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Friday, 27 June 1941

Senator COURTICE (Queensland) . - 'A great deal of interest would be added to this debate if supporters of the Government broke their silence and endeavoured to give satisfactory replies to the criticism that has been voiced by honorable senators on this side of the chamber. Since the debate began yesterday afternoon there has been a constant flow of criticism of the Government's activities which warrants some reply from Ministers. Even honorable senators on the Government side of the chamber have spoken in a critical vein.

Senator FOLL (QUEENSLAND) - The best speech so far has been made by Senator A. J. McLachlan.

Senator Collings - There is a conspiracy of silence.

Senator COURTICE - There has been no opposition to the actual terms of the bill, which provides for an appropriation of £15,141,000, but the discussion has revealed that dissatisfaction with the policy and administration of the Government exists throughout Australia. Sometimes I wonder whether the Labour party was wise in refusing to be associated with a national government and whether a transfusion of good red blood into this anæmic administration would not be good for the country.

Senator FOLL (QUEENSLAND) - The Government's offer still holds good.

Senator COURTICE - I hope so, but perhaps the best thing would be to allow the patient to die, and put a healthy government in power. I have no intention qf .causing disruption; my criticism is always intended to be constructive. However, there is a strong feeling throughout the country that all is not well with our war effort, and that excessive profits are being made by private companies. There is widespread unrest, misunderstanding and dissatisfaction. We have been at war for nearly two years now, and it is time that this state of affairs terminated.

I endorse fully the remarks of Senator A. J. McLachlan and Senator Brown regarding the propaganda activities of the Government. For a long time the Government paid far too much attention to misrepresenting the Labour party's attitude towards the war effort. I am pleased to notice that there is now some evidence of a lull in that campaign. There are to-day some' signs that the Government understands the position better, .and is prepared to deal more fairly with, the Labour party. I trust that the appointment of the committees announced last night will prove helpful in this direction. I have always contended that the Government has been "slow in the uptake ", but it may be that better days are ahead of it.

The manner- in which the petrol position of Australia has been handled shows that Ministers merely muddle their way through the problems that come before them. The petrol rationing scheme is a pure bungle. By enforcing drastic restrictions on city and country people alike, the Government has shown its inability to cope with the situation. To deprive city people of the use of motor cars does not mean very much, for other means of transport are available; but to deprive country people of the use of their motor vehicles is serious in the extreme. It was apparent to many people eighteen months ago that the position in respect of motor spirit and lubricating oils would become serious in this country, but the big oil companies declared that everything would be all right, and that rationing would not be necessary because ample supplies would continue to be available. That was not the view of the thoughtful sections of the community, but the Government allowed the extravagant use of private motor vehicles to continue, with the result that restrictions have now been imposed ' on both commercial and pleasure transport. Had a sound policy been adopted eighteen months ago, the worst of the difficulties of the present situation could have been avoided. But' in this, as in many other matters, the policy of the Government has been " wait and sec". I realize that recriminations will get us nowhere, however, and that we must face the- facts as they are. We must all be prepared to suffer such inconvenience, and to make such sacrifice as may be necessary, in the national interest.

The Government would have been wise had it obliged private cars used for pleasure purposes to go. off the roads long ago. It would also have been wise had it taken effective action two or three years ago to ensure that Australia would be more self-contained in respect of motor spirit. We should have undertaken the production of power alcohol and other substitute fuels long ago. I am glad that, at last, I can congratulate the Ministry upon a decision to do something in this direction. It has been guided for too long by armchair economists in this and in other matters. Had the policies enunciated by these theorists been followed in every, way, Australia would still have been without any basic industries, and our position would have been desperate. The Government should even now implement a > bolder "policy than it proposes for the production: of power alcohol. The recommendations of the Power Alcohol

Committee of Inquiry provide among other" things for the manufacture of 50,000,000 gallons of motor spirit a year. That quantity could and should be produced. Tha proposals of the committee should be adopted more fully than at present seems to be likely.

I was pleased to hear the speech of Senator A. J. McLachlan, but his utterance could have been delivered more appropriately from this side of the chamber. For many years, honorable senators opposite have scorned and ridiculed the ideas enunciated by honorable senators of the Opposition, and the honorable senator himself has acquiesced in the " wait-and-see " policy of the Government. To-day he seems to realize that a more vigorous administration is necessary, and that everything possible should be done to prevent the dislocation of industry. Although the honorable senator contended that production should be increased, he did not say in what way finance could be provided for that purpose. It would be absurd for us to think that we can continue to produce profitably commodities for which we cannot find a market, and it is the responsibility of the Government to see that our resources are organized so as to provide work for all and to prevent the dislocation of industry.

Two or three years ago, we discussed the practicability of establishing a shipbuilding industry in Australia. I referred to the capacity of certain ship-building yards in Queensland to construct wooden ships that would be of service to the country in a time of difficulty. I said . that I believed that we could construct a large number of motor torpedo boats, and other small craft that would be useful for defence purposes. Yet, the Government is only now considering .these, possibilities. A few months ago, I was assured by a shipbuilder of Brisbane, whose plant was then engaged in the building of yachts for pleasure purposes, that he could build vessels that could he of great assistance to the Commonwealth in relation to defence needs.

It is characteristic of all anti-Labour governments, however, to delay action. Honorable, gentlemen opposite, like their political associates in anti-Labour State governments, are not blessed with constructive minds. They seem quite content to remain inactive until necessity forces them to do something. I have said on a. previous occasion, and I repeat it now, that for a long while the only defence policy that the anti-Labour parties had was to present a battleship to the Mother Country. The Labour party has always advocated the adoption of adequate defence measures for Australia. Now the Government is being stampeded into action, and our position is so serious that we are obliged to do things in a way that

Ave would not prefer. . If we had made proper provision for defence, we should doubtless have. been a more effective force in assisting to preserve the peace of the world. Although members of the Government have hitherto seen fit to criticize the Labour party,. I hope. that the present signs that -they are prepared to pay some heed" tq pur . proposals, is an indication that they have "experienced a change "of heart. Honorable gentlemen opposite have also habitually indulged in criticism of the Trade Union movement, but in this regard also they are, perhaps," seeing the error of their ways. I hope that as they work with us. on the various, committees that are to bc appointed, they will appreciate that ' we desire, at least as much as they do, to promote the interests of Australia, and that we are prepared to contribute to the best of- our ability to that end. I hope .that in the future we shall hear less criticism of the workers of Australia from honorable gentlemen opposite. By our co-ordinated efforts, I trust that we shall be able to contribute towards the development of a far stronger British Commonwealth of Nations so that our enemies will be overcome and this disastrous war terminated . sooner than we dare to expect at present. If the Government will indicate to the workers of Australia that it really desires their co-operation, I am sure that it will find them ready to join in a maximum war effort."

In conclusion, I wish to emphasize the necessity for providing additional storage for the. surplus primary products of Australia, so that they may be available to other parts of the Empire after the war is over. Tremendous financial obligations will be involved in providing adequate storage for our bountiful production, and the Government will need to give some consideration to this aspect of the subject, at an early date. Whilst it may be futile for us to produce goods for which we cannot find a market and for which shipping space is not available, there i? a great deal to be said for building sufficient stores to house our surplus products until they can be marketed. I trust that the Government will make finance available for this purpose.

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