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Thursday, 25 May 1939

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I have never had any enthusiasm for either the bill or the various amendments that have been foreshadowed; but the more I hear about the amendments the less I am attracted to them. Since the Government has agreed to accept the amendment foreshadowed by the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), I feel certain that my suspicions are well founded. I do not think that the amendment can possibly achieve what is hoped of it. I have heard honorable gentlemen opposite criticize the profiteers, but if we judge them by their actions we must conclude that they regard these individuals as the most honoured section of the community. I well remember that Mr. Samuel Walder, a well known citizen of Sydney, became a wealthy man during the last war through supplying tents and other equipment to the Defence Department. An honorable gentleman interjects " flags ", and I would remind honorable members that most of the flags supplied, by Mr. Walder came from Japan. That gentleman has taken a leading part in the activities of the United Australia party in New South Wales for many years, Yet, although he made exorbitant profits during the war, he was knighted on the recommendation of both the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales. How can honorable gentlemen opposite, who frown on the profiteers at one moment and bestow honours upon them at the next, expect to be regarded as sincere? They cannot, on the one hand, oppose the profiteers and, on the other, encourage them. The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) has shown dearly by his actions over a period of years that he is not antagonistic to profiteering. In 1934, when he was Treasurer, he was instrumental in postponing the operation of a bill, and that action had the effect of exempt-, ing from income tax an amount of almost £6,000,000 of accumulated profits which the Colonial Sugar Refining Company distributed to its shareholders in that year. Not one penny of that huge amount was liable to income tax. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company will operate one of the annexes to be established for defence purposes. If we were to believe what some honorable gentlemen opposite say, Ave should regard the manufacturers of this country as being different from manufacturers of other countries. Actually, the main purpose of private manufacturers everywhere is to make the maximum profit possible. I have already challenged the sincerity of the Government's professed desire to limit profits. Every time the Minister for Supply and Development rises to speak he confirms my opinion that the Government is not in earnest. Consequently, I am convinced that the Labour party should oppose this bill lock, stock and barrel, and should not attempt to amend it in any way. This evening the Minister for Supply and Development has said that the Government proposes to follow the British practice in respect of the limitation of profits. That course is entirely unsatisfactory to me. The honorable member for Cook (Mr. Sheehan), in the admirable speech which he has just delivered, made it clear that . in the war scare of last September, certain manufacturers of Great Britain increased the price of their products by as much as 500 per cent. British experts were brought to this country to advise the Government; hut as they have not been able to devise any means to prevent the exploitation of the general community in the United Kingdom, how can we expect them to succeed here? The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) pointed out in his excellent speech that we should be concerned, not Avith the percentage of profit that capitalist manufacturers might make on government contracts, . but with the steps which the Government should take to ensure the general well-being of the working-class community which we represent. Many honorable gentlemen in this chamber evidently believe that this country is already at war. I do not think so. According to statements made in this chamber from time to time by Ministers, and other information that is available to us, the situation is much easier than it was some months ago. In these circumstances, what is the need to rush this measure through Parliament? Are we always to be in a state of emergency? Is there to be no end of these critical times? Will the Minister, say when the crisis, or series of crises, is likely to end ?

Mr Archie Cameron - No man on earth, except perhaps one or two in Europe, can answer that.

Mr WARD - The Government has the latest information available, and it should be able to tell us something ; but when we ask for information Ave are told that disclosure of it would not be in the public interest. Why is it in the interest of the public to withhold information ? If the public good is the only thing which actuates the Government in withholding information, it is clear that the

Government has little faith in the people of this country. I am convinced that if the Australian people knew that their country was really in danger of attack, they would rally to its defence. So far, the Government has given no evidence that Australia is in imminent danger. We are asked to vest in the Government more extensive powers than have ever been given to a government in this country, and as an inducement to us to swallow the pill we are told that, although industry is to be organized in order that it may make its maximum effort for the defence of Australia, profits will be limited. I wish to know how that end is to be accomplished, if, indeed, there is any real intention behind this promise. The honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) referred to copper supplies. Neither the Assistant Minister (Mr. Holt) nor the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) has yet satisfactorily answered his criticism. We have been told of the prices of copper in various years, but will any honorable member deny that, since the war scares commenced, the prices of all the metals used in the manufacture of munitions have risen? To-day's London prices for such metals are much higher than they were a few years ago. Prices have been inflated by those who have taken advantage of the necessities of governments. Moreover, when copper is required in Australia - where it is produced - the Government is asked to . pay, not the cost of production plus 4 per cent, or even 6 per cent., but world parity prices, irrespective of whether they are inflated or not. Because prices on the London market have been sky-rocketed, the Australian community is to be fleeced. We are asked to pay London prices plus exchange and freight for copper which was produced in this country and never left it.. Yet we are told that there is to be np profiteering in connexion with munitions. I should like to know what the Government regards as profiteering. The Minister for Supply and Development expressed the opinion that the Government has no constitutional powers to exercise control of prices. If there is no constitutional power- to con.trol prices, what is the use of this committee trying to tighten up the machinery' iri order to limit profits? I do not say that profit can be entirely eliminated from the manufacture of war equipment in' existing circumstances. There is only one effective way to exercise control, and that is to manufacture the whole of the Commonwealth's requirements in workshops owned and controlled by the Government. The argument against that is that, in the event of an emergency, the Government would have to construct extensive factories, and equip them with the latest machinery, only to find that the plant could not be used when hostilities had ceased, because the Government may not compete with private enterprise in manufacturing the requirements of' the nation in times of peace. The present Government, which is the champion of private enterprise, says that such competition would be unconstitutional. That is so. The High Court in 1926 said so; but if the Government is sincerely desirous of limiting profits, there is an easy way by which it can remove that obstruction and allow government workshops to do other work than that ' connected with defence; it can ask the people so to amend the Constitution as to empower the Government to use its workshops for the manufacture, of the peace-time requirements of the community. There would he nothing . wrong with that. Are profits to be the. only things to be sacrosanct in this country? The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) made it clear who make the sacrifices in any conflict between nations. The attitude of the United Australia party towards profiteering is well-known. Its members are not opposed to profiteering, because the profiteers are members of the same clubs and rub shoulders with them every day. They converse together, and generally they are agreed about the things that they discuss. Those gentlemen who made their millions out of the last war contribute to-day to the funds of the Government party. How can we expect the friends of the profiteers to give effect to legislation to limit the profits of. their political supporters?

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