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Wednesday, 26 March 1941

Senator FRASER (Western Australia) . - The motion moved by Senator Ashley has served a good purpose. Unlike Senator Herbert Hays, I think that at times it is good to have criticism, provided that criticism be constructive. I commend Senator Ashley for the trouble he has taken to bring such valuable information before the Senate. In time of war united people such as we are in Australia have no time for those who stoop to underhand methods or take advantage of the war position, whether they be contractors or workers. T know that the Government has had many difficulties to overcome, and no doubt, at times, very stiff problems have been encountered, but that does not mean that there should be no criticism of its activities.

I recall an occasion when Senator Cunningham, Senator Clothier and myself made an endeavour on behalf of Western Australia to bring under the notice of the Government the position of the unemployed in that State. At that time it was stated that because of the geogra'phical position of Western Australia, and because of the industrial laws and higher arbitration court awards in that State, the costs of production exceeded those in the more populous States, and consequently Western Australia could not compete. However, this afternoon the Minister for Supply and Development (Senator McBride), and the figures quoted by Senator Ashley, indicated quite clearly that previous statements made in regard to tender prices were incorrect. It is apparent that the Contracts Board does not necessarily accept the lowest tender. I remember Senator Cunningham asking certain questions concerning the industrial laws of Western Australia, and suggesting that, in allocating contracts, consideration should be given to those laws. I think that the Minister concerned promised that that would be done. Whatever the Minister may say about using all available machines to their fullest capacity, there are idle plants in Western Australia. Having received some contracts for the supply of clothing, certain concerns in Western Australia expanded their plant to cope with the orders. No more orders have been forthcoming and the firms have been left practically high and dry with over-capitalized organizations. To my knowledge, there are about 200 operatives and machinists out of work and walking the streets in Western Australia. That, of course, is in addition to the 6,000 parttime workers provided for by the State Government out of loan money. That is the position in Western Australia. I suggest that the dearth of defence orders in Western Australia has not been owing to the high prices submitted by tenderers in that State, as the Minister said some months ago.

Senator Collett - What sort of machinists are out of work?

Senator FRASER - They are girl machinists and clothing trade operatives. In placing orders for defence equipment the Contracts Board should take into consideration the fact that Western Australia receives a very small share of war expenditure. The Minister admitted this afternoon that although definite allocations of defence expenditure were made it did not necessarily follow that the amount allocated for any particular State would be expended in that State. For instance, £1,500,000 was allocated to Western Australia for defence purposes, but all of that money has not been expended there, because some of the material on which that £1,500,000 was to be expended was manufactured in the eastern States.

Senator Collett - Is not that inevitable in the case of raw material?

Senator FRASER - Yes, but that condition also obtains in respect of the manufacture of that raw material. In one instance of which I heard, the quality of the material submitted by a Western Australian firm was superior to that of the contractor who was subsequently given the order. One firm in Perth tendered for 10,000 pairs of khaki drill trousers for the Permanent Forces. One order was placed with the Rivel Manufacturing Company of Victoria, the price being £5 16s. a dozen pairs. An order for 4,000 pairs was placed with Ryzman and Brooks, of Victoria, at £5 16s. 8d. a dozen pairs. The Western Australian firm quoted £5 16s. a dozen pairs but did not receive an order. Such matters are liable to create a very unfavorable impression. From investigations which I have made I have ascertained that in some instances when tenders have been called, and before a tenderer has quoted a price he has investigated the position with regard to the purchase of the necessary raw material should he obtain a contract. After the tenders closed he was notified that there was a certain quantity of material available. I am certain from my investigations that everything is not square and above board. On reliable authority I am informed that it is common practice in New South Wales and Victoria for certain persons to approach'a manufacturer who has little work on hand and advise him that they can obtain a contract for him, and if he has not sufficient money available they will finance him on their terms. That practice should not be tolerated. The Minister for Supply and Development informed the Senate that the people of Australia must be prepared to make an additional sacrifice by allowing defence needs to have priority over civil requirements.

If that is so, I want the sacrifice to be borne equally. That is not the case now. Steel manufacturers in Western Australia are confronted with many difficulties. If those senators who advocated three years ago the fullest development by the Government of the iron-ore deposits at Yampi Sound had succeeded, Australia would be able now to supply not only her own iron ore requirements but also those of neighbouring countries.

Senator Collett -Australia is not short of iron ore.

SenatorFRASER.- No. But it is short of steel. If proper action had been taken by the Government to develop our iron ore deposits the importation of steel would not now be necessary. Iron ore is the basis of our national economy and the Government should not delay in the development of the iron ore resources of Western Australia. The responsibility of that development should not be left to the huge companywhich has now complete control of the situation. Manufacturers in Western Australia claim that they are. not receiving sufficient raw materials to keep their industries operating.

Senator Herbert Hays - The Government has not delayed the expansion of the iron ore industry in Western Australia.

SenatorFRASER. - The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited should not be allowed to hold a monopoly in the development of our iron ore resources. Even at this stage it would pay the Government to develop the iron ore resources of Western Australia. Decentralization of our great industrial fields must become a reality.

Senator Collett - Despite the views of interests in New South Wales?

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