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Tuesday, 9 October 1956

Mr McEWEN - I have read the article to which the honorable member referred. It contained not only the suggestion he mentioned, but indeed a number of other rather similar suggestions. I do not believe that the allegation is true. Quite recently a suggestion was made that the essential drug largactil was in short supply and that permission could not be obtained to import it. Inquiries showed that for a long time the department had been in close contact with the importers of the drug; that, by arrangement, licences were being issued to sustain in Australia a stock of five months' requirements; and that, indeed, over a period, a stock of the drug equivalent to the average requirements for five and threequarter months had been sustained. 1 have had no approaches, direct or indirect, from any importers of life-saving drugs nor from those who might be interested in any way in the importation of drugs to confirm, or even to hint at, the suggestion of an acute shortage of these drugs or that users or distributors are borrowing from each other, as is alleged in a certain newspaper article. 1 cannot believe that if such a situation, as is. alleged, existed, any one concerned with the supply of life-saving drugs to the public and hospitals would not make an approach to me, as Minister for Trade, or to my colleague, the Minister for Health. 1 certainly have nol had any approach from the Minister for Health which would suggest that he has received allegations of this kind of shortage. The truth of the matter ls that this sort of thing is inspired by people who are irritated by the trading difficulties that are inherent in import licensing. I completely sympathize with those who are suffering these difficulties, but the position is not helped by exaggerations, distortions or complete untruths. An allegation was made that a premium of 62 per cent, was paid for a licence for textiles. Any trafficking in licences is quite wrong. If any one brought such an instance, to my notice, I would deal with the matter. But the publication of anonymous allegations of this kind does not get any one anywhere. The truth of the matter is that vested interests in these issues are trying to needle the department along on certain lines by making these broad allegations. I had an instance brought to my notice recently in which it was alleged that a small factory would close because a licence could not be secured for the importation of something for the manufacture of a particular product, which I will not mention. Inquiries revealed that a protective duty had been sought for this product. The Tariff Board reported that export industries would be loaded with the cost of £ 1 00.000 a year for a protective duty for this industry, which would give employment to twenty people. The Tariff

Board, 1 think rightly, rejected the application. But this information came to light following an allegation that import licensing would cause that factory to close. That is fairly in line with the pattern of much of the criticism. I will welcome valid criticism that will expose deficiencies in the administration of import licensing, and I should be surprised if some deficiencies did not exist in such a vast and complex organization. There is no better way to have them corrected than to document the incidents and expose them. I would not resent that, but would correct the situation. But anonymous allegations will not get any one anywhere.

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