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Friday, 4 November 1938

Mr LYONS (Wilmot) (Prime Minister) . - I can only say that if, as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) suggests, reference to the contracts was made at a meeting of the shareholders of the company, I was not aware of it. When the questions were asked by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. George Lawson), they came directly under my notice, and I immediately made inquiries. The terms of my reply were based on information supplied to me by the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) himself, who offered to tender his resignation immediately I discussed the matter with him. Unfortunately, there is no precedent to guide the Government in circumstances such as these, which until now have not definitely arisen. If I may express a personal opinion, I have no hesitation in saying that if a director of a company is directly interested in trading with a government, lie should not be a member of that government. I stated yesterday that, in this connexion, I had no knowledge of the practice followed in Great Britain. I have since learned, although not officially, that it is usual for a man to resign his directorships upon entering the Ministry.

Mr Blackburn - That was laid down by M'r. Gladstone.

Mr LYONS - The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) knows the exact position. A similar position has not previously arisen in the Commonwealth. I assure the Leader of the Opposition that the matter is receiving the attention of the Government, and we hope that a definite precedent will be laid down. There is no constitutional objection to the position of Senator A. J. McLachlan in the present circumstances. It is just a question of propriety whether a man should continue to hold two positions such as those occupied by the honorable gentleman. This is the first time that I have brought the matter under the notice of the Postmaster-General, because it is the first time that it has come directly to me in this House. I believe a question was asked earlier, but it was not dealt with by me.

Mr Blackburn - I asked a question in 1935.

Mr LYONS - I believe that is so, bin I have no recollection of it. When the honorable member for Brisbane definitely brought, the matter up a few days ago, I immediately made inquiries and discussed the situation with the PostmasterGeneral, who promptly decided to resign his portfolio. Cabinet is giving consideration to the setting up of a definite precedent for future guidance.

The Leader of the Opposition also asked what contracts were in operation and what was the value of those contracts. I agree that the House is entitled to thi3 information, and I shall have inquiries made.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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