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Thursday, 11 April 1957

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - A number of matters have been raised in the course of this adjournment debate to which 1 would like to make some reference on behalf of the Government. Before turning to those matters however, I convey to members of the Opposition an expression from the Government side of the House of our concern to learn that one of their colleagues from the Senate has been taken seriously ill. I express the sincere wish on behalf of all Government party members that the honorable senator will successfully recover from his illness. If there is any opportunity to convey those wishes to the honorable senator I hope that will be done.

The honorable member for Lilley (Mr. Wight) has raised an aspect of that tragic episode in which some of our young servicemen lost their lives. I am not in a position to comment on what recognition should be given officially to the courage and public devotion, and indeed devotion to their comrades, which was shown by those who lost their lives in a rescue attempt, but I shall see that what the honorable member has said on this matter comes to the attention of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies).

The honorable member for Lalor referred, as he has on other occasions, to conditions at Williamstown hostel. I have not personally made an inspection of the hostel for some time. I did make an inspection on another occasion. Normally in these matters, because of demands on my time in other directions, I must rely very largely upon the advice which I receive from the responsible officers. However, I have on this occasion indicated to the honorable member that now that we are to have a break from the sittings of the Parliament, I shall take the opportunity to go to the hostel again. I shall be glad to have the honorable member accompany me, and, providing we can keep the party with us within reasonable dimensions, I shall be glad to see that a representative group of people comes with us. f want to refer now to one or two further aspects, because statements have been made by the honorable member for Lalor which I think will give a distorted picture if left where they stand. The honorable member has attacked the placing of a hostel on this particular site. The hostel was not placed on that site by this Government. It was constructed by a Labour government. However, I shall not go into the details of that. The fact is that the Labour government established the hostel there. A great deal of money has since been spent on it by this Government to make it very much more habitable, than it was when the Labour government used it for this purpose and if it is not currently suitable for the purpose for which it was constructed and renovated, I shall have an opportunity to see that for myself.

I   . shall not discuss the matter in great detail, but shall refer to one aspect of it. The honorable member has not only criticized the Government but also levelled his attack against the management of Commonwealth Hostels Limited. The executive head of Commonwealth Hostels Limited, and the man who, for all practical purposes, has the determination of these matters, is Mr. W. Funnell, who is a very highly respected former public servant. He was previously a senior official in the New South Wales Public Service. During the war years he was seconded to the Commonwealth Public Service and was appointed as the permanent head of the Department of Labour and National Service by the government of which the honorable gentleman was a member. When Mr. Funnell reached the retiring age, or perhaps even shortly before then, the Government, in order to have a capable and reliable senior executive to whom it could entrust the administration of this important sector of the immigration programme, appointed him as head of Commonwealth Hostels Limited. As one who has a close knowledge of the work which he and his colleagues have performed since his appointment, I say that they have done a splendid job on behalf of this Government and the country. I regret to say that this allegation by the honorable member for Lalor, and also the statements which were made later by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward), are further illustrations of the attack on public, servants which is becoming an all-too-frequent feature of Opposition criticism in this place.

Mr Pollard - I shall deal with what 1 said when the House re-assembles after Easter. The Minister cannot duck-shove it in that way. I said that it reflected the Government's policy.

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - 1 think it was the honorable member for Hindmarsh who referred to a certain employee or prospective employee - I was not able to follow, perhaps as closely as I should have, all the details of what he said - who, because of some physical disability, had not been able to obtain employment in the Public Service. I shall arrange for that matter to be investigated by the Prime Minister's Department. I was somewhat astonished to learn the substance of what the honorable member put forward, because my department administers the physically handicapped persons service. Not only does the department place physically handicapped persons in various sectors of industry throughout the Commonwealth, but in the course of my journeyings around Commonwealth departments I have seen physically handicapped persons who quite obviously were employed by those departments. As has happened in other cases, it may be that other circumstances which have not been disclosed to us to-night bear on the matter. However, I shall arrange for the matter to be investigated.

Various other matters were raised by the honorable member for East Sydney, but there will not be sufficient time for me to deal with them all. He referred to the alleged political screening of immigrants. I was the Minister for Immigration for seven years, and I deny that on any occasion I refused a person admission to this country because I felt he would not have party political sympathies with the Government of which 1 was a member. Persons have been excluded from Australia because the records showed that they had had an active association with Communist or fascist bodies. Honorable members on both sides of the House have come to me and have discussed individual cases. The honorable member for Lalor knows of one in particular - I shall not refer to it in detail - in which all the circumstances had been taken into account and a decision made which it was felt was just and reasonable. I emphatically deny that either planned discrimination, or prejudice, has operated on any occasion to exclude persons who otherwise might have been deemed to be desirable settlers in Australia.

The final matter which I shall touch upon was raised by the honorable member for East Sydney in his concluding remarks. I may require the indulgence of the House for a minute or two beyond the allotted time to deal with this matter as I wish. The honorable member referred to the fact that last night he raised in the House questions relating to the Petrovs. It is not my purpose, nor do I feel any particular obligation, to defend the personal conduct of the Petrovs in Australia; but I wish to raise certain considerations. First, 1 ask: What is the motive behind this attack by the honorable gentleman upon the Petrovs? Is it denied that Mr. Petrov was an agent of the Russian Communist Government in Australia? [Extension of time granted.] I thank the House for granting me an extension of time. I shall be as brief as I can. lt will not be denied that Mr. Petrov was a Soviet agent who was attached to the diplomatic service in Australia to engage in other activities. It will not be denied that he defected from that service and that as a result of his defection there was an inquiry into allegations that were made by him, and into a variety of matters which developed out of his defection and the evidence that he was able to give. That inquiry was conducted by three eminent and highly respected judges of the Supreme Courts of three of the States.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They were handpicked, were they not?

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Is that a serious allegation?

Mr Beale - Mr. Justice Ligertwood - chosen by Mr. Chifley - hand-picked?

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No. They had to have one good one to make it look decent.

Mr SPEAKER - Order!

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I am very sorry to hear that interjection come from the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), because it is a most offensive allegation against not only this Government but also the judges who were directly concerned.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Everybody knows that they were hand-picked.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - They were Mr. Justice Owen, Mr. Justice Philp and Mr. Justice Ligertwood.

Mr Ward Mr. Wardinterjecting,

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - The honorable member for East Sydney has no cause to be critical of the appointments.

Opposition members interjecting,

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There are too many interjections. I ask honorable members to restrain themselves.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I question whether it is in order for honorable members to reflect upon the judiciary of this country in the House. I do not think any responsible member of the Opposition - on this occasion I exclude the honorable member for Hindmarsh from that category - would reflect upon the sense of duty, probity or capacity of any one of those three men who participated in the inquiry to which I have made reference. Since the defection of this Russian agent and the examination of evidence by the commission, in accordance with the laws of this country - I do not know whether Opposition members are disposed to attack this; if they are, let them do so - the Petrovs have become naturalized. They are, therefore, full Australian citizens within the requirements of the law. I again ask: What is the motive behind this attack? Is it designed to discredit, in the interests of people outside this chamber-




Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Who is doing the smearing?

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honorable member for Hindmash will cease interjecting.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - You tried to smear the Government and the three judges.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! I ask the Minister to direct his remarks to the Chair.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - I now direct the attention of the House to the finding of the three judges in relation to the credibility of the Petrovs. It appears in the report of the Royal Commission on Espionage in the chapter, "Nature of the Evidentiary Material". I quote from page 63 under the heading of, "Credibility of the Petrovs". This reads -

During the many months of our Inquiry we have had the credibility of the Petrovs under constant scrutiny. In this regard they started with a heavy handicap: they were persons who had deserted their country and its service, and were prepared to divulge its secrets, and for this purpose Petrov had taken documents to which he had no right; both of them had become dependent for their protection and subsistence on the Government, a fact which might induce them to invent or embellish evidence to please that Government; the vicious attacks upon them by some Communists and like-minded persons in the court-room and in a section of the press might cause them in revenge to strain their evidence; they were ostensibly recent apostates from Communism, a creed in which - reputedly - a lie may be justified by the end to be served . . .

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The Minister's time has expired.

Mr Beale - May I move that the Minister be granted a further extension of time?

Mr SPEAKER - It will be necessary to suspend the Standing Orders.

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