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Friday, 26 May 1939

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- It would appear that the committee has made some -slight progress, for the clause in its original form left to the Government the power to say whether or not it would exercise any supervision of profits, whereas now, according to the wording of the amendment which has been- accepted .by the Government, the obligation to supervise profits has been accepted by the Government. I am doubtful, however, whether we are much closer to the objective of most honorable members, namely, a proper regulation of profits. The amendment, as now worded, commences -

The matters to he administered by the Department shall be matters relating to arrangements for ascertaining costs and for the control and limitation of profits in relation to the production of munitions.

The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Casey) has told us that adequate machinery to check profits already exists. Now that the Minister has accepted the obligation to control profits, 1 desire that he shall inform the committee of the nature of the methods which will be employed. Will the Government rely on the existing machinery, by which contracts will first be submitted to the Contract Board for consideration and afterwards will be subject to review by a special committee of the department? The right honorable gentleman has said that that system is entirely satisfactory. If that be so, this amendment will not accomplish anything, for things will remain as they were/ 1 am not satisfied that the methods at present employed make it certain that no excessive profits are earned by those who supply goods to the Government. The Contract Board makes no inquiries regarding the position of the firms which submit tenders. For its information it must depend entirely upon what is supplied to it by the contracting firms themselves. I should like to know from some of the legal men in this chamber whether the Government possesses any power to send its officers on to the premises of successful tenderers, for the purpose of examining books of account, balancesheets, &c. Are we to assume that the Government will be satisfied with the assurance of the successful tenderers that no undue profits are being made? What make me suspicious of the whole thing is the alacrity with which the Government accepted the amendment.

Mr White - We are still wondering about that.

Mr WARD - Unless the Government really has power to examine balancesheets and books of account, the carrying of this amendment will be of no use whatever. Nothing has been stated by the Government so far to indicate what it believes to be a reasonable rate of profit. The Minister for Supply and Development has not yet satisfactorily answered the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White), in regard to the price of metals. The Assistant Minister (Mr. Holt), without making any inquiries whatever, expressed himself as satisfied that the companies were supplying copper at a reasonable rate.

Mr Holt - That opinion was fortified by a Tariff Board report.

Mr WARD - If that is the attitude of the Government on the matter, of what use is this amendment? It appears that the Government is already satisfied with the position, and why? Because men who control the companies supplying the goods assure the Government that no excessive profits are being made. For my part, I am not satisfied that manufacturers in Australia are any different from those elsewhere, and I believe that there is need for the most stringent supervision. I have heard the Assistant Minister defend General MotorsHoldens Limited in this chamber; yet, according to its balance-sheet, the company last year made a profit of 99 per cent. It is evident that the Assistant Minister has very different ideas of what constitutes reasonable profit from those held by the Opposition. The Government is anxious, I know, to get this measure through as quickly as possible. It has not relished the discussion on this clause, but it has had to endure it because it lacks the numbers to apply the gag. Honorable members should insist upon the Government laying before Parliament a definite plan for the supervision and control of profits. The Minister for Supply and Development stated earlier that the Government had no constitutional power to require companies to submit their books for examination. If the Government has not access to balance-sheets and books of account, how can it know what profits firms are making? The Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) holds the opinion that the Commonwealth has no constitutional power to compel firms to make such information available to the Government. When a royal commission was appointed, after agitation by the Opposition, to inquire into the profits of major oil companies, the Prime Minister, who was then Attorney;-General in the Government of Victoria, was also legal representative of the Shell Oil Company, one of the major oil companies whose affairs were being examined. He. advised the oil companies that there was no obligation, on them to supply information to the royal commission - which meant to the Government, that had appointed it. I should like to know whether the constitutional position is any different now from what it was then. If the Government has no power to compel firms to make information available, why are we wasting time with this clause now? Of course, it is quite obvious that the Government never intended to make any effective inquiry into the profits of firms supplying the Defence Department with goods. It would not dare. So far as the speeches made on this bill are concerned, there appears to be unanimity among honorable members on the desirability of limiting profits, but we know that honorable members opposite, make such speeches in order to make their electors believe that they wish to prevent exploitation. As a matter of fact, the political masters of the Government are the very men who are doing the exploitation. Look at the lists of directors of the companies that will be supplying goods to the Defence Department. They include men who sit on the executive of the United Australia party. In that capacity they control the Government, and are responsible for the selection of honorable members opposite before ever they contest an election. That being so, how can any one imagine that the Government is really sincere in its professed .desire to limit profits? I daresay that if we had time to look through the lists of shareholders of those companies, we should find that even some members of the Government are interested, and will benefit by the expenditure of these millions of pounds on defence. Let us drop all this hypocrisy, and say what we really mean. The Labour party is not tied to any outside vested interests. Labour members come here free and untrammelled, hut our opponents cannot say the same of themselves. If they would be honest, they must admit that they have to carry out the orders of their political masters, who are themselves the exploiters. During the war, Mr. Sam Walder, of New South Wales, made a fortune out of supplying tents, flags and other defence equipment to the Commonwealth government. He was not condemned by members of the United Australia party; he was not shunned as a social crimi- nal. What happened? The Commonwealth Government, aided and abetted by the United Australia party Government of New South Wales, recommended him for a knighthood ! So, instead of the Government condemning and taking action against him, and those like him, it honoured him. Some of the greatest profiteers in the country are men upon whom titles have been bestowed in reward for their accumulation of enormous wealth by the exploitation of the community. They are the men who hold executive positions in the United Australia party. Sir Samuel Walder, I believe, is still on the executive of the United Australia party in New South Wales. It is very, unlikely that he will stand aside and allow the Government to limit the profits of himself and other exploiters of the people. Under existing conditions, there is no possible way to eliminate profit because, even though the whole of the work be undertaken in government workshops, the profits of those who supply the raw materials cannot be eliminated unless complete control is taken of the industries of Australia. Nevertheless, in government workshops, there is at least the opportunity to regulate profits. Honorable members opposite have indicated their insincerity in this matter of controlling profits by the fact that they continually say, " We cannot do the whole of the work in government workshops, because to do so the Government would have to expend enormous sums of money to build and equip factories, which after the emergency passed, would remain as 'white elephants ' ".

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