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Thursday, 11 June 1914

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) (Minister of Defence) . - As Senator McGregor has intimated, when this matter was mentioned yesterday, I interjected that there was some misapprehension. I think it is possible to clear it up in a way that will be satisfactory to every member of the Senate. The honorable senator has quite correctly stated that the secretary of the Select Committee, or probably the members of the Committee themselves, having formed a conclusion that a particular officer of the Department was the one most familiar with the matters about which they desired to inquire, not only summoned him to appear before the Committee, but also summoned him to produce certain papers. When he presented himself, as he did in obedience to the summons, he intimated quite correctly that the papers were not in his charge, but were in the charge of the Minister.

Senator McGregor - Why did he lead the secretary of the Select Committee to the belief that they would be produced S

Senator MILLEN - What the officer in question did I do not know, but if he led the secretary to the Select Committee to believe that it was within his competency to take papers out of the Department he did what was wrong. I think the Senate will see at once that an officer of the Department, who may be even a junior, has certainly no warrant for walking away with papers which are not within his custody. Somebody must be held responsible for the control of papers in a Department. When a Committee of the Senate has desired the attendance of a particular officer, the procedure that has usually been adopted - a procedure with which Senator de Largie will be familiar - has been to summon him, and for him to respond to the summons. When papers have been required, the notification that those papers were required has been sent to the official head of the Department.

Senator McGregor - Who is the official head ?

Senator MILLEN - The Prime Minister, Mr. Cook. But my honorable friend need not suppose that any advantage will be taken of any uncertainty in his mind as to who is the head of that Department. I give him my assurance that if a request is made by the Committee, either to the Minister or Assistant Minister of Home Affairs, for the. production of papers, it will be honored. But it would be impossible to entertain for a moment the idea that an officer of that Department is free to walk out of it with any papers that he may think fit. In the present case, what happened was that the Select Committee - breaking away from the recognised practice, a practice which was followed in the case of the Chinn Committee - instead of summoning the officer separately, and then forwarding a notification to the Minister that certain papers were wanted, sent a notification to the officer - who is certainly not a junior, although he is not a senior officer - calling upon him to produce papers which were not in his custody. I would point out at once that the only reason why the Committee's request was not productive of the desired result was because that request was not submitted in the usual way. When I say that, I do not wish it to be understood that there is any matter of thin dignity involved. There is not. But when papers are sought from a public Department, the proper method to pursue is to send a request for their production to the Minister in charge of that Department.

Senator Maughan - That was done in the case of the Chinn Committee, but it was not always successful in getting them.

Senator MILLEN - I understand that the papers sought were supplied in that case. The Minister then takes the responsibility of saying whether he will or will not supply the desired papers. The

Senate, I am sure, will appreciate the difference between doing that and summoning an officer of the Department to produce papers which he has no authority to remove from their proper place.

Senator Maughan - Nobody objects to that.

Senator MILLEN - The misunderstanding has arisen in this way. As I informed the Committee on a previous occasion, this Government will not throw any obstacles in the way of it pursuing its inquiries. As the difficulty has arisen as the result of the Committee not observing what is regarded as the proper practice, I would suggest to Senator McGregor that he should now Bee his way to withdraw this motion.

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