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Thursday, 18 September 1941

Senator ARMSTRONG (New South Wales) . - I support the motion so ably moved by Senator Ashley and supported by the members of the Opposition. I regard it as my first duty to deal with the proposition put forward by Senator Spicer. The Prices Commissioner did give evidence before the committee in Melbourne on the lines set out by Senator Spicer; but merely because he did so is no guarantee that what he said is correct. After all, he was expressing only his own opinion.

Senator McBride - Based on evidence.

Senator ARMSTRONG - The Prices Commissioner, and many other learned gentlemen, expressed very definite opinions in 1931 concerning the financial proposals of the then Government. Today, the same gentleman, when giving evidence before Parliamentary committees admit that they were then not right. A little while hence, we may find that the evidence submitted by the Prices Commissioner or some other expert witness before the Joint Committee on Profits are not quite right. We have had evidence from statisticians to show that the cost of living in the United States of America has risen by about 2 per cent., but American information discloses that the cost of living in that country has risen almost out of control. So great has been the increase that legislation has recently been introduced into the Congress of the United States of America to peg commodity prices. Subsequent investigation frequently proves that figures submitted by experts to prove what they regard to be facts are often incorrect. The figures produced by the Prices Commissioner show that freights form a. very large proportion of the increase of the landed cost of petrol. But, actually, what is the position of the major oil companies in this respect? Figures have been produced to show that freight costs of these companies have increased by almost 32 per cent. I should say, that all of the tankers that are used by the Shell Company of Australia Limited, for instance, are owned by that company or chartered by it for long periods. Thus, any increase in respect of freight is merely a book entry, and like so many book entries, is used simply to mislead the Prices Commissioner.

I should like to deal with several of the points put forward by the Minister for Munitions (Senator McBride). I feel that the Government should have made a decision one way or the other. However, in this matter it has once more run true to its form of the last few years, and has again exhibited its incapacity to make decisions, right or wrong. Ministers appear to fear that as any decision they might come to might be wrong, they should come to no decision. Consequently, we have witnessed contradictory pronouncements on all matters of major importance. For instance, contradictory statements have been made from time to time with regard to petrol rationing. The

Government has no straight-line policy. Now, when it is asked to make a decision in respect of Mr. Craig's application for permission to float this company, it is unable to come to a decision. It is- a sorry day for this country, particularly in a time of war, when the Government cannot come to decisions on important matters. I have no doubt that Mr. Craig would have been pleased to have got a decision favorable or unfavorable, twelve months ago. He would thus have been enabled to save, not only considerable time, but also a large sum of money, which he has been obliged to waste in endeavouring to force a conclusion, one way or the other. The Minister has failed to justify the extraordinary delay that has occurred in this matter. His main point was that special consideration had to be given to this application. He said that even some existing industries might have to be abandoned because they might not be deemed by the Government to be essential industries. We can understand that point of view, but when we hear so much talk of a total war effort-

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