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Wednesday, 2 July 1941

Senator McBRIDE (South AustraliaMinister for Munitions) . - Senator Courtice has inquired regarding the policy of the Government with respect to power alcohol. I suggest that the Government's attitude in that regard was illustrated by the fact that' it deemed the production of motor spirit in Australia to be of such importance that it has encouraged the manufacture of spirit of several kinds in order to relieve the petrol shortage due to the war. Knowing the possibilities with regard to power alcohol, the Government appointed a committee some months ago to investigate the matter and report upon it. As the honorable senator said, the committee made a careful investigation of the whole field in Queensland and in the other States, and presented to the Government a comprehensive report. Briefly stated, the recommendations of the committee were that the total production of power alcohol in Australia should he stepped up from its present low level of from 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 gallons a year to 52,000,000 gallons a year. It was pointed out that, in order to do this, certain commodities would have to be distilled, and those recommended were sugar and wheat. It was also recognized that power alcohol could not be distilled commercially in competition with petrol and several other forms of spirit that are now being produced in Australia, but it was pointed out that its production would not only help the motor industry, but would also assist in utilizing a certain proportion of our primary produce which is at present difficult to ship overseas. The Government carefully considered the report presented to it, and has decided to step up immediately the production of power alcohol at the distilleries at Sarina, Pyrmont and Yarraville from 2,000,000 gallons to 7,000,000 gallons a year. It has also decided to erect further distilleries capable of producing 10,000,000 gallons of power alcohol a year, and it has suggested that the raw material to be used shall be wheat. A further examination is being made of the possibility of producing rectified spirit, or 95 per cent, spirit, in the various distilleries in the Murray Valley. It is expected that with a slight expenditure it will be possible to step up their production to a total of 5,000,000 gallons C rectified spirit a year. This means that the Government has decided immediately to put in hand the expansion of power alcohol production in this country until the total output reaches 22,000,000 gallons a year. Whilst I agree that that does not completely implement the recommendations of the committee, I think that honorable senators will recognize that the Government has taken a step in the right direction. I call the attention of honorable senators to the fact that, whilst this production will be extremely useful to Australia, particularly in a time of petrol shortage such as that now being experienced, the committee itself- suggested that a period of two years would elapse before the output which it recommended could be obtained.

In order to supplement the petrol supply further, the Government is also supporting financially and in other ways National Oil Proprietary Limited, which is engaged in the production of petrol from shale. Although difficulty has been encountered in connexion with that project, the Government is hopeful that before the end of this year, a substantial output of petrol will be obtained at Glen Davis. In addition, the Government has decided that the gas companies in the various cities of Australia shall produce benzol, and it is expected that within a reasonably short period about 8,000,000 gallons of benzol will be manufactured annually. It will thus be seen that the Government is not unmindful of the difficult position at present confronting Australia, and is taking action in the ways that I have indicated that will help the country in this time of need.

Senator Keane, in a question asked to-day, sought a statement setting out the wishes of the Government with regard to gold-mining. I indicated at the time that I would obtain from the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden) a considered statement of Government policy in this matter, but without referring to the Treasurer I can assure the honorable senator that the Government has not at any time lost sight of the value of gold production in Australia, and particularly at the present time when overseas exchange is a matter of great importance. Therefore, the Government places gold-mining in a very high order of priority, and would - do nothing to suggest that it does not wish gold production to continue. I can assure the honorable senator, that the Government will assist in every practicable way to maintain the present output of gold, and also to expand its production as far as possible.

Senator Darceyreferred to the manufacture of. munitions in Tasmania. I announced some time ago that the Government had decided to establish a small arms ammunition factory in that State, and that the project was to have been started almost immediately, but, in view of the fact that Tasmania produces some essential war materials for gun ammunition, namely copper and zinc, the Government has now decided to establish a gun ammunition factory, together with a foundry and rolling mills, which will use the raw material produced in Tasmania, and convert it into brass and roll it into sheets for the production of gun ammunition cases. I can assure the honorable senator that that project is being put in hand almost at once, and the Government hopes that within a reasonable period, employment will be given to a considerable number of persons in Tasmania who are prepared to engage in the production of munitions.

I cannot tell the honorable senator precisely when the factory will be in operation, but every effort is being made to construct it, and to build the necessary machines. At the earliest possible opportunity it will afford employment to some of those Tasmanians, who, as the honorable senator has said, find difficulty in getting work in that State, and are being encouraged to seek employment as munition workers in other parts of the Commonwealth.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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