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Thursday, 25 May 1939

Mr FROST (Franklin) .- I am pleased that the Minister has agreed to accept the amendment forecasted by the Acting Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde). I agree with the honorable member for Barker (Mr. Archie Cameron,) that the Government has no real intention to put an endto profiteering. At any rate, if it is attempting to accomplish that purpose, it has succeeded so far only in deceiving itself. A few months ago, in company with other honorable members, I inspected the munitions works at Maribyrnong, in Victoria. At that time the factory was producing shells of various sizes, and we understood that the work was to be continued to cope with the requirements of Australia. Wehave heard that many countries, particularly Great Britain, are fully occupied in providing their own defence requirements, and that orders have been placed in Australia for materials for the manufacture of munitions. When a bill was passed by this Parliament last year to authorize the expenditure of £63,000,000 on defence, the Opposition did not oppose the Government in any way. In fact, it gave what amounted almost to an open cheque. If, at that time, the Government had asked for more money the Opposition would have agreed to provide more. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin) stated that it was the business of the Government to know what was needed for defence purposes, and that it ought to know better than the Opposition what was needed. We gave the Government a free hand to carry out its defence plans. So far I am greatly disappointed at the way in which it has set to work. We heard from the Assistant Minister (Mr. Holt) last night that the Government had purchased 800 tons of copper and 300 tons of zinc. I do not know what price was paid for the zinc, but the price paid for the copper was £48,000, or £60 a ton. I understand thatthe price of copper for the last two or three years has been about £40 a ton. According to the Commonwealth. Year-Book, the price of copper in 1936 was £38.44 a ton. The price now is £41 a ton.

Mr Holt - The honorable member is quoting the London price.

Mr FROST - That is so, but the honorable gentleman denied the statement of the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. White) that the price the Government had paidtook into account freight to Great Britan and back, plus 25 per cent. exchange. As a matter of fact, the honorable member for Balaclava was right. The price of copper in Great Britain at present is £41. If we add to that price 25 per cent. for exchange, a liberal amount is still left to cover the equivalent of freight charges to and from Great Britain.

Mr Holt - The honorable member's contention is not soundly based. The London price for copper in 1937, plus exchange, was £56 in Australian currency.

Mr White - But how does the copper get to London?

Mr Holt - I explained that this afternoon.

Mr FROST - The Minister has not answered the honorable member's question. I wish to know how the Government arrived at a price of £60. If the 1937 price for copper in London was £56 in Australian currency, it must have been the highest price ruling in that' year. The present London price is £41, which is equivalent to £51 5s. in Australia. The difference between that amount and the £60 paid by the Government provides an ample margin for freight to and from Great Britain.

Mr Archie Cameron - It would also allow for insurance and handling charges.

Mr FROST - That is true. Therefore the honorable member for Balaclava is right. If the Government took into account imaginary transport costs, imaginary wharf fees, and imaginary labour costs in this purchase, the whole transaction was a farce. This matter should be investigated by the advisory accountancy panel. If that panel actually advised the Government in this transaction, its appointment should be terminated.

I take exception to the purchase of only 800 tons of copper and 300 tons of zinc. Of what use would that quantity be for .the. manufacturers of munitions to supply the whole of Australia's requirements ? When I visited the Maribyrnong factory I was given to understand that it had very limited supplies of metals in stock When we voted £63,000,000 for defence purposes I believed that the Government would lay in a stock of defence materials, but it has not done so. Yet each month large consignments of zinc and copper are being loaded for overseas ports at Risdon in Tasmania. A Japanese line of steamers is taking away, not hundreds, but thousands, of tons of zinc every month. Tasmania possesses one of the world's finest copper mines from which copper is exported to many countries. If the Government were sincere in its defence policy, it would be retaining large quantities of copper for its own purposes. Copper and zinc are essential to the manufacture, of munitions. There could be no fear of financial loss because the prices of these metals will never fall. They are now as low as they ever will be. The Government's chief concern is not the protection of Australia, but the constituting of advisory panels, to provide jobs for a few men in Victoria and New South Wales. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) said last night that three or four Victorians had been appointed to one of these panels and- three or four residents of New South Wales and Victoria to the other. The Government has considered only the powerful interests in these two States from which its policy is dictated. I have said -on other occasions that, if Australia became involved in a war, the first act of an enemy would be to destroy the zinc works in Tasmania, with the result that Australia . would have neither munitions nor materials with which to manufacture them. The 300 tons of zinc recently purchased is scarcely worth considering. The Tasmanian smelting works are the only ones of the kind in the southern hemisphere.

Mr Anthony - Are they situated on the coastline?

Mr FROST - No. They are on the Derwent River, about 40 or 50 miles inland. The waterway is sheltered and could bc easily defended. If the Government .were sincere in its defence programme, it would establish munitions factories in Tasmania. Even if. supplies of raw materials could not be transported regularly across Bass Strait, the finished munitions could be shipped as opportunity offered. At present, if Tasmania, were. isolated by danger from submarines, or from some other cause, the factories on the mainland would soon exhaust their stock of raw materials. No harm would be done if the Government purchased raw materials for its own use instead of permitting them to be sent overseas. The Government has announced that it . intends to decentralize defence works, and the Loan Council has intimated that to compensate , the States for the smaller amounts of money granted to them, greater sums would be made available for munitions work's. I ask honorable members to consider the value of the works allocated to Tasmania in the last four years. In 1935-36, £616,000 was spent on defence works in Australia, and' of that amount Tasmania received £14,528.; Comparative figures for subsequent years are: 1936-37, total expenditure, £643,000, Tasmania's share, £13,390 ; 1937-38, total expenditure, £695,000, Tasmania's share, £7,000; 1938-39, total expenditure, £1,342,000, Tasmania's share, £12,000. It can be seen that Tasmania's share is growing smaller every year.

Mr Holt - What amounts did the smaller States receive in those years in the Federal Aid Roads grants and grantsinaid ?

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