16th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. W.M. Nairn) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have to announce that I have received a return to the writ which I issued on the 28th November, 1940, for the election of a member to serve for the electoral division of Swan, in the State of Western Australia, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of the Honorable Henry Gregory, and by the endorsement thereon it is certified that Thomas William Marwick has been elected in pursuance of the said writ.
Mr. Marwick made and subscribed the oath of allegiance.
– It is with deep regret that I refer to the death of Mr. David Sydney Jackson, which occurred at Launceston on the 28th February. Mr. Jackson was formerly a member of this House for the Division of Bass. As a young man of 80 years he was elected at the general elections of 1919, and was subsequently re-elected in 1922, 1925 and 1928. He was defeated at the general election of 1929. He served on the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works from May, 1921, to October, 1925, and from February to September, 1929. In 1928 he was a member of the Commonwealth delegation of the Empire Parliamentary Association which visited Canada.
The personnel of this House has changed greatly since Mr. Jackson was associated with it. I did not have the privilege of personal friendship with Mr. Jackson, but members who were here with him speak very highly of his personal qualities and recall his capacity and enthusiasm in the discharge of his public duties. Mr. Jackson was actively connected with many branches of the public and sporting life of Launceston, and his life was devoted to the service of charitable organizations. Northern Tasmania has indued lost a Worthy citizen.
I invite honorable members to join in expressing the heartfelt sympathy of this House with his widow in the sad and untimely loss which she has sustained. As Leader of the Country party I take this opportunity to express also the sympathy of my party with Mrs. Jackson in her bereavement. I move -
That this House expresses its deep regret at the death of Mr. David Sydney Jackson, a former member for the Division of Bass, places on record its appreciation of his meritorious public service, and tenders its heartfelt sympathy tohis widow in herbereavement.
– I second the motion. Every member of the House learned with deep regret of the death of Mr. Jackson, who served as the member for Bass for a period of about ten years. He was well known to those members who were in attendance here prior to 1929. As the Acting Prime Minister has said, Mr. Jackson’s public work was much more extensive than the representation of Bass in this Parliament.On my visits to Tasmania I learned that he was widely respected, and that he was engaged in a number of activities, all of which contributed to the welfare and progress of his fellow citizens. A man who is re-elected at successive elections to this Parliament has won a place in the estimation of the electors as one who not only can contribute to their immediate needs, but is also a man of continuing purpose in the service which they desire to have done. In that way, Mr. Jackson has left his mark on Tasmania and, indeed, on the whole of the Commonwealth. On behalf of my party, I express to his widow our deep sympathy, and I join in the tribute to his public service which the Leader of the House has voiced.
– I join with the Acting Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in expressing regret at the passing of this young Tasmanian. I knew Mr. Jackson for many years; wo were boys together, we attended the same school, and we grew up in the same city. We ‘became close friends. I know something of Mr. Jackson’s public service in the city where he lived and worked; he had numerous interests, as the Acting Prime Minister has said. For instance, he was for a number of years president of the Bush Nursing Association, an organization which renders valuable service to the community. His work in connexion with that organization indicates his outlook on life. A talented musician himself, he was greatly interested in music, and played a conspicuous part in the Launceston Competitions Association, of which he was a member. He was a keen sportsman; for some years he was a champion bowler. He was also a firm supporter of Australian industries, and with his father and brothers conducted a locksmith business at Launceston. Mr. Jackson and I differed in politics, but although our approach to public questions was not the same, happily that did not interfere with the friendship that existed between us. As the Leader of the Opposition stated. Mr. Jackson might be said to have earned the respect of the community inasmuch as he was elected to this Parliament for several terms, and held a record for service in the electorate of Bass,. His passing at the early age of 58 years is deeply regretted by the citizens of Launceston, and by all those who knew him. I join with other honorable members in expressing my deepest sympathy with his widow, and with others who mourn his loss.
Sir CHARLES MARR (Parkes).I support the expressions of sympathy with Mrs. Jackson upon the loss of her husband. I oan bear testimony to the good work which Mr. Jackson did in the course of his public life. One phase of that work stands pre-eminent. Mr. Jackson travelled extensively in the Northern Territory, and after he returned he toured the Commonwealth giving lectures, in the course of which he brought under the notice of the public the work being done by the Australian -Inland Mission under the leadership of the Reverend Flynn. As tho result of those lectures, “ Flynn of the Inland “ became well known to the Australian public, and no less than £2,000 was raised to augment the funds of the mission. That work was undertaken voluntarily by Mr. Jackson without expense to the Commonwealth, and long before this Parliament or any other had taken any notice of the work which the mission was doing. Therefore, his memory will remain green in the minds of those who reside in the mors remote parts of Australia - people who at the time when Mr. Jackson rendered them such conspicuous service, did not enjoy even such comforts and amenities as are now &t their disposal. I take the opportunity, therefore, to draw attention to the valuable work which he performed, . and to express the thanks of the Inland Mission for his services.
– I desire to associate myself with the expressions of regret and sympathy which have fallen from the lips of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) and other speakers in connexion with the death of Mr. Jackson. I was privileged to know Mr. Jackson for many years, and I always regarded his personal qualities and sincerity of purpose as outstanding. As the Acting Prime Minister has pointed out, Mr. Jackson represented the electorate of Bass faithfully and well in the Commonwealth Parliament for ten years. In 1929, I was chosen as his successor. We had a friendly contest, and the result of that election did not interfere one iota with our personal friendship. Although he was a strong party man, Syd Jackson never Allowed party feeling to interfere with his friendships, or to lessen his estimation of others. He was a progressive and industrious citizen who had the courage of his convictions and was never afraid to give expression to them. He was keenly interested in Australian manufactures, and waa an enthusiastic worker for the advancement of his native State and of Australia. He will be remembered for his great interest in entertainment. A versatile entertainer himself, he rendered valuable assistance at many charitable, philanthropic and patriotic functions. Much of his time, as was pointed out by the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard), was spent in assisting the noble work of Bed Gross institutions in Tasmania. He was a zealous and active member of Parliament, a genial man. who made friends rapidly, and retained the respect and affection of all with whom he came in contact. I express to his widow, and to other members of his family, my deepest sympathy in the great loss they have sustained.
Question resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.
Assent to the following bills reported : -
Income Tax Assessment Bill (No. 2) 1940.
States Grants Bill 1940.
Defence Equipment Bill 1940.
Wheat Tax (War-time) Assessment Bill 1940.
Wheat Tax (War-time) Bill, 1940.
Wheat Industry (War-time Control) Bill 1940.
Loan (Drought Relief) Bill 1940.
States Grants (Drought Relief) Bill 1940.
Apple and Pear (Appropriation) Bill 1940.
Wire Netting Bounty Bill 1940.
Morgan-Whyalla Waterworks Agreement Bill 1940.
Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Bill 1940.
Sales Tax Bills (Nos. 1a to 9a) 1940.
Officers’ Rights Declaration Bill 1940.
Northern Territory (Administration) Bill (No. 2) 1940.
Commonwealth Public Service Bill. 1940.
Income Tax Bill (No. 2) 1940.
War-time (Company) Tax Assessment Bill 1940.
War-time (Company) Tax Bill 1940.
Wine Export Bounty Bill 1940.
Treasury Bills Bill 1940.
Post and Telegraph Rates (Defence Forces) Bill (No. 2) 1940.
Gold Tax Collection Bill (No. 2) 1940.
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Bill (No. 2) 1940.
Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill 1940.
Appropriation (Works and Buildings) Bill 1940-41.
Appropriation Bill 1940-41.
Mr.FADDEN (Darling Downs - Acting
Prime Minister). - I desire formally to inform the House that, in connexion with the departure overseas of the right honorable R. G. Menzies, I was appointed Acting Prime Minister and Acting Minister for Defence Coordination. During the absence of Mr. Menzies, the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) and the Minister for Supply and Development and Minister of Munitions (Senator McBride) are members of the War Cabinet. I also inform honorable members that, in addition to the duties previously performed by them, the Hon. T. J. Collins is Minister assisting the Postmaster-General, and Senator the Hon. J. W. Leckie is Minister assisting the Minister for the Army. Mr. Collins will, of course, represent the Postmaster-General in this chamber.
– I desire to inform the House that I have been appointed Leader of the Country party.
– I wish to advise the House that the party which my colleagues and I represented in this Parliament is now included in the official Opposition. We acknowledge the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Curtin), Leader of the Opposition, as our leader in the House of Representatives.
– Last session I inquired from the Minister for the Army the reasons why the Abbco Bread Company Proprietary Limited, which had been convicted of defrauding the Government by supplying shortweight breadin fulfilment of military contracts, had received further contracts from the Government. The Minister said that it was because the company had been guilty of only a technical breach. I now ask him whether he has any additional reasons to offer why this firm, which sought to defraud the Government, should still be given Government contracts. I should also like to know whether recent developments and disclosures provide better reasons why the company should not be given Government contracts. Lastly, I desire to know the Government’s intentions towards this company in regard to future contracts.
– The answer which I gave on the 6th December last year was not precisely in the terms indicated by the honorable member. At that time, I told him that the Abbco Bread Company no longer was the contractor for the
Commonwealth Government. That statement, I believe, has been elsewhere challenged, but it is unquestionably true. The position was that on the 1st April of last year, a contract for the supply of bread to the Army was given to the Abbco Bread Company. In July of last year, the contract was renewed for a period which expired in October. That was after R. J. White and Company had taken up the contract for five days and had, forsome reason which has not been determined, abandoned it.
– Has the Minister any reason for that?
– All the facts will be ventilated. When the honorable member asked the question, I said at the time that in respect of any Army contract, no particular firm or person who had been prosecuted and found guilty of that offence, or any similar offence with regard to quantity or quality, was to be re-employed by the Army. The Abbco Bread Company, or any other company which is associated with it, has hot, I am informed,been re-employed since that date. When the matter of the Abbco Bread Company arose in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales last week, I immediately issued instructions to the Inspector-General of Administration, who is an outside business man and independent entirely of the Army, to make full inquiries into the whole of the circumstances surrounding the prosecution, the original granting of the contract, the renewal of the contract after the offence had been proved against the company, the administration of the Army regarding the supply and checking of bread, and all details connected with the matter as revealed during the debate on the censure motion in the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. At my request, the Inspector-General of Administration has expedited the inquiry and I have been promised a report by to-morrow morning. Whatever its contents, I shall have no hesitation in placing the document upon the table of the House. Like every other honorable member, I desire to see that on no occasion shall any firm defraud the Commonwealth. As to Captain Rigney, whose name has been mentioned and who has been said to be guilty of either negligence or collusion with this firm, I took the responsibility, without pre-judging the man, of standing him off duty until the report comes to hand.
– If itbe found that the report is not satisfactory, will the Acting Prime Minister give consideration to the advisability of appointing a joint royal commission comprising representatives of both the Commonwealth and New South Wales to inquire fully into all details of the case? I understand that a precedent has been established for that, as joint royal commissions have been appointed in the past.
– I promise the honorable member that full consideration will be given to the subject-matter of the report mentioned by the Minister for the Army.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior say whether, as is reported in the press, the Government proposes to erect two new blocks of offices at the back of the present Parliament House, on the site reserved in the Griffin plan for the erection of the permanent Parliament House? Were such buildings recommended by the National Capital Planning and Development Committee, or will they be constructed in opposition to the recommendation of that body? Is it a fact that the foundations for a permanent structure were completed years ago on the proper site mentioned in the Griffin plan in front of Parliament House, and that by deferring the ornamental external features, the interior of this building could be erected at a price equivalent to the cost of constructing two temporary buildings at the back of Parliament House, as suggested?
– I think that it is the intention of the department to erect certain buildings, details of which I shall ask the Minister for the Interior to make available for the information of the honorable member.
– During the recess
I addressed to the Treasurer a communication asking for information about interest rates charged by the trading banks. In one passage of his reply, the Treasurer stated : “ Interest rates charged by the trading banks are not published”. Will the Treasurer say why they are not published? How can the general public, and honorable members know whether the banks are charging undue rates of interest if . the information is kept a close secret?
– The rate of interest charged by the trading banks is not published simply because they do not publish the information. I know of no other reason.
– Did the Acting Prime Minister, on or about the 13th February of this year, cause to issue for public information an important statement on the international situation, concluding with these words : “ We think we should tell the people of Australia that it is the considered opinion of the War Council that the war has moved to a new stage, involving the utmost gravity “ ? Was this statement published over the signatures of persons other than responsible Ministers of the Crown and if so, why was it not supported, since support was considered necessary, by responsible persons only, with the weight and authority of the War Cabinet?
– I shall reply adequatelyto the question during the secret meeting of the members of both chambers.
DARWIN: REPORT BY MR. R. A. McINNIS.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior lay upon the table of the House the report of the Brisbane town planning authority, Mr. McInnis, in connexion with the planning of Darwin, and the maps indicating the location of the civic centre and the regional zone surrounding it?
– I shall place the honorable member’s request before the Minister for the Interior.
– For twelve months I have been asking Ministers whether adequate preparations were being made to store supplies of food in various inland centres for use in an emergency evacuation of people from coastal towns. Will the Minister for Commerce inform the House whether any such action has yet been taken?
– Last Friday and Saturday a conference of representatives of the Governments of the Commonwealth and of the States completed plans for establishing such supplies in various centres. Steps have already been taken by the States, which had their plans in readiness for submission to the conference. This was the result of a previous request by the Commonwealth. During the next few days, I hope to have proclaimed regulations under the National Security Act, to deal with the interstate position.
– In view of the continued increase of production costs, and the inability of primary producers to secure increased prices for exportable products, will the Minister for Commerce emulate the example of the New Zealand Government by re-introducing the fertilizer subsidy as a means of assisting materially to maintain production during the war and conserving the fertility of the soil for post-war efforts to recover lost overseas markets?
– The question of whether the fertilizer subsidy should re-introduced is a matter of policy which will be considered by the Government at the proper time.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister give immediate consideration to the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the methods adopted to evade sales tax on footwear, the enormous loss of revenue incurred thereby, and the serious effect which the imposition of the present rate is having on the industry generally ?
– The honorable member no doubt remembers that during the budget debate, I advised the House that a select committee would be set up to inquire into the incidence of the sales tax proposals. That committee will be set up as expeditiously as possible.
– What amounts are to be allocated to each State under the shipbuilding programme announced recently? If the head-quarters of the Shipbuilding Commission be established in Sydney, will that mean that the whole of the staff will be recruited in Sydney; if not, will the Minister see that the staff is recruited in the various States?
– I am unaware that it is the intention of the Government to allocate any money to the States for shipbuilding. The problem is to construct ships in Australia in accordance with our resources, and consideration will be given to the resources of each State. As to the second part of the question, I am quite certain that it is not the intention to recruit labour only in New South Wales.
– Is it a fact as reported in the press, that a commission has been set up to control shipbuilding in Australia, and that not one member of the suggested commission has had any ship-building experience?
– A commission is being set up in Australia by the Government to inquire into all aspects of ship construction, and an expert shipbuilder will be appointed to it.
– I ask the Acting Prime Minister when honorable members may expect to receive copies of the Townsend report on shipbuilding?
– The Townsend report will be considered by the commission that is to be set up for the purpose of investigating the shipbuilding industry in Australia.
– Is it a fact that the reason why the Townsend report on shipbuilding has not been presented to Parliament is that it contains a recommendation for the building of wooden ships in States other than Victoria and New South Wales?
– I have not seen the report and I do not know whether it contains such a recommendation.
– In view of the fact that the Far Northern Returned Soldiers’ League has urged the Commonwealth Government to build a fleet of motor patrol vessels and that Mr. Norman Wright, a Brisbane boat-builder, recently stated that he could begin the building of three such vessels within a few weeks if Australia wanted them, and could be engaged on six or eight vessels within a few more weeks, will the Minister for the Navy take immediate steps to accept the offer to build a number of such vessels, as they would be admirably suitable for patrol work inside the Great Barrier Reef?
– The Government will be glad to consider any proposal to build vessels within a few weeks or months.
– Is it the intention of the Government to build these ships by contract, or on the basis of cost, plus 5 per cent, profit? If it is intended that they shall be built on the latter system, will every firm with the ability to construct ships be given an opportunity to do so, and not only just a few?
– The actual authority of the commission will be determined later, and intimated to the House. I cannot at this moment give any further information.
– Is the decision given by the Apple and Pear Marketing Board regarded as final, or will Cabinet refer it back to the board for reconsideration in view of the fact that it is causing great hardship to apple and pear growers, particularly in New South Wales?
– I am not quite clear as to what decision the Apple and Pear Marketing Board has made. The plan adopted with regard to the marketing of apples and pears has been assented to by all the governments of Australia in discussion at the Australian Agricultural Council.
– I have received the following telegram relating to apples from a business firm in Launceston : -
Substantial deliveries fruit cool store and Sydney shipment under acquisition. No payments yet made presentation or appraisement. Position growers precarious. Cannot something be done. Appreciate your interest.
Will the Minister for Commerce investigate the complaint and endeavour to adjust the anomaly that obviously exists?
– If the honorable member will provide me with the information at his disposal I shall have the matter investigated immediately. The
Apple and Pear Marketing Board is attempting to make disbursements at. the earliest possible moment.
– Has the Minister for Commerce taken any action to inquire into the decision by the Central Wool Committee to send increased supplies of greasy wool to America, and to reduce drastically the quantity for local scouring, which has resulted in serious unemployment in the fellmongering industry in Australia ? I have in my hand a newspaper report which states that 400 men will lose their jobs in the fellmongering industry as the result of this decision.
– The decision, not of the Central Wool Committee, but of the British Government, which owns the wool, to send 250,000,000 lb. of wool to America, has nothing whatever to do with any shortage of wool in the woolscouring works of Australia. That quantity is about one-quarter of the total Australian wool clip. Of the remainder, some 750,000,000 lb., less than 100,000,000 lb., is scoured or used for manufacture in Australia. Ample supplies are available for the Australian scouring works. In fact, the Central Wool Committee has gone to considerable trouble to ensure that the export of scoured wool tops shall be assisted and facilitated in every possible way.. If the honorable member cares to read the Wool Committee’s report of last year, he will see what action was taken by the committee to that end. In Sydney some difficulty arose in connexion with one of the companies, and supplies were withheld, but this was due, not to a shortage of wool, but to the contravention of a regulation of the committee. That matter was adjusted last Monday.
– In view of the fact that the greater number of members of the fighting forces held life insurance policies at the time of their enlistment, and in view of the statements made by responsible Ministers that they would do everything to protect the interests of those who enlisted, will the Minister for the Army bring down a measure to provide that insurance companies shall make the premiums due on these insurance policies a charge on the profits made available to policy-holders in the form of bonuses ?
– The Government has in final draft proposals for extensive alterations of the Moratorium Regulations under the National Security Act. When these are submitted to Parliament they will be found to cover most of the hardship cases that have been brought under the notice of myself and the Attorney-General. Particular consideration has been given to the protection and preservation of policies of men who enlist for service in Australia.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister inform me whether final arrangements have yet been agreed to by Commonwealth and State Governments to ensure the organization of the most effective air raid precaution scheme possible throughout Australia?
– I intend to make an early statement on this subject, possibly to-morrow.
– I have had referred to me many cases of hardship occurring in this country in respect of persons entitled to receive pensions from the British Ministry of Health. For months now, due no doubt to the dislocation of services in England, these pensions have not been arriving at all regularly, and some of the persons affected are suffering definite hardship. Will the Acting Prime Minister take steps to ascertain whether it is possible to arrange a scheme under which the Commonwealth Government may pay these pensions and afterwards be recouped by the British Government?
– Cases of hardship of the kind referred to by the honorable member have already been brought under my notice by him, and the matter is being inquired into by the Treasury.
– Will the Minister for Army inform me whether any investigations are being made into recent disclosures that a large number of army boots bore a counterfeit Commonwealth stamp ? Is the Minister able to make any statement to the House on the subject?
– Investigations have been proceeding for some time on this subject, but in consequence of the very large quantity of footwear that has to be examined, some time must elapse before they can be completed.
– Shall we be furnished with the report during this period of the session?
– I certainly think so. The investigation has proceeded sufficiently far for me to be able to say that in contracts being executed by Fostars Shoes Proprietary Limited, a false die has been used for the purpose of marking soles. There is no doubt whatever that fraud has been attempted if not actually perpetrated. Up to date 13,000 pair3 of boots have been examined and approximately 30,000 still wait examination. Of those examined, 900 pairs have been impressed with the unauthorized stamp. Of 6,521 pairs of shoes examined, 779 had been impressed with the unauthorized stamp. It has also been revealed that 2,000 unmanufactured soles were discovered in the factory with the unauthorized stamp thereon. Following upon these revelations, I had discussions with the Deputy Crown Solicitor in Sydney (Mr. Watson) and also with my colleague the Minister for Supply and Development (Senator McBride), and I am able to advise honorable members that, acting upon advice tendered by the Deputy Crown Solicitor, it has been decided to cancel the existing contract with Fostars Shoes Proprietary Limited, with the result that many thousands of pairs of boots and shoes covered by the contract will not now be accepted. In addition, the District Finance Officer at Sydney has been instructed that a sum of £3,000 which ordinarily would have been paid to Fostars Shoes Proprietary Limited is to be retained pending further instructions. The investigations must necessarily occupy a considerable time, but honorable members may rest assured that they will be made with the utmost despatch. As soon as I am in a position to give the House additional information I shall certainly do so.
– Is it a fact that the Sydney boot manufacturing firm known as McEvoys received by far the largest contract for army boots at the time when contracts were placed, following upon the controversy on army boots some time ago? Can the Minister also say whether the firm of McEvoys is one of the leading firms associated with Fostars Shoes Proprietary Limited ?
– I shall obtain the information from the Minister for Supply and Development and convey it to the honorable member.
– Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that Fostars and McEvoys are identical with Joe Gardiner Limited, that Joe Gardiner Limited is, in fact, George Cull and Son Proprietary Limited, and that there are no boots made in New South Wales in which George Cull and Son Proprietary Limited is not interested? Will he inquire into the ramifications of that company and its subsidiaries?
– I was not aware of the information which the honorable member has brought under my notice. Earlier to-day the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) assured the House that the supply of army boots was being inquired into. I have no doubt that the inquiry will be full and complete.
– I notice from press reports that during the recess the Acting Prime Minister has been an extremely busy man. He has done a great deal of travelling in order to attend many engagements. On one day, I believe, he attended 40 engagements, some of a social character. I ask the honorable gentleman whether it would not have been possible for him to conserve his energies and centralize his activities in Canberra, thus enabling the government of Australia to be located in the National Capital, as was intended by the framers of the Australian Constitution? Would it be possible for the Government to appoint a Minister for social activities who could deputize for the Acting Prime Minister in that sphere?
– I assure the honorable member that I am quite capable of looking after myself.
– I direct the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior to a scathing article published in the last issue of the Sydney Sunday Sun relating to the shocking housing conditions of artisans and workmen at Darwin. Will the honorable gentleman request the Minister for the Interior to have a census taken immediately of the artisans and workmen in the Northern Territory, with the object of providing a housing scheme for them similar to the housing schemes in the various States?
– I shall bring the honorable member’s request under the notice of the Minister for the Interior.
– Has the Acting Prime Minister seen a press statement attributed to the Premier of South Australia complaining of a coal shortage in South Australia and other States? It was alleged that the shortage was due to coal strikes. On behalf of the coal-miners I definitely deny that this is so. Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that recently 300 miners were cavilled out of the John Darling colliery, owned by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, on the northern coal-fields, where there are already 2,000 idle coal-miners whose lack of employment is claimed to be due to mechanization in the coal-mining industry? I ask the honorable gentleman also whether it is not a fact that several coal-mines are still closed down, allegedly because trade is not available? If there is a demand for coal, what steps does the Government propose to take in order to re-open some of the idle collieries?
– The matter mentioned by the honorable member was brought under my notice by the Premier of South Australia, and it was also discussed at the last meeting of the Loan Council. The shortage of coal at the point of consumption is due almost entirely to the lack of shipping facilities, which is causing the Government considerable concern at the moment. The whole subject of the supply of coal is engaging the attention of the Coal Board which has been set up to consider that very subject.
– If it be decided to hold another secret session of both Houses of this Parliament, will the Acting Prime Minister arrange for the presence of the service chiefs of the Navy, Army and Air Force in order that honorable members may question them on matters relating to the defence of this country in particular and the progress of Australia’s war effort in general ?
– I ask the AttorneyGeneral if it is a fact that a New Zealand subsidiary of the Sydney firm known as Schering Proprietary Limited has been declared, after a thorough examination of all relevant facts by the New Zealand Government, to be an enemy trader? Does the Minister intend that the parent company in Sydney shall be allowed to continue its operations?
– If the honorable gentleman will provide me with the facts to which he refers I shall give him an answer; I am not in a position to answer offhand. I do not know whether the firm mentioned is an enemy trader or not, and I am not aware of any firm or person carrying on business that calls for interference by my department.
– In view of my representations to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last session to have £5,000 set aside for air raid precaution work in Darwin, I now ask the Acting Prime Minister if he can assure the House that the proximity of Darwin to foreign countries has not been overlooked by the Commonwealth Government, and that sufficient money is available for the construction of tunnels to shelter Darwin residents?
– In my capacity as Treasurer I can assure the honorable member that Darwin’s needs have not been forgotten.
– I ask the Minister for External Affairs if it is a fact that in order to foster friendly relations between the United States of America and Australia an official invitation has been issued to Mr. Wendell Willkie to visit this country ?
– Yes. A final answer to the invitation has not yet been received.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for Supply and Development take steps to find out whether Army contractors are having difficulty in obtaining supplies of dried fruits, particularly prunes? If he learns that difficulty is not being experienced, will he consult with the Minister for Commerce and recommend to that honorable gentleman that the regulations prohibiting the export of dried fruits be repealed ?
– I shall give full consideration to the subject-matter ofthe honorable member’s question.
Compensation for Injuries - Allowance to Dependants
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation a question which arises from the following statement published in the Melbourne Age: -
Unless the injury or death of a soldier in Australia is directly attributable to war service, neither he nor his dependants are entitled to a military pension. A ruling to that effect was given to the Victorian branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League by the Solicitor-General, through the Minister of Repatriation (Senator McLeay). The decision affects every member of the Australian Imperial Force in Australia and also men voluntarily enlisted for home defence for the duration of the war. It was sought by the Returned Soldiers League, as the result of an accident in which four soldiers were killed while returning from leave in an army truck.
– I remind the honorable member that the reading of lengthy extracts from newspapers is not permitted when a question is being asked; he may summarize the statement if he wishes to base a question upon it.
– The statement relates to a ruling given by the SolicitorGeneral after four soldiers travelling in a military transport vehicle were killed en route to their camp at Seymour. Does the Minister intend to have the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act amended so that, in cases of this kind, full compensation will be paid to the men concerned or their dependants?
– I shall bring the matter to the notice of the Minister for Repatriation and see if I can obtain an answer for the honorable member.
– Will the Minister for the Army state whether or not it is a fact that the wife and dependent children of a soldier are not eligible for the increased rate of allowance to dependants of the Australian Imperial Force if the wife has a court order against her husband ?
– This question has been raised more than once. Originally, when a wife was issued with a court order against her husband, who might have been unemployed or earning very little at the time when the order was made, the Army officer dealing with the matter took the view, quite erroneously in my opinion, that the order determined the amount of allowance to be made to the wife. A number of honorable members, including the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), brought the matter to my attention, and as the result of their representations I gave a direction that a court order should not be used other than as a guide in determining the rate of allowance to be made. If the soldier was not in employment at the time when the order was made, it would be disregarded altogether.
– Following the advice of the chairman of the Wheat Industry Stabilization Board to wheat-growers that they should proceed with normal sowings of wheat this season, will the Minister for Commerce consider the withdrawal, or the suspension for this season at least, of the wheat stabilization regulations concerning the restriction of acreage, in order to allow wheat-farmers to escape the irksome and irritating conditions which such regulations impose?
– The reason why the wheat-farmers are asked to register this year is that the department may be enabled to control next year’s harvest, which is the one in connexion with which the wheat stabilization plan will operate for the benefit of farmers. In order to make certain that there will be the least possible hardship inflicted on farmers this year, the Wheat Industry Stabilization Board is dealing with the matter with some elasticity.
– Can the Minister for Labour and National Service say whether his department is taking any steps to have the shortage of housing for munition workers in the vicinity of the Maribyrnong establishments remedied, and if so, have such steps gone beyond the stage of a preliminary inquiry? Will be arrange for the officers investigating the matter to confer, as early as possible, with representatives of the municipalities in and near to which the munition establishments are located in order to obtain their advice and assistance as to suitable cheap land which is known to be available in the vicinity, and their aid in obtaining the early construction of the necessary acfcommodation?
– The Government recently secured the services of Mr. H. H. Brodie, who was formerly secretary of the Homes for Unemployed Trust in New South Wales, to investigate the alleged shortage of housing accommodation for munition workers who are engaged on government projects. Mr. Brodie has already made a full investigation of conditions at Glen Davis, and has carried out some investigations of conditions at Lithgow. Following his inquiries, a project is now in course of development for the erection of a number of houses at Glen Davis, and plans are well advanced for the production of a certain amount of accommodation at Lithgow. He has also made a preliminary survey of housing needs in the neighbourhood of the establishments at Footscray, and I expect that he will be in Melbourne again early next week, when he can carry his inquiries further. He has had some contact with officials of the Footscray Municipal Council. The honorable member’s suggestion that he should confer with representatives of other councils in the neighbourhood of munitions establishments in Victoria, will be favorably considered.
– In view of the fact that Mr. Brodie is engaged on an investigation of the housing conditions at Glen Davis, Lithgow, Footscray and Maribyrnong, will the Minister for the Air consider the representations that I have already made to him, in connexion with the problem of accommodating the personnel associated with the Royal Australian Air Force Aerodrome at Amberley, near Ipswich? Will the Minister obtain from the Minister for Labour and National Service authority for Mr. Brodie to conduct a. similar examination at Ipswich, Queensland ?
– I shall be glad to consult with my colleague with a view to considering the possibility of taking action along the lines suggested.
– Can the Minister for Social Services say whether, when he visited South Australia recently, he inquired into the operations of the Housing Trust in that State? If so, has he anything to report to this House in connexion with tha.t inquiry?
– It is true that last week I visited Adelaide, primarily for the purpose of inspecting the work that has been done by the South Australian Housing Trust in providing houses at cheap rents. I was greatly impressed with the development of the work’ there, and I hope that what I gleaned will be a useful contribution towards the information which I have been gathering throughout Australia in connexion with the housing problem.
– Following his recent trip to Palestine, the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) announced that he was satisfied that the Australian troops in the Middle East were now adequately equipped. I now ask him what was the position, as regards the equipment of the troops, during the first six months after their arrival in the Middle East, as, according to authentic reports which have since come to hand, they were left there for approximately six months in a practically defenceless state through lack of armoured equipment?
– Has the Minister called for a report as to who was responsible for such shocking neglect of our troops; if so, will he table the report?
– In the first place, I challenge the honorable member to produce any authentic statement to the effect that our troops were left practically defenceless. Such an allegation is almost wholly untrue. It is true that when the troops were sent there some of them had training equipment only. The details of that matter will be given to Parliament in a statement which will be submitted at a later stage. But to allege in the terms that the honorable member has used that the troops were left defenceless for six months is to do a disservice to the country. The allegation is not true.
– In view of the issue of a booklet by the Defence Department in which is pointed out the importance of the proper fitting of boots, will the Minister for the Army say whether he approves of the issue of second-hand boots - boots which have been worn by other men - to trainees who have been called up under the compulsory provisions of the Defence Act?
– If particulars are supplied to me, I shall have inquiries made into the matter referred to by the honorable member. I understand that on some occasions boots which have been worn for short periods havebeen re-conditioned and re-issued; if that can be called issuing second-hand boots, the answer in in the affirmative. I see no objection to that being done.
– Can the Acting Prime Minister say whether the Government has recently received any instructions from Lady Blarney?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is “ No “.
– Will the Acting Prime Minister say who was the Minister responsible for issuing authority to Lady Blarney to leave Australia? Does the Government intend to remove that Minister from office? Will the Leader of the House present to this Parliament a report setting out all the circumstances in which a passport was issued to Lady Blarney? Will he say whether any other applications for passports to wives of members of the Australian Imperial Force have been made, and if so whether they were approved or refused; and whether the policy followed in respect of Lady Blarney is to operate in respect of relatives of other members of the Australian Imperial Force who may wish to proceed overseas?
– The War Cabinet, not any individual Minister, gave permission for Lady Blarney to leave Australia, and the issue of a passport to her by the appropriate Minister was with the consent of the War Cabinet.
H onorable members interjecting,
– Order ! These interjections prevent proper answers to questions being given, and I therefore appeal to honorable members to allow questions to be answered without interruption.
– I intend to give a frank and straightforward reply to the honorable member’s question. The War Cabinet gave permission for Lady Blarney to leave Australia, and subsequently a passport was issued to her by the appropriate Minister. No individual Minister was responsible for issuing the passport. Subsequently the fullCabinet considered that the War Cabinet had made a mistake in allowing Lady Blarney to leave Australia, and, therefore, decided to request her to return home. That was done. Lady Blarney is a resident of Australia who has been given a passport, and she is standing on her legal rights.
– Ministers will not answer any further questions without notice to-day.
Motion (by Mr. Fadden) agreed to -
That, unless otherwise ordered, Government business shall, on each day of sitting, have precedence of all other business, except on that Thursday on which, under the provisions of Standing Order No. 241, the question is put “ That Mr. Speaker do now leave the chair “. On such Thursday, general business shall have precedence of Government business until 9 o’clock p.m.
Secret Meeting of Senators and Members - Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited: Capital IssueShipbuilding - Australianimperial Force : Equipment - Unemployment in Hunter Electorate.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
I invite honorable members and senators to meet in this chamber immediately after the adjournment of the House. I do so for the purpose of presenting at a secret meeting an outline of the international position, and of what we are doing and have already done by way of defence preparation in Australia, so that honorable members shall be fully conversant with the situation as the Government and the War Advisory Council see it. I shall present a statement to the meeting, and statements will also be made by the Minister for External Affairs (Sir Frederick Stewart), the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender), the Minister for the Navy (Mr. Hughes), the Minister for Air (Mr. McEwen) and the Minister for Munitions (Senator McBride). It is desired that the position shall be clearly presented to members of Parliament, who are looked upon as national trustees for the people. The subjects discussed in these statements will be open to debate and question, and I hope that there will be full and frank discussion in the course of which doubts and misunderstandings will be removed, so that we may put forward a united effort in the best interests of Australia.
– I should like to obtain some information from the Acting Prima Minister in regard to the matters which are to be discussed at the secret meeting of members. I can understand that the reports of Ministers in charge of the fighting services may contain matters which must necessarily remain confidential. However, at a previous secret meeting, members introduced subjects which, in my opinion, and in the opinion of other honorable members, could quite well have been debated in open parliament. This afternoon, the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) asked a question of the Acting Prime Minister, who replied by saying that he would make a statement later. He meant, I take it, that he would make a statement on the subject at the secret meeting of members. For my part, I can see no reason why such a question should not be answered in open parliament. I do not feel disposed to attend a. secret meeting if its purpose is to prevent criticism of the Government or of individual Ministers. I have no objection to such a meeting if it is to confine its attention to statements by Ministers in charge of the services on matters which obviously should be confidential, such as the disposition of the Forces, but if its purpose is to enable Ministers to answer in secret questions such as that asked by the honorable member for Batman, I assure the Acting Prime Minister that I do not want to be associated with it.
– I regard it as very desirable that honorable members of the Parliament should be given all the information which it is possible for the head of the Government, and the Ministers in charge of the services, to give to them regarding the state of the war, and the position of Australia. Honorable members, being then fully informed, will be in a better position to deal with the public with discretion. We cannot fully discuss military, naval and air subjects and operations with open doors. It is obvious that, in the ordinary routine of Parliament, Ministers have sometimes to give replies which, because of the nature of the subject, do not completely indicate the real position. Honorable members have been pressing the Government to take them more into its confidence regarding the actual war position. It is not intended to hold a secret session of Parliament this afternoon. Parliament is asked to adjourn. “Without reference to what honorable members may do subsequently in Parliament, Ministers are inviting honorable members of both Houses to hear from them statements dealing with the war situation, the general condition of the country, and relevant subjects which are at the moment of such outstanding importance. For my part, because I believe it will be of advantage to honorable members in carrying out their parliamentary duties to have this information, and because I can see that it may be very difficult to give the information in the ordinary way, I support the proposition advanced by the Acting Prime Minister.
– I am glad that the Acting Prime Minister approached this matter of a secret consultation in the way that he did - that is to say, he intimated that, upon the House adjourning, honorable members of both Houses will be invited to this chamber for the purpose of hearing addresses by Ministers upon the details of subjects within their special knowledge. I am glad of that approach because more than once we have been threatened with, or promised, according to the point of view, a secret, session of Parliament. T have always said that if the Parliament, holding a secret session, sought by resolution or any other means to divorce me from my responsibilities to my electors, I would resist to the utmost of my power. I would not be a party to a secret session of Parliament which meant merely that an honorable member would have his curiosity gratified by the outpourings of Ministers, and that his lips would be sealed in discharge of the paramount duty which he owes to the people who sent him here. In other words, I have no other interest in Parliament except as a representative of the people. I conceive it to be my duty to receive instructions and authority from the people who sent me here, consistently, of course, with my own self-respect, and I conceive it to be a complementary duty to report back to them what transpires in this popular chamber.
– Would that apply to the Cabinet in which the honorable member was a Minister?
– What I have stated is an elementary principle of democracy, just as it is also an elementary principle that Cabinet consultations and party meetings may be private and confidential. However, the essence of responsible government, the essence of parliamentary government, the essence of representative institutions, is that the Parliament shall meet in public, and render a true account of its stewardship to the people who constitute the foundation upon which the parliamentary institution rests. From that I shall brook bo departure. I shall, if I am suffered to remain in this chamber while speeches are delivered, exercise my own discretion as to any knowledge I possess when I give an account of my stewardship to the people - or indeed, between this present time and that occasion. I do not for a moment believe that it is consistent with the democratic theory, or with public safety, that we should use the parliamentary instrument for the purpose of enabling Ministers to excuse themselves in private in respect of matters for which they should have to account in public under the searchlight of public criticism.
– Is there no enemy at the door?
– It is quite true that there may be matters - technical or otherwise - which should not be bruited abroad. Every honorable member, I. believe, would respect requests for secrecy in respect of such matters. However, on a. previous occasion, we had the experience in this chamber of the Prime Minister suddenly rising and asking that the galleries be cleared, and then we had a series of addresses of which much of the matter was purely trifling, much of it gossip, and a great deal which could just as well have been discussed in the full light of day, in the presence of the press and of the public. It is a very simple matter, indeed, for Ministers to indicate matters which they desire should not be made public, and if they are of a kind likely to kelp or encourage the enemy, honorable members will join with Ministers in seeing that such matters are not noised abroad. This afternoon, however, 1 asked a question of the Acting Prime Minister relating to responsible government in this country. I intend to discuss that question publicly at a later stage. In respect of any answer which the Acting Prime Minister may give in secret to it, I do not intend to be hindered, unless I be forcibly hindered, from discussing it in public. It is a matter which relates to the responsibility of government, the responsibility of Parliament, the rights of honorable members, and the standing of Ministers of the Crown. I do not propose to allow that matter to be taken out of my hands by consenting to a declaration by the Acting Prime Minister that he will tell us something about it in confidence. Unless I am forcibly prevented from exercising my rights I shall exercise them. In popular language there is a lot of “ hooey “ about these secret meetings. There is to a great degree a desire on the part of Ministers to assume an awe-inspiring attitude towards the public and the press, and to make it appear that if the public only knew what Ministers knew they would adopt a less critical attitude towards the Government. There is a great deal of make-believe about that attitude. I, no less than others, regard the international situation as being very grave. I do not propose now to amplify that statement ; I shall take other opportunities - I hope in public - to do so. I do not believe that much of the talk that will be indulged in by Ministers after the House adjourns is likely to be of a kind that could not be uttered in public. I do not think that Parliament should adjourn.
– Nothing was said at the last secret session that could not have been said with prudence in public.
– I admit, however, that Parliament controls its own affairs. It has taken Parliament a long time to meet, and should it wish to adjourn after the first hour and a half, by all means let it adjourn. If the Government has anything useful, or informative, to tell us we shall be happy to listen. Again I say there is much “hooey” about secret sessions. I do not propose to be hampered by reason of any secret session in the discharge of my duty to my electors. I shall not take part in any secret session of this Parliament which is based on any resolution imposing an obligation of secrecy upon me in regard to any matter which I should convey to my constituents outside.
– I find myself very much in agreement with the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan). I cannot see the usefulness of holding a secret session if in such a session we are only to deal with matters which should be debated in Parliament. However, I was under the impression that many honorable members opposite had asked that a secret session be held. I cannot recall anything that was said at the last secret session which could not have been said with prudence in public. If another secret session be held on those lines we shall be only wasting our time. No doubt, in a secret session honorable members will ask questions of Ministers, and the latter will leave to the good taste of honorable members the decision of whether or not they should treat the information imparted as secret. I take it, however, that on this occasion the Government intends to let us know some Cabinet secrets. If that be the case I am prepared to attend a secret session. However, a secret session will be useless if it means that we shall merely discuss the war situation generally. Such a procedure will, be a waste of time and, like the honorable member for Batman, I think that it will be so much “hooey”.
.- I take this opportunity to bring under the notice of the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) an urgent matter which cannot be conveniently raised in the form of a question. I refer to the new capital issue of £2,500,000 by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. The Government has restricted the formation of companies of various kinds and for various purposes. It has. for instance, restricted the raising of capital for the purpose of building homes for the people. If it can be contended that the raising of capital for that purpose is unnecessary, I should like to be informed why permission has been given for this new capital issue by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited.
Has this matter been submitted to the Capital Issues Advisory Board, and, if so, what is the attitude of that board on it? I emphasize that the object of restricting the raising of capital in Australia is to prevent investments on unnecessary enterprises during the present crisis. I draw the attention of the Treasurer particularly to the fact that rights to this new capital issue are being sold for approximately 17s. 6d. a share. That means that if the whole of the shares involved be acquired in this way an additional £2,200,000 of public- credit will be actually expended. It is not simply a matter of this company raising £2,500,000 of new capital; the transaction will involve the raising of as much as £4,700,000. I do not think that it is the intention of the Government to permit such a procedure. This issue is to become available on the 31st March, but the sale of rights to acquire these shares is taking place at the present time. If the Government desires to ensure the fullest possible use of” public credit, a policy with which I agree, it should prevent the sale of rights to acquire these shares, because in this way capital is being taken out of the community for purposes which cannot be considered urgent. The sum of £2,200,000 which will be expended in acquiring the rights to buy these £1 shares could be better invested in other industries which would provide increased employment. I ask the Government to take immediate action to prohibit sale of rights to acquire these shares, and thus conserve the capital available for urgent industrial development in Australia.
– I entirely agree with what the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Perkins) has said with regard to secret sessions. I have never approved of them. I have never heard more than 100 words uttered in a so-called secret session in this chamber that could not have been given to the public in the full light of day. The last secret session was held as the result of certain remarks which I made in this chamber at a very late hour of the night. I never asked that that session be held. Whatever were the thoughts of honorable members at that time as to what I said, there could be no doubt, when, at a later date, those poor unfortunate persons who had been captured by enemy raiders returned to this country that my remarks were fully justified. Whenever I have statements of that sort to make I prefer to make them in the light of day. I have no doubt that on this occasion certain requests will be made for information in regard to rather unusual things which have happened within the last three months. I for one shall want to be told about those things in public, because I wish to make certain remarks about them. Having voluntarily muzzled myself for three months, I do not intend, during the present sittings of this House, to conceal from the people of this country what in my heart I know to be the position in regard to certain events which happened not so long ago. I have a responsibility to the electors of this country. I have a responsibility to the Commonwealth at large. If this session be held I shall attend it ; but, afterwards, I shall take whatever steps I consider to be necessary in the interests of this country to carry out the responsibility which I owe to my electorate, and to the nation as a whole. An interesting point arises from what the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has just said, namely, that he will use his own discretion in deciding what he should place before his electors concerning anything that might be said in this so-called secret session. I raise the additional point as to whence this House derives authority to sit with members of the Senate in a secret session. I know of no standing order which places any obligation upon members from either chambers who attend to maintain secrecy in regard to these statements which the Acting Prime Minister and his colleagues wish to make. That is one point to which the Government should give very careful consideration. If there is any point in holding a secret session, it must carry with if, not only a moral, but also a legal obligation on members of this Parliament to remain perfectly silent about what is disclosed and done. I do not know of any such legal obligation. Some problems of this description might very well be cleared up. I have never had two minds about the idea of holding this secret session. I do not deny that the time may come when it may be necessary that certain things be discussed in a session of this description. However, I have heard very little to justify the holding of such a session at this juncture. To my mind the present proposal to hold a secret session is like putting a .wet cornsack down the chimney of a cottage occupied by a newly-married couple - it causes some discomfort and perturbation inside and a lot of speculation and amusement outside.
.- Whatever they be called, sessions held in secret are designed to enable honorable members to obtain certain information which the Government regards as confidential. On the last occasion when a session of this kind was held, we sat all night, but what was done could have been done just as effectively in five minutes. The whole procedure was a farce of the worst kind. In reply to questions by honorable members, Ministers merely repeated in slightly different language reports which had appeared from time to time in the press.
I take this opportunity to draw the attention of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) to the following report which appeared in the Sydney Sun on the 18th February last -
A Queensland port, without many of the industrial facilities of Sydney and Melbourne, recently turned out a minesweeper in record time for the Australian Navy, and, with no reserves of skilled labor, is providing workmen for three slips. “ For the Government to talk about being unable to build commercial ships because of a shortage of labor, or steel, is rubbish,” said a Commonwealth shipping expert to-day.
He revealed that three slips had been constructed at a Queensland port for only £32,000, and that these could be extended to build ships up to 500 feet in length for only another £20,000. Although this port had few of the advantages of the southern cities, he said that more slips might be built there soon. “ To talk about a steel shortage was so much nonsense “, he added. “ It took only 12,000 tons to build a ship. “ The Government seems to have scared itself by talking about astronomical figures for slips,” lie added. “Any extra slips constructed will bc surplus after the war. Those slips already in existence will be able to cater for our peace-time needs. All we need are temporary slips, and nobody can say that in wartime £32,000 is a lot of money.”
There was misapprehension about the type of labor needed for shipbuilding. Modern machinery and methods had reduced it to a semi-skilled occupation. Lads with some technical education could acquire sufficient training in three weeks to be competent, he said. “ Until the Government realises that, stops deceiving itself about this vital problem and faces the facts, we shall get nowhere “, he concluded.
For obvious reasons, the identity of the expert was not disclosed. If it had been, he would not have remained long in the Commonwealth service. I make that statement because of the treatment meted out not long ago to another man, whom we all know. The newspaper article will doubtless .arouse in the public mind inquiries as to why so much bother and confusion has arisen about the building of ships in Australia.
.- Possibly a considerable amount of good will emerge from what has been said by honorable members about the secret meeting, because Ministers will now attend it with the full knowledge of the opinions of private members. For my part, I do not believe that we are justified in prejudging this secret meeting. To- form a judgment, merely on the results of previous secret meetings, is to adopt an unjustifiable attitude. If we learn no more from the coming secret meeting than we learned from previous ones, the sitting will be futile. Ministers should not take that statement as being a reflection upon themselves, nor should they be deterred from proceeding with the meeting. From previous gatherings of this kind the Government has learned a good deal as to what honorable members expect to be told. I have sufficient confidence in the Government to believe that Ministers will supply us with worthwhile information.
I take careful notice of the fact that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and his colleagues on the Advisory War Council have strongly recommended the holding of a secret meeting. One would be unduly suspicious if one believed that matters would be raised deliberately at the proposed gathering for the specific purpose of closing the mouths of private members. If I saw evidence of such a tendency, I would reserve to myself the right to speak on behalf of my constituents when the House reassembles, and to hold appropriate investigation of the matters. However,
I do not expect that such a course will be necessary. We must remember that if this secret meeting he not held, a great deal of information will not be imparted to us, and Ministers will maintain silence on many subjects that now agitate the minds of honorable members.
.- As I understand the position, the difference between the propose’d gathering of honorable members and a secret session can be briefly stated: In a secret session, honorable members operate under the rules and practice of the House, and it has been laid down in England that it becomes an offence for a newspaper to publish anything that purports to be a report of what has been said or done at the secret meeting, or for an individual member of the House wilfully to divulge anything that he heard there. The proposed meeting will be different from a secret meeting, because it will not be conducted under the discipline of the House, and a member’s own sense of right and honour will govern what he afterwards discusses and divulges. My view is that except under the utmost strain of danger such as exists in Great Britain, secret meetings of Parliament are thoroughly unjustifiable. They do a great deal more harm than they could possibly do good. A secret meeting of the House of Representatives of New Zealand was conducted under the rules of the House, and no one was permitted to divulge anything that happened there. After one such meeting, a member, Mr. Moncur, rose in his place in the chamber and proceeded to refer to the secret meeting. The Speaker immediately intervened with the words: “I am afraid that the honorable member is about to enter upon forbidden ground “. Mr. Moncur replied, “ No, I am not; all I wish to do is to allay the fears of the people of New Zealand by telling them that, at the secret meeting, we learned nothing that everybody does not know already”. A secret gathering such as is now proposed is likely to do a great deal of harm in two ways : First, it will create in the minds of the peoplefear that there exists an increased and immediate danger to Australia; information as to which is so secret that it must be withheld from the people. Secondly, following on the recent alarmist sensation, it will create in the minds of the people a belief that Australia expects an attack from nations other than Germany.
– Did the secret meeting of the New Zealand House of Representatives have such an effect upon the public of that dominion?
– It was, of course, a good while before the present new alarms were sounded, but I have no doubt that such assurances as were given by Mr. Moncur were very much needed. A secret meeting of members of this House will have a much worse effect here. Following upon what I consider were the alarmist statements which were made recently to the public of Australia, I believe that a secret gathering such as is proposed could do no good. The Commonwealth Government has created the Advisory War Council and any information that ought to be disclosed to the House can be told to that body. I cannot see that any good will be done by the - proposed secret meeting; but I can see that a great deal of harm will be done. Some time ago, I attended a quickly-convened secret meeting, which yielded to those in attendance no information that was not already known to them ; nothing was said that could not, and ought not, to have been said in public. A lot of the information which was given in private ought to have been given in public. All we desire to elicit from Ministers is an assurance that Australia is being defended. The best way of judging that is to see the actual fruits of the work of Ministers, and the manner in which our defences are being strengthened. With what they promise to do we are not concerned. We are interested only in the actual, visible preparations for our defence. Assurances of thai- - and that only - will satisfy the people.
– ‘Does the honorable member want the enemy to learn the actual position ?
– Certainly not! But for my part, I am perfectly satisfied to know that the Government is alive to the danger, and that it is in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). I do not want to know more than that. People can see that our defences, far from being perfect, are really inadequate. They do not require to be told that.
.- I can see no virtue or advantage in the proposed secret meeting. Very ‘ largely, 1 agree with the opinion of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn). At any secret meeting that I have attended, I have not heard one word that could not have been uttered in public, and I cannot imagine a Minister making to such a gathering a statement which could not, or should not, have been made known. If it is to be a secret meeting at all, it should be a secret sitting of the House, where members will be definitely bound to secrecy, and be liable for punishment if they repeat anything that they hear at the meeting. But I cannot see how honorable members can be bound to secrecy regarding the proceedings at the proposed informal gathering. I consider that there is nothing to be gained from a meeting of the kind proposed..
– I endorse the sentiments expressed by the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) and other honorable members regarding the proposed secret meeting. Democracy, to function, must be told the facts. The people fear only what they do not know. If Australians are told the worst, they will face the situation squarely. The effect of this proposed secret meeting will be to alarm people and cramp our war effort. The only way in which to obtain a united war effort is to acquaint the public with all the facts.
I am “placed in an invidious position regarding an answer which was given to me by the Minister for the Army and regarding the equipment of the Australian Imperial Force abroad. In my opinion, no disservice will be done to this country by publishing the facts because the danger has now passed. No reflection is cast upon the ability of the Minister for the Army, because he was not responsible for the position. At that time he did not hold his present portfolio, and he was just as agitated as I was about the matter. Subsequently, he made a special trip abroad to ascertain whether the rumours had any foundation, and he discovered that the troops were then adequately equipped. In the circumstances, no harm can bc done now by disclosing the facts.
From information given to me, I am satisfied that my fears were justified. Of the 16,000 soldiers who have been repatriated or discharged from the Army, many served in the Middle East, and will substantiate my statements. The matter should be the subject of a public inquiry, or should be investigated by a select committee of this House, so that those responsible will be appropriately dealt with. A real disservice would be done to Australia by allowing anybody to remain in a position where he could be responsible for a recurrence of the trouble, and an exhaustive inquiry should be held in order to sheet home the guilt. The debacle in France was accomplished by fifth columnists behind the lines, and we do not want a similar experience in Australia. If there be any fifth columnists here, th’ey should be immediately exposed and placed where they can do no harm.
I should like the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) to inform me how long the oath of secrecy imposed upon members of the Advisory “War Council endures. How long after a particular danger, which has been known to the Council, has passed will it be permissible to discuss the matter in Parliament? I desire that information in order to clear myself regarding the answer which was given to me by the Minister for the Army; I am confident that he will substantiate my statements, although he may differ from me as to whether I exaggerated the position. It will be shown definitely that for six months our troops in Palestine had no armoured equipment. In view of the importance of armoured equipment in modern warfare, any reasonable person will agree that the Australian Imperial Force should never have been left in such a defenceless state. Whether fifth columnists were responsible, or whether some officials relied upon others to do their job, I do not know. I want to know from the Acting Prime Minister whether any discussion that took place on this matter in the Advisory War Council can now be made public?
– No; the oath of secrecy still obtains.
– Then there is nothing more that I can say.
.- I sympathize with the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) in the position in which he has been placed as the result of the objection to a secret meeting voiced by most honorable members who have spoken. My view is that Parliament is not exercising its true function if it does not take every opportunity to obtain information. I read the press statements about the war. I do not criticize the journals when I say that what they publish is conflicting. “We should have the true story from the Ministry. “We have not had it yet. “We have had no. information since Parliament last sat, except a few observations from time to time about the defence policy.
– There is a costly Department of Information.
– The Department of Information is not functioning as I should like it to function. I hope that the Acting Prime Minister will brush aside the suggestion that we should not hold a secret meeting. It should be held, and the Acting Prime Minister should give to us the information which he contemplates giving, irrespective of the fact that certain honorable members have reserved the right to deal with that information as they think fit. I, too, have been dissatisfied with the information that we have received. The times are critical and, as they become more critical, as they will before victory is won, we must be called together and be given information. We are not carrying out our trust to the people if we do not attend such meetings. Ministers do not perform their true function if they do not give the fullest information, secret and otherwise, so that we may vote with knowledge. I hope that the Acting Prime Minister will not take this debate as an indication that the majority do not want a secret session. If we are told what we do not already know the secret session will be justified. I can understand the apathy of honorable members if they come here expecting information as to the exact position in Australia and overseas, but are given merely a rehash of what has already appeared in the press. Even in the statements made from time to time by the Minister for External Affairs there has been nothing that has not already appeared either in the press or the fortnightly journal issued by the External Affairs Department. That is not fair to honorable members. I do not endorse the observations of some honorable members, particularly honorable members opposite, and I ask for the information to which we are entitled. I shall continue to ask for that information until I get it.
.- The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) flattered honorable members by telling them that they are national trustees. Neither the Acting Prime Minister nor any member of the Ministry in the last three months has treated any honorable member outside the Ministry and members of the Advisory War Council as if he were a national trustee. No information about the war effort, not already made known in the press, has been supplied to any member of the House or of the Senate. The announcement by the Acting Prime Minister sounds to me like a new discovery, rivalling the announcement a few years ago of Professor Enstein’s theory of relativity. If the announcement is any indication of ti changed attitude I welcome it, but the Ministry seems to proceed from the assumption that only Ministers and honorable members of the Advisory War Council are fit to be trusted with information about the war, and that no other honorable member has a right to ask questions or to be supplied with information if it is not thought advisable for it to be given to him. If we are national trustees, we ought to be given all the information available to Ministers.
– That is what the meeting is to be for.
– I am just as entitled to information as is any other honorable member of this Parliament. The purpose of a question which I asked earlier to-day about the necessity for the presence of the service chiefs was inspired by my lack of faith in the capacity of Ministers to answer any questions arising out of the type-written statements which they will read to the House. By a process of deductive logic I assume that their conduct on this occasion will parallel their conduct on other occasions when secret meetings have been held. All of those meetings have been well described as farcical, and if the capacity of Ministers to answer questions at the proposed meeting is not better than it was on previous occasions and at this sitting we shall not get very far. Ministers in the House of Commons are much more frank than Ministers of the Commonwealth Parliament are in dealing with private members.
– Does the House of Commons hold secret sessions?
– Yes, and, what is more important, it holds public sessions, and Parliament is not closed for three months on end as it is here. As a matter of fact in 1940 the House of Commons had 131 sitting days. This Parliament has to go back to the days of the Scullin Government to find a similar record of a ministry facing the House.
– I do not think that the honorable member’s party would want to go back to those days.
– If we had more public sessions than we do hold, the ranks of Tuscany would be considerably depleted. The secret meetings which have been held have been farcical, and I reserve to myself the right, as other honorable members do, to decide what I shall do. If I find that I have been summoned to a series pf lectures by a number of Ministers who will read something which has been written for them by someone else I shall know what to do. I wanted the service chiefs to be present so that honorable members could question them in the same way as Ministers and honorable members of the Advisory War Council question them. If they are not present we shall not get very much information. I give place to nobody in this Parliament in my desire to do all that is humanly possible to help this war to a successful conclusion, but equally I give place to nobody in my desire to ensure that the fullest possible information shall be given to the representatives of the people and that more information shall be given to the people in order that they may have more faith in this Parliament than they have disclosed in conversations with honorable members in the streets and at public meetings. There is lack of faith in the capacity of this Parliament, and it has been brought about largely by secrecy and the desire of Ministers to vouchsafe just as little information as they can possibly give.
.- As I understand it, the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) wishes to make important information available to honorable members of this House. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) supports his request. We do not know exactly what the character of the information will be, but the Acting Prime Minister thinks that it should not be given at a public session. If the meeting be held, no member of the House will be under any obligation so far as legal sanction is concerned. But it happens that the Acting Prime Minister wishes to impart to all honorable members information which he thinks is important and should not be disclosed in public. He could pick for the meeting a place which is outside this chamber. He could invite members of this House and the Senate to attend such a meeting. Would there be anything wrong in that? I see no objection. I do not know what the information is to he. I am in the same position as the honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who has had no information in the last three months. Probably we shall be given information as to naval and military matters which cannot be revealed outside. Why should we anticipate what we shall be told? There should be no dispute on the point.
The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) has set out the position accurately. The information which we shall get we can only divulge if one might in honour do so. But I cannot understand the objections raised. One might think that the situation in which Australia and the Empire are placed at the moment is a situation of profound peace. Military, naval and air secrets may be placed at our disposal. Why should the Acting Prime Minister not have the opportunity to place them at our disposal ?
– Does the honorable member argue that that information should be given at an informal meeting ?
– Certainly. If the Acting Prime Minister asked me to attend an informal meeting, I should go, because I should be interested in what was to be said. If he asked me personally to attend a meeting at which information affecting the safety of the realm was to be given, I should go, and if he asked that the information should not be divulged, I should regard that request as binding upon me. Why should we not agree ? The mere fact that this meeting is to be held in this chamber is nothing to the point. No member is bound to attend.
-1- One honorable member opposite says that he will use his own discretion.
– Of course he will. Some information may be trifling and of no value, but we should not assume that it will be, and, therefore, not entitled to secrecy. It comes to this: That the Government wishes to have an opportunity to give information. It has nothing to do with the Advisory War Council. There is an invitation to honorable members to ask questions. Why should we not accept that invitation? Common courtesy demands as much. Is the Government not entitled to have an opportunity for disclosure?
– It is not entitled to waste time.
– For an hour it has been said that we are not legally bound not to divulge the information which is given to us. True, we need not attend. For myself, I shall attend. I want to hear what information is to be placed at our disposal. If the Government thinks it cannot be divulged to the public, well and good; we shall know at the end of the meeting whether the Government’s present view is justified. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) put his finger on the real point: Why should we now prejudice the position by assuming that the information will be of such a kind that it can be disclosed? We do not know; it is for the Government to say whether it should make the information available to honorable members
– It is the Government’s information.
– That is true. But there is the Government’s invitation, and why should we not accept it? Speech after speech has been delivered in the same strain and to the same effect. It is true that we will be hound not to divulge military secrets; but why not hear the information, always reserving our rights as representatives of the people, to criticize the Government for wasting time or for requiring us to accept the obligation of secrecy. I cannot understand honorable members who complain of lack of information, of not being consulted, yet reject an invitation of this kind. If anything emerges that may with safety he disclosed, I am sure it will finally be disclosed to the public by the Government.
– No satisfactory explanation has been given of the necessity for the holding of this meeting.
– It has the authority and the backing of the Leader of the Government and the approval of the Leader of the Opposition. It is an invitation that, in exercising our duty ‘to our constituents, we should accept. ‘The meeting could be held in another way; the House could adjourn, and the Acting Prime Minister could ask those who wish to attend to do so. That is practically what we are invited to do now. Why not adopt that course? We are in the middle of the greatest war in history, and the greatest peril that ever confronted this nation. I .am prepared to attend and listen before 1 give judgment against those who wish to impart this information to us and ask us to keep it secret in the national interest.
– This Parliament is a democratic institution. Every member of it is for the time being one of the rulers of this nation. It is true that in war-time the Executive has a great deal more power than normally, but it is equally true that, in the long run, this Parliament is the master of the situation. If honorable members are to he able to judge the issues fairly, they must be informed as far as it is possible for them to be informed. We cannot expect to be given information regarding the disposition of our armed forces- or the movements of naval vessels ; but all the information at the disposal of the Government as to the gravity or otherwise of the present situation should be placed before us. Only a few weeks ago the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) made a statement to the people of Australia that the situation had drifted to one of the utmost gravity. I am completely ignorant of the reason for that statement.. From my reading of the press I can, of course, as can any other member of the public, place my own interpretation on if, but I do not know what factual information the Government has, and to judge the issues clearly and conscientiously I must be acquainted with all the facts of the situation. I cannot accept the contention thatany honorable member does not want to know the facts. We have the right to know them. I take it that no honorable member is bound to observe complete secrecy about everything he may hear - that must be in the discretion of the honorable member concerned - but if any honorable member, after hearing secret information, should impart fact’s that would be of value to the enemy, it will be the. duty of the Government to take action against him. Similar restrictions were placed on members of parliament in Great Britain. It is to be assumed that every member of this’ Parliament is a responsible’ person, genuine in his desire to procure’ the safety of the realm ; in order to enable bini to accept the full responsibilities of his office, he should be in possession of all the information that the Government can put before him.
.- After a recess of three months, it is singular that the Government, with a session o£ four weeks before it, and with only two bill’s announced, neither of which is yet in- its final form, should occupy the time of the Parliament by spending hours, even days, in discussing allegedly secret reports. On two occasions during the last sittings’ I asked for a secret sitting of the1 Parliament. A secret sitting, was held, not at my instigation, but at the instigation of the honorable member for. Barker (Mr: Archie Cameron).
– I did not ask for a secret session.
– But the honorable member brought it about.
– The secret session was held as the result of information disclosed by the honorable member for Barker, but I, in common with other honorable members, was disappointed at the meagre information which the Government made available. During the secret sitting promises were made by responsible Ministers that certain action would be taken. I have since written to at least one of them asking whether his promise was honoured, and he has informed me that he has not taken the action proposed and does not intend to do so. All honorable members are anxious to hear the information which the Government proposes to impart; but I cannot understand why the Parliament was not assembled and all the information placed before it on which the Acting Prime Minister based his statement that a state of crisis existed. The Acting Prime Minister’s statement on that occasion should have been made in the Parliament before it appeared in the press. Is it any wonder that honorable members doubt the genuineness of the Government’s purpose in holding a secret meeting?
What emergency exists to-day that did not exist when the Acting Prime Minister’s statement about the deterioration of the situation was made?
.- The only objection that honorable- members may have to the proposed secret meeting is that it will have no constitutional footing, and will not be held under the- rules of the Parliament. There is something in what the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) has said in that regard. It appears, that our Constitution does’ not provide for the. holding of a joint sitting of members of both Houses of the Legislature for a. purpose of this kind. Nobody questions the danger in which the Empire stands to-day, and it is our duty as’ the representatives of the people to know the facts associated with the international situation. There should be some control over those who attend a secret meeting of the kind proposed, and those who- divulge information which would injure the- cause for which we are fighting, should be- punished. There should also be proper control over the- press. I regret that it is not possible to hold a constitutional meeting of members of both Houses of the Parliament to deal with this important matter. I do not hold myself free, because I happen to represent about 50,000 people, to divulge promiscuously, to the disadvantage of the nation to which I belong, information which may .be made available to me at a secret meeting. I say to the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) that this matter is so important that, if honorable members openly say they will not regard as secret the information they receive, it should not be given to them.
.- After the experience of the last secret meeting, during which we gleaned no information that was not available to every body in the street, I fail to see any merit in the proposed secret meeting. If secret information of an extraordinary nature is to be disclosed, surely the public of Australia is as much entitled to it as we are. The Australian people “can take it” - they can stand up to the worst - and if they are told the full facts of the situation, they will be in a better position to realize for themselves the gravity or otherwise of the situation that confronts us to-day. I would not have risen to take part in this debate but for the fact that, after a recess of three months, the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) has seen fit -to curtail question time. At the first meeting of the Parliament after a long recess I have had an opportunity to ask only one question. The people whom I represent have suffered great hardships through unemployment. Promises have been made that works would be undertaken in my electorate, but so far nothing of a material nature has been done to absorb the unemployed. Six months ago a promise was made that a munitions factory would be established in the electorate which I represent, but nothing has been done, and the people interested in the project are inquiring anxiously when some steps will he taken to give employment to those who are now out of work. They are entitled to know that, but I was not given an opportunity to get the information, because, although Parliament has been in recess for three months, the Acting Prime Minister saw fit to curtail the time allowed for questions.
– An hour and a half was allowed for questions.
– I had an opportunity to ask only one question. Even my attempt to obtain the call by crossing the floor of the House was unsuccessful. There are many matters of major importance about which the public is seeking information. Some of these matters I have already brought before the House. For instance, the Government has said that it intends to utilize every industry to the fullest possible degree in order that our most effective war effort may be made. Despite that statement, at Cockle Creek, in my electorate, two roasting ovens used in the manufacture of sulphur have been closed down. Those plants were formerly producing sulphuric acid, and most of the ingredients necessary for the manufacture of high explosives. All that is needed at Cockle Creek is gun-cotton, and the plant could supply the factory which I understand is to be built at Rutherford, just outside Maitland. I have been approached by people who are anxiously awaiting the promised work, but I have been unable to obtain any information about the project.
In Newcastle, all sorts of rumours are current with regard to shipbuilding which, as we all know, would absorb a large number of unemployed. I emphasize that if the Government wishes to produce -the best effort from this nation, the people must be given something worth defending. Thousands of men to-day have had no jobs. In a time like this - a critical period unprecedented in the history of this country - there should not be one man or one woman unemployed in this country. These are things which I believe are just as important, and perhaps more important than, the secret session, the object of which is to give information which honorable members must not disclose. The withholding from the enemy of whatever information may be disclosed at the secret session, is a matter for proper and adequate censorship. How is news to get out of this country and reach the enemy? I admit that radio is a danger, because many broadcasting stations are controlled by newspapers and news is broadcast from them, but surely a more rigid censorship could be imposed. I am firmly of the opinion that the people of Australia should be told the whole truth. They “ can take it “ and they will respond valiantly to whatever danger may be disclosed. There is no reason why they should not know the truth.
.- I wholeheartedly agree that this Parliament should support the request made by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden), backed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), for a secret meeting of Parliament, and I am entirely in accord with the views expressed by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt). During the last few months many of U3 who are merely private members, have not had an opportunity to become as well informed as we might have been with regard to happenings overseas. We could have done very great work indeed in our constituencies by counteracting some of the complacency in the minds of the people of Australia had we been given the information which, I believe, the Acting Prime Minister will be able to impart to us at the secret meeting. I admit that when a secret session was held on a previous occasion we did not hear as much as we expected. But another important aspect of thi3 matter has been raised. Not only are wo to obtain information from the Government, but also those of us who wish to discuss certain aspects of Australia’s mobile and fixed defences, and the strength and disposition of our armed forces, will have an opportunity to do so. No doubt honorable members will be able to ask questions and to put forward their own views. The discussion of some of the matters with which we may wish to deal might he highly dangerous should information in relation to them reach our enemies. Were the Government’s disclosures made at a public session, everything said would be recorded in Hansard, and probably broadcast throughout the length and breadth of the Commonwealth. Under those circumstances many of us would not feel that we could speak so openly and freely as we could during a secret discussion. Therefore, I think that the
Acting Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are to be highly commended for the proposal that a secret meeting should be held, not only for the purpose of imparting information to honorable members, but also to give to honorable members an opportunity to place before the Ministry whatever information they consider should be known to them in the interests of Australia. Although I have not been in politics for very long, I am confident that the loyalty and patriotism of members of Parliament is such that any information disclosed at the secret session, the publication of which may be harmful to Australia, will not be published by them.
– The honorable member has more faith than the Ministry.
– I do not consider that the Ministry has any lack of faith in honorable members. All the Government says is that a secret session should be held so that any information disclosed will not he printed in Hansard and the newspapers. The passing on of the information to the public generally is left to the judgment and patriotism of honorable members.
– We were told nothing the last time.
– That is no reason why we should not try again. Just because the Government did not give much information on the last occasion it does not follow that the same thing will happen this time. Even although information be not forthcoming this time, those honorable members, including myself, who wish to give confidential information to the Government should not be deprived of the right to do so.
– I have very much pleasure in accepting the invitation of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden), supported by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin). The secret meeting will provide honorable members with the opportunity that they have been seeking for months. So far, honorable members have not had the privilege of obtaining much information that has been of great interest to their electors generally. Since the last secret session was held, many changes have taken place in the war situation, and I for one welcome this opportunity to get all the information that the War Cabinet or the Advisory War Council can divulge in secret. Such information can be given quite safely, because honorable members appreciate that in giving them an opportunity to know the seriousness of the war position, the Government is depending upon them not to make any disclosure which would be harmful to Australia. Also, it is reasonable to expect that there will be a considerable amount of information which we may give to our electors. We shall be returning to our electorates at the weekend, and, as in the past, the first questions asked by prominent business men and leading citizens of our districts will be: “ What is the position of the war ? What is the latest news you can give us ? “ It will be very nice to have some information which can be imparted to these people. The matter has been fully discussed by previous speakers, and I have no wish to prolong the debate. I welcome the invitation extended by the Acting Prime Minister, supported by the Leader of the Opposition, and I hope that it will be fully availed of. Any one who does not wish to hear what the Government has to divulge may stay away. Personally, I shall be pleased indeed to be present at the meeting in order that I may obtain the fullest possible knowledge of the position, because only in that way can honorable members become fully informed. We know that all news cannot be broadcast or published in the press, but we are entitled to know all that is going on.
– I am surprised and amazed at the trend of this debate, particularly the speeches of some honorable members opposite. Apart from the speech delivered by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) and the masterly exposition given by the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt), with whose views I am in entire agreement, honorable members on the Opposition side spoke as if this were a House of delegates and not a House of Representatives. I like to think that I have been elected to a House of Representatives, and am not merely a delegate playing to the gallery. The Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) is to be congratulated for having given to honorable members an opportunity to hear not only from him, but also from the War Cabinet, exactly what is the position. I have come from a military camp to attend this meeting, and I had to obtain special leave to do so. It is doing violence to my intelligence and is insulting the intelligence of the Acting Prime Minister and the War Cabinet for honorable members not to be in total agreement with the proposal. It has been said that at a previous secret session nothing was divulged. I am not concerned very much with that, because I did not have an opportunity to attend the last secret session, but this is no time to protest against what happened on that occasion. Our duty is to do now, in the light of the changed war position and the new circumstances that have arisen, what would have been done by those who attended the last secret session. Beyond that, there is nothing to be said. We are wasting time, and I ask the Acting Prime Minister to have the question put as soon as possible. I congratulate him upon allowing backbenchers an opportunity to confer with Ministers on the war position which, as we all know, is serious indeed.
– In reply - To say that I am surprised at the trend of the debate is to put it mildly. The only reason for proposing a joint meeting of members of both Houses of Parliament is to give those members items of news and to make observations in secret which, in the interests of the public and of the safety of Australia, cannot be made publicly. Every reasonable member of this chamber must recognize that the Government has in its possession information concerning the war and certain aspects of international relations which, in the interests and safety of the people, it cannot make available even to its own supporters. That is the position. The Government possesses information, received by cablegram from the British Government and also embodying reviews by British Service leaders, which for the sake of civilization itself, let alone Australia, should not be divulged to the outside world. It would be most agreeable to me if I were able to inform the Australian public of the present background of the war, of the moves that are contemplated, and of the prospects before us, but it would be mostdisagreeable to me if I were to become the medium of making such information available to the enemy. Surely every honorable member with a sense of responsibility must realize this. I am prepared to divulge certain information to the honorable members of this Parliament, because I think that in their representative capacity they are entitled to it; but I am not prepared to divulge such information to the public at large, and so to the world, and particularly to our enemies, because they are not entitled to it. To prejudge the good intentions of the Government in proposing a joint meeting of the members of .both Houses of this Parliament is to do a disservice to the Parliament and to show a lack of appreciation of the desire of the Government to make available to honorable members such information as may be properly given to them. Unless such a joint secret meeting be held, honorable members certainly will not be armed with information which otherwise would be available to them. No member of the Parliament who is not prepared to give an undertaking of secrecy is invited to attend the secret meeting. The information that will be divulged in my own address and also in the addresses of my ministerial colleagues will amply justify the adoption of this attitude. I am conscious of my sense of responsibility as the Acting Leader of the Government and of the Parliament, and for that reason I am prepared to make certain information available to honorable members, but I depend upon their good judgment, their sense of responsibility and their good faith to regard as confidential what will be said to them.
– Where is the need for secrecy concerning the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) ?
– I think it would be in bad taste in the present circumstances to make such information public, for the Advisory War Council in co-operating with the Government is doing a noble work in the interests of Australia and the Empire. I do not intend to do anything to belittle the value of that work.
– I did not know that it was proposed that the members of the
Council should protect one another. I thought the Advisory War Council was intended to assist in protecting the nation.
– The Advisory War Council is protecting Australia, and there is nothing in the point that the honorable member is taking. We have a job to do and we need to be united. In this crisis it is not a matter of whether we belong to the Labour party, the United Australia party or the Country party. Our first consideration is that we are Australians. Australia, in common with the other parts of the British Empire, has its back to the wall. We should close our ranks in order to make a maximum effort for the safety of Australia. That is the attitude that we have adopted, and it is the attitude we shall continue to adopt. With us, it is a case of Australia first. I say candidly to honorable members that if no secret meeting be held and if the information that we are prepared to make available be not made available, the responsibility will be upon honorable members themselves. There will be no divulging of information unless honorable members are prepared to meet in a joint sitting, and to give an undertaking that what is said will be secret. I am willing to lay the case before honorable members as I see it, and I shall do so honestly and conscientiously. I believe that honorable members will be surprised by the information that they will receive. I also believe that some of my ministerial colleagues who are not in the War Cabinet will be surprised by the contents of the cablegrams and by other information which will be made available. The Government is taking this course because it believes it to be in the best interests of Australia. The House must decide for itself whether it will agree to the secret meeting. I invite honorable members to meet here at 8 o’clock this evening, and I shall, expect every honorable member who attends to give his word that, in the interests of Australia and in the interests of the nation, secrecy will be maintained.
– Oh, no!
– That is the basis upon which honorable members are invited to attend.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were presented : -
Norfolk Island- Report for 1939-40.
Ordered to be printed.
National Security Act - National Security (Prices) Regulations - Declarations Nos. 47-51.
Air Force Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1940, No. 279.
Air Navigation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, No. 16.
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determinationsby the Arbitrator, &c. -
No. 32 - Commonwealth Public Service Artisans’ Association.
No. 33- Commonwealth Temporary Clerks’ Association.
No.1 - Arms, Explosives and Munition
Workers’ Federation of Australia.
No. 2 - Fourth Division Postmasters, Postal Clerks and Telegraphists’ Union; and Federated Public Service Assistants’ Association of Australia.
Bankruptcy Act -
Rules- Statutory Rules 1941, No. 12.
Twelfth Annual Report by AttorneyGeneral, for year ended 31st July, 1940.
Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1940. No. 280.
Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act - Regulations- Statutory Rules 1940, No. 292.
Commonwealth Public Service Act -
Appointments - Department -
Civil Aviation- C. L. Alford, G. H. M. Birkbeck, K. N. E. Bradfield, N. M. Fricker, H. R. Heathcote, F. M. Hilgendorf, F. R. Meere, J. K. Twycross.
Health- J. G. Kelleher, R. A. Turner. Interior - R. J. Cull.
Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, Nos. 36, 42.
Regulations (Parliamentary Officers) - Statutory Rules 1941, No. 18.
Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, Nos. 3, 4, 13, 14, 24, 30, 43.
Defence Act and Naval Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, No. 22.
Di stillati on A ct - Regula ti on s - Statutory Rules 1940, No. 281.
Dried Fruits Export Charges Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules1941, No. 45.
Income Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1940, No. 289.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired -
For Defence purposes -
Adelaide River, Northern Territory.
Carnarvon, Western Australia.
Chatswood, New South Wales.
Cootamundra, New South Wales.
Darwin, Northern Territory.
Elizabeth Bay, New South Wales.
Lidcombe, New South Wales.
Mile find, South Australia.
Narromine, New South Wales.
North Fremantle, Western Australia.
Pearce, Western Australia.
Port Adelaide, South Australia.
Rockdale, Municipality of, New South Wales.
Salisbury, South Australia.
Western Junction, Tasmania.
For Postal purposes -
Dee Why, New South Wales.
Margaret River, Western Australia.
National Security Act -
Butter and Cheese Acquisition Regulations - Orders -
National Security (Apple and Pear Acquisition) Regulations- Order - Apple and Pear Acquisition 1940-1941.
National Security (Capital Issues) Regulations - Order - Exemption.
National Security (Exchange Control) Regulations - Orders -
Returns of securities.
National Security (General) Regulations - By-laws - Controlled areas.
Inventions and designs (58).
Prohibited places (8).
Prohibiting work on land.
Taking possession of land, &c. (37).
Use of land (7).
National Security (Prices) Regulations - Orders Nos. 268-326.
Regulations - Statutory Rules - 1940, Nos. 282, 283, 286, 287, 288, 290, 291, 293, 294, 295. 1941, Nos. 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 19, 20, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 33, 34, 35, 37, 38, 39, 40, 46, 47, 48.
Naval Defence Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, No. 21.
Navigation Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, Nos. 5, 23, 44.
New Guinea Act - Ordinances - 1940 -
No. 9 - Appropriation (No. 3) 1939-1940.
No. 15 - Appropriation 1940-1941.
No. 17 - Mining (No. 2).
Norfolk Island Act - Ordinances - 1941 -
No. 1 - Public Service.
No. 2 - Provident Fund.
Post and Telegraph Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, No. 15.
Sales Tax Assessment Acts (Nos. 1-9) - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1940, No. 284.
Sales Tax Procedure Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1940, No. 285.
Seamen’s War Pensions and Allowances Act - Regulations- Statutory Rules 1940. No. 278.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act-
No. 22 - Court of Petty Sessions (No. 2).
No. 24 - Liquor (Renewal of Licences ) .
No. 1 - Hawkers.
No. 2 - Deserted Wives and Children.
Regulations - 1940 - No. 8 (Fish Protection Ordinance). 1941 - No. 1 (Building and Services Ordinance).
Supply and Development Act - Regulations -Statutory Rules 1940, Nos. 277. 296.
Trade Harks Act - Regulations- Statutory Rules 1941, No. 31.
War-time (Company) Tax Assessment Act - Regulations - Statutory Rules 1941, No. 17.
House adjourned at 5.50 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
y asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
SirFrederick Stewart. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
y asked the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– This ques tion is under serious consideration by the Government at the present time.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 12 March 1941, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1941/19410312_reps_16_166/>.