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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Mr HUGHES (North SydneyLeader of the United Australia party) . - The Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) has not been heard to advantage this afternoon. The Leader of the Opposition. (Me. Fadden) made it clear that the Opposition favoured rationing and believed it to be essential. What the Minister has said in relation to the utilization of labour now employed in non-essential industries and! of money now applied to the purchase of goods, not vital to the well-being of the community, may be set on one side. We do not object to rationing. We object to the manner in which the Minister made his announcement. He has just said that on Friday he did not announce a rationing scheme, but merely a restriction of sales. Apparently, he draws a metaphysical distinction between rationing and the limitation of sales; but the public does not do so. The honorable gentleman said that he. was surprised at what had taken place. In discussing another subject this afternoon, the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) was at some pains to point out that he had associated himself with men in positions of leadership in- the Labour movement. In this matter, however, the Minister for War Organization of Industry apparently made no attempt to ascertain from representative Australian retailers their views concerning the proper method of introducing a rationing scheme. He said that he had met two retailers, but he did not say who they were. Apparently, these anonymous and probably obscure individuals did not give to the Minister any information of value. The honorable gentleman must have known, when he made his pronouncement in this House at ten minutes past four or thereabouts last Friday, that the effect upon the public would be electrical. The people are apathetic; they are difficult to stir. If the honorable gentleman were to announce to-day that he intended to make a public speech, the pulse of the public would be unhurried. But on matters that touch their daily lives their reaction is immediate and overwhelming. The honorable Minister struck a blow at the heart of the industrial and social life of the community by his restriction of the sale of clothing. He must have known the inevitable reaction of the people to his announcement. But had he declared last Friday that the Government intended to restrict the sale of beer, 1 venture to say that there would have been an inrush to hotel bars by such a vast multitude that the swing doors - with which the honorable gentleman may or may not be familiar - would have been torn from their fastenings.; and those who had failed to get inside would have waited on the honorable gentleman on Saturday and torn him limb from limb. The honorable .gentleman has, with reason, stated in this House many times that his dominating purpose in public life is to protect the workers. Rationing is odious, and the government of every country has sought to soften its asperities by equality of sacrifice. What section has suffered most in this business? As the honorable gentleman knows very well, the munitions workers did not have a " dog's show ", nor did any other worker in Australia. The honorable gentleman has said that his informant - I again point out that these " informants " of his are hand picked; they are anonymous, and are carefully selected - has advised him that last Saturday's sales were only 1-50 per cent. in excess of those of an ordinary Saturday morning. He has also said - and coming from a Scotsman I reregard it as noteworthy - that the reason for ike rise in buying is that, the following day was Mother's Day. What are we to say to such a statement ? As a Celt, and one who claims to be alive to the allurements of humour, I confess that such a flight of the imagination would never have occurred to me. I venture to affirm that it is belated with him; he has just thought of it. By his action, he has thrown the whole of the business community into a chaotic state, and normality, so far from having been restored on Tuesday, is not and 'will not fee restored, for what has been done cannot -be undone. The shops have been cleared - those who have not bought cannot buy at all. He has enabled men and women with plenty of money ito stock their wardrobes, whilst others less favorably placed may g.o naked .to the icy blasts of winter. This rationing is going to be very serious. The honorable gentleman has not waited in a .queue.

We have not a Gestapo, and thus cannot investigate his wardrobe in order to see what it contains, but doubtless it is -well stocked with clothing. The honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) could draw a pathetic, even a heart-rending, picture of the conditions of the workers as the result of this action. The honorable gentleman ought to have known what would be the effect of his pronouncement. He ought not to have made it; but, having made it, he ought to have done what he could to rectify the mistake. He has not done so ; he has merely sought to excuse himself, and has resorted to what obviously are perfectly ridiculous excuses. This talk about Mother's Day would, in other circumstances, be most amusing. As though Mother's Day had anything to do with it ! When the honorable gentleman said, at ten past four on Friday, that free buying should cease at noon on Saturday, he knew that by five o'clock on Friday the retail stores of Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Brisbane would be filled with purchasers. I was not present, and do not know what occurred; but I have read the stories published in the press. Perhaps they are a little exaggerated; nevertheless, they give a fairly vivid picture of what happened. If the honorable gentleman's statement, that the excess sales amounted to only 1:1.0 per cent., be correct, all that I have to say is that they were not greater because a larger number of men and women could not get into the stores; otherwise, the excess would have been 1050 per cent. There .are some members of this House who have an intimate knowledge of the retail .trade. They know very well that, had the stores remained open until 10 p.m. - as they did at one time - every establishment would have been sold out by the closing hour. Although the honorable gentleman represents the workers, he has done them a very great injustice, and he ought to repair it. He has said that his preparations for the launching of this scheme were not complete because, when he assumed office, there was not the necessary administrative machinery. That is correct. But he has now been in office for seven and a half months, and has had ample time to establish that machinery. Why did he not wait until the machinery was ready? He has not told us.

Mr Dedman - There would have been nothing left to ration.

Mr HUGHES - The honorable gentleman is most diligent in his duties. He does not lack application or ability. He could have made the necessary preparations. Why did he not do so? He has blundered badly. Instead of saying " Peccavi ", and letting it go at that, he has endeavoured to explain away the natural consequences of his action. It is most unfortunate that he should have made a pronouncement in this House in relation to a matter of this kind. The people of Australia take almost everything in their stride; many things fail to move them. But touch their food, drink or clothing, and anything is likely to happen. That is what the honorable gentleman has done, with the result that thousands of persons have been cruelly handicapped. Many stores will be put out of business. Had the honorable gentleman taken the advice of competent advisers, he would not have followed this course.

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