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Friday, 26 May 1939

Mr BLACKBURN (Bourke) . - I am not inclined to accept the nebular hypothesis in connexion with this bill, because I feel that no one can dismiss lightly the possibility of war within the next few months, or next year. If I thought that war were a remote possibility, my attitude to this bill would be different But I, and the members of my party, do not reject the possibility that, within the next few months, this country may be involved in a major conflict.

Mr White - The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Brennan) does not think so.

Mr BLACKBURN - I am glad to think that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) agrees with the premises of my argument. Believing, as we do, that war is a grim possibility, it appears to mp - I come reluctantly to this conclusion - that it is necessary to make some preparations. As my leader (Mr. Curtin) has often pointed out, the preparation of materials for war is really more important than the preparation of men. Adequate supplies of munitions and other equipment readily accessible may save the lives of men. It is necessary, therefore, in a time of emergency which may lead to war, to make preparations for the supply of all essential needs.

I should prefer that all munitions were made in government-owned factories. But I am faced by the fact that when, in peace time, the urgent demand formunitions had ceased these factories and their staffs could not constitutionally be diverted - as privately-owned factories can - to the production of peace-time goods. Even if there were no constitutional objections to that course, it would be almost impossible to establish, in a few months, sufficient Commonwealth factories to produce all materials necessary. Therefore, we must . use machinery already in existence, partly governmental and partly belonging to private organizations. We should be blind to the nature of the world in which we live if we believed that private manufacturers would carry on work on behalf of the Government without any return for the capital they had invested in their enterprises. Therefore, if munitions are to be manufactured by private undertakings, an adequate return upon the capital invested must be paid. That brings me to this point upon which I think most honorable members are in agreement. If unchecked, private capitalists engaged in the manufacture of supplies in time of national crisis would, as they have always done in the past, take advantage of the nation, and endeavour to get the maximum return on their capital. Agreement with this view has been expressed by the Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey), who has said, over and over again, that he does not believe that private manufacturers should be allowed to make undue profits when engaged on work for the nation.

We come now to the point upon which there- is a divergence of opinion. We have before us the Government proposal to limit and control profits, which upon careful scrutiny appears to be inadequate. It empowers the Government to make provision for the control and limitation of the price of munitions - using the word " munitions " in the sense that it embraces all goods, primary or secondary, essential to the defence of a country. Clause 6 empowers the Government to regulate all the activities enumerated in it, but also in the same breath, it provides that the Government could refuse to do so. A critical scrutiny of the bill seems to indicate that while the Government may take the power to limit and control prices it could, by certain directions and determinations by the Governor-General, deprive itself of this power. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition had drafted an amendment designed to prevent the Government from abandoning its duty to control and limit prices. In the discussion of that amendment there was a general acceptance by honorable members of the principle embodied in it. It was agreed that a government should not divest itself of this power to control and limit profits. There is a minor divergence of opinion on the merits of a proposal to fix by statute an inflexible maximum rate of profits. The difference on that issue is entirely subsidiary to the main question on which we all agree. There is a general agreement that the Government should be responsible to Parliament and the country for the control and limitation of profits and that it should not be relieved of the burden of that responsibility by any provision of this bill.

The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) said that the amendment circulated by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition did not go far enough and could not accomplish the purpose intended by the Deputy Leader himself, and by honorable members generally. I do not regard the point raised by the honorable member for Indi as one of substance. In my opinion, the amendment originally submitted by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was sufficient to accomplish the design which honorable members of the Opposition, and several Government supporters had in mind. But, as the discussion proceeded, it occurred to the honorable member for Indi, that the amendment contained a loophole, and as that possibility might also have occurred to other honorable members, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition expressed his willingness to recast his proposal so that there should be no possibility of doubt about its efficiency.

The point which has been raised is that by no determination under sub-clause 2 of clause 5 should power to control and limit prices be withdrawn from the Government. The honorable member for

Indi suggested 'that that power might bewithdrawn by direction from the GovernorGeneral, and that the Government might say " "We shall not exercise any of these powers unless directed by the Governor-General ". That point havingbeen raised, it would have been very unwise not to solder up the hole, imaginary or real. That was the only reason for the alteration of the amendment drawn up by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Forde - That shows how unfair was the statement by the honorable member for Indi.

Mr BLACKBURN - I was very surprised indeed to hear the honorable member for Indi make that statement, because I have always regarded him. as a very fair-minded man. The Opposition has endeavoured to make this clause foolproof, and to ensure that there shall be no means available to a government of evading its duty to limit and control profits. In saying that, I do not wish to cast any reflection on the present Government. I believe that the Minister for Supply and Development sincerely desires to do his job well and that other Ministers have the same object.

Mr Brennan - "What is the right honorable gentleman's job?

Mr BLACKBURN - Under this bill, his duty will be to limit and control prices to be charged by private manufacturers. But we have to contemplate this position : Ministers come and go. The pressure on governments varies; not infrequently pressure is exerted on governments by persons who are supporters of the political party represented by the Government and who may be, in fact, -the paymasters of the party in power. Wc want to make it quite clear that this committee will not approve of any evasion by the Government of its duty. In effect,- the committee should say to the Government : " We will not authorize you in any shape or form to evade the performance of your public duty". It is therefore desired to amend clause 5 to meet all possible objections, including that raised by the honorable member for Indi. The form that the amendment now takes provides that although directions and determinations of the GovernorGeneral may limit the other activities set out in clause 5, no such limitation may be placed on the control by the Government of profits. We are not concerned about the several other activities which are set out in this clause. We know that these will be attended to. They are all necessary undertakings.

Mr Beasley - We are concerned with them.

Mr BLACKBURN - We know that they will be done. We believe that the Government will take steps to administer matters relating to all the functions set out in paragraphs a, b, c, d and / of subclause 1. We are not so much concerned about these things. What we are concerned with is that the power, to control profits must not be limited. If the Go'vernment decides not to exercise this power at all or in full, it is answerable to Parliament and the people. I submit that there should be nothing in this bill which could authorize a government to evade its duty. If the clause had been accepted in its original form, it might have been said, in the future, that this committee contemplated the Government refusing to control prices. That is what must be avoided. Honorable members of the Opposition have drawn up their amendment on the assumption that the Government really made a mistake in the drafting of this measure. We have accepted the word of the Government that this was the case, and in order to show our bona, fides we are endeavouring to so alter the clause that the duty of the Government to control profits would be specified and inescapable.

Mr Forde - The honorable member for Indi had no practical suggestion to make.

Silting suspended from 12. J/5 to 2.15 p.m.

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