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Friday, 25 September 1942

Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) . - I support the bill, but without any great enthusiasm. I do not deny the need for a measure of this kind, but I deplore the severity of the penalties. The measure, in its penal provisions particularly, smacks of fascism and nazi-ism. The penalties are comparable, in their severity, with those imposed in Great Britain, say, 200 years ago, for minor offences. During that period and perhaps for a half a century later, transportation for life was a common sentence for what we regard to-day as trivial offences. It appears to me that these heavy penalties have become necessary because of circumstances that have arisen from government policy. The presentation of this hill to the House indicatedhow greatly the Government fears inflation in Australia. Despite the efforts of the Prices 'Commissioner, who is an efficient officer, there is undoubtedly a fear that, within the next few months, prices may break, and that, we shall find ourselves in a rising spiral of prices with a consequent depreciation of currency

Severe penalties of this character should not be necessary in a British democracy. As a general rule the Australian people, like Anglo-Saxons everywhere, are essentially honest, but there are exceptions; some people will not play the game. Instances of profiteering have occurred in Australia, but I am afraid that the financial policy of the Government invites a measure of dishonesty. Too much money is often a great polluter. It tends to develop profiteers and racketeers. I was assured while I was in the United States of America some years ago that prohibition had been responsible for the gangster and the speakeasy. If we create a set of conditions in which profiteering becomes practicable, we must, of course, evolve controls in order to prevent the exploitation of the public. J. have no doubt that government policy in the last few months has created conditions more or less favorable to profiteering. We are now told that 300,000 more people are to be withdrawn from civil production and put to war work, in these circumstances the supply of civil goods must necessarily become seriously depleted. At the same time a torrent of new money has been released in the community and this torrent must be dammed. During the income period. 193S-39 to 1940-41, people in the income ranges under £400 a year enjoyed an aggregate increase of income of £60,000.000. but their taxes have been increased by only £15,000,000. which means flint they are enjoying an increased ? pending-power of £45,000,000. People in the income range £400 to £1*000, enjoyed an aggregate increase of income of £20.000.000, and their taxes have increased' by £14.000.000. People in the income range over £1,500 had an aggregate increase of income of £13,000,000, but their taxes increased by £2:2,500,000. Only 23.000 out of 3,000,000 taxpayers fall within that income group, i have been informed from reliable sources that our national income may rise this year to between £1,000,000,000 and £1.100,000.000. Even 'with the best intention in the world, people who have available such a huge power are likely to huy whatever goods they desire, if the goods are available through any channel.

The money is there, and the urge to buy is there. All human beings are liable to yield to temptation, and obviously, no matter what restraints may be applied, there will be a tremendous demand for available goods. We know that under the uniform taxation scheme, in Queensland, the Government relieved people earning up to £1,000 a year of as much as £37 in taxes. In such circumstances, there is a high premium on dishonesty, and to guard against breaches of the law, extremely harsh penalties must be provided. I admit that this must be done, but I hope to God that a lot of ordinary, decent, honest people will not be caught in the mesh of this bill. I know of a woman in a Victorian country town who has engaged in black marketing. The Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) will be able to find details of the case in the files of his department, if he so desires. The offender had been an honest woman all her life, but yielded to the temptation to make illicit profits. Only this cursed set of conditions has caused her to break the law. I hope that thousands of other small tradespeople like her will restrain themselves from breaking the law. These penalties remind me of conditions in Great Britain hundreds of years ago or in Nazi Germany to-day. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) was right. There is a falling quantity of goods and increased purchasing power. This may lead to the offences which this measure is designed to prevent. These conditions beget the black-marketer. People cannot buy the luxuries that they want in the ordinary way to-day, because the supply is insufficient, but there are homes in which before the war the total income would be about £5 a week and to-day is £20 or £30 a week because the members of the families are working overtime at well-paid war jobs. I can understand the urge of these people to buy better furniture and all the little luxuries that all of us like to have in our homes. The urge is natural. People cannot obtain some classes of goods in the ordinary way because of short supplies, but they have the incentive to evade the prices regulations and compete in the black markets for those goods that are available. In considering these con- ditions, one cannot help saying, "Well, while that is the position we are not soundly or definitely balancing the budget. We are not getting the money that we require for the war." We know surely that, in the post-war period, we shall want to unleash spending power in order to set the wheels of civil industry in motion. Then we shall expect the thousands of families who are to-day in possession of a vast amount of purchasing power to use their resources to build homes, to furnish them, to buy wireless sets, refrigerators and so on. We shall want that to happen in order to provide means of employing the thousands of men who will return to civil life from the war services. During this period of war, we must be careful to prevent uncontrolled increases of our costs and prices. We must not forget that the work of post-war reconstruction will be undertaken against a background of conditions laid down by the Atlantic Charter. If that charter means anything, it means that trade will be made to flow freely. That being so, any country that allows its cost levels or price levels to escape control owing to some easy but misguided financial policy will be confronted with many grave problems. It will add to its difficulties not only during the war but also in the post-war period. Australia can avoid this danger by the use of a little common sense and by withdrawing from the people, for the time being, the excess purchasing power which they now have and putting it aside so that it can be used sensibly after the war. If the money be taken now and held for them till after the war, they will benefit considerably. They will be able to buy goods, the manufacture of which will re-establish industry in a prosperous condition. I sincerely hope that some of the things which might arise from this bill will not occur. I hope that there will be very few cases in which the penalties prescribed will be enforced. The bill provides for imprisonment, without the option of a fine, for terms up to twelve months, and, when a conviction is recorded, the offender will be obliged to post a notification to that effect on his premises. These measures are necessary only because we have created conditions which encourage black marketing. I shall support the bill, but I have little enthusiasm for any policy which creates such a set of circumstances and makes imperative the harsh penalties provided in this bill.

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