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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Mr SPEAKER - Is the motion supported?

Five honorable members having risen in support of the motion,

Mr.FADDEN. - The Opposition takes this course because it considers that the effective prosecution of the war demands that there shall not be a repetition of the bungling associated with the Government's plans for the rationing of clothing. The matter has been so handled that the result has been nation-wide confusion in the (retail trade, panic buying - in many instances, of excessive quantifies of non-essentials - the diversion of many thousands of pounds from the war effort,and the provision of an incentive to hoarding. In considering the chaos caused in every State, the first thing to bear in mind is the mannerin which the public was acquainted of the Government's intentions. One would have thought that it was a last-minute decision, which national considerations demanded should be announced late last Friday afternoon. That was by no means the case. In fact, nine days after the Government bad assumed office, the public was informed that the Ministry was considering drastic plans for the rationing of nonessential civil goods. Both the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and the Minister for War Organizationof Industry (Mr. Dedman) were then reported to have said that, apart from the fact that it was essential that the flow of money into the Treasury for war purposes should be increased, it was imperative that the wasteful use of vital national resources on unnecessarycivil production should beprevented. At the same time, the press contained references by the Minister for War Organization of Industry regarding the issue of ration cards. Thus, seven months ago, the subject of rationing was in the minds of members of the Cabinet. Last December, the Minister for Supply and Development(Mr. Beasley) stated that the Government was studying the rationing methods employed in Great Britain. I do not dispute for one moment that since those announcements were made there has been amarked deterioration of the war situation, particularly in relation to Australia. This, however, serves to strengthen my contention that rationing was not something thatreceived the consideration of the Government only within the last couple of months or weeks. I am well aware that suggestions and rumours current in many quarters of the intention of the Government to introduce the rationingof clothing led to excessive buying, and in many instances, doubtless, to hoarding. The Minister for War Organization of Industry has claimed thatrecent clothing sales were 50 per cent. inexcess of sales during thecorresponding period of last year. That claim is without foundation. The Minister was convinced ofthis by a deputation that placed before him the facts of the matter. There has been an increase of purchases, and doubtless hoarding is being practised. This is due to the fact that thepublicwasadvised of the Government's intention several months ago, when the people were told that rationing was inevitable. The Opposition finds no fault with the principle of rationing - indeed, rationing was an integral part of the financial proposals which, as a government, it introduced, and upon which it was displaced by the present Administration - but it does object to the way in which the matter has been handled; and it lays particular stress on the premature, unwise, even stupid announcement made late last Friday afternoon.

I.   shall not refer to the general activities, of the Department of "War Organization of Indus Uy. I should, like the House to bear in mind that the announcement of the Government's intention to introduce rationing was made by the Minister last Friday at slightly more than an hour and a quarter 'before the closing, hour of the retail stores in Sydney and Melbourne. This is important, in view of the statement which the Minister subsequently made in the press in reply to .criticism I had. offered- In an. abbreviated for.m the Minister's statement, on Friday appeared only in the " stop press " columns of the Sydney and Melbourne afternoon newspapers.;, consequently, it is. safe to say that knowledge of it was not general until shortly before the closing, hour of the retail stores in those cities. It is, therefore, difficult to comprehend the explanation made by the Minister, in. reply to my criticism,, and published, in yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald, namely -

The reason why the announcement, was. made late on Friday, afternoon was to give traders an opportunity to compute the quantity oi goods they would have available for sale to-day (Monday ).

Ovcsecond thoughts, the Minister decided to offer an entirely differentexplanation of his action. Obviously, the spectacle of panic buying that was so much in evidence in every capital city on Saturday morning prompted him to make the alteration. The later' explanation was published in the press on Monday, and was in the following terms: -

The announcement of restrictions' on clothing sales had been made on the. adjournment, of the House of Representatives about 4.30 on Friday afternoon, because it was thought that the announcement would be too late for the afternoon newspapers, but evidently that was not so.

I put it to the House, and the people of Australia: Has, there ever been such a puerile excuse for bungling? The Minister is a constant user of the national broadcasting network - doubtless he is that " mythical " spokesman of the Government - for the purpose of conveying information to the press. The Prime Minister made a broadcast in respect of this particular matter at half-past seven p.m. last Friday. Had the arrangements for that broadcast been made before the announcement of the Minister in the House on Friday afternoon? Obviously they had. The Minister stated that he thought that the public would be patriotic enough not to rush the stores, and to submit to the Government's wish that there should be voluntary diminution of their purchasing power. The Minister's optimism in that regard is exceeded only by the national debt. Apart altogether from these aspects, I suggest that it is a sorry day for Australia if, in the release of statements affecting every citizen of the Commonwealth, Ministers are to be guided by considerations as to whether or. not the statements will miss the last edition of the afternoon newspapers. The Minister must have scant knowledge of the operations of Australian newspapers, and a poor appreciation of the enterprise of journalists stationed at Canberra, if he thinks that a statement of such national importance would not receive some mention in the newspapers. Even more laughable were some other stater ments made by the Minister at the weekend. I quote again from the Sydney Morning Herald- " Panic buying of clothing on Saturday was unfortunate., but it was not. of any great significance said Mr. Dedman.

The report goes on -

Mr. Dedmanstated that the amount of clothing that could have, been bought on Saturday morning was so small that it wouldnot materially affect the stocks available. Even if the shops had been crowded with purchasers, the percentage sales could not have been much above the normal half-day's trading.

It is inconceivable that any one with a knowledge of what happened' on Saturday morning in retail establishments could make that statement. Contrast the

Minister's observations concerning what happened on Saturday with the facts as disclosed by various newspapers. I am sure that the Minister will agree that they give an unbiased account of what actually took place. The following appeared in the Sydney Sun on Sunday: -

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