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Friday, 29 March 1946

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) . - I wish to comment upon certain matters which have already occupied the attention of the House. This morning the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) directed a question to the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lazzarini), who controls the Salvage Commission. The Minister answered that question in a grossly improper manner; and yI do not hesitate to charge him with gross impropriety in that he sought to influence the decision of the committee of inquiry which is now investigating the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Wide Bay by saying that the AuditorGeneral had dismissed my allegations in just a few words. A statement of that kind when a committee of inquiry is investigating this matter can only be designed to influence the decision of the committee. The fact is that the AuditorGeneral has no authority to inquire into the allegations of malpractices which I made. His inquiries are concerned with matters of a financial nature, and in that respect he has bitterly criticized the Minister's department. He has refused to give a certificate in respect of the commission's accounts, and has been critical to a degree seldom indulged in by an Auditor-General. Yet the Minister says that the Auditor-General merely criticized the accounting methods of the department. I suggest that when the full facts are made available to the people they will see that there is great relevancy between the Auditor-General's criticism concerning the accounts of the department and my allegations with respect to the disposal of goods; because it is quite possible the malpractices I allege have occurred because of the looseness of the accounting methods of this department. In order to make the matter perfectly clear I propose to read a letter which I received to-day from the firm of Millar, Ezzy and Company, of Beaconsfield-street, Alexandria, Sydney. I had no intention of reading this letter until I heard the Minister's reply to the question asked by the honorable member for "Wide Bay. The statement made by the Minister leaves me no alternative but to draw attention once again to the charges of malpractices levelled against the department. Mr. Millar writes -

In reference to the inquiry being held into the activities of the Commonwealth Salvage Commission, it is respectfully requested that the writerbe given the opportunity of giving evidence.

I ask the Minister to note that request. Mr. Millar is the representative of a reputable company; and he states the reasons for his request -

Briefly, sir, the facts are as follows: We, the abovementioned firm, agreed to sort a large quantity of material on behalf of the Commonwealth Salvage Commission and, when this work was completed, the goods were stored in our depot for some considerable time.

Thisfirm has first-hand information with regard to this matter. It was deputed by the Salvage Commission to sort and store certain goods. Thus, it knows how the sorting was carried out, and the nature of the goods-

Some time in 1945, Mr. Walker, then secretary of the Commonwealth Salvage Commission, entered our store, accompanied by two refugees, and made a request that they be shown the material referred to. According to the conversation between these people, it became obvious that Walker was negotiating a sale.

I wonder if those two refugeeswere the representatives of the same refugee firm which has figured throughout the unsavoury allegations levelled against the commission -

Immediately Walker and his companions left our store, I rang the Sydney office of the Commonwealth Salvage Commission and offered £112 per ton for a quantity of the material.

I ask honorable members to note that offer - £112 a ton. On a previous occasion, I informed the Minister that his files contain correspondence from Sydney firms offering 6s. 8d. and8s. 5d. each for garments, which had been sold for £20 a ton, or about 2d. each. That fact appears to bear out the allegations contained in this letter. It proceeds -

The following day, Mr. Farthing, who was then Assistant State Controller of Salvage, rang and informed me that Walker had sold the material to the refugees. At a later date, it was discovered that, despite the fact that myfirm offered £112 per ton for certain of this material, Walker sold to the people referred to at £20 per ton. This transaction, and others, to my way of thinking stinks.

I received that letter after other allegations which I had made about the Salvage Commission and which the Minister passed over so lightly by stating that the Auditor-General has disposed of my charges in a few words. These allegations are so deep-founded that nothing short of a royal commission, not a committee of inquiry by a gentleman who has no judicial standing, will suffice. Millar, Ezzy and Company were engaged by the Salvage Commission to do certain work on. its behalf. It did so, and, knowing the quality of the materials, offered £112 a ton for them. That price may or may not have been fair value - I do not know - but there is a marked difference between £112 a ton and £20 a ton. If that is an example of the business methods of the Salvage Commission, no wonder the Auditor-General bitterly criticized its accounting methods. He is not concerned with malpractice, but I have no doubt that if these charges can be substantiated, the allegations' which I made will fit in very neatly with the Auditor-General's criticism of the commission's finances. I ask the Minister and the Government to ensure that a member of this firm shall be called to give evidence before the committee of inquiry. Obviously, Millar, Ezzy and Company would not make such charges and ask to be called to give evidence unless it was certain of its facts.

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