Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 25 September 1941

Senator ASHLEY (New South Wales) . - I participate in this debate at the request of certain officials associated with the mining industry, and shall be brief in my references to this public scandal. The first that I heard of the rumours and disclosures of which the Parliament heard yesterday was on my arrival in Canberra on Wednesday of last week, when I was informed that certain confidential documents had been handed to Mr. Curtin, the Leader of the Labour party in the House of Representatives, and that copies were in the possession of other persons. As the result of some inquiries which I have made I am. convinced that this matter would never have been made public had it not been for the intrigue between the United Australia party and the United Country party during the last twelve months in an endeavour to "jockey" Mr. Menzies out of the Prime Ministership. This afternoon the Minister for Information (Senator Foll), in a frenzy of patriotism, exclaimed, "What will our soldiers overseas think of what is occurring?"

Did it occur to the supporters of the Government that, only a few weeks ago a meeting of members of the "United Australia party was held at Canberra with the object of bringing about unity in the ranks of government supporters and that, at that meeting, the ultimate decision was arrived at that Mr. Menzies was to be " jockeyed " out of his position ? During the debate in the House of Representatives it was admitted that, when the matter now under discussion was first introduced, the Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) suggested that other organizations, religious bodies and individuals received moneys from the secret fund. Even the Prime Minister admitted yesterday that he bacl been informed that religious bodies were concerned in this matter. The honorable gentleman went ou to say that he had been misinformed, and stated definitely that no funds had been paid to any religious body. That fact in itself suggests that if the Prime Minister, the head of the Commonwealth Government had been wrongly informed on this matter, is it not just as likely that a ' mistake has been made in regard to the alleged payments to Mr. Nelson? I have known Mr. Nelson for over 25 years. In my business dealings with htm I have always found him a.n honest man, with the courage of his convictions,' and one who was never afraid to express them either by the written word or on the public platform. The document which is the subject of the debate this afternoon not. only blackens and besmirches the character of Mr. Nelson, but also makes suspect the executive officers of various mining organizations and trade unions right throughout Australia. I shall not be entirely satisfied with the appointment of a royal commission for the purpose of sifting this matter to the bottom. I am afraid that much of the incriminating evidence will have already been destroyed even before the terms of reference of the royal commission are announced. Why has not the other document referred to by the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives been produced? So far we have heard only rumours as to its contents. I have been informed that it contains, amongst other things, a copy of a cable- gram that was sent to the former Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) when he was in England by the then Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden), complaining that there was general dissatisfaction in Australia on account of the exploitation by the monopolies operating Australian war industries. I want to know whether that is correct. I have been informed, further, that a check was made upon telephone conversations which Mr. Winkler, the officer who first brought this matter to the notice of Mr. Curtin, had with certain persons in Melbourne, and that the check revealed that he had a telephone conversation with Mr. Ricketson, a partner in the firm of J. B. Were and Son, stockbrokers, of Melbourne, a firm of which the ex-Prime Minister was once a director.

Senator Cooper - Is that anything against him?

Senator ASHLEY - I do not say that it is. Winkler used the telephone in the office of the Minister for Defence Coordination (Mr. Menzies) to converse with Mr. Ricketson, a member of that firm. Is it a fact that, during the course of that conversation, Winkler said that he had interviewed certain individuals and had conveyed their views to "R.G."? I want to know who "R.G." is. I may be wrong if I suspect that " R.G." is, in fact, the former Prime Minister. These are matters I want to have cleared up. Ever since this scandal was brought to the light of day, the Government, has attempted, to throw a blanket on it. It was not until after this matter had been ventilated in. both Houses of the Parliament that the Prime Minister decided to appoint a royal commission to inquire into it. As I have said, I am not satisfied that a royal commission will ascertain all the facts. The value of a royal commission's report depends upon the personnel of the commission. If the right persons are appointed to act as a royal commission, I shall be quite satisfied, but I fear that the Government will appoint an individual as a single commissioner who will look after its interests and try to smother up this matter as the Government has endeavoured to do ever since it was brought to the notice of the Parliament. During the course of his speech, reference was made by the

Minister for Information, to two members who left the Labour party. They will be able to speak for themselves and explain to the satisfaction of the Minister why they deserted their former colleagues. The Minister, however, failed to refer to the comments made by some of the party supporting the Government, particularly to the charge that the former Prime Minister had been lynched politically at the party meeting at which it was decided that he should be disposed.. After the dressing-down which the Minister for Information got. in this chamber a few weeks ago from Senator Crawford, it ill becomes the honorable gentleman to refer to parties or individuals in this chamber. Never before have I known a Minister to be more humiliated than he was on that occasion. I trust that when the royal commission is appointed it will inquire fully into the matter and that another statement to which I have referred will see the light of day. Only in that way will the trade union officials and others concerned in these allegations get the justice they deserve. The- miners ask for the fullest inquiry. Dealing with the attitude of the members of the Miners Federation in regard to this matter, the following paragraphs appeared in. the press: -

Rank and file members of thu Miners Federation would demand the truth on " secret fund " charges, " no matter where it leads ". The secretary of the Western .'District of the Federation said this to-day. Allegations that bribes had been paid from a secret federal fund to miners' leaders required immediate investigation, he declared.

The Federal Government could expect serious trouble on all coal-fields if it made any attempt to hide the full truth.

That expresses in general terms the views held by miners all over the Commonwealth. For the sake of honest administration I trust that the royal commission will disclose that there has been some degree of justification for the excuses which the 'Government has made.

Suggest corrections