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Thursday, 13 October 1927

Senator KINGSMILL (Western Australia) . - I move -

That the report of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts on the Commonwealth Government shipping activities, including Cockatoo Island Dockyard, presented to the Senate on 28th September, 1927, be printed.

In the first place I should like to explain that this course is somewhat unusual, although it is not in any way improper. As . a mater of fact, I was actuated in taking it by the knowledge that the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) had promised in another place to give honorable members of that chamber an opportunity to discuss the report and I thought it was only fair that the Senate which, in this respect at all events, enjoys equal rights with another place, should have a similar opportunity to consider it. The remarks which I have to make at this juncture will be somewhat formal ; but I have no doubt that, as the debate proceeds, the appearance of formality will disappear altogether and that when I exercise, as I intend to do, my right to reply, I shall be called uponto offer some explanation concerning the various comments that will he made upon the report by honorable senators. It is, I think, a very important report. It deals with what has been, for some years one of the most keenly criticized branches of the Commonwealth Government's activities. The committee has endeavoured to make the report as selfexplanatory as possible. It is couched in simple language. The opinions which have been expressed by members are set out very definitely. That being so, it only remains for honorable senators, in the ensuing debate, to place on record their opinions upon the conclusions of the committee. Honorable senators will see that the report is not one-sided. That is to say in addition to the report of the majority of the committee, there is a report also from the minority. This, in itself, will probably give rise to some discussion. The* committee has not been hurried over the preparation of its report. Therefore there is no need for me to apologize for, so much as to explain the delay which has occurred. The inquiry was begun in May, 1926, and it was continued without interruption until August of the same year. Then an urgent matter was placed before the committee by the Government, which asked it to conduct an enquiry into the Pacific Islands shipping routes. That work occupied members for about six months. The committee then resumed its inquiry into the Commonwealth's shipping activities and the reports was ready foi- presentation, as honorable senators will no doubt have heard, when Parliament was opened in Canberra on the 9th of May last. I have no desire to refer to the circumstances which led to the postponement of the presentation, or suppression of the report at that stage. Let me state, however, that the delay up to that stage, was beneficial to the committee, in that it afforded members an opportunity to watch the operations of the line almost intimately for about twelve months, and to see to what extent the prognostications of its officials were correct or otherwise. That undoubtedly was a great advantage because it enabled the committee to obtain a better insight into the workings of the line than would have been possible in other circumstances. Although there is a considerable difference of opinion expressed in the two reports which are now presented to the Senate, I should like to make it clear that the proceedings of the committee were marked by an almost unusual degree of calmness and that members gave careful attention to the evidence which was placed before them. That evidence was given by witnesses in an extremely satisfactory manner. There never was difficulty with any of them. I think I attended every meeting of the committee and for the last few months of the enquiry, was its chairman. I am, therefore, in a position to testify both as to the frankness and willingness of the witnesses which enabled the committee to give its reasons for its findings and also to the industry of its members, who took a keen interest in the preparation of the reports which are now before honorable senators. When the. opportunity is afforded me J shall be prepared to. give such explanations as may lie in my power to any re marks which honorable senators maT make upon the report. If unable to satisfy them, I hope, at all events, to show them that, so far as the majority of the committee is concerned, it had justification - or what may be taken as justification - for expressing the opinions it has in the report we are now considering.

Debate (on motion by Senator Needham) adjourned.

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