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Wednesday, 31 July 1912

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - From what has been said by the Leader of the Opposition, it is quite evident that there was abundant justification for Senator de Largie's action this afternoon. Senator Millen has stated that that action clearly proved that Mr. Chinn was appointed to the position of Supervising Engineer of the Kalgoorlie to Port Augusta railway without any regard to his professional qualifications. Seeing that he has listened all the afternoon to this debate, and that he has had an opportunity of perusing the file of papers relating to this appointment, he must be wilfully blind to he facts. I have known Mr. Chinn for a considerable time in Western Australia as a keen critic of railway matters in that State. There is one phase of this question which should be closely studied, but which has not received any attention - whatever. At the present time we have in power a Government which is backed up by a substantial majority, and which is intent upon building this transcontinental railway in accordance with a policy by which it has steadfastly stood in the past. I refer to the policy of railway construction under departmental supervision - a policy which has been stubbornly opposed by the authors of these cowardly attacks upon Mr. Chirn:. If honorable senators opposite could forget for a moment that they are steeped in political partisanship, and if they could imagine themselves - I admit that it would be an effort of the imagination - impartial-minded citizens, they would recognise that the first duty of the Government in undertaking a work of this magnitude is to select men to control its construction who thoroughly believe in that policy. Will any fair-minded individual urge that the Government have any other duty cast upon their shoulders? In the past the Labour party have stood solidly for the policy of construction which they propose to adopt in connexion with this gigantic undertaking, and that policy has been consistently opposed by honorable senators opposite.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator means the policy of day labour in preference to contract? He has not made it clear.

Senator LYNCH - Yes. This transcontinental railway is about to be constructed under Ministerial control, without the intervention or the presence of a contractor, and that policy has not recommended itself to our critics. Does anybody seriously suggest that it is not obligatory upon the Government to ransack the whole of this island continent in order to secure the best men to carry out this undertaking in accordance with that policy? Yet the . insinuation has been made that the Ministry have wilfully ignored the qualifications, or lack of quali fications, possessed by Mr. Chinn, and have fixed their eyes upon one thing only - his alleged loyalty to, or the service which he has rendered to, the Labour party. But unless Ministers are worse than lunatics, it is obviously their first duty to appoint to these leading positions the very best men in sympathy with their policy who are procurable. Now, there are three officers who are chiefly concerned in this undertaking. First, there is the Chief Engineer, upon whose shoulders will rest the duty of supervising the whole of the work in a general way. His lieutenants will be two in number, and upon them will depend the supervision which is exercised upon those portions of the work which are intrusted to their control. Mr. Saunders, at Port Augusta, must see that he acts loyally to the Government, who desire to demonstrate to the world that the daylabour system is a more economical and a better system than that of contract, from the taxpayer's point of view. The same remark is applicable to Mr. Chinn, who will be stationed at the other end of the line. He will have to accept his share of the responsibility in that connexion. Honorable senators opposite would have the electors of this country believe that the Government deliberately shut their eyes to Mr. Chinn's qualifications, and selected a partisan to carry out this important work. Is such an idea feasible to anybody who is not hopelessly steeped in partisanship? Looking at this question broadly, I say that the Ministry would be acting blindly, that they would be unworthy of the trust which has been reposed in them, and that they would be taking the first step towards political suicide, if they placed in charge of this undertaking men who did not possess the very first qualification of their profession. We have been told over and over again that Mr. Chinn's only qualification is that he has rendered casual service to the Labour party. But I would point out that incompetency on his part, or on the part of Mr. Saunders, must inevitably mean undermining the popularity of the Labour party throughout Australia. It must mean want of economy in the construction of this important line of railway, and consequently the putting of the Ministry before the country in an unpopular light. For honorable senators opposite to urge that Mr. Chinn was appointed because of some casual service which he has rendered to the Labour party is to admit that they are bereft of all argument. I hold in my hand a number of credentials relating to Mr. Chinn. I have some from members of the Liberal party in Western Australia.

Senator de Largie - Not the " Liberal " party ?

Senator LYNCH - I am not going to bandy words with the honorable senator for the sake of giving that party a better description. For a long time in Western Australia a very keen discussion was waged over the railway system of that State, and the opinion was held by both political parties that bad management was clearly in evidence. It remained for Mr. Chinn, in a series of articles published in the West Australian and other newspapers, to point out that there was something radically wrong with that management. So convincing were the arguments which he advanced that men in the Liberal ranks of politics at length recognised their cogency, with the result that they placed their opinions upon record. Unfortunately, I have not time to read the whole of those opinions.

Senator Sayers - We have heard them all before in the other Chamber.

Senator LYNCH - The first statement which I propose to quote is that of Mr. Moss, who was Attorney-General in a Liberal Administration, and who was associated with Sir John Forrest in Western Australian politics. He put upon record his most unstinted admiration of Mr. Chinn as a critic of the administration of the railways of that State. He said -

But I have no hesitation in saying that the country is under a deep debt of gratitude to Mr. Chinn for the enormous amount of labour he must have put in to make the analysis which have appeared. Evidently the Government recognise it, because - I do not know whether it was in His Excellency's Speech or in the policy speech delivered at Bunbury - there is a statement made that the comparison made between Western Australia and Queensland was sufficiently serious to justify a careful examination, and that these various charges would have to be reduced. The Premier has not given Mr. Chinn the credit for it, but I think it is obvious to any fair-minded person that as the statement was made shortly after the second contribution appeared, Mr. Chinn is deserving of credit. I hope he will get something more than credit, because the task involved a considerable amount of labour and time.

I come now to Mr. Pennefather, who for years was a member of the Forrest Government. He held the portfolio of AttorneyGeneral in that Ministry, and his opinion of Mr. Chinn, who has been so violently assailed by my honorable friends opposite, as expressed during the course of a debate in the Western Australian Parliament, is thus recorded -

Having read in the press not so very long ago some cogent, trenchant, and lucid articles written by Mr. Chinn, members will, I feel sure, realize that these representations have borne fruit. There has been extravagance of an unchecked order, and the sooner it is checked the better for the community. Had the railways been properly and efficiently managed there would have been no necessity to bring down measures for the taxation of land or commodities.

In the same debate, Mr. Sommers, Minister of Lands in another Liberal Administration, placed on record his opinion of Mr. Chinn's ability -

The Railway Department has been brought very prominently before us, at least, the great cost of running the concern has; and those able articles written by Mr. Chinn, referred to by Mr. Moss, have set people thinking.

That I should read these extracts, sir, after all you have heard about the qualifications .of Mr. Chinn, must look like an attempt on my part to paint the lily, or to add another hue tothe rainbow. As regards qualifications, notwithstanding the statement which has: been made elsewhere that Mr. Chinn had not won his spurs, that he had no credentials to offer, save the fact that he had worked for a short time for the Labour party, the Senate has heard an account of what he has done and where he has worked. He enjoys a Queensland reputation, a New South Wales reputation, a Victorian reputation, and a Tasmanian reputation, while in Western Australia he has received unstinted eulogies from men who belong to the political, camp whence this wholesale, unmerited, and contemptible condemnation comes. This is an unworthy, a mean, and a mud-like attempt on the part of honorable gentlemen opposite and elsewhere to slander a man who has no chance to defend himself.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! I understood the honorable senator to say that this is some sort of an attempt by honorable senators opposite to do something which is unworthy and mean.

Senator Sayers - That is nothing, sir; it is too little to take notice of.

Senator LYNCH - It has been mentioned in the press, sir, that this appointment was merely a reward to a political helot; that it was a job; and unless we adopt this course I fail to see how we can put the other side of the story before the electors. The credentials as to Mr. Chinn's qualifications have come, not particularly from men on our side in politics, but from men who mainly or entirely support the party opposite.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator's time has expired.

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