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Tuesday, 30 May 1939

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Leader of the Opposition) . - The explanation given by the Assistant Minister (Mr. Holt) does not appear to be adequate. He says that in the arrangements made with these firms, not because of any provision in this bill, but because of the contract that will be made with the firm, it will be laid down that if the building has been constructed by the Government it will remain the property of the Government. But these buildings will be on land which is owned by private enterprise, and as the site is owned, we shall presume, by the same enterprise which owns the rest of the factory to which the annexe is attached, they will become subject to any encumbrances which this firm, or incorporation, may have to carry. If a receivership be put in to take control of that company it appears to me, as a layman without too much knowledge of the subject, but as one who has had fair experience, that, in all probability, the Government's plant will be involved. I raise this point in order that the Government can assure the committee that, where it erects a building on land owned by somebody else, the assets of the Commonwealth shall not be subject to any contingency to which the other assets of the land-owner are exposed. That point must be cleared up. The same observation applies to machinery and plant installed by the Government. 'The factory can be owned by A. B. and Company, but the Commonwealth installs machinery in that factory. In such a case, what would be the position of the Commonwealth in the event of A. B. and Company selling their establishment, or going out of business, or being made bankrupt? These points justify a further examination of the position by the Assistant Minister,who is himself no mean lawyer.

The next point I raise is one of a principle. Under this measure there is being set up a department which is. responsible for the organization, and, in some cases the initiation, of services which are part of the foundation on which the defensive capacity of the country is to be based. The amendment of the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) does not direct, but implies, that the supply department, when it considers that a certain annexe is required, shall also endeavour to acquire the land, and that it shall say that this land is to be acquired on just terms, for, bear in mind, this measure contains a clause which limits the duration of this legislation, and at the end of five years when this department will cease to exist, we shall have property held by private persons more or less as caretakers for the Crown.

Mr Casey - The contract is made between the Government and the company.

Mr CURTIN - There is nothing in the bill to indicate the nature of the contract which the Government must make. The right honorable gentleman assured us that there will be in the contract this protective provision, but Parliament is hot putting it in the statute. I do not question, for one moment, the bona fides of the Assistant Minister's statement, but the fact remains that this danger confronts us.

Mr Beasley - There might be certain State laws which would overridethe contract.

Mr CURTIN - I cannot speak on that point. Despite the fact that this compulsory acquisition power exists in another statute, we must bear in mind that to the new Department of Supply which is now being set up ought to be given an instruction that, where possible, it shall acquire the land upon which these establishments are erected. The Minister is aware that honorable members on this side do not believe in private ownership of munition factories.

Mr Casey - Neither do I.

Mr CURTIN - Well, so far as possible, the Minister should acquire the land upon which these annexes are constructed in order that the annexes will remain, in perpetuity, the property of the Crown. Even that, I feel, will not be a sufficient safeguard, because we know of the record of disposals of Commonwealth assets such as the Commonwealth Woollen Mills and the Australian Commonwealth Line of Steamers. I support the amendment because it appears to me that, however much the same power may be found in another statute, if it be not specifically provided in this statute the Minister and the department will be entitled to say that they are under no obligation to acquire land as land for the purpose of erecting these annexes. They should be given such an instruction as a general direction. Furthermore, because of the reasons which I indicated earlier in my remarks, in order to protect the property of the Commonwealth we should, as far as possible, authorize the department to acquire its own land.

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