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Thursday, 11 April 1946

Mr SPEAKER - It is not in order for a member to revive a previous debate. I have not yet learned whether the Minister is referring to the debate that has just taken place or to other criticism of the appointment. If the Minister will tell me, I shall be able to know how to rule.

Mr WARD - I propose to answer earlier criticism of the appointment of Mr. Wilson.

Mr SPEAKER - That will be in order.

Mr WARD - In doing so, I intend to give reasons why the Government considers the appointment appropriate. Sir Charles Rosenthal, former Administrator of Norfolk Island, was granted several extensions of his term in order that I, as Minister for External Territories, and the Government, . should have the opportunity to examine the field of those available for appointment. After considering the field, we determined that Mr. Wilson was most suitable for the position, first, because of his great experience as an agriculturist and, secondly, because of the ability he had shown in assisting the Government.

Mr Fadden - That is right !

Mr WARD - That is quite true. In reviewing the field, we kept in mind the various members of the Opposition who might have considered themselves qualified, but I assure them that it did not take long to make a decision on their qualifications. It seems to me that some Opposition members are, as usual, trying to use the principle of preference to returned soldiers for their own political advantage. All who protested against the appointment suggested, as men who ought to have been chosen instead of Mr. Wilson, generals, major-generals, lieutenantgenerals and brigadiers, but no one holding lower rank. So all that honorable members opposite have tried to do is to obtain good jobs for "brass hats " who evidently find it difficult from their own efforts to re-establish themselves in civil life. The fact is that this Government has appointed many returned soldiers to posts that it thought the applicants were fitted to occupy. The Opposition's protests against the appointment of Mr. Wilson will be laughed at by the people when they know the facts. When in power, they did not religiously adhere to the principle of preference to returned soldiers when making appointments to lucrative posts. For instance, the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Rankin), who attained the rank of major-general in the Commonwealth Military Forces and served overseas in World War I., was passed over in favour of thethen honorable member for Perth, Mr. Nairn, a non-soldier, when the Speakership was being filled. Other returned soldier supporters of the then Government similarly passed over included Major Marr, the then honorable member for Parkes, and the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron), a major in the Army. Sir John Latham, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, was appointed to a position in Japan. I understand that his service in the war of 1914-18 was on the legal side, and that, although he claimed some naval rank, the only vessel he ever boarded was probably a launch in Sydney Harbour. He got that diplomatic job when men who saw active service could have filled it. The honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony), who led the attack on the appointment of Mr. Wilson, is a member of a party led by a man who is not a returned soldier. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) "whom I should describe, I suppose, as the leader of the combined Opposition, because I understand that the Liberal party and the Australian Country party have an agreement for election purposes, is not a returned soldier. I recall that when he was attacked in this House by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) for not having served in World War I. he said that he had had. very sound reasons for not having gone to that war, and a man's decision whether to serve his country at home or overseas was his own concern. I agree with the right honorable gentleman that it is a matter for personal determination. But the honorable member for Richmond who protested vehemently against the appointment of Mr. Wilson on one occasion, during the course of World War II., bought a property on the north coast of New South Wales. While this country was in urgent need of butter, the honorable gentleman, who claims to have given great service to this country, sold the dairy herd on that property in order to convert it into a banana plantation, because of the greater profits in bananas than in dairying. In his constituency he is notorious as an' employer of cheap labour. I told once before in this House, and I repeat it now for the edification of those who did not hear me then, that once, as Christmas came near, he asked the wife of one of his workers where she intended to spend her Christmas holidays, which consisted of a fortnight off without pay! This is the gentleman who takes it upon himself to criticize the service given to this country by Mr. Wilson. On another occasion, he, with an air of " patriotism ", designed to fortify himself among his constituents, decided to give his parliamentary allowance to charity, but he misguidedly confided in someone that he was not making any real sacrifice because he was taxed at such a high rate that he preferred to give the money away for his own personal advantage rather than pay it back to the Treasury. Mr. Wilson tried to enlist but was rejected. He did not wear any badge to advertise to the world that he was a rejected volunteer. At the very time when his appointment was under the fire of criticism, Mr. Wilson had two sons serving in Borneo" and risking their lives in the defence of this country. They would not regard as a fitting reward for their services and their father's service the vile attacks that have been made upon him. When matters like this are raised by honorable gentlemen, they should be honest enough to place all the facts before the House and the people. . Mr. Wilson rendered fine and honorable service to this country during the difficult days of the war. He did not wear a uniform as a liaison officer between Victoria Barracks and other equally safe places in Australia, but he did notable work. That is all I need to say. The Government has nothing to apologize for over the appointment. In the short space of time in which Mr. Wilson has been administrator of Norfolk Island, he has shown outstanding ability. As time goes on the excellent choice that was made when he was appointed to the position will become more evident to the Australian people.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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