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Thursday, 4 April 1946

Mr FRASER (Eden) (Monaro) . I direct the attention of the House to the need to overhaul the administration of the Rationing Commission and, particularly, to the injury which is being inflicted upon people by the undue rigidity of that administration, which is of an extremely hide-bound character. Many quotas fixed in respect of hotels, cafes and guest houses years ago, are now hopelessly out of date, but it is impossible to induce the Rationing Commission to make any alterations. The commission's blind refusal to enable the establishment of any new business requiring rationed foodstuffs is working hardship upon the public in a number of country towns. In particular, the commission's refusal to allow very small supplies of foodstuffs for community gatherings, such as patriotic and charitable functions, is discouraging and unnecessarily annoying to women workers for many good causes in rural districts. I raise this matter because, the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs has made it plain to-day that the Government, although it would like to abolish sugar rationing, finds itself unable to do so because of its inescapable obligations to provide as much sugar as possible to other countries. What applies to sugar applies to many other rationed foodstuffs. If the rationing system were due to end very shortly wemight tolerate the defects in the administration of the commission, but since that is not so, some action should be taken in this matter. Continuance of rationing in order to enable maximum shipments of foodstuffs to Great Britain is excellent. If the maintenance of some inconvenient restrictions on the Australian people will enable more foodstuffs to be sent to the hardpressed people of Great Britain, then by all means we should continue them. In fact, if it were decided that the imposition of increased restrictions upon the Australian people would enable the transport of additional foodstuffs to Great Britain, that course also ought to be supported. I do not urge that there should be any increase in the total allocation of foodstuffs to the Australian people. What I am urging is that there should be a very necessary re-examination of the methods under which the Rationing Commission maintains existing quotas to various sections of the public. In the case of hotels, cafes and guest houses, the existing quotas were fixed years ago at a time when war conditions had completely suspended normal traffic, and had meant thu total cessation of holiday and tourist trade. At the time the quotas were fixed, guest houses, cafes and hotels in the tourist trade had no customers whatever. To-day those customers are returning to hotels, guest houses and cafes; but, because in the particular month in which the quotas were allotted years ago they had no customers, the commission, apparently, believes that they should still have no customers. It insists upon the maintenance of such quotas as a few pounds of sugar a month, perhaps a pound of tea a month, andother items such as butter in like proportion.

The position is similar with respect to the establishment of new businesses. During the last five or six years, there have been changes in the spread of population in various -districts. The commission refuses to recognize this fact, no matter how sound a case may be presented to it for the establishment of new food businesses in-order to meet legitimate requirements. The commission, in my experience, invariably turns down the application. But particularly annoying is the continued rigid refusal of the commission to provide even small quantities of rationed foodstuffs to women in country districts who are doing splendid work in organizing functions in aid of charitable and patriotic causes. To my knowledge, and I have no doubt to the knowledge of other honorable members, many of these women exhaust their own private rations and borrow whatever they- can in their endeavour to maintain supplies of foodstuffs for special functions in aid of hospitals and charitable institutions. Now that their resources are exhausted they have applied to the Rationing Commission for a quota, but they have been informed that 'because they did not have a quota for a particular month two or three years before they cannot get one now. The reason that they did not get the quota before is that they continued using their own supplies as long as possible. The commission appears to be following the Procrustean practice of making the customer fit the bed rather than making the bed fit the customer. The result is extremely unsatisfactory, and is causing much hardship in country districts. In theory, it is beneficial to entrust such a task as rationing to an independent body not responsible to the people; but,in fact, the Rationing Commission has adopted the system of administration which is easiest for itself. I t refuses to provide forthe exceptional case, because if it provided for one it might be called upon to provide for others. Therefore, itprefers to make no alteration whatever to its hide-bound methods of administration. In that respect, it has failed in its duty, and I ask the Government to ensure that its administration be overhauled in the way I have suggested.

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