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Tuesday, 18 October 1949

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member must not refer to that subject.

Mr DAVIDSON - Had the Prime Minister stated that the decision of the High Court would be accepted and that the Government would take steps to ensure that adequate supplies of petrol would be made available, we should not be facing the present difficult situation.

We have reached the stage at which it is necessary to consider what the Government can do to relieve our difficulties. The Prime Minister has stated that the Government can do nothing to alleviate the position because it has no authority relative to the distribution of petrol, but there is one way in which it can help. It has under its control a large quantity of petrol that is being maintained as a defence reserve. I understand that the quantity is more than 50,000,000. gallons. ] advocate the release of some of that petrol immediately. The Government has control of it because it has been surrendered by the cil companies in compliance with the provisions of a measure that was recently passed by the Parliament. According to the information at my disposal, it would not require the release of more than 15,000,000 gallons of petrol to tide us over our present difficulties. I have been moved to make this suggestion because of the statements that have been made recently by senior Ministers that there is no fear of Australia being engaged in a war for five or ten years. I do not agree that that is so, but that is what has been said by government spokesmen. The Government cannot have it both ways. It cannot justify the funereal pace at which our defence preparations are proceeding by claiming that there is no need to accelerate them because we are not likely to be engaged in a war within the next five or ten years, and at the same time argue that it is entitled to sit like a broody old hen on 50,000,000 gallons of petrol because that quantity is required for defence purposes. If a portion of the defence stocks of petrol was released immediately, it would enable the Government to accede to requests such as those that are contained in the telegrams that I have read and alleviate the present difficult position.

I consider that what I have suggested can and should be done, but I qualify my statement by saying that if petrol is released from defence stocks, that must be regarded only as a. temporary measure and should be followed by positive action by the Government to ensure that the quantity released will be replaced within the next twelve or 24 months. I am convinced that that could be done. I am fortified in my suggestion by the belief that after the next general election the present Opposition parties will be in control of the treasury-bench and will take the necessary steps to relieve the present petrol shortage and to replace petrol released from defence stocks to alleviate our present difficulties. The Government must take steps to relieve the petrol shortage if our essential industries are to continue in operation.

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