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Thursday, 25 June 1914

Senator GARDINER - The work from Port Augusta up to 76 miles had already been done during the latter part of Mr. Saunders' management under Government control, and the rails were running to that point. The Minister knew that from 70 miles was the hardest cutting, and if he got the cost of that included he would again be able to make a comparison as to the cost under ordinary management. We have the evidence of Mr. Hobler that the cost was 2£ per cent, more than under day labour; and the excuse is made that the work was urgent. It was so urgent that no Minister can now say whether or not the contract is finished. I could speak at great length on this matter, but, as I said before, I have no desire to do so. Honorable senators have tried to twit me with the suggestion that, being a member of the Select Committee, it is not altogether according to parliamentary etiquette for me to make any remarks before- the Committee have finally reported. The Committee, however, have made one report; and I have deliberately refrained from commenting on anything that has come to my knowledge as a member of the Com mittee, confining myself to information laid on the table of the House, to what has taken place in the other Chamber, and to what is within my personal knowledge.. The very fact that a contract has been let without calling for public tenders constitutes a grave danger to the administration of the Department, if it be allowed to pass without check or challenge. The Minister complains that we are imputing corruption to him, and holds out his hands to show that they are clean. Why does he not take the opportunity that a fairly-constituted Committee gives him, to let the public know that his administration is above suspicion, and will stand investigation? If the Minister declines to avail himself of that opportunity, I decline to keep my mouth closed, but arraign him at the bar of public opinion for letting a contract under a system of pure favoritism - for giving to one favoured man an opportunity that was refused to all the other contractors in the Commonwealth. So far as plant is concerned, Mr. Timms undeniably had a larger and better plant for quickly completing the work. If any honorable member follows the correspondence as closely as I have, he will see that behind this small contract was a big one, which has been stopped by the discussion of this question in Parliament,in the press, and oh the platform. For this the public are the richer, and even the colleagues of this Minister are the better. These secret contracts will not bear the searchlight of public opinion, and Mr. Kelly has had the opportunity presented of testifying whether he has been straightforward in his administration. I accuse Mr. Kelly of three or four acts of deliberate trickery to the House of Representatives and the Senate. He refused, in the first place, to admit that he knew of Mr. Timms' . offer,, leading the House to believe he knew nothing; secondly, he had papers laid on the table purporting to be the complete papers, which they were not; thirdly, he refused to allow the representative of his Department to produce the papers before the. Select Committee, thus delaying the investigation; and now, according to- Mr. Joseph Cook, he has been advised not to appear before that Committee. If that is the action of an honest man I am no judge of honest men. So far from being the attitude of a straightforward man, who has nothing to cover up, it is, to my mind, what might be expected from one who has blundered badly, and is trying to get out of the difficulty by the good old way of placing the blame on some one else, hoping that Parliament may prorogue or something turn up to prevent his being called to account. Seeing that the Select Committee of which I have the honour to be a member will not have another opportunity of dealing with this matter, I could not allow this Parliament to close without adding these statements to what I have previously said upon the Teesdale Smith contract.

Debate (on motion by Senator de Largie) adjourned until Order of the Day No. 4, Private Business, had been dealt with.

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