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Thursday, 25 October 1956

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I propose to direct attention to a most serious matter - the prevalence of rackets in a number of Commonwealth departments, and the failure of the Government to do anything of a tangible nature about them. To indicate to the House what I have in mind, I propose to deal with a case involving a firm of builders known as Cody and Willis, and I shall relate certain happenings in the transactions of that firm with the Commonwealth Department of Works. 1 raised this matter as long ago as 6th April, 1954, when I provided the then Minister for Works (Mr. Kent Hughes), with a statutory declaration from a former employee of the firm, who had directed attention to a number of defalcations and questionable practices indulged in by the firm in carrying out government contracts. ( have with me a letter dated 9th April, 1 954, in which the then Minister for Works thanked me for bringing that matter to his notice and for supplying him with a statutory declaration. 1 was given an assurance then that the matter would receive prompt attention. That was over two and a half years ago. Let me trace the matter through. On 19th April, 1954, 1 was advised by the Minister that the scope of the investigation had been considerably widened in order to ascertain all the facts. The Minister stated -

The investigations will be most extensive and I will not be able to obtain a full report on this mailer for some time.

I accepted that from the Minister because 1 wanted the matter to be thoroughly investigated. I waited patiently. On 15th November, 1954, I received a further letter from the Minister, in which he said -

The investigations have now been completed and the reports have been received by the Government. Consideration is now being given to the reports and I will advise you as to the result of this consideration as soon as it can be made public.

Again I waited. Then the Minister went overseas. Therefore, I directed an inquiry to the acting Minister, and subsequently I received a reply from the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Minister for the Interior, as follows: -

I have received your letter of 14th January, 1955, asking for information about inquiries that have been. instituted into the affairs of the firm of Cody & Willis Pty. Ltd., Glebe, New South Wales.

In the absence of the Minister overseas, 1 am writing to let you know that inquiries are continuing-

I had been advised some months previously that inquiries had been completed! The letter continued - and it is expected that action shall be taken In the near future.

A further letter on this subject will be written to you as early as possible. 1 waited patiently for the further letter and, having made another inquiry of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, I was informed on 4th March, 1955, that the Minister would be back in Australia on 8th March and that my letter would be shown to him then. Again I wailed and, after reading that the Minister had arrived in Australia, I sent him an urgent wire in which I said -

When may I expect further advice re inquiries instituted into activities Cody & Willis Ply. Ltd.?

The Minister replied -

Returned yesterday and immediately asked Attorney-General's Department for report as matter still in their hands.

I waited for some time, and then sent another urgent wire to the Minister -

When may I expect further advice re case of Cody & Willis Pty. Ltd.

I received this reply -

Still awaiting advice from Attorney-General's Department on case of Sydney building firm.

On 18th April, 1955, the Minister advised me by letter as follows: - as yet it has not been possible to decide whether proceedings will be instituted against the firm. The Commonwealth Investigation Service has made three lengthy reports after investigations of a most complex and detailed nature. The stage has now been reached where the Investigation Service has been supplied with a detailed list of some fifty particular matters which are thought to require investigation before final consideration can be given to the institution of proceedings.

I have been assured that investigations have not been interrupted, and that every effort is being made to reach some conclusion in this matter.

Though I wrote to the Minister on 20th June, 1955, and then sent six urgent wires seeking information I received no reply and I was obliged to write to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) drawing attention to the fact that the Minister was apparently refusing to give me any information whatever. Upon being pressed in this way, the Minister replied on 5th July, 1955, in these terms -

Investigations have been completed-

J had been advised in 1954 that they had been completed, but evidently they had not - and the report of the investigators is at present with counsel.

Counsel have asked for a schedule which will involve eight weeks work by people in the Attorney-General's Department, despite the fact that staff engaged on this work has been doubled.

I have checked your statement that the firm has received further Government contracts and I have found that the firm has not been given any work by the Department of Works since September, 1953.

I am continually pressing for this matter to be brought to a head and as I have said to you in the past, I will write to you when some decisive action is about to be taken.

Again I waited. On 8th August, 1955, I received this communication -

In confirmation of my telephone message of this morning, I desire to advise you that I have just received information from the Solicitor-General that charges were laid on the5th August against Messrs. Cody and Morrison and the Company.

The return date for the charges is 16th August, but it is expected that Shand Q.C. (for defendants) will be granted an adjournment.

Thirty-five charges have been laid, as follows: -

(a)   One charge of conspiracy in respect of the claims under the " rise and fall " clause;

(b)   Two charges under the Crimes Act, section 29B (untrue representation) in respect of the fire;

(c)   Three charges under section 29B regarding the total claims in respect of hours worked by all employees (" rise and fall" clause);

(d)   Twenty-nine charges under section 29B in respect of individual wage sheets. (" rise and fall " clause).

I am sorry this matter has been so long delayed, but the inquiry was a very long and complicated investigation. I am now, as promised, taking the first opportunity of advising you of the information I have received from the Attorney-General's Department.

Again I waited. On 23rd March, 1956,

I was informed as follows: -

The committal proceedings in respect of the conspiracy charge against Cody and Willis and others were concluded on the 8th March, 1956. The defendants were committed to stand trial at the Quarter Sessions on the conspiracy charge, bail of £200 each being allowed to Cody and Morrison, and £10 to the company and it is anticipated that the case will be heard in September or October next.

There are five other charges yet to be heard, including that of a fire, and it is understood that the fire charge may be heard in September, 1956. However, it is not proposed to proceed with the remaining charges pending the further hearing of the conspiracy charge.

Time does not permit me to tell the whole story and I shall pass now to the latest information, which I received from the Minister for Works (Mr. Fairhall) on 16th October. The Minister wrote -

I refer to your further letter of 11th September, 1956, regarding the proceedings preferred against Messsrs. Cody and Morrison and the firm of Cody and Willis, under Section 29b and 86 of the Crimes Act. The hearing of the conspiracy charges, set down for September or October of this year, has now been deferred and the latest advice received indicates that they will now be heard early in 1957.

As you are aware, the hearing of the fire charges will not be proceeded with until the conspiracy charges have been finalized.

These incidents occurred in 1951, and it has taken the Government five years to reach the present unsatisfactory position.


Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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