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Wednesday, 17 May 1939

Mr Perkins s. - On the 10th May, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) asked the following questions, upon notice: -

1.   Will immediate action be taken to instruct Mr. Lionel Hill to proceed to Darwin to set up a local tribunal, take evidence on the spot and deliver, as chairman, determinations comparable with those he delivers at Canberra?

2.   Does Mr. Hill make determinations covering all workmen, and women, including hotel employees, in Canberra?

3.   What is the basic wage for workmen in (a) Canberra, (b) Darwin, and (c) Alice Springs ?

4.   What was the commodity cost of living index figure used by Mr. Hill in his recent, determinations in Canberra?

5.   What are the present index figures for the towns of Darwin and Alice Springs and on what regimen are they based?

6.   What index figure was used by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in its recent determination of the basic wage in the Northern Territory ?

7.   Was it based on information gathered in 1916?

8.   Will the Minister explain why a few months after the Commonwealth Arbitration Court made the last award the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner was permitted to invite a section only of the workers to Port Augusta and grant a section increases, thereby accentuating the position of those not under his jurisdiction ?

9.   When does the Minister intend to commence a workers' homes scheme in Darwin and Alice Springs and intervening towns, similar to that of Queensland and New South Wales?

10.   Will immediate action be taken to finance such a scheme through the Commonwealth Bank, now well established in Darwin?

11.   Will he provide a plan of Darwin indicating all land that has been resumed for naval and military purposes?

12.   Will the position of the civic centre and the proposed site of the new government offices be indicated?

The Minister for the Interior has now supplied the following information: -

1.   It is not proposed to send Mr. Lionel Hill to Darwin.

2.   The Industrial Board of which Mr. Lionel Hill is chairman has jurisdiction to hear and determine all matters relating to wages and conditions of employment in the Australian Capital Territory. 3. (a) Canberra, £4 13s. 0d.; (b) Darwin, £4 13s. 9d.; (c) Alice Springs, £4 7s., £4 9s. from 1st June, 1939.

4.   Commonwealth Statistician's "All Houses" index ("A" series) retail price index numbers - cost of food, groceries and housing (all houses) for Canberra.


6.   The basic wage of £4 10s. 9d. a week fixed by the Arbitration Court on 13th November, 1934, was related to the food and groceries index number group 1178 to 1190.

In the judgment covering the Court's determination of the basic wage (1st August, 1938) it was stated that the index number did not disclose an increase of the cost of living. The court, however, increased the rate by3s. a day in view of increases (prosperity loadings) granted generally in the Commonwealth service.

7.   The court in its judgment was influenced by the local regimen adopted in 1910 brought up to date as regards prices.

8.   Employees of all sections of the Commonwealth railways engaged in the Northern Territorywere represented at the conference.

9.   This matter is still under consideration.

10.   See reply to No. 9.

11.   A plan will be made available to the honorable member at the departmental offices.

12.   Yes.

Confidential Information.

Mr Menzies s. - On the 10th May the honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan) asked, without notice, whether information similar to that made available confidentially by the late Mr. Lyons to the Conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers on the 31st March would be furnished to members of the Commonwealth Parliament.

I have ascertained that, on the occasion mentioned by the honorable member, Mr. Lyons spoke from notes with regard to the information then in the possession of the Government relative to international relationships. No report. was taken of Mr. Lyons' remarks.

As the honorable member is aware, the statement made to this House by the honorable the Minister for External Affairs on the 9 th May contained an up-to-date review of the international situation.

The Government appreciates the desirability of keeping Parliament fully informed as to' the progress of international affairs, and will ensure that this is done.

Liquid Fuels.

Mr Casey y. - On the 11-th May, the honorable members for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) and Hunter (Mr. James) asked me certain questions regarding the production of oil from coal. I am now in a position to inform the honorable members that I have received an interim report from the chairman of the Standing Committee on Liquid Fuels, Mr. P. C. Holmes Hunt, dealing with the production of motor spirit from Yallourn lignite. A scheme in this connexion was submitted by a German company known as Ruhrchemie A.G., Oberhausen-Holten, through the Agent-General for Victoria. The chairman of the Committee on Liquid Fuels states, inter alia, as follows: -

I am to off or the observation that the figures presented by Ruhrchemie A.G., OberhausenHolten, are not in sufficient detail to admit of any real check on the cost of additional items of plant, so that without more detail it is not possible for your committee to make any critical pronouncement upon them.

Accepting the figures as they stand, and making an appropriate adjustment in respect of the moisture content of the lignite, the price of petrol ex Yallourn would amount to about 13d. per gallon. This figure should be compared with the cost of imported petrol, excluding customs duty, of 5d. per gallon at capital cities, and with the estimated price of petrol from shale set down as 10. Id. per gallon in tank waggons at Sydney.

The report of the Agent-General does not make it clear whether the cost of the plant is estimated for erection in Germany or in Australia. If the latter, then more information is needed as to allowances for freight, customs duty, &c. It i3 admitted that the scheme is based on the cost of plant in accordance with German conditions, and translation to Australian conditions may mean further increase of the price of the product. In any case, this price is about three times that of imported petrol, which means that the cost to Australia of developing this industry, with an annual output of 18.000,000 gallons, would be not less than £750,000 per annum.

It is understood that the industry would provide direct employment for 000 men, so that, looked at as an employment medium, it would be very costly indeed, amounting to £1.250 a man per annum.

The cost of overground storage of imported petrol, allowing for all capital charges and for the purchase of petrol, is estimated to be not more than 8d. per gallon.

The committee is obtaining additional information in connexion with this proposal, and will furnish a further report on the matter.

In connexion with the production of oil -from coal generally, the Standing Committee on Liquid Fuels has reported as follows: -

In the case of the all important question of oil from coal, indications are that there has been substantially no economic improvement since Sir David Rivett reported in November, 1930, and since the Hydrogenation Committee appointed to inquire into the question of establishing a plant in Australia reported in June. 1937. In both those reports, the opinion was expressed that the capital costs of plants capable of producing 45,000,000 gallons of petrol per annum (the economic unit) by hydrogenation of black and brown coals were £A.11,000,000 and £A,12,000,000, respectively. It will bc recalled, also, that in the former case the estimated cost of production, allowing a return of 0 per cent, on capital and 10 per cent, amortization, was 17.3d. per gallon, and in the case of brown coal 18.1 2d. per gallon. On the more favorable assumption of 3.5 per cent, on capital and amortization in fifteen years, these figures were 13.Sd. and 14.4d. per gallon, respectively. These figures of capital and working costs indicate the economic difficulty confronting the production of oil from coal by hydrogenation in Australia.

For an expenditure of £12.000,000 overground storage could be provided and filled with petrol amounting to about 360,000,000 gallons - a year's supply at the present rate of consumption.

Moreover, from the point of view of vulnerability, storage could be spread and located , in a number of places, whereas a large hydrogenation plant must be a concentrated unit. It would offer a conspicuous target for hostile aircraft, and if damaged could not be readily replaced.

In the opinion of your committee, the production of oil from coal by low temperature carbonization is unattractive. The quantities of petrol likely to be derived by this process are small, while without greater density of population no sufficient market can be found for the prime product of the process - smokeless fuel - to admit of large scale operations.

Agricultural "Distilleries.

Mr Casey - On the 11th May, the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. McHugh) drew my attention to the position of the wheat and dried fruits industries, and asked whether I would inquire into the possibility of establishing alcohol distilleries to treat the products of those industries. I am now in a position to inform the honorable member, in extension of my reply, without notice, that the Commonwealth Standing Committee on Liquid Fuels has expressed the opinion that molasses is undoubtedly the most economical raw material for the manufacture of power alcohol, but, even in the ease of molasses, tlie cost of the spirit is nearly four times the cost of imported petrol. Taking the value of power alcohol at 12d. a gallon, the price that could be paid by the distillery for wheat required for its manufacture would be approximately 12d. a bushel, while that which it could pay for barley and maize would l>e something less than 12d. a bushel, making due allowance for by-products. At 12d. a gallon the distillery would not be able to pay anything for raw material in the form of fresh and dried grapes in the volume in which they would probably be available, as the whole of that amount would be taken up in processing. In the light of this information, the Government is of opinion that the distillation of grains and grapes is unattractive as a method of producing power alcohol.

Buffel GRAss

Mr Casey y. - On the 10th May, the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) asked whether arrangements could be made for the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to make a study of a grass known as "Buff el" grass. I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that the council has had this grass under investigation for some time, as well as another grass suitable for arid regions known as " Birdwood " grass. According to an article by Di. E:- P. Phillips in South African Grasses, Buffel grass is one of the most drought-resistant grasses, but is affected by frost. It makes a very fine hay, and, under dry land conditions, gives 4 to 5 tons per acre per cutting, and may be cut twice or three times a year. The hay is much liked by stock, but the grass is not very palatable in the green state.

The council has no facilities for carrying out special studies of this grass at Alice Springs, but it is possible that Mr. H. K. C. Mair, an ex-officer of the council who is Superintendent of Agriculture in the Northern Territory, will be able to do this. It is understood that he has some seed of both Buffel and Birdwood grasses, and this could be supplemented by the council if necessary. I shall discuss the matter with my colleague the Minister for the Interior.

Non-official Post Offices.

Mr Harrison - On the 10th May, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) asked the following question, upon notice: -

What is the standard', relative to revenue, required from a non-official post office having savings hank facilities, selling stamps and postal notes, and receiving telegrams, to warrant money order facilities being granted?

I am now in a position to furnish the honorable member with the following answer to his inquiry : -

In considering the provision of money order facilities at non-official post offices, regard is had to the extent of the sales of postal notes, particularly those of the larger denominations, the distance from the nearest existing money order office, the nature of the industries in the locality, and the number of money orders likely to bc issued and paid.

Naval Building Programme.

Mr Street t. - On the 11th May, ths honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) asked the following question, without notice: -

Is the Minister for Defence yet in a position to inform the House when the extended naval programme at Cockatoo Island Dockyard is likely to be commenced, and whether a statement made by the general manager of that establishment, who has just returned from England, to the effect that 2,000 additional men -are to be 'employed, means that 2,000 men over and above the existing staff will be engaged ?

I am now in a position to inform the honorable member that I have been in communication with the general manager of the Cockatoo Island Dockyard as promised, and am informed that before the end of this month a second boom defence vessel will be laid down at Cockatoo Island. After H.M.A.S. Parramatta is launched on the 10th June, the first " Tribal " class destroyer will be laid down. A month ago the employees at Cockatoo Island numbered about 1,450, and to-day 1,600 men are employed. In about two months hence it is estimated that the number will reach 2,000. In addition, there will be a great increase in the amount of work sub-let by Cockatoo Island Dockyard to outside firms.

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