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Wednesday, 26 June 1946

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - Before that can be done, the Constitution must be altered.

Mr SMITH - In such a cause, I am perfectly willing to advocate an alteration of the Constitution. I am confident that the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron) would support any attempt tq. improve the conditions of the people of the out-back. Every honorable member would willingly assist them to obtain those necessary facilities. The Constitution is not so rigid that it cannot be altered, and an appeal to the people to equip this Parliament with authority to provide those amenities for the residents of the sparsely populated areas would have the unanimous support of all political parties. The recommendations which I have read are within the range of possibility. All that is required is, not talk, hut action. This problem demands a practical approach. Members of Parliament talk a great deal in the course of a year. They also read voluminous reports presented to the Parliament, but, ultimately, those reports are pigeonholed, and might well be burned, for all the use that is' made of them.

Mr White - Would the honorable member support the granting of additional financial assistance to the flying doctor service? The present grant is £5,000 per annum, and the balance of the money required for the service is provided by private subscription.

Mr SMITH - If additional money is required to make the service more efficient, I am quite willing to support any move to provide it. During the war, we found the money required to safeguard this country against the onslaughts of the aggressor, and I emphasize that in peace-time, we must apply all the resources and services available' to the Government and. the people for the purpose of developing the Commonwealth, and making it worthy of the sacrifices that were made for, its preservation.

Although petrol rationing is a very contentious subject, I consider that I should refer to it at this juncture. . In my .opinion the Government, and particularly the Minister . for Supply and Shipping (Senator Ashley) should review petrol rationing immediately. I am aware that the. Minister has issued a statement on the subject, but I know also that the oil companies are among the biggest monopolies in the world, and are concerned, not so much about the welfare of the people of Australia, as about defeating this Government and making profits. Admittedly, their cartel was established during the war years for the purpose of reducing the normal manpower requirements of the industry; but this combination of companies is being continued. According to my information, the cartel' was to have been dissolved by the end of this month. Now, ' the oil companies have agreed to continue the present arrangement until the end of September. If the election has not been held by that time, the existence of the cartel will probably be further prolonged. Consequently, I am somewhat in agreement with the statement of the president of the Automobile Services in South Australia that the extra issue of petrol ration tickets for private motorists will exceed their requirements, and that the need for the rationing of petrol no longer exists. I give to the Government and to the Minister for Supply and Shipping every credit for their endeavour to do what i? best for all. motorists, and I realize that the rationing of petrol and other materials was the best and fairest method, during and since the war, of securing equality of treatment; but I have very grave suspicions of the oil companies, and believe that they will do everything possible to obstruct the removal of petrol rationing. The Minister 'should examine the matter very closely and abolish petro] rationing at the earliest possible moment. From my own experience of the position in South Australia, petrol rationing is farcical. I do not cast any aspersions on the Government and the Minister, but I know how cunning these oil monopolists are. Some years ago an inquiry was held into their activities. Some of us, who had a knowledge of the business, remember the arguments that were then advanced. Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited could have supplied all the information required without the necessity to hold an investigation, because it was supposed to be an importing company, but it was in reality only a subsidiary of the major oil companies. Another advantage of the removal of petrol rationing would be the release of man-power for other avenues of production. When examining this subject the Minister must exercise great care because of the subtle influence of the oil monopolists.

While on the subject of petrol, I point out that the oil companies, when clearing their petrol from bond, pay duty to the Department of Trade and Customs on a temperature basis, namely 60 degrees. But when this petrol is sold to the reseller, it is purchased by the " dip " or bulk method. For years, the garage proprietor has been worried by the losses on motor spirit. With the advent of petrolrationing, the position took a more serious turn. Various suggestions te overcome the difficulty have been put forward from time to time, and evaporation has borne the brunt of the blame. However, checks made on tanks do not disclose losses from this cause. I do not intend to discuss the various causes, but for the information of honorable members, I do desire to show how losses occur during summer months. The position disclosed is serious, and the matter should be adjusted at the earliest possible moment. With this object in view, the Chamber of Automobile Associations throughout Australia has protested from time to time.

It is the practice of the oil companies to draw stocks from bond, pay duty on the spirit calculated back to 60 degrees temperature, and then sell it in volume to the .reseller. The reseller works under a great disadvantage, apart from the fact that he is not obtaining the delivery of the spirit paid for, especially where atmo spheric conditions show a marked variation between the temperature of the oil companies' tankers, and the underground installations on service stations provided by the oil companies. As an illustration, let us assume that the temperature of an underground tank at a service station is 60 degrees, and the oil company's tanker comes to deliver 10,000 gallons of spirit at a temperature of 80 degrees. It would be found, that 10,000 gallons was received in volume within a given period, but it would contract to 9,876 gallons in the underground tank, thereby showing a loss of 124 gallons, representing 1¼ per cent. The oil companies would pay duty on only 9,876 gallons.

This vexed question arises particularly during the long summer months, especially in South Australia, where excessive temperatures are experienced. The. temperature of the underground tanks installed at service stations, owing to the insulation of the earth, does not vary a great deal, whereas the tanker temperature is governed by sun temperature which varies to a marked degree during summer- time. The reseller views the position with alarm, particularly when the amount of money paid for nothing is taken into consideration. The companies obtain the advantage from the Department of Trade and. Customs, of the expansion of the motor spirit. Why should the trade be called upon to purchase, and pay tax on, spirit by any other method than that approved by the Commonwealth Department of Trade and Customs ? I am aware that under.its wartime powers the Commonwealth Government could have introduced a regulation to overcome this difficulty, and it could have fixed the price to the re-seller on a temperature basis, but it did not do so. I do' not blame it on that account, for during the war it had a great deal to' occupy -its attention. However, the war has now ended, and we should be turning our attention to such subjects as this in order that remedies may be applied where anomalies exist. From my investigations I. have learned that the weights and measures acts are administered by State departments, but I believe that the Commonwealth Parliament has constitutional power to enact uniform legislation, in respect of weights and measures. If the State authorities are not prepared to force the companies to apply the correct method of sale to re-sellers of motor spirit, which, I contend, is the temperature method, the Commonwealth should exercise its authority and introduce uniform legislation to insure that the companies shall sell motor spirit according to the formula on which they receive it from the Customs Department.

I also urge the Government to review the prices of motor spirit and other petroleum products. Questions have been asked in the House to-day on this subject. I am quite satisfied that a case exists for a thorough investigation of this whole subject. During the war the oil companies gave the primary producers a raw deal. In some country towns all depots were closed, whilst in others two or three were allowed to operate. No consideration whatever was given to the convenience of producers. The oil companies undoubtedly applied the cartel method to suit themselves. This system of trading in Australia should be thoroughly investigated.

Before -the war two grades of petrol were being sold throughout the Commonwealth, first grade being ls. 6id., and the second grade ls. 7£d. a gallon wholesale. Now only one grade, and a very poor grade, is available, and the wholesale price in capital . cities is 2s. 2|d. Before the war motor oil was 4s. 6d. a gallon in bulk; to-day it is 6s. 9d. a gallon. The increase of 2s. 3d. a gallon is, in my opinion, not justified. Because farmers and users of motor vehicles generally do not regard lubricating oil as among their major costs, not a great deal of notice has been taken of the increase, but attention undoubtedly should be given to it. Kerosene was 11½d. a gallon before the war; to-day it is ls. 3Ad. a gallon. Fuel' oils, including diesel oils, also have increased substantially in price. . I trust that the Government will appreciate that it is high time that methods of distribution and prices of petroleum products were reviewed. The general public is undoubtedly being misled by the oil companies in regard to the whole situation. The operations of these monopolistic concerns should be very closely investigated.

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