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Friday, 9 August 1946

Mr LAZZARINI (Werriwa) (Minister for Works and Housing) [11.54J. - The honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison), has provided another example of his irresponsibility in the tirade of abuse- that he has hurled at the -Salvage Commission. I do not intend to take up much time replying to the honorable member, because every allegation made to-day by him has been made and refuted on four or five occasions. It is amazing to hear the honorable member one day asking questions about reflections made by Ministerial supporters on people outside who cannot defend themselves, when he makes more use of this chamber than any other honorable member as a coward's castle from which to attack people who cannot reply. The irony of it is that Opposition members, tongue in cheek, endeavour to make it appear to the people that we on this side of the House take advantage of the broadcasting of the proceedings of the Parliament to attack people, whereas the truth is that this offence is committed mainly by honorable gentle:men opposite. Both the honorable member for Wentworth, and the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), have made the most irresponsible accusations against the. Commonwealth instrumentalities - the honoraWe member for Wentworth against the Salvage Commission and the Leader of the Australian Country party against the

Commonwealth Disposals Commission. The -accusations against the Salvage Commission have already been effectively answered by me. The full story appears in Hansard, and the newspapers have published a condensation; and, through both, members of the public have been able to ascertain the facts. The honorable member for Wentworth "was able" to substantiate only one detail of his otherwise wild and mischievous accusations and the practice that he complained of was stopped ' immediately it came to my notice. He knows that as well as I do, but that does not stop him from coming here and uttering more baseless slander? of people who are powerless to defend themselves in this chamber. With reference to the allegation of the Leader of the Australian Country party in regard to the sale by the Commonwealth Disposals Commission of household refrigerators, Mr. H. G-. Conde. who conducted an inquiry into that and other matters, furnished a report, which was tabled yesterday by the PrimeMinister (Mr. Chifley). ' It contained the following paragraph : -

In my opinion, the transaction referred to relates to refrigerator cabinets and not to refrigerators. In August, 1945, there were a number of refrigerator cabinets disposed of which were condemned as irreparable and were non-accountable. These were sold at' prices ranging from £2 10s. to £20.

That disposes of the alleged refrigerators. They were refrigerator cabinets.

The truth about the sale of the material referred to by the honorable member for Wentworth is that Millar Ezzy and Company and one or two other unsuccessfully tried to compete with the purchasers, who are successfully tendering for nearly all the lines the-, commission sells. Ezzy and Bolton had submitted tenders. I have them before me to prove that. Because they were beaten in a business deal they scuttled off to the honorable member for Wentworth to get him to make charges in this House. My private secretary, a public servant of many years standing and with a very high reputation, is sitting in the gallery behind me. He was present when Bolton came to see me and remained the whole time that Bolton was there. If Bolton says - and I do not believe that he does, for the honorable member only read a letter that was not signed by Bolton, I understand - that there was any acrimony in my talk with him, he is not telling the truth.

Mr Harrison - I assure the Minister that he has said so.

Mr LAZZARINI - Then he is telling an untruth. I had a witness present; there was no acrimony. In fact, Bolton shook hands with me after the interview and said he hoped that as a result of our conversation things would be straightened out. He made no charges. He admitted that he had been an adviser of the Salvage Commission, and that his main complaint was that, although he had worked in an honorary capacity, his advice had not been sought on one occasion when he thought it should have been. Neither Bolton nor I had notes taken. What I have said is the plain truth.. I will match my reputation against his at any time. My standing in the communityis at least as high as his. Moreover, I have the benefit of a witness, who is known in his private and official life as an honorable man. I do not want an argument with Bolton. All I can say is that he is using his position as president of the New South Wales branch of the Returned Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia to play at politics. I believe that he is tobe a candidate at the forthcoming general elections. I warn him that, if high officers of the league use their official positions for political purposes, the league will be smashed, because the rank and file will not stand for it. That is all I have to say. I categorically deny the honorable gentleman's statements. Mr. Bolton met me in my office and told me that he was in trouble mainly because, as honorary adviser of the Salvage Commission, he' claimed that his advice was not sought on some occasions when it should have been sought. I told him that I would take the matter up with the Salvage Commission to see whether the matter of which he complained could be rectified. At the end of the interview he shook hands with me as he left my office.

The Auditor-General is correct when he says that the contract was signed with an unregistered company. I was one day out in my dates. The contract was signed by Mr. Brilliant, a prominent business man of Melbourne, on behalf of Associated Salvage Distributors Limited, on the Tuesday. The company was registered on the Wednesday. I admit that the Auditor-General was correct when he said that the company was not registered at the time Mr. Brilliant signed the contract. Mr. Brilliant signed on behalf of the company, not for the company. The Auditor-General came into my office and asked me about that.I intended to make a statement in the House on the matter on the motion for adjournment or at some other time. The point is that the Auditor-General did not find that there was anything wrong. He said that there was never anything ethically wrong. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies), knows something about company law, and I am sure that he would agree that there was nothing wrong in what was done.

The honorable member for Wentworth has referred constantly to refugees, and, in my opinion, hasattempted to distort the' meaning of the word. He desires to leave the impression that these people came to this country very shortly before these transactions occurred, and that there was something unsavoury about them.

Mr Harrison - The term was used in the letter.

Mr LAZZARINI - Yes, but the honorable gentleman has repeatedly used it in the House. The fact is that Mr. Brilliant is a naturalized British subject who took out his naturalization papers in 1920, when a government of the political complexion favoured by the honorable member for Wentworth was in office. The honorable gentleman also said that Baron was given a passport and went away to Jerusalem. The fact is that he went away on only a short visit. He took out his naturalization papers in the 1930's, also when an anti-Labour government was inoffice. The citizenship of these men is recognized in this country, but the honorable member for Wentworth is using this House, as a coward's castle and is continually suggesting that there is something wrong with what these naturalized citizens have done in certain business transactions with which they have been connected. In one breath honorable gentlemen opposite say that we should be doing everything possible to bring immigrants to Australia and thereby increase our population, and in the next breath, for the purpose of trying to gain a paltry political advantage, they charge person's who become naturalized citizens with improper practice. I have dealt with this subject on three- or four -occasions, as may be ascertained from reference to. Hansard and the evidence in regard to it has been, published in1 our -official records..

The honorable gentleman said that an effort was being, made to make available to these interests all the salvage in Australia. Tha-t is another half-truth. A contract- was signed for 1,000 tons of salvage, and the quantity was afterwards increased to 1,500 tons.' An attempt has been- made also to lead people to believe that certain materials were improperly included, as rag. I ordered: an inquiry to be made into this' matter as soon as the allegations came to my notice, and it was -also subsequently investigated by the Auditor-General.

Mr Anthony - What was the price of the salvage?

Mr LAZZARINI - From £20 to £25 a ton.

Mr Harrison - Was it not £14?

Mr LAZZARINI - That is not true. The evidence obtained by the AuditorGeneral proves that it was not true.

Mr Harrison - What about Miller's letter?

Mr LAZZARINI - There is no evidence- that Miller ever made an offer to anybody. These allegations can be put in the same class as. those made by the honorable gentleman in regard to a hotwater system. Mr. Conde- has reported that no evidence was to be found as the result of his exhaustive search that any contract was made. What has happened is that th© honorable gentleman's "stooges" come to- him and tell him that they have made verbal offers for goods. I could say that I had made a verbal offer of £10,000 in certain circumstances, and later write a letter to- the honorable gentleman on the subject, well knowing tha.t he would use' it in the House. The honorable gentleman- is making use of political "stooges",, who write' halftruths rr untruths to birm knowing that he wil1 probably use the matter to " cook up " charges of connivance-

Mr Harrison - I rise to order. I ask that the Minister be called upon to withdraw the allegation that I would "cook up ;" certain evidence, particularly as Mr.

Conde had power to call me to. give evidence on oath, and did not do it.

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