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Thursday, 8 December 1960

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) . - The purpose of this bill is to extend the period of office of Sir William Hudson as Commissioner of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority for three years. Otherwise he would retire on reaching the age of 65 next April. The Snowy project is at a vital stage, with the Snowy-Murray diversion, which is, indeed, the second major phase of the Snowy scheme, about to be begun. As the leader of the skilled team which he has assembled from all over the world to carry out this scheme, Sir William has his finger on the pulse of every phase of its operations and his personal influence is immense. He is certainly an exceptional man, and in the exceptional circumstances the Opposition supports the extension of his term. In my opinion, to lose him at this stage would be a calamity. As parliamentary representative of the Snowy Mountains region I have heard many expressions of approval of the proposal to continue Sir William as commissioner since it was first announced a month ago, and it is notable that not one word of objection has reached me from any section of my electorate.

Sir WilliamHudson is a great Australian.

Mr Chaney - Does he live in the honorable member's electorate?

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. I speak as one who has clashed with him on various matters in my capacity as representative of the Snowy Mountain Authority's employees. We have disagreed vigorously with some of the actions and policies of the authority. We have not always had our viewpoint accepted, but the commissioner's door has always been open to me; he has been willing to go fully into every case, and on many occasions by his personal efforts a grievance has been removed, an injustice righted, or a hardship ameliorated. Certainly, I have not always got my own way with him. Far from it. But every man is entitled to be wrong sometimes. What 1 am describing is Sir William's readiness to give every one a fair go, and his extraordinary capacity to handle the most diverse and detailed problems. I often wonder that he does not find it necessary to delegate more of his duties to those around him.

The Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick), in his second-reading speech, detailed the spectacular progress which has been achieved since the Chifley Government inaugurated the scheme, and in August, 1949 appointed Sir William Hudson to conduct it. The Attorney-General also set out the chief features of the authority's future construction programme, involving an expenditure of close on £100,000,000 in the next six or seven years. In doing so he described the world-wide search for staff required to investigate, design and construct one of the largest individual civil engineering undertakings ever attempted. At the same time he pointed to the marked success with which the authority has built up such a highly skilled and experienced technical team which has established a world-wide reputation for enterprise and achievement.

Mr. Speaker,it is to that aspect which I now propose to turn, because, just as the departure of Sir William at this stage would be a calamity, so would the breaking up of the unique organization which functions under his leadership. Indeed, in considering the extension for some years of the commissioner's term, this House has to take account of the need also to maintain the professional staff working under his control. It is of no use to re-appoint the commissioner unless we ensure that he has adequate professional staff to work with him and under his direction. This is a most urgent need, because the authority is at present losing a number of highly qualified engineers - men mostly in the 30 to 45 years age group - and it is certainly going to lose many more of these professional men unless some reasonable assurance can be given to them of their long-term prospect of employment with the Commonwealth. As it is, lacking this assurance, and being bound to look to the future for themselves and their families, they are accepting much more profitable offers from big private companies, and the rate at which such skilled professional men are leaving the authority has become most disturbing.

The explanation is simple enough. At the present rate of progress, the major works of the Snowy Mountains scheme will be completed in another fifteen years. While a peak effort will be required in the five years now beginning, from then onwards some engineers will become superfluous. In five years' time, particularly, men engaged on investigation and developmental works will become superfluous to the authority's requirements, and that state of redundancy will then gradually extend to other sections of the authority.

It is well known to all those who are interested in the authority that its work is already being adversely affected by the resignations of skilled staff.

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