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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr HARRISON (Wentworth) (11:53 AM) . - I notice that, in the Supplementary Estimates, no mention is made of the Department of War Organization of Industry. Therefore, I take this opportunity to ventilate what seems to me to be an extraordinary action taken by the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) in regard to the answering of questions by -honorable members in this chamber. This practice, if persisted in, will have the effect of withholding from the public information of great importance. In fact, I regard it as of such importance, that I suggest that, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) should instruct his Ministers that, when questions are asked in the House, the replies should be given in the House so that they may he recorded in IIHansard. On the 2nd June - a day on which Parliament was sitting, so that the Minister cannot excuse bis action on the ground that he could not give his reply in the House - I received the following letter from the Minister for War Organization of Industry: -

On the 20th Kay, 1942, you asked in Parliament -

1.   Will the Minister for War Organization nf Industry inform the House of the identity of the individual stated to be one of his economists, who gave the interview in Melbourne to the Sydney Daily Telegraph concerning clothes rationing, which was published in that newspaper on Monday last?

2.   Upon whose authority did this unnamed economist act in giving this interview, and upon what information did he base his statement that the department suspected that shops had not really sold their quotas?

3.   In view of this statement and others concerning rationing, made by persons associated with his department, will he indicate to the House upon whom the public can rely for authentic information regarding the position? [ here interpose that the replies given at that time and published in Ilansard were - 1 and 2. I am having inquiries made regarding the alleged interview by the Sydney Daily Telegraph, and will advise the honorable member of the result as early as possible.

3.   Official announcements regarding rationing will be made by or on behalf of the responsible Minister.

The promised replies to the first and second parts of my question were not, however, given in the House, but were contained in the letter to which I have just referred. In it the Minister said -

1.   find in regard to question I, that a representative of the Daily Telegraph had interviews with certain departmental officers regarding current matters, and apparently published the article as a result of these interviews. I do not think any good purpose would be served by furnishing the names of the officers who were interviewed, but it is clear that the statement is not entirely a correct version of the discussions.

With regard to question 2, the officer* who were interviewed acted upon the authority of their responsible officers, but I am informed that no representative of my department made the statement that " the department suspected that shops had not nearly sold their quotas ".

I suggest that the Minister is not entitled to cover up replies to questions asked in the House. Mine was not an isolated experience because, on the day upon which the Minister answered a part of my question in the House, the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) asked what were the names, ages and previous occupations of members of the staff of the Department of War Organization of Industry at the head office in Sydney, and he asked a further question regarding the exemption of those persons from military service. The honorable member for Dalley has since told the House of the Minister's amazing reply. The Minister stated that he did not think it desirable that the details asked for should be made public, but he would be pleased to make the information available to the honorable member personally. Why was it not desirable that this information should be made public ? Why all the secrecy ? Surely the Minister does not suggest that a reply to the question asked by myself and the honorable member for Dalley would reveal to the world close military secrets! If Ministers fail to make their replies publicly in the House, honorable members will be inclined to look upon them with a certain amount of suspicion. Questions are asked by honorable members in this House in the public interest, and it should not be forgotten that the Department of War Organization of Industry is maintained out of public funds. If the Minister has nothing to hide, he should not take action which has the effect of preventing his replies to questions from appearing in Ilansard. I ask that answers to questions be given publicly in the House in the usual way so that they may be included in Mansard, instead of being sent to honorable members privately.

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