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Wednesday, 2 April 1941

Senator FOLL (Queensland) (Minister for the Interior) . - I shall make no reference to the remarks of Senator Amour with regard to the Abbco Bread Company Proprietary Limited, because its affairs are now being investigated by a royal commission appointed by the Commonwealth Government. The honorable senator went on to refer to a contract for blue metal, which he said a military officer, whom he mentioned by name, had cancelled and who had arranged with another contractor to supply blue metal at a higher price. He then suggested that money was going into somebody's pocket. He talked about plunderers and racketeers and used words of that description. I know nothing of the circumstances of this case, and perhaps nobody except the honorable senator has heard of this matter before. However, I shall have it brought under the notice of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender), and will ask him to have the matter investigated. I suggest with all due respect to the honorable senator that before he uses the names of officers, who may be perfectly innocent of charges such as the honorable senator has mentioned, it would be only fair for him to approach first the Minister concerned in order to be sure of his facts. Then if the facts were as in accord with the complaints made to the honorable senator he would have every right to ventilate the matter in this Parliament. If he could not ascertain the facts there would be some justification for bringing the matter under the notice of the Senate, but it is hardly fair for him to pre-judge this case on statements made to him on behalf of . only one of the parties concerned. No member of this Government or of this Parliament has any desire to shield anybody who has done wrong in connexion with government contracts or work associated with the war. I can give an assurance to the Senate that, whenever possible, unscrupulous contractors will be brought to book. Although wc do not know the whole of the circumstances in this case, an officer has been virtually branded as guilty of a crime before he has had an opportunity to defend himself or before the Minister in charge of the department concerned has been able to inquire into the facts. During my term as Minister, cases have been brought under my notice by honorable senators, and, on inquiries being made, it has been found that the circumstances were entirely different from what they were represented to bc in the original complaints made to those senators. It is most unfair to give the names as has been done by Senator Amour, of officials who may be highly reputable members of the Defence forces, and are carrying out their duties faithfully and well, until the facts have been ascertained and the Minister concerned given an opportunity to make the fullest possible investigation. I assure the honorable senator that a complete investigation will he carried out in regard to this matter.

I regret that the answer supplied to Senator A. J. McLachlan was not satisfactory to the honorable senator. I shall bring his representations under the notice of the Minister for the' Army with a view to securing the information which he desires. Senator Arthur referred to the treatment of men who served in the 1914-18 conflict. In spite of criticism of our repatriation legislation, it is generally admitted that Australia's treatment of its men who fought in that war compares more than favorably with the repatriation activities of any other country. Admittedly, a few anomalies arose; but adequate and ample machinery is provided under the repatriation legislation to enable applicants for pensions to submit their cases to the Commissioner and the various tribunals. I remind the honorable senator that the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, which truly represents returned soldier opinion in this country, has repeatedly stressed the fact that our repatriation legislation is the best of its kind in the world. That association has helped to secure many of the concessions which are now rightly granted to returned men. Wo hear it said from time to time that we must ensure that men who return from the present conflict shall be treated better than those who returned from -the war of 1914-18. Such comment, which seeks to belittle our repatriation legislation, is not justified. Undoubtedly Australia's record so far as repatriation is concerned is one of which we can be very proud. Senator Arthur also complained of >the treatment meted out on the hospital ship to men who were recently invalided from theatres of war. He said that although over 100 deck chairs were available on the ship the men were not allowed to use them. He also spoke of the inconveniences which these men suffered as the result of delays in the payment of their allowances. This case is typical of those in which honorable senators should immediately submit to the Minister for the Army information which calls for an investigation.

Senator Arthur - The Minister for the Army will not see me.

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