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Thursday, 24 September 1942

Senator ARNOLD (New South Wales) (2:40 PM) . - When I obtained leave on Friday last to continue my remarks I was pointing out the controls which the Government is exercising in order to avoid a period of inflation. However, I can visualize a period of inflation in this country which would he a nightmare to any government exercising only the limited powers now possessed by the Commonwealth, and, therefore, I am pleased that the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) indicated in his speech that the Government had foreseen such a possibility and had decided to introduce legislation providing for Constitution alterations. Honorable senators would do well to visualize the situation which will confront us whenthe war has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion. There will be possibly 500,000 or 600,000 members of the armed and ancillary forces, in addition to large numbers of workers in munitions and other war factories, whose war-time activities will have ceased. It will be necessary to revert to peace-time conditions as quickly as possible and with the least degree of disturbance. Persons in each of those groups will have at their disposal a considerable sum represented by their savings; the men in the fighting forces will have their deferred pay, whilst others who have put their money in the savings bank, or have invested it in war loan3 or in war savings certificates, will have at their command a considerable sum of money in the aggregate. The controls which the Government is now exercising under national security powers will not be exercisable twelve months after tha cessation of hostilities. I visualize a wild scramble to buy whatever goods are then available; and unless adequate checks exist, there will be a period when prices will soar. There is even the possibility of Australia undergoing a similar experience to that of Germany after the war of 1914-18. It is well that the Government, foreseeing such difficulties, proposes to provide the necessary safeguards.

The Government is acting wisely in preparing for the reconstruction period after the war. "While the war is raging desperately, so close to Australia, the dangers of the post-war period are not obvious to most people; but the risks are so great that the problems of that period should be considered now. It is understandable that, with an enemy thundering almost at our door, the thoughts and energies of the people should be directed towards the country's war effort; but I suggest that it would be fatal to allow all planning for post-war reconstruction to remain in abeyance until after the peace has been signed. We can approach the problems of the post-war peace in either of two ways: We may plan to get back to something like the situation which existed before the war, with people at work and various organizations functioning much as before; or we may plan to make the world a better place for people to live in. If we choose to plan for a better world, we should be thinking about the. matter now. During recent months the Government has given in creased attention to post-war planning. Honorable senators will recall that about twelve or eighteen months ago the Department of Labour and National Service set up an organization which has done some preliminary work in connexion with postwar planning. I suggest, however, that the present set-up of that organization is not the be3t that could be devised. It provides for an inter-departmental committee which is responsible to a subcommittee of Cabinet. The interdepartmental committee will be supplied with data by various other committees.

Senator Keane - Including the Tariff Board.

Senator ARNOLD - Yes; in its own sphere that body is doing an excellent job. I have no complaint against the committees that have been set up, but 1 fear that the inter-departmental committee will be unable to perform the task allotted to it. That committee consists of about fifteen men, most of whom are heads of various departments and are so concerned with departmental matters that they have not the time to do the co-ordinating work that is required. I believe that that committee has met only once since it was established. Moreover, the sub-committee of Cabinet is, in my opinion, not the best organization to control this important work, and therefore I suggest that the Government appoint a Minister for Reconstruction. A new portfolio could be created,, or the work could be attached to an existing portfolio. The important point is that one Minister only should foe given the responsibility of dealing with reconstruction plans. I also suggest that the interdepartmental committee, which is now coordinating the works of numerous subcommittees dealing with post-war reconstruction, should be replaced by a committee composed of three or five experts who should be employed full-time on this work. As the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) has mentioned, the Tariff Board is now giving attention to this problem. Its job is to investigate war-time industries in order to devise plans for the adjustment of those industries in our post-war economy. Those plans, however, are only part of a wider plan. Therefore, the need exists for the appointment of a small committee to co-ordinate the works of various bodies like the Tariff Board in a master plan. The Joint Committee on Social Security also recommended that we now prepare a post-war housing plan, as a means not only of absorbing unemployed but also providing the best possible housing for the people. The committee might well select standard house designs, and locations in which such houses should be constructed. It would still remain the job of the co-ordinating committee, however, to sec that such plans fit in with the general plan. The co-ordinating committee, for instance, might be handling plans for the location of different industries and the regulation of supplies of men and material for the building industry. It is only by coordinating all of these activities that we can be sure of avoiding confusion and waste.

Senator Herbert Hays - And we should adopt a policy of decentralization of industry.

Senator ARNOLD - Yes. A special body will be required to co-ordinate the plans of the housing committee and those of the committee dealing with rural reconstruction. These matters are so important that we should no longer postpone consideration of them. The Government should take them in hand immediately by appointing committees of the kind I have described. If we do not make preparations now we shall be confronted in the post-war period with disorder and internal strife. To use a hackneyed phrase, we shall be in danger of " losing the peace ".

Senator Gibson - The States will have some say in that matter. All land settlement, for instance, is controlled by the States.

Senator ARNOLD - That is the position at the moment; but if a ministry of reconstruction is set up, and it should find that the Commonwealth requires powers now held by the States in order to deal with these matters effectively, I have no doubt that the Commonwealth would be persuaded to ask the people by way of a referendum to transfer such powers to the Commonwealth.

Senator Keane - And that request would probably be granted.

Senator ARNOLD - Yes.

Senator Leckie - That is superoptimism.

Senator ARNOLD - I do not think so. I have not the slightest doubt that when the people realize that, by the independent action of six separate State governments, we will jeopardize the transfer from a war-time to a peace-time economy, and when they realize all the dangers inherent in making that transfer, and, at the same time, that success can be achieved only by one central planning authority, they will grant those requests.

Senator Cameron - They would do so to-morrow if they were given the chance.

Senator ARNOLD - That is my view. I again urge the Government to give consideration immediately to this matter, and to set up a committee of experts to co-ordinate the work of various subcommittees so that in the post-war period we shall be prepared to embark upon public works, housing and similar schemes on a co-ordinated basis, and thus ensure that our economy will not be disrupted when the war terminates.

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