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Thursday, 10 September 1942

Mr FORDE - Several honorable members have asked questions about the re-organization of the Army Hirings Branch. The particulars are set out in the following statement which, with the consent of honorable members, I shall incorporate in Hansard: -

Since the outbreak of war the provision of accommodation of all kinds for all the services and all Commonwealth departments has, in general, been handled by the Hirings Directorate in the QuartermasterGeneral's Branch, Department of the Army. On the outbreak of war with Japan and the arrival in Australia of the United States Forces, a considerable increase took place in the demand in all States for buildings and land for use of the services including the American

Forces. The requirements have extended to all kinds of properties including office accommodation in the cities, premises for hospital accommodation and land for camps, artillery ranges, and aerodromes. Operational requirements have necessitated the handing over of properties for service use often at very short notice, and as a general rule a spirit of cooperation and helpfulness has been manifested by the property owners concerned. The large expansion of the defence requirements for the use of property imposed such a heavy strain on the small hirings staffs at the military head-quarters in the various States that it was found for a time impossible to dispose of the settlement of all claims as promptly as was desired. In some cases a good deal of the time of the hirings staffs was occupied in negotiations on claims which appeared to be unreasonable. In other cases complications had arisen owing to the unusual nature of the claims, and in some instances it was apparent that agreement could not be reached by negotiation and that appeals would require to be referred to a compensation board.

I therefore appointed a departmental committee to consider delays which had occurred, and to submit proposals for improvement of procedure. Officers were despatched to several States for the purpose of conferring with State military head-quarters, the local hirings officers and with members of Parliament and property owners who had experienced difficulty in having claims adjusted. The hirings staff was also increased to enable outstanding claims to be dealt with in a minimum of time, and the results of this step have been apparent in a substantial decrease of the number of these claims.

It was apparent, however, that the volume and variety of hirings work had expanded so rapidly that additional machinery was desirable. The Government therefore decided to set up under the Minister for the Army a Central Hirings Committee at Land Force Headquarters, Melbourne, and local committees in each line of communication area, except that in which the central committee would be sitting.

Regulations which are about to be promulgated will be known as the National Security (Hirings Administration) Regulations and will empower the central committee and the local committees to deal with certain cases involving the use of land and buildings during the period of the war under regulations 53, 54 and 55 of the National .Security (General) Regulations. It is contemplated that the Hirings Service of the Army shall continue generally as an executive organization to handle hirings for . all services and departments, 'but. that the committees shall handle certain matters of policy and determine what compensation is to be offered.

The Central Hirings Committee will consist of three permanent members, namely an independent chairman, a representative of the Treasury, and the Director of Hirings - who is the Army officer at the head of 'the Hirings Service under the Quartermaster-General - or, in his absence, an appointee of the Quarter.masterGeneral. In addition, when any hiring or proposed hiring for any service or department, or an order or proposed order prescribing the standards of accommodation for services or departments, is being considered1, a representative appointed by each department concerned, shall be a member of the committee. Provision is also made for the central committee to co-opt for any meeting a representative of any department which the committee considers1 is concerned or affected.

The local hirings committees which will be set up in each line of communication area, and in any other area where it may be necessary, will comprise similar personnel to that of the Central Hirings Committee, except that the chairman of the Central Hirings Committee will be a member, and when- present will be chairman, of all local hirings committees. Similar provision is made for representation of services and departments when hirings or proposed hirings in which they are concerned are under consideration.

It is intended that the central committee shall lay down certain general principles covering hirings, so as to give effect to the Government's policy concerning the use of property for defence purposes. Among other things, the committee may prescribe the standards of accommodation to be provided for the services and departments.

In order to relieve Ministers of the necessity for dealing personally with a multitude of details concerning hirings. provision will be made in the regulations for all committees to have some determinative and recommending functions. These functions will, however, be subject to any direction which may be given by the Minister.

Provision has also been made for the Minister to decide whether the whole or a part of the regulations should operate in any areas of Australia. In general, they apply everywhere unless ' excluded by him, except in the case of emergency control areas, where nothing applies unless he specifically so directs.

It is provided in the regulations that the central committee shall undertake the duty of assessing the compensation to be offered to a claimant, but in order to avoid unnecessary centralization of authority, with consequent delay, provision is made for the central committee to delegate power to local committees, to any member of itself or a local committee, to persons authorized to carry out hirings, or to .any member of the hirings service. It is proposed that the central committee should deal only with large claims and with such small claims as may involve principle. Where the owner of any property which is used for defence purposes is dissatisfied with the amount of compensation fixed by a hirings committee, or by any delegate, he may apply to a compensation board, which will be set up in each line of communication area. The board will consist of a police, stipendiary or special magistrate as chairman, a qualified practising accountant, and one other person who will usually have a knowledge of land values. Rules have been made providing for a proper hearing .before any such board, with legal representation if desired. The claimant or the Crown, if dissatisfied with a determination by a board, may appeal to the appropriate court.

The National Security (General) Regulations, insofar as they deal with compensation, are to be amended to bring the existing provisions into line with the proposals mentioned.

The new organization, when it commences to function, will be able to deal promptly with hirings problems as they arise. It will assist the services and other departments by providing the machinery for meeting their needs, and will be of assistance to members of the public whose properties are affected by war-time requirements.

Mr. J.B. Tait, a barrister, who is also a qualified accountant and who has specialized in business matters in the Supreme Court of Victoria, has been appointed chairman of the Central Hirings Committee. The Treasury representative will be Mr. Victor H. Evans, a former district finance officer of the Department of the Army. The third member will be Lieutenant-Colonel Davey, Director of Hirings. The personnel of the local committees and compensation boards to be set up in each line of communication area are now under consideration, andwill be announced shortly.

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