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Wednesday, 7 July 1915

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) - Do the soldiers get all these explicit instructions1 before they go to the front?

Senator PEARCE - Their friends are from time to time reminded through the press of the manner in which letters should be addressed.

Senator O'Keefe - Are all these instructions at the base ?

Senator PEARCE - They are, so that a soldier in writing to his friends may tell them how letters to him should be addressed.

Senator O'KEEFE (TASMANIA) - He gets all this information before he goes to the front?

Senator PEARCE - He does. It is continually being drilled into the soldiers here; it is continually being placed before the public by means of the press that it is essential, if letters are to reach the soldiers, that they should be fully addressed. Yet, on the one occasion on which I visited the Base Records Office, I saw this huge bag of letters insufficiently addressed. In order to assist the people who blunder in this way officials at the Base Records Office have gone to considerable trouble in order to find out the proper addresses of the soldiers to whom letters have been sent. If they cannot do that the letters are opened and returned to the senders. So that part of the blame for the letters going astray rests upon the public who send them. One can easily understand also how letters may go astray in the Post Office if they are insufficiently addressed. They go on to Egypt, and, being insufficiently addressed, do not reach the soldiers. The three chief items of complaint now referred to comprise cables, information, regarding wounded, and . letters. I have had reports by the score from officers occupying positions of authority. A conference has been held between the Post Office and the Defence Department; a scheme has been drafted; officers with a knowledge of the state of things existing here, trained experts in the Post Office, have been sent to the front, and still the complaints continue. Some time ago, I heard that Mr. Keith Murdoch had accepted an engagement in London - not with the Defence Department, as some honorable senators seem to think, but in connexion with his employment. I know Mr. Keith Murdoch. He is a pressman, and a very able man, and I think that his training as a pressman should be a very effective training 'for the making of inquiries. No one can be in a Ministerial office for long without discovering that a pressman is just about the best man \hat can be put on to a task that necessitates inquiry. I know they stagger me sometimes with the manner in which they ferret out things I think nobody knows.

Senator Millen - Sometimes they ferret out things you do not want them to know.

Senator PEARCE - That is so.

Senator O'Keefe - And frequently they ferret out things which never happened at all.

Senator PEARCE - They do. They ferret out all sorts of things, and sometimes exercise a very lively imagination. But this gentleman was going to England. Having had ex,perts from the Post Office and the Defence Department, it occurred to me that, perhaps, it might be as well to let a humble layman see if he could find out what was wrong. The press know what is wanted. These complaints go into their papers; pressmen read of them; they are always questioning Ministers about them; they hear the discussions in Parliament; and they know the state of feeling that exists regarding these matters. Finding that Mr. Murdoch was going, I sent for him, and asked him whether he could arrange with his employers to get off the steamer at Egypt, make inquiries, and see if he could find out what was wrong. That is a terrible crime, I must confess, and I am surprised that some of those who have been making complaints should resent what I have done. It seems to me a common-sense arrangement.

Senator Millen - I hope the Minister does. not include me among those who resent it.

Senator PEARCE - I do not know; I thought there was a general resentment expressed.

Senator Millen - I took no exception to the appointment, and merely wished to know the duties allotted to Mr. Murdoch.

Senator PEARCE - I accept the honorable senator's assurance, but some honorable senators seemed to show considerable warmth, and almost to imply that I was open to public suspicion for having dene this thing.

Senator de Largie - Being a journalist, he must, of course, be a proper man to report on handling mail matter L

Senator PEARCE - We have had the man who handles mail matter there, and he has not helped us. We have had scores of them there. Men who have had business training have been picked out, and put on to the work, and still the complaints come in.

Senator Millen - For what my opinion is worth, I think it is an excellent step.

Senator PEARCE - The total financial responsibility with which I have loaded the Commonwealth in this respect i.3 £25. We have agreed to pay Mr. Murdoch's expenses up to that sum.

SenatorDe Largie. - It may possibly be £25 thrown away, for all the good you will get out of it

Senator PEARCE - It may be, but it seems to me that it is worth a trial. I have given Mr. Murdoch instructions to inquire into the reasons of the delay in notifying us of the disposition of the wounded. I have given him instructions to inquire how and why it is that letters sent from here to soldiers in Egypt do not reach their destination, and letters sent by soldiers from Egypt do not reach their destination here. I have given him instructions to inquire why cables sent to Egypt by relatives do not reach those for whom they are intended, or are not forwarded to where they can reach them. I have also sent instructions to our officer in command of the Australias base in Egypt to give Mr. Murdoch every facility, and to ask the General Officer Commanding in Egypt to give Mr. Murdoch every facility to make inquiries, and to place all facilities at his disposal. T am sure the Senate will agree that I have not done anything very wrong in the matter, but that, on the' other hand, I have done a common-sense thing which may have some result. At any rate, we will see what it brings forth. Senator Keating raised a question about a naturalized German employed at the Colonial Ammunition Company's works, at Footscray, and who was interned and subsequently released. The man was interned, and representations were made to the Department for his release. It is not the policy of the Government to intern all naturalized alien enemies. It has never been their policy, nor have they done it, and I have not yet heard any member of Parliament advocate that it should be done at the present juncture, at any rate. This man is a naturalized German, and is well known in this city. After his internment it was represented to the Department that a wrong had been done, that there were no grounds for his internment, and that the representations made at the time were aimed, not at him, but at another man to whom Senator Keating afterwards referred. The Intelligence Branch of the General Staff was instructed' to make the fullest inquiries, and in those inquiries they had the assistance of the Detective Branch and of the police. As a result, it was established that this man had never at any time given voice to disloyal sentiments, but that, on the other hand, he was a highly respected citizen, vouched for by respectable business and other people. On that he was released on the recommendation of the Chief of the General Staff. In the other case that Senator Keating raised, he did not quote me quite correctly at first, but now that I have shown him my answer he will see. that the man subsequently referred to by' him is not an inspector, and is not in the Commonwealth Service. He is in the employ of the Colonial Ammunition Company, and assists the inspectors in their work. There is no report available from the police or the detectives, or from the Intelligence Branch of the Department, in any way impugning that man's loyalty. ' We ought always, of course, to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, but we ought to pause before we commit ourselves to the policy of interning all naturalized enemy subjects in Australia. That has never been advocated by any responsible man, and it is not carried out; in the Mother Country, where the need, perhaps, would be very much greater than ours. The principle we have acted upon has been to invite the public, if they know of anything suspicious in connexion with enemy subjects, naturalized or unnaturalized, to communicate freely with us; to let us know, if they have any doubt about, or suspicion of, a man, what their suspicions are, and we will thoroughly investigate them. We have done that right through, and wherever there is a doubt we give the benefit of the doubt to our own cause, and not to the person against whom the charge is made.With regard to the case mentioned by Senator O'Keefe, I have never heard it suggested that officers get any preferential treatment in regard to their letters. There are no instructions to that effect, and I would certainly discountenance anything of the kind. I have seen no indication that it is countenanced . by the British authorities, who Have the disposition of these matters in Egypt. We brought the representations in regard to these matters before the War Office some time ago, and if Mr. Murdoch can make suggestions to us for alterations, we shall certainly bring them under the notice of the War Office also.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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