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Thursday, 25 September 1958


Mr WHEELER (Mitchell) .- I do not think that the defence of the Public Accounts Committee and the statement of its virtues and worthwhile functions should be left to its members. I, as a private member, rally to the defence of this committee as a committee that has functioned well and has given considerable value to the Parliament. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), in his eagerness to criticize the Government and a committee that was appointed by this Government, has somewhat overplayed his hand. We there see the division in the Opposition ranks. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition critic/zed the report, but the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) quite reasonably rallied to the support of the committee. I notice that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) remains silent. He was a very valued member of the committee for some time, but for reasons best known to himself he retired from it. However, if we were to ask him what he felt about the committee, I am sure that he would unhesitatingly reply that it is a very worthy and worthwhile committee.

The existence of this committee establishes the worth of the present Government. From time to time, the committee's reports have revealed matters of discussion that could have been of some embarrassment to the Government, and it says much for the Government that it has still encouraged the committee to function.


Mr Howson - That sort of thing would not suit the Australian Labour party.


Mr WHEELER - No, and that is the point. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, apparently, has made his observations on false premises, because he hopes, naturally enough, that some day - if it ever comes, it will be only in the distant future - he may unite the divided forces of the Australian Labour party and lead them onto the government benches after he has been called upon to form a government. Obviously, he does not want open inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee to bring the light of day to bear on any government that he may lead. He does not want the administration of any government that he may lead to be open to public scrutiny.

The honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) complains about the complement of the committee. I think it is fair enough, having regard to numbers on both sides of the Parliament. Of a committee of ten members, four come from the ranks of Opposition members both here and in another place. I think that is right.


Mr Bland - Yes.


Mr WHEELER - The honorable member for Warringah confirms that. What more do Opposition members want? They have four members out of ten, or 40 per cent. The vice-chairman of the committee is the honorable member for Port Adelaide, who has already spoken in its defence. So I think the argument advanced by the honorable member for East Sydney falls to the ground.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition questions the value of the committee's reports. I should say that the value of the reports rests entirely in the capacity of the private individual to read what he can out of them and to make some value of them. If trie Deputy Leader of the Opposition has not that capacity, let him talk to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, who has, and he will see where the value of these reports lies. I think that they are of considerable value. I should say that the report on the Postmaster-General's Department is one of the most worth while that the committee has made for a considerable time. Any one who is not satisfied with the administration of that department will find a great deal of substance in that report.

I am indebted to the members of the Public Accounts Committee for the manner in which they have discharged their duties, quite frequently at personal loss to themselves. This is a joint parliamentary committee that has functioned well in the past, and, despite the remarks made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, I think that the greater the support that this Parliament can give to the committee, the greater will be the value of the committee's work and of its services to the community. I wish to place it on record that I am indebted to the committee for the reports that it has made from time to time, and I hope that it will continue to function, even without the support of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.







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