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Wednesday, 10 June 1914

Senator MILLEN - It would be almost impossible to reply to the questions put by the honorable senator in the form of more answers. As the Senate would, perhaps, like to have fuller information on this matter, I ask leave to make a statement.

Leave granted.

Senator MILLEN - In anticipation that this question would present itself to-day, I have prepared a brief statement on the position which exists at Cockatoo Island. It is as follows : - Some few days ago the Argus announced that a confidential report on the condition of affairs at Cockatoo Island Dockyard had been forwarded by the manager of the yard (Mr. King Salter) to the Minister; and appended what purported to be a summary of the contents of this document. Generally, the facts set out in the press announcement have been known to me for some time. Before I took office, even, the then acting manager (Mr. Cutler) had reported upon the deficiency of labour at the establishment, and, from time to time, reports were received upon other aspects of the matter. Before taking any action in the matter, however, it seemed highly desirable, indeed necessary, that the new manager should be allowed sufficient time to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the existing state of affairs, in order that he should be in a position to speak from actual experience as to any changes that might be regarded as necessary or desirable. Mr. King Salter took up duty in early March, but since then there have been certain disputes between different unions, whose members are employed at the Dockyard, regarding the demarcation of work as between one union and the other. I considered it of paramount importance to endeavour to adjust these disputes before proceeding to the consideration of any comprehensive change in the conditions of employment at the Island. My efforts to adjust these differences met with some measure of success, but, in one case, owing to the failure of the union to observe a decision which it had previously agreed to accept, one section of the work was, and still is, held up. It was in the course of interviews with Mr. King Salter at this time that he acquainted me of the necessity for some important changes at the yard. The position of affairs disclosed was so serious and the remedy suggested such a considerable departure from existing practice, that a decision could not be arrived at without very serious consideration. Two courses appeared open to me : the first to approve of certain suggested alterations and announce them as representing the practice to be followed in future, or, secondly, confer with the men and frankly place the position before them, drawing their attention to the seriousness of the matter, its probable effect on the establishment, and on the industry of warship-huilding, and on their personal welfare as employes; and, by so doing, endeavour to enlist their co-operation in the introduction of changes necessary to the permanent efficiency of the establishment. I decided to adopt the latter course, and have only been prevented from taking the initial steps by sheer inability to find the time necessary for the undertaking. I hope before long I shall be able to take the first step in that direction. I should like to add that I am both surprised and indignant that the information contained in confidential reports has been furnished to the press. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that there has been flagrant violation of that responsibility to observe strict silence imposed upon officers in the Public Service. There has been quite a series of such leakages of official information from the Navy Department. So far, inquiries have not resulted in identifying the officer guilty of such a serious breach of confidence. I regret this, not only because until such officer is discovered it is obvious that furtherconfidential reports are liable to be made public, but for the further reason that quite a number of innocent officers are placed under suspicion through the default of one of their number.

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