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Friday, 9 August 1946

Mr HARRISON (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) -Let us get on with the facts. The letter continues -

The writer is a partner in a Melbourne firm registered under the name of Preston Waste Proprietary Limited. This firm, owing to the control by the Commonwealth Salvage Commission, was compelled to close down during the period of control, due only to the fact that it was unable to obtain supplies.

Despite repeated requests by a directorof the firm to the Commonwealth Salvage Commission, no supplies were made available, yet Walker had the audacity to admit having signed a contract with afirm which was not even registered.

In my letter to you dated 28th March,I omitted to state that the material referred to had been sorted by Millar Ezzy & Company and the commission had paid us £10 per ton to do the sorting. This, of course, makes the sale refered to in that letter more ridiculous than ever.

In conclusion may Isuggest that, when the inquiry is held, evidence be taken on oath.

I turn now to a letter dated the 29th April, 1946, from Mr. Evans, managing director of Sydney Waste Industries Limited, who was alsoa member of the Minister's advisory panel. The letter reads -

My company, as one of the largest textile waste merchants in Australia, had a considerable amount of dealings -with the- commission and I consider that the treatmentdoled out to this company and other waste firms by the commission was most unreasonable.

My reason for making this statement is that in July, 1945, my company purchased from the commission a quantity of old hosiery at £102 13s.. 4d. per ton and again in September, 1945, purchased a quantity of wiper material at £102 13s. 4d. per ton. At about this period the commission sold by contract at least 1,500 tons of rags to the Melbourne Syndicate at a flat rate of £17 per ton. It is not possible to reconcile the action of the officers of the commission in these sales.

Whilst I was in Brisbane in October last ] found that the syndicates were using the commission's store, Army personnel and vehicles to handle the waste. To communicate with the Syndicate (now known as Associated Salvage Distributors) it was first necessary to telephone the State Controller of Salvage, Brisbane, whose office would then connect you.

That is a clear indication as to how far this firm had progressed in its relations with a government instrumentality. If, the Minister was not satisfied witha statement of that kind- he should have advised the commissioner to call evidence on oath. He was empowered to do so and Mr. Evans was desired to give sworn evidence. It seems, however, that the commissioner was not intent on unravelling the facts; he feared what might be brought to the surface. That is the reason why no evidence was called, why the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) and myself were not approached to disclose what evidence we could offer, and why this man went snooping round the firms concerned in an endeavour to get information without calling for evidence on oath. The letter from Mr. Evans continues -

We are led to believe that when the contract, was made the Syndicate was neither registered as a company nor were they licenced as distributors by the Salvage Commission.. It. would also be interesting to know if it is true that the principal of the syndicate has' left this country- and is now in Palestine.

Honorable members will recall that. I asked in .this House, whether this gentleman- had been given a visa to go overseas and that I was informed that he was then on his way back to Australia. To say the least it seems strange that the principal figure in the case should be allowed to leave the Commonwealth at a time when the inquiry was proceeding; The terms of reference were quite clear. I do not know whether Mr. Baron was called ; I venture to say he was not. If he was. called, was his evidence taken on oath? Again, I venture to say it was not. A commissioner was appointed by the Government to investigate serious charges made by responsible members of this Parliament who are associated with the leadership of the two parties in opposition. Is it likely that we would have made loose charges or idle statements? .By the. documentary evidence I have produced this morning I have already proved that the charges were based on facts supplied to me by members of the Minister's own advisory panel. I could do no other than bring those- facts before the House and the country; I could do no other than bring before the House the evidence given by Mr. Kerry, disposals officer of the commission. If the Government thought those charges of sufficient importance - and it did, po, because it appointed Mr. Conde to investigate the matter- it had a responsibility to call all evidence that that would establish- the truth or otherwise of the allegations. After sifting the evidence Mr. Conde should have made recommendations upon which the Government could have acted. But Mr. Conde did not do that ; he interpreted his terms of reference as giving him authority to whitewash the charges and he immediately proceeded to do so.

I turn briefly to another matter. I again direct attention to the serious position in which country people are placed as the result of the imposition of sales tax on freight charged on goods transported from the. metropolitan area to country centres. This practice imposes an unfair, burden on country people and on wholesale firms which have branches in country centres. In order to illustrate my argument I propose to give one or two examples of how this surcharge places country consumers at a disadvantage by comparison with city dwellers. As honorable members are aware, under the sales tax procedure,, goods purchased by merchants in a country town from the' branch of a wholesale, warehouse attract sales tax not only on the goods' themselves, but also on the freight, whereas, if they are bought direct from the main warehouse in the city, sales tax is paid only on the cost of the goods, and not on the freight. The situation is well illustrated by the following examples : The freight on a ton of good? carried by rail at the second-class rate of freight to a point 300 miles distant from Sydney is £8 16s. Sales tax on the freight on those good's is £2 4s., if they are taxable at 25 per cent, or £1 2s., if taxable at 12£ per cent. The tax on the freight on 1 ton- of fine salt sold at. Inverell, the wholesale price of which is £6 14s. 6d. a ton, on rails, Sydney, is 8s. lid. In this case the salt is taxable at. 12$ per cent., and the freight on it to Inverell is £3 Ils. 3d. per ton. Here are two other examples. The first, is iri respect of a ton of fine salt purchased direct from a city wholesaler and shipped to Glen Innes. The initial cost of the salt is £6 14s. 6d., the freight costs £3 8s.. 6d., and sales tax at T2i per cent, on £6 14s. fid'., adds 1Rs. 10d., making the total £10 I As-. I0d. Wow consider the same ton of salt, purchased from the country wholesaler, who is forced to pay tax on the cost, plus freight, by rulings of. the Taxation Commissioner. The cost, as before, is £6 14s'. 6d., the freight £3 Ss. 6d., and the sales tax, on cost plus the freight, at 12^ per cent., £1 5s. 5d., making the total, £11 8s. 5d. This represents " an increase on the first example of 8s. 7d. a ton, or 6.4 per cent., directly attributable to what must be conceded to be an unjust impost. I ask the Minister for Works and Housing, in his capacity as deputy to the Treasurer, whether consideration will be given to the correction of the anomaly, which bears unduly on the country trader. It debars him from purchasing from the branch warehouse in his own town because the sales tax on the freight from the city as well as on the actual cost of the goods makes the cost so much higher.

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