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Tuesday, 22 September 1942

Mr ABBOTT (New England) . - I draw attention to two matters affecting the Department of the Interior. The first concerns delay in making payments to small country shopkeepers for material taken from them on orders by departmental officers and for work done by tradesmen. I am continually receiving complaints from constituents about inordinate delays in such matters, and I believe that my experience is no different from that of other honorable members.

Mr Lazzarini - Do these payments relate to contracts?

Mr ABBOTT - Sometimes, but I am referring to the seizure of goods and the employment of tradesmen, such as plumbers and tinsmiths. The delays often extend for months. I recollect a case in which a country tinsmith had £680 owing to him by the Department of the Interior. Similar delays occur in the Department of the Army. In fact, the trouble seems to be prevalent in all Government departments. Whilst I realize that the rapid expansion of various departments has increased administrative difficulties and caused delay in settling accounts it is time that those vigorous Ministers, including the Minister for the Interior (Senator Collings), whom the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) praised so lavishly, took action to expedite payments.

Last night the honorable member for Dalley bitterly attacked the Allied Works Council. In fact, he has never ceased to assail and vent his spleen upon it since the present Government created it. On a previous occasion I was amazed to hear the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) attack the organization so fiercely that the Prime Minister wa3 obliged to rise and defend it. The astonishing feature is that last evening Ministers sat in a silence deeper than the silence of Dean Maitland, while this shattering and devastating criticism was hurled at the organization.

Mr Morgan - The Minister for the Interior defended it in the Senate.

Mr ABBOTT - I expected that a Minister would defend it in this chamber.

Mr Drakeford - The Prime Minister defended it.

Mr ABBOTT - His was a lone voice in a wilderness of silence. The Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) and the mortar-board Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) sat in profound silence. Perhaps the actions of the Allied Works Council call for some criticism. Any organization so hastily created as it was, and working at feverish pace, will undoubtedly make some mistakes. But no Minister saw fit to mention that, in a few months, the Allied Works Council has constructed in northern Queensland aerodromes which played no mean part in the defeat of the Japanese in the battle of the Coral Sea, and it has strengthened the two " Burma roads " of Australia, thus enabling our forces to exist in the Northern. Territory. I was shocked to hear the organization trounced while Ministers made no effort to defend it, and listened in humble silence to the atrocious statements directed against it.

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