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Wednesday, 25 November 1931

Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) (Prime Minister) . - The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) is labouring under a misapprehension. There was no suggestion that members were to participate in a conference, with a view to deciding how the money should be allocated, although they were invited to make suggestions. The honorable member said that he had made a suggestion ; but he did not indicate its nature. I have a recollection that he proposed that more men should be employed than could be given work at £4 a week. The Government did not accept his suggestion to lower the daily rate of pay. It was never suggested that £250,000 would be sufficient to relieve unemployment throughout Australia. That sum was set aside to inaugurate a prosperity compaign in which employers generally were invited to assist. When the campaign was launched, the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber, as well as the Leader of the Opposition in another place, co-operated with the Government in making a broadcast appeal to citizens generally to employ more men. I am pleased to say that there has been a wonderful response to that appeal by every section of the community. All that the Government did was to set an example to other employers. Nor was it intended that the money should be equally distributed among the electorates. The Government' had properties in various localities which were depreciating through lack of attention, and it decided to spend this money on renovating them. Other employers were asked to follow its example. The Government guarded against the possibility of duplication, by providing that the State labour bureaux should be given lists of the men who received assistance under the federal scheme. Some honorable members do not seem to realize that the Commonwealth has in every State an organization capable of dealing with this work. With the exception of Tasmania, each State has its Commonwealth works director. Moreover, the registration, of applicants for employment has not necessitated any additional appointments to the staff of the departments.

In order to show that in the allocation of the money there has been no discrimination against honorable members who support the Lang plan, I point out that, whereas an equal division of the money among the electorates would have given each district about £2,000, the East Sydney electorate has been granted £11,000 - a greater sum than has been allocated to any other district. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) complained that only £750 was to be spent in his electorate. The district of Barton is to receive no money at all, while only £170 is to be spent in the Calare district, and £800 in the district represented, by the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney).

Mr James - What amount has been allocated to the Dalley electorate?

Mr SCULLIN - Only £600.

Mr James - Not £600, but £5,600.

Mr SCULLIN - Even if the £5,000 set apart for Cockatoo Island Dockyard were included in the grant for Dalley, the amount would still be only £5,600, as against £11,000 for the East Sydney electorate. Mention has been made of the sum set aside for Cockatoo Island. The dockyard is controlled by a board set up by a previous administration. Section 11 of the act which constituted the board provides that the board may appoint such officers and servants as it thinks necessary for effectively conducting its business. The board was made absolutely independent of interference by any member of Parliament, or any Minister. I assume that the board is carrying out its instructions, and is doing its duty, since no evidence has been adduced to the contrary. The Minister for Defence (Mr. Chifley), in his control of Cockatoo Island, acts on behalf of the Prime Minister. On the 5th of November, the Minister for Defence wrote to Mr. J. Payne, chairman of the Australian Commonwealth Shipping Board, in the following terms : -

I desire to inform you that the sum of £5,000 is being allocated by the Treasury to your board for the purpose pf providing work at Cockatoo Island Dockyard for ex-employees of the dockyard.

The Government wishes it to bc clearly understood that no portion of the £,5000 referred to is to be expended in providing additional work for those already employed at the dockyard, but it is to be spread as far as possible over ex-employees who are now out of employment, with a minimum of two weeks' work. The Government also desires that no distinction of any kind be made which would grant preference in employment, as the money is intended to provide some relief for Christmas to the general body of ex-employees.

Yours faithfully,


P.S. - It is desirable that the work in question be put in hand and paid for before the Christmas holidays.

Those were the Government's instructions. If any honorable member can give me an instance in which those instructions have been departed from, I, personally, undertake to have the matter investigated. But I will not agree to .the setting up of any royal commission or special committee of inquiry.

Mr James - Then we will have an election.

Mr SCULLIN - Let us have it. If honorable members want to go on with the motion-

Mr James - We are going on with it.

Mr SCULLIN - If honorable members wish to take the business of the House out of the hands of the Government, they can have an election. But I suggest that they have chosen a poor issue on which to appeal to the electors. The hunger of some persons for office would cause them to make anything an issue. This Government has said a score of times that when it loses control of Parliament, it will not attempt to carry on. It has not yet lost control. The honorable member for West Sydney made the statement that the officials at the Engineers Branch of the Postal Department had advised applicants for employment to apply to their local members.

Mr Beasley - I said that the officials of the Postal Department in Castlereaghstreet had informed applicants that they could not register there, but should go to their members.

Mr SCULLIN - In reply to an interjection from the right honorable member for North Sydney the honorable member reiterated that instructions had been given to that effect. I had a telephone message sent to the Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs at Sydney, asking him to check the accuracy of the statement by the honorable member, and Mr. Kitto has telephoned stating that he has spoken to the Assistant Superintendent Engineer, who says that there is absolutely no foundation for any such statement. He said that the names were simply recorded, and that no advice to see or to apply to their local members was given to the men by any official. Three thousand men called to register, and three officials were detailed to record their names and addresses. The lists that were forwarded by main bers of Parliament to the postal authorities were accompanied with the request that the names should be added to the departmental list. No endeavour was made by any member to seek preferential treatment for those named in such lists. That is a complete answer to that particular charge.

I have obtained a report as to the allocation of this money in the various electorates, and it discloses that considerable sums have been made available in some electorates, while smaller amounts have been allotted to others. Everything depended upon the work that the departments had to make available, and the money was distributed irrespective of electorates, without bias, and free from political influence. I am the Minister in charge of the administration of Cockatoo Island Dockyard, and I delegated to the Minister for Defence authority to deal with this matter. Instructions were issued which had the approval of the Minister and of myself. If there is any charge of dereliction of duty, I am prepared to have the matter investigated by the permanent head of my department, on whom suspicion has never been cast. All I ask is that specific instances of improper behaviour shall be given. T am not prepared to allow the

Government to be subjected to the humiliation that would be associated with the appointment of a royal commission or a special commission to inquire into any unsubstantiated accusation made against a. Minister.

As Prime Minister of Australia, I say that the last thing that this Govern-' ment would dream of doing would be to take advantage of the unfortunate position of our unemployed by exploiting them for political purposes.

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