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Friday, 19 May 1939

Mr JOLLY (Lilley) .- Pear has been expressed regarding the wisdom of giving to a Minister the powers to be conferred by this bill. I am more concerned to know what will be the effect of the measure when it comes into operation. Personally, I consider that, if wisely administered, it will do much more than marshal the resources of the nation for the purposes of defence, for it will make some contribution towards placing industrial development on a sound economic basis. The suggestion has been made during the debate that the bill should come into operation only at a time of national emergency, but the present world conditions are such that we are living continuously in a state of emergency. We cannot afford to wait until we are on the brink of war before we start to make preparations for defence. As the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. Anthony) pointed out, it is imperative that we should have a businesslike organization, not only so far as manpower is concerned, but also in connexion with materials, if we are to hold our own with the countries that are controlled by dictators. There is a danger that the new defence industries will be concentrated in the larger centres of population. As .a matter of fact, an investigation will disclose that most of the defence annexes already established by the Government, are situated in the vicinity of either Sydney or Melbourne. It would be in the best interests of the permanent and sound defence of Australia to have the population as widely distributed as possible. I consider it imperative that the Government should establish new industries connected with defence, supply and development in other parts of Australia. It is only fair that there should be an equable distribution of defence expenditure. I realize that because plant and equipment are already established in the southern part of the continent much of the munitions requirements must be manufactured there, but at the same time it is right and proper that every part of the Commonwealth should receive consideration, even though the costs so incurred might be greater than would otherwise be the case. I do not believe that cost is the only important consideration, and I emphasize that the concentration of all of our defence industries in the larger centres would encourage people to gravitate to them. One of the great problems confronting Australia to-day is that more than one-half of the population is concentrated in the cities. I urge the Government to give serious consideration to decentralization when dealing with the establishment of new industries.

Exploration for oil is another important subject affecting supply and development. The honorable member for West

Sydney (Mr. Beasley) dealt very fully and ably with it the other evening, when he emphasized the need for an adequate supply of oil within Australia in the event of war occurring. I submit that not only in time of war, but also in time of peace, it is essential to have a satisfactory supply of oil. Rightly or wrongly, a suspicion exists in the minds of many people that certain influences have hampered the discovery and development of oil resources in Australia. A considerable amount of money has been spent in various parts of the Commonwealth in a search which has not been as effective and efficient as it should have been. I myself have contributed to boring operations, which have had very little result. No doubt other honorable members have done likewise. The Government itself should undertake an exhaustive - and thorough search instead of granting subsidies to private enterprise. It should control all operations from the time when a site for boring is recommended by its experts, and it should impose a very strict supervision by trustworthy officers. It should make every effort to test Australia's oil resources beyond any possibility of doubt. If the Government took a hand, the public would be assured that there would be no hampering of the work such as is said to occur at present.

I shall refer now to the making of undue profits from the manufacture of munitions and armaments. I believe that all honorable members will subscribe to my views on the subject. The manufacture of munitions and armaments as proposed in this measure is on trial. Therefore the Government should ensure that the most thorough and exhaustive check is maintained on manufacturing costs. We should not content ourselves with a mere check on the production costs of the articles concerned, but should also impose a check on the costs of the raw materials used. I know that this would not be an easy task, for I have had some experience in similar work.

The Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) indicated last night that the Government proposes to appoint a panel of public accountants to advise it on this subject. I take it that the Minister realizes, that there are certain men in the profession of public accountancy who specialize in that class of work, and I advise the Government to. include in the panel a number of those specialists. I agree with the remarks by the honorable member for Richmond when questioning the wisdom of asking these men to give their services free of chage. A public accountant is in somewhat the same position as a lawyer, for a good deal of his income depends upon his personal exertion, and I question whether it is altogether fair to expect these men to give the necessary concentration of thought to the task they will be called upon to perform without reimbursement. Obviously they will have to make more than a mere cursory inspection of the manufacturing costs if they are to impose a thorough and efficient check. The method of arriving at costs is very intricate and requires close research. I urge the Government to take into consideration the desirability of keeping a close check on the profits of not only major works but also subsidiary works connected with the industries concerned. If it is not possible to prevent the making of excessive profits from the manufacture of munitions and weapons of war under the conditions proposed in this measure, we have no alternative but to terminate this policy. Civilization cannot allow greed for profit from this deadly business to determine whether or not there shall be peace in the world. I doubt whether the Government has full power under the bill to control profits. One clause is supposed to empower the Government to ascertain costs, and to control or limit profits in connexion with the production of munitions, but there is no indication of how this is to be done. Reference was made by the Minister to the power of the "Government to secure certain information, hut I. remember that, some time ago, when certain interests were called before a royal commission they refused point blank to give the information sought, and, so far as I know, the Commonwealth Government, at that time, had no power to make them. It is most important that the Governmentshould possess full power to investigate costs and prices of munitions, and .that it should secure the services of the right men to advise it. The policy of allowing private enterprise to manufacture munitions of war is on trial, and if we are not able to prevent the making of undue profits, that policy must be abandoned.

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