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Thursday, 2 June 1949

Mr ADERMANN (Maranoa) . - In this country we have long been accustomed to fight for freedom of speech whenever that freedom has been threatened. Any attempt to stifle freedom of speech is regarded as a catastrophe in a democratic country, and the tradition of all democratic peoples is to resist any such attempts. However, it is clear that the present Government has not the same regard for freedom of speech. Through its mouthpiece, the Minister for Information (Mr. Calwell), it has resorted to victimization in an effort to stifle criticism of its actions or its members, however much that criticism may be justified. Of course, the actions of the Minister for Information himself have provoked almost continuous criticism. When I took part in the debate on the Appropriation Bill last night I criticized the Government for its decision to increase postal charges. In no part of my speech did I make any criticism of the Minister. However, the Minister, who followed me in the debate, opened his speech on a note of malice. Referring to me, he said: "I have been waiting for him for quite a while". Then, shielding behind a letter that he alleged he had received, he attacked me. I do not know whether he wrote that letter to himself or whether some one of like mind who was afraid to reveal his name to the public or to substantiate the allegation contained in the letter wrote it. In any event, the Minister stated that since he regarded it as a confidential document he did not propose to reveal the writer's name. In reply to the serious charges made against me in that document, I say unhesitatingly that my character and record of activities are on public view and have never been challenged. I am not afraid to answer before a committee of the House, or before any other responsible body, to the charges contained in the document. In the House this morning I invited the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) to appoint a committee of the House to investigate those charges, but the right honorable gentleman declined to do so. By adopting that attitude he has condoned the unprovoked attack made upon my character by his Minister. It is clear that the Prime Minister is not concerned a-bout the character of any member of the Opposition, and that he is quite unperturbed that his Ministers and supporters should make such attacks upon honorable members who criticize his Government. I asked the Prime Minister this afternoon whether he would appoint a select committee to investigate the charges made against me by the Minister for Information and he said, in effect : " I know that the honorable member had some controversy with the Minister for Information last night, but I am not concerned about that ". I remind the right honorable gentleman that the attack made upon me by the Minister was absolutely unprovoked, and for his benefit I shall repeat the charges made against me so that he may realize their seriousness. The Minister alleged that I had used my office in the Federal Members' Rooms, and used the services of my official secretary to organize a co-operative body in my electorate. The Minister also alleged that I organized that body shortly before a general election, that I subsequently " dumped " it, and that the shareholders lost their money. That is a tissue of lies.

Mr Pollard - The honorable member ought to talk about lies !

Mr ADERMANN - The facts are that two co-operative bodies were formed recently and operate in Kingaroy, Queensland. One is a maizegrowers' association, and the other wa? formed to engage in trade. I believe ir. co-operative effort, and I am a member of one co-operative society. That particular society was formed about 1920 by the local peanut-growers and is a subsidiary of the Queensland Peanut Board. The assets of the society are vested in that board. Neither of the co-operative societies has been disbanded, noT has any money been lost by their shareholders. I attended meetings of each of those bodies by invitation as a member of Parliament. Naturally the controllers of those organizations thought that I would be interested in their efforts. On behalf of the Maize Growers Association and growers I put up a fight to get the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), who interjected a few moments ago, to grant a licence for the export of their surplus grain, and subsequently he authorized the issue of an export licence. To return to the co operative associations, I point out that both bodies are still in existence, and that their shareholders have not lost any money. I had nothing to do with the formation of either organization, so that I could not have used my official office or my secretary for that purpose. Had either of the organizations concerned approached me, or my secretary in my absence, for assistance, I would have given them the courteous attention that any other honorable member would accord to his constituents.

After the Minister for Information had made his attack upon me last night I challenged the Government to appoint a committee of inquiry or to table the letter on which the Minister's attack upon me was alleged to have been based. Had he done so we could have discovered who the writer of the letter was - that is, of course, assuming that the Minister had not written the letter himself. Alternatively, I challenged the Minister to repeat his allegations outside the House so that I would have an opportunity to take action. Such statements as that alleged to be contained in the letter must be either true or false, and if the allegations are not true, they must be lies.

So much for the allegations that I formed a co-operative organization in my electorate in order to win votes, and that I subsequently " dumped " the shareholders, who lost their money. I propose to say a few words now concerning another aspect of the Minister's allegations. The Minister coupled the firm of Dalgety and Company Limited with the allegations that he made against me. As far as I know that firm has always enjoyed an honorable reputation. Why the Minister used its name, I do not know. I have had no association with Dalgety and Company Limited, and so far as I have been able to ascertain that firm has not been associated with either of the co-operative bodies to which I have referred. The Minister attributed ulterior motives to that worthy firm when he said that, at its instigation, I disbanded a cooperative trading society, with the result that the shareholders of the society lost their money. I have not yet seen a Hansard " flat " containing a report of the speech that the Minister made last. night. Therefore, I must rely upon my memory of what was said. The honorable gentleman does not deny that he made such a statement, or that that is the inference to be drawn from his remarks. To attack a man's character and a firm's reputation under the cover of parliamentary privilege is a mean action. The Minister would not be game enough to repeat his remarks outside the House.

The Minister criticized my activities, as chairman of the Peanut Board in relation to the grading of peanuts. He said, in effect, that I had approached the foreman who was in charge of the grading and had asked him to accept third grade peanuts as first grade nuts. I nailed that lie last night when I said that no grading of peanuts has been done since 1942. I was asked later by an honorable member whether I had made a mistake about that, because an application by the Australian Workers Union for a variation of graders' wages is now before the Arbitration Court. That is not the kind of grading that the Minister for Information or his anonymous correspondent had in mind. Until 1942 payments to growers were made on the basis of the percentage of each load of peanuts that was suitable for marketing in the shell. The price paid for nuts suitable for marketing in that form was slightly higher than that which was paid in respect of those that were not so suitable. There was no need to classify peanuts as first or third grade. A fool-proof system was developed. Each load of peanuts that was delivered by a grower was given a number, put through a cleaning machine and weighed. Four per cent, of the nuts were then removed from the consignment. The small parcel of peanuts, which bore the same number as the entire load, was then taken to a shed in which approximately 50 women and girls worked. If 60 per cent, of the nuts in the small parcel were classified as being fit for sale in shell, the grower received a slightly higher price for 60 per cent, of the total quantity, than he received for the remaining 40 per cent. Tt would have been necessary to bribe almost every one in the peanut industry to secure an alteration of the decision of the gradera, The grading was done mostly by women. The sample from each consignment of peanuts examined by the graders was held for about three months after the completion of the grading so that a grower could, if he so desired, have it re-examined in his presence. The system was almost fool-proof. I do not know the date that is mentioned in the letter from which the Minister read. I repeat that since 1942 no system of grading which would affect the payments made to growers has been in existence. We now take all of the peanuts as they come from the thrasher. They are not classified as first or third grade nuts. The Minister has accused me of acting dishonestly and of using my position as chairman of a marketing board to obtain a financial advantage.

Mr Edmonds - The honorable gentleman accused the Government of dishonesty.

Mr ADERMANN - In the speech that I made at Gympie I was talking of the Queensland Government and not of the Australian Government. It is playing a low game to use a confidential document in order to launch an attack upon a man'* character that is quite without foundation. When I appealed to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and said that the Minister's remarks were offensive to me, no action was taken. The Minister was allowed to get away with it. I am not questioning your ruling. 1 have perforce to accept it. I am quite unable to understand the reference in the letter to the sacking of a grader. The wi-iter could not have been referring to the foreman who was in charge of the work prior to the war, because that foreman is still with us. I do not know what part of the Minister's statement is true. All that I can say is that if the honorable gentleman is a man and if he has regard to the facts that I have been able to place before the House, he will play the game and withdraw his remarks. The Prime Minister has refused my request that a select committee consisting of honorable members of this House be appointed to investigate the Minister's allegations. If such a committee were appointed, the members could go to Kingaroy and question whomsoever they liked to question. I should make no prior arrangements, because I know that truth will prevail.

I do not withdraw the statement that [ made at Gympie. When I used the words " dishonest government I was referring to the Queensland Government, because the last electoral re-distribution in Queensland was so arranged that the value of a vote in some electorates is three times the value of a vote in others. So far as the number of electors is concerned, the present Queensland Government is a minority government. From memory, I think it polled approximately 15,000 votes less than the Opposition. If it secures the votes of approximately 40 per cent, of the Queensland electors, it will remain in office. That is not honest in a democracy. I believe in the principle of one vote, one value. I do not wish to alter the statement that I made at Gympie, but I do wish to correct the Minister's statement that I was referring to the Australian Government.

To what use is the Department of Information being put? Has the Minister nothing better to do than to use the department, as apparently he is using it, to produce fabricated statements upon which to make attacks on members of the Opposition ? Some people call such statements dossiers, but they are only lying statements designed to defame the char,acters of those who seek to oppose Ministers politically. I am prepared to accept any criticism that is made on political grounds. We are all jealous of our own characters, as we have a right to be. Some one once wrote -

If wealth is lost, nothing is lost; if health is lost something is lost; but if character is lost, all is lost.

Never, in all the criticism that I have voiced in this House, have I, as far as I can recall, deliberately attacked the personal character of any honorable member and I do not intend to do so. I desire to keep my criticism clean, but I intend to make it nonetheless hard, because the Minister for Information attacked me in an abusive way last night. I shall make it hard where I feel that it should be hard, just as I try to be fair when I feel that the Government is entitled to commendation. I do not seek to condemn the Government for everything it does, nor does the Opposition generally. There are some bills to which we give our approval and which we do not challenge, because they are essential for the welfare of the community. I ask the Minister for Information, who attacked me in such a callous way under cover of parliamentary privilege and with no specific evidence of any kind, in an attempt to defame my character and victimize me, to play the man and apologize.

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