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Wednesday, 8 May 1957

Mr TURNBULL (Mallee) .- I wish to submit a case to-night regarding an auction that took place at Mildura on behalf of the Department of Supply. I have discussed this matter with the Minister for Supply (Mr. Beale) and he believes as I do, that it needs some airing so as to straighten it out. It appears from a statement in the "Sunraysia Daily" of May 3rd, 1957, that the people of Mildura are dissatisfied with the way the auction was conducted. I hops that the Minister will be able to make an explanation satisfactory to all concerned. The article in the " Sunraysia Daily ", which is a most reliable newspaper, reads -


There were angry scenes at yesterday's auction sale at Mildura Migrant Centre when local and interstate buyers clashed.

Department of Supply officials' were booed and jeered by Sunraysia housewives and their husbands and there were loud demands that the sale be boycotted.

Selling was suspended while explanations were made and peace restored.

Trouble began when 8,152 grey blankets were offered, in lots of 10.

Bidding reached 27s. each for the first lot, but no one wanted blankets at that price, except the bidder.

The second lot of 10 also brought 27s., again only the one lot being sold.

The remaining 8,132 blankets were then offered with the stipulation that the highest bidder have first preference on the number taken.

Bidding stopped at £1 a blanket, wilh the small buyers content to wait and buy their requirements at that price.

A Sydney buyer, who had bid the closing price, said he would take the entire 8,132 at that price, which left none for the smaller buyers.

Uproar followed, with private buyers demanding they be allowed to share in the purchase.

Many condemned Department of Supply officials for looking after the interests of the " professional " buyers, . at the expense of the householder.

The bulk of the 1000 who attended the sale were husbands and housewives who had hoped to pick up bargains in small lots for their homes.

The Department of Supply had sold a quantity of these blankets to the Mildura Shire Council at about 10s. each, I understand for pensioners and needy people. That was a commendable action. The newspaper report continues -

A notice on every page of the auction catalogue said that when practicable, all lots would be sold in quantities to meet requirements of individual buyers.

The phrase " requirement for individual buyers " applied as much to interstate buyers, whose profession it was to follow such sales all over the country, as it did to small buyers. " We try to suit everyone - big buyers and small - but we also have to look after the interests of the Department of Supply," Mr. Ryan said.

The report also stated -

Local buyers travelled to the sale ' in cars, trucks, taxis and in a number of cases, bicycles.

Most interstate buyers reached Mildura by air, including three Sydney men who hired a private plane for £100.

There are a few questions I want to ask the Minister. It is stated in this newspaper that in every case small lots were sold first. Anybody who has any knowledge of the auctioneering business - and I claim to have a slight knowledge of it - knows that you always sell the big lots first, because a buyer may not want to buy a small lot. as he may have to carry his purchases a long way, say to Sydney, and would not buy ten, twenty or 30 blankets, but would be interested in buying perhaps 5,000 blankets. The first two lots offered in this case numbered ten blankets each, and the price received for them was 27s. a blanket. 7 should like the Minister to find out who bought those lots, because it is stated in this report that the Department of Supply claimed that the people of Mildura held back, hoping to buy blankets at 10s. each, the price at which they had been sold to the shire council, for the needy. If they held back in order to buy blankets for 10s. each, why did they pay 27s. each for them? Is it possible that the interstate buyers operated so as to run the price of these blankets up to 27s. each in the two lots, and waited for the big lots to be put up later, when there would be fewer bids and the prices would be lower? Why were only two lots of ten blankets each submitted to auction? Why did not those in charge of the auction continue to submit the blankets in lots of ten, and receive a price of 27s. or a shade less each for them? When the big lots were offered they realized a maximum of only £1 each.

The sale did not last very long, because almost everything was sold in big lots. It is very significant that as the sale went on, the small lots in every instance that I can find mentioned in this report realized higher prices than the big lots. If the blankets had been sold in small lots of ten at 27s. or even less each, the return to the Government would have been much greater. The excuse given was that only people who made bids of up to 27s. each for blankets wanted them. Does anybody in this country, or in that area, know anything about auctioneering? It is only natural that when blankets have been knocked down to buyers at 27s. each, other people will wait in the hope that they will get them at a cheaper price. It is very significant that the second lot also made 27s. each. If the next lot submitted had been a similarly small lot the price received might have been 22s. each or even 25s. each. It appears to me that if the sale had been conducted on the lines of selling about 1,000 blankets for a start in one lot. and then working the number in each lot down, instead of up, there would have been more competition; because most of the 1,000 or so local people who attended wanted blankets, and attended the sale in order to get blankets. There would also have been competition among the big buyers.

Mr. Ryanof the Department of Supply has made some explanation of what happened. I do not know Mr. Ryan, and I have nothing against him. He was in charge of the auction, and the front page of the newspaper from which I have been quoting extracts has a picture of the sale in progress which shows the auctioneer and, beside him, the representative of the Department of Supply. There is no doubt that that representative was instructing the auctioneer how to conduct the sale. Another page of the newspaper has a picture of the interstate buyers. When you come to look at the interstate buyers-

Mr Pollard - They look pleased with themselves.

Mr TURNBULL - They look remarkably pleased and, of course, they should be, because they bought for less than that price blankets which had made 27s. each when submitted in small lots. It is said that it is the law in auctions that the buyer has the right to take any amount of the number submitted. But why submit more than 8,000 blankets in one lot? Why not submit 1,000, or 500, in one lot, and work the number down? I cannot see any excuse at all for not doing so.

I believe that on this matter the Minister for Supply will be able to give us some explanation to which I shall listen with great interest. It is the responsibility of honorable members to raise in the House matterslike this which affect their constituents and the Government, irrespective of whether they are members of the Opposition or Government supporters. It is a pity that. Labour supporters did not adopt that principle when the Labour government wasselling great quantities of goods at disposals sales after the war. We know that interstate buyers snapped up great bargains a/ such sales.

Opposition members interjecting,

Mr SPEAKER - Order! There are toomany interjections.

Mr TURNBULL - We know also that the Labour government was well acquainted with the tactics used by buyersat these auctions, and that Labour supporters did not have the courage to bring the scandal to the light of day. All over Australia thousands of pounds, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pounds, were made by people who bought huge quantities of goods at bargain prices at disposalsauctions.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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