15th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
Effect on Australia.
– This morning members of the Senate were supplied with copies of a statement made some months ago regarding trade relations between Great Britain and the United States of America and Australia. As these negotiations were detrimental to Australia, will the Leader of the Senate state whether any discussions have taken place with the United States of America on such mattersas the reduction of the American import duty on Australian wool ?
– No negotiations with the United States of America have taken place, but certain exploratory discussions are in progress.
– I have received a letter from the Leader of the Senate, in accordance with Standing Order 36a, nominating Senator Allan MacDonald to fill the vacancy on the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) - by leave - agreed to -
That Senator Allan MacDonald, having been duly nominated in accordance with Standing Order 36a, be appointed to fill the vacancy now existing on the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances.
Motion (by Senator Mcleay) - by leave - agreed to -
That Senator Wilson be appointed to fill the vacancy now existing on the Printing Committee.
Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
Has the attention of the Minister been drawn to the following resolutions, carried unanimously at a mass meeting of business men and farmers, held at Wongan Hills, Western Australia, on the 18th May last: -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
Listeners’ Licences in Schools -
B Class Stations
asked the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
– The information is being obtained.
Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows : -
SenatorFRASER asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice-
Has the Commonwealth Bank issued any debentures up to date, and, if so, to what value ?
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
No debentures have been issued by the Commonwealth Bank up to the present.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
From what fund or source, or by what method, was money obtained by the Commonwealth Bank and subscribed by it to the last three internal loans, including the conversion loan ?
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– Inquiries are being made, and a reply will be furnished as soon as possible.
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
SenatorFOLL. - The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
If so, what steps havebeen taken by the Government to investigate -
– The information is being obtained.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Will the Postmaster-General honour the promises made by his predecessor, Mr. Cameron, Member of the House of Representatives, and the late Prime Minister, Mr. Lyons, in connexion with restoring telephone lines to country districts which were destroyed by bush fires?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is “ Yes “.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following answer: -
The Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act already contains provision for the granting of assistance by way of war or service pension to all ex-soldiers who served in a theatre of war and are permanently unemployable. This act also provides for pensions to eligible wives and children of such ex-soldiers.
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
The room was designed for the purposes of a church meeting hall and is, therefore, not ideally arranged for the special class for the teaching of typewriting and commercial subjects. At the same time it has been provided with electric heating and for general purposes its provisions are in accordance with the building regulations.
The artificial lighting has recently been the subject of review as the result of representations from the school, and alterations are being effected to make it more convenient for the special work carried on.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The Prime Minister has supplied the following answers : -
Motion (by Senator Dein) agreed to-
That Senator C. W. Grant be given four weeks’ leave of absence on account of ill-health.
Debate resumed from the18th May, (vide page 499) on motion by Senator McLeay -
That the paper be printed.
– My earlier remarks on this motion were directed not so much to the international position in general as to the efforts of the Government to meet the situation which had arisen. I pointed out that prior to the September crisis little or nothing had been done by the Commonwealth Government for the defence of Australia, and that its. efforts since then had been such as to occasion grave doubts as to the result of any conflict which might take place. I also mentioned briefly the conditions under which the militia had to operate. Honorable senators may recollect that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) had criticized the Government for its failure, particularly in Queensland, to provide proper accommodation and clothing for members of the militia when in camp. His charge was denied by Ministers, but since then there has been further evidence that it was well merited, particularly in regard to uniforms.
I wish to refer to another aspect of this subject. Almost every Friday night I notice militia-men being conveyed to camp at Liverpool in trucks belonging to private contractors. Whether or not that is avoidable I do not know, but in my opinion, the Government ought to use the State Government railways for the purpose. They would do the job better than it can be done by private trucks. It would appear that instead of seeking the best results from the expenditure of defence moneys, the Government is seeking means whereby private enterprise may benefit. Why is it necessary to secure privately-owned vehicles to transport troops into camp when the area in which the camp is situated is served by the railways?
I propose now to make a brief survey of the position of Australia to-day in relation to defence. In the expenditure of the huge sum of £70,000,000 we should be mindful that we have to look to the future, so that we may lay very solid foundations for the defence of this country. Unfortunately, I cannot agree that the Government is making a good job of rendering Australia safe from invasion. When we hear complaints such as those made by Senator Ashley, who lives close to the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow and is familiar with the unsatisfactory conditions there, we are justified in doubting the efficacy of the Government’s defence programme. For instance, we all know of the delays that have taken place in connexion with the manufacture of the Bren gun about which we have heard so much. After all the jigs and patterns necessary for the manufacture of that gun have been received, production of the Bren gun will not be commenced until 1941. The Government leads us to believe that the future is indeed gloomy; but we can only hope that its fears are not well founded, because if a sudden crisis arose at present I have no doubt that this country would not be in a position to meet it. It is true that there are tremendous numbers of small arms available in Australia, but most of them are carry-overs from the last war. In any war of the future victory will be attained by the country whose army is equipped with the latest weapons and war material. Unless Australia could send its men into the field equipped with modern rifles its chances against an aggressor would be very poor indeed. I have heard it said that everything is being done to strengthen our coast defences; yet Queensland senators insist that no battery exists along our coastline from Brisbane to the northernmost portion of Australia.
– There are a couple of guns at Townsville of Boer War vintage.
– Yet honorable senators opposite wanted to give away New Guinea, which is the only strategic point we have for the defence of our northern coastline.
– That is a lie.
-Irrespective of what honorable senators opposite may say, it cannot be denied that the coast of Queensland is practically an open beach; at no part of it could a stand be made. Yet we hear honorable senators opposite complaining that the Labour party’s attitude towards defence is not helpful. I say that if Labour were in power and had the £70,000,000 which the Government is to expend on defence, we would without doubt make a better fist of the job. Another aspect to be considered is the Government’s almost complete failure to adopt adequate air raid precautions as part of its defence programme. Efforts which it has made so far in this direction are absolutely childish and, if it were not such a serious matter, I should say absolutely farcical. To-day Sydney, the greatest city in the Commonwealth, is absolutely unprepared to deal with the effects of an air raid. As I have said before, this unpreparedness has caused me intense worry and to my mind it proves either that the Government does not fear war or it uses these war cries to divert the mind of the people from its inability to carry out the function for which it was elected, namely, to provide a decent standard of living for the people. The Government would have the people believe that the only effective way to combat an invasion would be to keep the United Australia party Government in office. I doubt very much whether it will find this a popular election appeal. Until six weeks ago no steps had been taken by the Commonwealth, and scarcely any steps had been taken by the State government, for the protection of the population of Sydney from the effects of air raids. Recently, the St. John’s Ambulance Society endeavoured to train a number of people as air-raid instructors, so that, if a crisis came, at least a small percentage of our people would be able to instruct others as to what should be done. This Government made no effort in this direction, until about three weeks ago, when 40 or 50 men were given a week’s course in air-raid precautions, at the end of which all of the trainees passed the prescribed routine examination and became qualified instructors in air-raid precautions. I should have imagined that in this matter the Government would first have consulted the Municipal Council of Sydney, which has the necessary personnel and some, at least, of the equipment necessary to carry out a great deal of this work.
It could have instructed council employees in decontamination methods to be applied after gas attacks had been launched and have made arrangements for -the utilization of council employees accustomed to repairing roadways in the event of an air raid. This is a matter upon which the Government might well have consulted all of the local governing bodies in the cities. When I approached the city engineer of Sydney in regard to this matter he said that two years ago he had placed at the disposal of the Government the whole of the equipment and personnel of the council for use in time of an emergency. The Government, however, has failed to take advantage of that offer, and has contented itself by providing training facilities for a comparatively few men to qualify as instructors in airraid precautions. One can only assume from this extraordinary attitude adopted by the Government that it does not fear invasion of this country. I believe that a large amount of the money being made available for defence preparations could be diverted into other channels which would lay a firm foundation for tlie defence of Australia. I believe, as all honorable senators do, that we cannot dissociate ourselves from Europe and the East in the years to come. I remember having read that about i860 an invitation was sent to the Japanese Government to send settlers to the Northern Territory. Not only was that invitation not accepted, out also the Japanese Government threatened to visit dire penalties on any of its citizens who accepted it. I wish that the Japanese Government was of the same mind to-day, although I am not looking at Japan as a possible invader of this country. I am not an alarmist, and I am glad to note that the Prime Minister is adopting a more sober and sensible attitude in respect of international relations. The right honorable gentleman said that his Government wished to keep Australia out of war and war out of Australia, and I am sure that every honorable senator hopes that the Prime Minister and his Government will ‘be successful in that respect.
On previous occasions I have directed the attention of the Government to the necessity to encourage the ship building industry in Australia. Six months ago, when I asked the then Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Perkins) what the Government proposed to do in the matter of ship construction in Australia, he informed me that within a day or two he proposed to give to Parliament some welcome news. I have waited for months, but no pronouncement on this important subject has yet been made. The conditions existing in the Australian shipbuilding industry to-day demand the immediate attention of every Federal or State legislator, particularly in view of the fact that a strike in the ironworking industry is now in progress and is rapidly spreading. More than 2,000 men, including some hundreds employed at Cockatoo Island Dockyard and Mort’s dock are now out of work. Had the Commonwealth Government encouraged ship construction in the Australian dockyards, a good deal of the present industrial trouble could have been avoided, because the workmen would have been kept engaged and would have had insufficient time for dissension or strikes. Since the adoption of the Ottawa Agreement, not one ship of over 500 tons has been constructed in Australian yards. Artisans, including shipwrights, iron workers, carpenters and others usually engaged inship construction and other work essential for defence purposes, have gone to New Zealand where, under a Labour government; they can rehabilitate themselves and face the future with greater confidence than is possible in Australia. Hundreds of men are leaving Australia to carry on shipbuilding and other work in New Zealand when their services should- be employed in the interests of the Australian nation. At the conclusion of the Great War, thousands of highly efficient artisans were employed in shipbuilding and in similar industries in Australia, but their services were dispensed with, and it would now be impossible to bring them under governmental control. Huge sums of money have been spent on ship’building in Australia, but these skilled men are now employed on work which cannot be of any direct benefit in an emergency. No one can say that this Government and those that have preceded it in recent years have made any attempt to encourage shipbuilding in Australia. Should Australia be involved in war, we should have to depend largely upon our own resources and endeavour to protect our trade routes, which are so vital to industry. In the absence of an adequate defence system, it would be impracticable for Australia to carry on efficiently for more than two or three months. I do not intend to attack the Government, because I realize that it has many burdens to carry, and the abuse which it receives is making the burden heavier; but even at this late stage it should face the future with confidence rather than be wondering what is around the corner. It should go bravely to its political death rather than in a cowardly way shirk its responsibilities. Whatever it does, it will soon meet its political death.
– The honorable senator is departing from the motion.
– We have been informed from time to time that the international situation is very disturbed, but as the Government is in communication with the British Government every day, it should know how acute the position actually is. If there is really no need to worry, the people should be told, but if danger actually exists, the Government should adopt a more vigorous defence policy.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings), in opening the debate on this important subject on behalf of the Opposition, said that the Senate should have been informed more clearly of the actual effect of the Munich Agreement upon the European situation. Certain sections of the Australian press have endeavoured to create a war hysteria, but had the people been informed that the Munich Agreement provided for the occupation of the Sudeten land and Czechoslovakia by the Germans and of Albania by the Italians, a good deal of tension and misunderstanding would have been removed. When we were told that there was every possibility of war in September, members of this Parliament were scattered all over the Commonwealth. At about that time every honorable senator and, I presume, every member of the House of Representatives, received a lengthy telegram from the late Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) informing him that Mr. Bruce, the High Commissioner for Australia in London, who was then in Australia, would meet members at various places mentioned in the telegram for the purpose of placing before them an accurate statement of the international position. I was told that Mr. Bruce would be in attendance at the Federal Members’ Rooms in Sydney on a certain date, but I did not attend that meeting and I doubt that many other honorable senators did either.
– There was a good attendance.
– All Victorian senators attended the meeting in Melbourne.
– I took the stand that, if the international position were so grave as was suggested in the telegram from the late Prime Minister, it was the duty of the Government to call Parliament together and inform honorable senators and members of the House of Representatives. We should not have been expected to attend a meeting to hear an employee of the Commonwealth - for that is the status of the High Commissioner in London - telling his boss all about the international situation. I also refused to attend the meeting because of the understanding that those who were present would be unable to divulge anything about the subject to other colleagues who were absent. They were expected to bind themselves to secrecy.
– That is not correct.
– Notwithstanding the honorable senator’s denial, I say that it is correct, because I questioned some senators who attended that meeting and was informed that I should have been present to hear what was said. I did not attend for the further reason that I believe that what Mr. Bruce would say would not be in the best interests of Australia, for I have a very clear recollection of certain things done by that gentleman when he was Prime Minister especially his action in connexion with the Commonwealth Bank, and the sale of the Commonwealth Government line of steamers. I remembered the emphatic manner in which his electors rejected him when his Government appealed to the people several years ago. The proper place for the discussion of the international situation is the floor of this Parliament, and nowhere else.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has lately emphasized his desire to improve the relations between Australia, the United States of America., and Japan. Recent Commonwealth policy has not been directed to that end. That is evidenced by the disastrous results of the Lyons Government’s trade diversion policy. Some time ago, when I suggested that something should be done to improve our relations with Japan, I was charged with being pro-Japanese. The same might now be said of the Prime Minister, though I do not expect that that charge will be levelled against him.
The press of this country has been very largely responsible for the fear in the minds of the people that all the nations have been on the brink of another terrible world war. This press propaganda has done serious injury to all forms ofbusiness. So much so that a few weeks ago an attempt was made to allay these fears about a world conflict being near at hand. The Sydney Sun of the 16th April last published this re-assuring announcement : -
Refuse to listen to any war rumours.
Do notbe influenced by any “ I heard from so-and-so “ stories.
The Empire is at peace to-day. It may never he at war in our time.
That is why the old 1914 slogan. “Business as usual “, is the motto for to-day.
The newspapers of this country had so profoundly disturbed the people that lately it has been found necessary to re-assure them that things are not. quite so bad as they were supposed to be. The people had become so frightened that there was a general tightening up of private financial resources, and the reaction on business enterprise was becoming serious. If the Government is sincere in its desire to take the people into its confidence, it will, in future see that all information with regard to international affairs is placed fairly before the representatives of the people in this Parliament. The press should be prohibited from publishing statements one day and denying them the next, for the obvious purpose of alarming the people and inducing them to approve the Government’s huge expenditure for defence. Recently, when proposals were being formulated for a black-out of capital cities as part of the Government’s airraids precautions programme, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the cost of cutting off simultaneously all street lights under supervision would be between £25,000 and £75,000, depending upon the lighting system adopted. Mr. Richardson, an official of the Sydney County Council, on the 19th May, called on Mr. Clayton, an official of the Bankstown Council, to investigate the modern system for street lighting in that municipality. Bankstown has 185 miles of street lighting, all of which is regulated from the control-room of the local electricity department. Mr. Richardson was surprised when he learned that the mere pulling of a lever would light or put out the whole of the municipal streetlighting system. I mention this system, in the hope that responsible officials of the Defence Department may investigate whether it is possible greatly to reduce the probablecost of any black-out experiments in connexion with air-raids precautions. These experiments should not cost the people anything.
– in reply - I feel that we are all in agreement that the discussion’ has served a very useful purpose. It has been conducted on a high plane, and has enabled several interesting and valuable points of view to be presented.
I shall refer presently to one or two particular points which arose during the discussion and about which there seems to be some misunderstanding. But before I do that, honorable senators would, no doubt, like me to refer to some of the principal developments abroad since I made my initial statement.
On that occasion I mentioned the negotiations then in progress between the United Kingdom and Soviet Governments for the participation of Russia in the European system of mutual assistance against aggression. The position in this respect now is that, after the consultation which the British Foreign Secretary had with French Ministers in Paris and the Soviet Ambassador in London at Geneva last week, new proposals for an agreement between Great Britain, France, and the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics have now Been communicated by the United Kingdom Government to Moscow. There is every reason to hope that these pro*posals will go far towards approximating the views held by the United Kingdom, French and Soviet Governments respectively, as to the form of association between the three powers, and that they will rendel- it possible to reach a full agreement at an early date. The proposals have also been communicated to the other European states concerned.
As regards the Far East, honorable senators will have seen press reports of the intention of the Japanese to establish a blockade of the China coast. The position that would thus be created has obviously serious implications, and it is receiving consideration by the governments concerned. There is in existence an arrangement recognized by Great Britain whereby Japanese- warships may verify the nationality of foreign merchant vessels off the China coast, but I point out that so far there has been no formal declaration of war in this dispute, and that the question of recognition of belligerent rights has therefore not arisen.
I turn now to a general observation on the debate to which we have listened. Some honorable senators referred to what they called the. necessity for considering the facts. The facts which the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) for example, regarded as important were the long-term causes of war and of national disputes, and I express my respect for the great sincerity and eloquence with which he put forward his plea for the removal of these causes. We can all understand the profound importance, on a long view, if an enduring peace is to be had, of what the honorable senator described as individual regeneration. I venture to think, however, that this appeal, much as we sympathize with its motives, is hardly in accord with the position which confronts us to-day, and with which, as the nation’s representatives, we are called to deal.
The main reason for the present difficulties in international relationships, and likewise the chief point in my own statement, is that the conditions required- for reasonable discussion and consideration ‘ of the causes of international disputes do not, in fact, exist at the present time. By the acts of certain powers, the whole method of discussion and compromise for the time being has been set aside, and, until it can be restored, it is useless to speak as if it were still a practicable solution. What I endeavoured to show in my statement was that the present efforts of Great Britain, supported by France and other countries, including our own, were intended to restore those conditions, and to make it plain that the contrary method based on the threat of force could not be permitted to regulate international affairs.
Some honorable senators also complained that such facts as have been presented in statements on behalf of the Government were already familiar, and, therefore, of little use in explaining the exact situation at the moment; but, at the same time, the criticism was made that no reliance could be placed on information presented in the newspapers, of which, it was alleged, the ministerial statement was merely a compilation. Surely, however, for this very reason, government statements on foreign affairs, even though they may consist largely of information already available from other sources, are fully justified. There can seldom be certainty that the newspapers’ reports are accurate, but what honorable senators hear in’ statements such as that which I made on the first day of the debate, they may take as representing the real position, as being authoritative and as setting out the facts. To that extent they are surely of great value.
I believe that I am justified in saying that honorable senators on both sides of the chamber listened with the deepest interest to the speech delivered by Senator Abbott in the course of this debate. He is known to all of us as one who sincerely and persistently tries to advance the cause of international understanding and goodwill, and his part in the discussion on the motion now before us was a further contribution to this cause. He welcomed the proposal of the Government to establish legations in the United States of America and in Japan, but he urged that, in order to maintain absolute impartiality, similar action should also be taken in regard to China. T can assure the honorable senator that the Government has no intention of making distinctions between the Pacific nations with whom it is desired to maintain closer diplomatic relations. The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in first putting forward the scheme during a broadcast address on the 26th April last, said-
I look forward to the day when we will have a concert of Pacific powers, pacific in both senses of the word. This means increased diplomatic contact between ourselves and the United States, China and Japan, to say nothing of the Netherlands, East Indies, and the other countries which fringe the Pacific.
I would remind honorable senators that the establishment of legations in other countries takes time and the posts envisaged cannot all be established at once.
Senator Abbott suggested, also that the Government should consider the introduction of neutrality legislation in order to prevent the export under certain circumstances of materials which might be used for the manufacture of munitions. I point out to the honorable senator that the formulation of such legislation in a .country which cannot pursue a policy of isolation is not easy. Australia has obligations as a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations and of the League of Nations, and these obligations would greatly complicate the task of undertaking unilateral action of the kind suggested. Another factor to be remembered is that the war in the Par East is an undeclared war, and the neutrality legislation on the statutebook of the United States of America has not been applied to the Sino- Japanese dispute.
I desire also to refer briefly to two main points raised by Senator Arthur concerning ratification by the Commonwealth Government of Conventions of the International Labour Office dealing with the 40-hour week. The honorable senator suggested that the 40- hour week had been adopted widely in a’ large and constantly-increasing number of countries. Information in the possession of the Commonwealth shows that the 40-hour week is substantially enforced in three countries only, namely, the United States of America, Prance and New. Zealand. In France, considerable modification of the principle has already taken place in certain industries, such as iron and steel, and in munitions and aircraft works. In New Zealand, no legal limit is set to the amount of overtime that may be worked, whilst in the United States of America the operation of the principle of the 40-hour week is still in the transition stage. So far as other countries are concerned, there has been no general introduction of a 40-hour week in industry. Indeed, the general tendency during the last twelve months has been for hours of work to increase rather than decrease,, particularly in industries connected with armaments production. In 1935, the International Labour Conference adopted a 40-hour week convention, designed merely to ensure recognition of the principle of a. 40-hour week. So far, only one country - New Zealand - has ratified this convention. The honorable senator is apparently not aware that the International Labour Organization itself recognizes that the present time is not propitious for securing the adoption of 40-hour week conventions in industry as a whole. On page 140 of its report concerning the generalization of the reduction of hours of work in industry, commerce and offices, prepared in connexion with the forthcoming International Labour Conference, which will open at Geneva on the 8th June next, the following statement appears: -
The International Labour Organization . . must realize that there is little hope of obtaining the adoption at the forthcoming session of the conference of international regulations for reducing the normal working week in industry and commerce to forty or even forty-four hours, even though the regulations were to provide for extreme flexibility and a long transitional period.
The Office is accordingly of the opinion that, unless there is a very marked change for the better in the situation during tlie next months, the conference would do well to postpone the discussion on the generalization of the reduction of hours of work in industry and commerce and to refer the question back to tlie governing body with a request to enter it again on the agenda when the prospects of success are better.
So far as the attitude of the Commonwealth Government itself is concerned, I need scarcely repeat that the policy of the Government, as clearly stated at recent International Labour Conferences, is that the conditions of work should be left to industrial courts or tribunals to determine, in the light of the particular circumstances then existing in individual industries.
The honorable senator further suggested that Conventions of the International Labour Office should be ratified before their provisions are enforced by domestic legislation. This is a policy which, I feel sure, no honorable senator, on reflection, can endorse. If this were done, for instance, in respect of a convention whose subject-matter fell within the jurisdiction of a State government, the Commonwealth Government might find itself in the unenviable position of having entered into an international engagement to enforce compliance with the provisions of a convention to which some State government has no intention of giving effect by means of State legislation. The Commonwealth Government is confident that the present practice is sound and should be continued, namely, that international conventions should be ratified only after it has been ascertained that the necessary Commonwealth and State legislation is in existence to ensure compliance with the provisions of the convention. Any other policy would lead only to confusion and to the risk of incurring charges of international bad faith, if conventions, which could not be put into effect, were ratified.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
PROPOSED Additions: Motion- for Inquiry bv Public Works Committee.
– 1 move -
That, in the opinion of this Senate, the proposed work of the erection of additions to the General Post Office. Sydney, should be at once referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for early inquiry H.nd report, and in the meantime no action should he taken to enter into any contract in relation to this work.
The debate which we had in this chamber on this matter yesterday left no doubt in the minds of honorable senators on both sides as to the wisdom of further inquiry and delay. I think that I made it clear that I am not opposed to the building of additions to the Sydney General Post Office. The necessity for them does not enter into the present discussion, so far as I am concerned. If the responsible officers of the Postal Department are satisfied that the needs of the Sydney General Post Office are such that the erection of the proposed new building should be proceeded with, that is all that need be said in that matter; but I am not by any means satisfied with the final phases of the negotiations. I shall refer briefly to some of the comments made yesterday by those who spoke against the views expressed by the Opposition. Honorable senators on this side cannot fairly be accused of adopting such an attitude to the Government. Repeatedly we have been twitted with having assisted the Government. I could cite as a good example of our willingness in that regard our action yesterday and to-day in having covered up the fact that the Government is incapable of keeping business before the Senate. I admit that we did not do that entirely with the high motive of helping the Government.
– The position with regard to the business to come before the Senate is due to the fact that the Government cannot control the members of the Opposition in the House of Representatives.
– I am happy in the knowledge that members of the Opposition in that chamber are not alone in their desire for a thorough investigation regarding a legislative proposal now under consideration there. I am morethan pleased to know that in this chamber, at any rate, the time has ended when the Government can do as it likes here. I shall refer to some of the matters with which I dealt yesterday and to some of the criticism offered. All this will, I believe, be germane to my motion. Last night I submitted more or less, silently to the allegation that I had made charges. The Minister for the Interior suggested that I had impugned the honour of departmental officers. To-day, when I rend my Hansard proof I did not have to alter more than two or three words in it. The proof is available to any honorable senator who wishes to see it. My speech contained not one charge, insinuation, or innuendo. I stated facts, and indicated my reactions to them, and also the reactions of persons outside Parliament. I made the .burden of my song the fact that the honour of Parliament was at stake. One important thing to remember is that no government, either Commonwealth or State, except under the greatest provocation, ever overrides a decision of one of its responsible Ministers in relation to any matter under his control. Yet, in this instance, a ministerial decision has been overridden. I merely ask that the whole matter be probed to the bottom in order that we may know the reason. I have not had for 25 years close connexion, in and out of Parliament, with the parliamentary machine, both in Queensland and in this National Parliament, without knowing what government procedure is. It is a very great responsibility for the men constituting the Cabinet to say to any Minister in control of a particular department, “ We will not allow your decision to stand.” It is rarely done. Moreover, in this case, the most elaborate precautions were taken- to ensure that a proper decision w.is arrived at; a special subcommittee of Cabinet was appointed for the purpose. That committee was in agreement as to the tender which should be accepted, and, to all intents and purposes, was accepted. It is said that the tenderer was not advised of the acceptance of his tender, but that makes the position even worse. A Cabinet decision which reversed the decision of a previous Minister was come -to, and immediately the tenderer was advised. Why such indecent li.h-.ite? What was the reason for notifying H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited immediately of the decision of Cabinet to reverse a decision previously made?
– The first Minister went out of office.
– That makes the position even worse. As one of my colleagues said yesterday, the least sinister interpretation we can place on these happenings is that they are a continuation of the sordid squabble for ministerial positions which has distinguished the anti-Labour parties in this Parliament for years. The Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) said that at first he agreed that the tender which provided for sandstone facing of the upper stories should be accepted. What made him alter that decision ? He had heard all the evidence. Yesterday, he came here with the file in his hands and said, “ My hands are clean.” No one said that they were not; certainly, I did not say so.
– The honorable senator made imputations.
– If ever I have a charge to make against Senator Dein, I shall not impute it; I shall make it straight out. The Minister said, “ Here is the file; any honorable senator may inspect it”.
– He could not have been fairer than that.
– What a silly interjection! Could honorable senators immediately have left their places in the chamber to inspect the file? I shall tell the Senate something of what happened to that file. Yesterday morning, I was anxious to get into touch with the departmental heads, but I could not get either of them on the telephone. The file was not available. Why? There was such feeling in regard to this matter that the departmental heads had it. They were in consultation with the ministerial head trying to seek a way out of the muddle. They were not accessible to any member of the Senate at any time yesterday, nor was the file available.
– Surely we have a right to discuss matters.
– The Minister cannot get away from the fact that he flourished the file, and said that his hands were clean and that senators could peruse the documents. Even when he said thai, he knew that we could not see the file. I know that I could not get a look at the file or have a talk with the departmental heads yesterday. I do not say that that was avoidable. They had a right to be in conference and to examine the file to see what was in it, because they knew what was going to take place in the Senate. We were told by the Minister that the departmental heads wanted a building faced with terra cotta. That is not the difficulty. But even in that connexion we have heard two different stories. I have it on what I believe to be reliable authority that the departmental head of the post office, Sir Harry Brown, said, in effect, “I want a new building. I do not care what it is made of; you can have sandstone or terra cotta, so long as I get a properly equipped building.” That sounds like what Sir Harry Brown would say, for at least he is a man who knows what he wants, and never beats about the bush. Be that as it may, there are two conflicting theories. The first is that all the departmental heads wanted terra cotta. I want to know why they all wanted terra cotta. All honorable senators know the present post office building in Martin-place, and also the buildings surrounding it. There is not a building faced with terra cotta within yards of the present structure. Why this sudden desire for a highly ornamental facing to the upper stories of the building, instead of a finish which would be in conformity with the other buildings in the locality?
– Probably Ministers are seeing red.
– I understand that terra cotta can be obtained in other colours than red. As blue is the official colour of the Nationalist party, the Government might decide on a blue terracotta facing.
The Minister said yesterday that the lowest tender must be accepted. I have never heard a more silly statement, particularly when Iremember that every call for tenders contains the notification, “ Neither the lowest nor any tender necessarily accepted.” The Minister’s statement means that the lowest tender must be accepted, notwithstanding that the tenderer may use poor material if he can dodge inspections, and employ any swindling device with which he is familiar. I do not believe that that is so.
– I gave some qualifications.
– The Minister knows that it is possible so to arrange the terms of a contract that only one firm can possibly tender successfully for the work. It may be that a certain firm has a machine that will do a particular part of the work, and. that no other contractor has a similar machine. I complained recently because a tender for military boots was worded in such a way that it was not possible for any Queensland firm to submit a quotation. That may have been a mere coincidence, but the fact remains that no Queensland manufacturer submitted a tender in that instance. We are now told that Wunderlich Limited has a monopoly of the manufacture of terra cotta, and that John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited has virtually a monopoly of sandstone in and around Sydney. Probably the Minister thought that that statement would silence me. Did not the departmental officers and the ministerial heads of departments know of these monopolies? They ought to have known the facts. When the decision in favour of the terra cotta monopoly as against the sandstone monopoly was arrived at, H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited was promptly notified that its tender had been accepted. The Minister said, in effect “ It is a pity that this thing has occurred, but we cannot go back on it now that we have told H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited that its contract has been accepted”. He then went on to say that there were some points regarding which agreement had not, been reached. On his Own admission, therefore, no contract has yet been accepted. There is nothing more certain than that the previous Minister (Mr. Thorby) notified John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited - although perhaps not officially - that its tender had been accepted.
One of the strongest reasons for carrying this motion was not in my possession yesterday. During yesterday’s proceedings, Senator Cameron, who knows Mr. Whitttle, of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, was called out of the chamber, and was told by Mr. Whittle that he would welcome an inquiry into the whole transaction. In the circumstances, why does the Government refuse to have an inquiry? Of what are honorable senators supporting the Government afraid ?
– The Minister has invited honorable senators to make the fullest inquiry.
– I know that he has. I shall not be led into making charges, but one of the charges that I shall not allow to be made against me by any one is that I am silly. I know government files from the front page to the back page. I know that although I may look through a file at any particular time, if the objective of my search be known, what I want will not be on the file.
– The honorable senator has cast a reflection on the departmental heads.
– Certain papers were missing from the file dealing with the brick combine.
– Papers have been missing every time that a monopoly has tried to get a stranglehold on the community. In such circumstances, the files are never complete. It would never do to retain in the file papers which would enable the Leader of the Opposition to prove his case.
– If what the honorable senator says is correct, what would be the use of appointing a committee of inquiry ?
– Such a committee would be in a position entirely different from that of aprivate senator. Does the Assistant Minister suggest that a private senator may inspect a file at any time that he likes? I am sorry that Senator Dein is not in the chamber, for he based a rather good sermon on the statement that I had taken up time in delivering a speech which contained nothing besides inferences. I know well that the honorable senator does not really believe what he says. As I have already stated, theHansard proof of my speech contains no charge made by me. Every statement that I made was definite ; there was no suggestion or innuendo, except what might be contained in the statement that the honour of this Parliament is involved. Yesterday Senator Wilson applied to me an adjective which, if used by me, would have resulted in my being promptly called to order, but owing to my forbearance and well-known genial nature, I did not get sore about it. If I had said the same thing to him he would have promptly asked the President to demand a withdrawal and an apology. I do not mind Senator Wilson saying that I am despicable. I have never yet had to go around seeking testimonials as to my respectability, but if I had one from Senator Wilson I would put it on the top of the bundle and say that, if Senator Wilson regards me as despicable,
I cannot be very wrong. Honorable senators cannot get right to the gravamen of the statement I am making by merely telling me I am despicable, any more than they can do so by saying that Senator Cameron should not make statements in this chamber that he would not be prepared to repeat outside. Do honorable senators opposite know how many years of struggle and fight, imprisonment, penalty and social ostracism, had to be endured in the past in order to secure for the people’s representatives when stating the truth in the legislative halls of the country, protection against those who might object to their disclosures? If honorable senators tell me that I cannot make statements here which I am not prepared to make outside - if that rule is to govern our debates in this chamber - they are ready to take away the only protection that any member of this House has when he attempts to unearth public scandals and to pillory the people responsible for them. I could make a charge here. I may be able to prove it to the satisfaction of every honorable senator but if I made it outside I could be hauled from court to court until I was ruined financially. It is a cowardly thing to say that an honorable senator should not make a statement here which he honestly believes to be true, because he will not take the risk of saying it outside the protection of parliamentary privilege. That is my reply to those honorable senators who have so unfairly attacked Senator Cameron, in whom there is nothing but sincerity. If I make a charge here which my deputy leader does not like, must I go outside, pull off my coat and fight him? In the chamber we would be on fairly even terms, but outside what chance would I have? This is the kind of thing that passes for argument on the Government side, and Senator Foll last night sat back with a smile on his face while Senator Wilson was putting it over. Senator Foll said to himself, “Now the Opposition boys are having it put all over them; see the look of shame on their faces “.
– The honorable senator did not seem to like it.
– When Senator Wilson has been through the struggle for parliamentary liberty, and has paid the penalty for standing up for democratic rights, as I and several of my colleagues on this side of the Senate have, he will concede to an honorable senator the right to say on the floor of this chamber what he believes to be right and just in the interests of the nation.
– But that does not give to the honorable senator the right to abuse the privileges which he has.
– Nothing can happen in this chamber that can give to Senator Wilson the right to say that we are despicable and cowardly. However, we do not object to such language. The party to which I belong has always been misrepresented, and has thriven on it.
I propose now to deal with the motion itself. There can be no valid reason why this matter should not be referred to the Public Works Committee. The commit tee is a parliamentary institution. It was established by the Parliament, and continued to function until a few years ago when, during the depression, a former government was obliged to shut down on every possible avenue of expense in order to meet the difficulties that confronted it. I may say in passing that it was obliged to do so only because a sane system of finance had not been adopted by former governments. The present Government, or its immediate predecessor, reestablished the committee. Let us consider one or two facts as I proceed. First, the Public Works Committee is a parliamentary institution; it is composed of members of the different parties in the Parliament of the Commonwealth. I admit - and let me say that if I do not do so now I shall be accused of trying to conceal something - that when the committee was reconstituted the original act under which it was established was altered. That alteration does appear to present some small difficulty; but if a ministerial decision can be overridden in one case there is no finality anywhere in parliamentary government, and there seems to be no reason why another ministerial decision should not be altered, provided that it has not been translated into law. In his second-reading speech on the Public Works Committee bill on the 3rd December, 1936, the then Minister for the Interior (Mr. Paterson) said: -
The Government proposes, by means of this bill, to enable the Commonwealth Public Works Committee to be reconstituted. By clause 2, the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act 1932, which suspended the operation of the principal act, is repealed. The effect will be to restore to life the act under which the committee functioned.
Further on he said: -
Under the principal act, the committee was required to inquire into all public works, the estimated cost of which was over £25,000, with certain exceptions of the kind specified in section 14, such as defence works. One effect ofthis was that many inquiries of an almost identical character had to. be made into such works as, for example, the provision of automatic telephone exchanges, concerning which the investigations of the committee were unnecessarily repetitive. To avoid this for the future, the bill proposes, by amendments to sections 14 and 15 of the principal act, to limit the inquiries of the committee to such works as are referred to it by resolution of the House of Representatives.
A motion similar to the one which I have moved to-day appears on the notice-paper of the House of Representatives, but because that chamber has sufficient business to occupy it fully, it has been possible for the Government to place the motion so low on the business-paper that it is unlikely to be reached. In this chamber it was not so easy to do that. I am not suggesting at all that there was any desire on the part of the Leader of of the Senate to do so; the fact that I have been enabled to move this motion to-day shows that there was no such desire. The fact remains, however, that we are asking in this chamber that the Public Works Committee shall have this matter referred to itby the authority of the Parliament. The committee has the capacity to undertake this work. It is a parliamentary institution, and not a political one. It is constituted of members of the Parliament of all shades of political faith in the Parliament. There can only be one reason - and I say this with all respect - why the Government should refuse to allow this matter to be inquired into by the committee, and that is that it is afraid of the results of the inquiry. I ask honorable senators to remember a debate that took place in the House of Representatives, and to consider the public reaction in regard to this matter. I appeal to them to remember that every prominent newspaper in the southern portion of Australia - in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide - has contained articles and reports of meetings of councils of builders and other bodies, all of whom are in some way or another dissatisfied with what has happened, and a condition of affairs has been revealed which shows that at best tenders were subjected to a lot of jerrymandering, not by departmental officers or Ministers, but between tenderers themselves. There was constant running here and there between tenderers who said to themselves, “ Here is a government job worth £500,000; it affords a chance to feather our own nests “. That is not my statement, but a disclosure which appeared in the public press to-day, yesterday, and the day before. If the Minister says, as he did yesterday, that everything is all right, what harm can an inquiry do? If it be found on inquiry that everything is all right, what harm will have been done? At least the fears of the people and of members of this Parliament will be set at rest if an inquiry be held, and the matter be probed to the bottom. The committee may report that some one is guilty of an offence, or that the allegations are not proven, or that every body is free of suspicion. But that cannot be argued as a reason why this matter should not be referred to the committee. Although my motion does not provide for it, I suggest that if it be carried, the Government will see to it that the Works Committee gets on the job at once, with an instruction to bring in a report within a reasonable time.
– On what points would the honorable senator ask for a report? The motion proposed that the committee shall report on the proposed work. That appears to be one of the real functions of the committee. Judging by his remarks, the honorable senator wishes the committee to travel outside that.
– I want the committee to do the only things necessary to be done, to get the Hansard report, and peruse it, and to examine the charges and counter charges that have been made by men who have been responsible Ministers of the Crown. It is no small honour to be a Minister of the Crown in this National Parliament. These gentlemen, not members of the Labour party, made the charges. The charges have not been made by the Opposition. The Leader of the Labour party in the House of Representatives did not make these charges; they were made on the floor of the House by men who had no connexion with the Labour party. I suggest that if the Government reads the whole of the debates which have taken place as I have read them, it will come to the conclusion that there is a case to be inquired into. All I ask is that the Government shall not attempt to deceive the Opposition that everything is all right. Certain charges have been made publicly. The press has reported them fully, and this opportunity is presented to enable the Ministry to vindicate its actions. The question of whether the building should be erected or not should not be taken into consideration by the committee. We want to know something more of the circumstances in which the contract was let. We ask that the whole matter he probed to the bottom. I believe that the position has been clearly and calmly stated, and that we are providing the Government with the easiest way out of what appears to be a difficulty.
– I regret that there has been so much discussion on this subject, and, personally, I believe that a good deal of it has been quite unnecessary. I do not propose to enter into the merits and demerits of the debate on this subject yesterday, but I should like the Senate to concentrate on the following motion which is now before the chamber : -
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the proposed work of the erection of additions to the General Post Office, Sydney, should at once be referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for early inquiry and report, and in the meantime no action should be taken to enter into any contract in relation to this work.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Callings) has asked the Senate to carry that motion, but under the Commonwealth Public Works Committee Act, the Senate has no power to refer any public work to that committee, and the only public works which may not be commenced are those which have been referred to the committee for investigationand report. If the motion were carried and the work were referred to the committee, considerable delay would, result.
– I refer the Minister to the wording of the motion. I am not asking the Senate to refer the work to the Public Works Committee. I am asking the Senate to express an opinion for the guidance of the House of Representatives.
– On behalf of. the Government I ask the Senate to reject the motion, because, in the discussion in this Parliament-, and in the publicity given to the subject there has been ,a good deal of misunderstanding.
– That is admitted.
– A few months ago the Lyons-Page Government, after careful consideration of the project, decided to call for tenders for the erection of the proposed building. The site had been acquired some years ago and. very careful examination was made to ascertain whether, in view of the financial position, the building already on the site could be remodelled to meet requirements for the time being. After careful investigation by architects and other experts - the land having been acquired and paid for - Cabinet decided to call for tenders and to proceed with the work .as soon as practicable. For several reasons the Government decided not to refer the project to the Public Works Committee.
– What were the reasons ?
– I am not going to attempt to give to the Senate the reasons which influenced the Government.
– Why should the Minister refer to them if he does not know what -hey are?
– The responsible Minister recommended that the proposed work should not be referred to the Public Works Committee. The Government was advised by the officers of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department and others that as the work was important and urgent the building should be proceeded with as quickly as possible.
– I wish that the Government would regard a new Brisbane General Post Office as important and urgent and proceed with it as quickly as possible.
– The expert who expressed the opinion I have just cited said that a new General Post Office at Brisbane is not urgent, as the present building will meet immediate requirements. We are pleased to learn that there has been an enormous increase of postal business at the Sydney General Post Office, but this has led to considerable congestion, and it is now imperative that a new building be erected in order to provide the facilities required. The Postmaster-General’s Department is noted for its efficiency, and there is a general desire on its part to provide a good service. On the original plans prepared appears the word “ terra cotta “ and the architect apparently believed that a facing of terra cotta was desirable. I do not propose to ‘go into the technical reasons for that recommendation. The two contractors whose names have been mentioned during the debate submitted alternate tenders for a sandstone facing and terra-cotta facing, and when the present Minister received a report he decided that as there was a difference of only £1,451 between the cost of a building faced with terra cotta and one faced with sandstone it was desirable to accept the recommendation in favour of terra cotta, .as had been recommended in the first instance. That decision reversed the decision of a former Minister. That is all that has actually happened ; but there has been a good deal of suggestion that something is radically wrong. Some honorable senators have said that an inquiry should be made by an independent committee, “but unless there are good reasons for adopting such a course the work should be proceeded with without further delay. I do not suggest for a moment that any honorable senator should be prevented from making statements which he believes to be correct, but matters should be carefully investigated before statements reflecting on Ministers and officers are made.
– Was not this matter raised in the House of Representatives by a member of the party to which the Minister belongs?
– No; it was raised by the ex-Minister for Works, Mr. Thorby.
– Is it suggested that the Public Works Committee is competent to go into all the technical details, and would its opinion be accepted before that of experts? A delay would mean that the congestion which now exists would be continued, and that the contractors would be placed in an unfortunate position. The contract prices are now known to every one, and the Government feels that it should support the opinion of its experts instead of causing further delay by referring the matter to the Public Works Committee.
– The successful tenderer has no objection to that.
– What has it to do with a tenderer?
– Some time was spent last night in discussing the subject of unemployment, and I hope those honorable senators opposite who have urged a’ more progressive works policy will realize that if this project be referred to the Public Works Committee there will be further delay resulting in additional unemployment.
– The enquiry would take only a fortnight. For years the Government has taken no notice of the miseries of the unemployed.
– The Government was not so solicitous before Christmas.
-The Government is not prepared to accept the motion of the Leader of the Opposition, as it considers that the delay that would be occasioned is unwarranted.
– I do not propose to vote on this motion, because I intend to do what I believe to be correct. I am, as my colleagues know, engaged in the legal profession in Sydney, and I also have certain country interests. A junior partner in my firm who is on a salary basis has the right of private practice, the receipts from which are entirely his own. He has as one of his clients a Mr. Whittle, who is associated with the firm of H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited, and for that reason I do not intend to exercise my right to vote on this motion. Although I have no direct or indirect interest in the matter, it might be said that, because a partner of mine is doing Mr. Whittle’s legal work for one of the tenderers, I would, in voting, be abusing my privilege. However, a few points put before the Senate yesterday need elaboration. We were led to believe that John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited had been very harshly dealt with inasmuch as it had been asked to submit a price, based on a tender of Wunderlich Proprietary Limited, which was some £2,500 higher than that quoted to other tenderers. That is rather interesting in the light of a letter which I propose to read to the Senate. In the first place, I direct attention to the fact that the tenders closed at noon on the 15th March. On that date, presumably after the closing of the tenders, John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited wrote the following letter, the original of which I hold in my hand, to Wunderlich Proprietary Limited : -
We confirm herewith your price of £10,522 for the supply of terra cotta to the General Post Office in accordance with the architect’s plan and the quantity supplied by the department.
That is not all. I have another letter which, in fairness to Mr. Grant, I propose to read. There is an impression that John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited had been forced to tender for terra cotta, and that that was the reason why, on the basis of the higher quotation from Wunderlich Proprietary Limited, itstender was higher, whereas the letter shows that the higher quote was not in his mind when tendering. The quote mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday as having been given by Wunderlich Proprietary Limited to H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited was that given to the other tenderers.
– Yes. I am rightly reminded that John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited was quoted £13,150, and that is not entirely untrue. What I am. trying to bring before the Senate is that, in submitting its tender, that firm had in mind £10,522 and not £13,150. It is true that after receiving that letter from John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited, in which the £10,522 was mentioned, Wunderlich Proprietary limited did write to him a letter quoting £13,150 as Mr. Grant stated in the Sydney Morning Herald. Under date the 16th March, “Wunderlich Proprietary Limited wrote to John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited in these terms -
We acknowledge receipt of yours of the 15th instant, with reference to the terra cotta for the above job, and I wish to advise that our quotation for this work is £13,150 net delivered alongside site. This is the quotation which was given to you by telephone.
Apparently, John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited had communicated with the makers of terra cotta by telephone and had received a quotation . of £10,522. According to this letter the price was higher; but it must be remembered that when the telephone conversation took place John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited wrote to Wunderlich Proprietary Limited confirming the price of £10,522, thus showing that its tender was not forced up by a subsequent higher quotation for terra cotta. H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited and other tenderers were quoted the lower price.
– And they tendered on that basis.
– That is so. Apparently, there is some misconception in the minds of some honorable senators on this point. That is why I have mentioned it. Although I do not intend to take any active part in the voting on this motion, I think that I have disclosed the driving motive in this dispute between the contractors. I am not accusing the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) of any indiscretion because I believe that he is quite sincere in all he has done, but I feel that the Senate ought to be particularly cautious not to allow itself to be used by outside private interests. I do not care whether H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited come out on top or whether John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited emerge successful from this wrangle. All I say is that it would be a misuse of the powers and the function of Parliament to take the slightest notice of a dispute between outside interests. In my opinion, the only question at issue is the alteration of the ministerial decision with reference to the acceptance of the contract. The Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) was quite at liberty to do what he has done, and I think that yesterday he gave us very strong reasons for his action. Even the Leader of the Opposition does not suggest anything improper on the part of the Minister. All he asks is that there should be a thorough inquiry into something that has happened.
– I do not suggest, anything improper in the’ action of thi: Minister, but I do suggest that something highly improper has occurred in connexion with negotiations.
– Negotiations between whom?
– Between, all the parties from the day when tenders were called.
– The statement by the Leader of the Opposition confirms my view that this is a dispute between contractors and should not concern the Senate. There are one or two other conceptions in connexion with this business, which perhaps could be cleared up if an inquiry were held. Senator Brown yesterday referred to a statement published in the Sydney Morning Herald. That report stated that John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited had mentioned £13,150 as the price quoted by Wunderlich Proprietary Limited for terra cotta - a matter to which I have already referred - whereas the price quoted for other tenderers was £10,522. Although this is correct, I have shown that John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited wrote a letter to Wunderlich Proprietary Limited accepting the latter’s price of £10,522. Consequently, the extra price quoted subsequently could have made no difference in John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited’s tender for the job. There was also a statement by John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited that Hawkesbury Sandstone Proprietary Limited’ was the only quarry that could supply sandstone. This is a matter which apparently has been overlooked, and to which I’ now direct the attention of the Leader of the Opposition. I am instructed that tenders were invited for a building faced with white sandstone, the particular kind of sandstone to be seen in many modern buildings in Sydney.
– I am not quite sure on that point, but I shall make inquiries.
– At all events, my information isthat that condition appeared in the specifications.
– It has been impossible for me to obtain copies of the plans and specifications, so I cannot confirm or refute what the honorable senator is saying. The documents are available only at certain (places.
– I am informed that the specifications provided for white sandstone. Every one knows that a great deal of sandstone is used for the facing of buildings in Sydney, but not all are aware that the existing General Post Office building is faced with a brown sandstone which weathers and in time looks ugly and dirty. This afternoon, the Leader of the Opposition stated’ that there is no building faced with terra cotta close to the General Post Office. The honorable gentleman is wrong. If,on his next visit to Sydney, he looks up Martin-place, he will see not far from the General Post Office one of the handsomest buildings to be seen in any of the capital cities in Australia. It is faced with this new terra cotta.
The question of harmonizing the proposed new building with the existing General Post Office does not arise, because the plan provides for an entirely different class of building, and no treatment in construction could bring it into architectural conformity with the present building. The only available white sandstone required for this contract is entirely in the hands of John Grant and Pons Proprietary Limited, one of the tenderers for the building. Wunderlich Proprietary Limited apparently has a monopoly of this new terra cotta process, but it was not a competitor. John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited was a competitor. Therefore, H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited and, I believe, other tenderers for the building, could get no quotation from John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited for white sandstone.
– I understood the Minister to say that the specifications did not provide for white sandstone.
– No; the Minister said that he would have inquiries made on the point. My information is that the specifications stipulated white sand stone. If that is correct, and if the only kind of sandstone acceptable to the department was in the hands of John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited, how could it be suggested that the basis of tendering was a fair one, in view of the fact that that firm would not give its competitors a written quotation, up till within about 40 minutesof the closing of tenders. I understand that all that H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited could get was a verbal quotation which that firm, rightly or wrongly, believed was a couple of thousand pounds more than the price given to some of. its competitors. All this information discloses a pretty squabble between the various tenderers.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - Order! Two hours having elapsed since the time fixed for the meeting of the Senate, orders of the day must be called on.
That General Business, Order of the Day No. 1, be postponed until after the further consideration of general business, notice of motion.
Proposed Additions: Motion for Inquiry by Public Works Committee.
– I am informed that the following quarries can, or could, supply white sandstone : -
Freestone Quarries Gosford Limited.
– I have just been informed that the specifications did provide for a white sandstone facing.
– I am glad to have the Minister’s confirmation of what I have said, because there has been a great deal of loose talking about sandstone facing for the building without distinguishing between the different classes of sandstone. I am instructed that Freestone Quarries Gosford Limited had an agreement with John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited not to supply white sandstone to any competitor of John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited, and consequently the business has, I believe, been closed down. This is the sort of practice which the Senate is being asked to use its influence to uphold. I am further told that Gosford Quarries Limited is now leased by Concrete Constructions Limited which, does a great deal of road work for the Main Roads Board of New South Wales. This company cannot work the stone for facing of buildings. It supplies the stone in bulk, and crushes it for concrete construction work. According to my information F. Arnold and Sons Limited and Saunders (Bondi) Quarries Limited would not quote white sandstone to any of the tenderers, and Beat Brothers and the Hawkesbury Sandstone Proprietary Limited were tenderers for the erection of the building. Thus it will be seen that the tenderers were dependent for their supply upon a particular supplier of white sandstone, and some could not get quotations right up to the time for the closing of tenders. As I have already pointed out, John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited was not in any way prejudiced by the quotation given by Wunderlich Proprietary Limited, because as the letters show, its tender for the building was based on the understanding that the price for the terra cotta was lower than the written quotation. It should be remembered further that although Wunderlich Proproprietary Limited has a monopoly of terra-cotta facing, that company was not a competitor for this job, whereas the others were competitors, and, as we have seen, they had considerable difficulties over the quotation for the white sandstone. H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited was unable to get a quotation till shortly before the closing time of tenders. Even that was given verbally, and has not yet been confirmed in writing. My information is that the price quoted to H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited was higher than that given to other competitors.
I leave the matter here. I mentioned these facts only because I believe that if the Senate takes a vote on this matter, which, as I have shown is really a dispute between contractors, it will be debasing our parliamentary institutions. I do not care which of the rival contractors gets the work. I have endeavoured this afternoon to clear the matter up.
– Why did the exMinister (Mr. Thorby) draw inferences?
– I am not concerned as to what inferences were drawn by any ex-Minister, whether a member of my party or not; but I believe that, unwittingly, some of my friends opposite have, to some extent, lent themselves to the cause of the contractors, and that is not a function of the Senate.
– The honorable senator has reflected on the ex-Minister.
– Not at all. Not even the honorable senator who interjects, could point to anything improper about the course which I have taken. I have made no attempt to influence the decision of the Senate in regard to this motion, but I desire to. see that matters which were apparently misunderstood yesterday are placed clearly before the chamber. I make no comment in regard to the action of the Ministers and former Ministers concerned. I think that the Minister for the Interior gave very good reasons yesterday for his action. Whether he was right or not is a matter on which I express no opinion. Any reasonable man might say that he acted rightly, and any body might agree that Mr. Thorby did right, from his own point of view. Whether Mr. Thorby exercised his discretion rightly or wrongly, the law gave him the right to exercise it. It is a well-known principle of law throughout the British Dominions that, if we give a public officer a discretion, he is entitled to exercise it, even in a foolish way, and so long as he does so honestly, even the High Court would not interfere with him. Nobody could suggest dishonesty on the part of the Ministers and former Ministers involved, although one might question the wisdom of their action, or find fault with much of what they had done.
– The longer this matter is discussed the more convinced I become that my Leader (Senator Collings) has done right in urging the Senate to express the opinion that it should be investigated by the Public “Works Committee. Senator Abbott has advanced a nice plea, from his point of view. He said at the outset that he would not cast a vote on this motion, because a junior partner in his firm is the legal adviser of one of the contractors, yet the honorable senator apparently thought that he would be justified in using his eloquence to influence the opinion of the Senate against the motion.
– Not against the motion, but against the inferences to be drawn from it.
– I cannot understand the workings of the honorable senator’s brain; he ‘believes that he should refrain from voting, and at the same time he tried to cause others to vote in a way different from that in which they might ‘have voted had they not heard his speech.
Senator McLeay tried unsuccessfully to put my Leader in the wrong. He said that the Senate had no power to do what the motion indicated, and my Leader promptly told him to read the motion, which merely states that, in the opinion of the Senate, the proposed additions to the Sydney General Post Office should at once be referred to the Public Works Committee. Being bowled out, the honorable gentleman then advanced a pathetic plea on behalf of the unemployed. He said that, if the proposed work were referred to the committee, undue delay would occur, and thousands of workers who were now unemployed would suffer. The committee has heard evidence with regard to many proposed public works, and, as far as I am aware, the Government has taken no steps to put in hand projects approved by the committee. When is the foundation stone of the new Canberra hospital to ‘be laid ? A considerable time has elapsed since the report and recommendations of the committee in respect of that matter were presented. The committee has also reported regarding the proposed additions at the Mascot aerodrome, but I have read criticism in the Sydney Morning Herald with regard to the conditions at Mascot. I do not know whether a start has been made on the Darwin gaol or the Darwin hospital, both of which works would have provided employment ; but the Leader of the Senate now tells us that, if the proposed additions to the Sydney General Post Office were referred to the committee, the unemployed would suffer through undue delay
– The honorable senator must admit that delay would be caused.
– That is questionable. The position with regard to the Sydney General Post Office may he similar to that in relation to the Brisbane General Post Office. Despite assurances given by the former Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan), when he met deputations in Brisbane, that the new building would soon be erected - he at least implied that - the people of Brisbane have been humbugged over the matter. There is no sign that a new post office will be erected in Brisbane, and what assurance have we that the proposed additions to the Sydney General Post Office will be carried out?
Another argument advanced by Senator McLeay was that the Public Works Committee could not deal satisfactorily with the problem, because experts had declared in favour of a building faced with terra cotta. It is admitted that the members of the committee are not experts, but they take evidence from experts, and all experts are not agreed that terra cotta is preferable to sandstone. The committee was appointed by the Parliament for the purpose of informing it as to whether certain proposed works should be proceeded with. When the Public Works Committee Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in 1913 the Honorable Joseph Cook, who was then Prime Minister, said -
We are spending in public works every year from three to four million pounds, and Parliament, I am afraid, is not so well informed as it ought to be regarding the expenditure of this money and the projection of the various public works. Every one knows that we pass bills through this chamber sometimes in circumstances which do not permit of full and detailed investigation of the projects to which they relate; arid consequently I fear that Parliament occasionally knows very little of the actual details of the expenditure of large sums of money. It is in order to remedy that defect, as well as to ensure a more efficient spending of the money and the wiser disposition of our public works policy, that this committee is proposed. Experience both in Victoria and New South Wales abundantly justifies this proposal. I do not hesitate to say that in the State of New South Wales a similar committee has saved the country millions of money….. The function of the committee is to be the eyes and cars of Parliament, so that Parliament may assume its responsibilities with an enlightened mind and judgment.
– Hear, hear!
– We should all say “Hear, hear!” to that. The Public Works Committee acts as the eyes and ears of this Parliament, and it should exercise its functions with regard to the matter now under the consideration of the Senate. As was stated by Senator Cunningham, grave doubt has arisen in the public mind regarding the manner in which the tenders for the proposed additions to the Sydney General Post Office were dealt with, and the suspicions engendered have been intensified by the speeches made in this Parliament. The remarks by Senator Abbott will increase that doubt ; therefore, it would be wise to refer the matter to the committee. The contractors concerned should be brought before the committee to give evidence on oath. We should have enlightenment regarding the operations of firms which do this class of work for the Government. Let us understand how they treat their employees. Personally, I should go further than some of my fellow senators appear to be willing to go. I have received a letter in the following terms from Mr. R. Worrall, Secretary of the Operative Stonemasons’ Society of New South Wales: -
As you know, this is a Commonwealth building of very great importance, and its character, proximity to the existing building, and situation call for a building of some importance. We have no fault with terra cotta in a suitable place such as picture shows, hotels, or lavatories, but in a Commonwealth public building, adjoining a fine old monument such as the General Post Office, we feel that it would be completely out of place. Sydney is favoured above any other capital city, either in the Commonwealth or abroad, with an abundant supply of natural stones, unrivalled for beauty, or durability, and which are the most suitable for public buildings. The proposed material is very largely the product of junior labour. It is a close combine who manufacture it, and we are informed that it is even dearer than the natural stone.
It would be interesting to have the views of this gentleman stated before the Public Works Committee. I should like to go into the effect upon employment of the use of terra cotta. I have received a further letter from Mr. Worrall, and it is indeed interesting. I shall not mention the name of any firm but I think that any honorable senator could guess it correctly in two attempts. The letter states -
The firm to whom the job in question is to be let has a rotten name in the building trade for award evasions and its general treatment of its employees.
Its standard of work is about as low as it can get away with. If you could get in touch with the Scaffolding and Lifts Department in Canberra, you would get information regarding the trouble the firm has given the authorities over scaffolding, &c.
I emphasize that that statement was made by a gentleman in the building trade who knows what he is talking about.
– A disinterested party ?
– His statement continues -
Apart from the above, however, the unsuitability of the proposed material (terra cotta) for a job of this character should be apparent to every one, and with such an abundant supply of the natural building material available, there should beno thought of any imitation stuff.
Admittedly, this man is battling on behalf of adult stone masons. I do not blame him for that.
In my opinion, the proposal to build extensions to the Sydney General Post Office should have been inquired into by the Public Works Committee. Why has the Government deliberately refused to place this project before that committee? I have a letter here from the former Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) on this subject. I understand that the chairman of the committee approached the then Prime Minister with a list of proposed works estimated to cost over £25,000 each which appeared on this year’s Estimates, and suggested that they be referred to the committee. He received a reply, not from the Prime Minister, but from the then PostmasterGeneral, in which he was told that proposed post office works would not be submittedto the committee for investigation. It has already been laid down that no projected military works shall be referred to the Public Works Committee, and now it would appear that there is not to be any investigation of postal undertakings. What is the use of having the committee if so many projects are to be excluded from its investigations? As thousands of pounds of public moneys is being wasted, I submit that even military projects should be investigated. I understand that tenders have been invited for certain works at Darwin, including an aerodrome to cost more than £25,000. Admittedly, that aerodrome will be used for military purposes, but there is nothing very secret about it. Its location is known, and it is altogether a different undertaking from one embodying the placing of guns and other defence weapons, in connexion with which secrecy is essential. Another work to be undertaken there is a military barracks. That also should be the subject of investigation by the committee. There is a tendency on the part of the present ‘Government to keep secret things that the people should know. Even military projects should be inquired into if Parliament be of that opinion. I understand that at Belconnen, near Canberra, where a naval wireless station is being constructed, wasteful expenditure is taking place. It does not appear necessary to have bronze guttering and downpipes on the building; but I am informed that such fittings are being supplied. I was told that a beautiful fence which had been erected bad to be taken down in order to enable machinery to enter the building, and that manholes were constructed only to be filled up again. If that be true, what is taking place at Belconnen is similar to what took place in Brisbane some years ago when a tory government employed a number of men to shift sand from one place to another and then shift it back again. Honorable senators know that if they had been allowed to have their own way the military authorities would have wasted thousands of pounds at Darwin in taking over a portion of the township for military purposes. Business men in the town were afraid to extend their premises because they did not know what would happen in the future. It is not right that military officers should be able to draw a red or a blue line around a certain area on a map and claim it. These things should be thoroughly investigated. I say definitely that thousands of pounds of public money is being wasted, and that more will be wasted unless better oversight of expenditure is exercised. What argument can be advanced against investigation of these proposed works by the Public Works Committee? Honorable senators opposite have expressed disgust with Mussolini and Hitler and the system for which they stand, but here in Australia, and indeed, in other democratic countries also, there is a growing tendency to make Parliament a rubber stamp. Senators are called to Canberra, but after a few days they have to go away again because there is no work for them to do. More or less estimable gentlemen in this chamber talk, and keep the Hansard reporter busy, but, without doing much more than that, they return to their homes and say that they have done a lot of work. It is time that the Senate was .placed on a different footing. We should adopt the practice of some other countries and give more work to members, so that they may inform their minds and thereby be of greater value to the Parliament and the country. I have here The Congressional Directory of the United States of America in which I find a list of standing committees of the Senate. Included in the list are committees appointed to deal with agriculture and forestry, appropriations, audit and control of the contingent expenses of the Senate, civil service, claims, District of Columbia, education and labour, enrolled bills, expenditures in executive departments, finance, foreign relations, immigration, Indian affairs, interstate commerce, irrigation and reclamation, judiciary, library, manufactures, military affairs, mines and mining, naval affairs, patents, pensions, post offices and post roads, printing, public lands and surveys, public buildings and grounds, rules, and territories and insular affairs. Honorable senators will note that there are committees to deal with military and naval affairs, concerning which no questions must be asked in this country. I do not say that we in Australia should do exactly the same as is done in the United States of America, but I do submit that if this Parliament is to function properly, it must cease to be merely a collection of more or less amiable gentlemen who talk rather at random with one another.
– The Parliament should consist of more than “ Yes “ men.
– There are some “ Yes “ men on the other side of the chamber. One honorable senator who was to have spoken to-day has not yet done so, probably because the whip has been cracked and orders issued that this motion must be defeated. The Senate is supposed to be a House of review, a States’ House. Irrespective of its size or population, each State has six representatives in this chamber.
– The honorable senator has never voted for the Government, excepting on the tariff.
– The honorable senator’s memory is at fault. On many occasions, we on this side have supported the Government when we have believed that it was right, and we shall do so again in similar circumstances. For instance, if the Government will do its duty in regard to unemployment, and ensure that every unemployed man shall be paid the basic wage while he is out of work, it can rely on the support of the Opposition. The records of the Senate will show that time after time the Opposition has voted for defence appropriations. Honorable senators opposite know that that is so, but some of them have not hesitated to misrepresent the case by telling lies to the people. We on this side can only do our best to catch up with the lies.
Senator Herbert Hays interjecting,
– Senator Herbert Hays is another George Washington who, I think, would never tell a lie. He is, however, merely a cog in a party machine - a party which, to say the least, frequently uses the truth carelessly.
– Someone has thrown a spanner into the cogs of the Labour machine.
– When we again appear on the hustings, we shall throw a few spanners into the United Australia party machine. There is more in this motion than appears on the surface. It is not merely a matter of Country party Ministers wanting sandstone, and United Australia party Ministers wanting terra cotta as a facing for the Sydney General Post Office building, nor is it a choice between Hume pipes and other pipes. Itis a question of whether the Senate is to vote for democratic methods or to sup port a system of totalitarianism. Even in democratic Australia there is a tendency for this so-called democratic Government to be ruled by a few. Senator Keane said that honorable senators opposite are merely “ Yes “ men. We have a Cabinet in which are a few dominating personalities. I listened to one of them speaking over the air not long ago. He gave me the impression that he would be satisfied to run this country with the assistance of half a dozen men. If he had the opportunity he would gather around him a few men and would quickly become a second Duce or Fuhrer. If we are to be really democratic, we must exercise our powers to ensure that in future the Government shall give the fullest information in regard to certain public works. I should like to see this matter referred to the Public Works Committee so that all of the facts in connexion with it may be made public. The committee could take evidence on oath from Ministers, contractors and others concerned in the contract and inform the public of the whole of the facts of this sordid squabble. Senator Abbott mentioned the varying prices quoted by Wunderlich Proprietary Limited to John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited and to other tenderers. The argument advanced by the honorable senator was a rather weak one. After all, the difference in price is a mere bagatelle. The point we want to make is that the Labour party was not the first to bring this matter to the notice of the Government; it was first raised, not by some disgruntled muck-raker, but by a responsible ex-Minister of the Crown, Mr. Thorby, who’ was supported by Mr. Archie Cameron, who, until a few weeks ago, was also a responsible Minister of the Crown. Both of these honorable gentlemen asked for information, but what did the Government do? We find that in the House of Representatives, the Government placed a motion dealing with this matter at the bottom of the notice-paper in order to stifle discussion. Only because of the alertness of our Leader in this chamber were we. able to initiate a discussion of it in this Senate. If the Government has nothing to hide - and I do not believe that it has anything to hide - I cannot understand why it took action under the Standing Orders to place a motion dealing with this matter at the lowest part of the notice-paper. I want it to he understoodthat in this respect I impute no base motives to the Minister for the Interior. It does not matter to me who gets this contract; I am not concerned with individuals or companies.; my concern is only that the honour of this Parliament shall be vindicated. Can the Minister tell me why this entirely unwarranted action was taken in the House of Representatives ?
SenatorFoll.. - I do not control the business of the other chamber.
– I realize that, but I should like to know why that action was taken at a time when the public mind had been aroused and people were asking questions relative to this contract. It is the duty of public men to satisfy the electors of Australia with regard to it. The action of the Government in the House of Representatives has only given rise to further doubts. Why did it gag Mr. Thorby and Mr. Archie Cameron? I have not time politically for either of those gentlemen, but I am unable to understand why they have been prevented from having the matter fully ventilated in the House of Representatives. The muddled business can be clarified by the adoption of the motion of my Leader that the matter be immediately referred to the Works Committee with a request that a. report be presented in regard to it at the earliest opportunity. I have no doubt that if that were done every body would be satisfied, except perhaps the people who lost the contract.
I desire now to say a few words about that hoary old perennial, the Brisbane post office. I think that I can relate my remarks on this subject to the motion before the Chair, if not in a direct way at least in an indirect way. It “is possible that, if50 years hence the Government decides to go ahead with the construction of the Brisbane post office, there may be some argument as to Whether it should be faced with terra cotta or sandstone. TheLeader of the Senate has said that we musthonour the undertaking given by the former Prime Minister, the late Mr. Lyons, in regard to the contract for the additions to the General Post Office, Sydney. If we are to honour promises made by a certain gentleman in one direction why not honour other promises made by him ? We have been told time and time again that a new post office building is to be constructed in Brisbane, but nothing has been done about it yet, and present indications are that the new building will never be constructed. I may say that Brisbane people do not care whether their new post office will be faced with terra cotta or sandstone. We have been trying for nearly 50 years to have a new post office building constructed in Brisbane, but without avail. The new building has been promised by political vote catchers time and time again. Successive governments have spoken sympathetically about what they would do for Brisbane, but the old post office building still remains. I sincerelyhope that, in the interests of every one associated with the muddle over the extension of the General Post ‘Office, Sydney, and in the interests of the democratic Parliament of this country, this Senate will vote solidly for the motion of the Leader of the Opposition, and that the Government will institute the fullest and most complete inquiry into the whole matter in order to clear the air.
– We have given this subject lengthyconsideration, both yesterday afternoon and to-day, and most of the points worth mentioning have already been emphasized. I repeat what I said yesterday that honorable senators are not competent to judge between the relative virtuesofterra cotta and sandstone in building construction. Nor should we exercise our minds asto whether or no.; terra cotta is manufactured largely by juvenile labour. In reference to the remarks of Senator Abbott, I do not think that any honorable senator would allow his mind or vote to be influenced by a quarrel between contractors. I feel sure that that aspect of the matter has never entered the minds of honorable senators. I have no hesitation in saying that this is a storm in a teacup’ and that the importance given to the matter is out of all proportion to what has actually happened. Too much has been made of the contract both in the press and in this legislature with the result that a wrong impression exists in the minds of the general public with regard to some of the circumstances surrounding it. Although I believe that there are no suspicious circumstances, the disquietude that exists among the general public is quite understandable. It is not always possible for people outside of this Parliament to be made aware of the facts. Furthermore, the people generally have not the same opportunity as we have to gauge the honesty and integrity of individual Ministers or the high status and qualifications of the heads of public departments. There is not a tittle of suspicion in my own mind in regard to this matter, but I am firmly of the opinion that there is a suspicion in the minds of the general public. Too much has been made by the Opposition of the circumstances surrounding this contract. I believe that the method adopted by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) in submitting this motion is also out of all proportion to the importance of the subject. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on PublicWorks is an excellent body of men representative of all parties in both chambers of the legislature. The committee has much work to do in examining proposals for public works, but I gathered from Senator Brown, who is a member of the committee, that governments do hot take very much notice of the committee’s work. Whilst I agree that some inquiry should be made into this matter, I believe it could be promptly carried out in a day and a half. That would allow sufficient time in which to ascertain all the facts and prepare a report. I move as an amendment to the motion of the Leader of the Opposition: -
That the words “ in the opinion of this Senate “ be left out; that the words “ the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works “, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words, “a Select Committee of the Senate consisting of Senators A. J. McLachlan, Keane and E. B. Johnston “.
I ask Senator Brown to support this amendment, because he has just completed a most eloquent appeal for some recognition to be given to this chamber. The honorable senator has said that honorable senators should be given more work to do, possibly in the form of committee work. Here is an opportunity for a select committee of this chamber to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the contract for the additions to the Sydney General Post Office. Such a committee could report to this chamber within a few hours. Those honorable senators I have nominated represent the three recognized political parties in this Parliament, come from States other than New South Wales, and have had sufficient commercial experience to assist them to reach a correct decision. I trust that my amendment will receive the support of the majority of the Senate.
– I do not propose to take up the time of the Senate in discussing the amendment moved by Senator Allan MacDonald, which is entirely unsatisfactory to the Opposition, particularly as there is already in existence a parliamentary committee, appointed under an act of Parliament, and quite capable of making the investigation desired. As that committee has had considerable experience in taking evidence, and in securing information required from experts, the appointment of another committee is quite unnecessary. Inthe circumstances, I trust that the amendment will be rejected.
. We have been informed that the original specifications stipulated that the building was to be faced with white sandstone, but last night the Minister (Senator Foil) said that departmental experts had since recommended a facing of terra cotta. It is difficult to understand why white sandstone should be recommended when the existing building in Martin-place is built of brown sandstone. If the proposed new building in Pitt-street be faced with white sandstone or even terra cotta, it will not harmonize with the present structure. Any additions should be faced with stone similar to that used on the existing building. Will the Minister give the names of the experts who recommended the use of white sandstone, the supply of which is controlled by John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited, and also the names of those who recommended terra cotta, a product controlled by Wunderlich Proprietary Limited ? It has been stated that officers of the Postmaster-General’s Department first recommended the use of white sandstone, and later suggested terra cotta, and that the difference in cost will have to be met by the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. That may be so, but ultimately the taxpayers provide the money by way of charges for postal, telegraphic and telephone services. I do not intend to support the amendment moved by Senator Allan MacDonald because the members of the Public Works Committee, who are experienced in investigations of this nature, are quite competent to do what is required and weigh it judicially. I was surprised to hear the Minister for Commerce (Senator McLeay) suggest that the members of that committee have not sufficient technical experience to obtain the information. That committee, which has undertaken similar work in various parts of Australia, has submitted valuable reports to this Parliament. This trouble would not have arisen had the project been referred to the committee in the first instance. I do not suggest that the reputation of the Minister for the Interior is in any way involved in the transactions, but had the proposal been referred to the Public Works Committee unpleasantness would have been avoided: The former Minister for Works informed John Grant and Sons Proprietary Limited that its tender had been accepted.
– There is nothing official to show that the firm was informed that it would get the contract.
– It is admitted that the firm was informed orally.
– Had a change from white sandstone to brown sandstone been proposed, no objection would have been raised ; but if the Government should decide to face the new structure with terra cotta, it will have to treat the existing building similarly so that the two structures will harmonize. It has been urged that the committee would not be competent to deal with this matter. I entirely disagree with any such sugges tion, and I hope that the motion will be carried. The committee will be in a position to investigate all the circumstances connected with the proposal, and will submit its recommendation, thus settling definitely the kind of material to be used for the facing of the building. It is obvious that there is something wrong and that the influence of the monopolists has been at work. All that has happened will strengthen Labour’s determination to put down monopolists when it gets into power.
– I gather, from the debate on the motion this afternoon and the discussion which we had yesterday on the same subject, that there is some suspicion in the minds of honorable senators, as well as members of the House of Representatives, that everything is not as it should be in connexion with the letting of the contract for the erection of additions to the General Post Office in Sydney. There would not have been ground for this suspicion if the proposal had been referred to the Public Works Committee for inquiry and report.
– The Public Works Committee would have had nothing to do with the tenders. It could only recommend whether or not the work should be undertaken. .
– -What I am trying to convey to the Senate is that there is a general suspicion of some irregularity. There would have been no room for suspicion if the Public Works Committee had made an investigation and submitted its recommendation. As a matter of fact, the Minister himself would have been in a stronger position because he would have been fortified by the committee’s recommendations in respect of various aspects of the proposal, and particularly whether the building should be faced with sandstone or terra cotta. It would appear from what has been said during the debate, that the Postmaster-General’s Department wanted one class of building and the former Minister for Works another kind. All this trouble would have been avoided if the Minister had had before him the report and recommendations of the Public Works Committee.
– But this trouble did not arise until after the contract had been let.
– I clearly understand alls that has happened. This afternoon the Minister was in some doubt, as to whether or not the building was to be faced with a particular kind of sandstone. He had to refer to an official of his department.
– No Minister, can have knowledge of all details of works in which his department is. concerned.
– That is just the point that . I am endeavouring to make. As I understand the position, the PostmasterGeneral’s Department expressed a preference for terra-cotta facing, but the former Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) decidedthat the building should be faced with sandstone and accepted a tender on that basis. The present Minister had a different opinion.
– The original tenders were for a building faced with terra cotta, but alternative tenders were invited for a building with sandstone facing because it was thought that terra cotta might be too costly.
– Exactly, and my point is that this question would have been thoroughly examined by the Public Works Committee. Had the proposal been submitted to that body the Minister, as well as all members of Parliament, would have been fully informed, because the committee would have obtained- complete information from departmental architects and; would have submitted its recommendation to Parliament. We should not then have been in this humiliating position, of discussing alleged irregularities.
Sitting suspended from 6.15to 8 p.m.
– I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later date:
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - There being, an objection, leave is not granted.
– An inquiry by the Public WorksCommitteej which has been appointed by this Parliament, and is representative of all parties, would remove all suspicion in connexion with the matter under discussion. Had the circumstances been investigated by the committee, probably the motion before the Senate would not have been submitted. For the year1938-39, the expenditure of nearly £4,000,000 on constructional works, for the Postmaster-General’s Department was authorized, and it is only fair that the taxpayers should have means of ascertaining whether public money is expended to the best advantage. Only by inquiries such as are made by the committeecan the people obtain the assurances to which they are entitled. In November last, the committee applied personally and also by letter to the then Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby), and the then Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) to have the proposed expenditure on additions to the Sydney General Post Office referred: to it for investigation. The total cost of the work, including the sum. expended in the acquisition of the site, will be about £1,000,000; yet the request ofthe committee was refused. Possibly it was considered that sufficient time, was not available for the inquiry, or these may have been other reasons unknown to me for the refusal; but, had the inquiry been held the suspicion engendered in the minds of members of Parliament would probably have been obviated. In my opinion, all public works involving an expenditure of £25,000 or more should be referred to the committee, since it was appointed by the Parliament to supply it with necessary information. It is not essential for the members’ of the committee to be experts.;- their task is to take evidence from experts and others; weigh such evidence, and report to the Parliament.
As I understand that a tender for the work at the Sydney General Post Office has been practically accepted, although the details have not been finalized, no good purpose could be served by submitting this proposal to the committee.. Nevertheless, an investigation of some kind should be made, owing to the allegation of irregularities in connexion with the letting of the contract. The appointment of a small committee of members of the Parliament, representative of all parties, would meet the needs of the situation. I appreciate the fact that the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) was in a difficult position in regard to this matter; because he had only recently taken control of the Department of the Interior.
Motion (by Senator Wilson) put -
That the debate be now adjourned.
The Senate divided. (The President: - Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I move -
That the debate be proceeded with forthwith.
– The motion is a direct negative of the motion which has just been carried.
– If that is so, I move -
That the resumption of the debate be made an Order of the Day for 8.30 pm. this day.
It is true that the Senate carried a motion that the debate be adjourned, but no time was given for its resumption. I have moved that the adjourned debate be resumed later this evening. If the Government is attempting to have this matter covered up, it is acting very unwisely, for the Opposition will see that the facts are made public. We on this side are now more than ever convinced that we were right in moving for an inquiry.
– All the precedents are to the effect that the resumption of the debate shall be made an order of the day for either a later hour of the day, or for another sitting day.
– I am anxious to assist you, sir, if I can. The Government missed its opportunity when it did not prescribe a time to which the debate should be adjourned. I have moved that the debate be resumed practically forthwith.
Amendment (by Senator Foll) put -
That the words “ 8.30 p.m. this day “ be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the word “ to-morrow “.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Motion, as amended, agreed to.
Discharge from Military Forces: Appointment of Select Committee.
– I move-
A similar motion has engaged members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives at various times over a period of years. Many Ministers for Defence have had the matter before them, but each has refused to recognize the claims of Captain Conway. No Minister, however, has ever interviewed the claimant in order to learn at first hand the nature of the claim. The only time that Captain Conway ever met a Minister for Defence was recently, following a Cabinet meeting at the Commonwealth Bank, Sydney, during the Lyons Administration. With me, he met the present Minister for Defence (Mr. Street), in a corridor of the Commonwealth Bank building. The Minister then promised that consideration would be given to our representations; but I have not yet received from him any communication on the subject, or even an intimation that he had ever seen Captain Conway. The Minister has ignored the matter entirely; at least, he does not appear to have done anything in regard to it. Captain Conway has written to me repeatedly asking that something be done, preferably by means of a select committee, to give him an opportunity to clear his name. His claim for compensation is based on the sound principle that every man who does his duty faithfully should be protected and respected, and that those who disregard the rights of others should be rebuked effectively. He commenced his military career in 1899, and was retired in 1922 with the thanks of the Minister of the day for services faithfully performed. The Minister’s letter was as follows : -
In a separate official communication from the Secretary ofthe Military Board you are being acquainted with the unfortunate necessity which has arisen for your retirement from the Staff Corps. I feel I am unable to allow the occasion to pass without telling you how deeply I feel the circumstances which compel your severance from the profession of arms, and I wish to express to you my personal sense of appreciation of the services you have faithfully rendered to the department.
With all good wishes, believe me to remain,
The Defence Act prescribes that members of the Permanent Forces are always liable for service, wherever required, and it was under that law that Captain Conway enlisted and served effectively. He was the first Australian to qualify as an expert and be employed as an instructor in every branch of the military service. He served in Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales, and his services were always highly commended by those under whom he served; they were brought under the notice of the Minister as highly meritorious, and in the interests of Australia. In 1917 he was transferred from New South Wales to Queensland. At the time he was informed that his stay in Queensland would be short, as he would at an early date be required for important service in New South Wales. Later he was engaged in that important service. During the war, he was repeatedly refused permission to serve abroad on the ground that his services could best be utilized in Australia. As I have said, Conway rendered efficient service where required and as directed. During the war years, he was associated with the Reverend Ronald G. Macintyre, O.B.E., D.D., Director of Recruiting in New South Wales. When he subsequently wrote to that gentleman, asking him for a reference as to his character, he received the following reply: -
During the years that I was Director of Recruiting for New South Wales, Captain Conway was at the barracks, Sydney, and I was in regular contact with him. He impressed me as a man of accuracy, energy and sound judgment and of honorable and upright character. He has, I believe, a. high sense of duty so that what he undertakes will be carried through without fear or favour.
Captain Conway is an excellent citizen, who, as the Reverend Mr. Macintyre said, carried out his duties efficiently and without fear or favour. He rendered great and valuable service to the nation. When the Minister condoned the expunging of certain matter from his record, he did Conway a grave injustice. Discreditable entries had been surreptitiously and wrongfully made on Conway’s record to the effect that he had failed to do the job for which he enlisted and for which he was trained and paid. Captain Conway was not called upon to render any service which he was not always willing to do. He had always been willing and keen to serve. At the time of Conway’s suspension from the service, he had been instructed by Brigadier-General Ramaciotti to go to Queensland as he was considered to be too valuable an officer to send overseas. It has been said that Conway’s retirement was due to the fact that he refused to go overseas on the score of his wife’s ill-health; I say definitely that he did not at any time refuse to leave these shores. The Defence Department has claimed for years that Conway has suffered no injury. A former Minister for Home and Territories, now deceased, some years ago promised exSenator Albert Gardiner that he would do anything to assist him in return for the many services Gardiner had rendered to him. Ex-Senator Gardiner replied that he wanted nothing for himself, but that he would like the Minister to assist a friend of his, a Mr. Conway, to secure a position in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea. The Minister’s reply was, “ Gardiner, that is as good as done “ ; but a few weeks later he informed exSenator Gardiner that Conway’s record was such that in no circumstances could he be employed in that or any other government position. Ex-Senator Gardiner then wrote a very lengthy letter to the Minister, expressing his surprise and disgust at the way Conway had been treated. In reply, the Minister wrote -
I have read your letter of the 11th July concerning Captain T. P. Conway, about whom you spoke to me in Canberra some time ago, but am rather at a loss to suggest a direction in which Captain Conway’s services could be utilized. I have passed the letter to the Acting Minister for Defence (the Honorable C. W. C. Marr) asking him to consider the re-employment of Captain Conway in the Defence Department and communicate direct with you.
In the light of this evidence, it is mean and contemptible of the Defence Department to plead that it did not injure Conway when he was both in and out of the service. Following that, Major-General Bruche was appointed to make inquiries into Conway’s case. After investigating the matter, Major-General Bruche determined that the references to the good character and meritorious service of Captain Conway should be re-inserted in his record, and that the false and discreditable statements inserted in it by the Defence Department should be expunged. In spite of all this, Minister after Minister has said that Conway has suffered no injury and that his character has not been besmirched. Many another person, if similar treatment had been meted out to him, would have taken action to recover damages from the Defence Department. Conway appeals for a complete investigation of his case. He sought the support of the Honorable E. J. Harrison, who addressed the following question to the Assistant Minister for Defence: -
In view of the fact that it is officially admitted that an entry was made on the records of Captain T. P. Conway in 1917 and expunged in 1931, because it was injurious and unjustifiable is it proposed to make any amends to this officer; and if so, what is proposed ?
The’ reply given by Mr. Francis, then Assistant Minister for Defence, was -
As has been explained on several occasions, a certain entry was made in the records of Captain T. P. Conway in 1017. The truth of this entry is unquestioned. Whether it is unjustifiable is a matter of opinion. Upon a report by Major-General Bruche, it was expunged in 1031 by direction of the then Minister for Defence. There is no evidence of the entry having been injurious and it is not proposed to take any further action in the matter.
On the 7th July, 1932, Mr. Harrison informed Conway that he was not satisfied with the answer given by the Assistant Minister for Defence, and, on the 14th November, 1933, he wrote to Conway the following letter : -
I suggest you forward to me without delay a suggestion as to the redress you consider your just due, after having put up with the misrepresentation associated with your name for many years.
However, notwithstanding the misrepresentation, Mr. Harrison failed to obtain any redress for the claimant.
Honorable senators should bear in mind that Conway was a good man and a useful citizen who for many years had given his energy and time in the interests of Australia. Conway was one of many who helped to build up the Australian Imperial Force, and although he was not permitted to serve abroad be rendered very valuable service to bis country. Notwithstanding this, his record was besmirched, and ‘he was informed that he would not be employed further by the Commonwealth Government either in Australia or in the Mandated. Territory of New Guinea. He has made numerous requests for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into his case, because he believes that only by that means can justice be done; but up to the present his requests have not been complied with. There is a good deal more that could be said on his behalf, but I am not suggesting that his case should be tried by the Senate ; I want it referred to a committee, the members of which could make personal contact with Conway and examine witnesses. If such a committee should determine that Conway had received justice, he will abide by the decision; but if it should be held that he is entitled to compensation, the Government should, even after a lapse of years, pay whatever the committee should decide is due to him. In writing to me, he suggested that he was not concerned with the personnel of the committee, but he would like Senator Brand to act as chairman, because the early days of Conway’s military career were spent under that gentleman, who was his senior officer. I appeal to those conversant with the military service and defence regulations to support this motion. This man, who cannot speak on his own behalf in this Parliament, would like those conversant with military procedure to assist to remove the injustice done to him. As this is supposed to be a non-party House, an impartial committee consisting of four supporters of the Government and three members of the Opposition should be appointed, and its decision Conway would accept as final.
. - I congratulate Senator Amour upon: the excellent manner in which he has presented the case of Captain Conway, whom I have known personally for the last nine years. I know nothing whatever of the merits of the case or of’ his military service except what I have read in the files and in Hansard. Although his case has been before different authorities for a number of years, that does not mean that justice has been done. It is very easy for a wrong decision to have been reached; and for such a decision to be recorded in the files. Once certain decisions are recorded the stigma or injury cannot be removed. Succeeding Ministers are shown the files by departmental officers, and in almost every instance a new Minister confirms decisions previously given. On several occasions I have brought before this chamber the case of a close personal friend of mine - I refer to the scientist Mr. Inigo Jones - who for years has been spoken of derisively by men not competent to judge his merits and whose opinions are officially recorded on the files. To-day his ability is being recognized by the Commonwealth Government. We want the Senate, not to try Conway’s case, but to agree to the appointment of a select committee, and whether Conway does or does not accept such a committee’s decision as final does not interest me. For years he has been asking for a proper inquiry, so apparently he is not afraid of the result. Quite recently I undertook to look further into the matter, and I had some correspondence with Conway on the subject. Writing to me last month, Conway said -
It is an easy matter to establish a prima facie case. My services were -
declared to be highly meritorious, and such service qualified me for accelerated promotion ;
declared to be unsatisfactory and that I was debarred from promotion.
An investigation was held in respect to (b), and it was found that it was unjustifiable and as a result was expunged.
The statement was expunged but the damage it did - and it was enormous - remains unappeased, and hence my persisting in pressing for an investigation into my claim for compensation, and which I will fight for until it is conceded.
In bringing this matter before the House of Representatives on the 27 th November, 1935, the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark) said -
This gentleman was a neighbour of mine, and brought his complaint under my notice. I understand it was previously considered by the Government, but was. not given the attention it should have received. As Captain Conway declares that he has been unjustly treated by the Defence Department, and suggests that he has been victimized, his case should be investigated immediately. He says that he is being stabbed in tlie back by certain people who are afraid to express their opinions of him openly. He says also that this matter had been closed by the Minister. He points out that for 22 years he performed services to the satisfaction of every one who employed him or under whom he served, and that his war services had been specially recognized. On retirement in 1922 he was specially thanked by the Minister for Defence of the day for his faithful services. His record, he claims, was one of which any member of the forces could be justly proud, but it did not protect him from attacks which took the following form: -
He was refused payment for services performed in a responsible and important Australian Imperial Forces appointment.
From 1918 to 1931 he was deprived of the credit of services performed as D.A.A.G-. for the Australian Imperial Force in New South Wales.
His reputation was besmirched and injured by entries made on his record, and retained contrary to justice, and the ruling of superior authority.
Although Captain Conway has been informed by superior authority that his reputation and record are above reproach, the honorable member for Wentworth has stated that the Defence Department convinced him that Conway’s record was not satisfactory.
The old report was still on the file. In such cases, should a member of Parliament ask for information the Minister or a departmental officer says, “Here is the file; have a look at that”. If we were always to accept all that appears in the file a man’s case would be hopeless. “When this question was raised in the House of Representatives . in November, 1935, the honorable member for Darling read a statement sent by Conway to the Governor-General, and the honorable member for “West Sydney (Mi-. Beasley) interjected, “What has the Minister for Defence to say to that”? This is what the Minister replied -
I say that the matter has been investigated dozens of times, and the man has no legitimate grievance whatever.
Of course he had not, because everything depended upon the departmental file! That is what Captain Conway said when he made application to the GovernorGeneral for a full investigation of his case. Surely it is evidence, not that Captain Conway is a persistent nuisance, but that he believes that he has a legitimate grievance. The proposed select committee, if .appointed, will discover the truth of the matter. Upon the decision of that committee honorable senators of the Opposition who are his friends will be silent on this matter for the rest of time. This is what Captain Conway submitted to His Excellency the Governor-General -
I, Thomas Patrick Conway, citizen of the Commonwealth, humbly and respectfully submit to you as Commander in Chief of the King’s Forces in Australia, the following grievance for which I appeal to you for redress.
From 1899 to 1922 I faithfully served King and country in the Military Forces of Australia from the rank of Gunner to that of Captain in the Staff Corps.
The grievance that I suffer from is that officials of the Defence Department promulgated statements that I did not perform the duties for which I was paid, and that I was not worthy of a position in any military organization.
As a result of an investigation I was informed by the Secretary of the Defence Department that the statements complained of had been expunged from all correspondence and records.
Some time after this the member for Wentworth, Mr. E. J. Harrison, asked me to submit a claim for the misrepresentation I had so long suffered. I did so, and when Mr Harrison presented the claim he was persuaded that I had not been misrepresented-
This, notwithstanding that the damaging statement had been expunged from the record -
These facts, I respectfully urge, show that although the department expunged the unjustifiable matter from the records, it still represents that I did not do the duty for which I was trained and paid.
Tlie facts are, Your Excellency, that I rendered long and faithful service, that I was slandered, that the slander was expunged and is still being repeated, and that I am denied the redress provided by the regulations, and which I submit is the right of all the King’s subjects.
I appeal to Your Excellency for a full investigation; the whole of my services was without a flaw, and with such service my character is impugned and my reputation besmirched.
That, surely is not the statement of a man who does not believe in the justice of his case. Because I believe that the matter should be investigated, I am joining with my colleague,. Senator Amour, in asking the Senate to agree- to the appointment of a select committee to decide the case once and for all.
– The Government cannot accept the motion of Senator Amour- for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into the circumstances of Captain Conway’s retrenchment. At the outset, I assure Senator Amour that although Captain Conway may feel that it is essential to secure the appointment of a select committee in order to clear his good name, that is unnecessary because, as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) has shown, any unfavorable references to Captain Conway have been expunged from the correspondence and military records. They would not have been heard of again, but for the fact that the matter has been repeatedly brought up in this Parliament at the instance of Captain Conway himself. There is no doubt as to Captain Conway’s record. He proved himself a good soldier, and was a respected officer of the defence forces. The letter of appreciation sent to Captain Conway, in common with -other officers who were retrenched, as the result of decisions reached at the Washington Conference, came from the then Minister for Defence, Senator Sir Walter MassyGreene. I wish to make it quite clear that Captain Conway’s character was never in question, it was recognized that he had proved himself a good soldier, and had discharged his duties quite satisfactorily.
Senator Collings has urged that the appointment of a select committee would give Captain Conway an opportunity to produce evidence that he had suffered an injustice. I would say, with all respect to the honorable gentleman, that if every person in the community who imagined that he was suffering an injustice could persuade members of this Parliament to move for the appointment of a select committee to inquire into his grievances, it would be quite impossible to comply with all the requests. As the central administration of the Defence Department is still in Melbourne, I have not been able to secure the file dealing with Captain Conway’s representations, but T have obtained from my colleague, the Minister for Defence, an outline of the case which, I would emphasize, has been thoroughly investigated by Minister after Minister. I disagree with the Leader of the Opposition that successive Ministers invariably endorse decisions by their predecessors. The honorable gentleman, this afternoon, in the discussion of another subject to which I am not permitted to allude, drew attention to the fact that a Minister of this Government had reversed the decision of a Minister in the preceding administration. That action was .the subject of criticism from the honorable gentleman.
Since 1928, Captain Conway has persistently kept his case before the Defence Department, and on each occasion his representations have been exhaustively considered and replied to in detail. The replies forwarded to Captain Conway have apparently failed to satisfy him and he has renewed his representations) either from a different angle or through a different channel. To-night he has renewed his application, through Senator Amour, for the appointment of a select committee. On an earlier occasion Senator Dooley submitted a similar motion. His complaints deal with his supersession in promotion to the rank of major in 1919, 1920 and 1921, bis retirement from the Permanent Military Forces in 1922, and statements in departmental correspondence regarding the fact that he did not have active service abroad during the Great War. In 1919, although not qualified by examination for promotion to the rank of major, Captain Conway was superseded by five other officers of the Permanent Military Forces who also had not passed the examination for promotion. These officers, however, were qualified by war service, having been on active’ service abroad with the Australian Imperial Forces in the rank of major or lieutenant-colonel. Two other officers of the Permanent Military Forces who were junior as captains to Captain Conway, received promotion to the rank of major at the same time, but as they belonged to a separate corps, supersession was not involved. Both of these officers had been on active service abroad with the Australian Imperial Forces in the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
In September, 1920, and in June, 1921, Captain Conway was again superseded by a number of officers, some of whom were junior to him in his own corps - .the Administrative Instructional Staff - and officers of other corps of the Permanent Military Forces - Australian Gay.rison Artillery and Royal Australian Engineers - who were also junior to him. In these cases, the officers who superseded
Captain Conway had all served in the Australian Imperial Forces in the rank of lieutenant-colonel or major. On the occasion of Captain Conway’s second supersession in 1920, the then . Minister approved on the recommendation of the Military Board, that preference must be given to all officers of his rank who had been on active service abroad until the whole of the officers who held the rank of captain at the time of his first supersession, viz., 1st November, 1919, had been promoted or until he qualified for promotion, when he would be entitled to further consideration..
No further promotions were made in the staff corps, which had been established in 1920 and embodied all officers of the Administrative and Instructional Staff, Royal Australian Garrison Artillery and the Royal Australian Engineers, to the rank of major from the date on which Captain Conway completed his promotion examination until after his retrenchment on the 1st August, 1922.
Captain Conway was a capable officer with a good record. He was willing and anxious to go on active service abroad in the early stages of the war, but was not given the opportunity. When the way was clear for his release on active service in 1917, he felt it incumbent upon him, out of consideration for the serious state of his wife’s health, to withdraw his application to proceed abroad. That, of course, was a reasonable excuse. The damaging results to Captain Conway’s military career, due to his inability to serve abroad, were his supersession in promotion to the rank of major by officers with active service abroad, and his retirement in 1922, under the Defence Retirement Act when drastic reductions were made in the Military Forces consequent on the Washington Conference. At that time Senator Sir Walter Massy-Greene was Minister for Defence, and following the decision to retrench a number of officers of the defence forces, he sent a letter of appreciation to Captain Conway, as well as to other officers who were retrenched at about that time.
– I said in my speech that the Minister would say that. Captain Conway denies that he withdrew his application.
– I doubt that a responsible Minister would make a definite statement that an officer had withdrawn his application unless there was some evidence that he had done so. I should be very sorry to think that any officials of the department would tell me that unless their statement was supported by records on the files. (Senator Amour. - Captain Conway denies it absolutely.
– If the application was withdrawn there will be evidence of it on the file, surely.
– I feel sure that there must be a record on the file, otherwise the statement would not have been made. In regard to his supersession, the position was that the policy endorsed by Parliament and enacted in section 20a of the Defence Act was that an officer who was eligible for promotion to a higher rank and who had been on active service abroad was, other things being equal, to be granted preference in promotion as against an officer of the same rank who was eligible for promotion to higher rank but had not been on active service abroad. It was in pursuance of this policy that Captain Conway was superseded in promotion.
With regard to Captain Conway’s retirement, the decisions of the Washington Conference made necessary considerable reductions of the Military Forces. A number of officers, including Captain Conway, was selected for retirement, many of whom had served abroad with the Australian Imperial Forces. The Defence Retirement Act under which Captain Conway was retired provided for compensation being granted on an equitable basis. Captain Conway received tho full amount of compensation provided under the act, which in his case amounted to £1,020 16s. 8d., and in addition he- was paid £262 10s. in lieu of furlough. Captain Conway’s numerous complaints since his retirement culminated, by the direction of. the then Minister for Defence, in a formal investigation by MajorGeneral Bruche at Sydney in November, 1931. ‘ Captain Conway was present at that investigation and was afforded an opportunity to state his claim fully from every point of view. The recommendations of Major-General Bruche with respect to this investigation were given effect in toto. One of those recommendations was that an entry in Captain Conway’s records, dated the 9th November, 1917, and all subsequent reference thereto relative to his not proceeding on active service abroad, should be expunged. There is, however, no evidence of this entry having been injurious to Captain Conway, nor did it have any effect on the matter of his supersession or his subsequent retirement under the Defence Retirement Act.
The file dealing with Captain Conway’s complaints is voluminous, and it is not possible to summarize the various points raised and explained throughout the correspondence. If honorable senators so desire, however, I shall arrange for the file to be placed on tlie table of the Library in order that those interested may acquaint themselves fully with the complete details of Captain Conway’s case.
– Who was the Minister who instructed MajorGeneral Bruche to make that inquiry?
– It was held in November, 1931, during a Labour government’s regime, and the Minister at the time was Mr. Chifley. I have been promised by the present Minister for Defence that if honorable senators so desire he will arrange for the complete file to be placed on the table of the Library, so that honorable senators may examine it and trace the investigations for themselves.
Senator Dooley referred to this matter in the Senate on the 28th March, 1935, and the answer given to him by the then Minister on the 3rd April, 1935, was as follows: -
I am now in a position to inform tlie honorable senator that his question was brought to the notice of the Minister for Defence and he advises that from the departmental point of view the case of Captain Conway was finalized years ago. His alleged grievances have been inquired into and his representations replied to in detail time and time again. Captain Conway, however, refuses to be satisfied with the departmental replies and persists in keeping his case before Parliament and tlie Defence Department. Since 1928, five Ministers or Assistant Ministers for Defence have investigated the case and each has arrived at the conclusion that no injustice has been done to Captain Conway. Further, the departmental file has been made available to member.’ of Parliament who have interested themselve on his behalf. The Minister for Defence is satisfied that Captain Conway has been given every consideration and does not propose to take any further action in tlie matter.
I feel sure that honorable senators who “ may be inclined to vote for the appointment of a select committee should read the file to decide whether the setting up of the proposed committee would be justified. This case has been thoroughly threshed out for years, and every possible consideration has been given to it. In the circumstances I urge the Senate not to press for the appointment of a committee. I recognize that the mover and seconder of the motion have acted in good faith, but I think that I have shown that such an inquiry is unnecessary.
.- I intend to support the motion. I have known Captain Conway for 33 years, and I was a member of the board which carried out all his examinations. I know nothing of the story connected with bis war service, and I think the Minister has missed the real point. The offending sentences in the confidential report have been expunged, but the stigma remains, and is still in the minds of Captain Conway’s brother-officers and of the public generally. This must be removed, for he is labouring under an injustice. The persistence with which, every time I go to Sydney, he meets me and requests an investigation of his case, is indicative of his genuineness. I do not say that he has been victimized, but he is labouring under a sense of grievance. I see no objection to the appointment of the proposed committee, which could investigate the matter thoroughly and report to the Senate.
Some honorable senators may have been surprised to hear what Senator Foll stated about compensation. Captain Conway was one of about 40 officers and warrant officers who did not go to the war, or who elected to retire on compensation. There were in the service so many scores of regular officers. The Government of the day ordered that expenditure must be cut down by reducing the establishment. On the retirement of these officers and warrant officers compensation was paid based on the lumber of years of his service. If an officer were say,35 years of age, allowance was made for the number of years of service to his credit and the number of years he would still have been on the pay roll until reaching the age of 60 years. It paid the Government better to give to the retrenched officers a lump sum and discharge them than to retain them as surplus personnel. Some officers, such as majors and a colonel or two, drew as much as £2,000. Captain Conway received over £1,000, and certain pay in lieu of furlough.Senator Amour put the case very clearly, ‘and, as I desire to see that this officer gets an opportunity to air his grievance, I shall support the motion. If it be carried, I shall serve on the select committee.
– I am particularly pleased over the attitude of Senator Brand to this motion, because I am in entire agreement with him. If we believe that justice has not been done, and if it lies within our power to see that it shall be done, we should vote for the proposed inquiry. Like other members of the Senate, I have known CaptainConway for some time. I listened attentively to the remarks of Senator Foll, and, as Senator Amour predicted, the whole crux of the department’s case is that Captain Conway did not serve abroad. Certain: entries were made in the file, and they were later expunged. It seems that questions should have been asked as to why these remarks had been placed on the file, and whether anything had been done to the person responsible for the placing of them there. Since a doubt has been raised in our minds with regard to this matter, the least we can do is to support the appointment of the proposed committee. We are not in a position to give a reliable decision merely on what we have heard to-night.
– -Why not see the file first?
– I have already seen it. I am young in parliamentary service, and my natural reaction on looking at the file was to believe what appears there, thinking that everything done in a government department and approved by the Minister would, like Caesar’s wife, be beyond suspicion; but, having served for a while as a member of this Senate, I am inclined to doubt whether it is ‘wise to accept a file at its face value
Captain Conway, who asks for an open inquiry, assures everybody that he was instructed by Brigadier-General Ramaciotti to go to Queensland. He denies that he asked for his name to be withdrawn from the list of officers desiring to go on active service. If Captain Conway is wrong in regard to that matter there should be a letter by him stating that he desired his name to be withdrawn from the list because of his wife’s illness. If he wrote such a letter, his case would be considerably weakened; but he definitely denies that he asked for his name to be withdrawn. The best way to clear up the doubt is not by argument on the floor of this chamber, but by setting up the proposed committee whose report would settle the dispute once and for all.
– When the honorable senator looked at the file, did he see such a. letter by Captain Conway?
– No ; to go through the file thoroughly would take a fortnight. It would be of little value to place the file oh the table in the Library, because nine out of ten senators would probably glance at it once, and give the department the benefit of the doubt. I believe that the Minister desires to do the right thing, and that it would not cost the country a great deal to conduct the proposed inquiry. The Government is appealing every day for recruits for the defence forces, and the actions of the department should be above suspicion. If there is any doubt that men with long service to their credit and recognised as efficient have grievances which cannot be settled because the Government refuses an open inquiry, it will be detrimental to the best interests of the Government and the Defence Department. Taking a long view of the matter, we should set up the committee asked for, and have this case investigated from every angle. Captain Conway will accept the result, whatever it may be. The same may be said of Senator Amour, of every member of the Senate, and of the public. Moreover, the good name of the Governmentwillbevindicated.
.- I had not heard of this case until it was brought forward to-day by Senator Amour, and I may therefore be regarded as impartial. But is a select committee of the Senate the proper body to investigate a matter of this kind? If every grievance is to be dealt with in this way, we shall, before long, be overwhelmed with committees. I have no objection to this case being investigated by an impartial body, but it seems wrong to refer it to a select committee of the Senate. Moreover, it is proposed to appoint to the committee two gentlemen who have already expressed the opinion that this man has a grievance and is entitled to compensation. Is that the sort of committee which ought to be appointed? I think, first, that a select committee of the Senate is not the proper body to investigate cases of this kind, and, secondly, that on thecommittee now proposed there should not be gentlemen who have prejudged the claimof Captain Conway. “Whatever body is set up should be without bias. I recommend the Government to appoint an impartial body to inquire into this matter, and not to include among its members any one who has prejudged the whole matter.
– If Senator Leckie’s reasoning were carried a little further, it would be exceedingly difficult ever to appoint a select committee to inquire into any matter. It is customary for members of a select committee to include the senator who moved for its appointment. Anything that Senator Amour said in bringing this case before the Senate might prejudice his appointment to the committee, notwithstanding that he moved for its appointment. I do not know that Senator Brand expressed any definite opinion as to the merits of the case. I listened to him attentively, and I gained the impression that his mind was open, although he was inclined to give the man a hearing. Captain Conway’s persistence appeals to me. I do not know him, but I have a faint recollection of his case having been brought before the Senate in 1935 by Senator Dooley. There must be something in his claim,or he would not be so persistent. He would not press for an inquiry if he was afraid of the result, and therefore, I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, and to vote for the appointment of a select committee.
. - I know absolutely nothing of this case, but I remind the Minister (Senator Foll) that there is a conflict of opinion as to what is really on the file. The Minister told us that certain records on the file relating to this man’s character weresubsequently expunged. I want to know who was responsible for placing those records on the file. Even if the file were now destroyed, the fact would remain that this man’s reputation has been besmirched by records which were on the file at one time. Despite all that has been said, Captain Conway’s services might have been retained by the Government but for those records. I agree with Senator Leckie that a select committee of the Senate should not be appointed to deal with every grievance, but in view of the fact that this is not the first time that this matter has been brought before the Parliament, I am inclined to think that it would be wise to appoint a select committee and settle it once and for all. The placing of the file on the Library table will not remove the blot on this man’s reputation. If an injustice has been done to him, and it can be rectified, we should rectify it even at this late stage. I am not concerned about the compensation that was paid to Captain Conway. Whatever amount he received on his retirement, he received as his right; the amount had some relation to his military rank. Other officers received compensation according to their rank, and probably some of them were given other positions in the Commonwealth Service. This man, because of the damaging records on his file, was not given another job in the service.
– The policy of preference to returned soldiers put others ahead of him.
– I am coming to that point. There is a conflict between what was saidby Senator Amour and by the Minister. The latter said definitely that Captain Conway had volunteered to go overseas, but subsequently withdrew his application for reasons best known to himself. If such a letter be not on the file, Senator Amour will.be proved to be right; on the other hand, should such a letter be found, the Minister will be proved to be right.
– That point can be determined easily without the appointment of a select committee.
SenatorFRASER. - Even if the letter be not on the file, the stigma will remain.
– In that event I shall want to know why I was given certain information.
– The removal from the file of the defamatory records does not clear Captain Conway. Those records prevented him from getting another position in the Commonwealth Service. I hope that if a select committee be appointed it will deal with the case on its merits. I agree that once a man’s reputation is besmirched, the mere expunging of the record does not put things right. I hope that justice will be done, and, therefore, I support the motion.
.- I support the motion, not because the person referred to in it was a soldier, for I should support a similar motion to clear the reputation of any person in the community. As a military man, Captain Conway came under the jurisdiction of this Parliament. He offered to enlist for service overseas, but was requested by his superiors at that time to remain in Australia in order to train other men. When the opportunity to go overseas came, he wasprevented from going because of illness in his family. Senator Brand has hit the nail on the head. I accept the Minister’s assurance that any references on the file which were derogatory to this man’s reputation have been expunged, but that does not clear him in the eyes of his brother officers, and the community. I am not afraid that by agreeing to this motion we shall lay ourselves open to further similar motions, because this is an extraordinary case. The fact that five Ministers have arbitrated on this ease without satisfaction being given to Conway, impels me to say that he obviously has a grievance. He is well spoken of, both by his former comrades in the Defence Department and by members of both branches of this legislature. The fact that he drew £1,300 as compensation and furlough pay has no bearing on the case. That money was due to him under the terms of his engagement, and was earned while he was in the service. No precedent will be created by giving effect to the desire expressed by Senator Amour for a complete investigation of the case.
– As one whose name has been included amongst the members to be appointed to the proposed select committee, I desire to make my position clear. If this motion be carried, and I become a member of the committee, I shall then go into the facts of the case and endeavour to arrive at a judicial decision on the matter. I do not propose to go into the facts of the case at the moment ; I wish merely to deal with what I regard as the principle upon which the Senate should act in matters of this kind. This is the senior House of the legislature of the Commonwealth, one of the members of the British Commonwealth of Nations with almost complete sovereignty. The function of this Senate is to consider legislation ; it is not in any sense a judicial body. If our time is to be taken up by trying every case of a person who has a grievance, or who is sufficiently persistent in urging his claims to induce some members of the Parliament to have it inquired into by a select committee, the legislative work we have to do must inevitably be crowded out by our judicial functions. We have spent the last two days considering what are obviously disputes between private individuals in one case, and betweenan individual and the Crown in this case. Under our laws, a proper tribunal has been instituted to adjudicate on grievances between individuals and between individuals and the Crown. If this Parliament is to usurp the functions of the judiciary, it must, as a consequence, neglect the functions for which it was created. Until this motion was placed on the notice-paper yesterday, I had never heard of Captain Conway; I know nothing of the facts of his case other than what have been disclosed during this debate. One fact given prominence, by Senator Amour was that this grievance originated seventeen years ago. It will be extraordinarily difficult seventeen years after the happening of an event for any court to get all the evidence necessary to give the matter proper and just consideration.
– The Statute of Limitations does not operate in this case. This claim hasbeen kept alive for a long time.
– The very fact that we have included in our laws the Statute of Limitations shows the necessity for imposing some time limit within which persons may bring actions or air grievances. If it were not for the restrictions imposed by the Statute of Limitations, a person could make a complaint 20 or 50 years after the happening of an event, when he was sure that all of the witnesses against him were dead. I am not dealing with the facts of this case; all I want to do is to uphold the prestige of this Senate and to ensure that its functions shall not be degraded to those of an inferior court. I suggest that honorable senators should oppose this motion, not because they believe that Captain Conway is wrong-
– Does the honorable senator think it beneath the dignity of the Senate to render justice to one of our citizens?
– We are placed here to legislate, and if we waste our time in investigating every grievance that is brought under our notice, there will be no time left to do the work for which we were elected. Senator Keane said that he would support a motion to inquire into a grievance suffered by any member of the community. If this motion be carried, I can imagine every other honorable senator, not only those opposite, but also those on this side of the chamber, moving for the appointment of select committees to investigate grievances brought to his notice; Itisnot the function of the Senate to appoint select committeesto investigate private grievances; its function is to appoint select committees only when the honourof the Senate or of a Minister of theCrownis involved.
– The honorable senator did not support my motion yester day in respect of a contract involving the honourof a Minister of the Crown.
– If I had thought that the honour of & Minister of the Crown or of the Parliament was involved in that matter, I should certainly have supported the honorable senator’s motion ; but the facts show that that was not the case. I urge honorable senators to oppose this motion because it is not a proper exercise of the Senate’s right to appoint a select committee.
– I should like to draw the attention of honorable senators, particularly the Minister, to the terms of this motion, which provide that “ a committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the discharge from the Mili-. tary Forces of Captain T. P. Conway, and the refusal of compensation and removal allowance to this officer.” There are two pertinent questions which the Minister has not dealt with to my satisfaction. One is the existence of a letter which is really vital to the claim put forward very temperately by Senator Amour. If Captain Conway did himself apply not to be sent abroad, or withdraw his application to go on active service, perhaps for very good reasons, then the whole position is met by what both Senator Brand and the Minister have said - he had to relinquish his office owing to the fact that he had not served abroad. We have not had placed before us any evidence of the existence of such a letter; While the Minister wasspeaking, I asked whether such a letter is or is not in existence, because upon that depends entirely whether or not this man has any financial claim uponthe Commonwealth. That is, one point that surely could be clarified if the Minister were himself in possession of the file or if it were made available to honorable senators. The second point that requires clarificaton is: for what purpose did Major-General Bruche make his inquiry in 1931; what was the extent of that inquiry; and to what was it directed? We know the result of it. Senator Amour and the Minister have both agreed that it resulted in the expunging from Captain Conway’s record of something that had been putthere which was detrimental to his interests. To what extent did that inquiry go?
Was there an inquiry then as to whether or not any compensation should be paid to Captain Conway? In the absence of such information, we are being asked to vote in the dark upon this matter. I do not altogether share the view expressed by my colleague, Senator Wilson, that a matter such as this should not be referred to a select committee; seventeen years after the grievance originated. We have had illustrations in the British Parliament and in the courts of men who have suffered injustices over a long period of years. For instance, there was the celebrated case in which the late Lord Carson made a wonderful name for himself - the case of a young naval cadet, son of an impoverished clergyman, who laboured under the indignity of having been discharged from the naval forces on a charge of having stolen 5s. from a comrade. After suffering injustice for years, he was ultimately proved innocent of the charge and his broken-spirited father had to be compensated to the amount of many thousands of pounds for the indignity placed upon him and upon his household. I approach this question with an entirely open mind. I share Senator Wilson’s view that, as the senior branch of the legislature of the Commonwealth, the Senate should be careful about appointing select committees or recommending their appointment where we can by our own examination satisfy ourselves thatno wrong has been done. I venture to think that a discussion of this sort is likely to be more detrimental to the future career of this officer than anything that could possibly happen. After all, his record has been rectified. I ask the Minister now to adjourn this debate in order to give us an opportunity to ascertain how far Major-General Bruche’s inquiry extended. Did it go beyond an examination as to whether the officer who was responsible for placing this black mark against Captain Conway was right or wrong? Did Major-General Bruche inquire into the whole of the circumstances and the extent of the injury that had been done to Captain Conway? At . the time when this inquiry wasconducted, Senator Dooley, a former Labour Minister and Government Whip in this chamber, was very active on behalf of Captain Conway.
The Minister should supply the Senate with facts additional to those in the possession of Senator Amour, because at present we are somewhat in the dark.
– We should have more light on the matter.
– The mere appointment of a select committee is not sufficient.
– A specious argument.
– It may be, in the mind of the honorable senator, but nevertheless it is sound. We heard yesterday of the necessity to preserve the honour and dignity of Parliament, but we shall not be doing so if we agree to the appointment of a committee, without a fuller knowledge of the facts. Senator Amour put his case clearly, but there are two points on which I am not clear. Captain Conway’s character was, I understand, cleared by Major-General Bruche, but the motion mentions a claim for compensation for injury in consequence of a certain entry remaining on the file. We should know exactly what claim for compensation is likely to be made before recording a vote. At the moment, I do not know whether I shall support or oppose the motion, because I do not know on what I am expected to vote. I do not wish to support the appointment of a select committee to inquire into something which has already been inquired into by Major-General Bruche. I also understand that it has been said that Captain Conway did not desire to be sent abroad. Until these points are cleared up, I do not think that the Senate should be asked to come to a decision. Before the debate is concluded Senator Amour should ask the Minister to provide the Senate with information on the two vital points mentioned. I do notblame the mover, because he has, perhaps, given to us all the information at his disposal, but there appears to be some difference of opinion between Senator Amour and the Minister regarding the existence of a certain letter. If such a letter does exist, it will strengthen Senator Amour’s case; if not, the claim will be definitely weakened. The complaint is that certain black marks were improperly placed against Captain Conway’s name by some senior officer.
– Why were the black marks placed there?
– Of that we have no knowledge. I understand that they have since been removed. Major-General Bruche’s report may clear up the matter.
– But Captain Conway was prevented by those earlier records from re-entering the Commonwealth Service.
– The facts on the file should be made available. I suggest that the debate be adjourned until further information is available.
– It appears that this claim is based on an entry made in the records in 1917. I understand that from 1917 to 1922 Captain Conway was a soldier, and, as such, had recourse to all means of redress provided for soldiers with a grievance, and that during such time he did not use the methods available to him.
– He did not know of the mark against him until later.
– That alters the position. Nevertheless, his complaint seems to have been met by the investigation by Major-General Bruche, as a result of which an alteration of the records was made and Conway secured some redress. Since then he has kept his case alive for reasons which have been mentioned tonight. Having secured some redress, he now seeks to approach Parliament; but I would suggest that it is impracticable to appoint a select committee of Parliament to inquire into the grievances of all who have complaints. Senator Leckie said that certain persons who have been mentioned as members of the proposed select committee are biased, but I feel sure that Senator Brand will agree with me that the first thing that would be said by men, trained as he and I have been, would be, “ What is the grievance? Let us investigate.” Senator Brand, as a. soldier, is merely anxious to ascertain the facts, and to do what is right.
. - in reply - I should like to inform Senator A. J. McLachlan that, when Captain Conway expressed a desire to serve overseas, he was told that his services were required in Australia. Some time later Brigadier-General Ramaciotti instructed Conway to proceed to Queensland, where he was to be permanently stationed. Conway accordingly transferred his wife and family to that State, and there was never any suggestion that he should go abroad. Then the Minister for Defence, Sir Neville Howse, promised Senator Gardiner that he would endeavour to get Conway a job in the Mandated Territory, but later he advised Senator Gardiner that Conway’s character was such that he could not be re-employed. Writing on this subject, Senator Gardiner said -
Your reply conveys the impression that your mind is made up, but no case is ever settled until it is settled right. Some years ago 1 asked Sir Neville Howse to. place Conway in a position in the Mandated Territory. Sir Neville said he would favorably consider my request, and you may imagine my surprise and annoyance when, some weeks later, he said that Conway’s record of service was such that he could not think of his reemployment.
– That was in 1927or 1928.
– That was the first he knew of anything having been recorded against him which made it impossible for the Government to reemploy him. I appeal to honorable senators opposite, particularly those who have rendered military service, to support this motion, so that a proper investigation may be made.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator McBride) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– Last night I directed the attention of the Senate to the unfortunate position in which many unemployed returned soldiers and their dependants are placed owing to the inability of these men to receive a war pension. When I said that many cannot substantiate their claims for a pension, my statement was challenged by at least two Ministers, who said that I was exaggerating the position. I assure the Senate that my statement is correct, as the following paragraph, which appeared in the Sydney Sun of the 29th May, will show : -
Soldiers Under Ordeal.
That examination of 800 soldiers on Saturday was a grimly pathetic story.
They sat in competition for 51 temporary jobs in the National Register at little more than the basic wage.
In other capitals an equal proportion of men looked for a sprinkling of jobs.
Damaged in sight, in nerves and in physical health, many of them maimed, old diggers trembled and fainted under their ordeal.
It was a miserable best for the nation to do on their behalf as an undertaking ofsoldier preference.
If after their war service they nave now lost that small degree of clerical competence, why must they still struggle for an ephemereal low-wage engagement ?
Even now it is not too late for more elastic sympathy in repatriation administration. The mournful examinationhas been a stringent reminder of forgotten national duty.
Does that read as if I had been exaggerating last night? I could cite very many cases of extreme hardship if senators cared to listen to me, and I could produce evidence in support of every one.
– If the honorable senator will let me have particulars of the cases they will be examined.
– I shall give them to the Minister to-morrow. The speech delivered by Senator Brand last June was a complete endorsement of all that I had said. How much longer are repatriation benefits to be withheld from these returned soldiers who were wounded or gassed in the war? And how much longer must their wives and families suffer because these, men did not apply earlier for assistance? Senator Brand told us last night that these matters are discussed every year when the Estimates are under consideration. Why does not the Ministry take notice of what is said in this chamber about repatriation administration ? As I pointed out last night, it is almost impossible now for many returned soldiers to produce evidence in support of their claims that their present disabilities are due to war service. If the Government sincerely desires to do its duty by returned soldiers who did their duty by this country during the war, it will amend the Repatriation Act in such a way that ex-soldiers who are now suffering serious disabilities due to war service will get justice.
– I remind Senator Aylett that the Repatriation Act was framed by returned soldiers for returned soldiers, and is administered by returned soldiers. The honorable gentleman last night did not speak in the same vein as to-night. He was accused last night of exaggeration. That accusation has sot been withdrawn. I repeat my offer of last night. If the honorable senator has individual cases of hardship due to administrative shortcomings and will submit them to the Minister for Repatriation or to myself, every one will be investigated. Thehonorable gentleman should not make general charges against the administration as a whole. The suggestion was made recently in the House of Representatives that a select committee should be appointed to inquire into the administration of the Repatriation Act.
– That suggestion was made by an ex-soldier member.
– Nevertheless the Federal President of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, which is representative of all ex-service men, said definitely that an inquiry was not needed ; that members of the League were quite satisfied that they could approach the Government and Parliament for the redress of any grievances. I repeat that if Senator Aylett will take the trouble to furnish me with particulars of individual cases, a full inquiry into them will be made.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The Senate adjourned at 10.21 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 31 May 1939, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1939/19390531_senate_15_159/>.