Database Senate Hansard
Date 24-09-1942
Parl No. 16
Electorate New South Wales
Speaker ARMSTRONG, John Ignatius
System Id hansard80/hansards80/1942-09-24/0037


Senator ARMSTRONG (New South Wales) . - As the war has developed through its second and third years, it is natural that many restrictive and unexpected measures have been imposed. There has been slow but certain development in the economic life of Australia, as the pressure of war has increased. »I propose to give a brief survey of the implementation of clothes rationing in Australia. It will be remembered that, because of the serious supply position, the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman) introduced a restriction which, in effect, meant that shops were allowed only up to 75 per cent, of the quantity of commodities previously sold by them. As a result, the public, knowing that the first to come would be the first served, indulged in an orgy of panic buying that stands to this day to their great discredit. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) asked the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) to be the Chairman of a. Rationing Commission, which was asked to devise a system by which available supplies would be spread fairly over the whole of the community. The honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall) and I were invited to be members of the commission. The job was urgent, and little time was given in which plans could be developed for the introduction of rationing. In Great. Britain twelve months was occupied in introducing' the scheme and finally launching it. Therefore, it seems that good work has been done in Australia in putting the scheme into operation within a few weeks. As so little notice was received by the commission, it was not able to introduce the scheme in as complete a form as it desired. Its main task was to. get the system in operation and to deal with inequities as they arose. In the initial stages we sought the help of two great organizations, the Government Printing Offices throughout Australia and the Commonwealth Electoral Office. We asked the Government Printers to produce in three weeks nearly 7,000.000 coupon books. For the moment the task appalled them, but they told the commission that they could guarantee, not only to print the books, but also to deliver them throughout Australia in the appointed time. The next job was to find an organization that could handle the distribution of the coupon books. We approached the Electoral Office, and it accepted the responsibility for this work. Although we considered that it would be possible on the two days of distribution to dispose of 60 per cent of the books, over 93 per cent of them were distributed. I publicly thank both the Government Printers and their staffs and the Electoral Office for their valuable work.

The first impact of rationing, as far as the public was concerned, was the distribution of the coupon books. This was arranged in such a wellplanned manner that the Rationing Commission was regarded by the public as a capable body. Although the work was not done by the commission, it received the credit for it. That made our subsequent work and rulings all the more acceptable to the public. The first difficulty was that a section of the community was anxious to adopt some form of value rationing. It was considered unfair that a man with a good deal of money should he allowed to buy a suit of clothes costing 20 guineas, whilst a poorer man could pay only 5 guineas for his suit. One man could buy an article that would last two or three times longer than the cheaper clothing. The commission studied that aspect of rationing, but found it impossible to implement. It worked in conjunction with the Department of War Organization of Industry, which was working on a system of standards under which eventually almost all rationed clothing will be standardized. This eliminates the inequality. Ultimately, we decided on coupon rationing. Our ration scale is more generous than the scale in operation in Great

Britain. The first scale contemplated was more generous than that on which we ultimately decided. We studied the position in regard to the supply of cotton and wool, and the manpower required to maintain supplies, and finally a scale was introduced which meant that every adult would be able to purchase only half of his purchases in 1939. For children we worked on a scale of 75 per cent, of the purchases in 1939, and for infants under four years the full scale of 1939 purchases was allowed. There was a special scale for expectant mothers. We approached Dr. Scantlebury, who is one of the foremost authorities on problems affecting mothers and children, and obtained a complete list of what was considered essential for the expectant mother and the newborn babe, and the commission made coupons available to cover that list fully.

The first development, and our first problem, was that the public had, to some degree, defeated the main object of the Government by hoarding. The hoarding which took place meant that of the meagre supplies available too much had been taken by selfish individuals for their own future use. It is strange how people defeat their own purpose by rushing to buy goods that are available and hoarding them, because the result is that the authorities are forced to do things which otherwise would not be necessary. These people created a scarcity and a demand, with the result that the Government, in self defence, was forced to institutea form of rationing. The setting up of the organization was a difficult job, particularly as the time allowed was so short. The time which the Commission allowed to the State organizations was shorter still; we gave to the Deputy Directors approximately five days to set up the organization to handle the rationing rush. First, we approached each State Premier and asked him to make available a tried and trusted public servant, preferably one with experience in handling Emergency Food Supplies, to take over the position of Deputy Director in each State. I thank the Premiers for their co-operation with the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) in making available the good men that have been appointed ; they are doing an extraordinarily good job. They have, indeed, borne the brunt of the work without gaining any public notice, and with no special knowledge of rationing apart from what they gained on the job. One reason that the system has worked so smoothly is that the Deputy Directors are men of high calibre. Our first approach to people was made easy by the assistance rendered to the commission by the newspapers of Australia. They helped U3 in every way possible, in many instances, going so far as to submit articles to the commission before publication, so that nothing harmful to the system would be published. Thus, we were able to tell them what articles suited us and what, if published, would binder us. I am glad to say that the newspapers co-operated with us in inaugurating and launching the scheme, and in preparing the people to accept the new idea. We also called the advertising and publicity people together. We wanted to lay down a basis on which they could do their job, and at the same time assist the commission. We knew that advertising would have to be controlled - that there should not be any stimulation of the people to buy goods. We asked them to concentrate more on describing the durability and long-wearing qualities of rationed goods, so that money expended in purchasing them would be used wisely. We laid down also that wherever rationed goods were advertised, their coupon value should be stated. We recognized the valuable function which the advertising people could perform in educating the people to the changes of trading customs that were being made. We knew that they could help in securing public acceptance of substitute products and in making a more limited selection of goods. We asked them to help by encouraging people to accept " austerity " products, and to make goods last longer, thereby assisting in the Government's economy campaign.

The State organizations started under a heavy handicap; there was so much to do, and so little time in which to do it. In the Sydney office, where I was on the Tuesday morning that rationing commenced, we had one room in which hundreds of people were dealt with on the opening day. On the following day we were able to obtain another room, and by knocking a hole through the wall we enlarged our premises. Some days elapsed before we were able to obtain the premises which we now occupy. From that humble start the Sydney office has grown, and now it houses nearly 100 employees. Some weeks ago, I made a check of the work done in that office. The inward mail contained 2,400 'letters in one day and the outward mail 1,900 letters. In addition, over 2,000 personal interviews and inquiries were attended to. Those figures show the magnitude of the job. Whenever any commodity is rationed the decision of the commission applies throughout the Commonwealth, and to every man, woman and child in it. As an instance of the magnitude of the task which the commission has undertaken, Mr. Hudson, the Deputy Director in New South Wales, estimates that this year the Sydney office will handle 500,000,000 coupons. All those coupons will eventually be returned to the office, where they will be checked and cancelled. In respect of coupons for clothing he expects that his office will handle 300,000,000 coupons. Between 25 and 30 cwt. of coupons are taken away and pulped in .Sydney every week. They are not burned ; the paper is used again. As another instance of the magnitude of the job, I mention that up to date, there have been over 25,000 applications for extra coupons by expectant mothers.

One of the most difficult problems with which the commission. has dealt has been the rationing of industrial clothing. In order to get over the initial period of rationing the commission decided that garments necessary for health and safety were to be coupon-free, but we found in practice that that system would not work. In one factory men working alongside one another would be wearing similar garments, some of which would be couponfree, whilst others required coupons. Moreover, we found differentiation in these matters in the same industry, and that the system placed certain persons at, a disadvantage compared with others. When the rationing system settled down, the commission instituted a Commonwealthwide inquiry, through the trade union movement, in order to ascertain the exact requirements of the workers in each industry in respect of industrial clothing. Every trade union secretary in the Commonwealth was communicated with, and asked to state the exact requirements of members of his union. In respect of the mining industry, for instance, the secretaries were asked to differentiate between men working in an open cut and men working in wet mines. We took into account the greater, or less, wear on clothing in different sections of the same mine or industry. That principle was applied to most industries, and by that means we obtained a good idea of the wear and tear on industrial clothing. We got representatives of the trade unions together, and found them most helpful. We told them that we knew that they should not wish to he placed in a more advantageous position than others. As soon as they realized that every organization in the trade union movement was being treated in the same way, and was on the same basis as the ordinary man in the street, they were most anxious to help. They brought forward their records showing the wear and tear on clothes, working boots, Asc, and from the information thus obtained we were able to draw up a scale. We made ii clear to them also that we did not wish them to be in a more advantageous position than others engaged in clerical work or undertakings not requiring industrial clothes. We told them that we expected them to use approximately one-half of their coupons for ordinary clothing and the other half for working clothes. We explained that a clerical worker who wore his ordinary clothing at his place of employment was regarded as wearing it equally at work and at home. Finally, we worked out a scale for industrial clothes under which additional coupons ranging from 10 to 35 have been provided. Of the main principles which guided us in connexion with industrial clothing the first was that where such industrial clothing had little or no effect in reducing the wear on ordinary clothing, and could not be used for general wear, it should be coupon-free. Under that heading would be included such articles as snow suits worn in freezing chambers and industrial gloves. Types of clothing worn only in industry have been assessed at low-coupon rates. That would apply to such articles as working boots. We tried to ensure that a man doing work which caused heavy wear and tear on clothes should have sufficient coupons to enable him to obtain sufficient clothes. A special reduction of coupon value wa3 made in respect of uniforms for such employees as policemen, firemen and tramwaymen. &c. Reductions were also made in respect of the uniforms of waitresses, or where garments are needed for handling food, and for coats for doctors and dentists, and trousers for surgeons. The commission estimates that there will be between 130,000 and 140,000 special issues under this heading of industrial clothing. In order that the least possible demand shall be made foi" clothing, the commission has asked employers not to insist on maintaining pre-war standards of dress. We have tried to approach this subject fairly in relation to the acute supply position. We left manchester goods and heavy furnishings ration-free if made-up, but not when sold in the piece, because experience in Great Britain showed that people bought furnishings by the yard and used them to make articles of clothing. We could not take the risk of making the same mistake. One reason why the Rationing Commission was launched so quietly, and without causing adverse public reaction, was because it consulted every section of the trade before arriving at its decisions. We talked to representatives of the retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers, and told them what we had in mind. We asked for their assistance. Thus, we evolved plans which the industry assured us would be workable. To-day we have advisory committees of these bodies in every State. We registered every wholesaler, manufacturer and importer. In New South Wales, these numbered about 2,500. We did not register the retailer, because it was the aim of the commission to maintain normal trading as far as possible. We knew that we could finally check up on the coupons as they were returned to the commission. In order to give to retailers and wholesalers an opportunity to get used to the scheme, we allowed a couponfree period of trading from the inauguration of the scheme on the 17th June to 31st August. In that period traders were enabled to establish coupon banks before coupons were needed to replace stocks. The handling of coupons represents a very important part of the commission's organization. We had. to find out the best way to deal with this problem. We approached the associated banks in Melbourne, who were happy to give us every assistance in that respect. We evolved a scheme whereby a trader could bank his coupons against which the banks advanced vouchers. This greatly simplified trading.

One natural development of rationing has been the cessation of demand for certain classes of goods. In making purchases, people now appraise goods not so much on their money value as on their coupon value. They are not buying cheap goods, or goods which are not durable, because they are endeavouring to save up coupons and make them go as far as possible. The result of this trend is that the shops cannot sell many classes of goods. Realizing this, the commission will allow "white elephant" sales, whereby these classes of goods can be disposed of coupon free, or at a greatly reduced coupon rate. This will enable retailers to clear their shelves of those goods. At the same time, however, the commission will recommend that the manufacture of these classes of goods be prohibited. It is obvious that if they cannot be sold at present coupon rates, they should not be manufactured. We hope to assist traders in getting rid of these classes of goods.

Another problem which arose, and one which was the subject of many deputations to the commission, was the inequitable effect of rationing in respect of children who grew very rapidly between the ages of twelve and sixteen years. Boys and girls coming within this category are obliged to buy their clothes in the adult department. They are naturally handicapped because they cannot buy on the children's scale. Within the next few days, the commission will announce a special coupon scale based on height and weight, under which boys and girls over twelve and under sixteen will receive additional coupons. We hope that school teachers will accept the responsibility of distributing these coupon books. This problem has not been so pressing as it has been in Great Britain, because our general coupon scale is more generous to children. The 56 coupons allowed to children under the general scale has proved sufficient to meet their needs up to this stage. That explains the delay in reaching a decision on this matter.

Another interesting fact is the number of coupon books which are lost. This has caused the commission considerable trouble, because in every case where a coupon hook is lost a certain number of coupons have been used. In order to curtail this development a3 much as possible, and to avoid victimizing people who really lose their books, or have them stolen, we have decided that people who lose coupon books must first of all report their loss to the police, and sign a statutory declaration setting out the details of how and where it was lost. In addition, such persons will be obliged to wait for a substantial period before they are supplied with a new book. That precaution is being taken in case the old books turn up. Each week, over 700 books are reported lost in Sydney alone. That should give some idea of this .section of the commission's work.

Another difficult problem arose in respect of the issue of wool to the Australian Comforts Funds and the Red Cross and other voluntary organizations. In every district, these organizations are sewing, or knitting, for the soldiers; and, in most districts, these bodies preferred to make a personal distribution to soldiers previously resident in that district. That practice has something to recommend it on the sentimental side. Our concern in this matter concerned distribution. There is an acute shortage of wool. We asked the Australian Comforts Fund and the Red Cross to assist us. We agreed to give to those organizations a reduced quantity of wool, and let them distribute it to their branches or anybody registered with them. We stipulated, however, that the articles made up from such wool were to be returned to the central bodies and distributed by them. The Army authorities issue to the soldiers every thing he needs. Despite that fact, however, the commission has generously decided to allow each soldier a special issue of 25 coupons in order to enable him to buy such extra articles as gloves, scarves, shoes, &c. In view of the fact that the commission was established not because of reduced production of goods, but because 70 per cent, of the goods produced were already allotted to the fighting services, it seemed contradictory to allow further distributions to the soldiers out of the remaining 30 per cent, of the wool available. Our job was to conserve supplies and, we felt that the army authorities had provided the soldier with all he needed. He could obtain replacements of worn out articles by making requisition to the QuartermasterGeneral. Indeed, the Australian Comforts Fund got a bad name because few soldiers ever received a parcel direct from it. On making inquiries, I discovered that all of the goods made up by the comforts fund were going out to the soldiers through the quartermasters' stores in an anonymous fashion. Consequently the Comforts Fund got little credit for its work. It was only natural that the impression should arise among the soldiers that the fund was not doing anything for them. The military authorities do not favour the forwarding of parcels to individual soldiers, because this practice arouses jealousy among men who do not receive parcels. Further, due to lack of control, one soldier might receive two or three parcels, whereas many of his mates might not receive any at all. The commission fully appreciates the cooperation it has received from all bodies interested in looking after the welfare of members of the armed forces. We consulted representatives of all these bodies. We do not say that our plan is perfect. However, from the point of view of conserving supplies we had no alternative. We decided to allow the nearest relative of a prisoner of war enough coupons to send four parcels a year to that prisoner of war. Our problem does not arise from a shortage of raw materials. As honorable senators know we have sufficient wool. The real prob- lem arises from the shortage of manpower for manufacture. An educational campaign is now being conducted through many women's organizations. We have arranged for them to obtain raw wool which can be dyed, and spinning wheels are being made available to enable members of these organizations to spin the wool themselves.

We were obliged to work out just what the soldier needed. To every noncommissioned soldier of the Australian and American forces we have allowed 25 special coupons annually. Officers of both the Australian and American forces are allowed an initial issue of 90 coupons and 70 coupons for replacements as well as a special issue of 70 coupons. The position of the officer differs from that of the private in that the former has to provide more of his requirements. We give to the American nurses 70 coupons, and the American Red Cross the equivalent of 35 coupons. Enlisted women personnel are given 30 coupons, and naval personnel 25 coupons for replacements. The official kit supplied to members of these organizations supplies their real needs. Then we had to meet the needs of persons upon termination of service with defence organizations, in order to enable them to carry on until they received their civilian identity cards, and obtained their civilian coupon books. To training nurses, we have allowed an initial issue of 200 coupons, and 100 coupons to fully trained nurses, with 50 coupons a year for replacements in each case. The calls for special issues have been surprisingly large. These include calls from members of the Mercantile Marine, expectant mothers, evacuees and refugees, hardship cases, people going to special climates, and military personnel released from military service for harvesting, cane-cutting, production of food, and war industries.

One of the most interesting aspects of the work so far done by the commission relates to emergency civilian supplies. We found that our first job was not to restrict the supply of clothing to civilians, but rather to make more available in order to satisfy the coupon scale we had prescribed. Factory time and supplies, therefore, were diverted to the manufacture of children's wool and artificial silk vests, woollen bloomers and vests, and all-wool singlets, men's wool and cotton singlets, men's wool and cotton drawers, workmen's boots and flannels, and also cotton tweed for men's working trousers. On a survey of the position we found all these articles in very short supply. We obtained them first by " switching " the manufacture of the mills, secondly, by diverting supplies from the Eastern Group Supply Council, and, thirdly, by diverting certain mills from service production. In cotton we found that our output was nearly 13,000 tons and our requirements were 19,000 tons, so that there is just the possibility of the hardening of the scale in that direction unless further supplies of raw materials coane to hand. The wool position is very interesting. Before the war we were producing 30,000,000 lb. of wool per year. Now that production has been stepped up, we are producing 90,000,000 Vb., of which 85 per cent, has been required for service orders. Despite the fact that the industry has developed in that way, we find upon a survey of the mills that it shows the largest absenteeism of any in Australia. The fault was on two sides. It was not only the fault of the employees, but also in the conditions under which they had to work, it was very easy for them to be absent. In these days, when we expect all the people to be pulling their weight, it was rather a shock to find such a high percentage of absenteeism in the industry. As regards knitted goods, the requirements have been calculated, and will be adjusted to ensure the most suitable use of available stocks of yarn. This planning involves 58,000,000 articles of clothing for 1942-43. As regards boots, the production programme is now being calculated. We have been working in this matter in very close liaison with the Department of Supply and Development, and with the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear), the Controller of Footwear, who is working out a plan whereby he will be able to guarantee the quality of footwear, so that the ration scale can be worked out. Our object is to see that only good quality boots are sold. If cheap material is turned out, the rationing scale is defeated. We must sell goods that will wear. When people buy good wearing articles, the rationing scale is not nearly so severe, but. if boots that last only a few weeks, such as Mr. Rosevear revealed in the press recently to have been purchased, are palmed off on the people, no rationing scale and no quantity of coupons can properly clothe them. We are also planning a production programme for industrial clothing. By means of a close liaison with all those who can help us, particularly the Department of Supply and Development and the Division of Import Procurement, the whole of the requirements of the community are being planned ahead. An interesting job done by the commission when it got to work was to divert many things in short supply, including flannels and children's wear, to Western Australia. The problem of that State was more one of transport than of supplies. Their most severe complaint was that goods ordered from Melbourne by their retailers had remained for weeks on the Melbourne wharfs awaiting transport and had then been sold to other and readier markets in the east.

After the commission had been in existence for' a month, the Government decided to ration tea. The commission itself has no voice in what is rationed. The Government, through its Production Executive, examines the supply position, and, when certain articles are found to be in short supply, directs that they be rationed. The commission is advised what things are in short supply and the quantity available, and its job is to share that quantity as equally as possible throughout the community. The tea position was such that we had to import our supplies from far ofl' places. Tea does not last when stored, but deteriorates after three or four months, and loses much of its flavour. The position, therefore, had to be carefully handled. Because of shipping difficulties, our tea supplies have been very short for a long while. The commission took over the rationing of tea on the 6th July, and was able, by looking at the supply position, to increase the ration by 60 per cent. That was our first job. We increased the ration by making it If oz. a week to each member of the community over nine years of age. We helped as far as we could persons living in outback areas by allowing, them to register with their suppliers, so that they could receive quantities exceeding the normal supply in the standard period. Members of the forces on leave for periods up to six days or more, and those living out of camp, have been provided with special tea coupons. Employers who provide a canteen service may register as a cafe for tea supplies. Shearers and merchant seamen are allowed 2 oz. a week, and special consideration has been given to merchant ships because of the indefiniteness of their voyages. All tea clubs and group users are now expected to supply their own tea, and are supposed to make their own arrangements. We worked out a scale for cafes which seems to be operating very well. Tea is supplied to catering establishments on a cup per meal basis, depending upon the number of persons served with casual daily meals each week during the month preceding that in which the application is made. In some cases the tea supplied in cafes seems to be very much weaker, but I do not think that that is the fault of the commission. I believe that the cafes could make it stronger, but, as in a number of instances, advantage is taken of restriction to make supplies go a little further.

The next commodity the commission was asked to ration was sugar. The Government decided to ration sugar, not because of any immediate or threatened shortage, but owing to transport difficulties, and in order that, if enemy action destroyed any of the mills in the north of Australia, the organization would be in full swing to impose a more severe ration in emergency thus created. We have allowed 1 lb. of sugar per person per week, which is not, in effect, rationing, but merely organization and control of the industry.

In conclusion, I wish to compliment the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane), who is in charge of rationing. He has done a great job for the commission, and given us every assistance. He has made his department available to us, and enabled us to get all the advice we require.

I should also like to thank the Treasurer (Mr. Chifley) for making available to the commission the services of Dr. Coombs, who has been an outstanding success. He is endowed with a great deal of ability, but at the same time adopts the sensible attitude that he can still learn a lot. He is most anxious to listen to suggestions wherever they may come from. This very valuable aptitude has done a great deal to make rationing acceptable to the people. I wish to pay a tribute also to my colleagues on the commission, the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) and the honorable member for Martin (Mr. McCall), who have worked very hard. A great deal of travelling has been necessary. The commission has visited, in the last six or seven weeks, every capital city in the Commonwealth to inspect the organizations and to see that everything is working smoothly. If anything went wrong, we did our best to rectify it on the spot, receiving many deputations in every city, and our visit proved of great value because our deputy directors met us and worked with us. They know the requirements of the commission and have done a great deal to make rationing acceptable to the public. Frankly, it has been accepted mainly because of the fact that, in the first place, the commission did nothing without first taking every possible step to consult the organizations which could help us. Secondly, we have been very fortunate in our choice of deputy directors throughout Australia. They are a particularly highly trained class of men. They accepted a job concerning which all of them, at first, knew very little, but they picked it up and carried it out to the utmost satisfaction of the Government. Thirdly, the people were ready for the sacrifices that rationing involved.

The way in which the community has accepted rationing makes me feel a greatdeal happier than formerly. I am convinced that the people of Australia will accept any sacrifices so long as they know that it is necessary, and that every one is being treated on the same footing as his neighbour. But once they feel that some one is cheating, or in other ways not playing the game, they begin to worry and fret, and they are then not nearly so amenable to discipline as they otherwise would be. They have accepted the rationing system, although it has been a severe burden for many to carry. The reduction of the amount of purchases to one-half of the 1939 figure imposes in many cases a severe penalty, but the community has cheerfully accepted it. In the hundreds of letters that I have received, and the hundreds of interviews I have had, I have not heard a complaint arising from a selfish outlook. I have now, in consequence, a much happier feeling as regards the future. The Australian people have shown that they will accept austerity in every shape and form, and will do their bit behind the lines in order to make the job of the men in the front line as easy as possible. I believe that they will pull their full weight, and will bear cheerfully any burden the Government may ask them to carry.

Debate (on motion by Senator McBride) adjourned.

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