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Wednesday, 24 May 1939

Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) .-I shall not go into the pros and cons of this matter, because they have already been fully discussed; but I suggest to the Government that, in the public interest, it should accede to the request for an inquiry. Challenges and counterchallenges have been issued. Very serious statements have been made to-day, and they cannot be allowed to rest where they are. This work involves an expenditure of £500,000 of public money. One statement by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) struck me as rather extraordinary, and ought, I think, to be investigated. . First we learn that a tender has been accepted from Whittle and Company at the price submitted by that firm. Then we are told that the .process by which terra cotta is manufactured has been cheapened, and that the department will reap an advantage on account of that fact, which means that this contract will be performed at a price lower than that contained in the original tender. If that is true, it is a most extraordinary position.

Mr Lane - That is not what has been said.

Mr.SCULLIN. - I do not desire to misrepresent the Postmaster-General, but he said that amongst the many advantages of employing terra cotta for this building was the fact that it was cheaper.

Mr Lane -For maintenance purposes.

Mr SCULLIN - He said that the maintenance cost would he less than in respect of sandstone, and he also said that the terra cotta itself would be cheaper to construct because of the cheapening of the process by which it is made. I ask the Minister if that is not the position.

Mr Harrison - It is.

Mr SCULLIN - If that is true, we shall get the work done by this firm at a price lower than that submitted in tie original tender. This may he quite legitimate and above-board, but I suggest to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who has just entered the chamber, that, in the interests of both the Government and the public, this matter should be investigated by the committee suggested by the Acting Leader of the Oppositon (Mr. Forde), or by any other committee. An alteration of the price after the opening of the tenders - and that is what it means - on a contract amounting to £500,000, is most serious. We ought to know when this cheapening of the process came about, what is the nature of it, and what opportunity other contractors have had to tender under 'the cheaper conditions. I shall not repeat the challenges and statements that have been made; but, for the good name of the Parliament, the Government and public departments, I submit that the matter ought tobe investigated.

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