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Thursday, 25 June 1914

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I must congratulate Senator Pearce and the Minister of Defence on the very spirited way in which they dealt with the question of defence. The Senate is, I think, to be congratulated that Defence is not a party question. One wonders what might have happened here to-day had it been a party question. I recognise that, with regard to many matters, these two honorable senators possess a deeper and wider knowledge than belongs to ordinary members of the Senate; but if one may judge by the temper displayed by the Minister before resuming his seat he got the worst of the argument, otherwise he would not have tried to use the language which he sought to apply in an underhand way to> the ex-Minister of Defence. It is perfectly satisfactory to know that Defence is not a party matter. But, why, may I ask, have three hours been occupied in discussing in minute detail one or two matters which could have been dealt with easily by the last two speakers? I think Senator Pearce deserves every credit for the way in which he has put his case. The Minister, to the extent he has gone in trying to complicate the question--

Senator Oakes - In defending himself.

Senator GARDINER - There is a little to defend.

Senator Millen - Nothing to attack.

Senator GARDINER - When the defence consists in not only answering, but levelling direct charges and using language which should not be 'used here or elsewhere, the defender exceeds the reasonable limit of what should be the defence of a Minister. If the honorable senator expects his Estimates to pass without reasonable criticism from the Senate, without the critics being subject to the kind of defence to which Senator Oakes referred, it is not in accordance with the method which I have always seen adopted in dealing with Estimates. However, that is a matter between the Minister and the ex-Minister. As we have an opportunity of dealing with grievances on a Supply Bill, I desire, in the closing hours of the Senate, to again refer to the question of the Teesdale Smith contract. I was perfectly satisfied when the Select Committee was appointed to deal with the facts which they would bring out. Some of the gentlemen representing the Government have taken exception to me being on the Committee, as the references made by me to the matter here pointed me out as a partisan. In my long experience I have rarely known a Select Committee to be appointed except at the instance of a partisan. The custom has been for an honorable member who believed that some wrong had been done to bring the matter forward, and to make out the strongest case he could, and when a Select Committee was appointed to come forward and get out the evidence in the best possible way. But, after all, the chief purpose was to have a good Committee appointed, who would come to a decision on the evidence adduced. I do not propose to refer to the proceedings of our Select Committee, because the statement has been made in the other House that the inquiry has come to a standstill.

Senator Keating - Do you suggest for a moment that there was any one who objected to your presence on the Committee?

Senator Oakes - I did, for one.

Senator GARDINER - I do not mind the objection of Senator Oakes. I am merely leading up to my reason for speaking now, as there might not be many other occasions for me to express my opinions. I told the Senate some time ago that I had visited the locality of the contract, and that a job had been perpetrated in giving a fat contract to a man without calling tenders. That was plain English.

Senator Keating - You arrived at a decision before you had heard any of the evidence.

Senator GARDINER - I was of that opinion, and went to the scene of the contract to test it.

Senator Oakes - You will agree with my objection to your going on the Select Committee, seeing that you had already taken part in a division on the AddressinReply which condemned the Government for the same thing.

Senator GARDINER - I will state my reason for accepting a position on the Select Committee. My long parliamentary experience had led me to think that a Select Committee always included the men who had brought the subjectmatter of the inquiry before Parliament, and that the reason for having them on the Committee was that the whole evidence could be brought out on each side. Leaving myself out of the question, I believe that a very fair Select Committee was appointed by the Senate. It included three senators from each side whose partisanship could not be questioned. I propose to deal now with what has happened with regard to the contract. I intend to deal briefly with the evidence supplied by persons interested in letting the contract, and that is the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs and the parties to the correspondence laid on the table. First I want to refer to a statement by Mr. Poynton, who, speaking in another place, said -

I may say that I am credibly informed that there was another tender, and I should like to know whether the Prime Minister knows anything of the matter.

Mr. JosephCook. It is not so.

It will be seen that Mr. Poynton is referring to another point, and, to make the position absolutely clear, I may mention that he was alluding to a tender by Mr. Timms. Later, Mr. Poynton said -

Mr. Baxter'svisit showed that the Government were in favour of tenders, and Mr. Timms was in communication, it is said, with the Engineer-in-Chief. This, however, has been kept in the background by the Government.

Colonel Ryrie. - That is a serious charge to make.

Mr. POYNTON.I make the charge, and I stand by it.

Mr. McWilliams.Was that offer made to the Minister ?

Mr. POYNTON.A member of Parliament does not like to take undue advantage of his privileges; but there are circumstances in this, and other contracts, that have a very ugly look, and every one of them oan be traced to one man.

Mr Kellywas evidently out of the chamber when Mr. Poynton made that statement.

Senator Keating - What did the Minister say to that?

Senator GARDINER - Mr. Poyntoncontinued his speech, but Mr. Kelly came in a little while afterwards, and Mr. Poynton, turning directly to him, said -

The Honorary Minister has, I see, now entered the chamber, and I should like to repeat that a contractor named Timms made * an offer to do the work which has been under discussion this afternoon.

Mr. Kelly.No such offer was before me at the time the contract was signed. I can assure my honorable friend that I am having tho fullest inquiry made into the circumstances.

Mr. POYNTON.Will the Honorary Minister also inquire whether the offer I have referred to was received in the Department?

Mr. Kelly.Yes.

Mr. POYNTON. Ihave been informed, and I believe that my information is correct; that Mr. Timms put in an offer for this particular work. My informationmay be wrong, but I was told this week in Adelaide that Mr. Timms was in communication with the exEngineerinChief. If he was, then the Minister should have known of it.

Mr. Kelly.Certainly.

Mr. POYNTON.There were other things of which tho honorable gentleman, on his own showing, was not aware.

Mr. Kelly.If I had thought that there was any one else in as favorable a position to do this work as was the man who got the contract, I certainly would not have approved of it.

I have read from Hansard of the 21st April, page 156. 1 think that this statement by Mr. Kelly will be taken by every reader of it as the statement of a man who was not aware of Mr. Timms' offer. I desire now to refer to the correspondence which has been laid on the table, and to show that, on the 21st April, Mr. Kelly was not only aware that Mr. Timms had made an offer, but he was aware that Mr. Timms, a brother of the Joseph Timms referred to, and Mr. Hobler, one of the engineers employed by the Government, had had a conference on the point as to whether Timms' offer had been before the Department. Not only had there been a conference on that point, but Mr. Kelly had sent Mr. Hobler to Mr. Deane for the correspondence. This happened on the 28th February, but on the 21st April we find Mr. Kelly telling the House, or, if he did not tell the House, leading it to believe, that he was not aware of any offer by Mr. Timms. I do not wish to put forward statements of my own, because they might be refuted, but I desire to put the hard facts, which appear in the correspondence, side by side with what Mr. Kelly said to the House. On page 36 of the parliamentary paper I find a copy of a telegram which was sent, on the 4th May, from Mr. Hobler, at Port Augusta, to the Assistant Minister of Home Affairs at Melbourne, in answer to a telegram from the latter -

Your telegram second instant at interview Timms had with you on twenty-eight February so far as I recollect he stated to you that he had written Mr. Deane asking to be allowed to tender if tenders were called for any portion of the work. After interview you told me to see Mr. Deane and tell him you wished to know if such a letter had been received. I saw Mr. Deane immediately on return to office and told him of Timms' statement and your wish. Mr. Deane looked up the file at once and said that he had completely overlooked the letter when dealing with Teesdale Smith's offer and that he would see you personally and explain matter. I was under impression he had seen you about it.


Here is a telegram to the Assistant Minister in which Mr. Hobler states that Mr. Kelly, Mr. Timms, and Mr. Hobler had discussed the question of Timms' offer to do the work. Yet, six weeks later, we find Mr. Kelly telling, or leading the other House and the country to believe, that he was not aware that a second offer had been made. This matter is too serious to be allowed to go on the mere passing of this Parliament. On page 33 of this paper I find a memorandum from Mr. Deane to the Minister, which contains this paragraph -

The matter did not crop up again until Mr. Timms came to see the Minister on the 28th February. On this occasion the latter sent for Mr. Hobler. I understood from Mr. Hobler, when he came back to my office, that the Minister wanted certain information, and I know that Mr. Hobler looked up the papers. I do not know what happened afterwards, as I thought that Mr. Hobler was carrying out the Minister's wishes.

That will, I think, set beyond doubt or dispute that when Mr. Kelly spoke in reply to Mr. Poynton, and by his language implied that he was not aware of Timms' offer, his memory was something like that of Mr. Deane. He had actually forgotten the interview, or, if he had not forgotten it, he was misleading his colleagues, the Parliament, and the people.

Senator McColl - There is nothing in what you say to show that Mr. Kelly knew of the offer. There is only an account of an interview held a considerable time before. There is nothing to show that Mr. Kelly knew of Mr. Timms' offer.

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