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Thursday, 11 June 1914

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - When I heard the statement made to this Chamber by Senator McGregor, I was not in the slightest degree surprised, because I have a very lively recollection of the treatment which was meted out to myself, as Chairman of the Select Committee which inquired into the Chinn case. That Committee was absolutely refused access to the papers which it desired.

SenatorRae. - To some of them.

Senator DE LARGIE - The production of most of the papers for which we asked was refused, and after a considerable delay, instead of the originals, we got what the Department were pleased to call, " certified copies." I hold that a Select Committee, appointed by this Senate, has full power to insist upon the production of original documents.

Senator Millen - Is it not the practice, to send the originals, with certified copies of them, to a Committee, and for the Committee then to return the originals to the Department?

Senator DE LARGIE - Of course, I do not hold the Minister of Defence responsible for what occurred in connexion with the Chinn Committee. But I must say that that body was treated in the most grossly insulting manner by the Government. When it asked for original documents, their production was refused. All that it could get of Borne of the papers for which it asked was what the Department termed " certified copies."

Senator Millen - The honorable senator does not suggest that they were not certified copies!

Senator DE LARGIE - I do not know. From the obstacles that were thrown in the way of that Committee, and from the manner in which the Government built up their case, I am justified in saying that anything may have happened. They acted in such a one-sided and partial manner that.I believe the withholding of papers would not be worse than other acts of which they were guilty.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - Are these remarks pertinent to the motion ?

Senator DE LARGIE - I think that they are.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir Albert Gould - I think not.

Senator DE LARGIE - Fortunately the honorable senator has not the decision of the matter. The behaviour of the Government was not as straightforward and honest in the case of the Chinn Select Committee as it should have been when papers were called for, and I have a suspicion that the excuse which is now put forward in connexion with the Teesdale Smith Contract Select Committee is a mere afterthought. When the Chinn Committee requested the production of certain . papers, its members were told that those papers were required in the Department. That was a ridiculous statement, because, obviously, the Department had no business with them at that time. Their production was refused, and I can quite appreciate the feeling of Senator McGregor ' when the Committee, of which he is Chairman, met with a similar refusal, because whatever may be said to the contrary, undoubtedly it was a refusal. If, by a mere oversight the Committee applied to the wrong party for the production of those papers, why was not the information conveyed to Senator McGregor at once? Why was not the officer who was summoned able to say that the application should have gone through another channel? But no information of the kind was vouchsafed to the Committee beyond : the bald statement by the officer that he had not the papers in his custody. The time has arrived when the Senate should put a stop to this sort of thing. When the Chinn Select Committee was refused the production of papers for which it had a right to ask, and when the Government declined to provide funds to allow it to pursue its inquiries, a very dangerous precedent was created, and one which will not soon be forgotten in a free country like Australia. It was a scandalous procedure, seeing that the professional reputation of a man was at stake.

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