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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr JOHNSON (Kalgoorlie) .- Much criticism has been voiced in regard to the administration, of the Allied Works Council. On the other hand, many honorable members recognize the value of the work it is doing in the defence of Australia. The council had not been established in Western Australia for many weeks prior to my departure from that State. It is a new organization, and has undertaken a tremendous task throughout the Commonwealth. Criticism is easy. Such a body must make mistakes in its initial operations. I was very much struck by the tone adopted by the honorable member for Parkes (Sir Charles Marr). He invited honorable members to recognize that in such gigantic undertakings mistakes must occur in the initial stages. The debate to-day was not at all inspiring, helpful, constructive, or in keeping with the tremendous task that confronts Australia. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) mentioned a number of errors which, he said, had been committed by the council. While he was speaking, I put to him a question in regard to a' certain matter that arose during his term as Minister for Air.

Mr McEwen - The honorable member referred to the Southern Cross aerodrome. The site for that aerodrome was not selected during my term as Minister for Air.

Mr JOHNSON - That is news to me; because it was when the honorable member was en route to the Swan electorate that I asked him to meet a deputation at Southern Cross to explain to the citizens the reason for the abandonment of those works.

Mr McEwen - The site had been selected before I became Minister for Air, and was abandoned shortly afterwards.

Mr JOHNSON - My point is that the honorable member evaded giving me a reply to my request that he should meet a deputation of the citizens of Southern Cross.

Mr McEwen - On the contrary, I met them.

Mr JOHNSON - En route from Adelaide to Port Pirie, when I asked the honorable member if he would meet a representative deputation of the' citizens of Southern Cross, who were hostile to his Government because £12,000 had been expended and- the work had then been abandoned, he evaded giving me an answer and said, "I shall let you know before we arrive at Port Pirie ". He did not let me know either before or after reaching Port Pirie. When the train arrived at that place I telegraphed to the representatives of the deputation at Southern Cross that the Minister was en route, and would arrive at Southern Cross at a certain time, and that he had consented to meet the deputation. I handed to the Minister's secretary a copy of that telegram. That is how the honorable gentleman came to meet the deputation.

Mr McEwen - So far as security considerations permitted, I gave the reason for the abandonment of the works.

Mr JOHNSON - A good deal of criticism has been voiced in regard to the use of official motor cars. The matter is too petty to occupy the time of this chamber while Australia is in its present position. I am acquainted with the programme of works that is to be carried out in Western Australia under the direction of the Allied Works Council, but it is yet too early for me to say whether that body is doing a good job or a bad job, because those works had not been commenced prior to my departure from the State. However, from speeches that have been made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and other members in this chamber, I believe that the council is doing a good job. It should have the utmost cooperation from this Parliament. I favour the giving of a fair trial to the Director General. Because of his experience and administrative capacity, I believe that he will discharge his functions satisfactorily. I understand that the work he has already accomplished has been well administered.

I have a complaint to make in regard to hirings in my electorate, particularly at Kalgoorlie, where a large number of workers' homes has been impressed in order to make room for certain works. For the last four months, the owners have not been able to obtain any satisfaction. The matter has been discussed before the War Expenditure Committee. It was informed that special tribunals had been appointed in each State to expedite decisions in connexion with the impressment of any land or home. I hope that the committee will function quickly, and will give greater satisfaction than has so far been given. Because of developments, decisions that are made to-day in connexion with our war effort may have to be altered to-morrow, and the reason for the alteration cannot always be explained to the satisfaction of the public. The War Expenditure Committee has had before it much evidence in regard to the huge expenditure incurred on different works, and has found that decisions had had to be altered because of certain developments a month or six weeks after they had been made. Errors will continue to be made until the defence preparations of Australia have been completed and are up to the standard required by the nation. I trust that honorable members will recognize the position in which we are placed, and in view of the unprecedented circumstances will offer constructive instead of destructive criticism.

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