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Wednesday, 29 June 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) . - I find myself in a somewhat difficult position this evening, because - without wishing to reflect on you, Mr. President, or on honorable senators - much of the debate this afternoon would have been more appropriate on the first reading of the Bill. It is impossible for me, at this juncture, to deal with many of the matters brought forward during the second- reading debate, because, I submit, on the second reading we should deal only with the principles of the Bill. To-day, topics ranging from the payment of a maternity allowance to the discovery of oil in Papua have been introduced.

Senator Earle - All of which are mentioned in the schedule.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is hardly to be expected that I should utter any remarks worthy of consideration upon such a variety of important subjects on the second reading of the Bill.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why can information be given on the first, and not on the second, reading?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - One expects to have to answer inquiries when the first reading of a Supply Bill is under consideration, and departmental officers are available to supply the necessary information. If the points raised by some honorable senators are overlooked, I am sure they will not regard it as discourteous; that is the explanation.

A matter which attracts my interest is Senator Gardiner's renewed claim to be the surprise creator among honorable senators. He surprised me yesterday, but the surprise caused then was nothing compared with that which he endeavoured to stimulate in my mind to-day. May I draw attention to the ease with which Senator Gardiner passed from quoting Hansard, in which appear the Prime Minister's own words, to a newspaper report - obviously a curtailed one - of a report made by a gentleman, founded upon a statement made by the Prime Minister.

Senator Gardiner - One supports the other.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I shall show that it does not. The Prime Minister's first public utterance on this question, which was indorsed by him when introducing the War Gratuity Bill in the House of Representatives, was to this effect: After having dealt with the undertaking to make money available for the cashing of bonds in necessitous and other circumstances, he said the Government undertook to cash bonds to the value of £500,000 a year, an amount which Senator Foster says has been exceeded. The PrimeMinister went on to say -

The whole of Australia's share of the indemnity, payable by Germany to the Allies, which may be estimated at anything between £7,000,000 and ?15,000,000, to be ear-marked for the redemption of gratuity bonds. If the indemnity actually received on or before May, 1921, does not reach ?10,000,000, the Government to make good the deficiency up to ?10,000,000.

Asno indemnity kas been received, the obligation of the Government was to find ?10,000,000 by 31st May. It is important to note how the balance was to be paid. The Prime Minister said that the balance of the bonds outstanding after May, 1921, would be redeemed in not more than three equal annual instalments. Let us take the value of the bonds issued at ?30,000,000- as a matter of fact the value does not reach that figure, but that is a convenient basis on which to work.

Senator Gardiner - The definite statement of the Prime Minister was that ?10,000,000 would be paid in 1921, and the remainder in equal annual amounts.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Exactly. That was on the 4th November, and on the 22nd the Prime Minister said that the Government undertook to find ?500,000 a year for necessitous cases until May, 1921, and then to find ?10,000,000, and the balance in three equal annual instalments He added that he had been, able to do something better than that, that he had arranged for ?6,000,000 worth of these bonds to be cashed immediately. It cannot be contended for a moment that that ?6,000,000 was to be in addition to the ?10,000,000. It was a part of it, and proportionately as the Prime Minister was able to cash these bonds, he was reducing the amount to be paid by the Commonwealth in redemption of his pledge.

Senator Gardiner - Hisown statement does not bear that out. His statement was that ?10,000,000 would be devoted tp necessitous cases, and that the banks would cash an additional ?12,000 000, making more than ?20,000,000 altogether.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I dispute that statement entirely. Suppose that the Prime Minister had managed to arrange with the banks that they would cash ?30,000,000 worth of bonds, would the Government still have had to find ?10,000,000 in May of this year?

Senator Gardiner - If the Government had found ?30,000,000 cash the whole of the bonds would have beenredeemed.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But the Prime Minister promised to find ?10,000,000 this year. Senator Gardi ner declares that the payment of that ?10,000,000 must not be regarded as a set-off to the Prime Minister's promise.

Senator Gardiner - What I said is contained in the Prime Minister's written statement, which I handed to the Minister himself.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator did not quote the Prime Minister's written statement, but merely a chance description of it to an audience. I can show that it is wrong in one particular, and I am only surprised that Senator Gardiner did not detect its weakness.

Senator Gardiner - I shall be very pleased if the honorable gentleman will do so.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The statement reads -

Mr. Curtissaidhe had received a statement from Mr. Hughes to read to the meeting in regard to the gratuity. According to this, Mr. Hughes promised -

(1)   Immediatedistribution of bonds on the assembly of Parliament.

(2)   Bonds will be taken by banks and Repatriation Departments, and the equivalent of cash in purchase of land and houses.

(3)   Cash will be paid in all urgent cases, and where a soldier marries or a soldier's widow re-marries.

(4)   The Government will redeem in cash, by May, 1921, not less than ?12,000,000 sterling.

Senator Gardiner - Continue the statement.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am going to do so, because I am now coming to that portion of it which discloses the error of which I have spoken. Obviously, Mr. Curtis is giving his own interpretation of the document, or a newspaper is giving its interpretation of what Mr. Curtis said. The statement continues -

Mr. Hughespointed out

It is quite clear, therefore, that this is not Mr. Hughes's document, but merely somebody's interpretation of it. It is a verbal expression of somebody's opinion of what that document contained. The statement reads -

Mr. Hughespointed out that the bonds cashed by the banks and Repatriation Departments would probably amount by that date to ?10,000,000, so thatthe Treasury would have to arrange for the redemption of over ?20,000,000 in this period.

Where does Senator Gardiner get the ?20,000,000? If ?12,000,000 was the obligation which the honorable senator affirms the Government shouldered, and £10,000,000 in addition was to Ve paid, the total would have been £22,000,000. I suggest, therefore, that the £12,000,000 is a newspaper misprint.

Senator Gardiner - The first £10,000,000 was in the nature of an estimate, and the £12,000,000 was the amount which the Prime Minister undertook to find.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Nowhere else can the honorable senator find any reference to £12,000,000.

Senator Gardiner - Does the Minister repudiate the statement of the Prime Minister ?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - No. But because the honorable senator chooses to accept the figures of some person outside, he has no right to accuse the Government of having failed to live up to their pledge. What is wrong with Mr. Hughes' statement to Parliament ? To me, the position is abundantly clear, and the explanation which I have given is that which has been accepted by all who have devoted consideration to the matter. The original estimate of the value of the bonds to be issued was. £30,000,000. The Government undertook to redeem £500,000 worth of bonds every year in order to meet necessitous cases. That would be equivalent to an expenditure of £750,000 during the eighteen months ' which have since elapsed; but to make myself perfectly safe I am willing to say that it represents £1,000,000. But what is the position? The Government have already redeemed £2,,250,000 worth of bonds in that way. That hardly discloses a breach of faith ou the part of the Ministry. Then the Government arranged with the banks to immediately cash £6,000,000 worth of bonds. But for that circumstance, the banks would not have cashed them. The Government also secured the active cooperation of many private individuals who took up these bonds, with the result that already £13,500,000 worth of them have been cashed out of . a total, not of £30,000,000, which was originally, supposed to be the amount of the issue, but of £25,800,000. More than 50 per cent, of these bonds, therefore, have been cashed, and we are continuing to cash them wherever the circumstances of the soldier warrant that course being taken.

Senator Wilson - Then Senator Gardiner's thunder has gone.

Senator Gardiner - It is bound to go if honorable senators will stand for the repudiation of the Prime Minister's statement.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That fact, however, will not prevent Senator Gardiner from affirming outside that the Government have not honoured their pledges.

Senator Gardiner - They have repudiated them.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I would like to know of what the repudiation consists.

Senator Gardiner - The Government were to redeem one-third of these bonds within a certain period.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And we have redeemed one half of them. It will, however, be the honorable senator's effort to show the contrary, irrespective of the merits of the case. Nevertheless, I am quite convinced that the consensus of opinion is that the Government have not merely made an honest, but a successful, effort, to redeem their pledges to the soldiers. For the rest, I am willing to leave the matter to the common sense of the people and to the verdict of the soldiers themselves. Senator Gardiner and' his party have made many efforts to damage the Government in the eyes of the soldiers, but the soldiers have not forgotten -the attitude of the two political parties towards them. If we leave the verdict to them we may be confident of what their answer will be.

Senator Gardiner - You are not game to put up a candidate for the seat that is vacant now.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator has not very many soldier colleagues alongside him.

Senator Gardiner - You put through this Parliament an absolute swindle of an Act to prevent me having colleagues here.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not know whether the honorable senator is entitled to say that.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon T Givens - The honorable senator must not refer to an Act of this Parliament in those terms.

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