Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 1 July 1949

Mr. DEDMAN(Corio - Minister for

Defence and Minister for Post-war Reconstruction) [11.15]. - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The purposes of the bill, as its title implies, is to provide, in the interests of defence, for the maintenance of stocks of liquid fuel within Australia. Prior to the recent war it was the custom of oil importers to keep large stocks of motor spirit in Australia, usually amounting to from two to three months' requirements at seaboard, with further stocks at inland depots. During the operation of the National Security (Liquid Fuel) Regulations the Commonwealth had the ability to regulate the quantities which could be withdrawn from bond and distributed for consumption. As the result of the judgment of the High Court on the 6th June last, which declared the Defence (Transitional Provisions) Act 1948, to be invalid insofar as it purports to extend the operation of the National Security (Liquid Fuel) Regulations, the power of the Commonwealth in relation to motor spirit and other liquid fuels is restricted to control over importation, and this power does not include the power to impose legal duties in relation to internal consumption and use of the imported product.

Stocks of motor spirit held at seaboard in Australia in 1948 were at one stage less than one month's rationed consumption, and over the year averaged only sufficient to provide for five and a half weeks' consumption under rationing. It is conceivable, therefore, that with no restraint on withdrawals from bond1 or on comsumption, stocks could become reduced to a level which would imperil the safety of the Commonwealth in the event of an emergency arising. The Defence Committee, comprising the chiefs of staff of the three services and the Secretary foi Defence, gave urgent consideration to this matter following on the termination of petrol rationing and it has recommended, from the defence point of view, that the Government should take whatever steps are needed to ensure that adequate reserves of liquid fuel are held in Australia at all times to meet the requirements of the fighting services and essential civilian services in a national emergency, and that, if necessary, legislation shall be introduced for this purpose. The Defence Committee also made recommendations as to the minimum holdings of aviation spirit and motor spirit which it considered necessary, and advised that consideration should be given to the provision of reserve holdings of other liquid fuels.

The bill gives effect to these recommendations. It will not impose any hardship on oil importers, as in the case of motor spirit at least, the quantity proposed to be required to he held is less than actual holdings on the 31st May last. In any event, provision is made in the bill that an importer who is required to hold stocks by reason of this bill shall be entitled1 to fair compensation by the Commonwealth in respect of any loss suffered by him thereby. The bill is a logical sequel, entirely in the interests of the defence of the Commonwealth, to the loss of safeguards which the Government has hitherto held under National Security Regulations.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.

Suggest corrections