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Thursday, 25 July 1946


Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) .- This bill seeks to legalize four groups of National Security Regulations - 39 in all; some are the original regulations and others are amendments. I do not know the' rights and wrongs of the method under which this is being done. Nor do I even hazard a guess as to whether this bill would stand the test of litigation in the High Court. The National Security Act and all regulations made thereunder were to expire six months after the cessation of hostilities. According to this bill, 39 of those regulations will be continued. I leave that problem, to legal authorities who may argue the merits' of the proposal elsewhere.

This debate has taken a turn which leaves the Government no option but to take certain action on the disclosure made by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen). So far, no member of the Liberal party has joined in the debate, but, in my opinion, the case submitted by the honorable member for Indi is such that members of the Australian Country party cannot leave it there. Certain matters which have been disposed in a letter to the honorable member for Indi must receive the searchlight of an inquiry, either by a select committee of this House, or by some other body. The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) said that this was a small matter which did not warrant an inquiry. I well recall that one of the most important, royal commissions appointed during my membership pf this Parliament was required to inquire into a matter involving only £300. The amount involved in this instance is a much larger sum, . but it is the principle, not the amount, which is important. The principle at issue now is the responsibility of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture for certain acts of administration by boards or authorities under his control, and it is only in that respect that the name of the honorable member for Ballarat (Mr. Pollard) has come before us. We are not interested in the honorable gentleman personally. In any case, he may speak for himself in this House. But if the honorable, member attended a meeting on the 16th May, acting on behalf of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture and, no doubt, under his instructions, then anything that he did there is a proper subject for discussion in this chamber or outside of it. I shall put to the Minister a series of questions to which I hope he will refer when he replies to this debate: Did a meeting take place on the 16th May? If so, was it a meeting which was properly held under the authority of the Minister or any of the boards, or instrumentalities under hi3 control? Who attended the meeting on behalf of the Minister, and what authority did he have to attend it? What did he convey to the meeting? In particular, was .anything conveyed to it in the nature of a threat about pig prices, such as has been suggested by the honorable member for Indi? If such a threat was delivered, whether by a member of the Public Service, or by the honorable member for Ballarat, acting under instructions from the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, was it the type of threat whic'h should not have been made by the Minister or by anyone on his behalf to a meeting of that description? If anything like that was said, the meeting should have been held in public. Did any one on the occasion of that meeting make a threat, or otherwise, which resulted in the reduction of the price of pigs to sellers in Victoria at that time, and for some time afterwards? Did anything occur at another meeting, which has not yet been disclosed, in regard to certain matters that have been mentioned by the honorable member for Indi, which should properly be considered by a select committee?

It is of no use for the Minister to say that the National Security Regulation have worked smoothly in respect of sales. Every one who knows anything about stock sales knows otherwise. In South Australia, for instance, there were times during the currency of the regulations when it was doubtful whether "stock sales would occur because buyers and sellers were not satisfied with the conditions. It is all very well for gentlemen opposite to talk about ceiling prices. Ceiling prices may be fixed, but no national security regulations can force sellers to offer stock at such prices. If the .Minister desires to buy stock under National Security Regulations to-day he must pay the full market price, not prices fixed by Commonwealth legal officers or officers of the Department of Commerce and Agriculture. The prices must be those fixed in a market where free sellers and free buyers come to terms. That is not the position disclosed in the letter read by the honorable member for Indi from the Bacon and Ham Curers Association of Victoria. It would be of interest to every one to know how much pig producers in Victoria lost as the result of the instruction that has been mentioned, or by whatever action was taken following the meeting of the 16th May. If they did not lose, exactly how much did they gain? It is obvious that following a meeting of that description, at which a threat of some kind was made, some one must lose and some one must gain. What the Parliament desires to know is who lost and by how much, and who gained and by how much, and why such a set of conditions was established. Until these questions are answered the Australian Country party, having brought this, issue to light, cannot retreat from its position. It must insist upon the Government granting a satisfactory inquiry in order to decide the matters at issue, and also whether the honorable member for Ballarat acted as he did, " off his. own bat or on instructions from the Minister, or with the knowledge and 'consent of the Minister. These matters must be cleared up.

I am one who holds the honorable member for Ballarat in high regard personally, but in this chamber we should not deal in personalities normally. We are required to deal with the administration of public affairs. As all honorable members know, those who hold membership in this chamber are judged, if they have done twenty acts, not on the nineteen good things that they have achieved, but on the one thing that they have done wrongly. It is for that one thing improperly done that the penalty must be paid. That is the reason, and the only reason, why we are entitled, in the interests of public administration, to demand inquiries into allegations of this kind. If a government composed of honorable members, on this side of the chamber had been in office, and honorable gentlemen now supporting the Government had been sitting in opposition when a matter of this description had been raised, there would have been no talk of stone-walling. The building arrears would have been caught up in twelve hours unless the Government, agreed to appoint a select committee. There is no alternative for the Government but to accede to the very reasonable request of the honorable member for Indi arid his colleagues to have their charges investigated in the interests of public administration, and in the interests of honorable members whose names have been mentioned.







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