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Thursday, 18 May 1939

Mr GREGORY (Swan) .- An incident which occurred a little while ago was reported in one newspaper as an accident and in another as a disaster. A foreigner asked a friend the difference between the terms. His friend said, " Let us assume that the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) fell down a well. That would be an accident. If he got out again it would be a disaster ".

Mr Mahoney - If I had the honorable gentleman's mentality I would never rise to speak. I object to his remarks and ask for their withdrawal.

Mr GREGORY - It was only a joke.

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! The honorable member for Swan must confine his remarks to the bill.

Mr GREGORY - Recently there has been a great deal of talk about profiteering, but very little about what creates profiteering. No party more than the Labour party, with its tariff restrictions, lias been responsible for the growth of , monopolistic enterprises which engage in profiteering. Their development is evident to everybody who studies the declaration of dividends.

I listened with great attention to the moderate speech made by the honorable member for "West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) and the speech made by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen). The speech of the honorable member for West Sydney appealed to members. Much of it dealt with the need for Government control of industries, particularly the munitions industry. I agree with him as far as the manufacture of munitions is concerned. There is no doubt that the munitions industry should be controlled by the Government. But I want that control to be solid. There should be someone in charge who would ensure that its products are of first-class excellence and are produced at a moderate cost. I well remember that whereas it was estimated in 3914 that the rifles made by the Lithgow Small Arms Factory would cost £3 9s. 6d. apiece, it was admitted subsequently in this chamber that their cost was over £12 each. The only way to get value for money is by close supervision. I am not in agreement with the honorable member when it comes to industry generally being controlled by the Government. We have had sufficient experience of government control in our railways to realize the objections to it. According to the 'best authorities, freight charges in Australia are three times greater than they are in the United States of America, despite which, in the last twelve years, our railways have lost £60,000,000. Other examples of governmental interference in industry are Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Limited and Commonwealth Oil Refineries, neither of which ventures says much for the part that the Government has played. Apart from the manufacture of munitions the wisest course is to leave industrial undertakings to private enterprise. Legislation should be passed to prevent the exploitation of the people by profiteering; but while thu Labour party demands the most extreme restriction of imports, it makes easy the work of the monopolist and the profiteer. I advocate government control of munitions, but I see no reason against the establishment of defence annexes in private establishments. They are only shadow factories and will do very little of the munitions work in time of peace, but in time of stress they will be able to come into full operation. If war took place to-morrow, the government munitions factories could not fulfil requirements. I am agreeable to the prevention of the export of munitions from. Australia in order to keep the operations of the annexes at a low ebb, but I realize the need for their existence so that they will be ready for use should the need arise.

The honorable member for West Sydney dealt at length with the necessity to start to bore for oil in Australia. I approve of every assistance being given in that direction, but believe that the work would be better done by private enterprise than by the Government. The honorable member's charge that foreign interests have done their utmost to prevent the discovery of oil in Australia is not borne out by information in my possession. One of the big oil companies in the United States of America has had expert geologists travelling through Australia, New Guinea and New Zealand in an intense effort to discover oil. The Vacuum Oil Company Proprietary Limited recently announced that it was prepared to spend huge sums of money at. Taranaki in New Zealand to locate oil.

Producer gas may compensate for the lack of indigenous petroleum. I have received many letters dealing with the use of producer gas as a fuel for motor vehicles and tractors. I suggest that the Government should give special attention to this matter and should have the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research conduct an emergency examination of the possibility of extending the use of producer gas in transport vehicles. In 1935, a producer-gas-driven motor car was driven from Rome to the coast of France and then taken to London, at a cost which was almost infinitesimal. In Western Australia particularly, and I believe, in Victoria and other States, M.d ny tractors have been converted to use producer-gas, but I do not think that the plants are working .at full capacity. I go so far as to suggest that a small bounty be given to every farmer who uses producergas .in his tractors or trucks. Then, in the event of an emergency, when little or no petrol would be available, they could be commandeered by the Government and used without fuel difficulties. From an economic point of view, in addition to that of defence, every effort should be made to encourage the production of producer-gas plants.

Another matter which has occupied my attention is the break of gauge on the railways. There is no mention of it in the bill, but as the honorable member for Indi pointed out, if anything occurred to prevent the transit of goods by water, it would be impossible, because of the lack of a uniform railway gauge, to carry on the trade and commerce of the country in peace time, let alone in time of war.

I admit the necessity df this bill in order to install the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) in his office, but I cannot understand how the Government could dare to introduce legislation which gives such immense powers to the Minister and the Executive immediately it is proclaimed. [Quorum formed.} Extraordinary powers are conferred on the Minister to use, not only in a state of emergency, but also, if the Executive should see fit, at any time. Immediately this bill becomes law the Minister shall have power to acquire, maintain and dispose of stocks of goods in connexion with defence. Those goods include all kinds of personal property, farms, crops, mineral deposits - anything that one can name.

And there is not even need for a state of emergency to be proclaimed before the Minister can take charge of them all ! Another power which is to be given to the Minister is that of arranging for the establishment or extension of industries for the purposes of defence. Almost every industry exists for the purposes of defence. The clothing industry is. necessary for defence. So also is the boot manufacturing industry. It was shown in 1920 that the whole range of industry comes within the ambit of defence needs when a huge tariff schedule was introduced in order to make Australia safe in the event of a war in the future. Another far-reaching power given to the Minister is contained in clause 6, which reads -

(1)   Where, in the opinion of the GovernorGeneral, it is necessary or desirable in the interests of the defence of the Commonwealth that information should be obtained in relation to industrial, commercial or other undertakings, or with respect to any goods, the regulations may require such persons or classes of persons, as are prescribed, to furnish, as prescribed, such information mid particulars, as are prescribed, with respect to those undertakings or goods.

The measure gives the Minister very extensive powers, including the right to acquire even personal property.

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