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Wednesday, 24 May 1939

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) (PostmasterGeneral) . - I find it necessary for me as Postmaster-General to say something with regard to the matter raised hy the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby). Although the acceptance of tenders has nothing whatever to do with my department, yet it has been drawn into this matter because it is in the position of a client of the Work* Department asking that certain action should be taken on .its behalf in regard to the erection of additions to the General Post Office in Sydney. The honorable member for Calare has mentioned statements made by officers of the Postmaster-General's Department which I have the privilege and honour at the moment, to administer and, because he has already brought my name in as Assistant Minister in the last Administration, I feel it incumbent upon me to say something in regard to this matter. I deplore the fact that the portfolio of Minister for the Interior is not held by a member of this House. Although the Minister who represents him here carries out his duties most ably, if the Minister for the Interior were present in this chamber, he would be able to clear up some of the points that may appear to the honorable member for Calare as being rather suspicious. But may I say that no suspicion can he entertained in connexion with this matter. The whole of the transactions have been quite fair and open. To clear up many points that have been raised, I propose to read certain letters that passed between the various departments in connexion with this building, to quote dates, and to leave the House to form its own opinion as to why : recommendation of the principal officers of the Works Department, the DirectorGeneral of Works and the Chief Architect, was ignored by the then Minister controlling the Works Department. I suggest that the case presented by the accumulation of recommendations and statements made by both department? should surely have received major consideration by the Minister controlling the Works Department and that those recommendations should not have been completely swept aside. It is true that a subcommittee was appointed by Cabinet to have a look at the plans. It consisted of the honorable member for Calare, then Minister for Works, the then PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron), and myself, an Assistant Minister. May I point out that the Assistant Minister, possibly because he was not in Canberra at the moment and was doing another job elsewhere, was not consulted with regard to the plans. The two other ministerial members of the sub-committee conferred with regard to the plans and made a recommendation to Cabinet. The honorable member for Calare has said that he conferred with me in regard to the matter in my office in Sydney. I remember the honorable gentleman coming into my office and telling me what the Works Department proposed to do with the building, hut I was certainly not aware of the fact then that the PostmasterGeneral's Department desired the building to be faced with terra cotta, that tenders had been called embracing both methods of treatment for the front of the building, or that certain representations made by the Postmaster-General's Department and responsible officers of the Works Department had been ignored. I had nothing no do with the Postmaster-General's Department at that time; as Assistant Minister I had not been consulted with regard to the plans. Even had I been consulted, I would not have had an opportunity to look at the tenders. The question of price was never discussed with me in my office. 1. had no knowledge of it whatever. With regard to the treatment of the front of the building, I was told that if the building were faced with sandstone it would harmonize with other buildings. The statement of the honorable member for Calare that the whole matter had been discussed with me was definitely unfair, because whatever discussion took place did not completely cover what had happened nor would it have been a satisfactory explanation unless I had been in possession of the full facts of the case.

Mr Thorby - Every question the honorable gentleman asked was answered by me.

Mr HARRISON - There was no necessity for me to ask questions. I was not aware of the argument that had developed between the PostmasterGeneral's Department and the Works Department. I was only aware of the fact that as the then Minister for Works, the honorable member for Calare had decided on a certain treatment for the front of the building. At that time I was not in a position to express my views in regard to the matter.

Mr Beasley - The honorable member was an Assistant Minister and was on the sub-committee appointed by Cabinet.

Mr HARRISON -I was Assistant Minister in charge of External Territories. The sub-committee which was appointed to go into the question of plans had no overriding power to question tenders or anything else. The committee examined the plans without asking me to be present.

In view of the statement of the honorable member for Calare, I am of the opinion that the facts should be recorded in Hansard. They are set out in a statement supplied by my department from which I now propose to read -

The preliminary plans of the new building to be erected on Hoffnung's site were received in this department from the Department of the Interior on the 29th November, 1937.

After consideration of the plans by a conference held in Sydney on the 11th January, 1938, the Department of the Interior was advised by this department on the 20th January, 1938, that, subject to certain modifications which were specified in detail, the plans were acceptable.

Mr Thorby - They were sketch plans.

Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. G. J. Bell).Order! I ask honorable members to cease interjecting. The Postmaster-General has only a few minutes left in which to speak, and interjections, besides being disorderly, interfere with the time at his disposal.

Mr HARRISON - The statement continues -

On the 1st November, 1938, the working drawings and copies of the description of the plans were supplied to this department by the Department of the Interior. The description of the plans included the following paragraph : -

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