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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- I have several matters to which I desire to direct attention. I had intended to ask the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) a series of questions to-day, but as that was not possible, I take this opportunity to bring to the notice of the honorable gentleman the questions which, under ordinary circumstances, I should have placed on the notice-paper. They are as follows: -

1.   Is it a fact that air superiority has been of considerable advantage to the enemy in certain theatres of war?

2.   If so, will he give an assurance that he will try to avert on the Australian front any such advantage by ordering the release from the militia to theRoyal Australian Air Force of sufficient personnel possessed of technical training of a type that would be of assistance to our Air Force?

3.   Will he consider favorably the release of all personnel from militia units who, prior to receiving their call-up for military service, had made application for enlistment in the Air Force ?

4.   Is it a fact that men in militia camps have received call-up notices from the Air Force, and that commanding officers in militia camps have refused to allow them to attend the Air Force depot?

5.   In view of the urgent need for skilled men in the Air Force, as evidenced by the broadcast appeals and newspaper advertisements, will he consider favorably the release of such skilled men as are desirous of transferring from the militia to the Air Force and are deemed by the man-power authorities to be of greater value to the latter service?

6.   As the members of the Air Force are all volunteers, will he outline the arrangements whereby men who offered themselves for enlistment in the Air Force for service at home or abroad are released from the militia, which is a compulsorily enlisted force raised for home service only?

7.   Is it a fact that every young man who is potentially suitable for service in the Air Force has, unless he is in a reserved occupation, already been compulsorily drafted into the Army?

8.   If so, is it likely that the Army will not be provided with adequate air protection if men are not released from the Army for service in the Air Force?

I.   also direct attention to a report in to-day's press that 48 persons, seventeen of whom are policemen, are on trial at Johannesburg, South Africa, for treason. They are being tried by jury in an open court, on charges that they have been in contact with the enemy, that they have assisted internees to escape, and that they have drilled as a military organization. They are also suspected of having attempted to derail a troop train. If a trial of this description may be held in open court in Johannesburg, I suggest to the Government that members of the

Australia First Movement should be tried similarly in Australia or else released.

I wish now to refer to the statements made this afternoon by the honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) concerning the reduction of pay of members of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force. The reductions of pay of personnel in the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force should not have been made and the former rates of pay should be restored. The Minister for Air (Mr. Drakeford) said that the action had been taken to bring the remuneration of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air . Force down to the level of other services. Instead of following that course the Government should have raised the lower salaries of the other services to the level of those of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force. The statement that the reduction of these rates was covered by an agendum prepared for the previous Government has significance in only two respects. If such an agendum had been prepared, the work was probably done by departmental officers. Whether it had been prepared or not, a Labour government surely should not adopt an agendum prepared for its predecessors without consulting its supporters in the Parliament. The Labour party has never been, and I hope never will he, dubbed a low-wage party.

Sir Frederick Stewart - Why not let us hear the statement of the Prime Minister on the war?

Mr CALWELL - There is too much of a rush by certain members from this Parliament about 4 o'clock on Friday afternoons.

Sir Frederick Stewart - There is also too much talk on matters that could be referred to Ministers privately.

Mr CALWELL - I shall keep talking as long as I have matter which I wish to place before the Government. The honorable member, and other honorable gentlemen who support him, may catch their train for Sydney if they wish to do so; alternatively, they may remain here to do the business of the country.

I desire now to refer to the tobacco prices ruling in Melbourne. The Retail Tobacco Sellers Association, like many others of its kind, is dominated by a few men of big business. In this particular case, the executive of the association is composed entirely of the city members of the trade. The association issues a monthly list dictating to all in the trade the prices at which they must sell tobacco. Following the 1940 budget, the Prices Commissioner, after accepting and adopting without question the prices of tobacco named in the list, approved of the amount of the increased duty being added to the prices listed. Thus the price of tobacco, as fixed by the few, became the legally fixed price of tobacco for all in the trade.

Typical of our present system of price " control " is the plain fact that it invariably leaves the door wide open for the convenience of exploiters. The tobacco prices order applies only to tobaccos named in the association list. Not a word is said about the large quantity of tobacco that is sold without any name being applied to it, or sold under, hundreds of different names that do not appear on the association list. Tobacco sellers are allowed to invent and apply any name they like, change the name as often as they like, and charge any price they like, in regard to any tobacco, and, provided that the names used do not appear on the fixed price list, all is well for the profiteers. This means, in effect, that a large quantity of the tobacco sold is not subject to any price control. Loose tobacco, as well as half a dozen officially named tobaccos, appear on the list priced at 9-J-d. an oz., but little, if any, is available at that price. There are only one or two tobaccos priced officially at ls. an oz., but dozens of unofficially named tobaccos are priced at from ls. to ls. 3d. an oz. Several shops were noted for selling dark flaked tobacco at ls. an oz., but none of them would put a name to it. There is no dark flake officially available at ls. an oz. The legal price of this tobacco, sold as loose tobacco, is 9-Jd. an ok. An alien was selling supposedly 2-oz. plugs of black tobacco from which the label had obviously been removed. Equally obvious was the fact that the plug was of the poorest grade. Two and sixpence was demanded for an article legally priced at ls. 7d., but honestly valued at ls. 3d.

There are only two or three tobaccos described officially as mixtures. The number of unofficial names applied to alleged mixtures, and priced up to ls. 6d. an oz., can be counted by the score.

Several stunts are being worked to trap people into paying high prices. Some shops display tobacco in their windows at comparatively low prices, but in the shop there is nothing available under ls. or ls. 3d. an oz. Other shops will quote in their windows tobacco at so much per lb. or i lb., but when asked to supply either of the advertised quantities will offer 1 oz. or 2 oz. at a price about 25 per cent, above that quoted in the window.

The actual number of grades or qualities into which tobacco is manufactured is surprisingly few, but the number of names, brands and allegedly different qualities under which tobacco is allowed to be sold, for the purpose of deceiving the public, can be counted by the hundreds.

At the outbreak of war, the bulk of the cheaper kinds of tobacco was sold at from 6d. to 6 1/2d. an oz. The present price for the same, or the equivalent, and even inferior, tobacco, is on an average, ls. Id. an oz. - a close approximation to an increase in price of 9s. per lb. Of this amount war-time increase in excise duty accounts for only 3s. 9d. The price average covers 22 central Melbourne shops, and was arrived at from data collected by a number of people over a period of one month to the 30th April, 1942.

In Melbourne on Monday last very little tobacco was on sale, and none of it was available at under ls. 3d. an oz. Several small purchases were made at that price and all were of the poorest quality. Only two shops would put a name to what they were offering. One tobacco was named for the time being " No. 1' Mixture " and the other " Washington Mixture ", neither of which will be found on the official price list, and neither is, therefore, under price control.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Resolution reported.

Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.

Resolution of Ways and Means founded on Resolution of Supply, reported and adopted.

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