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Wednesday, 24 May 1939

Mr LANE (Barton) .- I have been deeply interested in the remarks of the former Minister for Works (Mr. Thorby) and the former PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Archie Cameron). It appears to me that this storm in a tea-cup is the result of two Ministers having lost office. The dispute is over a difference of £1,450 in the prices tendered for the new building, and over the surfacing material to be used. Nobody has taken exception to the contract price of £400,000 odd for the building itself. Even the Public Works Committee advocates have not said that the original tender was excessive. The only difference of opinion arose when the two Country party ex-Ministers and a former Assistant' Minister, who is the present Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison), consulted as to which would be the better tender to accept. I understand that the two Country party ex-Ministers, who are the more readily available to one another, talked the matter over, and decided on a certain course of action. The former Assistant Minister was not present, nor was he aware that that meeting had been called for that purpose.

Mr Thorby - Why put up that kind of trash?

Mr LANE -I am not putting forward so much trash as the ex-Minister did this afternoon. If I had gone out of ministerial office I should have accepted the situation like a man. The two exMinisters are well-known " cobbers " in a certain party, and they ignored the former Assistant Minister.

Mr Bernard Corser - I take a point of order. I ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether the honorable member for Barton is dealing with the matter before the House?

Mr SPEAKER - It appears to the Chair that the honorable member's remarks fall within the ambit of the motion.

Mr LANE - The issue is clear. The former Assistant Minister was not present, but a strong-minded agriculturist walked into the office of the Assistant. Minister, and, in his usual dictatorial manner, said to him, " We two Ministers have decided this, and we think, as we look through that window, that it will be very much better to have the building surfaced with sandstone instead of terra cotta ". That is the only contact which the honorable member for Calare, according to his remarks this afternoon, made with the former Assistant Minister who was appointed a committeeman to go into the matter with him. That cannot be denied.

Then we have had the noble statement about Ministers being rubber stamps, and the reference, in rather uncomplimentary language, to the present PostmasterGeneral taking his instructions from the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs. Some of us are of the opinion that if the former Postmaster-General (Mr. Archie Cameron) had been more prone to take the advice of his departmental officers there would have been no need for him to go to Kangaroo Island. A departmental officer is an advantage to some Ministers. I must confess, however, that sometimes I have felt that the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs (Mr. Brown) is too dogmatic and strongminded for the average PostmasterGeneral. I rebut the statement that the present Postmaster-General depended on the information of his DirectorGeneral. He is a man who has his own opinions, and in this House he has always been strong enough to stand by what he believes to be just. If the difference between the costs of the two is only £1,450, it is not worth the time of this House to discuss whether or not terra cotta or stone is a better facing for h building to be erected in Pitt-street.

Mr Beasley - It is a lot of money.

Mr LANE - It would be a lot to the honorable member and me because we have never possessed large sums of money, but I cannot understand that the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby), who for many years, as a Minister, was getting much more than £1,400 a year, should think this extra charge for terra-cotta facing worth considering. The time of this House should not be expended in quibbling about £1,450 in the cost of a £400,000 structure. I do not blame the Opposition for the stand that it has taken,, because it believes that its duty is to tear the Government down. If the Opposition gets the slightest inkling of something going wrong, it naturally magnifies it and declares that dishonesty has occurred and that there must be an inquiry. I should be surprised to find an honorable member on this side of the House pursuing a similar course. I know honorable members on this side generally as decent fellows, and surely they will not follow the lead of the honorable member for Calare, who has raised issues which boil down to an argument as to whether the aesthetic tastes of the former Postmaster-General and the former Minister for Works are as good as that of the present Postmaster-General. I understand that the contract in question has been signed, sealed and delivered, and I do not think that even if this House did appoint a committee the contract could be altered.

Mr Nock - The Postmaster-General said that it had not been completed.

Mr LANE - I think that it has.

Mr Harrison - I have no exact know.ledge. It is a matter for the Department of the Interior.

Mr Perkins - No; it has not been completed.

Mr LANE - I thought that it had. At any rate, I have not the slightest doubt that, the- Postmaster-General's aesthetic taste is better than that of his predecessor. I have lived all my life in the city of Sydney and I have an eye for beauty.

Mr SPEAKER -Order ! The honorable member has exhausted his time.

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