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Wednesday, 20 March 1957

Mr McEWEN (MURRAY, VICTORIA) (Minister for Trade) - I am afraid I could not agree to publication in the " Gazette " of all import licences and quotas approved, for two reasons. The sheer magnitude of the operation is, I think, scarcely recognized. I am advised that there are, at any one time, approximately 600,000 licences existent. On the other hand, to publish the details of all licences granted would, of course, be an almost complete disclosure of the private business of the commercial community concerned, and therefore I do not agree that it would be proper or practical. It would probably be an enormous job to set out to publish details of all the things that are imported by all the government departments, State and Federal, and the municipal bodies - to which, I think, the honorable member also referred - that could be construed as competing with private enterprise. The budgets of the parliaments disclose the votes for these purposes, and I believe that information sought by any one in that regard could be obtained in the normal course of parliamentary debate. The honorable member used the term " grave disquiet ". I am aware that there is dissatisfaction in the business community on two counts - because of delays in receiving decisions concerning applications for licences, and because of the number of refusals that have to be made. I freely admit that there have been substantial delays, but at the same time I can give an assurance that unless there is a complete change in the import licensing system which itself produces an inundation of new applications, the problem of delay in relation to decisions has been very substantially overcome. To illustrate that, I point out that at the beginning of this year, in the first week of January, there were, I think, 3,600 cases undecided. My latest information, received last week, was that there were no more than 700 cases then undecided. Many applications require a good deal of research before a decision can properly be given. In respect of the dissatisfaction that derives from the number of refusals, that of course turns back to sheer arithmetic. The Government has to decide at the Cabinet level just what amount of our overseas currency resources can be committed in one year, and upon the basis of that primary decision by Cabinet, and the subsequent decisions by the Cabinet of the broad allocations between commodities and purposes, the administering department then has to fit into that arithmetic its approvals or refusals of the applications made, lt is well known that we are still operating in a financial year which opened with rather troublesome arithmetic - let me put it that way - with respect to our overseas balances and the demands upon them.

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