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Thursday, 14 May 1942

Mr SPOONER (ROBERTSON, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I do not propose to enter into a controversy with the honorable member on that subject. It may he the subject of legislation, and the honorable member may then be surprised to find how strong a case exists for the establishment, and preservation of Australian industry in the interests of the people, he represents, 90 per cent, of whom depend on wages and thus on the stability and preservation of industry. If he does such things as will undermine and destroy industry, he will do a cruel and worthless thing to his constituents. The honorable member will also find that the case against artificial limitation of profits in the way contemplated is much stronger than he thinks. Rut that matter is outside the scope of this debate. By completely neglecting direct treatment of Australia's problems and by concentrating its energies upon indirect and largely artificial methods, the Government is doing a grave disservice to Australia in regard to both its capacity to finance this war without inflation and the conservation of material and man-power that the conduct of the war demands. So, in this atmosphere, the Minister made his statement last week. He outlined a large number of measures, some of them crude and unnecessary, of rationalization which he intends to apply to industry, on the development of which Australia's future will depend. This country needs rationing far more than rationalization. Rationalization may be necessary as a complement to rationing if the reduction of the demands of the people by rationing is not sufficient. When the purchasing power of the people is reduced, there is an automatic lessening of surplus production. A sound and comprehensive scheme of rationing would give to the Government the result it needs.

Mr Calwell - How far has rationalization proceeded in England?

Mr SPOONER - In order to answer the honorable gentleman's question, I should have to be equipped with reference books and notes. I do not claim to be a walking encyclopaedia.

Mr.Calwell. - But the honorable member is laying down a principle.

Mr SPOONER --The honorable member will find that what I have said represents largely the policy of other countries. Public spending has been controlledby rationing, and also rationalization has been applied as a supplementary measure. Rationalization in itself will not achieve the desired results. It will not transfer to war industries in sufficient volume man-power, money or materials now excessively used in producing goods for civil consumption. It will merely transfer public spending from one to another civil channel and man-power from one to another non-war activity and leave the Government where it stands. Australia's need on the economic front to-day is to revise the plan of taxation of the income groups that enjoy surplus spending-power, a plan of rationing, and a scheme of rationalization, where necessary, in order to re-organize industries that can supply to war industries the needed surplus man-power and materials. The Minister's plan is to force the re-organization of industries while leaving money in circulation, and that method will not give to war industry the impetus that is represented in the present over-momentum of production. All this amounts to is running away from the real job because of difficulties. The Minister's policy is an evasion of the Government's clear duty, which is contained in the course I have outlined. His plan seems to be easier because it does not appear to affect the people. It looks so easy to the official mind to enforce changes upon industry, but the Minister has not removed the cause of the trouble; the disease remains, and so long as that is the case difficulties will continue and will give rise to greater difficulties. I am glad to have had this opportunity to-day because it appears that there is still time to sound a note of warning. The Minister's speech indicates clearly that so far he has taken few definite steps to bring rationalization about. [Extension of time granted.]

The Minister said -

I can best describe the progress that has been made ... by giving the House some examples of the results which particular rationalization schemes can produce.

Note that he said " can produce " -

I must emphasize, however, that most of the plans I shall mention have yet to receive the consideration of the Production Executive, and in many cases important difficulties have still to be cleared up. Accordingly, none of the details I mention should be interpreted as a final commitment to any particular course of action.

So, if there is a chance of diverting the Minister from his policy, that chance is presented now, for, whilst he has indicated to the House many things that he has in mind to do, few have been put before the Production Executive of Cabinet, and so far they amount to little more than pious hopes. I hope that the Minister will deal with the policy of his department in a more constructive manner. What he to-day describes as rationalization is a menace to the existence of thousands of small businesses in this country. With .rationalization the weakest must go to the wall and industry will get into the hands of the larger businesses - I shall not call them " monopolies ", because the word is unfair - and those thousands of small businesses, of which Australia is so proud, will lose their connexions, and be forced out of existence. That will be one of the consequences of the policy on which the Minister is working to-day. He is tackling the problem at the wrong end. He is not endeavouring to harmonize the needs of the Australian war effort with post-war reconstruction. Like every other serious-minded person in the community I am prepared for a lengthy war. We have made up our minds that we must go through with it, and that we should go through with it, however long it may be. We do not know what is in store for us, and present-day conditions may change sooner than we expect. The time will come when the country will need to use all its recuperative powers. Australia's hope in the days to come, when we shall be bridging the interval between the cessation of the war and the restoration of normal conditions, will rest on the quick functioning of its industries. If that be interfered with by the Minister by the introduction of artificial methods, by so-called rationalization, by forcing some industries out of existence and crippling others, and by causing them to lose the balance they still enjoy of conditions created in the past, the Minister will be doing a most unfair thing to the country.

Yesterday, I did not have time to complete certain remarks I had intended to make in relation to the Department of War Organization of Industry. I realize that the Minister cannot personally attend to everything undertaken by his department, and that the policy adopted by the Government in- connexion with the department has to be carried out throughout the Commonwealth. The Minister must have a staff competent to advise him and to see that the decisions of Cabinet and the Minister are put into effect. Under existing conditions it is essential that the Department of War Organization of Industry should include nien from Australian industry who understand the problems with which . they will be required to deal whether they apply to primary or secondary industries. Such men are available and are willing to give their time to solve these problems during war-time in an effort to maintain the stability of Australian industry. It is expecting too much of the official mind t? ask that a public servant should become an expert in all branches of industry when he has not had training in them. How is it to be supposed that a man who, for the whole of his life, has lived in the rarefied atmosphere of a highly specialized government department - although he may be an intelligent and competent officer - can successfully undertake control of business problems or the technicalities of industry? If the Minister expects to be successful in the position he occupies he must take the advice and help of men who have a knowledge of the problems with which the honorable gentleman is expected to deal.

Mr Calwell - That is a very unfair attack upon public servants.

Mr SPOONER - It is not. The honorable member for Melbourne who, as an ex-public servant has been appointed to this House, and hopes to enrich us with his knowledge on various matters, seems to think that a public servant's knowledge applied in any other direction must be equally effective. That is not necessarily so. I should never attack public servants, as such, because I have too much respect for them ; I am a great admirer of their ability. I ask public servants, however, to recognize their limitations in the same way as we recognize ours. They .cannot have the necessary knowledge of all the problems that are likely to arise in industry to enable them properly to advise the Minister.

Mr Calwell - Are not the economists doing that work?

Mr SPOONER - The economists are only a part of the trouble. I shall now make reference to one particular case, and I do so with a great deal of hesitancy because the gentleman concerned is -a personal friend of mine; he was for fifteen years my neighbour, and I have the highest regard for him. Mr. W. H. Ifould was a highly responsible officer of the State Government of New South Wales when I was a Minister in . that State, and I probably have more personal knowledge of Mr. Ifould than has any other member of this House. Nobody has a higher regard for his ability, his patriotism, his good intentions and his thorough reliability than I have. Mr. Ifould is a good citizen, a man of whom any city should be proud. He was Government Librarian in New South Wales for a large part of his life, and on reaching the retiring age he was appointed Deputy Director of War Organization of Industry in New South Wales. Is it fair that such an appointment should have been made? Putting aside what is due to industries generally, to Australia, the working people and every one else, is it fair to Mr. Ifould that he should be asked to accept 'this position at his age ? He is a man capable of doing a wonderful job for Australia in some other sphere.

Mr Dedman - He is doing a good job now.

Mr SPOONER - If Mr. Ifould is able to understand all the complications of industry and to do the job that Australia needs in that sphere t o-day, then my only comment is that there is something very wrong with industry generally. Many people have been wasting time spending all their working life, trying to learn something which apparently can be picked up in a few weeks by a public servant after he has reached the retiring age. The position should not be trifled with at present. The Minister should reconstruct his department and find men of experience and capacity to do the work. He should forget the prevailing suspicious attitude of many ofhis supporters that every businessman is an enemy of the Labour Government, in war-time or any other time. The Minister should be guided by the advice of men of experience, and that would enable him to overcome many of his difficulties. This week we have seen how one decision made by 'the Minister has landed him into enough confusion and trouble. That, however is only a small portion of the troubles that the honorable gentleman is likely to experience. I advise the honorable gentleman to get, behind him men of experience and ability.

Mr Harrison - The honorable gentleman will not have a Mother's Day to get him out of the trouble next time.

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