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Wednesday, 2 July 1941

Senator COURTICE (Queensland) . - A few days ago, the Minister for Munitions (Senator McBride) tabled the report of the Power Alcohol Committee of Inquiry. The Minister did not then indicate the Government's view of the findings of that committee, but the following report appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald : -

The Federal Government has decided, ns a first objective, to produce 22,000,000 gallons of power alcohol a year.

This was announced to-day by the Minister for Supply, Senator McBride, when be tabled the Power Alcohol Committee's report in the Senate.

The output of 7,000,000 gallons from existing distilleries, said Senator McBride, would be produced from molasses, supplemented by 4.000 tons of raw sugar, each year.

The new distilleries, with an estimated output of 10,000,000 gallons, would use wheat only. They will be located in Western Australia (estimated output 2,000,000 gallons), South Australia (3,000,000 gallons), Victoria (2.000.000 gallons), and New South Wales (2,000.000 gallons).

The capital required for these distilleries would be £1,100,000, and their establishment would be discussed by the Federal and State Governments and representatives of private enterprise to evolve mutually satisfactory arrangements.

I now ask whether the Government intends to implement the recommendations of the committee, which the committee summarized in its report as follows : -

1.   That immediate steps be taken to expand Australia's production of power alcohol to 524 million gallons per annum, mainly from wheat and sugar cane.

2.   The fixing of a price of 2s. per gallon wholesale at blending depots.

3.   The introduction of suitable legislation, either Commonwealth or State, to ensure proper control in the production, financing and regulation of marketing in the power alcohol industry.

During peace-time, the normal consumption of petrol in Australia is 350,000,000 gallons, of which 52,500,000 gallons of power alcohol would represent 15 per cent. The committee has recommended that all motor fuel consumed in Australia should be a blend containing somewhere between 12 per cent, and 20 per cent, of alcohol. In these proportions both the petrol and the alcohol give the highest standard of efficiency in the average petrol engine. It can safely be said that the motor transport community would in present circumstances be happy to pay the slight extra cost of the new fuel. In a country like Australia we must experience drastic economic repercussions as petrol rationing becomes essentially more severe. I do not intend to discuss the technical aspect of the power alcohol industry. The committee recommends the manufacture of alcohol from molasses, supplemented by a quantity of raw sugar, estimated at 40,000 tons annually. Personally, I think that that is the most efficient manner in which power alcohol can be manufactured, because distilleries already exist, and their capacity can be readily stepped up as required. However, the cost of transporting raw sugar and molasses to the distilleries is an important item of cost. For that reason, I believe that the committee had in mind the establishment of distilleries adjacent to the sugar mills in Northern Queensland, with perhaps a distillery in New South Wales. Alcohol can be manufactured more economically from syrups than from raw sugar. I realize that the establishment of distilleries will involve heavy expenditure, but the Government should, in the national interests, adopt the recommendations of the committee and go ahead immediately with preparations for the manufacture of 52,500,000 gallons of power alcohol annually, as recommended. lt may take up to two years before the required number of distilleries are in full production. At this stage, however, I should like to know whether the Government has evolved any definite plan for implementing the recommendations of the committee. The Government, of course, recognizes that if it intends to do so it must take steps immediately to purchase machinery or, perhaps, arrange for its manufacture in Australia. Up to date, however, the policy of the Government has been to hand over this matter to the Standing Committee on Liquid Fuels. That committee has never been very sympathetic towards this industry. But I know that the Government has handed over the report of the Power Alcohol Committee of Inquiry to that body. I am anxious, therefore, to discover whether the Government intend® to be guided by the opinion of the Standing Committee. If the recommmendations of the Power Alcohol Committee of Inquiry be implemented, the manufacture of power alcohol will absorb a quantity of sugar which cannot now be exported. That committee recommends that for that sugar the growers be paid £9 a ton - the export price. On that basis, power alcohol can be manufactured and sold at a price which compares favorably with that ruling for petrol to-day. But if the

Government intends to be guided, as has hitherto been the case, by the advice of economists in this matter, it will not do the right thing by the sugar industry. We know that, had it accepted the advice of so-called economists in the past, neither the sugar industry nor our steel industry would be in existence to-day. The Government can safely implement the recommendations of the Power Alcohol Committee of Inquiry, because, by doing so, it will help to tide Australia over the difficulties now being experienced due to the shortage of petrol. The committee has made it clear that no technical difficulties arise; we can manufacture alcohol. Therefore, I urge the Government to give immediate and urgent consideration to the committee's recommendations. That committee consisted of practical men. It should not be thought for one moment that the power alcohol industry is going to prove a very great boon to the sugar industry. That will not be the case. However, as the sugar industry is now unable to dispose of the surplus which hitherto it exported, we must find some market for that surplus. Otherwise, 'we shall have to abandon a great proportion of our sugar lands. That, of course, is unthinkable. I again ask the Minister to indicate whether the Government intends to implement the recommendations of the Power Alcohol Committee, and to outline briefly what plans it has in mind in that respect?

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