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Thursday, 25 May 1939

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON (Barker) . - I should not have risen to speak on this measure in committee but for one or two statements made from the ministerial bench, and one from an honorable member opposite. I, personally, am strongly of the opinion that no amendment which can be put into this bill, whether it happens to come from the Opposition or from the Government side, from one lawyer or from another, will satisfactorily deal with what the committee is trying to deal with, namely, the limitation of profits. We might just as well be frank about these things, and, at least, not attempt to deceive ourselves. A good deal of misapprehension appeared to exist this afternoon and last night in regard to one or two -simple business transactions in Australia in regard to market quotations. Seldom has a more confusing statement been made as to what constitutes a market level, in this instance, for copper, than that made by the Minister (Mr. Casey) last night. Then, this afternoon, we heard a statement by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn), who seemed to be completely confused as to the difference between a profit being calculated on the capital involved in the conduct of a business and a percentage profit on the turnover. They are two entirely different propositions. This matter was raised by the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) in regard to the supply of gas masks. If, for instance, you have a company engaged in the manufacture of that, perhaps, necessary, but uncomfortable, article, with a capital of £10,000 and you limit its profit to 5 per cent., it would be entitled, under the amendment now being discussed, to an annual profit of £500. But if this company were to make 100,000 gas masks a year at £1 apiece, and you were to limit its profit on that work to 5 per cent, on production, it would be entitled to a profit of 100,000 shillings, which is a very different figure. In order to arrive at a proper appreciation of what is involved in this amendment, we must go into questions of that kind, and I suggest that this committee is not exactly the best body to go into such questions.

Mr Paterson - That is what the honorable member for Bourke said.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Yes, and I entirely agree with him in that respect. I can only say, therefore, that I am surprised at the Government's action in accepting the amendment of the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde). It seems to me as if the Government itself is not quite sure exactly where it stands in this measure. In the second-reading stage, I gave the bill the unstinted support to which I thought itwas entitled. To-day, however, I see the Government accepting an amendment which, in its own heart, it must know to be futile, and I hear the Assistant' Minister (Mr. Holt) this afternoon declaring that the Government has every power to' do what this bill attempts to confer upon it.

Mr Holt - That is not correct. -I said that this bill was evidence of our good faith, inasmuch as if we did not desire to control profits and to speed up defence preparations it would not' have been necessary for us to introduce it.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I should be very interested to see the transcript of the shorthand notes of what the honorable gentleman said this afternoon.

Mr Holt - The honorable member will have an opportunity to do so.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - I should very much like to have that opportunity. The Assistant Minister said that it was a matter of courtesy that this bill was introduced - that all of these powers were already in the hands of the Government. If that is the attitude of the Government then we are being held here to-night discussing matters which there is no necessity for us to discuss at all.

Mr Holt - That is not the attitude either of the Government or of myself.

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - We might as well argue on that point as on some of the matters raised in this measure. I stand now where I stood last week. The provision of a proper system of munitions supply and development for warfare in this country is very necessary, but the manner iri which this bill is being put through, and the fact that a sheaf pf amendments is coming from the Minister himself - I think that no less than ten new clauses have come into the bill, to say nothing of a host of amendments to clauses already drafted - leads one to suspect either that the bill was drafted in a hurry, or that the Government is very doubtful as to the course it is taking, and the rate at which it is proceeding al >ng that course. In regard to all of these amendments I say that we might as well get down to tin tacks and recognize that, if it is the declared policy of the Government, by introducing this measure, to give the country" the impression that profits are to be controlled by some sleight of hand method, we should debunk the thing now and be done witE it. We might as well admit that these things are to be carried outon the basis laid down during the second-reading debate, namely, the Government will proceed by trial and error and nothing else. Judging by the debate so far the error is becoming very evident.

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