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Thursday, 22 October 1931

Mr ELDRIDGE (Martin) .- As a protest against the payment of an honorarium of £1,000 to the Director-General of Postal Services, I move -

That the total amount be reduced by £1,000.

This item appears on page 97 of the Supplementary Estimates, and is associated with two other items, which read, " Commonwealth representation, International "Wireless Congress,Washington, £1,099," and " Commonwealth representation at the International Congress, London, £1,122." In between those two items, is the proposed vote of £1,000 to Mr. Brown. This is the first time that we have heard of this particular expenditure. The total of those three items is £3,221. I wish to know whether Mr. Brown was interested in only the £1,000, or in the other two amounts as well.

Mr Theodore - Does the honorable member realize that the carrying of his amendment would amount to a vote of censure on this Government for something done by a previous administration? It would mean that this Administration would be put out of office, and the previous Administration, which expended the money to which his motion refers, would be put back into office.

Mr ELDRIDGE - I am taking the only means available to me to voice a protest against this expenditure. We had no opportunity of making a protest against it in 1928-29. Although we are now virtually at the end of a session, we have been bombarded with a volume containing the Supplementary Estimates for three financial years, involving an expenditure of £1,682,953 which was never authorized. The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Keane) is evidently desirous of rushing these items through the committee, for he is keeping his eye on the clock. We should do the work that we were elected to do, and not pretend to do it. I remind the committee that the officer in respect of whom this expenditure was involved is one whose maladministration has been the subject of strong protests by me on several occasions. " This gentleman occupied a subordinate position in London * four or five years ago, but he was brought to this country, and immediately given a position at the princely salary of £50 a week.

Mr Paterson - He could command a bigger salary elsewhere.

Mr ELDRIDGE - If that were so, he would have rushed away long ago. Soon after he began work here at the salary of £50 a week, he was given an increase of £30 a week, bringing his salary up to £80 a week.

Mr Bernard Corser - He was offered a higher salary when abroad.

Mr ELDRIDGE - If that were so, he could not get a steamer quickly enough to take him to it.

Mr Paterson - The honorable member is unfair.

Mr ELDRIDGE - I am not. This man is a real " go-getter ". In 1928 the administration of the telegraph branch of the Postal Department, by this officer resulted in a loss of £312,075. In the following year the loss was £22S,134, a total of £540,209 for the two years. His administration of the telephone branch in those two years resulted in losses of £322,438 and £247,211 respectively, a total loss of £569,649 for that branch. Taking the two branches mentioned, we find that the losses in those two years amounted to over £1,000,000. Before his appointment the telegraph branch showed a small profit each year, but under his administration enormous losses have been incurred in both that branch and the telephone branch. This gentleman was sent abroad; but no one appears to know what he did during his absence from Australia. I have endeavoured to elicit information from the Postmaster-General on the subject, only to be told that the work upon which Mr. Brown was engaged was of such a nature that his reports could not be divulged, even to members of this House. Even when I asked questions regarding contracts of a suspicious nature, no information' was given me, because it was again alleged that secrecy must be maintained. This highly-paid official, after having been sent on a trip to Britain and the United States of. America, was paid £1,000 in addition to his salary. That was done behind the back of Parliament.

Mr Archdale Parkhill - "Why has the honorable member such a grudge against this officer?

Mr ELDRIDGE - I have no grudge against- him as an individual; but I feel that I am doing my duty in ventilating these matters. This afternoon references were made to robbery of various kinds : we heard some plausible remarks about political rectitude, and the sanctity of contracts. Surely this committee has a duty in connexion with the expenditure of public money? In order to elicit information I desire, I now ask the PostmasterGeneral the following questions : - (1) Is it a fact that the Imperial "Wireless and Cable Conference of 192S presented a report of 26 printed pages which was laid on the table of the British Parliament in July, 1928? (2) Is it a fact that that report was printed by the British Government, and made available for public distribution? (3) Is this the report referred to by the PostmasterGeneral in his reply to a question by me on 23rd July, 1931 (Ilansard, page 2490) ? (4) If so, why does the PostmasterGeneral refer to that report as " the secret report of the conference"? (5) Why was that report not laid on the table of the Australian Parliament? (6) Will the Minister now make that report available? (7) Did the Director of Postal Services, Mr. H. P. Brown, who attended the conference referred to, concur in the recommendation for the handing over of the cable and wireless services of the Empire, including those owned by the British Government, to one new company apart from the British Postal Department? (8) If so, why did Mr. Brown, after agreeing to the dissociation of the combined wireless and cable services from government control, so far as Britain was concerned, urge that such control, so far as Australia is concerned, should be vested in the Postal Department, of which he is secretary? (9) Will the Minister state plainly whether Mr. Brown made any report on his return to Australia from this conference? (10) If so, why has not such report been presented to Parliament?

In the early life of this Parliament I obtained information that, since the appointment of this officer, contracts amounting to over £5,000,000 had been let overseas for goods the bulk of which could have been made in Australia. Only this week the Minister admitted that since this Government has been in office Postal Department orders had been placed overseas for materials and supplies to the value of approximately £49,000, notwithstanding that they could have been manufactured in Australia, and that thousands of our people are workless and in poverty. The Minister's reply to my question was most unsatisfactory; he gave no explanation whatever. The main reason given by this Government for placing orders overseas, is the high cost of thelocally-produced articles. But in proof of this no information is given regarding the items. In fairness to the country, full information on these matters should be supplied to Parliament. I voice my protest against the highly unsatisfactory and. questionable administration of this official. Members are entitled to object when they find that for all they know £3,221 has been squandered, and no explanation given. I should like to know why, in addition to being paid a high salary, this officer was granted an honorarium of £1,000 for work which after all was only part of his duties for which he received a. princely salary.

Mr Crouch - When did the honorable member learn of the payment of that honorarium?

Mr ELDRIDGE - Only to-night.

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