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Thursday, 27 October 1949

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The very principle of debate is a comparison of methods. The Minister is not entitled to go into a long discussion on tea, but he is entitled to draw conclusions from the rationing of tea.

Dr EVATT - I am sorry that tea, another liquid, is- not palatable to the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison). I am not going to go into details of the tea arrangement but, under it, tea is obtained fairly by the Australian people from one end of Australia to the other. If tea was not rationed and if the price were not controlled, the price would rise to unheard-of heights. Tea is essential to people and, without rationing and without the subsidy, the price would rise to at least 10s. per lb. Tea and petrol are analogous in. this connexion. Ever since the High Court decided that the Australian Government had no' power to ration petrol, we have seen what private enterprise, plus the profit motive, hai,done. The position is chaotic. because there is no proper sharing of a commodity that is in short supply. The only way in which to deal justly with the position is by reverting to rationing. There -was no objection by the people of Australia to the rationing of petrol when it was rationed. There was no suggestion that rationing should he done away with. No speech was made by honorable gentlemen on the other side of the chamber in opposition to rationing. No suggestion was made that it should be ended. No questions were asked about it.

Mr Turnbull - Yes, there were.

Dr EVATT - I take it that the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Turnbull) is against rationing altogether.

Mr Turnbull - Let the right honorable gentleman be fair. He said that no questions were asked about petrol rationing, and I merely said that questions were asked.

Dr EVATT - We have made an agreement with Great Britain and the British Commonwealth to reduce dollar expenditure. Consequently, petrol is in short supply and the only way in which the people may get a fair deal is by the reintroduction cif rationing. The very word "rationing" connotes a fair distribution of goods that are scarce. If the views of honorable members opposite were given effect to there would be chaos. Only a few people in the community, and they would probably be those who do no essential work, would be able to get petrol without rationing. Honorable gentlemen cannot get away with such statements as appeared the other day in the press as having been made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Menzies) and the Leader of the Australian Country party, that petrol rationing will go if they have the say. The statement was made expectedly by the Leader of the Australian Country party, but unexpectedly by the Leader of the Opposition, that rationing would go. If rationing went, then our agreement with Great Britain would also go. If our agreement with Great Britain goes, then our d 011,11 resources would not be available.

There is a further aspect of this case that I should like the House to consider, because it goes even deeper than the matters that I have already dealt with. It has never been the practice, either in this country or in Britain, for political parties to adopt a partisan attitude in relation to the affairs of other members of the British Commonwealth. lt is perfectly true that the citizens of British countries may have their opinions on these matters. But we have heard in this House in the last four or five weeks open attacks made by prominent Opposition party members, including the Leader of the Australian Country party and also by several members of the Liberal party, upon the British Government. In other words, according to those honorable members, our fundamental relationships with Britain are dependent not upon the permanent fact of kinship, but upon the accidental fact that a. particular political party is in power. That is one of the most serious things that have occurred in the history of the British Commonwealth. It is most disturbing that we should have attacks in the National Parliament of this country on particular members of the British Cabinet* I say that the British Government, under unspeakable difficulties, has steered the ship of State through perils of diverskinds, not only political, but also international and economic, and that it is deserving of our sympathy and assistance in all its tasks. We should understand that the people of Great Britain aTe supporting the actions that the British Government has taken in the national interests. I think that nearly 50 by-elections have been held in Great Britain in the last, four years and in not one instance havethe people rejected the Government's; candidate for a seat that the Government: won at the last general election.

I regard this particular problem of.' petrol as one that can be summed up. quite briefly: First of all, we must keep, our agreement with Great Britain, orotherwise we embark upon a policy of repudiation of our arrangements.. Secondly, we must not break our agreement, because by doing so, we should: cause ruin to Australia, and would then: be in a position in which we should; have no dollar resources available toils. The whole idea, of repudiation' is foreign to this Government and to itsopinion of what is proper in these circumstances. Thirdly, if we determine that we must carry out our arrangements with Great Britain, how shall we deal with the problem of the shortage? Shall weallow a continuance of the scramble, confusion and chaos that are going on to-day through the absence of regulation by responsible governments, or shall we tryto govern, the country in the interests of* the people? During the war, we had' exactly the same choice in relation to a vaster field than we are dealing withtoday. We told the people then that it was necessary to do certain things in theinterests of Australia and of the British Commonwealth, and the people supported' the Government, because they do not like governments that run away from responsibility.

I say, in conclusion, that the PrimeMinister's lead, his complete frankness- to the House, his determination to keep the arrangement with Great Britain, and Iris continual care for the people of Australia in these matters, are all important factors that will win for him, and for the party that loyally ' supports him, the approval of the people of Australia on this great issue at the forthcoming general elections.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

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