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Wednesday, 25 February 1942

Senator FOLL (Queensland) .- I realize that the Government is faced with great difficulties in these troublous times, and consequently it is not my intention to stir up discord. However, I do think that the Government would be well advised to consult more freely with the Advisory "War Council on matters which so seriously affect the whole economic life of this country as do the regulations which have been referred to by Senator A. J. McLachlan. I realize also that no matter how serious the position in this country may become, the Government has set itself determinedly against the formation of a national administration. For that reason no good can be done by continually raising that subject, although honorable senators on this side of the chamber are convinced that a national government would be in the best interests of the country. We understand that whatever may be the individual opinions of members of the Labour party as to the merits of a national government, they are powerless to act because of the strong forces which control them. However, when the war situation deteriorated suddenly by the entry of Japan into the conflict, we on this side of the chamber were informed that we would be freely consulted by the Government, through our representatives on the Advisory War Council, not only on questions of war strategy, but also on all important matters affecting the economic and financial life of this country. Naturally it was only to be expected that proposals of such a revolutionary character as those contained in the regulations recently promulgated would be discussed by the Advisory War Council. Unfortunately, that was not done, and now we find that the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) and the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley), realizing the difficulties which they have created by the sweeping nature of the regulations, have decided to set up a joint committee representing all parties in Parliament to devise ways and means of overcoming these difficulties. It will be recalled that when the Treasurer tabled his first budget, members of the Opposition told the Government in no uncertain manner that it would not be possible to raise the required revenue by means of the methods proposed in that budget, and that it would be necessary to vary the financial proposals at a later date. After considerable debate, a committee representing all parties in Parliament was set up to deal with the matter, and certain compromises were agreed upon. I say now that if t%e Government is really sincere in its consistent appeals for unity throughout the Commonwealth in this time of crisis, it should consult the Opposition through its representatives on the Advisory War Council on all important matters, and not merely on questions affecting what might be called the strategical direction of the war. I consider that many of the difficulties which appear on the surface, and much of the criticism which is being levelled at the Government, would disappear if a true spirit of compromise were shown. One of the reasons why the Government finds itself in difficulties to-day is that it will not face up to some of the things which are absolutely necessary if we are to achieve a 100 per cent, war effort. In the first place, when the last Fadden budget was brought down, an endeavour was made to secure equality of sacrifice among all sections of the community by means of a system of compulsory loans. Although I firmly believe that the people of Australia will respond generously to the appeals that are now being made by the Government in regard to loan subscriptions, it would have been far more equitable to have introduced a system of compulsory loans under, which every body would have been asked to contribute to our war effort according to his financial position. No doubt thousands of patriotic citizens will lend their money freely without thought of interest, because they know that it is going into the common defence pool, but I still believe that in an all-in struggle, such as this, no one should be allowed to escape his obligations, financial or otherwise. All we have is at stake, and it would be a far better scheme to say to every one, "You will lend or give, according to your means ". I am not very much concerned with the appeals which, are now '.being made to many of of us by members of the stock-broking profession because they in common with every one else will have to make sacrifices, but I do say that although on the surface it may appear that stock-brokers will be the main sufferers under these regulations, that is not so. The people who will really suffer are those whose legitimate transactions have been held up deliberately. For instance, a man might find it necessary to sell a small farm or to dispose of some stock in order to re-invest the money in some other project, but under these regulations he cannot do so. I hope that difficulties of this nature will be ironed out by the committee which the Government proposes to set up. These are the things which cause damage, and usually they are not examined sufficiently by governments when recommendations are made by officials. I urge the Government in all sincerity and in the interests of national unity to utilize the services of members of tie Advisory "War Council to a far greater degree. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber have not been appointed to the Advisory War Council merely for the purpose of attending meetings and obtaining information ; their function is to give solid support to the Government an all matters of national interest, and if the council is to become in fact what we all want it to be. namely, a truly national body representative of the various elements in this Parliament, the Government must take Opposition members of the council .more into its confidence.

I believe also that the Government is not standing up to its responsibilities in regard to the problem of rationing various essential commodities. We have always considered Australia to be a land of unlimited wealth> .but because of certain large -demands that have been made to supply not only Australia's requirements but also the requirements of some of out Allies, there is a shortage of certain foodstuffs. It is true that we have an unlimited supply of wheat, but the supply of beef, for instance, has caused us great ' concern. It cannot bc denied that there has been considerable hoarding of foodstuffs in this country, just as there has been in Great Britain. Certain individuals who are more liberally endowed with wealth than others have been taking every opportunity to put away stores of certain goods. I agree that in ordinary conditions that might be a very estimable practice, but not so to-day.

Senator Allan MACDONALD - The Department of Commerce has been encouraging the practice.

Senator FOLL - I am not referring to store-keepers, but to individuals.

Senator Fraser - It has served a verygood purpose.

Senator FOLL - I realize that in the past when supplies have been plentiful encouragement has been given, particularly to country store-keepers, to lay in stocks of certain foodstuffs, but the position to-day is different. As the Minister assisting the Minister for Commerce knows, there are limits to the supply of certain foodstuffs, and I contend that no one should be given an advantage over others in conserving supplies. To overcome that difficulty I suggest that a system of rationing should be introduced.

Senator Fraser - It is not correct to say that there is a shortage of foodstuffs.

Senator FOLL - I understand that the Department of Commerce is having difficulty in obtaining supplies of various commodities because of extensive buying in certain quarters.

Senator Fraser - That is so. Stocks are depleted for the time being.

Senator Allan MACDONALD - Sugar is being rationed in Western Australia.

Senator FOLL - Yes, but in that connexion I think that the main -difficulty is transport.

There is another matter to which 1 should like to refer, and I make this point in all good faith. I suggest that when the Government is contemplating drastic changes it should first consult carefully the interests concerned and also the Advisory War Council. Secondly, ii should not give undue notice of the action which is contemplated. I refer, particularly., to the new man-power regulations, of which four or five days' notice was given. When it was noised abroad, through the press and the broadcasting stations, that employment in certain industries was to be pegged, many men engaged in remote country districts began te* seek employment in the cities where working and living conditions are more congenial. As the result,- country establishments were deserted by large numbers of highly trained and skilled tradesmen. If the regulation had not been implemented soon after the announcement was made, many industries would have been stranded and unable to secure capable men. I agree with the Government's action, in pegging employment. Skilled tradesmen are not numerous at present, and continual staff changes, ddue to' the movement of workers from one place of employment to another, cause inefficiency in important industries and have a bad effect on individuals. Soldiers, sailors and airmen have to stay at their posts, and men employed in war industries should 'be compelled to do likewise, particularly as the Government has granted them many concessions, such as exemption from military service. After consulting representatives of the industries and trade unions affected, the Government should have put its plan into operation immediately. The rush that occurred in some industries was almost as chaotic as if the Government had given two or three days' notice of a new excise tariff and every business concerned had rushed to "get from under" before the axe fell.

This afternoon, I asked the Minister for Information (Senator Ashley) whether any instructions had been given to the Australian Broadcasting Commission by the Government regarding the policy to be adopted by the commission in its news broadcasts and commentaries, or whether the commission was entirely responsible for all news and commentaries broadcast in. the " This is Canberra " session and in the national news service. An interjection which was then made by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Collings) impels me to refer to the subject again in order to make my position clear. I consider that publicity of the Government's activities- is an essential contribution to our war- effort and plays an important part in sustaining the morale of the people. The Minister, in answer to my question, said that no instructions had been given by the Government to the Australian Broadcasting Commission in relation to its news services, thus infer ring that the commission formulated its own policy in that connexion. He added that a Postmaster-General in a previous government had instructed the commission to follow certain lines in relation to criticism of the government at that time. I thereupon asked the honorable gentleman to state the circumstances associated with this instruction and to name the Minister concerned. The Minister did not reply to my question, but the Leader of the Senate interjected : " The honorable senator knows all about it". I assure honorable senators that I know nothing whatever about such an instruction, and that I heard about it for the first time this afternoon. Furthermore, I have never held the portfolio of Postmaster.General. If any such instruction were given, it was wrongfully given. I believe that the national news service, above all things, should be entirely free from the taint of party political propaganda. I ask leave to continue my re marks at a later date.

Leave granted ; debate adjourned.

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