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Thursday, 28 May 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- Yesterday, the honorable member for Grey (Mr. Badman) asked a question concerning the manner in which coupons for the purchase of clothes will be dealt with by retailers. He inquired as to whether the position that obtains in regard to the sale of petrol will operate in regard to supplies of clothing. The man who purchases petrol gives his tickets to the retailer, who in turn surrenders them to the wholesale supplier. By that means, the coupon system is worked from purchaser to the source. 1 understand that there is still some doubt as to -how the rationing system will operate in regard to the supply of clothing. I also understand that a meeting of the Master Traders Association in Melbourne this week appointed three gentlemen who represent three of the big emporiums to submit to the Rationing Committee a scheme to provide that the purchaser of clothing shall hand his coupons to the retail store, and that subsequently the retailer shall not be obliged to curtail bis purchases in any way. If adopted by the Rationing Committee, this scheme will have the effect that the big emporiums will be able eventually to force the small retailers out of business. I have already drawn attention to the devious ways in which the directorate of Myer Emporium Proprietary Limited has succeeded in entrenching that establishment in an almost impregnable position. I have stated that, at the end of its last trading year, the value of the goods held by this emporium was £1,000,000 greater than it had been previously. I new assert that the present value of its goods is approximately £2,000,000 greater than would ordinarily be the case. With its big stocks, it will advertise quite a number of large sales, and thus draw to itself the patronage of practically the whole of the purchasing public of Melbourne.

Mr Beck - The small shops are doomed.

Mr CALWELL - As the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Beck) remarks, the small shops are doomed ; because Myers, Treadways, and perhaps one or two other big establishments, will be able, by welladvertised sales, to secure practically all the coupons issued in Melbourne. When the system has been in operation for a few months, it will be found that the small traders will have been crushed out to the benefit of the wealthy few. There have been several discussions of the methods by which Myer Emporium Proprietary Limited obtained £250,000 more than it was entitled to take from its customers, and the shady practices which it proposes to adopt in regard, to the restoration of that amount to the public, in order that it may further strengthen its hold. I have now furnished fresh evidence of the slickness by which it hopes further to enrich itself. I trust that the Rationing Committee, and the Government, will not permit the proposal of the Master Traders Association, dominated as it is by three big emporiums, to be put into effect, and that the system adopted will be identical with that which operates in connexion with petrol rationing.

I hope that the Minister for the Army (Mr. Forde) will abolish wet canteens in our military establishments. There are several good reasons why he should do so, one of which is that there is a shortage of liquor. The existence of wet canteens in military camps is open to grave abuse. However theoretically perfect the system mav be, in practice, numbers of young men are encouraged to drink excessively, to their physical detriment. .Soldiers can be issued with a certain number of tickets for drinks, but, as the number of nondrinkers is large, it frequently happens that those who want to drink are able to get more than a reasonable supply of tickets, and consequently are able to obtain more liquor than is good for them. Such a state of affairs is injurious to the men and the nation. As there is a limited quantity of beer available, it would be better for it to be sold in hotels than in the camps. I have visited some military camps in Victoria, where I have found that, generally, the opinion of officers is that the wet canteen system should be abolished. I realize that other honorable members may hold other views, because this is a debatable subject; but from what I have seen and heard I am convinced that it would have been better had the wet canteen system never been established. The previous system under which liquor was available to soldiers in city hotels should be permitted to continue, subject to strict supervision. I do not blame city hotelkeepers generally for what happened in the past, because only a minority of them was responsible for the abuses which gave rise to the determination of the Government to ensure a stricter observance of the law. I hope that the Minister for the Army will give immediate consideration to this matter, as many young men of eighteen years of age are being subjected to unnecessary temptation.

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