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Wednesday, 29 June 1938

Mr STREET - I think we have agreement now on major matters of policy. We all agree on the need for defending Australia; it is for the experts to work out the details. The Leader of the Opposition is entitled to be consulted in regard to this matter, and nothing but good can come from the adoption of my suggestion.

The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) mentioned the need for storing petrol against an emergency. There is no doubt that if supplies of petrol from overseas were cut off. we should in a short time find ourselves in a serious position. The honorable member suggested that the Government should compel the major oil companies to store a prescribed quantity of petrol, or, at any rate, that it should seek their co-operation for this purpose. I remind him that in Japan, the Government tried to force the oil companies to maintain six months' supply, but, up to the present, it has not been successful, and I imagine that the Japanese Government would be somewhat more harsh in its methods than any government in Australia would be. We have certain alternatives, such as the production of power alcohol from sugar or grain. We may also use producer gas, and we may manufacture petrol from coal or shale. All. these methods, however, would take time to develop, and if supplies from outside were suddenly cut off, the Government would be faced with the problem of rationing available supplies of petrol, and of deciding how much should be made available to primary industries, how much for military purposes, and how much for other essential services. Those details should be worked out carefully. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports said that we should seek the co-operation of technical staffs, but I believe that that is being done now. The Government has co-opted a panel of leading business men, and there is every possibility that the trade union council will afford full co-operation.

The honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) expressed the opinion that the portfolio of defence entailed too much work for one Minister. He suggested that two Ministers should be appointed, one to control the navy, the air force and civil aviation, and the other to control land forces. He said that there should be two secretariats, one under the control of each Minister. However, if that were done, we should then need a third secretariat, and a third Minister, to coordinate the activities of the other two, and before we were finished it would be necessary for the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to elevate to ministerial rank almost every honorable member on this side of the House. I am sure that the present Minister for Defence (Mr. Thorby) would quickly notify the Prime Minister if he felt that he was unable to cope with the work of his department. Admittedly, the work is heavy, but I have detected no signs that the Minister is falling down on the job.

The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) urged that more rapid progress should be made with the installation of rural automatic telephone exchanges. I know that the PostmasterGeneral,Senator A. J. McLachlan, is pushing on with this work fairly quickly, as it seems to him, but, in the opinion of the people in the country, progress is very slow, indeed. A portion of the large surplus accumulated annually by the Postal Department might well be devoted to the provision of this great boon in outlying districts. One reason advanced against such installations is that they are asked for in localities which have no supply of electricity, but, when Senator Gibson was PostmasterGeneral, an automatic exchange was supplied to a town situated several miles distant from an electric supply main, the current being conveyed to the exchange by means of a pair of ordinary telephone wires.

Some time ago we were informed that a committee would be set up to investigate the conditions obtaining in nonofficial post offices. Repeated questions asked in this chamber have drawn from the Postmaster-General the admission that the report has been presented, but has not been fully considered by the Cabinet. We understand that certain recommendations made with a viewto effecting improvements are to become operative from the 1st July next, and it is time that this Parliament was informed regarding the contents of the report. I hope that the Postmaster-General will release the report before the Parliament rises for the recess.

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