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Thursday, 30 June 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I do not think that any one can take reasonable exception to this Bill, but the Senate was at least entitled to be given some reasons why Lieut. - Colonel Walker was removed from the office of War Service Homes Commissioner in addition to the statement that it has been found that he was not eligible under the Act for appointment to that office. If the information at my disposal is correct, the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen), when appointing Lieut. -Colonel Walker to the office of War Service Homes Commissioner, was aware of all the circumstances surrounding his insolvency.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I want to give that an absolute and flat denial.

Senator GARDINER - The Minister denies that. I suppose that honorable senators, in common with myself, have received a circular dealing with this matter, in which the statement is made that Lieut. -Colonel Walker, being connected with a gold mining company, became liable during his absence on active service to pay certain sums of money, and was made insolvent by a bank. There was nothing discreditable to him in the matter, and his credit, so far as cash is concerned, had he been here, was sufficient to enable him to meet any obligations, even those for which he was not morally responsible, although legally liable. The information at my disposal is that the bank manager's name was given to Senator Millen - I do not say that that is a fact, but it is the information supplied to me - to enable the honorable senator to communicate with that gentleman. T am informed, also, that other people did communicate with the bank manager, and that that communication was sent before the appointment of Lieut. -Colonel Walker. I, of course, accept the Minister's statement that this is not correct, but the point I want to make is this : Here is a gentleman considered by the Government fitted to fill one of the most responsible positions in the Commonwealth Public Service. He fills it for about eighteen months, and suddenly there is discovery of a defect in his title to the position. I may be wrong, but I think that honorable dealing required that there should have been done then what is being done now. Lieut. -Colonel Walker's previous acts should have been validated, and then what was wrong with his appointment should have been made right, and his reappointment should have taken place. If there was some other reason . for getting rid of him, the straightforward course for the Government to adopt was to discharge him from his office as unsatisfactory. I make no comment upon the way in which Lieut.-Colonel Walker carried out his duties of War Service Homes Commissioner. The Minister is in the best position to do that.

Senator Wilson - The honorable senator could do it, too.

Senator GARDINER - My position as Leader of the Opposition made it necessary for me to criticise some of the work of the War Service Homes Commission.

Senator Wilson - I remember the' honorable senator's criticism on one occasion.

Senator GARDINER -- Lieut.Colonel Walker was appointed under conditions concerning which he claims there was no secrecy. There is nothing alleged derogatory to his character, and, although he was adjudicated insolvent while away fighting for his country, the Government would have been well advised if they had re-appointed him when this defect in his original appointment was made known. If the Government have any other reasons, in justice to Lieut.-Colonel Walker the straightforward course is for them to make them public.

Senator Wilson - The honorable senator made one public.

Senator GARDINER - I claim the right to criticise men who are conducting public business.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is rather unnecessary for the honorable senator to make that assertion.

Senator GARDINER - We are here for that purpose. It is a part of our duty. I do not know whether I take a wrong view of my position here, but if any case comes under my notice in which I think injustice has been done, I believe it my duty to bring it before Parliament, but not before inquiring into the truth or otherwise of . the charge. Lieut.Colonel Walker carried out his duties, I believe, satisfactorily for eighteen months, and at the end of that period it was suddenly discovered - according to the Minister's statement - that, technically, he was a bankrupt. Lieut.Colonel Walker, however, said that his bankruptcy was annulled by the Law Courts. If his insolvency was the only reason for his dismissal, the Government could have remedied the position by reappointing him. If the Government were anxious - probably that is not the correct word - to get rid of this gentleman, why did they not say so? If they were so dissatisfied with his services that they thought the work could be more satisfactorily accomplished by some one else it is their duty to make that clear.

Senator Wilson - I thought the honorable senator prompted' 'the Government to dispense with his services.

Senator GARDINER - When I criticise a public servant it is usually for some particular action. But criticism can be uttered without saying that the man who is thought to have made a mistake should be dismissed.

Senator Wilson - The honorable senator generally criticised the exCommissioner's administration. '

Senator GARDINER - The honorable senator will find my criticisms in Hansard. It is true that I was not satisfied with some of his work . in New' South Wales. I think it was the dismissal of a Deputy Commissioner by Lieut.Colonel Walker in circumstances somewhat similar to those we are now discussing of which I complained. In the case of both Major Evans and Lieut.-Colonel Walker something more should be said, or, perhaps, already too much has been said. I think the Senate was, and is still, entitled to further information on this matter, and I trust that the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Millen) will go a little out of his way to give the reason why this action has been taken. Lieut-Colonel Walker's bankruptcy has been annulled by the Courts of Queensland, and the honorable and straightforward course to pursue - if there was no other reason for his dismissal - was to re-appoint him. The Government are not acting fairly to themselves, or to the people of Australia, because the whole matter could have been carried out in a straightforward way, however distasteful it may have been. This gentleman was removed from office owing to something which he claims the Government were aware of at the time he was appointed. The Minister for Repatriation has denied that, and I am prepared to accept his statement.

Senator Foster - The position was explained in the public press.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The solicitors who prepared the information that appeared in the press, and also in the circular referred to, depended, I presume, under the information received from Lieut.-Colonel Walker.

Senator GARDINER - Yes, I believe the circular was prepared and distributed by his solicitors.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman. - As a matter of fact, it was.

Senator GARDINER - The weak point in the Government's case is this. If this officer's services were satisfactory, and there was no other serious reason for dispensing with his services when the defect was discovered, why did the Government not immediately re-appoint him? Perhaps there is some other reason why the Government desired to get rid of him In dealing with individuals, particularly those employed in the Public Service, we have to be very careful before taking drastic action to remove them from their positions. I realize that what I am saying has very little bearing on the provisions of the Bill we are now discussing, but as this measure is to validate the actions of Lieut.. Colonel Walker during the time he held the position of Commissioner, I think it is due to the Senate and to the country that the Minister should give a full and frank statement as to Lieut. -Colonel Walker's dismissal, and why he was not re-appointed. If his services have been satisfactory, that could have been done with advantage to the Government and the public. It is very unfair to place Lieut.-Colonel Walker . in his present position. I trust the Minister in his reply will make a definite statement, because we are dealing with a gentleman whom the Government thought fit to occupy a very high position, the duties in connexion with which he apparently carried out satisfactorily for a considerable time.

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