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Thursday, 20 June 1946

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) . - We have listened with great interest to the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr. Lazzarini) endeavour to answer the serious charges against the administration of the Salvage Commission. One must sympathize with the Minister in his efforts to vindicate himself and the commission. He said that some of the sorters in Brisbane had to wear gas masks before they could handle some of the materials referred to in this debate. I should think that gas masks are necessary to ward off the aroma of some of the transactions complained about by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison). The Minister fled the House as soon as he made his garbled and inappropriate speech in which he tried to drag red herrings across the trail. In spite of his last words to the effect that 1696 SupplyBill [REPRESENTATIVES.] (No. 1) 1946-47. regardless of what the honorable member for Wentworth might do he would give no royal commission or any other inquiry into these matters, if he valued his reputation and sincerely believed that he and the commission could repudiate the charges, a royal commission is the sort of investigation he ought to welcome. I have never witnessed a more sorry spectacle than the flight of the Minister from the House as soon as he had concluded his remarks. He has virtually fled from the chamber, because he is afraid to face criticism. I endeavoured, as did other honorable members, to follow his statements, but nobody could have done that after the first five minutes of his speech. It was a hotchpotch of extracts from statements and reports. He did not defend his officers, and he merely confused the House. Most serious allegations have been made by honorable members of the highest standing. They have been made by duly elected leaders of the Australian Country party and the Liberal party. Two senior member, of this House have declared that there is reason to believe that improper conduct has occurred in connexion with the affairs of the Commonwealth Salvage Commission. Although the Minister for Works and Housing made a sorry attempt at refutation, the charges are sufficiently serious to warrant the most effective investigation that could be authorized by the House. No honorable member is in a position to determine exactly what is the truth of the matter. On both sides the word " liar " has been carelessly bandied across the chamber. 1 was described last night by the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) as having made a lying statement in respect of certain allegations and disputed remarks by that Minister. If time will permit, I shall show to-night, that the Minister's word cannot be taken.

I shall now quote from some of the statements of the Minister for Works and Housing. He has admitted that 1,500 tons of salvage was sold to the Melbourne firm of Brilliant and Baron, an unregistered company when the deal was made, for £17 a ton. He has admitted in the course of his remarks that subsequent fenders were at least £28 a ton, and that amounts of £55 and £60 a ton were men tioned. If this firm secured 1,500 tons of salvage at £17 a ton and the value was about £100 a ton, as alleged by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Harrison), there is a clear difference of about £124,000 that must be accounted for to the taxpayers of Australia. The allegation contained in the statement of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition may mean that 1,500 tons of salvage worth £100 aton was made available to an alleged refugee firm at £17 a ton, showing a profit of between £50,000 and £70,000. That is a serious charge, and the people who are called upon to pay taxes and to subscribe to public loans have every right to know whether there is substance in the charge. If the Minister wishes to clear the name of his department he should welcome the appointment of a royal commission.

This is not the only allegation against the Commonwealth Salvage Commission and the Commonwealth Disposals Commission. The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) has made allegations which have not yet been investigated and he has called for an inquiry by a royal commission. I recall for the benefit of the Minister for Works and Housing, who is not game to stand up to criticism, and who denied that the Auditor-General had made certain criticisms, what was said in his report on this matter. I now notice that the Minister has returned to the chamber, after he has been practically dragged back. I shall quote from a report on the matter by the Auditor-General to the Minister, which the latter did not quote to the House. Only one copy of the report has so far been made available.

Mr Lazzarini - It is not the report which the Auditor-General made to me.

Mr ANTHONY - This is what he said in his report to the Parliament. The following are extracts from a special report to the honorable the Minister on the accounts and transactions of the commission: -

Contract with Firm of Salvage Distributors.- There are other features in this contract which, in normal circumstances would be considered far from satisfactory -

(1)   No tenders were apparently called.

(2)   Dealing was made with a Melbourne syndicate, not. yet registered as a firm, in respect of materials lying in Sydney and Brisbane.

Supply Bill[20 June, 1946.] (No.1) 1946-47. 1697

Mr Lazzarini - That is not true.

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