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Wednesday, 8 May 1957

Mr BEALE (Parramatta) (Minister for Supply and Minister for Defence Production) . - I listened with great interest to the statements of the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull). He was kind enough to mention to me earlier in the day that he would raise this matter. I want to commend him for doing so.

Mr Ward - Oh! A Dorothy Dixer!

Mr BEALE - This is not, of course, an answer to a question without notice. I want to commend the honorable member for Mallee for having notified me that he intended to raise the matter. I want to say to honorable members on both sides of the House that it is a pity that that procedure is not followed more frequently, because it gives Ministers an opportunity to make sure that they are in the House when the matter is raised and to be in a position to answer the points put by honorable members. I would suggest that the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) consider adopting that method, because he would thereby gain more information when he raises matters during the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the House.

Mr Ward - What are you paid for? You should be here anyway.

Mr BEALE - Anyhow, I am here; and I am here to answer this matter. It is true that this sale took place. It is true that, as the honorable member for Mallee has said, after certain blankets were offered in two small lots, blankets were offered again in one lot with the stipulation that the highest bidder have first preference on the number taken, but one buyer took the lot. Something like 400 or 500 lots were being offered at Mildura in a one-day sale. It has to be a one-day sale for convenience, because people come long distances and cannot hang around for too long.

Mr Pearce - There are not enough good pubs in Mildura.

Mr BEALE - On behalf of Mildura I repudiate that suggestion. I know that there are some admirable public houses in Mildura. The proceeds of the sale amounted to about £20,000. It was quite a substantial sale. I appreciate the observations of the honorable member for Mallee who, because of his profession, is very knowledgable in these matters. As everybody knows, he is an experienced and skilled auctioneer.

Mr WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why did he not get the job?

Mr BEALE - It is a pity that he did not. I think he should have got it. What he says about the methods of dealing with this matter is entitled to be treated with great respect. But when I have outlined what happened I am sure that the honorable member for Mallee will be the first to agree that there was certainly no bad faith in this transaction. What was done by the auctioneers was done with the best of intentions, and I think quite fairly.

The real trouble arose because the Department of Supply endeavoured to do a kind and reasonable thing for local organizations. It was asked to supply a certain number of blankets to pensioners and to the local councils at a very much reduced price, and it agreed to do so. Prior to the sale, the local shire council requested the sale to it, by private treaty, of certain items of equipment, including blankets, which it desired to obtain on behalf of nine different organizations, including one providing homes for the aged, the Returned Servicemen's League, churches, Legacy, welfare centres and other charitable organizations in need of assistance. Included in the items sold to the shire council were 1,500 blankets, which it offered to purchase at 10s. each. That was far below their value.

Mr Turnbull - I referred to that.

Mr BEALE - I know, and I agree with what the honorable member said. This was done because the policy of the department is to help that sort of organization. Of course, the word got about and, naturally, the good citizens of Mildura smacked their lips, rubbed their hands and went tr> the sale, thinking that they would get some blankets for 10s. each. Everything else went off well - the furniture and the machinery. There were no complaints about the rest of the sale, and good prices, were paid. The citizens of Mildura went to the sale, as citizens always go to auctions sales expecting roaring bargains.

Mr Ward - Did anybody put a ticket on the Minister?

Mr BEALE - I do not reckon that I would reach the reserve price at any time. No objection was raised about any of the other items. There were no particularly good bargains. In fact, the taxpayers of Australia did well. Coming to the blankets, 8,000 of them were offered at the sale, which was conducted by local auctioneers, under instructions. They offered lots in quantities which would meet the requirements of small buyers, as the honorable member for Mallee has said. But that can be done only within limits. You cannot offer 8,000 blankets one at a time, so they were offered in lots of ten. The first lot of ten blankets brought something like 27s. each.

Mr Turnbull - Who bought those?

Mr BEALE - I do not know, but I will try to find out and let the honorable member know privately. I do not have that information now. Another lot was offered, and the highest price was 25s. each. The enthusiasm was beginning to cool. In both cases, only one bidder appeared to be interested. The auctioneer warned the public that after that the blankets would be offered with an option to the highest bidder to take the lot if he wished. Nevertheless, the only bids obtained were, first, 27s. and, secondly, 25s. each. Next, following the warning that was given, the blankets were put up in a lot of ten, and there was a bid of £1 each, but then the stipulation operated. I do not know where the buyer came from, but the next thing that happened was that he bought the whole of the remainder of the blankets, whereupon there was a great cry from the hearts of the citizens of Mildura, who, no doubt, thought they would get blankets cheaply. Well, they did not get them.

We followed the invariable procedure of offering first in small lots and, after a warning, offering in a small lot with an option to the buyer to take them all. We would have been there for a week or two if we had kept on offering them in the small lots.

I have examined this matter. I do not suggest that the sale could not have been conducted in some other way. I am not prepared to say that the way in which it was conducted was the best way. I think it was a fair way, and I am quite satisfied, from my examination of the matter, that the sale was conducted completely in good faith. I am sure that that is really what the honorable member for Mallee wants to know. As to who bought the blankets, I will let the honorable member know when I find out.

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