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Thursday, 19 March 1931

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- I desire to comment briefly upon certain replies given to questions asked this afternoon by Senator Glasgow. The honor able senator asked the Minister representing the Treasurer -

1.   What was the total amount of money borrowed by the Commonwealth Government during the three years 1920-27, 1927-28, and 1928- 29 - (a) on behalf of the Commonwealth; (&) on behalf of the States?

2.   How much of this was, in each case - (a) new money; (b) renewals?

3.   What was the amount of Commonwealth indebtedness paid off during the abovementioned period from - (a) sinking fund; (6) other sources?

The replies given by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Barnes) were as follow: - 1. (a) £114,376,557; (b) £ 75,840,87 1.

These amounts do not include moneys totalling £30,354,251 raised by the States in 1928- 29 by means of counter sales of Commonwealth Securities. 2. (a) Commonwealth, £24,329,957: States, £50,687,037; (b) Commonwealth. £90,046,600: States, £25,153,834. 3. (a) £15,926,478; (b) £4,075,401, representing payments to Great Britain in reduction of Australia's war indebtedness, which were made directly from revenue.

The replies completely bear out statements made repeatedly by members of the party with which I am associated.

Senator Daly - Why not leave this matter until we are discussing Supply?

Senator PAYNE - No; I shall deal with it now. I wish to read an extract from a statement made over the air on 14th inst. by the Treasurer (Mr. Theodore), when speaking in Brisbane. The Treasurer said -

The Bruce-Page Government had been wantonly extravagant with , wasteful expenditure and reckless exploitation of the overseas money market. In the last three years of its office that Government had raised from London and New York £129,000,000 of loan money, which resulted in the consequences Australia was suffering from to-day, and which left an empty Treasury.

I enter my emphatic protest against the audacity of the Treasurer in making such a statement. He must have known that it was absolutely incorrect. The allegation . that the present condition of Australia is due to extravagant borrowing during the last three years by the Bruce-Page Government is absolutely without foundation. The answers given by the Leader of the Senate to-day showed that the total amount of new money borrowed by the Commonwealth for its own purposes during those three years was £24,329,957, while the amount of Commonwealth indebtedness paid off during the same period from the sinking fund amounted to £15,926,478, so that the total net increase in the Commonwealth debt, allowing for the sum of £4,075,401, repayment to Great Britain in reduction of war indebtedness, was less than £4,500,000, and not £129,000,000, as stated by the Treasurer in Brisbane a few nights ago. This matter is so serious that the true position should receive the greatest publicity. I say without hesitation that any member of a government who makes a statement which, on the face of it, is absolutely false, should be held up to the reprobation of the people of Australia. I do not wish to use extravagant language, but I must confess that my blood almost boils when I hear misleading statements made and repeated for the sole purpose of discrediting a ministry whose one desire was to reduce the burden on the people of Australia. The Bruce-Page Government so far succeeded in its mission that even the present Ministry admits that it paid into the national debt sinking fund £14,000,000 in excess of the statutory requirements.

Senator Hoare - By how much did the Bruce-Page Government increase the debt abroad ?

Senator PAYNE - I have just told the honorable senator. The net increase was £4,328,078- not £129,000,000, as stated by the Treasurer. I do not mind fair criticism of members of the Administration which I supported, but I strongly resent falsehoods being uttered time aftertime, in an endeavour to cast ignominy upon that Administration. I have directed the attention of the Senate to the complete admission by the Government that the statement made by the Treasurer in Brisbane on the date mentioned is without foundation.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE (Western Australia) [8.46]. - To-day I asked certain questions regarding an appointment to the position of Director of Mines in Northern Australia. I have very great diffidence at any time in commenting upon the appointment of one officer over another in the Public Service; but public servants in North Australia are in a very different position from those in the Public Service generally. I have a knowledge of the officers involved in this matter, and feel that the appointment has no merit whatever. My reason for bringing the subject before the Senate is that I feel that a grave injustice has been done to a very deserving officer. For some years Mr. Playford was at the head of the Mines Department in Northern Australia: He retired from that office a month or two ago. Serving under him was an officer named Bell. As honorable senators are aware I was for some years Minister for Home Affairs, aud, during that period, I obtained a somewhat extensive personal knowledge of the officers in that department and their qualifications. In the Lands Department in Northern Australia there was an officer named Worgan, who is 62 years of age, and just about eligible for retirement. Mr. Worgan has no knowledge of mining; the whole of his experience has been in the Lands Department. I am aware that there are at least two reports in existence of an investigation into the Public Service of Northern Australia, and in .both the references to Mr. Worgan were, to say the least of them, most unsatisfactory. On the other hand, the work of Mr. Bell has been most highly commended. He is a younger man, a good officer and has had quite a brilliant career. He obtained diplomas in mining aud other subjects at the Adelaide School of Mines, and during practically the whole of the time he has been in the Commonwealth Public Service he has worked in that branch. When I was Minister controlling the Northern Territory, Mr. Bell always acted for Mr. Playford when he was on leave, and it was never suggested that any one else should act in his place. One of the reports to which I refer was prepared by Mr. Hicks of the Department of Home Affairs, and would, I am sure, have resulted in Mr. Worgan's retirement but for one reason. Mr. Worgan was one of the officers taken over from the State of South Australia at the inception of federation. Honorable senators will remember that there was a law suit a year or two ago involving the rights of certain officers of the Commonwealth transferred from the South Australian Service, and it was held that they could not be retired until they had reached the age of 70 years. I cannot recall all the facts of the case, but at any rate it was felt that for various reasons the Commonwealth could not dispense with the services of those officers. I am quite sure that any one who studies the respective merits of Mr. Bell and Mr. Worgan will decide that the more suitable person to place in charge of mining in the Northern Territory was Mr. Bell. Instead of receiving the appointment of Director of Mines, however, he had to make room for Mr. Worgan, who was brought from the Lands Department to fill that position. When the North Australia Commission was appointed, its members would not take Mr. Worgan into its employ. There must have been good reason for that. I suggest that this is not the way in which to encourage officers to become efficient or to reward them for efficient service.

Senator Sir Hal Colebatch - What is Mr. Bell's age?

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - He is 51 years of age and is in perfect health. I am sure that if the opinion of those interested in mining in North Australia were sought they would have no hesitation in saying who of these two persons is better suited for the position, f do not think the Minister could have been fully informed of the facts when the appointment was made. It is because these people are so distant from the Central Administration that I bring the matter before the Senate, and, even now, with some diffidence. I ask the Minister if even now the appointment cannot be reconsidered, because I think a good officer has been penalized after having equipped himself to render good service in this capacity to the Commonwealth. With a knowledge of the work and qualifications of the other man, I should say that he is not qualified for the position of Director of Mines, and that he has been appointed to that office solely because no other place can be found for him. I regret very much that this has been done, and can only think that the Minister had not the whole of the facts before him at the time, the selection was made. I suggest to the honorable gentleman that he should examine the file and see whether even at this late hour justice cannot be done to Mr. Bell. Mr. Worgan has practically reached the retiring age. If Northern Australia is to be developed, men who are approaching the retiring age should not be placed in responsible positions merely to find jobs for them. We need men who can carry out their work efficiently. In answer to my question as to the qualifications of Mr. Worgan, the Minister said this afternoon that he had once acted as a warden when the warden was away. Mr. Bell, who has acted as warden, and also as the Director of Mines in Mr. Playford's absence, was actively associated with mining in Western Australia. Although that is the State which I assist to represent in the Senate, he was not known to me in Western Australia, and I am not taking up his case on that account. As I have said, he has been associated with mining for a number of years and possesses high credentials from the Adelaide School of Mines, where he obtained diplomas in mining and metallurgy, the courses taking three years and embracing the subjects of chemistry, physics, mathematics, assaying, metallurgy, mineralogy, geology, fitting and turning, machine designing, surveying and other subjects. After leaving the Adelaide School of Mines he went to Western Australia where for eight years he worked upon various mines in different capacities, mostly as an assayer, including four years in charge of the Gwalia Consolidated Battery and Cyanide Plant at Wiluna. At that time he also gained a second class engineer's certificate. He then went to the Northern Territory, where for three years he was manager of a tin mine. Thereafter he entered the Government service, and at times performed duties associated with the position of Director of Mines. I have never heard anything but the highest praise of his work. On the other hand, if the Minister will refer to the files he will find adverse reports concerning Mr. Worgan's work even in the Lands Department.

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