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Friday, 26 May 1939

Mr MCHUGH (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - ls not the Government in earnest in fighting profiteering?

Mr WHITE - I recall that a few years ago, when I brought down a tariff report dealing with cement, which is used in connexion with gun emplacements, and other defence works, and the Government sought to act on that report by reducing the duty on that commodity, its proposal was defeated by the vote of several honorable gentlemen who are now members of the Ministry. The Assistant Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Holt), who said last night that I could have used my influence when I was Minister for Trade and Customs to reduce profits, voted against it although the cement ring was keeping up the price. The present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr.- John Lawson) was another who voted against that proposal.


Mr WHITE - Well, the Minister for Health and Social Services (Sir Frederick Stewart) definitely voted against it. Do these honorable gentlemen intend to preserve the commercial world for profiteers? Will they not take this opportunity to restrict the activities of profiteers? I agree with the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) that the responsibility should not be thrown on private members to find a way to achieve the objective which the Government has in mind in bringing down this grandiose measure. In view of its attitude in this discussion, I cannot help questioning the sincerity of the Government. It initiated this business, and in a speech recently, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) declared that profiteering must be kept out of the supply of munitions, but after days of debate, and after the Government has pushed aside such a humane proposal as the motion for a select committee to consider necessary amendments of the Repatriation Act, we are asked to be satisfied with its efforts in respect of this bill. Yesterday I put a question on the notice-paper with regard to the location of the headquarters of the new Department of Supply and Development, and also the accommodation which would be necessarily required to house the officials to be appointed, and this morning I was informed that ' the headquarters would be in Melbourne close to the Defence Department. That is as it should be, because close cooperation between those two departments is essential. But I was further informed that steps had 'been taken for the Principal Supply Officers Committee to occupy premises which had been leased by the National Insurance Commission. I am wondering how much of this arrangement is a fitting in of surplus public servants and the taking over of accommodation secured for that experiment in national insurance, and how much it represents a serious attempt to deal with the problem of supply of essential requirements in a time of emergency. I am profoundly disappointed that after many days' discussion in this Parliament nothing better has been evolved to check profiteering than the amendment drawn up by the Government and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde), in collaboration. Although the Government has had the advice of officers of the AttorneyGeneral's Department, it has not submitted a provision that will tie the profiteer down to any specific limit.

Mr Mahoney - This amendment will tie a rope around his neck.

Mr WHITE - The honorable member for Denison (Mr. Mahoney) may think so ; I do not. I believe that many honorable members are as disappointed as I am at the thought that if,, unhappily, "war should come Ave shall, unless a more definite provision is inserted in this bill to check profiteering, see a repetition of what occurred in connexion with the supply of essential requirements during the Great War and previous wars.

The discussion on this measure is not finished. I understand that it will be continued next week." As an earnest of its sincerity in this matter of controlling profits, the Government should confer during the week-end with its legal advisers, with a view to adopting a formula that will impose a definite limit on profits in a national emergency. I support the. principle of the bill, but I deplore the lack of any specific method for checking profiteering. Unless the Government produces a formula better than the one contained in the amendment, it will be suspect by the people.

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