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Wednesday, 19 October 1949

Mr O'CONNOR (WEST SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I direct a question to the Treasurer relating to petrol.

Has any application been made by the oil companies of Australia for an increase of the price of petrol ? If so, when and how will it be determined? Would it be correct to say that the oil companies of Australia are withholding supplies of petrol pending the determination of their application? Is there any truth in the statement that the Shell Company of Australia Limited recently diverted a tanker that was en route to this country?

Mr CHIFLEY - According to the information that has been given to me by the chairman of the State Prices Ministers, the oil companies made an application last December for an increase of the price of petrol by 2d. a gallon on account of what they claimed to be rising costs. Up to date, the State prices commissioners have refused to accede to the request. Last Friday afternoon, I spent a couple of hours with Mr. Finnan, chairman of the State Ministers in charge of prices, who asked whether the Commonwealth had any information that would enable the .States to learn the facts regarding petrol costs. I understand that the State prices commissioners have appointed two officers to investigate this aspect of petrol prices. I placed at Mr. Finnan's disposal such information as we had, and agreed to supply him, or officers appointed by the State prices commissioners, with any additional information that we obtained from overseas. In accordance with that promise, we have despatched cables overseas in an endeavour to ascertain the facts about petrol costs. I understand costs are also being investigated by officers in Britain, and that the Government of the United Kingdom will also consider the matter. It is claimed by both the sterling and dollar oil companies that there ought to be a world price for petrol. Therefore, if currency devaluation leads to an increase of the price of dollar petrol, or of petrol with a dollar content, there should be, it is claimed, an increase of the price of sterling petrol also, because the United States of America uses two-thirds of all the petrol produced. The Government has no power to ascertain what stocks of petrol are held in Australia. We have information only about oil coming into Australia, and going into seaboard store.

After that, we lose control. We cannot say whether the oil companies are withholding supplies in the hope of obtaining a higher price. I do not know whether a tanker was diverted by the Shell Company of Australia Limited, but I shall make inquiries, and let the honorable member have any information I am able to obtain.

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