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Friday, 18 November 1938

Mr PRICE (Boothby) .- All honorable members present have been glad of the opportunity to hear the speech just delivered by the right honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin), on our Constitution. The problems to which he has referred will have to be solved some day by this Parliament in particular, and. the country at large. In these days, the right honorable gentleman seldom takes an active part in the debates in this Parliament, but when he speaks, he invariably gives us food for thought. Whether we agree or disagree with the views he has just expressed, we must all admit that he has made a speech which is of definite value to the Commonwealth.

I propose to deal at some length, with only one or two subjects in the course of my remarks. I think it better to follow that course than to try to touch casually upon every matter referred to in the budget. I congratulate the Government upon its management of the affairs of this country. 1 feel that it has done a good spot of work.

Mr Brennan - "Spot" is right 1

Mr PRICE - I always try to look on the bright spots, and they are numerous when we look at the record of this Government. For that reason, I hope it will remain in office for a long time. Notwithstanding what has been said lately, there is absolute unanimity in the Government parties, and also absolute confidence in the Prime Minister.

Mr Brennan - The honorable member appears to be putting himself in the running for the next Cabinet reconstruction.

Mr PRICE - 1 am not in the running, and I assure honorable members that I am not looking for office. 1 believe that if this Government remains in charge of affairs in this country, we shall go forward to greater and better days. The Government did a great deal to help the country out of the depression in which it rested a few years ago. I do not say that it should be given all the credit for the position in which we find ourselves today, but at least it gave the people a lead and much that has been accomplished during the last few years should be placed to its credit.

I wish to direct attention to certain vital factors in relation to the motor industry of Australia and our supply of petrol and oils. The necessity for improving our position in respect of local supplies of petrol and oil is urgent. In 1937-38, 351,000,000 gallons of petrol were used in Australia. Of this quantity, 332,750,000 gallons, valued at £5,503,085, were imported, and 18,250,000 gallons were produced in Australia. The duty and primage tax, amounting to 7¼d. per gallon, on this petrol yielded £9,761,810 in 1937-38. The urgency of this problem is partly in the fact that scientists and geological experts have declared that the world's known sources of petrol supply are being rapidly exhausted. It is predicted that they will be utterly depleted within the next twenty years, in these circumstances it is logical to assume that in the future the cost of petrol and oil will increase proportionately to the rate of exhaustion, lt is interesting to note that in 1937-38 the motoring community of Australia paid £10,66S,000 in taxes to the Government in one way and another. An important factor that we must not overlook is that a very large amount of the money paid by our people for petrol and oils is taken out of Australia. If such huge sums are permitted to pour continuously out of Australia into foreign countries, a serious situation must arise. It would be interesting to calculate what period would elapse under such a policy of national wastage to reach the zenith of Australian progress or for its 7,000,000 inhabitants to liquidate the national debt of £1,275,026,000. I ask the Treasurer, or some other responsible Minister, to make a specific statement about what the Commonwealth Government and the State governments are doing to find a substitute for petrol ? Has the Defence Department made any experiments in this direction? If not, it should do so, at least for defence purposes. I ask also whether the possibilities of producer gas have been investigated in any real way? An effective substitute for petrol is very greatly needed, for liquid power fuel is, in some respects, the very life-blood of the community.

Silting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

I Quorum formed.}

Mr PRICE - I point out that, unless provision is made for a supply of petrol substitutes, the cutting off of the supply of petrol from overseas during a- time of national emergency would paralyse our industries and render us unable to defend ourselves against an aggressor.' The gravity of the position can be realized when we learn that supplies of petrol on hand at present are sufficient to last only a few days. We have heard quite a lot about oil from shale and coal, but are those two sources sufficient to supply our requirements of oil fuel in the event of emergency? My own opinion is that they are not, and that the yield from those sources is definitely restricted. In a country like Australia, every endeavour should be made to find a substitute for imported petrol. The only solution of this vexatious problem would seem to lie in the direction of making provision on a large scale for the development of producer gas. I ask the Government to have this important matter fully investigated by competent authorities, and to report to Parliament the full facts disclosed. I understand that at the present time the Defence Department is operating a few large trucks on producer gas. To give some idea of its utility, I may mention that I have been informed that the total cost of running a large lorry from Canberra to Sydney on producer gas is only Ss. This experiment on the part of the Defence Department seems to hold out some promise, and should commend it to the business community as a means of effecting economies in the cost of transportation.

I am not at all satisfied with the present method adopted by the Government in connexion with the tabling of tariff schedules. A practice has grown up in recent years of tabling tariff schedules and providing no opportunity to honorable members to debate them until months have elapsed. Let us consider what has happened in the past in connexion with the tabling of tariff schedules. The first Australian tariff schedule was passed by the Federal Parliament in 1901. It is claimed that the 1901 schedule was adopted as the basis for subsequent schedules. Later, when an alteration or an amendment of the schedule was tabled, the procedure was adopted that if a schedule contained a reduction of duties the previous duties at the higher rate would continue to be collected until the new schedule was passed. By this means it was sought to safeguard the revenue and to protect industries until Parliament had decided on the rates of duties that should be imposed. This method was consistent with the terms of section 90 of the Constitution, which reads -

On the imposition of uniform duties of customs the power of the Parliament to impose duties of customs and of excise, and to grant bounties on the production or export of goods, shall become exclusive.

It gave the Federal Parliament full freedom in any action it took in regard to a vote on customs duties to be collected. That procedure held good with all parliaments until the 6th December, 1934, when the then Minister for Trade and Customs, on tabling a tariff schedule, surprised Parliament by announcing that the reduced duties contained in the schedule would become operative on the following morning. During 1935, additional tariff schedules were tabled which also included a large number of reductions of duties, and the same dangerous procedure was followed. It should be noted that no discussion of the new duties was commenced until the 21st March, 1936, when the Minister moved that the schedule to the customs tarilf be amended. Tariff schedules were tabled on the 28th November, 1935, and included a schedule introduced on tbe 6th December, 1934, together with others introducing new items. These schedules, dating back to the 6th December, 1934, and extending up to the 31st March, 1936, were not finalized by Parliament until the end of May, 1936, about eighteen months after the first schedule was tabled.

Mr Gregory - Schedules have now to be approved within six months of being tabled.

Mr PRICE - Nevertheless, eighteen months elapsed before the first schedule to which I have referred was finally passed by Parliament.

Mr Gregory - The honorable member's dates are wrong.

Mr PRICE - I do not think so, and I stand up to the statement I have made. I ventilate the matter now because I think the time has arrived when this practice should no longer be permitted to continue.

Mr Gregory - The Customs Act was amended to provide that schedules must be approved within six months after being tabled.

Mr PRICE - That is certainly a step in the right direction, but the law is not being adhered to. Let us proceed further: Another schedule was tabled on the Sth December, 1937, which included other schedules tabled previously on the 24th June and the 7th September, 1937. These schedules were not finally disposed of by the Parliament until early in June, 1938. I put it to honorable members that the question may well be asked " How can the electors or the business community keep pace with this practice?" In my opinion the time is ripe for attention to be called to this practice, which has grown up only during the last three years. Members should not be denied the right to discuss items contained in tariff schedules immediately they are introduced. The procedure at present followed places too much power in the hands of the Minister for Trade and Customs.

Once again- I refer to the fact that when the State of South Australia entered into an agreement to surrender the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth, an agreement was reached between the two governments for the construction of a railway line from Darwin to the South Australian border. The present position is that the Commonwealth has honoured the agreement only in part by the construction of a line from Pine Creek in the north to Birdum, and in the south from Oodnadatta to Alice Springs. The gap between Alice Springs and Birdum, a distance of approximately 647 miles, has still to be bridged. We are informed that there is at present available at Birdum sufficient material to put down an additional 43 miles of railway. I listened with a great deal of interest to the speeches delivered on the motion for the adjournment of the House yesterday to discuss the necessity for the standardization of Australian railway gauges. In my opinion that is a most important matter, but I also feel that from a defence point of view the time has arrived when the gap between Birdum and Alice Springs should be bridged by the railway promised by the Commonwealth when the territory was handed over to it by South Australia.

Mr Martens - The South Australian people have now given up hope of that line ever being constructed.

Mr PRICE - I have not given up hope.

Mr Martens - The honorable member is too optimistic.

Mr PRICE - I believe that, like the little drops of water which wear away a stone, constant reiteration of the need for the undertaking of this work might bring results. At present the Government is incurring a large expenditure of money for defence purposes, and it may be difficult to raise money for railway development; but I . should like to hear the views of the Minister for Defence (Mr. Street) on the desirability of the construction of this line as a defence measure. If it is not possible to complete the north-south railway the Government would, in my opinion, be justified in expending the money necessary to construct a line from Alice Springs to Tennant Creek. I have visited Tennant Creek on two different occasions, and I am satisfied that there is great mineral wealth there. That wealth can only be tapped successfully by the, construction of such a line.

Mr Harrison - What did the Government of South Australia agree to do when the Northern Territory was handed over to the Commonwealth?

Mr PRICE - I have not with me the whole of the terms of the agreement, and it would not be possible to give them in a debate of this character. It was my late respected father who made this good deal with the Commonwealth Government. At that time, he was Premier of South Australia. That State could not develop the territory, but there is a chance of its being developed under the administration of the Commonwealth.

I recently had an opportunity to visit Darwin, and wish to make reference to the burning question of the resumption of land and property in that town for naval and military purposes. It is not too much to say that among the citizens of Darwin there is widespread dissatisfaction at the rumoured intention of the Commonwealth to acquire considerable areas of the town for these purposes. The uncertainty as to the land that is actually to be taken, and the prohibition issued against proceeding with certain proposed building projects, are exasperating to both the official and the business population, and are retarding essential development. Inflated prices were recently paid for land in Darwin, and this will lead to a greatly increased cost of acquisition if they are taken as the basis of valuation. The Government should make public its intentions as soon as practicable. Full consideration should be given to all local representations, in order that the townspeople may feel assured that the best interests of both the residents and the town are being safeguarded. I promised a number of persons in Darwin that I would take the first opportunity presented to me to bring this matter before Parliament. It is vital to the town. I am acquainted with the area which the defence authorities say they require, and, in my opinion, it is not necessary that they should acquire property in that location. There is plenty of land in and around Darwin suitable for naval and military purposes, without disorganizing the populated part of the town, including some beautiful sites on the harbour itself. The Minister for the Interior (Mr. McEwen) had an opportunity to investigate the matter during his recent visit to the Northern Territory, and I hope that in collaboration with the Administrator he will find a solution of the problem.

I contributed to a recent debate on the subject of the manufacture of motor car engines in Australia, believing that these engines can be made in this country, to the advantage of all.

Mr Martens - Or anything else.

Mr PRICE - And almost everything else.We have had many examples of what can be done in the manufacture of agricultural machinery. I was very disappointed with the report presented by the Tariff Board as the result of its inquiry into -

The host means of giving effect to the Government policy of establishing in Australia the manufacture of engines and chassis of motor vehicles, with consideration to the general national and economic aspect.

Reading the report of the board, one is amazed to note the immense amount of time which must have been devoted to the elaboration of material from the offices of large overseas firms whoseinterests lie in the stoppage of any development within our borders of competition which may in any way affect their plans. The board does not show in" its report how many of these overseas organizations are entwined in the meshes of the great American net, with control of factories in England and other parts of the world, including Australia. The one bright spot in the matter is the fact that that great industrial organization at Newcastle - the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited - is able to sell its products at prices below those at which purchases can be made in the United States of America. In my opinion, the board did not investigate the matter as fully as the Parliament and the people had a right to expect. Either personally or by deputy, it should

Lave inspected engines brought under its notice during the course of the inquiry, so that it could either praise or condemn the features which were claimed to be of advantage to Australia. It should be pointed out that no inquiry has been made with a view to endorsement of evidence given to the board to the effect that the engine power can be made wholly from materials produced in Australia, the specifications in respect of ferrous metal being cast iron and one mild steel, those of the non-ferrous metal being aluminium, bronze, and white metal. Surely we should be in a position to say whether or not the materials necessary for the building of a car are obtainable in Australia! The boardwas asked to do a certain thing, but it failed to make a complete investigation. It might have asked to be shown under working conditions an engine made in Adelaide, or it might have discussed the charts showing the output of power, fuel consumption, torque, and other technical details which either were supplied or were available, but it did not do so. Even to-day there is displayed in a showroom in the main street of Adelaide an engine manufactured in that city at a cost of only £35. The Tariff Board has made no mention whatever of it. It is difficult for me to believe that motor car engines cannot be successfully manufactured in Australia. Necessity is a driving force. There is need for a cheaper car, and I believe that such a car could be economically manufactured inthis country. Australian industries have developed in this country, the stripper, the harvester, the stump-jump implement, the string binder, and milking and shearing machines. This development has been of great assistance to our primary industries. Why should Australian citizens be asked to pay such big prices as are demanded for motor vehicles, cars, &c? The purchasing public of Australia are crying out for the production of an Australian vehicle, designed and equipped for the transport of persons of moderate spending capacity. They do not want cars equipped with all the expensive gadgets, upholstery, and fittings, which aim at a false standard and at outside show. What they want is a car that will take a family in reasonable comfort from 30 to 35 miles on a gallon of petrol at a speed of from 45 to 50 miles an hour if necessary. I

Lope I may live to the day when cars are made in Australia at a price that will enable a working man to purchase one. The Tariff Board has shown in its report that, on the same calculated money basis, cars sold in the United States of America at £19S are sold in Australia at £445, a difference- of £267. The English Ford, which sells at £180 in England, is sold in Australia for £2S5. The Australian worker and producer should be put in the way of making a purchase of a new product, instead of having to take over a discarded c-r of a more expensive type, thus attaching himself, because of the low capital outlay, to a vehicle which must drain his resources by expensive running costs, taxation, &c. I regret that the Tariff Board has not gone more deeply into this matter of motor vehicles. I trust that, in the near future, the problem will be tackled by the Government, and that eventually complete motor cars will be made in Australia.

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