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Thursday, 30 June 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) . - I desire to 6ay a word or two in reply to the statements made by Senator Gardiner. First of all, whether the accusation or charge formulated by the honorable senator is correct or not, he has admitted that this Bill must be passed. A similar measure would have had to be presented to Parliament even if Lieut. - Colonel Walker had been re-aippointed.

Senator Keating - Senator Gardiner recognises that it has to go through in view of the circumstances.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Even if Lieut.-Colonel Walker had been restored to his office, as has been suggested, this Bill would have still been necessary, and it is necessary to validate the acts of the Acting Commissioner. I, therefore, presume that the Senate agrees to the passage of the Bill. I desire to repeat what I have said already by interjection, that I give an absolute, flat denial to the reiterated statement that at the time of his appointment, I had knowledge of Lieut.Colonel Walker's bankruptcy. I will leave it to honorable . senators' own judgment to say whether they can conceive for one moment of any Minister, in view of the direct prohibition in the Act against the appointment of an uncertificated insolvent, making an appointment deliberately in the face of that Act after being informed that the applicant was insolvent.-

Senator Keating - Is there any ground for the suggestion that you were referred to the bank or the banker?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is this ground for it, that when Lieut.Colonel Walker was asked for certain personal references he supplied them, amongst them being one from the manager of a bank. I do not know whether that was the bank concerned in Lieut.Colonel Walker's insolvency or not.

Senator Payne - Did the bank in itsreply notify you of the insolvency during Lieut.-Colonel Walker's absence?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I should be prepared to make a full and ample statement on this point but for the fact that Lieut.-Colonel Walker is threatening legal proceedings. For that reason, especially as my honour and truthfulness, apart from any other matters, are concerned, I propose to ask the Senate to excuse me from making any further statement on the matter at this stage. If Lieut.-Colonel Walker goes into Court, as he threatens to do, the Court will be "the proper place for me to disclose the several steps taken, and to present the evidence which I have in support of my contention that I was in ignorance of the fact of his insolvency.

Whether the Government should have re-appointed Lieut.-Colonel Walker is quite another matter, upon which opinions may differ; but there, again, one prime factor in the position has reference to the particular thing which Lieut.Colonel Walker is affirming through hia circular. Here, again, if Lieut.-Colonel Walker wants to seek redress through the Law Courts he has no right to ask me to disclose my defence in this Chamber. I leave it at that, with the additional information that very shortly Mr. Rodgers, who is acting as Assistant Minister for the War Service Homes Department, and who with considerable industry is addressing himself to several sections of that Department, will make a full statement of the position of affairs there.

Senator Foster - Will that statement be open to discussion when it reaches this Chamber ?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. I mention Mr. Rodgers, because although I am still Minister for Repatriation, and he is acting as my assistant, honorable senators know enough of these two Departments to understand that no one man can . throw himself wholeheartedly into either of them without neglecting the other. 'Some division of the work was therefore necessary. Mr. Rodgers will shortly have all the material brought into regular order, which will enable him to make in another place - and in substance the same statement will be made here - a statement informing Parliament exactly how the various matters stand. That statement will be open to discussion in this and another place. When it is made, I can assure honorable senators that it will not be open to the criticism of being wanting in fulness or frankness.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee:

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Validation of acts of James Walker in capacity of War Service Homes Commissioner).

SenatorFOSTER (Tasmania) [3.25].- In consequ.ence of what Senator Millen has said, I take it that I and others are passing this measure for the purpose of validating the work . that has been done, without in any way expressing any opinion as to the merits of the appointment or dismissal of Lieut. -Colonel Walker.

Senator Keating - Without prejudice.

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