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Thursday, 29 September 1949

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- I desire to raise a matter that has been brought to my notice by a well-known Melbourne firm of importers and distributors of office equipment and supplier. Whilst the matter that the firm has brought to mv notice is of particular interest to its members, it is of general interest also in relation to trade between Australia and either the western zone or the Russian zone of Germany. Should the Minister for Air ("Mr. Drakeford) be agreeable to pass this information on to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Courtice), I shall be pleased to make details available to him. I am advised that in recent months this firm has had offers from several firms of the agency or distributing rights for the Olympia portable typewriters, which come from the Russian zone of Germany. My informant says that there are two factories making this machine. One is in the Western Zone and the other is in the Russian Zone. As honorable members are aware, the Western Zone of Germany is administered jointly by British, French and American representatives. The offers emanated from the Russian. Zone. My informant states that upon inquiry why his firm could not be offered Western Zone products, he was informed that it had been found easier to obtain a licence from the Commonwealth customs for merchandise from the Russian Zone. He has pointed out that during World War II. portable typewriters were considered luxuries, and their manufacture in Great Britain was stopped by government decree. That action was apparently endorsed by the Australian Government, because the importation of portable typewriters was prohibited for some time. I understand that the major British manufacturers have not yet been able to resume production of portable typewriters, owing to the big demand for standard model machines for office use. It appears, therefore, that. Australia is being exploited as a useful market for typewriters manufactured in the Russian Zone of Germany^ and that this might ultimately be detrimental to the British manufacturers who are at present trying to make up the leeway in respect of standard office typewriters. The question that has been raised is why import licences for merchandise from the Russian Zone of Germany are easier to obtain than licences to import goods from the Western Zone, which is under the joint control of the Western Powers.

I have been told, also, that this firm has been trying for about two years to secure approval to bring Roto duplicators into Australia from the Western Zone. Despite its efforts, however, the issue of a licence, which would enable it to renew its agency, has been refused. That make of machine is well-known in this country, and I gather from the correspondence that has reached me that it enjoys an international reputation for efficiency. My correspondent says that the Department of Trade and Customs has not given any reason for the refusal, other than that this is a matter of high politics. Apparently the department has stated that, as high policy is involved in this matter, the issue of an import licence must be refused. It is somewhat difficult to understand the reasons for this decision if it is a fact, as alleged, that comparable office equipment is being imported from the Russian Zone of Germany.

Enclosed with the letter to which I have referred was an advertisement that appeared in a recent edition of the Melbourne Herald with relation to Olympia and Rheinmetall portable typewriters. The advertisement stated that immediate deliveries of those machines could be made. Apparently these are the typewriters that are coming in from the Russian Zone of Germany, to which my informant has referred. On the surface it would appear that if import licences can he made available for the importation of goods from the Russian Zone of Germany, there is no sound reason why a similar facility should not be extended to people who desire to import goods from the Western Zone. Possibly the trade policy of the joint organization that has been established in Germany has something to do with it. Alternatively, it may be that the British Government has intervened and requested that the issue of a licence for the importation of this kind of equipment be restricted. If that were the case, however, I should imagine that the same considerations would apply to exports from both zones of Germany. I have no knowledge of this matter other than what has been brought to my notice by my correspondent. As I have already said, I shall be glad to make the letter available to the Minister, and I trust that he will institute an inquiry to clear the matter up and enable me to send a satisfactory reply to the firm that has brought it to my notice.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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