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Friday, 30 July 1920

Mr McGRATH (Ballarat)

The attitude of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. McWilliams), I take it, is that the High Commissionership should be retained, but that the gentleman holding that office should be a Minister of the Crown. That is precisely the view which I propounded when I returned to. Australia. I found, in London, that Mr. Fisher had no powers whatever, and that every little question as it cropped up had to be referred to Australia so that he might secure advice and instruction. I saw for myself the necessity for a High Commissioner in London, and for the establishment of Australia House.

Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - In normal times there are always 3,000 or 4,000 Australians in London.

Mr McGRATH - I quite believe that. No one who has paid a visit to Australia House, particularly if he were there during the war years, can question the necessity for the representation of Australia in the capital of the Empire; but it is unnecessary to incur the expense of having Commonwealth Ministers continually travelling to and from Great Britain. If a Minister were appointed to the High Commissionership, with power to .act in all circumstances, considerable trouble and expense would be saved the Commonwealth. I trust that the Government will favorably consider that point. If a Minister is sent to London, he will be representative of the Government of the day, which reflects the opinions of the majority of the people of Australia. An enormous amount of work was done in Australia House throughout the war. People who remained in the Commonwealth will scarcely credit, and can hardly be expected to appreciate the facts. In one branch alone, namely, the Pensions Branch, there was tremendous activity. It may be news to some honorable members that, of our first and second Australian Imperial Force Divisions, fully 30 per cent, of its personnel had their next-of-kin in Great Britain. The result was that a vast amount of pension work had to be conducted in Australia House. The building of . that structure was a very fine business deal.- Upon the establishment of a branch of the Commonwealth Bank in London during the war, no suitable premises were available except a portion of Australia House. To-day nearly one-half of that building is occupied bv the Commonwealth Bank, and during the war years its activities were conducted mainly to suit the convenience of our soldiers abroad. Any one who spent some time in London, and witnessed the operations of the. Commonwealth Bank in Australia House, must have been gratified to know that Australia had reared such a fine structure in London, and that it was housing our own Commonwealth banking institution. Still, there is a good deal of waste in Australia House. There is a considerable amount of frill, which ought to be cut out. There are many officials housed in various corners of that building who seem to be making a pretty good living out of Australia, but who are entirely out of touch with Commonwealth conditions. . In the office of the Victorian Agent- General there is not a single individual, except the Agent-General himself, I believe, who has ever been in Australia; and there are many other persons 'employed in Australia House who have no knowledge whatever of Australian life, and who are not competent to speak of the 'Commonwealth, or, for example, to answer questions of those who may be thinking of emigrating. Now that a fresh appointment is about to be made, I ask the Government to consider- the question whether it is wise to simply appoint an agent who has no power whatever. I understand that Mr. Fisher still has to ask for instructions upon any and every matter that crops up. If, however, a Minister were appointed, he could deal without delay with such important matters as negotiations in connexion with war loans, and he could represent Australia at International Conferences. It would then be no longer necessary to send any one else overseas.

I wish to refer, also, to the distribution of Anzac tweed. In a reply which the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie) gave to an honorable member, it was stated that the tweed manufactured at our Commonwealth Mills was being sold to the public at 15s. a yard. I regretted to hear that statement. If any one should set an example against profiteering, it should be the Government of the day. As a member of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League, I was able to purchase the cloth for the suit which I am now wearing for £1 9s. 9d. I obtained it through the' League. It is splendid material, and I ask the Government not to seek to make a profit from the operation of the Commonwealth Mills so long as they pay expenses. The people should be permitted to enjoy some of the benefits arising from this public activity, and should be able to secure this excellent cheap tweed which the Commonwealth Mills are turning out. Its distribution should not be confined to returned soldiers alone. Surely the widows and children of fallen -men should be entitled to some of the material at cost price. I know that the Returned Soldiers' League is not supplying Anzac tweed to others than members oft the -League. It was understood that this cloth was to be available to all soldiers for their services abroad, irrespective of whether or not they belonged to the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League. However, T can quite understand the position of the League. In conducting its distribution, it has to incur expenses of salaries and rent, and it is not fair to ask that body to distribute the cloth to non-members. The tweed should be distributed through the Repatriation, or some other such Department; and it should be made available to all returned soldiers, to all returned nurses, and to all widows and children of deceased soldiers.

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