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Wednesday, 14 September 1949


Mr SPENDER (Warringah) .- Having heard the blather of words from the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction (Mr. Dedman), I do not wonder that no concrete proposal has been advanced by the Government to deal with the problem of petrol. Petrol is the life-blood of Australia. This is a country of wide horizons and long distances, and I should have thought that this debate would draw from the Government side some worthwhile proposal or at least some hope for the morrow, but neither has been forthcoming. The Government is a government of alibis. Whenever it is in trouble it blames factors for which it cannot be held responsible. On this occasion the dollars shortage is blamed. However, when the rains fall from heaven, and the harvests are bountiful, we are led to believe that the credit is due not to the Almighty who sends the rains, but to the Labour party. In other words, when things are right, the credit goes to the Labour party, but when things are wrong, the fault always lies with something else. When we send a man such as the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction to international conferences, it is little wonder that Australia's voice is not heard because, in truth, he does not speak with the voice of Australia. It is time that we in this chamber said quite plainly that our obligation is to Australia, and to Australia is the obligation that I shall discharge to-night. Let us put this problem in clear perspective because it has been made most complex by the thousands of millions of dollars that have been thrown around the chamber. To the people, the problem is simple enough. Although four years have elapsed since the war ended, there is still insufficient petrol in this country. Let us review the facts. The world is producing more petrol than the world needs. That cannot be disputed. Australia is one of the few countries which export more than they import, and thus enjoy a. favorable balance of trade. Australia is producing the very commodities of which the world is in great need, yet the Australian Government is unable to suggest any means by which we can marry our production capacity to sufficient of the world's over supply of petrol to sustain a sound economy. I think that a few words should be said about the petrol problem itself without burdening the people of this country with too many figures. I do not expect, of course, that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction will take any notice of what anybody on this side of the chamber says, but it is well that the people of this country should know the facts. Some time ago, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), speaking in this House, estimated the cost of abandoning petrol rationing in Australia at 17,000,000 dollars which, reduced to terms of Australian currency, is something less than £6,000,000. That is the issue - a mere £6,000,000 when, throughout the world to-day, Marshall aid is being spoken of in terms of more than £2,000,000,000 ! The Marshall aid allocation to Great Britain this year is approximately £300,000,000. The actual cost of abandoning petrol rationing in Australia, as I have said, would be less than £6,000,000, yet this Government is incapable of measuring up to that problem. Petrol has h greater significance to Australia than it has to most other countries. The Prime Minister, in a speech which I hope shortly to prove was most unfortunate, made a footling comparison of the Australian petrol ration with that operating in Great Britain. He said that the

British motorist was able to do only 90 miles a month compared with 160 miles for the Australian motorist. He might have mentioned the vast distances that motor vehicles have to cover in this country, and the pressing need of Australian primary producers for motor transport to haul their commodities over hundreds of miles. In that respect, the economies of the two countries are entirely different. I say that, in terms of criticism not of what has been done in Great Britain but of our Prime Minister. Not until recently did the right honorable gentleman confess that restrictions do not solve any problem. I should have thought that that was obvious to any one years ago. Only recently, the Prime Minister, always throe years behind those who deal with and think about this matter, agreed that restrictions will not solve any problem. For three years this problem has been confronting us, but nothing has been done about it. Now, we are told that perhaps in 1952 everything might be all right. Indeed, for all the right honorable gentleman knows, it may well be three or ten years after 195:? before everything is all right. This is a problem that can be expressed in simple terms. The world is producing so much petrol that more is available than the world needs. This country - I am speaking about Australia and we should not be confused by what is taking place in Afganistan or Colombia - produces goods which the world needs, yet we are told that we cannot obtain £6,000,000 worth of petrol through the ingenuity of leading Ministers in the Government-


Mr Pollard - The honorable gentleman was not told that.


Mr SPENDER - We were told that. Restrictions are the very philosophy of socialism. Socialists believe that they can create by destroying. To-day Australia's wealth is being destroyed and its productivity restricted because neither imagination nor intelligence is displayed by the Government in the solution of our problems. Let me deal with the problem a little more closely. It has confronted us for three years. The Government asks, " What can we do about it?" To-night the Prime Minister said four or five times over that there are only two ways in which the problem can be solved - by earning more dollars or buying more dollars. The right honorable gentleman did not suggest how we should earn more dollars and he said that we cannot buy more dollars. That is the philosophy which is advanced by the Prime Minister of this country. I shall suggest to him some ways in which this problem can bc met. Our representatives should really represent Australia rather than pretend to represent Australia. For years past we have heard of international free trade and the removal of trade barriers, yet the very thing which the Government is doing is to impose more and more trade barriers. This Government pretends to stand for Australia, burt every action it takes is against Australia's interests. If this problem had been put to the people they at least might have supplied the solution. Surely we could have said when Marshall aid was being discussed, " We as a country produce the wool, the wheat and the meat for which the world is clamouring. All we ask is that because we participate in the re-adjustment of Europe and supply the things without which Europe cannot \>e resuscitated, we should be given something in return, not necessarily the equivalent of what we supply, but that which is- necessary to enable us to .maintain our economy so that in turn we can produce more, and thus make the problem of European recovery more easy of solution." Would it have required the exercise of great brain power to formulate such a demand ? Time and again our Ministers have gone overseas; we have representatives in all parts of the world; but what advantage has Australia derived ? We hear a great deal ,a.bout the declaration of human rights and that sort of thing. What we are concerned about is how are Australia's interests to be served by building up vast sterling balances in Great Britain which we cannot use ? We should strive to get something- better than great balances in return for our goods. The Prime Minister did not deal with what has occurred during the last three years. He spoke constantly of the shortage of dollars, and said, "We cannot do anything about it:" The right honorable gentleman wants to get control of this country by imposing petrol rationing for another three years-


Mr Calwell - Rubbish !


Mr SPENDER - I agree with the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Calwell) that it is rubbish. Indeed, it is the worst kind of rubbish we have ever heard from any Prime Minister. No doubt the Minister for Immigration will engage in one of his characteristic replies later in the debate. The Prime Minister's ideology is the ideology of every Socialist. Like every other Socialist the right honorable gentleman believes in a policy of restrain and restrict. When the Government sought to deal with production by controlling prices it very largely destroyed the ability of the country to survive. What has the Government proposed' as a solution o'-f this problem? It has offered no solution whatsoever. Apparently we can produce as much as we like hut there are to be no move dollars to meet the important requirements of our economy.

The Minister for Post-war Reconstruction cited some figures to-night to which I should like to refer. Once again his figures were incorrect. The honorable gentleman said that last year Australia had drawn in dollars the equivalent of £A.70,000,000. We did nothing of the kind. Our adverse balance was £70,000,000, but we drew dollars to the value of only £A.51,000,000. It is nothing new for Australia to draw upon Britain for dollars. That has been a feature of our economy ever since we have been a nation. The pattern of our trade and commerce is such that we settle in sterling. Whatever dollars we earn must go through Britain. By reason of the pattern of our trade we cannot earn dollars with which to meet the requirements of this country.


Mr Abbott - Would the honorable member express the amounts which he has quoted in sterling?


Mr SPENDER - The conversion is simple. It is necessary only to multiply by five and divide by four. In 1946-47, when petrol rationing was in operation, £16,900^000 was drawn from the dollar pool. In the following year the amount was £51,200,000. The year 1947-48 was a year of increased dollar imports for many reasons. For the year just ended it had been estimated that our adverse balance would amount to approximately £29,500,000 and on that basis the amount which would he required to be remitted would be approximately £14,500,000. From the amount of £29,500,000 there must be deducted first the estimated value of the inflow of American capital amounting to £5,000,000, and the estimated value of gold production amounting to £10,000,000, leaving a net adverse balance of £14,500,000 as estimated. This amount has, I know, been somewhat increased since the date of the estimate. I draw attention to the fact that in May of this year the Prime Minister said in this House that the abandonment of petrol rationing would cost an additional 17,000,000 dollars or £A.6,000,000. One factor seems to have escaped the Government's attention. If we produce more gold we can immediately obtain the equivalent dollars in world parity. We produce approximately £A.10,000,000 worth of gold annually, and that is sold for sterling. 'We get the benefit of it because to that extent we do not have to draw upon the dollar resources of Great Britain. It is remarkable that this Government, faced with a problem which, in terms of money, is not very great, has made no attempt whatever to increase Australia's gold production. It is significant that our gold production has declined by 50 per cent, since 1939. The following table shows what has happened : -

 

Then production started to decline sharply. By 1945, output had decreased since 1939 by 1,000,000 fine ounces to '645,000 annually. Production for the last two complete years was as follows.: -

 

If we could achieve even the pre-war rate of production, we should immediately benefit, at the present price, by £8,000,000, £9,000,000 or £10,000,000 annually. Yet the Government says that nothing can be done about the dollar, situation! Why has it not encouraged1 gold production? I should have thought that it would be to our advantage to pay a substantial subsidy upon gold. I know that limitations are imposed by the international monetary agreement to which this Government subscribed, even though certain features of it were opposed by honorable members on this side of the House. The economy of the country was considerably hampered by the Government's action in that respect, but there are other ways in which production of gold can be increased. Had Australia's gold production returned to the pre-war level, there would be no need for petrol rationing in this country to-day.


Mr Pollard - Who wants to go goldmining, anyhow?


Mr SPENDER - The Minister is not concerned about whether farmers have sufficient petrol or not. His only concern is to make silly interjections about an important matter of grave concern to the people. What kind of a Prime Minister is it who comes into this chamber and says, notwithstanding the facts that I have stated, " Well we cannot buy what we want because we have not enough money and dollars are short. The only way is to earn more dollars, and that is difficult. I cannot suggest how it can be done " ? The Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) has made concrete proposals, and I have just made another one. Before this debate ends, 1 should like some honorable member on the Government side of the chamber to answer this question : If gold production is increased, will not our dollar problem be relieved to the value of that increased production? If that question is answered in the affirmative, as I believe that it must be, I should like to have an answer to this question: Why has the Government done nothing whatever to increase gold production above its present low level, the lowest level that it has reached in this country for many years, with the exception of the war period? There are many other ways in which this problem could have been .attacked but which this Government has neglected.

We are concerned to-day with the problems of Great Britain. A very unworthy speech was made by the Prime Minister. Apparently when any honorable member stands up for Australia's rights in these matters, the fashion is for Labour party members to say that he is attacking Great Britain. This new-found support for Great Britain, I should have thought, would stick in the throats of some Ministers. I can remember, not long ago, when I sat with them in the War Council and' elsewhere, hearing some disgraceful comments made by them about Great Britain. But at that time there was a Conservative leader in Great Britain. To-day, I say quite deliberately, Australia's interests are being obscured because this Government is a socialist government, and it is being led by exponents of the socialist ideology on the other side of the world1. What is the use of balking on this matter? Apparently we must not criticize what takes place elsewhere. We are to be simply the tail of the dog. For my part, as an Australian I refuse to be the tail of the dog. I say that we, as Australians, are bound to assert our position in the world and that we can do so quite consistently with the interests of Great Britain. Indeed, if we display any wisdom, we can do so in support of Great Britain. I shall suggest how we can do so. Great Britain's problem is not a dollar problem alone. It is also a sterling problem. This problem has been discussed at Washington, and 1 should have thought that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction would be in some way acquainted with it, if he can ever see it through Australian eyes, which I very much doubt. It involves the mounting sterling balances of India and other countries in Great Britain. Australia's sterling balance in the United Kingdom is becoming substantial. Our top-ranking Ministers should assert Australia's rights and should sit with the representatives of other nations in conference to solve this problem. I cast no reflections upon Mr. Makin or Mr. McFarlane when I make that suggestion, but they are not the men whom I want to see representing Australia in such discussions. I want our top-ranking Ministers to accept their responsibilities and say that we can contribute to the solution of the problem, not by giving Great Britain another £10,000,000 from our sterling balance, but by reducing that balance substantially, provided that Australia, in return for giving assistance in the rehabilitation of Europe - and the solution of Europe's problems is not yet complete - can get the things that it needs to develop the nation. That seems to me to be the long and the short of the matter. But the Labour party's policy is to do nothing except restrict.

There can be nothing but disaster for Australia if we do not speak forth courageously and assert our rights in the world. Furthermore, I believe that, if we speak plain sense, we shall be given a decent and satisfactory answer. The attitude of the Government has been revealed by its reply to the proposal that has been made for the purchase of Polish petrol. 1 mention this subject in order to show how the Government has failed to face up to its responsibilities. The situation is clear enough. It is the responsibility of the Government, since it is restricting petrol imports, to endeavour on a governmenttogovernment basis to obtain additional supplies of petrol from non-dollar sources.


Mr Dedman - How do you know that it has not done so?


Mr SPENDER - Obviously it has not. done so. When the public was told for the first time that there was a chance for Australia to get petrol from Poland, the Scottish Minister, whom listeners have probably identified1 by his burr-

Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Sheehy).-Order!


Mr SPENDER - Well, the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction. What did the Minister say when that statement was made to the public? He said that it was a lie, that it was quite false, and that if Mr. Warner was not speaking from his abysmal ignorance he would know how silly it was. That is why I know that the Government has done nothing. The Prime Minister said that he would make inquiries about the proposal to import Polish petrol. If the Government had already made inquiries, why did he want to make more inquiries? The truth is that the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction and others like him are trying to fool the public into believing that the Government has not been inactive in this matter. That is a good example of the morals of public life as exemplified by the Labour party. The point I want to make is clear enough. When the Prime Minister spoke, in the course of the debate, he revealed exactly the same lack of scrapie as did the Minister for Postwar Reconstruction, because he quoted from a cable that was confidential in order to incommode those who were criticizing the Government. The right honorable gentleman did not care that he was disclosing confidential information. Although the cable was asked to be treated confidentially, that request was utterly disregarded. When the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction mentioned ' the cable, the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) interjected and asked, " Where is your reply ? " " Oh," said the Minister, in effect, " I did not bring it to school". He did not bring it into the chamber! Why did he not bring it into the chamber? I venture to say that the last thing the Government wants is that Polish petro] should be brought into this country, so that it cannot be said that the Government failed to exert itself, as was its bounden duty, I should imagine that it is doing its utmost to sprag any such attempts.

There will be occasion during the budget debate to make certain observations on the dollar problem generally. For my part, all I want to say now is that at no time has this Government made any positive attempt to solve the petrol problem. It has not encouraged1 the investment of American capital here; on the contrary, it has rebuffed any such proposals. Not so long ago the Prime Minister said that he was not desirous of having too much American capital invested in Australia. Indeed, he refused one particular application to invest a sum equivalent to more than £1,000,000 on the ground that if the undertaking concerned successfully established itself m this country its operation would involve the remission of dollars to the United States of America. What a short-sighted policy for a Prime Minister to entertain! To-day, a different policy is being adopted. The new policy has been forced upon the Labour Administrations of Australia and Great Britain by criticism from the non-Labour political parties. Time and again in this Parliament members of the Opposition have told the Government : " One of the ways in which you will solve your problem is to encourage the investment of American capital in the sterling area," What has the Government done to attract American capital to this country? It has done its utmost to prevent the investment of American capital in Australia. Indeed, it has combated the investment of United States capital by its dollar taxation provisions, in contrast with the concessions that it has extended to Great Britain. The only reason why we are deficient in dollars is that we have an adverse balance against us in the United States of America.

So it is that this Government stands condemned on all counts. It is a government of too little, too late. The attitude that it has displayed in this matter of petrol shortage is similar to that which it displayed during the recent coal strike. It took seven or eight weeks for the Government to do what the Opposition suggested it should do in the first week of the strike. And sooner or later the Government will be compelled to follow the course advocated by the Opposition in this matter, because that course is the only rational solution of the problem. I support the motion of censure.


Mr Dedman - I ask leave to make a personal explanation.

Mr. ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Sheehy ).-r-Does the Minister for Post-war Reconstruction consider that he has been misrepresented' by the remarks of the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender)?


Mr Dedman - Yes. The honorable member for Warringah stated just now, and the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) said earlier, that for ulterior motives I withheld from the House a reply to a cable that was quoted by the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley).


Mr Lang - I said nothing of the sort. Do not tell lies.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order ! The Chair is in control of the House. The Minister has sought the right to make a personal explanation, and he will be heard. I will name the next honorable member who interrupts.


Mr Dedman - I repeat that the honorable member for Warringah alleged that I had withheld, for ulterior purposes, the reply to a certain cable. That is not correct, and if the honorable member for Warringah or the honorable member for

Reid wants to see the reply to that cablegram I am prepared to show it to him.


Mr Spender - I do not want to see anything privately. None of your backdoor methods with me.


Mr Dedman - With the permission of the Chair, I propose to read the reply to the House.

Opposition members interjecting,


Mr Dedman - The honorable member for Warringah .apparently does not want it read.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - I call the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke).


Mr Lang - I rise to order. The House is governed by the rules of the House of Commons, which provide that the member who first rises and catches the Speaker's eye shall be called. I have risen at every stage in this debate. I rose immediately after the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) had spoken, again after the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) had spoken and again after the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden). I then went and put my name down at the Speaker's chair, and there was no other name there. I have consistently risen, but I have been refused a call, and I raise the point of order that I am now entitled to the call in preference to the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke) whom you have just called.


Mr Burke - I rise to order.


Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! It is the practice of the occupants of the Chair to call honorable members as it sees them. I know nothing of the earlier attempts of the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Lang) to rise in his place. When the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Spender) had concluded his speech I saw the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Burke), and I gave him the call.







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