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Thursday, 20 June 1946

Mr ANTHONY - If the Minister says it is untrue and the Auditor-General declares that it is true, the only way to get at the truth is to have the matter investigated by a royal commission. The Auditor-General is responsible to the Parliament and the people for a truthful report. Ifthe Minister denies its accuracy the matter should be examined, not by an investigator appointed by the Minister, but by a High Court or a Supreme Court judge. The report goes on -

The syndicate apparently had no stores under its own control in Brisbane or Sydney. This has caused a number of difficulties with deliveries to apparently "agent" firms.

Terms which appeared unusually easy were made as regards use of commission's stores, and delivery of materials at the commission's expense.

The mixing of "clothing" with "rag'' in bulk sale.

General.-The phases of the commission's activities commented on show a number of serious weaknesses in the control and supervision of the undertaking.

That report was made first to the Minis- ter, and then the Auditor-General, apparently not satisfied with the action which the Minister was taking, made a. report to the Parliament. But the report is not yet available to honorable members unless they go to the records room to peruse the only copy in the House.

The Minister feels most righteous about the administration of his department and appears to consider that everything is " above board ". He believes that no refugee firms are raking off £70,000 of the taxpayers' money in clear profit. He believes, also, that Mr. Bolton, the president of the Returned Sailors. Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia in New South Wales is prostituting, to use his own words, that organization because Mr. Bolton, feeling so strongly about the subject, tried to bring it before the league. If the Minister considers that his position is so strong, he should welcome an investigation by an authority other than his ownappointee. I do not say a word about Mr. Conde. I have never met him and before to-night I had never heard of him." But, whatever and whoever he is, I suggest that he is not competent to conduct the inquiry which is required. Only a royal commission, which would drag the truth out of witnesses by cross-examination, and test their statements made on oath, will be acceptable. That is the only way in which a satisfactory report can be obtained on a serious matter of this nature.

The Minister went to a great deal of trouble this evening to tell us precisely nothing. He admitted in the very early stages of his speech that he had been dissatisfied. He told us to-night that as long ago as the 30th July, 194.5, which was about three months before the honorable member for Wentworth asked questions in the House on this subject, he was suspicious of what was happening, because he went to the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) and asked for the services of a Treasury official to make an investigation. So that not only the honorable member for Wentworth but also the Minister himself had suspicions. What do we find? As soon as the matter is brought into the open by the Opposition, the Minister does everything in his power to cloak, shield and protect, those who ought to be dragged before the bar of public opinion.

Mr Calwell - That is a scandalous statement.

Mr ANTHONY - It is not so scandalous as the circumstances that the Minister is endeavouring to cloak. He has something to hide if he is not game" to appoint a royal commission. If he allows this matter to remain in its present position, he stands convicted of the maladministration of his own department. Maladministration! That is indeed a very serious charge. If he is content to sneak into a hole, and be covered and protected, as he imagines, by a report of an individual who does not take evidence on oath, he is very easily satisfied with his reputation as an administrator.

Mr Lazzarini - I place my reputation against that of the honorable member.

Mr ANTHONY - I do not question the Minister's personal reputation, but I suggest that his ability to administer the department is called into serious account, and if he desires to protect his reputation, he should act as he has been asked to do to-day.

I regret that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman) has fled from the chamber, although it does not 1698 Supply Bill[REPRESENTATIVES] (No. 1) 1946-47. matter greatly whether he is present or not, because his contribution to the enlightenment of the chamber is generally to distort completely whatever information he is supposed to convey. Last night, he cited as his authority for approval of the Government's plans for the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land, officials of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia including the federal president, Mr. Millhouse, and the president of the Victorian branch, Mr. Holland. I have here a copy of the latest issue of the journal of the New South "Wales branch of the league, Reveille, in which is published an article by Mr. K. H. Todd, New South Wales country vice-president of the 'league. Mr. Todd wrote that, in spite of the many promises made by the Commonwealth and State Governments, no real progress was taking place in the settlement of ex-servicemen on the land. He declared that nothing was done during the whole of the period that was covered by the Minister's speech last night. When the honorable gentleman was addressing the House, Mr. Speaker threatened to name me because I interposed that the Minister was making inaccurate statements. I do not propose to characterise them in his own very forthright language as " lying " statements. " Inaccurate " will suffice for the moment. In order to bolster up an extraordinarily weak case, the Minister declared that preceding governments had made not more than £250 available to. settle each ex-serviceman on the land after World War I. He repeated that remark several times, and Mr. Speaker threatened to name me when I attempted to correct the Minister's statement. I desire to prove that the Minister cannot even tell the elementary truth when dealing with these important matters.

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