, but those employed in other Commonwealth instrumentalities. The rights which they previously enjoyed having been thus withdrawn, they are now turned back upon the Commonwealth Public Service Act itself. Therefore, it is proper that we should examine that act in order to see what it contains to compensate them for the loss which they will sustain by being taken into the Commonwealth Public Service. Already section 104, which provided preference to returned soldiers, has been deleted from the Public Service Act. Division 11, insofar as it applied to returned soldiers, has also been deleted. That throws us back upon the Re-establishment and Employment Act, which is the only remaining measure governing preference to exservicemen, and the preference section in that act is there because the Government was compelled to insert it in order to save its political life. The Minister for Postwar Reconstruction is reported to have told the Australian Labour party conference in March, 1945, that when the Opposition moved to give preference to returned soldiers, the then honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) who, as an independent, constituted the Government’s majority in the House, declared that unless preference was granted, he would no longer support the Government. It was I who moved that amendment, and the Minister told the Australian Labour party conference that unless it had taken notice of what Mr. Coles said the Government would have been tossed out on its ear. Thus, the measure of preference which ex-servicemen still enjoy was wrung from the Government by the man who then constituted the Government’s majority in this House. It is of no use for Government supporters to say now that they always favoured preference to ex-servicemen. The fact is that they have not favoured preference. We have heard responsible Labour Ministers say that they believe in preference to unionists, not preference to ex-servicemen. Indeed, the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) once took action to give preference to unionists, but was compelled, by the weight of public opinion, to withdraw his proposal. In return for the loss of the privileges which exservicemen previously enjoyed, they will now receive the very questionable benefit of the measure of preference granted to them in the Re-establishment and Employment Act. The benefit is questionable, because it will apply, not to exservicemen only, but also to certain other sections of the community which the act makes eligible to claim preference. Section 32 of the Re-establishment and Employment Act states -
Where any person not otherwise entitled to the benefits of this division considers that, having regard to the service performed by him in relation to the war, he is entitled to receive the benefits of this division, he may apply to the Central Preference Board for registration.
In reply to a question asked by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) in this House, it was stated that, up to the 31st December last, the Central Preference Board had received 1,392 applications for preference registration from persons other than ex-service personnel. Of these, 343 were granted registration in accordance with the eligibility section of the Re-establishment and Employment Act. The Minister, when pressed to lay the relevant papers on the table of the House, declined to do so. This proves conclusively that the preference section of the act is nothing but a sham and a farce. It is not being given effect, and it cannot be effectively applied. Hitherto, the Repatriation Department has been staffed exclusively by ex-servicemen, and by their children and dependants, but they will now be absorbed into the Public Service, and will become eligible for the doubtful benefits provided for them under the Re-establishment and Employment Act. Even this doubtful benefit will be theirs for a period of seven years only.
These ex-servicemen have spent many years in the service of the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Department. They have become familiar with the peculiar requirements of exservicemen, and have acquired a. know- ledge of how to deal with the human problems that arise in the course of their work. They have become used to dealing with ex-servicemen who require hospital treatment, and with the neurotic cases which are encountered from time to time. These officers, with all their special knowledge and experience are now to be absorbed into the Public Service - or, rather, some of them are to be absorbed, because not all of them will be able to qualify for admission to the Public Service. That is the sorry picture now presented to the House. When these commissions were established following World War I., the government of the day deliberately excluded them from the Public Service because of the peculiar nature of the problems with which they would be called upon to deal. In staffing them, a special preference was given to ex-service personnel because of the special approach required to be made to those problems. Under this measure all that experience will be lost. The Repatriation Commission’s work is of so peculiar a nature that even its medical and hospitalization services are divorced from all civilian activities. The commission will in future be staffed by public servants who can best be classified as non-combatants. That will be one result of this measure unless the House takes steps to prevent it. For the reasons I have given I intend at the committee stage to move an amendment designed to ensure for ex-service personnel in their application for repatriation the services of an administrative staff composed of persons who from their own experiences in the fighting services have first-hand knowledge of the problems of ex-service personnel and will be disposed to deal with them sympathetically. Every honorable member has stressed the necessity to assure ex-service personnel of such special and sympathetic treatment. Unless honorable members opposite are prepared to do more than lip service to that ideal ive shall find that the Repatriation Commission which, above all other departments, should be staffed with a view to giving the utmost satisfaction to exservice personnel, will become absorbed as an ordinary department in the Public Service, and will, of course, because of the nature of the Public Service itself, be staffed by persons other than exservicemen. I have no doubt that the Minister has overlooked that aspect. He, himself, is an ex-serviceman ; and he claims that he U fully aware of the peculiar problems associated with repatriation. If that be so he will accept the amendment which I propose to move at the committee stage. Should he do so, notwithstanding that the Commission will be absorbed in the Public Service, ex-service- personnel will be given a guarantee that all appointees to the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Department shall be ex-servicemen.
– The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) has attempted to initiate a debate on the desirability of preference to ex-service personnel ; but this is a simple measure designed to transfer the staffs of the Repatriation Commission and War Service Commission to the control of the Public Service Board and to bring those bodies more directly under the control of the Commonwealth Government. Our first consideration should be the reaction of those who will be most affected by the proposals put forward by the Government. Listening to the honorable member for Wentworth one might be led to believe that there was a great outcry among the employees affected against the measure ; but, in fact, we find that this change was recommended by organizations of which the majority of the employees of the two commissions are members. Despite what the honorable member would have us believe, they have not voiced any complaint. Through their organizations they recommended to the Government the proposals embodied in the bill. Thus we can dismiss the argument advanced by the honorable member for Wentworth that they will be penalized under the bill. Not only are the employees affected in agreement with the measure; the proposals now before us were also recommended in a majority report of a departmental committee set up by the Government to examine this matter. Therefore, the measure is supported by those who are most affected by its provisions and those who are in the best position to express an opinion upon it from a practical point of view. Those facts effectively dispose of the argument of the honorable member for Wentworth.
In addition, the bill will enable the staffs of these two important bodies to be chosen from a wide range of officers throughout the Service generally, and such selection will be made by the Public Service Board, which has had years of experience in the selection of the personnel of all Commonwealth departments. The staffs of these commissions will be strengthened by thus broadening the field of recruitment. Those staffs also will be selected by experts who are in sympathy with the ex-serviceman and his problems, and will doubtless pay particular attention to the special understanding required in the handling of ex-servicemen’s problems. It is ridiculous to say that those who have been charged in the past with the staffing of Commonwealth departments - and, incidentally, the Commonwealth is the greatest single employer in the country - will not be capable of observing the spirit as well as the letter of legislation enacted in the interest of ex-service personnel. Consequently, the exserviceman need not entertain the fear mentioned by the honorable member for Wentworth that in future these commissions will be staffed by persons who will not have full sympathy with him in his problems.
Another important provision of the bill is that it will bring these two important bodies directly under the control of the Government through the Public Service Board. That is a desirable improvement, and is in keeping with the views of honorable members opposite who have advocated the centralization of all authorities dealing with the problems of ex-service personnel. In other words we are endeavouring to centralize these functions from administrative as well as other angles. Another factor is that no member of the staffs, which will be taken over under this measure, whether permanent or temporary, will in any way be detrimentally affected in position, future activity or prospects of advancement in the Service. The rights and privileges of all members will be safeguarded. Generally speaking they will have greater opportunities of advancement than they now possess. I outline these few points in relation to the hill because the issues involved in it have been clouded by the honorable member for Wentworth.
I pass now to what is perhaps the most important clause of the bill - one which was made the subject of severe criticism by the honorable member. I refer to the effect of the bill upon the preference sections of the various acts which the honorable gentleman quoted. No matter what honorable members opposite may say or think, this bill falls into line with the preference provisions laid down in the Re-establishment and Employment Act. Whether or not preference was to extend for seven or for 27 years, the preference issue can not be debated under the terms of th:s bill. Obviously, preference is a separate issue. The test is, does the bill give to officers to be transferred to the general Public Service the same rights and privileges as are possessed by ordinary citizens of the community? As to that, the bill falls directly in line with the re-establishment legislation which has been endorsed by this Parliament and confirmed by the people at the recent elections. The honorable member for Wentworth has endeavoured to show that in this bill the Government is proposing to side-step Commonwealth legislation under which the rights and privileges of ex-servicemen are protected. Nothing of the kind is intended. This bill will protect the rights of employees and at the same time bring the Public Service Act into line with the re-establishment legislation.
I pass from these issues to say a few words in relation to the War Service Homes Commission and the Repatriation Department, and the changes that are mooted in respect of those departments. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) constantly rises in his place in this House and criticizes the activities of the War Service Homes Commission, and, on other occasions, of the Repatriation Department. Although his criticisms are generally attacks on the Government they also constitute indirect attacks on the present staffs of those two departments. To-day, the honorable gentleman complains of the raw deal we are giving to the employees concerned; but on other occasions he has been most harsh in his criticism of the very men who occupy positions in these two important departments. The honorable mem- ber has endeavoured to mislead the House as to the purpose of the bill, but he has failed to advance any practical or concrete arguments against its provisions. By bringing about the centralization of departments, which is so necessary from an administrative viewpoint, and at the same time safeguarding the rights of the employees concerned, the Government is taking a step which we believe will be the forerunner of greatly improved conditions for the employees of these two departments. When filling future positions in the two departments the Government will exercise a wise and sound judgment in the choice of men so that ex-service men and women and their dependants may look forward to the continuance of that excellent service which has characterized these administrations in the past. Both departments will continue to be administered in a spirit of sympathy and understanding. All of the matters raised by the honorable gentleman in stating his objections to the bill may be dismissed as misleading. In introducing the bill and carrying out the recommendations of two important committees which inquired into the affairs of these departments, the Government is doing a service to the people, particularly to ex-service men and women, and the staffs concerned and those who saw service in the two world wars need to have no misgivings about the measure.
.- I oppose the bill. Its purpose is to absorb into the general Public Service the staffs of the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Commission. In other words it is proposed to submerge the few among the many. This will take away the preference that exists in the Public Service. It is interesting to hear the views of the young honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly), who blindly says that he knows that the staffs concerned want to be transferred to the Public Service. How can the honorable member know that? There has never been a plebiscite among the officers concerned, and, as far as I am aware, not one of them is anxious to make the change. The proposal contained in the bill is an old one; it has been brought up on many occasions in the past, but governments led by the parties on this side of the House have always resisted it. The absorption into the Public Service of these two important activities is not a party matter. Any one who looks at it from the viewpoint of ex-servicemen will agree that the status quo should be preserved. The Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Commission were kept apart from the general Public Service for a distinct purpose. It was held that they should remain apart from the Public Service and be staffed, as far as possible, by ex-servicemen and administered in a spirit of comradeship and understanding of the ex-servicemen’s problems. Because of their close association with the services the staffs concerned are best able to deal with problems relating to pensions, the rehabilitation of ex-servicemen, the granting of social services, hospitalization, the granting of loans to men commencing business on their own account and matters of that kind.
I do not say that these departments are perfect; no Government department is. As a matter of fact, on frequent occasions I have criticized the slowness with which matters are dealt with by their administrative officers; but I have had experience as a Minister of the Crown and I know some of the difficulties under which they operate. By and large, there are no better departments in the Public Service. But if their staffs are merged with the Public Service, as is proposed, all the goodwill that has been built up over the last 30 years will be lost because the personnel will be dispersed among the mighty Public Service, which seems to be growing mightier every day. The honorable member for Martin says that we constantly rise in our places in this House and criticize the administration of war service homes. We do, and I might add, quite frankly, that it is generally because the Government has not formulated a policy for the commission to pursue. Bricks cannot be made without straw; but the Government expects the commission to do wonders without giving it the facilities to carry out the requisite building programme. The commission has been set an almost impossible task, but it has risen to it nobly. The Repatriation Department staffs specialize in the type of work they are called upon to perform. The medical men attached to the department are all ex-servicemen, as are also the staffs of the assessment tribunals which decide rates of pensions and the entitlement tribunals to which an applicant may apply for a pension after having been turned down by the commission. The employees are animated with a desire to render service to their comrades; not preferential service, not favorable service, but service based on the promises of the nation. No pension can compensate a man for the loss of a limb; the best that can be done for him is to give him seme assistance that will help to even up the disability he suffers by comparison with other people. It is not possible to compensate a returned serviceman for the five or perhaps six years that he spent on war service, because during that time his competitors, who may or may not have had good reasons for not enlisting, outstripped him in his civil vocation. For that reason, he needs assistance to-day. The Minister has thought fit to make only a perfunctory second-reading speech lasting for about five minutes on this important legislation. He said -
The purpose of this bill is to amend the Commonwealth Public Service Act to permit the staffs of the Repatriation Department, other than those permanently holding statutory offices, and of the War Service Homes Commission being brought under the Commonwealth Public Service Act.
I draw attention to the words “ to permit “. I have yet to know of one member of either department who has sought the change. The Minister also said -
Representations that the staffs of activities such as these should be brought under the Public Service Act have been made to tha Government by Public Service organizations
The organizations referred to, of course, are the unions in the Public Service which are demanding this change. All these ex-servicemen are to be placed in the Publice Service irrespective of their wishes. When the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) was speaking, the Minister said that the preference rights of these men would he preserved. I say that they will not. This measure provides in clause 4 - (2.) Section twenty-two of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation . Act 1920-1940 is repealed.
Section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act provides - (2.) In the appointment of officers in pursuance of this section the Commission shall, where the qualifications of applicants are equal, give preference to persons who have been members of the Forces within the meaning of section 108 of this act.
That provision is to he deleted by clause 4 of this measure. How can any one who believes that we should give of our best to ex-servicemen approve of this action? The Minister claims that the rights of returned servicemen are adequately safeguarded by the Reestablishment and Employment Act but I say that they are not. Honorable members will recall the debate on that measure. We on this side of the chamber endeavoured to have the departments concerned with the re-establishment of exservicemen consolidated, as in New Zealand, where there is a Minister for Rehabilitation, but the Government refused to take this course and pushed the legislation through by weight of numbers. So what do we have to-day? If, for instance, an ex-serviceman wishes to engage in business as a carrier, he may obtain a loan from the Repatriation Department; but then he has to go to a civil department; - the Department of Transport in the case of Victoria and New South Wales - and make an application for, say, a utility truck. Only last week I had brought to my notice a case in which an ex-serviceman who had made an application a year ago for a motor vehicle had not received a reply. When I got in touch with the department about the matter, I was informed that such letters were not answered unless an answer was requested. This could not happen, if all the activities relating to the re-establishment of ex-servicemen were brought within the province of one department. Take the case also of an ex-serviceman who wishes to set up in a retail business. When he has secured a loan from the Repatriation Department he is confronted with the task of obtaining merchandise. If he wishes to import goods he must have a licence, and he cannot get a licence unless he had an import quota in the base year, 1938. If officers of the Repatriation Department and of the War Service Homes Commission are to be scattered throughout the Public Service, the problems of ex-servicemen will become even more acute. Things are bad enough now when only two departments are charged with the administration of these activities, but the difficulties will be increased a hundred-fold under this proposal. In addition, as I have said, preference will be a mere pretence. We have had an example of the operation of the Government’s preference policy in the recent appointments of Australian trade commissioners overseas.
– That has nothing to do with the transfer of two departments to the Public Service.
– The Minister stated that preference would be retained, but if I were permitted I could give examples of the manner in which preference to exservicemen is being ignored by the Government. I assume that I may read a resolution of the executive of the returned servicemen’s league on this subject.
– Order ! The honorable member for Balaclava appears to be determined to defy my ruling. The title of the bill is, “ A bill for an act to provide for the transfer to the Commonwealth Public Service of certain employees of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission “. That has nothing to do with preference to ex-servicemen.
– I understood that the matter was referred to in the Minister’s speech ; but apparently I am wrong.
However, it is mentioned in the bill, clause 4 of which provides for the deletion of the preference clause from the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. I am endeavouring to show that the passage of this bill will mean the end of preference to returned servicemen. The preference provisions of the Re-establishment and Employment Act are valueless because they are not being given effect. The returned servicemen’s league is protesting strongly against men being transferred from a State department to a Commonwealth department to the detriment of those who served. Men who did not serve overseas during the war are keeling returned soldiers out of jobs. There is no provision for preference in theCommonwealth Public Service Act now. As the honorable member for Wentworth said, in 1930 the Scullin Labour Government endeavoured to remove the preference provisions, but they were retained following protests by the then Opposition. Now, another Labour government is taking the same action. Unionism is to come before patriotism. Officers of two splendid departments that have rendered valuable service to men of two wars and their dependants, are to be scattered throughout the Public Service. This move will detract greatly from their efficiency. The concluding portion of the Minister’s second-reading speech reads -
What a subterfuge! Obviously it is not being altered because it is not effective to-day, and it will not be effective when this bill is passed. The Government has advanced this proposal on the ground that it has been recommended by a committee which inquired into the matter. We are not told who the members of that committee were. Its report was, of course, a majority one. Surely the Ministers responsible for them will say whether their departments approve. The Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) is silent, but I do hope that he will tell us; it is only fair that he should. I remind the honorable member for Martin that both departments are under Commonwealth control. From the way he spoke it would appear that he thinks they are outside the Service. If this transfer is insisted upon, efficiency will be impaired and injustice will be done not only to men already in the departments but also to recruits. There are many young men in their twenties unemployed, although the unemployment figures perhaps do not show it. They are living on their deferred pay. They ought to be given the opportunity of entering the service of the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Department.
The head of a great Commonwealth department only yesterday appointed a man without war service to that department. A question was asked about the appointment. Having fought the country’s battles abroad, ex-servicemen ought to beabletoenterthe service of the Commonwealth without having to compete with many thousands of others who have been in sheltered employment. It would be wise if the Government held this bill over for a month or two, and meanwhile appointed a parliamentary’ committee representing all parties that could call departmental officials and learn whether they recommended the transfer. If there was a good reason for the change the Parliament could then safely agree to it. We are told, however, only that the majority of some committee or other recommended the transfer. No doubt the minority consisted of the representatives of other than the departments concerned. Doubtless Public Service unions want more people conscripted into their ranks in order to derive more money with which to protect their vested interests. The bill proposes a grave injustice to the War Service Homes Department and the Repatriation Department. It should not be persevered with, and I intend to vote against the second reading and every clause.
– I support the measure because I think it reasonable to consolidate the servants of the Crown in the various departments of the Crown. I cannot see how coordination can be construed in any way into victimization, except by a biased mind, but the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) implied that this measure would result in victimization. I do believe that on both sides there is an honest approach to the bill. Although one wonders at their reasons, its opponents could be honest. Both departments concerned will have much to do with the future of ex-service men and women. Therefore, if we increase their efficiency we shall do something worth while. The bill, on the face of it, and the terseness of the Minister’s second-reading speech, give the impression that this is a step towards co-ordination. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), however, can see only despair and destruction on all sides. The wonder is that after years of intense criticism of the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Department, under Labour administration, he is now lyrical in praise of their splendid services. He is fumbling to make out some sort of case against the bill on the false premise that anything that emanates, from this side in respect, of ex-service men and women must be loaded against them. The honorable gentleman is quite wrong. The evidence of the years proves that the Labour party has always given honest consideration to their welfare. Otherwise it would not still be in office.
Another point hurled into the teeth of the Government every time it brings before honorable members legislation in connexion with the re-establishment of ex-service men and women is that our policy is preference to unionists and net to ex-service men and women. I remember General Sir Thomas Blarney, whom no one could describe as a tremendously good unionist, being reported in the press as having said that 80 per cent, of the members of the armed forces were unionists. So the consistently told story of ‘the honorable member for Balaclava that we are dividing this country into two sections - ex-service men and women and trade unionists - is baseless. That is far from the intention of the Government. We know how highly dangerous that would be to the community. We are fighting for unity and reconstruction. The cleavage between civilian and soldier that the honorable member for Balaclava charges us with seeking could not be tolerated in a democracy. I can dissipate any doubts that may linger in the minds of honorable gentlemen about this measure. It contains nothing sinister, does nothing underhand and is not evasive. With typical clarity, in. his second reading speech, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) said in relation to the decision to bring employees of both departments under the Commonwealth Public Service Act-
Representations that the staffs of activities such as these should he brought under the Public Service Act have been made to the Government by Public Service organizations whose membership covers most of the classes of employees affected. The committee which, at the request of the Government last year investigated departments, by majority report also recommended that the staffs of Commonwealth activities generally should be under the Public Service Act.
There is nothing sinister in that. The honorable member for Balaclava dis- 3/f. Haylen played a fear complex when he stated that the Public Service unions were trying to recruit more members. He fears that those organizations are opposed to the archaic ideas that he holds. There is no point in keeping the employees of the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Department in watertight compartments outside the Public Service. This bill provides for long overdue coordination. Then, of course, since we may discuss the matter of preference, as the Minister has given an angle on that in saying- the existing legislative provision regarding soldier preferences is not being altered.
-The trouble is that the Minister was not discussing it from the right angle for the honorable member’s point of view. Whether the honorable member is in order in referring to preference depends on how far the honorable member goes into the matter.
– The matter of preference is relevant insofar as the liberties and privileges of ex-service men and women are preserved. The honorable member for Wentworth glibly quoted from various sections in a hurried “ mumbo-jumbo “, although he knew in his own heart that the consolidation of the legislation resulted in the new measure called the Re-establishment and Employment Act. Preference is a part of the Government’s policy, whereas the preference that the anti-Labour Government claimed to have given was a Kathleen Mavourneen sort of thing. We have had the courage to say that seven years after the passage of that act we shall have done the tremendous task of reconstruction. If honorable members opposite think that this act takes away some of the liberties of ex-service men and women they ought to read the act again to see the broadness with which it is framed. Naturally, like all measures of great significance, it contains anomalies, but these, I hope, will be rectified in subsequent amending legislation. I remind honorable members opposite that this is the only Government which has introduced effective preference. For instance, preference does not operate in Great Britain.
-Order ! The honorable member is now embarking upon a general dissertation on preference. I ask him to relate his remarks to the bill.
– The Labour party is not doing anything subversive to the interests of ex-servicemen. This bill is sincere, and, for that reason, members of the Opposition cannot understand it. Obviously, the bill provides for the coordination of affairs under departments, and that is sound common sense and good administration. I do not believe entirely in the glamour that has been at ached to the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission. Personally, I am not a great lover of commissions. Departments under the administration of a director-general, and ministerial responsibility, offer the solution in most instances.
There is no need for me to analyse and reply to the extravagant statements which the Opposition has made about this bill. The measure is simplicity itself. I participated in the debate solely for the purpose of correcting certain impressions which might have been gathered from remarks by honorable members opposite that the bill contained provisions that were dangerous to the interests of exservicemen. It is a simple measure of progress. It will reflect, as does the Re-establishment and Employment Act, an honest desire on the part of the Government to get on with the job, so that within the period of seven years, we may be able to say faithfully and sincerely that we have honoured our obligations to the ex-service men and women of Australia. To do that job, we must have business administration and coordination. Beyond that, the bill does not contain any provisions which need perturb persons interested in the future welfare of ex-service men and women.
– Can the honorable member inform me whether officers of the Repatriation Commission desire this transfer ?
– I understand that they do, but I have no definite knowledge of it. There may be differences of opinion, and some people may believe that the transfers should not be made, but the consensus appears to be that they are necessary.
.- The purpose of this important bill is to transfer to the Commonwealth Public Service certain employees who, for more than 30 years, have been employed by the ‘Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission. If honorable members will peruse the bill carefully, they will notice that the first three pages are devoted to provisions which repeal sections of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, the War Service Homes Act and the Superannuation Act, which conferred upon the employees of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission certain repatriation benefits. The speech which the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Ledman) delivered when moving the second reading of the bill, was the vaguest that I have ever heard in l h is House. It was a masterpiece of evasion, and the honorable gentleman did everything possible to camouflage the real purposes of this legislation.
– What are the real purposes?
– -If the honorable member for Denison (Dr. Gaha) will be patient, I shall relate the full story. The Minister should lay his cards on the table so i hat honorable members may learn the real purpose of the bill. I invite him to make available to honorable members the majority and minority reports dealing with these proposals. In his speech, the Minister did not refer to the contents of those documents. He declared that representations that the staffs of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission should be brought under the Public Service Act had been made to the Government by Public Service organizations, whose membership covers most of the classes of employees affected. Obviously, thai referred to the Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association. The request did not emanate from the officers of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission. I ask the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) whether officer,? of his department asked to be transferred to the Commonwealth Public Service? I should like to know, also, why the Minister in charge of war service bornes is not showing his interest in the welfare of his officers by being present during this debate. Never in my experience have I known a bill to be introduced in the way that this measure has been. This Parliament is a deliberative assembly, and honorable members should have before them at the present time the reports on which this legislation was based. In my opinion, this “hole-and-corner” method of legislation does not reflect credit on the Government in general and the Minister in particular.
The War Service Homes Commission and the Repatriation Commission are staffed exclusively with returned, servicemen. If this bill becomes lav/, that exclusive administration will be destroyed. Once the officers of the War Service Homes Commission and the Repatriation Commission are brought under the Commonwealth Public Service Act, they may be transferred to other departments, and replaced by persons who are not returned servicemen. There are special reasons why the War Service Homes Commission and the Repatriation Commission should be staffed exclusively with returned servicemen. They know how to assist, inspire and stimulate other returned servicemen who are suffering from ill health or who are broken ,in spirit. If, in the future, these sufferers are handled by officers who are not returned servicemen, this legislation will not be administered as it should be. The psychological effect on returned servicemen of being able to explain their problems to other returned servicemen is important. The transference of these men to the Public Service will be a serious blot on our efforts to assist the returned servicemen. I remind the Minister that ex-servicemen have complete confidence in the present staff. Naturally, they clash with them from time to time, but, in the main, incalculable harm will be done to the repatriation and hospitalization of exservicemen if this legislation becomes law. No evidence has been adduced that any group of ex-servicemen in Australia has asked for this transfer. Can the Minister assure the House that an overwhelming majority of ex-servicemen in the War Service Homes Department and the Repatriation Department have applied for this transfer? I should like the Minister to inform me how many ex-servicemen were members of the committee which brought in the majority and minority reports. If the Minister cannot table the reports, at least he can supply the names of the men who signed them. He can also tell us how many of them were ex-servicemen. All the members of the War Service Homes Commission and the Repatriation Commission are ex-servicemen. The medical officers of the Repatriation Commission are ex-servicemen, and the hospital matrons and nurses employed by the commission have all served with the fighting forces. The members of the Appeal tribunals and their staffs also are exservicemen. The Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia has always had the right to submit panels of names when appointments have been made to these bodies, and the successful candidates have been selected from those panels. Under this bill, these staffs will come under the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, and vacancies will be filled by the Public Service Board without regard for recommendations made by the league. Only ex-servicemen should be appointed to such vacancies, and in order to include provision for this in the bill, the Opposition proposes to submit an amendment for that purpose. This will give Ministers and their supporters an opportunity to decide whether or not they will agree to the continuance of administration by ex-servicemen in the War Service Homes Department and the Repaptriation Department.
In analysing the bill, we must first consider what advantage ex-servicemen employed in these two instrumentalities will gain by their transfer into the Commonwealth Public Service. Neither the Minister nor any government supporter has advanced any satisfactory reason why this change should be made. We have been told that officials governing the Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association have asked for the transfer; that is the only excuse that we have been given. Officers of these instrumentalities will lose many advantages that they now enjoy. In their interests, the Government should publish the report about which, up to date, it has maintained so much mystery. Clause 4 of the hill proposes to repeal section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, which provides - (1.) The Commission may appoint such officers as it thinks necessary for the purposes of this act.
The commission will no longer have that power if the bill becomes law in its present form. Such officers will be appointed by the Public Service Board. Sub-section 2 of that section is as follows : - (2.) In the appointment of officers in pursuance of this section the Commission shall, where the qualifications of applicants are equal, give preference to persons who have been members of the Forces within the meaning of section 108 of the Act.
Another important provision, the repeal of which will be damaging to the interests of ex-servicemen, is contained in subsection 7, which is as follows : - (7.) In determining the status and salary to which the officer shall be advanced, the Public Service Commissioner shall take into consideration the time (if any) which the officer served as a member of the Forces and the period of his service as an officer of the Department of Repatriation
That provision is not preserved in any way in the bill now before the House. Everyman employed to-day in the Repatriation Department or the War Service Homes Department had his period of four, five, or six years of war service taken into consideration when his status and salary were determined. The repeal of this provision will be a. gross injustice to those men. I ask the Minister why he proposes to deny to ex-servicemen this statutory right that has been granted to them since 1920. Ministers and their supporters appear to regard this as a laughing matter. Honorable members, who guffaw show utter indifference to the interests of men who served their country in the fighting forces. Their attitude is shameful. I ask .the Minister why the bill proposes to repeal section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, thus forcing ex-servicemen to rely on section 27 of the Re-establishment and Employment Act, which provides for a futile measure of so-called preference for seven years only. The Minister’s record shows that his interests are opposed to the granting of preference to ex-servicemen. When the Re-establishment and Employment Act came before this House in 1945, I quoted a series of statements made by leading union officials who were opposed to the granting of preference to ex-servicemen in any form. I also quoted statements made by the Minister, and I shall repeat them now.
-Order ! The honorable member is going too deeply into the subject of preference to ex-servicemen.
– The Minister stated in his second-reading speech that this bill would apply no limitation to preference. I want to show- -
– That has no connexion with what the honorable member said in 1945.
– There is a connexion. I want to show that the Minister has a record of hostility to the granting of preference to ex-servicemen. He proposes in this bill to repeal section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, which provides for absolute preference to ex-servicemen within the Repatriation Commission and stipulates that the war service of members be taken into consideration in- fixing their salary and status. These privileges are to be cancelled, and I want to show that this is in line with the general attitude of the Minister towards preference to ex-servicemen. I refer to a speech made by the Minister in March, 1945, when he apologized for the Government’s action in granting preference to ex-servicemen and pointed out that this action had been taken because the Government had no alternative. In other words, the political necks of honorable gentlemen opposite were in jeopardy at that time.’ According to the Melbourne Age of the 31st March, 1945, the Minister said -
The Federal Government’s bill made pro vision for both returned soldiers and civilians who had served in combat areas. It may be that in the selection of a man for a job a civilian who had served for a long period in forward areas would secure a job in preference to a returned soldier who had served for a shorter period in New Guinea . . . Mr. Dedman said the history of the preference bill began in 1043, when the. Labour Government, without a majority and relying on the support of Mr. Coles (Independent, Victoria) for its continuance in office in the House of Representatives, was amending the Repatriation Act in the Federal Parliament. “ During the debate on that bill, the Opposition moved an amendment to give preference to returned soldiers, and Mr. Coles told the Governmentthat unless it accepted that amendment or gave some undertaking to grant preference in a later bill, he could no longer support the Government “.
– Order ! What Mr. Coles said in March, 1945, has nothing to do with the transfer of two departments into the Commonwealth Public Service.
– I am endeavouring to show that the attitude of the Minister then was the same as it is to-day.
– That has nothing to do with this bill.
– The Minister apologized in March, 1945, for the Government’s action in introducing preference for ex-servicemen through the Re-establishment and Employment Act and said that this action had been forced upon the Government. This bill administers the last kick that the Government can give to the principle of preference in employment to ex-servicemen. The Re-establishment and Employment Act provides for the granting of such preference to citizens other than ex-members of the fighting forces. On 19th February I asked the Minister whether he could say how many persons who were not members of the fighting services had been granted preference in employment, and whether he would lay the relevant papers on the table. He . replied that the Central Reference Board has received 1,392 applications for preference registration from persons other than ex-service personnel, and of those applications by civilians 344 had already been granted registration in accordance with the eligibility provisions of the act. He refused to lay on the table the papers for which I asked. The way in which the Government camouflages the question of preference is marvellous.
– The honorable member is evading my ruling.
– I want to say-
– I know what the honorable gentleman wants to say, but the Standing Orders do not permit him to say it. If he does not deal with the question before the Chair I shall have to ask him to resume his seat.
– This bill does a great disservice to the fighting men of this country. When the Minister was asked to lay on the table the report on which this extraordinary procedure has been taken, to name the personnel who provided that report and to state how many of them are ex-servicemen, he refused to do so. The whole thing is a record for which the Minister will be sorry at a not-distant date. This House is entitled to know the attitude of the ex-service members of both these commissions and the views of their Ministers which have not been expressed during this debate. There has been a complete camouflage of the real issue. In the committee stage I shall have pleasure in moving amendments and doing everything possible to ensure that the interests of ex-servicemen shall be protected.
, - I shall be brief, and I hope not to repeat anything that other honorable members have said. The issues have been so effectively dealt with by honorable members on this side that there is no need for repetition. During the debate the question has been asked whether the Government favours preference to unionists or preference to ex-servicemen-
– Order ! If that is the new line along which the honorable member proposes to proceed, he will not be in order. He must discuss the bill.
– By means of an illustration I shall reveal the lack of logic displayed by Government supporters in this debate. The honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) said something which he thought would sway the House. His words are fresh in the minds of honorable members. He said that General Sir Thomas Blamey had stated that 80 per cent, of our soldiers were unionists, and if the Government is giving preference to unionists it is giving preference to 80 per cent, of the soldiers. General Sir Thomas Blamey probably said that 80 per cent, of the soldiers were unionists, but the point is that he did not say that 80 per cent, of unionists were soldiers, so that by giving preference to unionists only a small measure of preference is given to returned soldiers. I should like to know whether employees of the Repatriation Commission and the War
Service Homes Commission desire this transfer and whether they have been consulted in the matter. I ask, further, whether ex-servicemen in Australia generally desire that these departments shall be staffed by exmembers of the fighting forces. I can supply the answer to that question myself: it is in the affirmative. They know that men who have served in the forces have a knowledge of what their comrades have gone through and can handle better the matters that they are called upon to administer. Finally, I ask whether the Minister is prepared to say definitely that if these two departments are brought under the Commonwealth Public Service Act their staffs will continue to consist solely of ex-service personnel.
– Does the honorable member think that they ought to be staffed exclusively by returned soldiers?
– Yes. They are departments which administer affairs relating to ex-servicemen, and therefore the administration should be in the hands of men who know active service conditions.
.- The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) made a short secondreading speech on this bill and honorable members, particularly those on this side who have a service background, have felt some concern regarding issues which they believe have been created by the proposed transfer of these sections of Commonwealth administration to the Public Service organization. I realize that if the Minister in charge of the bill spoke he would close the debate but it is unfortunate that other Ministers have not attempted to relieve the minds of honorable members of some concern by answering questions put forward. The language used by the Minister when introducing the bill, if not ambiguous, was certainly misleading to some degree. I have read his speech, and the first impression I got from it was that the staffs of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission desire to transfer, because in his opening sentence the Minister said -
The purpose of the hill is to amend the Commonwealth Public Service Act to permit the staffs of the Repatriation Department other than those permanently holding statutory office, and of the War Service Homes Commission being brought under the Commonwealth Public Service Act.
It is a fair interpretation of those words to say that the staffs themselves had pressed for thi3 action to be taken, and consequently I am somewhat concerned to find that no member of the Government is prepared to say that that is the case. In the evasiveness of the silence which has greeted us there may be some significance. That view is supported by the Minister’s words -
Representations that the staffs of activities such as these should be brought under the Public Service Act have been made to the Government by Public Service organizations whose membership covers most of the classes of employees affected.
The Minister went on to say that a majority report of a special committee also recommended that the staffs of Cornwealth activities generally should be brought under the Public Service Act. As has been expressed earlier, this Parliament is a deliberative assembly, which has responsibility to all sections of the community - minority as well as majority groups - and if we are to deal with these issues fairly and squarely we should have all the facts before us. We should know what reason lies behind the Government’s policy in bringing to the notice of the Parliament only the majority recommendation, the reason why a minority report was submitted, and what it stated as the reason why the transfer should not be made. In the absence of the factors which have caused both groups to come to different conclusions, we on this side believe that the Government is using its Parliamentary majority to force this issue home without bringing before honorable members all the factors which would enable them to make a proper judgment in the matter. I believe that to be a proper ground for criticism of the measure. No sound reason has been advanced why this should be done. It is claimed that it is not good that any one of these bodies should stand alone, but surely the problems with which the Repatriation Commission, for instance, has to deal stand alone. Surely, in that case, there is an exceptional relationship between a government department and a certain section of the population.
Most government departments deal with the community as a whole, with the affairs of the Commonwealth at large, but repatriation activities are confined to one particular group. The problem, we hope, is not a permanent one. It has taken on the appearance of permanence, but that is because there has been a carry-over from the first World War, and now there are the effects of the second World War to dual with. Nevertheless, the problem, is essentially of a temporary character, and ic related to a limited section of the community. It is remarkable that although there have been Labour governments in office since the first Repatriation Commission was established, it has not previously been thought necessary or desirable to effect the change now proposed. For my part, I look deeper, and find the real reason in the second-reading speech of the Minister, who said that representations had been made by Public Service organizations that these things should be done. If this bill is the outcome of pressure from what are virtually trade union organizations within the Public Service, we ought to know what is the reason behind it. There may be a sound reason for the fears entertained by some people that, as the result of this change, there will be a smaller proportion of ex-servicemen dealing with the problems of ex-servicemen. The Minister said that there should be uniformity in regard to all sections of the Public Service. However, it is pertinent to ask whether the Government maintains uniformity in its dealings with the Public Service generally. We know that one of the most reprehensible actions ever taken by a democratic government was the instruction issued by the late John Curtin, when Prime Minister, an instruction which has now become standard government policy, that any improvement of the wages or conditions prescribed by the Public Service Arbitrator should extend only to members of the appropriate Public Service union. There is no uniformity there. If the Government pleads the need for uniformity as a justification for its present proposals, I ask it to examine its policy in regard to the application of benefits to members of the Public Service. There are in the Service to-day persons doing precisely the same work, under precisely the same conditions, but with this important difference,, that those who joined unions under government pressure are receiving better wages and enjoying better conditions than those who refused to yield to the pressure that the Government put upon them. I should like the Minister to tell us, when he replies, whether employees of the War Service Homes Department and the Repatriation Commission, who are not now members of a union, will be compelled to join one before becoming eligible to enjoy the wages and conditions prescribed by the Public Service Arbitrator for the positions they hold. The questions which have been raised in the course of this debate have not yet been answered by any speaker from the government side of the House. I trust that a satisfactory reply will be forthcoming before the debate closes.
.- When this bill first came before the House, it seemed that we were being presented with an innocuous machinery measure which had for its purpose the transferring of certain government employees from one department to another; that it was merely proposed to incorporate the employees of the War Service Homes Commission and of the Repatriation Commission in the Commonwealth Public Service. If that were the real purpose of the measure there could be little room for complaint. However, it is evident from the second-reading speech of the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), and from the facts which have recently come to light, that there is a nigger in the wood pile. When a bill is introduced in this House, it is customary for the Minister in charge of it to give in his second-reading speech an explanation of the purposes of the measure so that honorable members may understand its import. The second-reading speech of the Minister who introduced this bill was one of the shortest I can remember. I have a copy of it in my hand, and it consists of only a single foolscap sheet. In one paragraph the Minister states -
Representations that the staffs of activities such as these should be brought under the Public Service Act have been made to the
Government by Public Service organizations whose membership covers most of the classes of employees affected.
The Minister was asked to name the organizations which made these representations, but he has failed to do so. Perhaps he will give his explanation in committee, but, in the absence of such an explanation, honorable members, exservicemen and the public generally can only conclude that he has other reasons for introducing the bill than those he has stated. The Minister continued -
The committee which, at the request of the Government last year investigated departments, by majority report also recommended that the staffs of Commonwealth activities generally should be under the Public Service Act.
I should like to know what committee prepared the report of which he speaks. Who constituted the committee? Was it. representative of the staffs of the War Service Homes Commission and the Repatriation Commission? If so, it is notable that neither the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard), who has been in the chamber to-night, nor the Minister in charge of War Service Homes (Mr. Lemmon), who is probably within call, has risen in his place to say what the employees of his department think about the proposed transfer.
– What has that got to do with it?
– It has this to do with it : If anybody can speak authoritatively with respect to the desires of the employees of the War Service Homes Commission and the Repatriation Commission it should be the Ministers who control those authorities. But we have been treated to-night to a speech by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly). He, apparently, claimed to speak with some authority; and he has been the only honorable member opposite sufficiently game to claim authority for saying that the Government proposals were recommended by the employees of those two bodies. However, no evidence has been produced to show that they support these proposals. It is proper at this juncture to point out the distinction that exists between employment by the War Service Homes Commission and the Repatriation Commission and employment by the Public Service Board. If the employees of these commissions continue in their employment, and the two bodies continue to exercise jurisdiction over their employees, each employee must be an exservice man or woman. That provision has been considered desirable over the years because of the fact that experience in the fighting services gives to such employees special knowledge of the condition, claims and state of mind of those with whom they deal from time to time. There are also other reasons for that provision. For example, the Minister, in his second-reading speech, said-
At present the staffs concerned are not subject to the Commonwealth Public Service Act, but are engaged by the commissions for such periods and are subject to such conditions as are prescribed.
That statement means that an exserviceman who sought employment by the Repatriation Commission would have to comply with conditions laid down by the Commonwealth Public Service Board; and those conditions are infinitely more stringent that those prescribed by the commission. He would practically have to continue to pass examinations. All of us know that thousands of employees of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department are classified as temporary Commonwealth employees, because they are unable to qualify for permanent employment by passing prescribed examinations. Thus, should an exserviceman who has been on service for a number of years, and who can now obtain permanent employment by the Repatriation Commission, or the War Service Homes Commission apply for a job at the age of 25 he will, if these departments be transferred to the Public Service, and his employment be governed by Public Service rules, as the Minister stated in his second-reading speech, have no chance in the world of ever qualifying for permanent employment. That is the issue in a nutshell. That is what the Minister and the Public Service organizations have been pressing for. They want to exterminate the ex-serviceman, as such, from the Public Service. They foresee that the old fellows already employed in the Service will pass out and that under conditions prescribed by the board vacancies can be filled only by those who pass examinations which most ex-servicemen are not capable of passing. But such exservicemen possess qualifications those persons capable of passing ordinary examinations do not possess. They are better able to judge the psychology and condition of mind of ex-service personnel, and know how to deal with the ex-serviceman’s problems. But whilst the ex-serviceman would qualify in those respects, he may not be capable of passing examinations in geography, mathematics and languages, and, consequently, he is out for ever. The real purpose of this measure is, in the course of years - I do not suggest immediately - to eliminate the ex-serviceman as an exclusive individual in the employ of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission.
– That is a wild statement.
– If it is not correct, I challenge the Minister to answer my charge. For the benefit of the honorable member for Martin I repeat that statement made by the Minister in. his secondreading speech -
At present the stuffs concerned are not subject to the Commonwealth Public Service Act hut are engaged by the commissions for such period and are subject to such conditions as are prescribed.
That means, of course, that the two commissions can appoint to their staffs persons whom they deem to have certain qualifica-tions. But as the Minister and the honorable member for Martin know, the Commonwealth Public Service Act prescribes more stringent conditions. All honorable members have had the experience of endeavouring to have postal employees, and others, confirmed in their positions after such persons have been employed in the Public Service for up to fifteen or sixteen years, and invariably have failed to achieve that objective. Any one who is familiar with the working of the Commonwealth Public Service Act knows that one barrier he cannot get over is to obtain permanency for an individual who fails to fulfil certain prescribed conditions. If the bill is so innocuous as the Minister says it is, and if it is not meant to injure ex-service personnel, why does he not. give to the Parliament, the country and exservicemen’s organizations the documents wherein the Government is recommended to make these transfers? If the measure is innocuous why does not the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard) tell the Parliament that this measure has been approved by the employees of the Repatriation Commission ? There are sinister motives behind the bill. It is not a simple, small measure as honorable members opposite would lead us to believe. If the Minister wants to enlighten the people and ex-servicemen’s organizations as to the reasons behind the bill, he will not hesitate” to give to the Parliament the information for which honorable members on this side have asked.
.- I listened carefully to the speech made by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) in the hope of finding out exactly what the Government proposed to do, and why. It is clear that two perfectly efficient commissions which are now established for the benefit of ex-service personnel are to be swallowed up by the Public Service; but, so far, we have not been given one good reason why this should be done. Who is going to benefit from the transfer of those two commissions to the Public Service? Do the employees of those bodies desire the transfers? Of course, they do not. I am in fairly close touch with the Repatriation Commission, and I assure honorable members that this proposal does not meet with the approval of the majority of the men and women employed by those bodies. Or, is the measure designed to make the commissions more efficient? In this debate no criticism has been levelled against the manner in which they are conducted. No claim has been made that they carry out their duties in any but an entirely satisfactory manner.
There is only one yard stick by which we can judge the merits of a bill of this kind. The question is not whether it is in accordance with the Minister’s policy to transfer the Commissions to the Public Service, but simply whether the proposed transfer will benefit ex-service men and women in whose service these departments were founded and in whose service they are supposed to function. There ia only one answer to that; the transfermust affect adversely the very people whom it is designed to serve. At present both departments, particularly the Repatriation Department, consitute the only government offices where ex-servicemen can go and be sure of a sympathetic hearing, where they will meet men with a background common to their own and obtain understanding and sympathetic consideration of their problems. I have had considerable dealings with the Repatriation Department. I have been in repatriation hospitals for a considerable time, and 1 have also visited friends in such hospitals. The department’s administrative offices and institutions are not impersonal government instrumentalities and the officials do not simply interview exservice men and women and turn them out without personal or sympathetic consideration of their problems. The Repatriation Department, which has proved most efficient in the past and whose work has been praised by the overwhelming majority of people who have had dealings with it, is to be swallowed up .by the ever-growing and impersonal Public Service. In the War Service Homes Commission and in the Repatriation Department, there are a great many men and women who have joined the staffs principally because they are imbued with a spirit of service to ex-servicemen and their dependants, particularly those suffering from war-caused disabilities. It has been my experience to find them ever ready to perform their duties in the best possible way. Under this bill they are to be merged in the general Public Service. As has been pointed out, many of them will not possess the requisite qualifications for absorption into the Public Service. Who can say that if this bill becomes law we shall not again witness appointments being made to these departments of the type for which this Government has already become notorious? It is clear that whatever interests have been consulted about this proposal the ex-service men and women, who are perhaps the most vitally concerned, have not been approached. I do not approve of the bill and accordingly I shall oppose it.
Mr. RYAN (Flinders) [9.43 J. -This debate has brought to my mind very clearly the issues that are involved in this bill. Three groups of people will be primarily and immediately affected if the bill becomes law, first, the people now employed in the two departments, secondly, ex-servicemen who now or in the future may desire to enter the service of the two departments and thirdly, and perhaps the most important, the vast body of ex-servicemen who at some time or another may have to bring their problems before the two departments. I shall deal first with those now serving in the departments. We are told by the Minister, and it has been confirmed by other speakers on the Government side, that this proposed change is to be made on the advice of a committee. Apparently a majority of the committee recommended that the change be made. I assume that there was a minority report, but none of us has the slightest idea what it contains. We do not even know who the members of the committee were, and the Government has not seen fit to tell us. We were told, not by the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard), or the Minister in charge of War Service Homes (Mr. Lemmon), but by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Daly), that the employees of the two departments favoured the change. If I were a Minister in charge of a department and a bill were brought before the House affecting the status of all the employees in that department, I should be the first to tell the House exactly what I thought of the proposal. In this case the two Ministers concerned, one of whom has been in the chamber, and the other who should have been here, have not had . one word to say about the proposal. That is not fair to the Parliament and reflects no honour on the Ministers concerned. I do not know on what grounds the honorable member for Martin based his statement that the employees concerned favoured the change. The information I have from people employed in the two departments is quite to the contrary.
– .Their organizations approve of the proposal.
– If they favour it, why do they not advise the members of this House, or at least the Government, so that their views may be placed before us? My chief objection to the proposal is that it has been shrouded in secrecy. What advantages will the employees concerned derive from the proposed change? No person would ask for a change unless he thought he would derive some benefit from it. We are of the opinion that the employees concerned know that they will not only get no benefit but that on the contrary they will probably suffer some disadvantages under the proposal. As was pointed out by the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) once they are absorbed into the general Public Service discrimination will be exercised against the officers concerned on the ground that they are non-unionists. That at least is one serious disadvantage they will have to face. It may well be that they will also suffer changes in status which will not be to their benefit.
I come now to the second class of people who may be detrimentally affected by this bill, namely, ex-service men and women who may at some time desire to enter the service of the two departments. What will be their position when the two departments, are brought under the control of the Public Service Board? They will have to pass examinations and submit themselves to tests which may well make their entry into the Service much more difficult than it is at present.
– Entrance may be almost impossible.
– In any case, it will be fa.r more difficult than it is to-day. The honorable member for Martin advanced a plausible and specious argument in support of the bill, when he said in effect, “After all, if the Public Service Board had the choice of officials for this department we should get a better, class of men “. I do not agree with the honorable member. Any one who has had experience of administration in the Public Service, in the armed forces, or in any of the professions, will agree that chief administrative officers prefer to choose their own staffs. After all, is not that what the Labour caucus does? Similarly Ministers choose their own private secretaries. Therefore, should not the head of the Repatriation Department have the right to choose his own. staff?
I come now to the effect that this change will have upon the ex-servicemen themselves. I do not believe that it will benefit them at all. In. fact, it will have entirely the contrary effect. I disagree completely with everything that the honorable member for Martin has said. It is true that the Public Service of this country has done excellent work, and that our public servants generally are efficient and capable officials, hut I am sure that few honorable members would argue that amongst their outstanding qualities are sympathy and human understanding. Any one who has had dealings with the Taxation Department will be convinced that taxation officials at least are not overflowing with the milk of human kindness. Officials of instrumentalities administering economic controls such as food and clothing rationing, petrol rationing, and so on are inclined to treat members of the public not as human beings but as mere cyphers - numbers to be filed for reference. We do not want our exservicemen to be treated in that way. This job requires a capable band of officers who have sympathy with exservicemen and above all understand their problems. Such administration will not be possible if the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Commission are transferred to the Public Service.
I have one final point to make : It has been argued that by bringing these two departments under one central authority - the Public Service Board - the desires of the Opposition are being met. That is a misstatement of our views. We believe strongly that there should be one department and one Minister responsible for dealing with all the problems of exservicemen; but that is quite different from placing the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Commission under the Public Service Board. This proposal is not in effect a centralization of authority, and for that reason I dislike the bill.
– in reply - Members of the Opposition have raised quite a number of issues on this very simple measure. They have asked why this bill has been introduced.
My second-reading speech was exceedingly brief because I believed that there was very little to be explained in the bill. The reasons for its introduction can be stated briefly : First, the High Council of the Public Service organizations has been asking for this action for a long time. Secondly, the committee that I mentioned in my second-reading speech also recommended the transfer. If the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) and other honorable members had followed the activities of the Government as closely as one would expect, they would have known precisely the committee to which I referred. Just prior to the cessation of hostilities, the Government set up a committee consisting of Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Pinner, now a member of the Public Service Board, and one representative of the particular department under review, to investigate the activities of all Commonwealth departments to see whether staffs were in excess of requirements. That committee has been referred to as the Pinner Committee. In the course of its review, it investigated the matter of the control of the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Commission, and recommended that they be transferred to the Public Service Board.
– Who constituted the minority when that recommendation was made?
– The minority was the representative of the particular department concerned - in this case, the Repatriation Department. When the report of the Pinner Committee was received, the Public Service Commissioner, Mr. Thorpe, was approached on the matter, and he, too, recommended that this step should be taken. Cabinet approved of these recommendations, and that approval was subsequently endorsed by the Federal Labour party. So, we had the High Council of the Public Service organizations, the Pinner Committee, the Public Service Commissioner, Cabinet, and the Labour party all approving of this proposal. Such an accumulation of wisdom, I say, completely justified the introduction of this measure.
The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) and several other honor able members opposite have raised the question of preference to returned soldiers. In that regard, I stand by what I said in my second-reading speech, namely - . . it will suffice to say that the existing rights and privileges of the staffs are being retained in the bill, and that in respect of the staffing of the commissions the existing legislative provision regarding soldier preferences is not being altered.
I do not propose to go further into the matter at the moment because undoubtedly it will be raised again when the bill reaches the committee stage, and that probably is the stage at which the matter can be most satisfactorily thrashed out.
In recommending the transfer the Public Service Commissioner said -
In my opinion there are two major considerations. The first is that an independent, and virtually isolated activity cannot have the advantage in its general administration to be gained from the assistance and guidance that can come from a centralized body whose officers have an intimate knowledge of the organization and working of many Departments.
– Did the Minister consult any of the ex-service organizations before this move was made?
– No, I did not consult any of them, but they did make certain representations to me, and I gave to them the assurance that I gave to this House in my second-reading speech. The Government has no apology to make for having taken this step. I believe that it is in the best interests of the administration of the two departments whose activities are to be transferred to the Public Service. It is also in the interests of the ex-service men and women themselves, and the community at large.
Question put -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. J. S. Rosevear.)
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 - (2.) Section twenty-two of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920-1946 is repealed.
.- On behalf of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), I move -
That, in sub-clause (2.), the word “repealed “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words : - “ amended by omitting sub-sections (1.) to (6.), and (8.) and (9.) “.
This amendment will be supported by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White).
Sub-section 7 of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920- 1946 provides -
In determining the status and salary to which the officer shall be advanced, the Public
Service Commissioner shall take into consideration the time (if any) which the officer served as a member of the Forces and the period of his service as an officer of the Department of Repatriation.
That provision, which is duplicated in the War Service Homes Act, ensures that the war service of officers of the Repatriation. Department, on whose behalf I speak as well as on behalf of the officers of the War Service Homes Department, shall be counted as a part of their service with the Department in determination of advancement in status and salary. I ask honorable members opposite whether they desire to do that. Where is the Minister for Repatriation (Mr. Barnard), and the Minister in charge of War Service Homes (Mr. Lemmon)? They should be present in the chamber to defend their departmental officers. Do not they want the officers to have their period of service in the fighting forces added to their period of service in the departments for purposes of seniority and the like? What is the object of the Minister in deleting section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act? Does he regard it as fair treatment of former members of the fighting forces? Has he no regard for them at all? The men who fought for periods of six or seven years across the sands of the desert of North Africa, in the snows of Greece and Syria, and in the swamps and jungles of New Guinea and the Netherlands East Indies will no longer be entitled to count their period of war service as part of their service in the department. I regard this decision as despicable, and I fail to understand why honorable members opposite do not oppose this proposal. I shall exercise my right to speak twice on this clause if the Minister declines to accept the amendment. Members of the staff of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission who served in World War I. have enjoyed this privilege since 1920, when the act was passed. Now, the Minister proposes to deny the privilege to men who served for five or six years in World War II. This is contemptible, and I shall oppose it while I have breath. Furthermore,I call upon every returned serviceman in this chamber to oppose it.
– I support the amendment. I directed attention to this matter in my secondreading speech in opposition to the bill. The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) informed me that sub-section 2of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, which deals with preference in employment to returned servicemen is not operative. When I asked him whether sub-section 7 of section 22 of the Act was operative, he, by his silence, admitted that it was, and, therefore, the employee of the Repatriation Commission is to be robbed of certain rights. The discussion which has taken place to date has served at least one useful purpose, namely, to extract from the Minister this vital information. He informed the chamber that this decision has been made as the result of a recommendation by the Pinner Committee. He stated that the committee consisted of Mr. Fitzgerald, Mr. Pinner and an officer of the Repatriation Department. Replying to a question by a member of the Opposition as to who comprised the minority, the Minister said, “An officer of the department”. That proved conclusively that the Repatriation Commission resisted the absorption of its staff in the Commonwealth Public Service.
The honorable gentleman was not in the least perturbed by the fact that the opposition emanated from a department, which, of all departments was privileged to determine how it should be staffed. He mentioned that the High Council of the Commonwealth Public Service Organizations, the Pinner Committee, the Chairman of the Public Service Board and the Australian Labour party all had declared that the transfer of these employees of the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission to the Commonwealth Public Service was advisable, and, in the face of such great wisdom, he asked, “ What else could I do ? “ The Pinner Committee was loaded against the Repatriation Commission, and, of course, the High Council of the Public Service Organizations demanded this action, because it is representative of the Public Service unions and desires to bring these employees into their ranks. The High
Council did not want these staffs to be beyond the discipline which the Public Service unions might exercise over their members. Again, the Chairman of the Public Service Board, Mr. Thorpe, would naturally desire to have these employees under his control, and the Australian Labor party would favour the transfer because, true to the colour that it serves, it desires all employees to become members of an industrial organization. Arising out of that is the proposal to repeal section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. In the course of my second-reading speech, I directed attention to the fact that exservicemen could not and would not receive consideration from the Department of Post-war Reconstruction because the ma jority of the members of the staff were not ex-servicemen. The Minister declared that my statement was an untruth, and I promised that I would supply the figures. I shall now do so. On the 26th April, 1945, I asked the Minister the following questions : -
The answer was perfectly clear. The Minister revealed that of 168 officers and employees in receipt of salary exceeding £500 perannum-
THE CHAIRMAN.- Order ! The honorable member is digressing, and I ask him to return to the clause.
– I am endeavouring to prove that certain employees, who were formerly entitled to preference in employment, will be robbed, under this bill, of their rights.
THE CHAIRMAN.- Is that relevant to this discussion?
– Yes. Sub-section 7 of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act states - (7.) In determining the status and salary to which the officer shall be advanced, the Public Service Commissioner shall take into consideration the time (if any) which the officer served as a member of the Forces and the period of his service as an officer of the Department of Repatriation.
That subjection means that the exservicemen have been given certain privileges because of their war service. The point which I desire to make is that the Department, of Post-war Reconstruction is not giving consideration to the claims of ex-servicemen because the majority of the members of the staff are not exservicemen. In his reply to my question, the Minister stated that only 47 of the 16S officers and employees of the Department of Post-war Reconstruction in receipt of a salary exceeding £500 per annum were ex-servicemen. That information shows that my original statement was true.
– Those figures related to the staff of the Department at the beginning of 1945.
– In view of the Chairman’s ruling, I do not desire to engage in a discussion with the Minister on this subject, but the facts are clear. The Department of Post-war Reconstruction administers the Re-establishment and Employment Act, and I believe that at present less than 47 per cent, of the staff of the department are ex-servicemen.
The purpose of the amendment is to preserve for returned servicemen the rights which they enjoyed under subsection 7 of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. Obviously, the Minister has not fully considered this matter. I do not believe that he was aware that .returned servicemen were being deprived of certain rights. I believe he was concerned with wiping out the preference provision in section 22 of the act and that he struck his pencil through the whole section without taking into consideration the inequalities and injustices that would be caused by the repeal of sub-section 7. Therefore, I urge the Minister to examine this matter again, and, in the light of that examination, to accept the amendment and preserve the rights of these men, who otherwise will be swallowed in the great maw of the Public Service and robbed of something that is vital to the maintenance of their status in their departments.
.- The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) was not clear on the specific effect which he intended his amendment to produce. If the position is as has been further expounded by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), it appears that there might be a case to investigate. However, the honorable member for Moreton was far from clear about what he was trying to do, and thereby caused a considerable amount of confusion on an important matter. This confusion was added to by the honorable member for Wentworth, who made a speech entirely irrelevant to the subject of the amendment. The honorable member for Moreton should tell us clearly what he wishes to achieve.
.- I draw the attention of the Minister to the exact wording of sub-section 7 of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act.
– Can the honorable member give me the wording of the amendment? Its meaning is as clear as mud to me.
– We know that the Minister proposes to repeal section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. That section contains a sub-section which the amendment is designed to retain in the act and which every exserviceman in this chamber, irrespective of his party affiliations, should support. Sub-section 7 of section 22 is as follows :-
In determining the statue and salary to which the officer shall be advanced, the Public Service Commissioner shall take into consideration the time (if any) which the officer served as a member of the Forces and the period of his service as an officer of the Department of Repatriation.
Surely that provision is only a measure of common justice. If the Government takes away from employees of the Repatriation Department credit for their service in that department simply because they are transferred to another department, and, in addition, takes away credit for their war service, it will be descending to the very depths of injustice. These men will be submerged in the Public Service pool, and in the process they will lose their rights. I believe that this matter has not been properly considered by the Government. It is useless for the Minister to say that the “grand high council “ of some organization has asked for this to be done. What is this “ grand high council “ ? It is only another name for the Trades Hall. Similar proposals were submitted to previous governments, including governments with which I was associated, but we kept the departments concerned in the custody of men who have a humanitarian understanding of the problems of ex-servicemen. If the Government makes this plunge - and it has the numerical strength to enable it to do so - at least it should preserve some shreds of the rights that these men have earned by reason of their service in the Department of Repatriation. Will any honorable member opposite deny that what I ask is more than common justice? Many employees in the department were nominated for their appointments by the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia. It has always been within the province of the Department of Repatriation to have a commissioner nominated by the league; and usually the league’s nominations have been accepted. Unless the amendment be accepted, employees of the Repatriation Department will be denied their rights and will be obliged to start de novo in competition with men in the Public Service who have not had equal service. As the bill stands, the scales are weighted against these employees. It represents preference in reverse. The amendment must be accepted in order to prevent a great injustice.
– Members of the Opposition have put themselves in a ridiculous position by espousing the amendment before the committee. Subclause 2 of clause 4 of the bill under consideration provides for the repeal of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act.
– What is the wording of the section?
– The amendment, as it has been submitted to me - it is written in pencil, and I have only received it within the last two minutes-
– What is the wording of the section?
– Order ! The honorable member must not interject.
– I am trying to assist the committee.
– The amendment is to this effect-
– I asked the Minister to read the section of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act which the bill will repeal.
– Sub-clause 2 of clause 4 of the bill states–
– What is the section of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act that the bill will repeal?
– If the honorable member will’ have patience, I shall- state the position as clearly as I can. The clause to which the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) has submitted an amendment is as follows: -
Section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920-1946 is repealed.
The amendment, a copy of which I have received in the last few minutes, is as follows : -
That the word “repealed” be omitted and the words “ amended by omitting sub-sections 1 to 6 and 8 and f) “ be inserted.
If the amendment were agreed to, subclause 2 of clause 4 would then read as follows : -
Section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920-194C is amended by omitting sub-sections .1 to G and 8 and 9.
– That would leave only sub-section 7 of section 22.
– Yes. I shall proceed to show how ridiculous that would be. Section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act has nine sub-sections. Sub-section 7 is as follows : -
In determining the status .and salary to which the officer shall be advanced, the Public Service Commissioner shall take into consideration .the time (if any) which the officer served as a member of the Forces and .the period of his service as an officer of the Department of Repatriation
That sub-section must be read in conjunction with sub-sections 5 and 6, which are as follows : - (a.) An officer of the Commonwealth Public Service Board who becomes an officer under this Act shall not thereby be required to resign from the Commonwealth Public Service but may be granted leave of absence for the period of his employment under this Act, and the period of leave so granted shall, for all purposes, be included as part of the officer’s period of service. (6.) Uponthe termination of the employment under this Act of any such officer, who has not been dismissed for misconduct, he shall be entitled to rc-appointment to a position in the Commonwealth Public Service ….
Thus, sub-section 7 relates only to members of the Public Servicewho have been employed with the Repatriation Commission and who are returning to the Public Service.
– Complete the section.
– I shall do so.
– Sub-sections 5 and 6 have nothing to do with sub-section 7.
– They have everything to do with it. Since sub-section 7 applies to a member of the Public Service who has been, so to speak, seconded for the time being only to the Repatriation Commission and is returning to the Public Service, it is entirely ridiculous to suggest that sub-section 7 alone, of the whole of section 22, should be retained.
– That is a good debating point, but what about the issue that has been raised?
– A good debating point, the honorable member says! I have proved conclusively that the amendment is entirely ridiculous and have shown that the honorable member for Moreton does not know what he is talking about.
.- The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) has shown that the amendment, in the terms in which it had been moved, would be unsatisfactory, but the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) has raised an issue. The Minister’s remarks have narrowed the field of persons to whom the provision applies, but even if there were only a handful of persons affected, we should still want to know why a right which existed in respect of such persons is apparently to be removed.
– No right is being removed.
– The Minister has not satisfied members on this side on that point. He referred to certain persons who had been seconded from the Commonwealth Public Service to serve with the Repatriation Commission and on whose return to the Commonwealth Public Service any period of service they might have had with the naval or military forces of the Commonwealth should count for such privileges as seniority which they might enjoy. Is that right?
– Now it is proposed to repeal that provision. Does that mean that those persons, when they return to the Commonwealth Public Service, shall be in no less favorable a position because of the provisions of the Public Service Act which have precisely the same effect?
– That may be the case.
– It is the case.
– I have before me section 48 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, sub-section 1 of which provides -
Where a person becomes an officer of the Commonwealth Service and his service in the Commonwealth Service is continuous with -
service in a permanent capacity in the naval or military forces of the Commonwealth, the continuous service of that person in any service specified in paragraphs (a) (b) (c) or
of this sub-section shall be reckoned for the purpose of this Act as service in the Commonwealth Service.
I do not want to confuse the issue and, therefore, I ask the Minister whether that section will in future relate to those officers who will return to the Public Service after having served with the Repatriation Commission.
– I am not prepared to answer that question at the moment, but nothing is being taken from them by this provision.
Mr.HOLT.- We are entitled toan answer tothat simplequestion.Itwould appearthat section 48ofthe CommonwealthPublic Service Actdeals with this situation. Obviously, it applies to persons who went fromthePublic Service tothe warand served ina permanent capacity in thenaval or military forces. Provision has been made that, on their return to the Public Service,their service with the fightingforcesshall beregarded asacontinuous period of service in the Commonwealth PublicService. In other words, they arenot to be prejudiced by thefact that they have been absent fromthe Commonwealth PublicService proper because they haveserved with the naval or military forces. That is,I assume, the section which deals with this situation under normal conditions.
-I think that the honorablegentleman assumes correctly.
– Thepointthen arises as to whether service in a permanentcapacity in the naval or military forces of theCommonwealth means service as a permanent officer in the regular forces, or service as a volunteer. As section 48 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act now stands it might be construed to deal only with those people who, having been in the Commonwealth Public Service, become regular officers of the naval or military forces in the sense that they have embraced a naval or military career.
– Does the honorable member suggest thatany public servant who went away from the Public Service during therecent warmay not have that service acknowledged ?
– That is the point.
– That is ridiculous.
– Not in the sense of its legal interpretation, because service in a permanent capacity couldbe construed to refer only toa regular position inthe Navy or Army, and not service as a volunteer. As I understand it the Citizen MilitaryForces are not regular forces nor isthe Australian Imperial Force a regular force. The point thatarises for clarification iswhetherservice in a permanentcapacity in the navalor military forces of theComm on wealthrefers to serviceasa volunteer in,say, the Aus tralian Imperial Force, or the corresponding arm of the naval service. I am reading from section 48, clause 1, of the Commonwealth PublicService Act.
Mr.Dedman. - That section is irrevelant because it relates to thetakingover ofStateofficerswho werenot previously Commonwealth publicservants.
– The sectionbegins-
Where a person becomes an officer of the Commonwealth PublicService . . .
There isno mention of service with a State.
– I am stating a fact. If the honorable member reads the preceding sectionhe will find that that is so.
– With respect, I contend that theMinister is not making a statement of fact. I have the section before me, and its language is plain. There is no reference in it to prior service in a State department, although I admit that there is reference to such service in paragraph a of sub-section 1. I am not referring to paragraph a however, but to paragraph d of the sub-section. Obviously, the Minister has not studied the section, and therefore I shall read it. Section 48 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act reads -
) Where a person becomes an officer of theCommonwealth Service and his service in theCommonwealthServiceis continuous with-
Where a person to whom this section applieshas been engaged in two or more of the services specified in paragraphs (a), (b), (c), and(d) of the last preceding sub-section, and the periods he was so engaged are continuous with one another, those periods of service shall be deemed to becontinuous service forthe purposes of this section.
I think that the meaning is quite clear. What standsout is the reference to “service inapermanentcapacity in the naval or military forces of the Commonwealth “. Having regard to whathas gone before, it may be that those words relate to a regular officer of the naval or military forces - a person who has embraced such service as a regular occupation, such as men from the Royal Military College at Duntroon, who become staff officers, or men who are permanent officers of the Royal Australian Navy. That is not the situation referred to in connexion with the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act because there is no limitation there to officers who have had service with the forces in a permanent capacity. The reference is to the period which an officer served as a member of the forces, and that would include service as a volunteer in the Air Force, the Royal Australian Navy or the Royal Australian Air Force. Admittedly, the Minister has narrowed the point down, but clarification is still required as to the effect of the deletion of this section. Will it prejudice the position of those men who previously had certain rights under the Repatriation Act?
– I have shown clearly that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) would make complete nonsense if accepted in its present form.
– I am not worrying about the form.
– The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) has tried to make another point. If he wishes to move an amendment it is in order for him to do so, should the House reject the amendment of the honorable member for Moreton. As for the rights and privileges of members of the staffs of the Repatriation Commission and War Service Homes Commission, I point out that proposed new section 81za provides that officers coming over to the Public Service are entitled to count all service which they could have invoked immediately prior to the commencement of the operation of this measure. Surely, honorable members cannot ask for anything more than that. I suggest that the committee vote on the amendment of the honorable mem ber for Moreton, and then, if the honorable member for Fawkner wishes to move another amendment, he may do so.
– The Minister (Mr. Dedman) has charged the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) with having moved an amendment which makes complete nonsense. However, I point out that we have listened to an explanation by the Minister which, if not complete nonsense, is, at any rate, unintelligible to honorable members who are trying conscientiously to understand the clause. There should be nothing politically contentious about this measure. I have no doubt that the Government intends that an officer transferred from the War Service Homes Commission or the Repatriation Commission, shall have his war service counted as part of his Commonwealth service. Possibly, the Minister thinks that this is provided for in the bill, but we know from experience that Public Service authorities have a habit of pinning persons down to a very strict interpretation of the act. I point out that the clause refers specifically to service in a “permanent” capacity. What is meant here by the word “permanent”? When people speak of permanent officers of the military forces they generally have in mind Duntroon graduates. We are not raising this matter for the purpose of embarrassing the Minister, but solely for protecting future applicants from being placed in a disadvantageous position. I do not know whether the amendment of the honorable member for Moreton is properly drafted or not. It was probably drafted in haste, and may not convey his real intention. I suggest that the clause bc postponed so that the Minister may further consider the matter, and give an explanation later.
– The Minister said that the rights of officers were protected by the proposed new section 81za. He also said that the amendment moved by the honorable member for Moreton was complete nonsense, but I maintain that his statement that the rights of officers are fully protected by proposed new section 81za is the sheerest nonsense. As a matter of fact, ‘this proposed new section covers the point only in part. I agree with the Minister that sub-sections 5, 6, and 7 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act must be read together in order to understand the clause properly. It is true that an officer, who was seconded for work elsewhere, or who joined the military forces, is protected by sub-section 7, of section 15 of the War Service Homes Act, which reads -
In determining the status and salary to which the officer shall be advanced, the Public Service Commissioner shall take into consideration the time (if any) which the officer served as an Australian soldier and the period of his service as an officer employed under this Act.
That means that, whatever service the officer had overseas, plus his service in the Repatriation Department, shall be taken into consideration in determining his status and salary. The Minister has just said that this point is now covered by proposed new section 81za of this bill. Let us read the proposed section in order to see how clearly the Minister understands his own measure. The proposed new section reads - 81za. Service of an Employee -
Thus, it is clear that this proposed section does not protect the officers concerned in the same way as they are protected by section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. This section protects the officer in the determining of status and salary, whereas proposed new section 81za protects him only in determining whether he shall be a temporary or permanent officer in the Public Service. I suggest that the Minister should have another look at the clause. I believe it to be true that he does not wish to take anything away from the officers concerned, and that he is anxious to protect their rights fully. We say that we have given a correct interpretation of subsection 7 of section 22 of the Australian
Soldiers’ Repatriation Act. On the other hand, the Minister claims that adequate provision is made to protect the rights of the employees concerned. We say that that is not so, and we ask him to give effect to the principle which underlies the amendment moved by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis). That amendment is reasonable, and is in conformity with the Government’s policy. I cannot understand why the Minister should baulk at the matter. Having made a statement, is he merely being obstinate?
.- The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) will admit that complications have arisen in respect of this matter.
– I do not admit any such thing.
– I admit that the Minister in his explanation narrowed down the position. Nevertheless, complications have arisen. He may not be familiar with the long history of the Repatriation Commission. The first Chief Commissioner was a member of the Commonwealth Public Service before he enlisted in the forces, and later transferred to the commission. His successor was in the same position, having transferred from the Commonwealth Public Service to the commission upon his return from war service. Yet, because the amendment is not framed in the way the Minister would like to have it framed, he will not accept it. By failing to do so he may do a grave injustice to the officers concerned. In view of the lateness of the hour I urge that the matter be reconsidered in order to ensure that full justice shall be done to ex-service officers of the commission whose representatives on the investigating committee returned a minority report opposing the proposed transfer.
– The position is quite clear. Sub-sections 5, 6 and 7 of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Reptriation Act, read together, fully protect the rights of a public servant who has transferred to the Repatriation Commission, and. who, under this measure, will. be< retransferred to the Public Service. That, is all that those three sub-sections do. The amendment seeks to retain sub-section 7 without doing anything at all about subsections 5 and 6. Those sub-sections protect the rights of officers who transferred from the Public Service^ to the commission and re-transferred to the Public Service; under this measure, no officer will in future, transfer from the. Public Service to the commission, because they will all be public servants, and, therefore, there is no necessity to retain those subsections. The rights and privileges of officers who have served in the fighting forces are amply covered by proposed new section 81za, which deals with prior, service, reckoned as- service under the act.
– What does the Minister mean when he says that the position is amply covered?-
Me. DEDMAN. - The officers concerned will retain the right to count all service which they could have invoked nt the time this measure- is proclaimed.
– Including their military service?
– Whatever service they could invoke under the Australian Soldiers’’ Repatriation Act at the time of transfer, they can invoke in the Public Service after they are transferred’. Proposed new section 8 taa makes that clear. If honorable members opposite do not- understand the position now; I am afraid that I cannot enlighten, them further.
.- The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) says that the position is perfectly clear. If any member of the committee can- say frankly tha* it is clear in his mind, he has greater mental capacity than honorable members on this side. I” have tried to examine, these clauses. They are very complicated in the way they have Been presented to us and’, Having looked at subjections 5,. 6’ and 7 of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act in the1 limited” time available to- me, T can only say that they do not meet’ the points which honorable’ mem bers on this side have raised. There isa very simple method, of testing the matter.. The officers of the Repatriation Commission could be consulted overnight,, and their views ascertained as. to whether the clauses proposed fully protect the rights of the employees concerned. I do not believe that that is so, and nothing the- Minister has said will convince any of us that the proposition we have put forward is. fully covered. He has invited me to move an amendment which I think will cover the position. To do so at this late hour would be quite impracticable. I would not attempt, the, task.. The. Minister,, however, is responsible to the Parliament and the. employees concerned; and the proper course for him to follow is to postpone consideration of this matter until the morning in order to give an opportunity to officers . of the Grown Law Department to examine it and satisfy us whether the position, is as he has stated it. He will be slighting the committee, and will not do justice to the parties concerned if he does not follow that course. The point raised is very substantial to the parties concerned.
– What is the point?
– The point is.- that under the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act men who had been members of the Commonwealth Public Service and later served in the forces-“ in a voluntary capacity, not as regular officers, were entitled to- count that period of service in respect of their rights of promotion and grading. Those officers are now to be transferred to the public service proper. But the only section of the Commonwealth Public Service Act which relates to this particular, situation refers, to service in a permanent capacity in the naval and military forces. Consequently, the only rights such officers would, enjoy would be rights accruing in respect of permanent service in the naval and military forces. That is something less than the rights accruing to them under the section which is to be deleted.
– Is1- it not perfectly clear that’ whatever rights they had under the Australian Soldiers’” Repatriation! Act at the- time of transfer they will’ have in. the Commonwealth Public Service also’?1
– No. Every one agrees that the amendment in the form in which it has been drafted does not meet the point we have raised. That has been conceded; but what has not been dealt with is thepoint of principle and the practical pointwhich has been raised in the course of this debate. The Minister claims that he seeks to protect the rights of the officers who are to be transferred. Assuming that the Minister means what he says, we put it to him that the bill does not give that full protection. All we ask him to do is to examine the matter, and be in a position later to clarify the point in our minds. That can be done overnight, or while the bill is before the Senate ; but we ask that the point be cleared up to the satisfaction of the parties concerned and of the committee.
– I assure the honorable member that I understand the point thoroughly and that the rights of members being transferred are retained under this measure.
– It does not sayso.
– That is provided for in proposed new section 81za. I give the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt) an assurance that, if the committee will agree to this clause, I shall have it examined before thebill goes to the Senate. If the honorable member’s contention is correct an amendment may be moved in the Senate. I am certain, however, that if the honorable member will re-examine the clause hewill see clearly that the rights and privileges of members of the Service are covered.
– I accept the Minister’s assurance.
.- The Minister is not treating honorable members with the consideration to which they are entitled. Surely we have the right to expect an intelligent explanation of the clause. I have no desire to obstruct the passage of the clause but I must first be convinced that it will do what the Minister claims for it. Subsection 7 of section22 of the Australian
Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, to which the Minister has referred, reads as follows: -
In determining the status and salary to which an officer shall be advanced, the Public Service Commissioner shall take into consideration the time (if any) which the officer served as a member of the Forces and the -period of his service as an officer of the Department of Repatriation.
– Sub-section 7 must be read in conjunction with sub-sections 5 and 6.
– Sub-sections 5 and 6 read as follows : - (5.) An officer of the Commonwealth Public Service who becomes an officer under this Act shall not thereby be required to resign from the Commonwealth Public Service but may be granted leave of absence for the period of his employment under this Act, and the period of leave so granted shall for all purposes be included as part of the officer’s period of service. (6.) Upon the termination of the employment under this Act of any such officer, who has not been dismissed for misconduct, he shall be entitled to re-appointment to a position in the Commonwealth Public Service with such advancement in status and salary, beyond those held and receivedby him in that Service immediately prior to his appointment under this Act, as the Public ServiceCommissioner in the circumstances thinks just.
The whole of section 22 is repealed by sub-clause 2 of clause 4of this bill, which reads -
Section twenty-two of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920-1946 is repealed.
We have asked what has been put in its place and theMinister replied that the rights of such officers are protected under section 81za, which reads as follows: -
Service of an employee -
Ifthat section protects the interests of personson whose behalf we havecontended to-night Ican only say that it is as clear as mud. Ifwe read section 48 of the Commonwealth PublicService Act, which specifically mentions “ those who have served in the Forces in a permanent capacity we get a further complication. We have a whole series of complexities here and the only reasonable course for the Minister to pursue is to have the clause re-examined and an adequate explanation of it given not in the Senate but in this chamber. As the custodians of the rights of the community we are entitled to have these matters clarified. I suggest in as reasonable a manner as is possible, not for the purpose of embarrassing the Minister but with a view to clarification, that the clause should he postponed and be re-examined by the Government’s legal advisers and an adequate explanation of it tendered to the committee.
– There is considerable doubt in the minds of honorable members as to the explanation given by the Minister of the effect of proposed new section 81za. If the honorable gentleman had explained exactly what was meant by paragraph b of the proposed new sectionhe might have made his case more convincing. Paragraph b of proposed new section 81za provides -
Service of an employee -
I ask the Minister to say whether those words protect the whole of the rights and privileges of employees under the sections of the various acts which are to be repealed.
– They do.
– The Minister has not said so.
– I have said so.
– The Minister should consult his officers and ascertain whether that is the effect of the proposed new section as now drafted. There seems to be considerable doubt on the point, though I am of the opinion that the words of the various acts to be repealed are in fact carried forward by the proposed new section.
– The honorable member believes I am right.
– I believe that it is intended to carry them forward, but the legal officers advising honorable members on this side of the chamber do not believe that the wording of the proposed new section is sufficiently clear. The Minister would be well advised to have the matter re-examined.
.- From the discussion that has ensued, and from the attitude of the Minister, I am satisfied that my amendment will not be accepted, because the numbers are against us. Accordingly, in the interests of exservicemen and of members on this side of the chamber, I am prepared to accept the Minister’s assurance that he will immediately have the clause examined by his legal advisers and in the hope that I may eventually get something I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.
– The clause will be reexamined.
Amendment - by leave - withdrawn.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 5 agreed to.
Clause 6 (Amendments of Superannuation Act).
– In his second-reading speech, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) gave an undertaking that at the committee stage he would explain any clause that was confusing to honorable members.I suggest that subclause 2 of clause 6 is sufficiently complicated to warrant an explanation.
– Proposed new subsection 9 of section 13 of the Superannuation Act is required to preserve the rights of certain officers of the Repatriation Department and of the War Service Homes Commission who were contributing for units of pensions at the concession rate applicable to contributors aged 30 years at their next birthday. The Repatriation Department staffs were not covered by the original Superannuation Act and did not become contributors to the Repatriation Fund until 1937.
Under sub-section 8, they were given certain concessions that applied to contributors under the original act, and this provision preserves these concessions to them.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 7 and 8 agreed to.
Clause 9 -
After Division 9b of Part III. of the Principal Act the following Division is inserted: - ” Division 9c. - Transfer of Employees of Repatriation Commission and War Service Humes Commissioner.”
– i move -
That, after proposed new section 81za, the following new section be inserted: - “ 81zaa. Notwithstanding anything contained in this act, the Minister administering the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920- l!)4(i and the Minister administering the War Service Homes Act 1918-1940 may appoint a returned soldier to any position- in such department as he considers such soldier competent and qualified to fill.”
The purpose of the amendment is this: Admission to the permanent Commonwealth Public Service is dependent upon certain conditions, the principal of which i.<i that a candidate shall have passed a prescribed examination. Usually these examinations are passed when candidates for appointment have just left school. The only exception to the rule is contained in section 47 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, sub-section 1 of which reads -
That provision may sound as if it would enable a Minister or a government to make an appointment of a permanent nature to the Commonwealth Public Service, but actually the only persons to whom that would apply are those beyond the Fourth Division, in other words, technical officers having a very high status. The person whom I seek to cover by my amendment is the ordinary ex- serviceman who occupies a relatively minor position. At present he is completely excluded by the section of the Public Service Act to which I have referred. Honorable members who have a a intimate knowledge of the Postal Department will appreciate that many temporary employees who have rendered valuable service for many years have not been able to secure permanent appointment to the Public Service, even on the recommendation of the Postmaster-General himself, in some instances, because there is no provision in the Public -Service Act for such appointments. Under this clause, 83 the older members of the staffs of the Repatriation Department retire, their places can only be taken by qualified individuals within the Commonwealth Public Service who entered the Service by passing the prescribed examinations. In other words, as the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act and the War Service Homes Act stand, the commissioners can appoint a returned soldier to a job that he is qualified to do, but, on this transfer taking place, they will not be able to do so, and all new appointments will come under the provisions of the Public Service Act. As honorable members experienced in the working of that act know, neither the appropriate Minister nor the Prime Minister - in fact nobody - will be able to make a permanent appointment unless the appointee goes through the long ritual of the Public Service. The aim of the amendment is to provide, if possible, for the continuance of returned soldier permanence in the administration of the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Department. If the amendment is discounted, in the course of a few years, the only persons who will be qualified to administer the two departments will be clerks who have graduated up, unless a few persons fill under the provisions of the Public Service Act the very high positions beyond the fourth division. But the great mass of returned men seeking jobs as clerks at little over the basic wage will be completely disqualified from any chance of permanent appointment. Therefore the Minister ought to consider carefully the amendment. It may be subject to improvement in language andtechnique, but I suggest the door be left open to enable the Minister controlling the appropriate department to have the power to approve the appointment of this or that ex-serviceman should he consider him qualified to dothe job by virtue of his having handled men and so forth, not becausehe has passed an entry examination. If the Minister intends to retain in the administration of these departments ex-service personnel he will accept the amendment.
– The Government cannot accept the amendment moved by the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony). As with the last amendment, I have just received it. I take it to be courtesy to the Minister in chargeof a bill, especially when it has been in the hands of the Opposition for a long while, that amendments should at least be written in order that he may have the opportunity to examine them before they are placed before the committee.
– That is an entirely new proposal. We ought to be invited to attend the caucus meetings.
– The proposed amendment reads as follows: -
That after proposed new section 81 za the following new section be inserted: - “ 81zaa. Notwithstanding anythingcontained in the Common wealth Public Service Act 1922-1947, the Minister administering the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1920- 1946 and the Minister administering the War Service Homes Act 1918-1946 may appoint a returned soldier to any position in his Department as he considers such soldier competent and qualified to fill.”.
Having moved the amendment, the honorable member said, towards the end of his remarks, that perhaps it was not couched in exactly the right words and might require improvement in some way or other. I do not think the Minister in charge of a bill should be expected to put into the proper words what the honorable member wants to say.
– As far as I am concerned the amendmentis all right.
– Regardless of the wording of the amendment, I have al ready saidthatthe Government cannot accept it because of its purpose. It would mean two methods of appointments to the staff of the two departments.
– And it would introduce nepotism, too.
– In other words, the two Minister would be given power, which I think they would not want to exercise, to override the provisions of the Public Service Act inrespect of appointments. That is a position that no selfrespecting Minister could accept. So I askthe committee to reject the amendment.
. -I think the Minister (Mr. Dedman) has been too precipitate in making up his mind. He should notcavil about the form of the amendment. He told us little in his second-reading speech, and we have had to discover the shortcomings of this bill by searching through many acts. If he displayed the proper spirit, he would have the amendment drafted in the proper terms.
– It is all right as it is, I think, but if the Minister is not satisfied, let him improve it. I do not pretend to be at lawyer.
– This Government appointed Mr. Cutler, V.C., to the Repatriation Commission in Victoria.
– A good job, too.
– Yes, a very good job. I do notknow whether Major-General Wootten was a public servant before the war, but he was commander of the 9th Division and a fine soldier. His was a good appointment made by this Government. Such contingencies can always arise, but if the Minister abruptly rejects the amendment, he will close for all time the door through which such appointments are possible.
– No, the honorable member is wrong there.
– The honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) said that the amendment would lead to nepotism. Such a remark is strange to hear from a supporter of this Government. We remember the trade commissioners who were appointed - Mr. Breen, Mr. Frost-
The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Clark).Order !
– Yes, it is a very unsavoury matter that I do not wish to go into. All I say is that such an interjection comes badly from that side. The New Zealand Government appointed to a prominent position a man who is not only academically qualified for it but has also had a distinguished war career. This Government might want to do the same and not be able to do so. To be fair to the Minister, 1 think he spoke hastily in rejecting the amendment. The contingencies that, might arise are manifold. Chapters of repatriation work have not begun yet. A distinguished medico might be needed. When the war began a distinguished surgeon in Air Vice-Marshal Hurley was appointed to take charge of the medical services branch of the Royal Australian Air Force. The practice in the Army has always been that the principal medical officer should be, not one who graduates through permanent rank, but a distinguished physician or surgeon from outside the service. Can the Minister not see the likelihood of similar contingencies arising in this respect? I urge him to accept the amendment. I think that on second thoughts he will find it is an exceedingly fair proposal.
– I support the amendment. I share the belief of other Opposition members that the Minister (Mr. Dedman) has not given sufficient consideration to it. Indeed he is going contrary to the established principles in the appointment of officers to the Repatriation Department. The sole purpose of this amendment is to permit the appointment of a returned serviceman, who is employed by the Repatriation Commission, to a permanent position in the Commonwealth Public Service, if a Minister should so desire. I am not concerned whether a Minister should make this appointment; but I am concerned with the principle behind the amendment. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) asked the Minister to preserve the principle that formerly applied in appointing returned servicemen to a particular department. The honorable member said, in effect, to the Minister: “At present, you have not selected public servants for appointment to high positions in the Repatriation Department. You had a perfect right to do so, and you could have made such appointments, provided the men were returned servicemen, but instead of doing so, you appointed returned servicemen from outside the Public Service to the various tribunals, committees and executive staff. They have proved to be honest and efficient administrators. Now, for some undisclosed reason, you say that because you propose to absorb the Repatriation Department in the Public .Service, you will not seek the assistance in future of any returned serviceman outside the Public Service. Indeed, I doubt whether you will seek the assistance of any returned serviceman within the Public Service. You say that you decline to accept my amendment to enable the appointment of a returned serviceman to a permanent position in the Public Service for the purpose of administering the Repatriation Department. You prefer to select a public servant, who has never been considered in the past for similar positions in the Repatriation Department. Now, because the Repatriation Department will be absorbed in the Public Service, you propose to staff this department ultimately with public servants, and deny to ex-servicemen permanent appointment to the Public Service, although they may be brilliant administrators and have an excellent knowledge of the problems of repatriation. You will ignore all the qualifications which in the past have been regarded as possessing great virtue, and you will keep positions in the Repatriation Department as a close preserve for public servants “. The amendment seeks to overcome that. If the Minister believes in the principle which all governments formerly observed in preserving this status of the Repatriation Commission, he must accept the amendment.
.- Section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act, which this bill proposes to repeal, empowered the Repatriation Commission to appoint such officers as it considered necessary for the purpose of administering the provisions of the act. That power enabled the commission to obtain the services of many returned servicemen who were particularly suitable for special jobs. The commission had every opportunity to examine the qualifications of applicants, and could satisfy itself that it was making a wise selection. The Commonwealth Public Service Act does not contain a similar power. When a person desires to enter the Public Service, he must pass through a maze of difficulties. This bill is designed to do an injustice to returned servicemen. After this legislation has been passed, their opportunities to obtain employment in the Repatriation Department will be non-existent. This is another attempt on the part of the Government to deprive returned servicemen of any assistance. I ask the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Haylen) whether he is satisfied with this proposal.
As I stated, the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act empowers the Repatriation* Commission and the War Service Homes Commission to call for applications from the returned servicemen, select the right man for the required job, and appoint him. Under the bill, the Repatriation Commission will be deprived of that power, and a returned serviceman will not be able to obtain a position in the Repatriation Department unless he is qualified for permanent appointment to the Public Service. I urge the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) to honour the promises that he made to ex-servicemen. For instance, he said that the returned servicemen would not be inconvenienced in seeking employment by the passage of this legislation. That statement is not truthful. The Minister declared that, for various reasons, he could not accept the amendment. I urge him to incorporate in this bill a provision embodying the spirit of section 22 of the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act in order that returned servicemen who possess the requisite qualifications, may obtain employment in the Repatriation Department, or the War Service Homes Department, as they have had the right to do since 1920. The Minister proposes to deny to men who served in World War II. the privileges enjoyed by men who served in World War I. in respect of repatriation and war service homes. That is a deliberate affront. If any re- turned servicemen on the other side of the chamber believe that that is an injustice, let them vote for the amendment.
– The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) was guilty of a quibble when he complained that the amendment had not been submitted to him in writing prior to the commencement of this discussion. I have had longer experience in this Parliament than has the honorable gentleman, but I do not remember any Minister ever putting forward such an excuse for not giving consideration to an amendment in committee. In an endeavour to avoid introducing party politics into this discussion, I suggest ‘ to the Minister that if my amendment is not couched in terms of which he approves, his legal officers may suitably re-draft it. However, I consider that the amendment in its present form thoroughly covers the position that 1” am endeavouring to protect. When this bill becomes law, the Repatriation Commission and the War Service Homes Commission will not have power to appoint a minor officer.
– They will not have power to appoint any officer.
– That is not correct. They will not have power to appoint a minor officer, and I am endeavouring to protect the interests of the working man.
– That is strange.
– I find it strange when honorable members opposite oppose it. Any officer beyond Grade IV. can still be made permanent, but the humble clerk and the cleaner will not be able to obtain a. permanent appointment. They will be debarred under the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Service Act. I am fighting for the working man, and I am surprised that honorable members opposite are not. I have here a list of the employees of the Repatriation Commission which was published in the budget papers for 1946-47. The secretary, the Six deputy commissioners and the principal medical officer could obtain permanent appointment under the Commonwealth Public Service Act. There are 46 medical officers, all of whom could be appointed permanently without further examination. However, there are 881 clerks, almost all of whom would be debarred from permanent appointment if the bill became law as it now stands. This is the sort of thing that is perpetrated by honorable members opposite, so-called “Labour” men who claim to be protecting the interests of the working class ! My amendment would merely give the Minister power to make minor permanent appointments, not high appointments, such as the Repatriation Commissioner now has power to make. The Minister would not be called upon to exercise this power if he did not think that it ought to be exercised. Yet he has rejected it and described it as ridiculous. It merely seeks to continue a power that is provided on the statute-book now. If my amendment be rejected, the rights of these minor individuals will be destroyed whilst the rights of persons in higher grades of the Public Service will be protected.
– Once again members of the Opposition have shown that they do not know what they are talking about. Section 39 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act gives the Public Service Board power to make permanent appointments such as the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) has mentioned without conducting any examination. I submit that in no circumstances should a responsibility of this nature be thrown upon a Minister. The Public Service Board is the proper authority to exercise that power. Section 39 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act is as follows : -
Where the Board reports to the GovernorGeneral that it is not desirable that the examination system shall be applied in relation to an appointment to a specified position, or in relation to appointments to a specified class of positions, in the Fourth Division, the Board may appoint a person without examination to that position, or to a position in that class.
The power is provided there.
– But it is not exercised.
– The honorable member is now raising another point. He said that nobody could be permanently appointed to any one of over 800 positions if this bill were enacted in its present form. I say definitely that such appointments can be made under the section of the Commonwealth Public Service Act which I have quoted.
– I should not have entered this discussion but for the last statement of the Minister (Mr. Dedman). Only last week I received a letter from the Postmaster-General’s Department regarding an ex-soldier returned from World War II. This man furnished me with a doctor’s certificate stating that it was inadvisable, on account of his health, that he should have to sit for a certain examination. The reply of the department was that in no circumstances could the man be appointed to the Public Service until he had passed this examination. That is utterly in conflict with what the Minister has just said. Therefore, there is urgent need for the Minister to institute an investigation in government departments to find out just what is what and who is who.
Question put -
That the amendment (Mr. Anthony’s) be agreed to.
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Mr. J. J. Clark.)
Majority . . . . 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
– As I foreshadowed in my secondreading speech, I now move -
That, at the end of the clause, the following proposed new section he added: - “ 81zc. Notwithstanding anything contained in this act, a male employee shall not he engaged in the Repatriation Department unless he is a returned soldier “.
I specified the Repatriation Department in the amendment because I notice that there is no mention in the schedules of the War Service Homes Commission. That makes it clear that war service homes have now been merged into the Department of Works and Housing, so that already the privileges associated with the staffing of the war service homes administration has disappeared. I have moved the amendment because I believe that repatriation problems should be handled by men who understand them. The result of the division which has just been taken regarding the permanent appointment of ex-servicemen to positions in division 4 of the Commonwealth Public Service shows conclusively that the Government is not prepared to appoint such men to permanent positions in the Public Service generally, but supporters of the Government will now be given the opportunity to say that only ex-servicemen shall be appointed to the Repatriation Commission. Many men who served with the armed forces desire an opportunity to serve their former colleagues as officers of that department. They want to maintain the tradition of sympathetic and understanding treatment of ex-servicemen. Unless the Government desires to strike a vital blow at repatriation and the employment of exservicemen, it has no alternative but to accept the amendment which will preserve the status quo within the department. If the amendment be agreed to, it will en sure that so long as this department is charged with the duty of protecting the interests of ex-servicemen its administration shall be in the hands of men of sympathetic understanding of their needs.
.- The Government cannot accept the amendment. I do not believe that it is in the best interests of ex-servicemen that the staff of the Repatriation Commission should consist solely of returned soldiers. Circumstances could arise whereby the interests of exservicemen would be detrimentally affected if the amendment were embodied in repatriation legislation. All honorable members believe that ex-servicemen who require medical attention, rehabilitation or repatriation treatment of any kind are entitled to the best service available. There may be even now at one of our universities a brilliant young student who in, say five years time, will be a world renowned psychiatrist, but if the amendment be agreed to his services could not be availed of in the department.
– Nonsense !
– The effect of the amendment could be to deny to exservicemen the services of the most brilliant specialists in the community. One Opposition member said that the Repatriation Commission may not have to remain in existence for a long period but unfortunately the experience of World War I. teaches us that the department will still have to function for many years. As the staff grows older, men will have to retire and be replaced by others. Should a clerk be required for a junior position in the department twenty years hence, a young man could not be appointed if this amendment were embodied in the act, with the result that an ex-serviceman who would then .probably be 50 years of age would have to fill the vacancy. The time would come when, as the result of resignations and deaths, there would be no staff left in the department at all. I repeat that the amendment would have a detrimental effect on ex-servicemen and, therefore I ask the committee to reject it.
Friday, 28 February 19^7.
– The Minister (Mr. Dedman) has been at pains to ridicule the -amendment, the purpose of which he must understand clearly enough. It is ridiculous for him to suggest that the amendment, if agreed to, would make it necessary to engage aged men as officers, and would prevent justice from being done to the children of returned soldiers. I am surprised that he should have gone to such lengths to prove a special case. We know that there are a great many young men released from the forces who would like to enter the Public Service, and where better could they be employed than in the Repatriation Department, which has a very fine tradition, and where they would he working among their own kind? The aim of the amendment is to preserve the continuity of administration in those departments. If it is found necessary to modify the provision so as to introduce specialists for any particular purpose, that can be done easily enough. The Repatriation Department already has a large panel of outside specialists who may be called, but all the regular doctors are exservicemen. There are hundreds of young doctors who have served in the Army, Navy and Air Force who could not he placed better than in the Repatriation Department. Many of them will be unable to set up in private practice against older men. Therefore, I support the amendment.
.- The Minister (Mr. Dedman) has either misled the committee, or he does not know his own bill. Together with the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) I have tried to ensure that returned soldiers shall have priority of employment when the Repatriation Department and War Service Homes Department are absorbed into the Public Service. I have pointed out that returned soldiers could not be appointed permanently under the Public Service Act. The Minister tried to confound me by quoting section 38 of the act. I mentioned that there were over 800 clerks employed by the Repatriation Commission who could not be appointed to permanent positions if this bill becomes law in its present form. They are entitled to permanent appointments now under the Repatriation Act. The Minister quoted section 39 of the Public Service Act as follows: -
Where the Board reports to the GovernorGeneral that it is not desirable that the examination system shall he applied in relation to an appointment to a specified position, or in relation to appointments to a specified class of positions, in the Fourth Division, the Board may appoint a person without examination to that position, or tlo a position in that class.
Apparently, the Minister does not know that the Fourth Division of the Public Service is the very lowest grade, containing messenger boys, &c. There are 881 repatriation clerks in the Fourth Division, and every one of them will be excluded from permanent appointments. Thus either the Minister does not know what he is talking about, or he deliberately made a misleading statement for the purpose’ of scoring a point in debate. The amendment is designed to preserve continuity of returned soldier control in the Repatriation Department and the War Service Homes Department. The Minister has given certain reasons why he believes the amendment ought not to be accepted. I do not quarrel with much of his argument, but it has become evident, during the course of the debate, that he should have another look at the bill before forcing it through the committee.
– The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) sought to hold up to ridicule the amendment which I have moved, and he behaved in the “ know-all “ fashion with which we have become familiar. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) cited one example of it. Another example was when he said that officers of the Repatriation Department would enjoy the same protection by virtue of proposed new section 81az of this bill as was at present conferred by sub-section 7 of section 22 of the War Service Homes Act. The Minister has been accepting advice from the officers sitting at the back of thechamber, and is then placing his own interpretation on that advice, thus producing utter chaos. If he had not been so obstinate he would have had his bil] two hours ago. The hold-up has been due to. the confusion occasioned by his obstinacy. The Minister said that if the amendment were accepted it could prevent the appointment of a brilliant young psychiatrist who might be of great service to the department. What utter rot and nonsense that is! Apparently he is not familiar with the system at present in operation. There are no specialists on the staff of the Repatriation Commission now. When the services ofa specialist arc required he is called into consultation. All the medical men permanently employed by the commission are exservicemen, and I wish to ensure that that system shall continue. The argument of the Minister is just another example of his mental meanderings when he wishes to side-step an issue. For instance, he argued that in twenty years’ time, when it was desired to fill a junior position, it would be necessary to appoint a man of at least 50 years of age. That is nonsense. He must know that it is always competent to amend legislation in the light of changed circumstances. The Minister’s argument works both ways and if at some time in the future there will be no one to appoint to positions falling vacant neither will there be any one for the department to minister to. Thus, the observations of the Minister are not worthy of consideration by the committee. His attitude should not be tolerated by the committee which is being held up to ridicule by his foolish observations. He knows that amendments can be made in the future should circumstances warrant. He knows that all medical officers now employed by the Repatriation Commission are ex-servicemen and that, should they desire the assistance of a brilliant young psychiatrist, they can call in an outside man for consultation. The Minister is simply begging the question. His attitude is entirely in keeping withhis policy of ridiculing the status and claims of ex-service personnel.
– I should not have spoken but for the utter nonsense voiced by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison). The observations of the Minister in charge of the bill (Mr. Dedman) with respect to the employment of brilliant medical men in the distant future are quite sound. I have not been Minister for Repatriation for very long, but since I had the honour to assume that office I have learned something of the policy pursued by the commission in the past and something of the policy that will be pursued in future. With that knowledge I can quite easily envisage a position arising in the future as forecast by the Minister. It will be the policy of the commission in the future to appoint full-time specialists, and I have no doubt that we shall be able to obtain the services of a psychiatrist who is an ex-serviceman. However, the Minister had in mind circumstances likely to arise fifteen years hence, and his observations in that respect are sound and answer completely the arguments advanced by thehonorable member for Wentworth.
Question put -
That the amendment (Mr. Harrison’s) be agreed to.
The committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Mr. T. Sheehan.)
Majority . . . . 9
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I move -
That, at tho end of the clause, the following new section be added: - ‘Size. For the next fifteen years, with the exception of medical officers, no male shall be employed in the Repatriation Department who is not an ex-serviceman “.
My amendment meets the objections which the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) raised in respect of the amendment which has just been negatived. My amendment makes provision for circumstances likely to arise fifteen years hence. We know that by that time thousands of ex-servicemen will still be amongst us, and will still be strong, healthy men. The amendment will permit the commission to employ medical officers whether they be exservicemen, or not. For the treatment of the complaints of ex-servicemen we must have the best possible medical attention available in the world. The two objections voiced by the Minister having been covered, there is nothing left for him but to accept this amendment.
– The Government cannot accept the amendment. It is rather amusing to note that the second reason advanced by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) for his amendment constitutes the very justification for the action the Government took in rejecting the amendment moved by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison). As to the question of the recruitment into the Repatriation Department for a period of fifteen years, of none other than returned soldiers, the net result of that would create a gap in age groups within the department, and at some future time - I cannot calculate how long it would be - say, in thirty years time, a number of people of a certain age group would retire from the department and there would be nobody left to take their places except those fifteen years younger than the retiring officials. That would be very bad from the point of view of the efficiency of the department.
– The Minister’s reply shows what can happen when a Minister plays with planning. The honorable gentleman has evidently worked out precisely what he believes will be the result of a difference in ages. What nonsense! The men in the air crews of the Royal Australian Air Force were aged between eighteen and thirty-two years. Others had enlisted up to the age of fifty-five years. If the Minister desired to accept the amendment he could very well do so without fear of the consequences. If he brings the same mentality to bear upon his contribution to the proceedings at Geneva, God help us ! The amendment now before the committee represents a modification of the amendment which has just been negatived. We have the spectacle of the Minister for Repatriation entering the chamber and putting up some flimsy reason why this amendment should not be accepted. The Minister’s attitude is a pitiful example of incompetency. As I agree with the spirit of the amendment, I propose to support it.
– A number of men within the Repatriation Department have not achieved permanent status. Their qualifications may not conform to Public Service standards. What steps have been taken by the Government to preserve the rights of such men after the proposed changeover has been effected ?
– Such rights as are possessed by members of the staff of the department will be preserved upon their entrance into the Public Service. If they have rights as’ permanent, officers those1 rights will be retained. If they have rights^ as- temporary officers) upon transfer1 they will retain those rights.
Clause agreed to.
Clause 10 (Second and- Third Schedules),
, - It is interesting to note that in the second schedule no mention is made of the War Service. Homes Commission, nor- is any mention made of the Commissioner for War Service Homes in the third schedule. If the War Service Homes Commission is to- be absorbed into the Public Service- it must- have an identity, or, as an alternative, it must be taken over by some other department. Is the commission to become part’ of the Repatriation Department, or is it to be absorbed by the Department of Works and Housing?
– It will be absorbed by the Department of Works and Housing.
– The schedules- list a number of. departments and individuals, but it is difficult to understand what, they mean. Is it intended that the individuals mentioned in the third schedule will now come under the purview of the Public- Service Board?
– The second and third schedules contain lists of departments and permanent head’s whose staffs come under the Commonwealth Public Service Act. As the act had not been reprinted for some considerable time, and as the second and third schedules of the original act were out of date - there was no mention in them, for example, of the Department of P os t-w ar Reconstruction - opportunity has been taken now to include all departments and permanent heads subject to the provisions of the act.
– Why should the War Service Homes Commission automatically go to the Department of Works and Housing, which already has an unfavorable record ? The commission was established solely to satisfy the demand of ex-servicemen and women for homes and it Kas been staffed almost exclusively by exservice personnel. It has worked well, but due to the failure of the- Government to provide sufficient money it has not been able to implement its building programme. What is to be the position when the commission, with some tens of thousands of applicants still awaiting, houses, finds itself a part of the Department of Works and Housing? Surely the record of the latter department is of such a nature that if- will not be helped by additional administrative responsibilities. The work of the War Service Homes Commission is of sufficient importance to justify the appointment of. a special Minister and the retention of a separate organization. At present the Minister for Works and Housing is bent down with the load of the responsibilities of his office and has proved himself abortive as far as sound administration is concerned. One. has only to look at the deplorable position of the housing programme, in the various States. Now, however, he is to be charged with ministerial responsibility for another large organization. Surely, if priority to ex-servicemen means anything at all, the tens of thousands of applicants, f or war service homes must be able to> get priority for their requirements of timber. The Department of. Works and Housing is already moribund. It has no way of carrying out its own policy, and it is getting further and ‘further behind in its housing programme. I am at a loss to understand this proposal..
During the regime of the Lyons Government, the War Service Homes Commission gave employment to a large number of children of deceased ex-servicemen. The Legacy Club was responsible for bringing their names forward, and some of them subsequently became returned soldiers themselves. I ask that that principle be borne in mind in future.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill - by leave - read a third time.
House adjourned at 12. 33 a.nr. (Friday).
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
n asked the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Shipping, upon notice -
– The Minister for Supply and Shipping has supplied the following information : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions aro as follows : -
n asked the Minister repre senting the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following information: -
s asked the Minster re presenting the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The Minister for Social Services has supplied the following information : -
The statistical records do not enable a distinction to be drawn between unemployment benefit paid as a result of strikes and unemployment as a result of lockouts. A very large amount of departmental work would be involved in ascertaining the monthly totals of unemployment benefit paid as a result of industrial disputes, but it is estimated that the payments have been as follows : -
n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable members questions are as follows : -
War Service Homes.
n asked the Minister for
Works and Housing, upon notice -
– The answers to the right honorable gentleman’s questions are as follows: -
y asked the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
n asked the AttorneyGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as. follows : - 1 to6. Proceedings have been instituted against Joseph Goldberg for importing prohibited imports. The ease came before the court on the 28th November and was adjourned until the 10th February. On that date, counsel for the defendant applied for a further adjournment which was opposedby the Crown. Medical evidence was produced that Goldberg’s health would not permit him to return to Australia by air. The court granted an adjournment until the 17th March, for mention as to the exact date on which Goldberg will arrive in Sydney. As the case is sub judice it would be improper for me to reply further to the honorable member’s question at this juncture.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 27 February 1947, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1947/19470227_reps_18_190/>.