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Tuesday, 21 June 1949

Mr CHIFLEY - I have not seen the statement referred to by the honorable gentleman. Official figures of tea production in Indonesia have been supplied from time to time to the Minister for Trade and Customs, under whose aegis the Commonwealth Tea Controller operates. Those figures indicate that tea production in Indonesia is improving but that it is not adequate to meet all demands upon it, unless the demand were restricted entirely to Australia. That is not likely and I do not think that it is likely that the authorities there would be prepared to supply only Australia. The quantity of available tea to Australia has increased considerably, but, as the honorable member for Wentworth must remember, tea is substantially subsidized. A representative of the tea merchants some time ago requested that the price of tea to the consumer be increased to 4s. per lb. and that it be unrationed. I think that there has been a move lately to make further representations to reduce the subsidy that the Government is paying on tea, and increase the price to the public. There would be some justification for the statement that tea supplies from the Netherlands East Indies have improved very greatly, but I do not think that the statement that the Netherlands East Indies could supply all our needs is correct. It certainly is not correct on the figure supplied to me. The figures may have related to supplies from all Dutch sources. If rationing were withdrawn and there was an increase in the amount of tea consumed it would involve the Government in a very much larger subsidy. We feel that in relation to a nationally consumed commodity such as tea, it is advantageous to the public that the payment of the subsidy should bc maintained.

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