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Friday, 15 May 1942

Mr BARNARD (Bass) .- It gives me very great pleasure, indeed, to hear any honorable member speak strongly in support of the development of the National Capital. I agree that the proposition mentioned by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) cannot be undertaken immediately. However, I can see no reason why it should not be referred to the Public Works Committee for investigation and report for the reasons mentioned by the honorable member.

On previous occasions in this House I have raised the subject of allowances to non-official postmasters and postmistresses. The work of non-official post offices has increased substantially during recent years in respect of petrol rationing, war saving certificates, child endowment, invalid and old-age pensions and soldiers' allotments. It is true that some pensioners are paid direct by cheque; but the work of these officers has increased considerably. In addition, they will soon be obliged to handle the distribution of widows' and orphans' pensions. The allowance of these officers has not been increased commensurate with the additional work which they now perforin. [ believe that they have the sympathy of the Government, but that sympathy should take a practical form.

The Joint Committee on Profits, in its second report, discloses that the increased cost of living results principally from the higher prices for clothing. On page 7 of the report, it is stated -

It will be observed that by far the most substantial rise in prices still occurs in the item of clothing. This shows a percentage increase for the six capitals of 41.4 per cent., and accounts for more than two-thirds of the total rise of 12.3 per cent, in retail prices since the outbreak of war. The rise in clothing, as shown in the figures for the six capitals, has increased from 32.1 per cent, to 4.1.4 per cent, since our first report.

Because of the war, some of the increase may be justified, but I am of opinion that the whole of it is not legitimate. On page 15 of this excellent report appears a long list of declared goods, in respect of which a specific price has been fixed, and very few articles of wearing apparel are shown. On pages 29-31 are published the names of 50 persons and companies who have been prosecuted and fined for breaches of the National Security (Prices) Regulations. Offenders were found in every State, and the fines ranged from £2 to £10, with costs. Recently, the Prices Commissioner was reported to have said that the penalties which were imposed for this class of offence were too low. According to information supplied to me this morning, the regulation provides a maximum fine. I suggest to the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) that magistrates who hear these cases should be granted discretionary power to impose in glaring cases heavier (fines than are at present permissible. Some traders grasp every opportunity to fleece the public and if they are caught, they should be dealt with most severely. Although the Prices Commissioner receives a good deal of abuse, I consider that he is performing excellent work. I do not agree with every decision that he has made; for example, I disagree with the price that he fixed for Tasmanian blue pens.

But when he suggests that magistrates should have discretion to inflict heavier fines upon traders who exploit the community, the Government should grant the necessary authority without delay.

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