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Thursday, 18 May 1939

Mr McHUGH (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It would be worth trying in South Australia.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Yes. The first argument in favour of the establishment of this industry is that it would meet our requirements in peace time. Secondly, it would give us an exportable commodity for which a ready market already exists in the United Kingdom. By its cultivation we should secure a very necessary grain, linseed, from which, a valuable oil could be extracted. It has a double value in that connexion. Thirdly, Lt would enable us to meet in some measure the deficiency of secondary industries in our country districts.

There is every justification for the Commonwealth Government conducting a thorough survey and classification of our mineral resources. Australia has practically a monopoly of minerals which are essential to the manufacture of munitions of war. One is tantalite, with which the honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Blain) is, no doubt, familiar. Of a total production of about 110 lb. a year about 108 lb. comes from the north-west of Western Australia. Other minerals are wolfram, manganese and zirconium. There are many others including some which are very rare and which are essential in the manufacture of munitions. Yet no attempt has been made, either by the Governments of the Commonwealth or the States, to conduct a proper survey of such resources. Another mineral which comes to my mind is osmiridium, the world supply of which is very small, and of which Tasmanian deposits give the Commonwealth almost a monopoly. In this connexion the question of secondary industries again arises. The Minister, if he exercises correctly the powers proposed to be given to him under this measure, as I hope and believe he will, must get down to a consideration of what secondary industries, are needed in this country in order to ensure a properly balanced outlook to the part of our manufacturers so far as defence is concerned. Having got that picture in his mind, we must keep in view three things. The first is the proper distribution of these industries so that the whole of them will not be established along the seaboard, or in one particular State. The second is that there should be a proper concentration of certain of these industries in relation to one another, so that one may assist the other. Thirdly, these industries should bo so sited that they will be out of danger in the event of trouble; and, fourthly, provision must be made in every defence scheme for the capacity to expand production sufficiently to fulfil the requirements for which the industries are established. According to a plan for the establishment of a department of munitions, supply and development which the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) had in mind six months ago, a great necessity existed for a proper inquiry into the subject of power supplies in Australia. Economic manufacture cannot be carried on effectively, either in times of peace or in war, unless we have plentiful supplies of reasonably cheap power. So far no survey of the power resources of Australia has been undertaken. The whole subject of power has been developed on a purely unit basis. The idea which the right honorable member for Cowper had in mind was to link the black coal power resources of New South Wales and Victoria with certain hydro electric works so that we should have one gridwork of power plants operating from Queensland right round to South Australia. By the even distribution of power at a uniform rate over a wide area we should do more to assist in the legitimate decentralization of industry than can be done by any other method. Under present conditions, industries will naturally tend to gravitate to centres where power is available at cheap rates.

Then there is the matter of the transport facilities that are available in this country. This raises a very important consideration. At present, four cheap forms of transport are available - by road, rail, water and air - but the Commonwealth can exercise practically no control over them. I sometimes shudder when I think of what would be the plight of Australia in regard to transport if it wore necessary to move large bodies of troops, and the munitions and foodstuffs which must accompany them, under active service conditions. This is a very important problem, which the States are not likely to solve. It can be tackled effectively only by some Commonwealth authority. The formation of this Department of Supply is likely to take us the first step in the direction of the proper consideration of transport facilities in the Commonwealth. Every State is spending money on the construction of further lines of railway, and no successful attempt has been made to overcome the difficulties caused by breaks of gauge. Victoria has built the Spirit of Progress, and New South Wales will probably respond with something else. So the mad race goes on. A fraction of the sum spent on unemployment relief in Victoria during the depression years would have enabled the railway system of that State to be converted to the standard gauge ; but it seems rather fashionable in this socalled democratic country to have men doing nothing rather than to put them to some productive employment. I believe that, as a political principle, the dole is one of the worst expedients ever introduced into this country, and that money thus expended is " poured into a sink ". Valuable and effective enterprises which would give a return for the expenditure incurred are the best investment a government could have in a time of depression. It stands to reason that importance attaches to the location of industries, particularly secondary industries. This matter, if left to the individual concerned, is likely to cause quite a lot of difficulty. .There is no need for me to mention some of the prize examples we have along our coastline. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) has one in his electorate. If that sort of thing be allowed to continue, private enterprise, having established some vital industry on the sea-board, will be entitled to say to the Commonwealth, "You find £250,000 or £500,000 to provide fortifications for our protection ". Even those might be incapable of affording protection against a superior force.

A matter for consideration by the Department of Supply and Development is the steadily increasing mechanization of not only Australian industry, but also the Australian Military Forces. It stands to reason that the greater the degree of mechanization in the armed forces the greater the degree of organization in regard to man power and supplies behind those mechanized forces that will be necessary under active service conditions. Organization of one type simply compels the establishment of organization of another type. The change over to oil-driven vehicles in the Australian defence system means greater dependence on oil supplies. I entertain grave doubts as to the good faith of certain of the oil companies of Australia and New Guinea. I am inclined to believe that there has been a huge swindle of some sort in connexion with the failure to discover oil in this country.

Mr Rankin - There is more than a doubt about the matter.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I informed the previous Ministry that I considered that if as much money, time and energy had been devoted to the discovery of oil in Australia as had been expended by certain, interests to prevent its discovery, we would have had adequate supplies long ago. If we are to proceed with mechanization, to which the Australian Military Forces appear to be committed, it is all the more necessary to have within our borders some sort of motive power. Therefore, I agree with the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) that consideration should be given to the development of propulsion by producer gas. There is no shortage of wood from which charcoal may be made. Whilst I admit that less horse-power is developed - I believe that the efficiency is about 20 per cent, below that of petrol or kerosene - we could carry on with it. Other fuels also might be produced, although the cost, I understand, is very great. I have never been satisfied, as this House well knows, with the Newnes shale oil agreement. Although at Newnes are some of the richest oil shale deposits in the world, our costs of production are the highest of any country. There is room for a thorough inquiry in this connexion.. Time alone will disclose whether or not the scheme to which' the last. Parliament gave its consent will bear * fruit; we should know early next year.

Mr Gander - What about oil from coal ?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I believe that the extraction of oil from coal is still in the experimental stage. We can well wait a little while so that we may profit from the expenditure of other countries in the endeavour to discover the cheapest method of producing oil from coal.

There are one or two things against which I would warn the Government in the operation of a Department of Supply and Development. I do not know whether it is in the mind of the Government to invest in the establishment of certain industries. If that be its intention, for Heaven's sake let the industry be either 100 per cent, private enterprise or 100 per cent, governmental control. The worst form of hybrid industry of which I have any knowledge is that which is exemplified by the existence of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, in which the Commonwealth provides over one-half of the capital and the other partner to the agreement exercises all the effective control.

Mr Holloway - Which would the honorable member prefer - private enterprise or government control?

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I am looking at the matter from the viewpoint of the Government. That must also be the viewpoint of this House. This measure is not one which authorizes the Government to engage in all sorts of fantastic production in respect of a range of commodities. What the measure visualizes is the establishment of a department which will test the capacity of industries to produce, in 'case of necessity, commodities which would be required under war conditions. That is the real objective of the bill. If this Government went out of office I do not think that an administration composed of honorable members opposite could take under this measure, even if it so desired, that control of primary and secondary industries which some honorable members seem to fear would be taken.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I ask leave to continue my remarks at a later hour.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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