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Thursday, 18 September 1941

Senator McBRIDE (South AustraliaMinister for Munitions) (Minister for Munitions) . - I regret that this matter has been brought up in the Senate to-day because, as honorable senators are aware, it is now under the consideration of Cabinet, and thus, at this juncture, I am unable to make as full and complete a reply to the honorable senator as I should like. Mr. Craig made his application for protection of bitumen manufactured in this country, in the first place, to the Tariff Board. That was before the war. I can well imagine that in peace-time such an industry would probably have been very well worth fostering. In any case, in normal times, it would be a matter almost entirely for the determination of the Tariff Board, because over a long period of years governments have established the practice of accepting the recommendations of that board on matters of this kind which are referred to it for investigation. Unfortunately, however, we have since become involved in war, and what in peace-time may have seemed to be a very desirable industry, must now be examined from an entirely different angle. Further, with the progress of the war, a considerable change has taken place in the attitude of the Government towards the establishment of industries generally. That, of course, is due to the fact that, apart altogether from the economics of a project, we must now decide whether or not it is necessary in order to make our war effort as a "whole more effective. Consequently, an entirely new set of conditions has arisen since this application was first referred to the Tariff Board. We are gradually, though not too gradually, increasing our war effort. Indeed, some competent people have said that, in view of our limited resources, we are working with surprising rapidity. One of the responsibilities with which this Government is charged is to decide first of all whether we are capable of maintaining at peace-time level many of the industries which have been established in time of peace. Then, we have to decide what industries that we now lack are necessary for the full development of our war effort. It is on that basis, in a general way, that the question of establishing the bitumen industry in Australia has to be considered. The honorable senator mentioned certain figures in regard to bitumen. Of course those figures were submitted before high costs were incurred owing to increased transport and other charges. I do not think that the honorable senator himself would suggest that the company could operate on the costs originally submitted to the Tariff Board. He must recognize, as I am sure the promoters of this company do, that owing to the large increase of the costs of raw material, whatever manufacturing costs might be, the price of the resultant product must be very substantially increased.

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