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Wednesday, 25 November 1931

Mr CHIFLEY (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Defence) . - The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) made reference to the action of an officer of the Defence Department, and alleged that somebody had endeavoured to get in touch with me. I assure the honorable member that it is not difficult to get into touch with me. The circumstances mentioned have not come to my knowledge; that statement I can substantiate.

The Prime Minister delegated to me the apportionment of the money that is to be expended on work at Cockatoo Island Dockyard. The dockyard officers submitted to me a list of the work that needed attention, and, at my suggestion, a substantial sum was set aside for the purpose. The proposal was first put to me by the representatives of the workers at the dock, who asked that some money should be made available specifically to provide work for ex-employees of the dockyard, of whom there was a great number. They made it perfectly clear that they did not desire the work for men already employed at the dockyard, although they were heavily rationed. Senator Dunn also waited upon me and made a special, request that a sum of money should be made available for the employment of dockyard ex-employees. After the £5,000 was allotted for work at Cockatoo Island Dockyard I made a request that the Shipping Board should supervise its expenditure, as I considered that that board is familiar with the work that is required to be done, and is most competent to engage the labour required. I suggested that the board, rather than the Works Department, should supervise the expenditure of the money, believing that it could apportion the money economically and to the best advantage. I did not discuss the matter with the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore). I did ask the management of Cockatoo Island Dockyard to furnish me with a report on the work that was to be carried out. The Prime Minister has read the instruction that I issued to the management of the dockyard, and he also made it clear to the House that the Shipping Board has complete control of these activities. Admittedly, that board is subject to removal by the Government, with a certain proviso as to notice. Not one complaint has been received by me, either from the representatives of the employees at Cockatoo Island Dockyard, or from any honorable member, to the effect that the money was being unfairly apportioned. It is extraordinary that on every other occasion when representations have been made to me in respect to Cockatoo Island Dockyard, Senator Dunn has participated in them, while on this occasion not a word was said to either myself or the Prime Minister (Mr. Scullin) about the matter by him or any member of his group. The first we knew of any alleged dissatisfaction was from newspaper reports of a discussion in another place. Even now, it has not been suggested that the shipping board, which has the entire responsibility for the spending of the money, has misused any of it.

In the first place, I consulted the dockyard management in regard to the expenditure of this money, and indicated verbally that a fortnight's work should be given to men who had previously been employed at the dockyard, but were now out of work; that the money should be made to go as far as possible; that there should be no preference; and that as little as possible should be spent on materials. These directions were afterwards confirmed in the letter which the Prime Minister read. In order to ensure that the minimum amount of money should be spent upon materials, I arranged with the Defence Department to make certain tools available to the dockyard.

It has been said that lists of persons to whom employment should be given have been furnished by various members. I have a big industrial centre in my electorate, at Lithgow, but I did not send in a single name, although certain other honorable members, including Nationalists, sent in names of persons to whom work should, be given both at Cockatoo Island and on jobs being done under the Works Department. There has not been the slightest ministerial interference in the expenditure of this money, nor has there been any misuse of it, and not' a single member of the Ministry has even been accused of having used his influence to secure preference for any particular person.

Mr Eldridge - Surely the Minister realizes that our chief complaint is that it is very unfair that supporters of the Government should have been able to furnish advance lists secretly.

Mr CHIFLEY (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No secret lists have been furnished. On various occasions, when grants have been made for unemployment relief, honorable members have made representations to the Government with the object of securing employment for deserving cases. I have had a number of requests and letters of that nature; but' in every instance I have forwarded them to the management of the dockyard without making any recommendation. The members of the Beasley group have made requests of this kind. I challenge any honorable member to prove that any Minister associated with the control of the dockyard has endeavoured to have a single penny spent in the giving of preferences to any particular class or person. No undue preference has been given. There is no suggestion that the management has been at fault in any way, for the instructions which I have given on behalf of the Prime Minister have been faithfully carried out.

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