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Thursday, 25 May 1939


Mr McEWEN (Indi) .- I' express my keen disappointment that the Government has not seen fit to introduce into the bill a definite provision with regard to the control and limitation of profits, and that the Ministers who have spoken on behalf of the Government have equally failed to convey to the committee how the clause now under discussion will be administered. As a matter of fact, I think that every explanation attempted by the Minister has left the committee with less confidence in the eventual mode of administration. The arrangement which the Government apparently proposes to make in connexion with the price of copper, which was dealt with by the committee in detail proves on examination to be entirely unsatisfactory. If the general authority to be given to the Government for the control of profits is to be administered in the same way as the price of copper has been determined, I should say that the purpose which the Parliament has in mind in thus helping the Government will be wasted. The products of the greatest industries of Australia are constantly realized on by the producers - I am referring particularly to the primary producers - on the 'basis of export parity; that is, the price prevailing in the great market centres of the world, less all costs incidental to the transportation and sale of the products there. For instance, the wool-growers sell their' products in Australia at London parity, which means the London price, less tall costs incidental to the transportation of the goods to London and the sale of them there.


Mr Holt - -Plus exchange.


Mr McEWEN - That, of course, goes without saying.


Mr Holt - That may be, but that is theonly itemas far as copper is concerned.


Mr McEWEN - That is not so. I should be disappointed if the Assistant Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Holt) found difficulty in appreciating the fact that there is a very great difference. For comparison let us take a typical item such as wool. The wool-grower realizes as a net price for his product, the price ruling in London, less all costs incidental to transporting his goods there, insuring and selling them. Therefore, he receives something considerably less than the actual London price. Apparently, the Government intends to pay the Australian producer of the copper to be used in its munitions factories, not the London parity but the London price. If that producer were to sell his product in London, he would receive the London price less, of course, all the costs incidental to transportation and realization; but, if he were to sell the copper tothe Commonwealth Government, under the terms explained to this committee,he would receive more than the amount he would be paid if he exported his product to London, because he would get the London net price. Before the termination of this debate, the Government should indicate to honorable members that this state of affairs will not bo permitted to continue, not only in regard to copper,but also in regard to other products. I should like to receive an assurance that the price to he paid by the Government for any raw material produced in Australia will not be more than London parity, or the export parity. It seems to me absolutely unthinkable that the Commonwealth Government should be prepared to pay for copper or any other raw material used in the manufacture of munitions, actually more than the producer could secure by selling his product in the markets of the world. I do not want to labour this point, but if it may be taken as an example, then only very unsatisfactory administration may be expected from the new Department of Supply and Development.

In my second-reading speech I said that we would not expect a provision such as clause 5 to be embodied in an act. It is neither more nor less than a statement of policy, the proper place for which is the hustings. It is expected that when a policy is translated into a bill for submission to Parliament it will be reduced to concrete terms - something that honorable members may understand, criticize, and pass judgment upon. The very nature of this debate demonstrates that the expression of policy embodied in the bill is something that cannot be explained, even by the Government, to this committee. The intention of the bill, as at present drafted, is something that cannot be understood by honorable members. I submit that it should not be left to private members to endeavour, by means of amendments, to carry out the task of drafting legislation. That is the function of the Government.


Mr Ward - The honorable member will no doubt vote against the bill.


Mr McEWEN - I shall indicate my intentions in that regard later. It is for the Government itself, and not for private members, to translate policy into concrete terms which may be embodied in legislation. I appreciate the force of the arguments used against the amendments moved by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) and the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), and that foreshadowed by the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson). It is not to be expected that a private member, left to his own resources, could submit an amendment making watertight a proposal in connexion with which the Government itself has been in default. I think that is very understandable. In preparing legislation a government has behind it vast resources, and the assistance of legal and technical advisers. Even at this late stage, the Government should face its reponsibility in the matter. Before the committee is called upon to vote on this clause, it should either introduce into the bill a provision more acceptable to honorable members, or, alternatively, it should give a clearer exposition, through the medium of a responsible Minister, as to how this policy is to be administered. By indicating its acceptance of the amendment foreshadowed by the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) the Government has already gone so far as to meet, in part, the wishes of some honorable members. In my opinion that amendment is entirely valueless. Paragraphs a to f enumerate the total possible functions of the new department. I consider that the passing of this measure would not automatically authorize the department to administer all of these matters, but that it would be necessary for the Governor-General, under the terms of sub-clause 1, to direct that each or any of these matters should come within the scope of the department. Therefore it seems that, while the passing of this measure would authorize the new department to arrange, for instance, for the manufacture of aircraft, it would not be automatically authorized to proceed with the manufacture of aircraft. Before that could he done it would first be necessary for the Governor-General, according to the provisions of sub-clause 1, to give a direction that the manufacture of aircraft should be one of the matters with which the department concern itself. I draw attention to the fact that the opening words of clause 5 are- -

Subject to the directions of the GovernorGeneral, and to the next succeeding sub-section, the matters to be administered, by the department shall be matters relating to . . .

I therefore believe that if the GovernorGeneral were to refrain from proclaiming the manufacture of aircraft to be one of the matters to be administered by the Department of Supply and Development, that work could not be undertaken.

As to the amendment to be moved by the Acting Leader of the Opposition, subclause 2 merely provides a limiting authority. It indicates that, whilst the Governor-General may, in- the terms of sub-clause 1, determine that the control of .profits shall be one of the functions of the new department, he may also, according to the terms of sub-clause 2, negative the previous decision or impose some limit upon it. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the authority of sub-clause 2 will not be used to negative a prior decision. The point that concerns me is that the wishes of the Acting Leader of the Opposition are not really met by the amendment which he has circulated. I believe that even if that amendment were carried the GovernorGeneral could, if he so desired, refrain under the authority of sub-clause 1 from determining that any particular matter should be a. matter to be administered by the Department of Supply and Development. It seems to me therefore that .an explanation of this particular point is called for from the Minister in charge of the bill.


Mr Paterson - The Minister has already given one explanation.


Mr McEWEN - That is so, but I submit that that explanation did not cover the point that I have taken. I think that I have raised this matter for the first time, and I ask the Acting Leader of the Opposition to direct his attention to it. I should like an assurance from the Minister for Supply and Developmentonly after he has had an opportunity to consult his legal advisers - that my fears in this regard are groundless. Alternatively, I suggest that the Minister himself might submit an amendment which would meet the point I have raised. Such an amendment should make it quite clear that it would not be possible for the Governor-General to circumvent a decision of Parliament, by refraining from proclaiming any particular matter" to be one of the functions to be administered by the department.







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