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Wednesday, 19 October 1949

Mr Adermann (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) n asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -

1   . Is it a fact that, in August last, the Premier of Queensland suggested that the Commonwealth should organize a pool of steel supplies and that it should set up a central importing authority for building materials?

2.   Is it a fact that this proposal was rejected?

3.   If so, what action, if any, has been taken by the Commonwealth Government to ensure that urgently needed supplies of steel are available?

Mr Chifley - The answers to the honorable member's questions are as follows : -

1.   On the 20th May, 1949, the Premier of Queensland wrote to me suggesting that the

Commonwealth Government arrange for the importation of steel products in short supply in all States to cover 1949-50 requirements and tor the distribution of locally produced and imported products at a uniform selling price. He also suggested that the Broken Hill Pro:prietary Company Limited might accept the responsibility, under Commonwealth supervision, of acting as distributing agents for imported products to all States.

2.   The discussion which took place at the Premiers Conference on the 16th August disclosed that the States were not unanimous on the question of the appointment of a central authority to distribute both locally manufactured and imported steel products at a uniform price. I informed the Premiers that the Commonwealth Government would not desire to enter a pooling arrangement owing to the difficulties, of doing so from an administrative point of view, and further, owing to the fact that it was extremely doubtful whether Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited would be a party to such a proposition, considering the low price of locally produced Australian steel.

3.   The Commonwealth Government has been and is taking positive steps to increase the availability of steel and steel products in Australia. The question of importing steel presents some problems, the main one being the necessity of restricting as far as possible the sources of supply to ^sterling or " easy " currency areas. Belgium and Switzerland are not in that category. Another factor is that the higher prices for imported steel tends to deter private consumers from importing, except in limited quantities. The question of obtaining supplies of steel from the United

Kingdom is at present being explored, and it is anticipated that as a result of discussionswhich have taken place consequent upon the Finance Ministers' Meeting in July of this year, imports of steel from the- United Kingdom, with the possible exception of sheet and wire, will be considerably increased in 1950. Monthly imports from the United Kingdom have been rising progressively since January, 1949, and the increases in May, June and July of this year have been substantial. In order to leave to private users locally manufactured supplies and to avoid forcing up prices by competition on a scarce market, the Government decided some months ago that Commonwealth Departments, when planning steel requirements, should place orders in Australia only when it had been found impossible to arrange suitable delivery from overseas. Whilst the price of imported steel is higher than the locally produced product, the Commonwealth Government decided that it should absorb the additional cost in order toallow private industry access to the lower priced Australian steel. The Government further requested departments that where orders have already been placed in Australia by them, arrangements be made, if possible, to transfer such orders to overseas suppliers. In ite policy of endeavouring to overcome the shortage of steel in Australia by encouraging importations, success has been achieved in obtaining considerable supplies from Japan. The position is being closely watched by an inter-departmental committee, and every effort is being, and will be made, to overcome shortages of steel and steel products in Australia. The monthly imports of iron and steel for the period January to July, 1949, are set out hereunder: -

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