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Thursday, 25 May 1939

Mr ROSEVEAR (Dalley) .- This is a most remarkable clause in a most remarkable bill. I have yet to learn that the bill is necessary.' As a matter of fact the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) admitted yesterday that it was merely a courtesy measure. That statement, if it means anything, would indicate that the bill has been introduced as an apology for a grave departure from general governmental policy. The Government, which has had a. complete monopoly of the manufacture of munitions, desires to depart very radically from that policy, and, in order to give some superficial importance to the event, has brought forward a measure the machinery clause of which is the one we are now discussing. This clause is the alpha and omega of the bill, yet a careful study of it discloses that, although the Government proposes to take' unto itself powers which it already possesses, it contains the saving grace from the point of view of the Government that the whole of the powers that it proposes to take are subject to direction from the GovernorGeneral, which in effect is direction from itself to itself. I have not yet heard any honorable gentleman opposite claim for instance that paragraph a is necessary. Paragraph a reads: -

The provision or supply of munitions.

The Government is manufacturing munitions, and it could increase the supply of munitions to any extent that it desired. This bill is not necessary to give the Government that power. Paragraph b reads : - _

The manufacture or assembly of aircraft or parts thereof by the Commonwealth or any authority of the Commonwealth.

Does any honorable gentleman suggest that the Government has not already the power to manufacture or assemble aircraft ? Paragraph c reads : -

Arrangements for the establishment or extension of industries for purposes of defence.

Can anybody argue that the Government has not that power already? The establishment or extension of industries for the purposes of defence is a natural corollary to increased defence activities, and it could be achieved without this bill. Paragraph d reads -

The acquisition, maintenance and disposal of stocks of goods in connexion with defence.

Can anybody argue that the Government has not already the power to do that? Paragraph e contains the only power which I suspect that the Government lacks. It reads : -

Arrangements for ascertaining costs and for the control and limitation of profits in relation to the production of munitions.

I do not know that the Government has the power to do that at the moment, except through the customary system of tenders. If the Government invites tenders for' the supply of any material connected with the defence requirements of this country, it can reject the tender of any manufacturer who, in its opinion, is making undue profits. Thus, whilst I have some doubt concerning the existence of legislative power to ascertain costs and to limit profits, I at least know that the Government may reject the tender of any firm suspected of profiteering. Consequently, I believe that it is not necessary to make the provision contained in paragraph e.

Paragraph / provides for -

The arrangement or co-ordination of -

(i)   surveys of Australian industrial, capacity and the preparation of plans to ensure the effective operation of Australian industry in time of war; and

(ii)   the investigation and development of Australian sources of supply of goods, which, in the opinion of the GovernorGeneral, are necessary for the economic security of the Commonwealth in time of war.

The Commonwealth already possesses census powers, under which it undoubtedly has the right not only to inquire into the personal affairs of the people of the Commonwealth, but also closely to scrutinize any business which in its opinion may be necessary in wartime. Therefore, I consider that the provision in subparagraph (i) is unnecessary. I further believe that the Government already has the power to make whatever survey it desires of the Australian sources of supplies which, in the opinion of the Governor-General, are necessary for the economic security of the Commonwealth in time of war.

That disposes of all of the provisions in sub-clause 1, which sets out the powers that the Government desires to obtain under, this legislation. I consider, therefore, that the bill is not necessary, and that it has been introduced probably as a medium for the dissemination of the war propaganda in which the Government has been indulging for two or three years.

Let us assume, for the moment, that the Government has none of these powers. The bill will provide them, but why should the exercise of them be conditional upon a determination by the Governor-General - who, of course, acts on the advice of the Cabinet? Subclause 1 provides that the matters referred to in paragraphs a to / shall be administered " subject to the directions of the Governor-General." Consequently, the operation of these provisions is contingent upon such a direction being given.

The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) yesterday submitted an amendment, which he subsequently withdrew 'in favour of an amendment by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall), which proposes to limit to 6 per cent, the rate of profit to be made on the manufacture of munitions. I do not know whether these honorable gentlemen seriously believe that the amendment would have any effect. I am inclined to think that they are indulging in the playful pastime of pulling their own legs ; because I do not think it is. possible for the Government or for any accountant to determine what is a fair rate of profit, or to decide whether any of. the firms which have Government contracts are making 2 per cent., 3 per cent., 4 per cent., 5 per cent., or 6 per cent. We have had placed before us illuminating information in regard to the marketing of copper, which, in itself, ought to be ah indication to honorable members of the impossibility of discovering what is a fair rate of profit in the manufacture of munitions. Copper is produced in Australia. The average person would think that the price charged to the Government for munitions purposes would be a figure represented by the cost of mining, smelting and purifying the . product, plus a reasonable percentage of profit to the employer. Yet we discover that the Australian price is entirely artificial, being based on the ruling price in London, which includes the cost of transport from Australia to England, plus the cost of exchange, which at the moment is 25 per cent.

The CHAIRMAN - Orderly The honorable member's time has expired.

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