MR. Murphy, dairyman, had made certain complaints to the Frankston branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association to the effect that Cr Oates was interfering in his business which has since been purchased by Mr Barber.
The branch invited Mr Barber to make a written complaint, but he did not do so, and made a verbal statement, which was taken down in writing.
It was decided to acquaint Cr Oates with the nature of the complaints made, and Mr Barber was informed that he must substantiate his charges at this meeting.
Cr Oates was supplied with a copy of the complaint as follows:
(1) Using your position and knowledge, whilst a member of the Local Repatriation Committee, to obtain and canvas Mr Barber’s customers, whilst negotiations were in progress for completing the purchase of Mr Murphy’s business by Mr Barber through the Repatriation Department.
(2) Sending out circulars and business cards notifying Mr Murphy’s customers that he, Mr Murphy, had sold his business, and asking that you should be favoured with their patronage.
(3) Having entered into an agreement (verbal) with Mr Barber that the price of milk be 8½d per qt and advertising same in the local paper, you have in several instances without Mr Barber’s sanction or knowledge (at the time of serving such customers) sold milk to them at a reduced price, viz 7½d per qt.
The Chairman then read the signed statement made by Mr Barber on which the complaints were based, and in which Mr Barber also described how he got certain information from a friend in the Repatriation Department.
The Chairman – You have heard the complaints read, Mr Barber, are they correct ?
Mr Barber – Yes ! He added that he had been unable to obtain a copy of the circular sent out by Cr Oates, but had been given permission to mention that Mrs Garrood had received one.
This lady also stated that Cr Oates had waited on her before he (Mr Barber) took over from Mr Murphy and solicited her custom.
The Chairman – But we must bare proofs of your statements. If you can prove these charges against Cr Oates, we will know how to deal with him, but if not its up to you to make amends.
Mr Barber said he had no proofs.
Dr Maxwell said they could not act on a mere statement. Members of the branch were anxious to stick to a returned man, but they could not endorse Mr Barber’s’ complaints without supporting evidence.
Cr Oates thought Mrs Garrood should have been present.
They had only a mere statement.
Mr Barber – Mrs Garrood’s statement is as good as yours!
Dr Maxwell (warmly) – But she is not here! You are making fools of us!
The Chairman said that definite proof must be adduced.
Mr Barber – I have tried to get it.
The Chairman – Are you willing to withdraw?
Mr Barber – No, I will take the case to the Repatriation Department.
Mr Murphy said that when Mr Barber complained to him that Cr Oates was canvassing his customers the speaker interviewed them, and asked them to support Mr Barber, who was a returned soldier, and had paid £275 for the business.
After he had sold the business to Mr Barber, several customers stated that they had received letters and cards from Mr Oates asking for custom.
The Chairman – Was that while the sale of the business was being negotiated and in the hands of the Repatriation Committee?
Mr Murphy – I don’t know that the business was ever referred to the local Repatriation Committee.
Cr Oates claimed the right to cross examine. He said he was charged in the first place with “using his position and knowledge.”
The returned men present and the public generally expected Mr Barber to prove that allegation.
Did he (the speaker) go to returned soldiers and say “Give me your custom – I am president of the Repatriation Executive and will see that you are dealt with alright?”
The Chairman thought the meaning was that Cr Oates’ knowledge was obtained as a member of the Repatriation Committee to the detriment of Mr Barber’s business.
Cr Oates thought Mr Barber should explain.
Mr Barber – You knew that the business was for sale, and you said to my customers, “If Murphy is selling will you give me first turn.”
Cr Oates – Will you withdraw that now ?
Mr. Barber – No, I will withdraw nothing!
Cr Oates – I will let that stand over for the present.
Referring to the next charge, Cr Oates said it was complained, that he obtained and canvassed Mr Barber’s customers. He asked would Mr Barher give names?
Mr Barber – No, I refuse.
Cr Oates (excitedly) – That is no good to me. You have mentioned one lady’s name. “I don’t know her. I have never met her in my life. I am not going to put up with anymore of this business. I have been humiliated by men who have only been in the district a few weeks, and I am going to have these scandals exposed.
Cr Oates – When were these customers supposed to have been canvassed ?
Mr Barber – I can’t give the exact date, but it was sometime between 1st and 22nd April.
Cr Oates – I will give you some information. It was not until May 7th that the Frankston Repatriation Committee was advised that Mr Murphy’s business was for sale. We appointed Mr Johnson and the secretary, Mr Barrett, to value it. When they interviewed Mr Murphy on the following Wednesday, Mr Murphy told them the business was sold and that Mr Barber was taking possession on Friday.
Cr Oates, continuing, said that Mr Barber had been asked to produce a copy of the circular he, the speaker, was said to have sent out, but he had failed to do so, and for a very good reason.
He had never issued a circular, but simply distributed the ordinary business cards. (Cr Oates here produced the cards in question.)
Cr Oates, to Mr. Barber – How many customers do you say were lost from the time Mr Murphy’s started to sell his business until you took over?
Mr Barber – About half a dozen.
Cr Oates – I thought it must be 100. Did you ever say it was 40?
Mr. Barber – No.
Cr Oates said he was still waiting to hear the charge justified that he had used his position to benefit his business.
Mr Barber said he would withdraw the word position.
The Chairman said that Mr Barhad brought no proof whatever in support of any of his charges,
This branch finds that Mr Barber’s charges against Cr Oates are not proved
The Chairman, in formally conveying the decision to Cr Oates, said he was very sorry that the matter had come before the branch.
The branch was out to right the wrongs of soldiers, but complaints must be backed by evidence.
Mr Barber had brought no proofs.
Cr. Oates, in reply, said he was sure all present understood his feelings. He had been placed in a humiliating position. It was not necessary for him to detail the work he had done in the interests of the Returned Soldiers.
All he had done he had done grudgingly, and his heart was still with the returned men.
Cr Oates said he thought Mr Barber ought to apologise?
Mr Barber – I withdraw altogether, after hearing Cr Oates, and apologise for what I have done and said.
Cr Oates – I accept. (Great applause).
FROM the pages of the Mornington Standard, 16 July 1920