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Friday, 27 June 1941

Senator ARMSTRONG (New South Wales) . - It is so long since honorable senators have had an opportunity, to speak in this chamber that many of us are quite out of practice and unable to do justice to our subject. Now that ;we have a chance- to f speak on a> Supply

Bill, and many matters come to our minds, our opportunity to speak is limited because this legislation is being rushed through in circumstances which have led the honorable .senator who has just resumed his seat to cut short his remarks in order to give his colleagues an opportunity to take part in the debate.

The first matter with which I wish to deal is petrol rationing. The indecision and vacillation which has characterized the Government's legislative programme, since the outbreak of war, have been in evidence in its handling of this subject. Its handling of the petrol rationing has been most unfair to not only motor car owners and users, but also to the industry generally. When the scale of rationing to operate to the end of June, was announced, the motor industry believed that the drastic reductions involved represented the limit to which the Government would go. In. those circumstances, motor users and traders generally entered into large commitments which to-day represent very serious losses to them. I read in the press last week a report by the managers of the agencies for De Soto and Pontiac cars that due to the. latest reductions announced, their businesses would be ruined, because they had purchased and paid for new cars which they would not now be able to sell. Apart from the question as to whether rationing on so severe a scale is necessary or not, the Government must have known for some considerable time exactly what would be its requirements, and also what degree of rationing would have to be enforced. However, it allowed the impression to be conveyed to the community that the present scale of rationing would finally satisfy its requirements. Furthermore, if it were sincere in its efforts to conserve supplies of petrol, it would itself have set an example to the people by exercising economy. Some months ago, it announced that producergas units would be installed in 10 per cent, of Commonwealth- cars. This week,, both Senator Fraser and I have asked what percentage of Commonwealth cars have been fitted with producer-gas units, but no answers have been made available to those questions. After all, they were not difficult questions. I ' believe that the Government can readily give1 the answers, but simply refuses to do so. Indeed, I do not believe that more than 2 per cent. of Commonwealth cars have yet been fitted with producer-gas units. From my own observations on visits to military camps, and from what I have been told by other people who are more familiar than I with the matter, I do not believe that one solitary military vehicle is fitted with a producer-gas unit. We have this extravagance on the part of a Government which does not hesitate to institute a scale of rationing which must involve the ruin of motor traders in Australia as well as many- private' businesses dependent upon motor transport. It cannot be said that the Government has set an example in this matter: Its failure to do so is inexcusable, because it has at its disposal more means to install producer-gas units on its motor vehicles than are available to any private . business. Indeed, if necessary it could' construct its own factories for the manufacture of such units. That would not be unwise, seeing that abundant supplies of charcoal are readily available to the Government. To-day, one gets a shock if he sees a producer-gas unit on any Commonwealth car. One can only concludethatour petrol position is not so serious as the Government would have us believe. Apparently, the Government'smain excusefor imposing the severe restrictions which- are to operate as from 1st J uly next is that tankers are not arriving. It would be interesting to compare the quantity of petrol shipped from the United States of America to Japan during the last ten months with that shipped to Japan during the preceding ten months.

Senator Leckie - Does the honorable senator blame us for that?

Senator ARMSTRONG - No ; but if

Japan canget all the petrol it requires from the United States of America, there must be something wrong with this Government if we cannot get what' we want. All along, the man in the street has realized that some measure of petrol rationing would be unavoidable. However, the Government refuses to tell us what percentage of petrol is being used by military vehicles.

Senator Leckie - That information was given.

Senator.ARMSTRONG.- I heard the Minister for the Interior (Senator Foll) say by way of interjection, but not in answer to a question, that the quantity of petrol used in military vehicles represented 2 per cent. of the total petrol consumed in Australia. I should like to see the figures on which that percentage is based. I suppose that it does not include the petrol used by the Air Force and the Navy. I recall that during a confidential meeting of senators and members in the House of Representatives, the Minister for Munitions (Senator McBride) refused to say what quantity of petrol was being used by military machines. To-day, nearlytwo years after the outbreak of war, we still hear responsible Ministers stating that the Go-" vernment intends to deal with the position. The Minister for Munitions said only last week that substitute fuels will be produced. Such statements arouse uneasy thoughts in the mind of the man in the street. At this stage of the war, he wants to know, not what the. Government intends to do, but what it has already done. He wants to know what petrol substitutes have been produced, not what the Government intends to produce within the next twenty months or so. I need hardly remind honorable senators that many nations and flags which existed twenty months ago have disappeared. But the Government continues to speak of what it intends to do. The Minister said that the production of substitute fuels would be part of a. long-range programme. Instead of listening to talk about long-range programmes, we are entitled at this stage to hear something about the fulfilment of some of the programmes which the Government is always announcing, but none of which ever seems to produce results. A programme has now been announced for the production of substitute fuels to provide one-third of Australia's requirements. I repeat that at this stage the man in the street does not want to hear any more about the Government's intentions. He wants the Government to come along and say just exactly what has been done, how much petrol has been stored in Australia, and how many producer-gas units have been manufactured.

Senator Cooper - Would the honorable senator tell the public, if he knew, how many gallons of petrol Ave have stored?

Senator ARMSTRONG - I know how many gallons Ave have stored; but that information was given to us in secret. Nevertheless, I am obliged to raise this matter, when I hear such statements. still being made by Ministers, and find the Government still immersed in mists of doubt. In view of the latest severe restrictions announced by the Government, the man in the street must conclude that . our petrol position. is desperate. I remind honorable- senators opposite that in not only this chamber, but also, the House of Representatives, members of the Labour party, have for the past ten years- been urging the Government to- establish plants for the production of oil from coal. The necessity for that action has also been stressed in the daily press.' The man in the street, who has been aware that, for many years past, oil has been produced from coal in European countries, including Great Britain, begins to wonder whether our failure to undertake that work is due to lack' of initiative on the part of the Government, or to a lack of skilled men.- He is of opinion that we should have both. We certainly have men of sufficient skill for that work; so I leave it to honorable senators to say for themselves what, has been lacking. What is the position at Newnes to-day? It seems almost impossible to obtain a statement from the Government in regard to that undertaking. The Government has been pouring money into the Newnes project far in' excess of the amount specified, in the agreement reached some years ago, yet no statement has been made either to members of this chamber or of the House of Representatives. It is ascandal. We have heard various figures of intended production varying from 10,000,000 gallons a year to ' 30,000,000 gallons a year. What I Avant to know is how many gallons have been produced since the company commenced operations at Glen Davis; how many" gallons are being produced each day now, and when will the objective of 10,000,000 a year be achieved? Further, I should like to know how much money the Government r has. put into this project, without the concurrence of Parliament, since the legislation providing aid to the company was passed?

I have read in the press that an electric car invented by a Mr. John Bowker, of South Australia, can do 'approximately 100 miles for 9d. According to neWS.paper reports the Minister for Munitions (Senator McBride) has been interested in the project for some months and is discussing proposals for its exploitation with officers of the Department of Supply and Development. Under instructions from the Prime Minister the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research has examined the proposals, but has withheld final decisions pending forthcoming trials of. the new car. Here again there appears to be delay and vacillation. Apparently, such a car has been on the road for twelve months in South Aust tralia. It has .been examined by officers of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and .by members of the Ministry, but still no definite action has been taken. Surely by now the Government must know whether the car is practicable for general use. If there be any value in this invention it should be exploited immediately because in the present crisis Ave must grasp at- everything which Will provide an alternative to the use of petrol in thi3 country. When the Government launched its campaign to convert motor cars and lorries' so that the}' could be propelled by producer-gas instead of by petrol, it ' undertook to -install producergas units on 10 per cent, of its OWn vehicles. Yet, despite the fact that the petrol ration has been' so" cut that 90 per cent, .of motorists will find- it necessary to install producer-gas units, or cease to use their . vehicles there is little evidence of the Government having fulfilled its undertaking. I have not yet seen a single truck or ear on military duties fitted with a producer-gas unit.

Senator Leckie - The honorable senator will not see them if they are engaged' on military operations.

Senator ARMSTRONG - Why should I not see them? 'The job, which thesevehicles are doing in the military camps, is the same 'as that being done by ordinary' commercial "motor cars and trucks. They are attached to various military camps - throughout ' Australia, but they are largely engaged on the same jobs as they would do in civil use. They have to pick up. and deliver supplies, transport "officers and men, and the like'. I contend that if producer-gas units cannot be used on these army vehicles, the Government has a " hide ". to ask the general public to install them.

Senator Foll - Does not the honorable senator think that the military requirements should have priority over pleasure needs 'i

Senator ARMSTRONG - I have not mentioned the word "pleasure" at all. In the absence of the Minister for the Interior' (Senator Foll), I have been talking of the fact that the motor trade now faces ruination. More than 8,000 men will be thrown out of employment as a result of the latest drastic cuts in petrol quotas. The point I wish to make is that very soon neither pleasure nor business motorists will be able to use: their vehicles owing to petrol rationing. If the position is as serious as it, would appear to be military "cars and trucks stationed at the various military camps and" establishments throughout Australia -should be converted to -producer gas. The sooner the Government -goes ahead with the job of installing producer-gas units on at -.least '70 per cent, of the defence cars and lorries, -the. soo'ner. the public will take similar action. ' -.- "-. Senator LECKIE.- The honorable- sena- tor realizes, .of ^course;- that; .in the' event of ,an invasion, those -vehicles would be used on military operations^ ; "Senator- ' ARMSTRONG. - And so would every other car and truck available in the country.

I should also like to say a few words with regard to the efforts being made to establish a reasonable system of defence in this country. At the outset, I should like to explain that these are not merely my own views in regard to this matter, but they are the views of" highly placed military - men who have done me the honour of expressing their opinions to me.' The present system of compulsory military training is not producing the results that were anticipated. ' The greatest fault that military men have to find with the .system is that during the three months that the men are in camp, they reach an advanced stage of efficiency in their training, but they then return to civil life for three months. Originally it was intended that the men should be in camp for three months out of every twelve, but because of the Government's desire to keep the forces up around the 250,000 mark, it has been found necessary to put the men in camp for six months out of every twelve. It has been found that when the men come in for their second three months' term, their numbers are reduced to an extraordinary degree. Some camps expecting 5,000 compulsory trainees have received only 3,500 or 3,S00. The reductions are caused by enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force, exemption because of hardship, or exemption upon applications from employers. The result is that the entire organization of platoons, companies, battalions and so on, is upset, and the whole training has to be started over again. From what I can gather those in charge of training operations are firmly convinced that it would be far better to have a permanent army of 100,000 men than to try to train 250,000 young Australians as they are doing now. Under the present system a tremendous amount of work is involved in bringing new men up to the standard of efficiency of more experienced trainees, and' the feeling -amongst the officers in charge is -out of. .futility,- because even ' with- the intensified training at' present in operation, the soldiers, lacking modern equipment, are- not- reaching the standard of proficiency that they should attain.

Senator Collett - That is quite- a reasonable view.

Senator ARMSTRONG - There is another aspect of the matter. Despite the fact that the jobs of young men going into camp are protected to a certain degree, quite a lot of Australians are very casual, and when they find they have been, displaced from their former positions, they do not approach the tribunal which has been set up to protect them. In fact many of them do not fully appreciate their rights in that regard, or do not know how to go about the matter. Consequently,many of them become unemployed. I have talked to some of these young fellows, and the possibility of losing their jobs is a great bugbears in their lives. Amongst the compulsory trainees are many hundreds of suitable young men who make every effort to stay in the training camps. Because of. their prolonged training they have risen from the ranks to the positions of corporals or sergeants, and they look upon the military work as their lives and future. They wish to be kept permanently in . the military organization. I do not think that the Government would have any difficulty at all in establishing a permanent home defence force of80,000 or 100,000 which could he kept in camp continually, and thus be ready for service should the occasion arise. If that were done, the officers in charge of training our home forces would be much happier about their work than they are to-day. I hope that the Government will consider my suggestion, because this is a. very important matter. It appears that at present the dislocation caused in homes and in industries by putting militiamen in camp for short training periods of three months is not being compensated by the attainment of a high degree of proficiency by those trainees.

There is another matter in connexion with which I feel that the Government needs a shaking up. The Government is being congratulated a shade too much upon the excellent speech made by the Prime Minister, and on the appointment of three additional Ministers. I am reminded a little of the methods used by the Baldwin Government in Great Britain. When attacks by opponents of that Government became severe and drew too much public attention, Mr. Baldwin would graciously admit that he saw the position clearly; and he would thereupon lay down a plan of re-construction. At the end of six, eight or ten' months, however, it would be found that nothing had happened, and the same process would be gone through again.

SenatorCollings. - Mr. Baldwin's slogan was " Wait and see ".

Senator ARMSTRONG - He was an expert at diverting criticism by the promise, of action, and the present Prime Minister of Australia reminds me very much of him, but at this stage I am not very much concerned with what the right honorable gentleman has promised to do. I am not convinced that the appointment of three new Ministers to the Cabinet will accelerate our war effort in any way. It is quite obvious that members of the Cabinet are not really running the country. . They are notmaking this country safe for democracy, but, rather, by the appointment of leading industrialists to key positions in our war organization, they are merely protecting the interests of Australian monopolies. The key men of practically every monopoly in Australia hold important posts in the Government's war effort.

Senator FOLL (QUEENSLAND) - Most of them are eminent . men of great knowledge and experience.

Senator ARMSTRONG - But they are using their ability in a way that will not do much good to the country. A brief survey of the position discloses that appointees of the Government include, Mr. Essington Lewis, of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, Mr. W. J. Smith, of Australian Consolidated Industries Limited - which company, apparently, the Government intends to take proceedings against for alleged war-time profiteering - Sir Philip Goldfinch, of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, Mr. Thorpe, Director of Machine Tools, and Sir Archibald Howie. There are too many others to mention now. The latest appointment, which was announced in the newspapers this morning, is that of the general manager of the British-Australasian tobacco monopoly to the post of DirectorGeneral of Supply.

Senator McLeay - He offered to sacrifice his life for the honorable senator in the last war and was wounded in the fighting line. He is a big Australian.

Senator ARMSTRONG - The honorable senator did the same, and so did the Minister for the Interior. Many Australians offered their lives for their country and came back.

SenatorMcLeay.-It ill becomes the honorable senator tospeak like that of a great Australian.

Senator ARMSTRONG - The honorable senator cannot put me off the track by drawing ared herring like that across the trail.

Senator McLeay - Apparently the appointment of a Communist or trade union agitator would have pleased the honorable senator.

Senator ARMSTRONG - That man was in the last war ; so were 350,000 other Australians who- enlisted, and every one of them, whether he was a lieutenantcolonel or a private, was as good a man as he is. Many of them finished up on the dole.

Senator McLeay - Would the honorable senator appoint a man on the dole, instead of a man who has made a success of business?

Senator ARMSTRONG - I would not comb the land in order to secure the services of heads of monopolist concerns. Anybody who has watched closelythe development of Australia's war effort must be amazedat the rapid growth of monopolies. Even the latest development in the field of aluminium production is shrouded in ' mystery, It appears as though the Government will before long have the greatest aluminium monopoly in * the world in possession of the industry. Are there no capable men in Australia, apart from the heads of these big industrial concerns? Because of these appointments every Australian is doubtful of the Government's capacity to produce the maximum war effort. It will be interesting to learn who will be appointed Governor of the Commonwealth Bank. Sir Alfred Davidson, of the Bank of New South Wales, would be the ideal choice, if the Government is to be consistent. We can rest assured that the monopolists will not fail to look after their own interests. When this war ends and we look around among the shattered ruins - there will be devastation everywhere even if we are victorious - we shall see standing upright, with their chimneys smoking and huge profits accruing, the factories of all of these monopolist companies. Even though the morale and the health of the average man may be farbelow what they were when the war began, these concerns will have increased in power out of all proportion to their rights. It should be the bounden duty of the Government to prevent this sort of thing. The Government has established committees to superintend our war effort, and the Labour party has given the services of many of its members in order to assist it, but still we see monopolists being called in to take more control out of the hands of the men who should be conducting the affairs of the country. These industrialists are the men who are governing Australia to-day. If they were doing a good job for the defence of the nation I should acknowledge their right to hold the positions which they occupy, but these successful commercialists have definitely failed to direct Australia's war effort to the best advantage. Mr. Aldridge, a representative of the Sydney Sun, who should have as much first-hand knowledge of this war as anybody, because he has visited many fighting fronts, asked when he returned to Australia recently, " Why train your men with rifles and bayonets? The war is not being fought with rifles and bayonets, but with mechanized equipment ". We have no automatic fire power in our army. There are no Bren guns in our military camps, "we have very few Lewis and Tickers guns, and we have no heavy artillery or first-line fighter aeroplanes. We aremanufacturing Wirraway aeroplanes,but we should have progressed beyond that stage in the first eight months of the war to the manufacture of Hurricanes, Spitfires, and American Curtiss fighters. Without them we cannot defend Australia adequately. The Government has not attempted to take even the initial steps necessary for the manufacture of front line fighter aeroplanes. Until we can manufacture all of these things the Government is wasting its time by training 250,000 boys to defend our country. -They must have mechanized equipment and aerial support. How far has the Government gone with the production of tanks? The monopolist directors whom I have mentioned arc supposed to be getting on with this job. If they could build up the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, multiplying its capital many times in 30 years, why can they not build tanks, fighter aeroplanes and automatic weapons? About three- weeks ago I read that a' young man had invented a tommy-gun, and that the Government intended to place a trial order for about 100 of them. It should have obtained licences from the United States of America at the outbreak of war for the manufacture of its full requirements of this kind of weapon. The manufacture of tommy-guns is not nearly so involved as is the manufacture, of Bren guns. Had the Government been alive to its responsibilies, it would have sent men to the United States of America in order to obtain licences and blue prints, so that our factories could - have been turning out these weapons in thousands by now. We are importing tanks to-day, and yet we are exporting Wirraway training aeroplanes. If we are making too many Wirraways, we should switch part of that branch of production over to the manufacture of front line fighter aircraft. Although we are supposed to have the services of the best brains drawn from the ranks of the monopolists in Australia in the direction of our war effort we have very few of the essential things that are necessary for the proper defence of Australia, and, worse than that, the Government cannot tell us when we shall have them. Until- we can see tanks, fighter aeroplanes and a wellequipped army with adequate automatic fire-power actually in the field we shall be suspicious of the bona fide3 of the Government and the monopolists who pull strings behind the scenes.

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