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Thursday, 15 May 1924

Mr FENTON (MARIBYRNONG, VICTORIA) - I wish to make a personal explanation bearing upon certain remarks which I made on the subject of the contract versus the day-labour system. J was reported in the Melbourne Ant of thu 9th May in the following terms: -

Mr. fentonsaid that owing to the collusion among contractors, many public bodies had lo revert to tho day-labour system. Among these waa the Victorian Metropolitan Board of Works, which has been advised by its experts that the tender prices in many instances were too high, and which had re-adopted the daylabour system to a large extent. These works wore proceeding at a satisfactory rate, and the engineers were more than satisfied with the class of work being done.

Following the. publication of that report, a letter written by a Mr. T. Starr, dated tins 12th May, was published iu the Age of Tuesday of this week. In that letter the writer says -

In Mie House nf Representatives lust Thursday Mr. Fenton, M.l'., in t,is advocacy of dayla bour against contract work alleges collusion among contractors and mentions the Melbourne, mid Metropolitan Board of Works as one of the public bodies that hud to it largo extent adopted the day-labour system. There is no collusion between the Board of Works contractors, and I am sure the Board is satisfied in regard to this matter. Mr. Fenton's statement is slanderous and untruthful.

The expressions used by Mr. Starr in his letter are so striking and strong us to demand a reply. I propose, therefore, to quote from Ilansard what I really did say. Referring to the day-labour system, I said -

Tho Metropolitan Board of Works approved of this method. The Board consists for the must part of nien representing municipal councils throughout the metropolitan area, and in recent times it has carried out public works involving the expenditure of considerable suras oi money. I believe that on many occasions when tenders have been altogether too high - I do not suggest collusion between contractors - on the advice of its engineers the Board has carried out tho works by day labour, which is now ite recognized system. As tar as I have been able to gather, this is proving most satisfactory. The pace al which work is being carried on is as good, if not better, than under Hie contract system, and the Board's experts arc thoroughly satisfied with the quality of the work that is being done.

I make this quotation from an uncorrected Ilansard proof, and honorable members will see that I purposely used the words " I do not suggest collusion between contractors." Mr. Starr, in hia letter, refers to u particular work undertaken by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, which he says has now been in' progress for nearly. ..three, yearn, and at-, present not 10 per cent, of the work has been finished. I am informed on the authority of a member of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, and an expert, that the work referred to by Mr. Starr was commenced only in August last, and has therefore not been in progress for three years. I may say that in connexion with this work for which tenders were received amounting to over £100,000, when it was discovered that the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board' of Works was likely to carry out the work by day labour one contractor was immediately prepared to cut his price down, by no less than £28,000. In the matter of house connexions, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, by adopting the day-labour system, have saved tho ratepayers many thousands of pounds, because when contractors carried out the work considerably more had to be paid for it, I have made this statement in order to correct Mr. Starr, who I understand is o rich contractor. His observations worn very personal, and my statement shows clearly that he, and not I, is the slanderous and untruthful person.

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