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Wednesday, 24 May 1939

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- This is not, as the honorable member for Barton (Mr. Lane) said a dispute over £1,450; it is a dispute over a vital principle. The honorable member for Calare (Mr. Thorby) is to be thanked for his action in bringing this important matter under the notice of honorable members. The adjournment of the House was moved by him for the discussion of » a matter of urgent public importance. It is urgent because, although the contract has been approved, the contract has not yet been signed and time exists for an investigation and possible rectification of the matter.

Mr Perkins - The contractors have been notified of the acceptance of the tender.

Mr ANTHONY - The House should endorse the request made by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) for an investigation. If anything has emerged from the debate, to convince the House that further inquiry is needed, it is the statements made by the Postmaster-General (Mr. Harrison) and the Minister (Mr. Perkins) representing the Minister for the Interior. The very heart of the tender system is being struck at. The difference betwen the two tenders concerned is only £1,450. Alternative tenders were called for a sandstonefacedbuilding and a terra cotta-faced-building. Any one who desired to use his position of responsibility could juggle the tenders in order to give the contract to whomsoever he desired. I do not suggest that any such impropriety occurred in this ease.

Mr Menzies - Who was in office when the tenders were called?

Mr ANTHONY - The honorable member for Calare was Minister for Works and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) was PostmasterGeneral. The former Minister for Works told the House that he. had approved of the lowest tender and that the then Postmaster-General had concurred. That was confirmed by the honorable member for Barker, who also told the House that the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs (Sir Harry Brown) had agreed with him. We have, therefore, the fact that the two principal Cabinet officers concerned were in agreement on the type of building and whom as to the tenderer to the contract should be given. The present Postmaster-General told the House that although he was a member of the subcommittee that was detailed by Cabinet to investigate the whole of the proposition

Mr Harrison - Not the whole of the proposition. We were told to have a look at the plan.

Mr ANTHONY - I accept the honorable gentleman's amendment. Although he was a member of the sub-committee and represented one of the most important constituencies in Sydney, he did not take sufficient interest in the project to look at the plan.

Mr Harrison - That is a deliberate misstatement. I did not know that the sub-committee was meeting.

Mr ANTHONY - The honorable gentleman said that the whole thing was in the hands of his colleagues on the subcommittee, that he was not called, and that all that he did was to have a look out of the window.

Mr Harrison - The honorable gentleman is grossly unfair.

Mr ANTHONY - I am not concerned as to whether the building be faced in terra cotta or sandstone, and I do not think that that worries many other honorable gentlemen.What I am concerned with is the purpose of calling for alternative tenders. Obviously the intention was to get the lowest possible price. It was not known whether terra cotta or sandstone would be cheaper, and alternative tenders were called. It was the Minister's job to accept the lowest tender, which he did. Then a new government was formed, and, because of the aesthetic leanings of the Postmaster-General, the Director-General of Works or the supervising architect, everything that had already been settled and approved by Cabinet was upset. The right honorable member for Yarra was right when he said that, if it had been discovered in the meantime that the process of making terra cotta had been cheapened, the proper thing to do was to call for fresh tenders, giving the same opportunity to all con-' tractors and not confining favour to H. G. Whittle and Sons Proprietary Limited. If the sort of thing that has occurred in this case is to be perpetuated, the confidence of all tenderers in the contract system will be undermined. Party considerations do not enter into this matter. The principles that are involved are too important for that. Nevertheless, if the PostmasterGeneral is to be entirely dictated to by his departmental heads, as he almost admitted he was in the matter of the new post office building, he should listen to what they have to say in respect of the publication of a journal by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. If the Government desires to clear the doubts that have been raised in this debate and to restore the requisite degree of confidence in the contract system, it should refer the whole matter to the Public Works Committee.

Debate interrupted under Standing Order No. 257b.

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