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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) . - I desire to refer briefly to the proposal to modify and alter in certain respects the activities of the Department of Information. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has stated that a sub-committee of Cabinet, which was asked to report on the subject, has submitted its recommendations, but he has not considered them. The honorable member for "Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) made a practical suggestion yesterday to the effect that a committee representative of all parties in the Parliament should be appointed to consider this subject, and also, in conjunction with it, the publicity activities of government departments generally. That method of appointing committees to deal with controversial subjects has proved effective, and I can see no reason why such a committee should not submit a valuable report on this subject for the guidance of Cabinet. I emphasize the need for action in this regard, because my attention has been directed to the fact that a public relations section of the Army has been established. Already it consists of an executive staff of 30 officers, and about 140 other ranks, plus about 30 personnel belonging to the military history and information section of the Australian Imperial Force. The majority of those officers are located in Melbourne, but I understand that they are to be distributed throughout the Commonwealth. I have been informed that a staff of six has been sent to Townsville. It might reasonably be asked what work this public relations section will be required to perform, seeing that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) has his own publicity officers and that there is a public relations section also in the Departments of the Navy and Munitions. The Prime Minister also has an information and press section in his department.

Mr Curtin - My section consists of one press officer.

Mr HOLT - Then he is doing an extraordinarily efficient job, having in mind the multifarious activities with which the Prime Minister has to deal. If that officer can do such efficient work I can see no reason why such large press relations sections should be necessary in other departments. Honorable members are well aware that ever since the inception of the Department of Information its work has been criticized. Departments of information in other countries have been able to do excellent work and have become powerful instruments in assisting the war effort of the countries in which they serve. There must be something radically wrong with the organization of our own department. For that reason I urge the appointment of a representative committee of honorable members to report upon the subject.

Mr Curtin - I shall consider the suggestion.

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