18th Parliament · 2nd Session
The President (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Minister for Shipping and Fuel aware that a 60 miles an hour gale, accompanied by heavy rain, and hail, recently caused damage estimated at £100,000 in South Australia’s main fruit-growing area, and that many crops in the Barmera and Loveday districts were completely destroyed in fifteen minutes ? I am informed that an inspection has revealed that eight growers have lost their entire crops, some of which were valued at up to £4,000 each? Will the Government give favorable consideration to providing financial assistance to fruitgrowers who have suffered such heavy losses both to crops and property in the storm ?
– The only information that I have received on the matter “to which the honorable senator has referred, has been contained in press reports. Under the existing Commonwealth and State financial relationship, it is not the responsibility of the Australian Government to make relief payments in respect of such calamities as floods, bush fires and droughts. However, the Government is prepared to give consideration to making grants for relief purposes if damage is widespread. Such grants are generally made following a request for financial assistance from the State concerned. On previous occasions the Australian Government has provided grants on a £l-for-£l basis with the States. The purpose of such Commonwealth assistance is to alleviate severe distress and hardship rather than to recompense primary producers and businessmen for losses. The Commonwealth Government provided two grants, -one of £40,000, for the relief of distress caused by the recent floods in the Kempsey district. Each grant was made on a £l-for-£l basis with the Government of New South Wales. Those grants were approved after representations had been made by the State Government on the matter. As far as I am aware, no request has yet been received from South Australia in respect of the storm damage “to which Senator Finlay has referred, but I can assure the honorable senator that any such request would receive the sympathetic consideration that has always been given to applications for assistance in tragedies of that kind.
– Is the Minister for Shipping and Fuel aware that the “northern coal-miners’ board of manage ment has called stop-work aggregate meetings for Thursday to consider a general strike on the northern coal-fields? Is it a fact that the dispute has arisen over the quality of sand that is used to brake underground locomotives at Elrington colliery? In view of the disturbing statements that have appeared in the press concerning the coal-mining industry generally, can the Minister furnish any information that will reassure the people of Australia concerning the maintenance of future coal stocks?
– The Leader of the Opposition has asked me a number of questions but he has not indicated the source of the information on which he has based those questions.
– I thought that the Minister looked at the newspapers, because the report to which I have referred appeared in the Sunday Herald.
– Now, the honorable senator has enlightened me. He is referring to a statement that appeared in the newspapers. I desire to say emphatically that the press reports of a general strike in the coal-mining industry are wholly incorrect.
– That is exactly the information I was seeking from the Minister.
– It should not be my function to have to correct the press or, for that matter, anyone else. As far as I am aware, the dispute at Elrington colliery arose over a safety measure. The mine concerned is, of course, located in New South Wales, and since the Government of that State administers the mine safety regulations, the Commonwealth Government cannot interfere to any great degree in matters concerned with safety measures. However, the Commonwealth Government has taken all possible steps concerning the matter. 1 understand that the dispute arose because the miners concerned consider that the sand supplied by the management to brake underground locomotives is not suitable for the purpose and that it would not. be safe to use that particular kind of sand. Whether the complaint is justified I cannot express an opinion at this distance, any more than could any other honorable senator, but I know that a’ conference is taking place in Sydney this afternoon between all the parties concerned, which include representatives of the Joint Coal Board, the owners of Elrington colliery, the miners’ federation and New South Wales Government officials. I am hopeful that the general strike mentioned by the honorable senator will not occur.
– As private enterprise has failed repeatedly to provide adequate supplies of coal for industrial uses and other purposes, I ask the Minister for Shipping and Fuel whether the Government will consider making special arrangements to supply that important commodity in sufficient quantities to keep industry in full production?
– The Government has already taken steps to provide coal for the needs of Australia. As I have pointed out in the Senate repeatedly, the coal industry is affected by the same disabilities as are hampering other industries in this country. Furthermore, working conditions in the industry are not so favorable as in other occupations, and many employees have left the coal mines. Some men work in the mines to-day only when work it not available elsewhere; it is an economic proposition. Formerly it was traditional that sons should follow their fathers into the mines, but that is not so to-day. In fact, men engaged in the coal industry are opposed to their children following in their footsteps. However, the improvements that have beer effected in the industry as the result oi Government intervention to appoint th,Joint Coal Board and the installation of modern machinery may induce young men to seek work in the mines again. As 1 said in the Senate last week, approximately £3,000,000 worth of modern mining machinery has been ordered overseas, and some of it has already arrived in Australia. The Government also hopes that the development of the open-cut system of mining will increase production so much during the next few years as to enable all consumers of coal to satisfy their needs.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Social Services been drawn to a booklet that was recently published by the British Medical Association? In particular, I direct his attention to page 13 of that booklet, whereon the following statement appears -
Four freedoms which this Government should observe in dealing with any free medicine scheme …
Has the the Minister any comment to offer in that connexion ?
– I have seen the booklet referred to, which was prepared and circulated by the British Medical Association, although, frankly, I have not yet had an opportunity to read it. Amongst the “ four freedoms “ advocated in the booklet was the statement that there should be no compulsion upon either the doctor or the patient. Let me say at once that the Government’s proposals for a pharmaceutical benefits scheme never included the slightest element of compulsion on a patient. In all circumstances, patients were specifically excluded from the obligation to accept free medical benefits if they preferred to pay for them. There was no dispute concerning that. There was an element of compulsion upon doctors not in regard to their medical discretion or in relation to the treatment of patients, but because of the obligation to put a formulary item on a Commonwealth form if they did prescribe within the formulary.
– Does the Minister mean after the amendment was made?
– The scheme of 194S was floated on an entirely voluntary basis. That one element of compulsion was introduced in July, 1949, and it has been declared invalid by the High Court. At the moment the scheme of pharmaceutical benefits is entirely upon a voluntary basis. Whilst the decision of the High Court stands, there cannot be any element of compulsion upon a doctor. There is now no dispute whatsoever between the Government and the British Medical Association. There has been an affirmation of that particular freedom. The second freedom referred to was freedom of choice of medical adviser. That is conceded, and always has been conceded’, by the Government. There is no dispute upon that. The third freedom is that the doctor should be free to pursue his professional methods in any way. There has never at any time been any dispute between the Government and the medical profession upon that point. On the fourth point, that the doctor-patient relationship should be preserved, nothing that the Government has done has ever sought to disrupt that relationship. In fact the Government, in propounding its plans for a medical benefit scheme whereby the Government would pay 50 per cent, of the patient’s fee, which he might otherwise owe to the doctor, adopted the very proposals of the British Medical Association itself, a fee for service scheme, and the other aspects of that scheme that have been suggested. It is unfortunate that whenever acceptance did take place there was a withdrawal by the British Medical Association from its original proposals. The Government is in complete accord with those four freedoms, and is quite as enthusiastic about their support as the British Medical Association itself could be.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs by reminding the Senate that for many months past photographs have appeared in periodicals that are distributed throughout the world showing aborigines being chained and taken as far as 400 miles to stand their trial, in very bad circumstances indeed. According to a statement that appeared in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald when the Anti-Slavery League in Great Britain took this matter up with Mr. McLarty, Premier of Western Australia, the league was told that nothing could be done about it. Furthermore, the Russian delegate to the United Nations, Mr. Vyshinski, has raised the subject in the United States of America recently. Will the Minister inform the Senate whether the Australian Government has jurisdiction in this matter? If so, will the Minister take steps to abolish such barbarity in this country, which is undermining the prestige of Australia?
– I have no knowledge of the photographs or even the discussions in this matter. Apart from aboriginal natives of Australia who may be resident in the Northern Territory the Commonwealth has no power whatsoever over aborigines. It has no power over aborigines in Western Australia. It is indeed extraordinary that although the Constitution conferred power upon this Parliament to make laws in respect of aliens and people of any coloured race coming to Australia it did not empower the Commonwealth to make laws in relation to the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia. Commonwealth power is expressly negatived under the Constitution. A power does extend to aborigines in the Northern Territory. There are none in the Australian Capital Territory, I understnd. It appears from the honorable senator’s question that the circumstances which have been the subject of discussion arose in Western Australia. I say at once that this Government has no control over the treatment of aborigines there. This Parliament, of course, must be gravely concerned about anything said abroad that tends to reflect upon Australia’s good- name whether the statements refer to a State matter or not. I shall ask the Minister for External Affairs to examine the facts upon which the honorable senator has based his question. I assure him that the approach by the Minister will be along the lines that I have indicated.
– A recent case of leprosy in Western Australia was that of a white woman who previously resided in India. Can the Minister for Health inform the Senate what precautions are taken among persons entering Australia from Asiatic countries to detect this disease and so safeguard the community?
– As the honorable senator is aware, all persons entering Australia are subject to scrutiny from a health point of view. Every ship’s master if. obliged when his ship enters Australian waters to notify all cases of illness on his vessel. In addition to that, our quarantine officers are continuously conducting a survey. It is conceivable, but not likely, that a case of leprosy could enter this country. It is most unlikely that that could happen in the case of passengers travelling by air, because all aircraft are met by quarantine officers at their port of entry. If the honorable senator will supply me with particulars of any case that she has in mind, I shall trace back the processes by which the person affected entered this country.
– Has the Minister for Shipping and Fuel any knowledge of statements made that petrol can be purchased from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Poland, for sterling? If so, from whom did such statements emanate? Is the Government taking any action to permit petrol to be brought to Australia? If such permits have been issued, to what companies, or persons, have they been issued and have such persons, or companies, been successful in obtaining supplies from the sources I have mentioned?
– The Leader of the Australian Country party said that petrol could be imported from Russia and also from Poland. During the controversy that took place on this subject recently, it was stated that tankers were ready to load petrol immediately the Government granted the necessary import licences. However, when licences were issued for the importation of petrol it was found that no petrol was available.
– That was owing to delay on the part of the Government in issuing the import licences.
– Instead of tankers being ready to load petrol at certain ports overseas, as had been suggested, the persons who applied for the import licences appealed to the Government to assist them to obtain licences from the governments of the particular countries for the export of the petrol. In response to that appeal, the Government gave every assistance to the people concerned. In answer to the second portion of the honorable senator’s question, import licences have been issued to Ampol to import about 5,000,000 gallons of petrol. That company has also applied for licences to import further quantities. It was stated that that petrol was on its way to Australia; but the latest information I have received is that it will not be loaded for at least another ten days. That company, or any other company, in this country will not have any difficulty in obtaining a licence to import petrol provided that there is no dollar content in the payment for the petrol or in the cost of bringing it to Australia.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
How many new Australians have been placed in employment during the past twelve months through the Commonwealth Employment Service ?
– The Minister for Labour and National Service advises that the number is approximately 32,000.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
What .amount of rent was paid by the Commonwealth Government for office and other types of accommodation for the years 1937-38, 1938-39, 1944-45, 1945-46, 1946-47, 1947-48, 1948- 49, and for the first three months of 1949- 50- - (a) In the State capital cities;
in each State outside the capital cities;
– It will take considerable time to obtain the information requested by the honorable senator. Answers to his questions will be made available as early as practicable.
Debate resumed from the 21st October (vide page 1810), on motion by Senator Ashley -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The purpose of the bill is -
To ensure, so far as Commonwealth legislative power permits, a just and orderly sharing of liquid fuel amongst the people of Australia while such fuel is in short supply.
It is only natural that one should ask what is the necessity for this measure. Until June of this year, the Australian Government carried on its war-time petrol rationing scheme throughout Australia. In that month, however, the regulations were successfully challenged in the High Court, which ruled that the Commonwealth no longer possessed power to ration petrol. When the High Court’s decision was given on the 6th June, it was clear that for some time at least, petrol would be unrationed in Australia. The States had power to inaugurate rationing schemes of their own, but it was obvious that no uniformity could be achieved unless a co-ordinated scheme were introduced. The consumption of petrol is nation-wide, and the introduction of individual States schemes, with perhaps varying ration scales, would create many anomalies. Therefore, soon after the High Court announced its decision, the State premiers met at Canberra to consider an agreement to authorize the Commonwealth to re-introduce a rationing scheme.’ Unfortunately, some time elapsed before unanimity was reached. The Australian Government has disclaimed all responsibility for the distribution of petrol in this country since the High Court’s decision was given on the 6th June. In his weekly broadcast last Sunday night, the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) said -
The Commonwealth has control neither of the distribution of petrol nor of the disposal of petrol stocks other than stocks held for defence purposes. This is the effect of the High Court’s judgment last June. Since that judgment, distribution of petrol imported into Australia has been in the hands of the oil companies, who decide where petrol shall be sent and how much petrol individual garages and others shall get.
That is quite true; but I remind the Senate that the Prime Minister made certain other statements when the High Court’s judgment was given. One of those was that, unless rationing was restored, there would soon be little or no petrol for essential industries and that petrol pumps would be dry by the Christmas and New Year holidays. When a statement like that is made by the Prime Minister, what else can be expected than panicbuying of petrol by the general public? Was it not natural that private motorists who wished to travel during the Christmas and New Year holidays, and primary producers who required petrol for harvesting and other essential farm work should purchase immediately all the petrol that they required for those purposes ? That, of course, is what happened. After petrol rationing was discontinued, quite a number of garages in Queensland did not sell as much petrol as they had sold under rationing, until, of course, the public was incited to panic buying. It is difficult to assess how much petrol that was purchased as the result of the panic causedby the alarmist statements made by the Prime Minister has actually been used. However, that is a factor that must be taken into consideration in reviewing the sale of petrol during June and July last, following the discontinuance of petrol rationing. If figures were available to show the quantity of petrol purchased then but not yet used, they would indicate that a large reserve of petrol is being stored, not by the oil companies, but by consumers throughout the length and breadth of the country. The existence of such a reserve should, of course, reduce the demand for petrol in the future.
Although the Government maintains that it is not responsible for the present situation, it undoubtedly was under an obligation to see that available stocks were not unduly rushed, and, at least, to refrain “from encouraging the belief that no petrol whatever would be available in future. Of course, it is obvious that there is some motive for the Government’s attitude in this matter, and I think that its action is to be explained by its consciousness of the forthcoming general election. No doubt the Prime Minister hoped that the people would give Labour credit for having stated so often : “ Look, the moment petrol rationing ceases there will be an acute shortage”. The fact remains, however, that the statements made by the Prime Minister and other members of the Government induced panic buying, which so seriously reduced the stocks held by petrol dealers when rationing was discontinued.
Of course, this is not the first time that the present Government has “ taken it out “ of the people when the High Court has rejected its legislation. Although the High Court is the ultimate authority in constitutional matters, the Government, is not willing to accept defeat by that body. I recall very clearly the attitude adopted by the Prime Minister when the High Court gave judgment against the Government in the action brought by the Melbourne City Council against the Government’s direction that that council should bank only with the Commonwealth Bank. “When the judgment was announced, the Prime Minister, without consulting the Parliament, or, for that matter, even the caucus, declared immediately that he would nationalize the banking system. Then we recall the Government’s reaction to the adverse decision given by the people to the proposals for the control of rents and prices that the Government had submitted to them at a referendum. The Prime Minister immediately withdrew payment of certain subsidies on consumer goods notwithstanding that those subsidies were intended to keep down the cost of living. Of course, he must have known at the time that the cost of living would increase considerably, as, in fact, it has done. I know that it has been said that the Commonwealth Government cannot be called upon to pay subsidies in respect of commodities over the distribution of which it has not complete control. However, that argument by no means concludes the matter. A subsidy of 6d. per lb. is paid by the Government on butter produced in this country, and that subsidy should be increased. A special committee appointed by the Government to investigate costs in connexion with the dairying industry has recommended that the subsidy paid to dairy-farmers should be increased, but the Government has refused to accede to that recommendation. I have mentioned these matters in order to demonstrate that when the people or the High Court reject the Government’s proposals, the Government immediately attempts to “ take it out “ of the people. That is exactly what it did when the High Court held that petrol rationing was invalid. It decided to make the people suffer for the High Court’s decision, and so it spread alarming reports, which resulted in abnormal buying of petrol for two months.
Because of the vastness of Australia and our dependence upon primary industries, it cannot be too strongly emphasized that petrol is the life-blood of this country. An adequate supply of petrol is an essential part of our commercial and industrial life. The bulk of the petrol that is consumed in Australia is used not for joyriding but in actual primary production. Australia’s primary producers have moved with the times, and they avail themselves freely of petroldriven engines in almost every aspect of primary production. Considerable quantities of petrol are used to produce wool, wheat, meat, sugar, fruit and vegetables. Although milk and other perishables may not be transported more than ten, twenty, or 30 miles they all depend on petrol for conveyance over some portion of the journey. Every person in Australia is affected by the shortage of petrol, either directly or indirectly.
The preamble to the bill states -
And whereas, in view of the intensification of the shortage of dollar currency available to countries in .the sterling area, the Government of the United Kingdom arranged a conference to review the dollar currency position, which conference was held in London in the month of July, one thousand nine hundred and forty-nine, and was attended by Ministers of the United Kingdom, Canada and the following sterling area countries of the British Commonwealth, namely, Australia, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia:
As has been stated by the Prime Minister, that conference was held to discuss the excess dollar expenditure by sterling countries, and to determine what importations of dollar goods should be curtailed. The dollar content of petrol affects the dollar pool. From an analysis of the statistics* available to me it appears that on an average, more petrol a year is used in a motor vehicle in all of those countries than in Australia. For instance in India the average yearly consumption of each motor vehicle is 664 gallons; in South Africa it is 612 gallons; whilst in Australia it is only 300 gallons. It is true that the ratio of motor vehicles to the population is less in those countries than in Australia. It is significant that on an average less than half the quantity of petrol used each year by each motor vehicle in- those countries is consumed by each motor vehicle operated in Australia.
The Commonwealth has full power over imports and exports, and our dependence on other countries for petrol and other petroleum products is recognized. As 1 pointed out during the debate on the Estimates, Australian trade commissioners have been appointed to countries from which we import petrol. The expenditure for this overseas representation in 1948-49 was about £197,000. I should like the Minister to inform me whether a request has ever been sent to our trade commissioners abroad in countries where there are petrol refineries, to endeavour to obtain more sterling area petrol for Australia. Have they ever been directed that this matter should be given No. 1 priority? If this has not been done it appears that the Government intends to ration -petrol indefinitely even if an adequate supply should subsequently become available from the sterling areas. I should like the Minister to inform me of the Government’s intention in this connexion. It would appear that the Government has left to private enterprise, a very small Australian company called Ampol, the task of searching for additional supplies of petrol. I understand that that company has an import quota of approximately 5 per cent, of the petrol that we require from abroad. The Minister repeated to-day what he has told the Senate on other occasions, that on the 22nd August this year that company applied for an import licence to enable it to import sterling petrol from Poland. However, a license was not issued until the 7th September - over a fortnight later. Of course, countries other than Australia also realize that an adequate supply of petrol is not always available. According to statistics in my possession, sufficient petrol is being produced to-day to meet world requirements. However, a great deal of it is produced in the dollar areas. For that reason petrol available in sterling areas is much sought after. I imagine that any option that this company had over petrol from Poland would have been of short duration only probably not more than a fortnight. It is not remarkable, therefore, that by the time the import licence was issued the petrol sought to be obtained by the company from Poland was not then available. The Government must bear a big portion of the blame for that petrol not being obtained. I point out that in addition to obtaining an import licence, the company has taken the precaution to obtain an export licence in France.
– What about the petrol that the Australian Country party was going to get from Russia? Are honorable senators opposite now ashamed of Russia?
– I shall make my speech in my own way. The Minister can subsequently make his speech. The company has obtained a guarantee that tankers, containing about 10,000,000 gallons of petrol, will sail for Australia probably before the end of this year. Of course, honorable senators will understand that it is a matter of impossibility to nominate a specific date on which they will arrive here. The Minister might also inform the Senate whether it is a fact that the company has arranged for the delivery of further supplies during the first six months of 1950.
– I indicated that . earlier to-day in answer to a question.
– The honorable gentleman referred to the second tanker.
– No, to other supplies.
– It ill-becomes the Minister to belittle the efforts of the company, which has done great work for Australia. Not only will the petrol come from- sterling areas, but also it will be delivered in sterling tankers. I also ask the Minister whether arrangements can be made for petrol bought in dollar countries to be delivered in sterling tankers. I have made a review of the world tanker situation, and it appears that numbers of sterling tankers are not in immediate use and could be chartered to carry petrol to Australia. Dollars conserved in that way could be used for the purchase of extra petrol. The company that I have mentioned lacks the advantages that are at the disposal of the Government. As I have pointed out, Australia is represented in many parts of the world by trade commissioners, who should be able to notify the Government whenever supplies of petrol become available in sterling areas.
The Government should take full advantage of Australia’s refining capacity. The Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, in which the Government owns a majority of shares, has its own refining plant, and a new refinery was recently opened in Melbourne by one of the major oil companies. There is also a newlyconstructed bitumen and oil refinery in Sydney. As far as I have been able to ascertain, the annual output of Australian refineries is now 650,000 tons, which represents only 75 per cent, of their capacity. Even a 10 per cent, increase of production would be of great assistance to the country. There are other means by which Australia can increase supplies of petrol for industry. This Parliament has enacted legislation ratifying Australia’s partnership in the Bretton Woods Agreement. Thus Australia is a member of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Almost every country in the world is represented on the directorate of the bank, which was established for the purpose of providing funds for the purchase of machinery and equipment for reconstruction work in countries which could not otherwise afford to buy capital goods.
– It has been a bit of a flop, too.
– That is so, but I understand that it is operating more satisfactorily now because its objects have been broadened so as to enable it to help backward countries to increase their productivity. I refer now to the International Monetary Fund, which is distinct from the International Bank. The fund was instituted so that any member. nation hampered by unfavorable trade .balances could obtain funds with which to make important purchases from other countries. Australia has paid its quotas to both the international bank and the fund, and therefore it is entitled to obtain aid from the fund up to the limit that has been specified. The arrangement enables Australia to purchase dollars from the fund with Australian currency. The maximum amount that it can draw is 200,000,000 dollars, and it is permitted to draw up to 25 per cent, of that total in any one year. Withdrawals are liable to a service charge, not an interest charge, which increases gradually from i per cent, to a maximum percentage over a period of years. The charge for a period of eight years would average about 2 per cent. If the Government wished to do so, it could draw at once 25 per cent, of the allowable total, or 50,000,000 dollars. The Government could purchase dollars in that way and use them to purchase petrol. However, it is quite evident that the Government has not done all that it could do to obtain additional supplies. I have pointed out that a small company on its own initiative has been able to obtain sterling petrol, and from what the Minister has said this afternoon it is making arrangements to obtain further substantial quantities. Consequently, ample supplies of sterling petrol can be obtained, and the only inference that one can draw from the Government’s attitude is that it desires to retain petrol rationing for as long a period as possible, and in that way keep a tight hold on the community in general. I have pointed out that petrol ha9 been available for some months past to private companies.
– What private companies?
– The Minister himself mentioned one company this afternoon.
– What are the other companies ?
– Well, one company, on its own initiative, has been able to obtain substantial supplies of sterling petrol. The Government has handled thi9 matter very badly. I do not desire that it should release stocks that it is hoMing in reserve for defence purposes. It should explore every possible avenue to obtain additional supplies from sterling areas, and if that is not possible it should be prepared to use the facilities which are available to it through the International Monetary Fund to obtain petrol from dollar areas. Australia is a full member of the International Monetary Fund, having paid up its full quota of capital. In those circumstances, the Government would be fully justified in drawing upon the fund to arrange for the purchase of petrol from dollar countries with which we have an unfavorable trade balance. That is precisely one of the objectives for which the International Monetary Fund was established. It is not necessary for the Government to raise a dollar loan; it can purchase dollars with Australian currency using for that purpose the balances standing to its credit in London. The Government has been most wayward in this matter, and I can only advise the people whom it has put to so much inconvenience in holding up the transport of essential good9, materials and food supplies to make their slogan, “ Empty out this socialist government and fill up the bowsers “.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) had a most difficult task in attempting to oppose this measure. Any one who is not politically biased realizes that there is a shortage of petrol throughout the world to-day. We know that there are abundant supplies of crude oil. However, owing to the destruction of oil refineries during the war, refined petrol is in short supply in all countries. I remind the Leader of the Opposition, who has suggested that the Government could easily abolish petrol rationing, that supporters of the Government are just as experienced in political tactics as are members of the Opposition parties. Nothing would please the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) more than to be able to tell the people that present supplies of petrol are ample to meet our needs. However, the Prime Minister is not of the same ilk as are leaders of the Opposition parties. The Government is not prepared to put this country in pawn for the sake of dollars and thus jeopardize the defences
of not only Australia, but also the British Commonwealth of Nations, for party political gain. If we were prepared to release petrol from stocks now held in reserve for defence purposes, we could gain some party political advantage. However, the Government is not concerned with gaining party political advantage in this matter.. Its primary concern is the welfare of Australia, Great Britain and the British Commonwealth of Nations.
Petrol rationing was introduced in 1940 by the Menzies Government. Members of the Opposition parties tell us to-day that Italy, which was our enemy in the recent war, can obtain all the petrol that it wants. I remind honorable senators opposite that when the Menzies Government introduced petrol rationing in 1940, ample supplies of petrol were allowed to go to Japan, which we knew even at that time, was to be our greatest enemy in the war then being fought. While petrol was rationed in this country supplies were transported to Japan in tankers belonging to British imperialist oil companies. The public was not told of that fact, and no question was raised then about the Menzies Government being disloyal to this country.
– That is a deliberate untruth.
– What I have said is correct. If the Government was prepared to be influenced merely by party political expediency, it would immediately abandon petrol rationing as well as the rationing of other commodities. However, remembering the great conflict through which we have just come, the Government must do certain things in order to stabilize our economy. For that reason it is necessary to control the importation of petrol. It was not until the High Court held that the Government’s petrol rationing regulations were invalid that our primary and secondary industries were thrown into chaos. Under rationing those industries were guaranteed adequate supplies. We must remember that the High Court simply interprets the Constitution as it was written by the founders of federation. However, it was impossible for the founders of federation to visualize the conditions now existing in this country as the result of the greatest war in history. I suggest that the justices of the High Court should endeavour to interpret the Constitution in relation to the conditions that exist to-day, bearing in mind that the framers of the Constitution could not possibly have foreseen the existence of such conditions. The Government is advised ‘by some of the most eminent members of the legal profession. upon the validity of legislation that it introduces into the Parliament. Those gentlemen are Australians who realize that something must be done to build this nation - something that has no relation to profits. Therefore, they give the Government legal advice upon which the Government bases its legislation; but appeals against Labour’s legislation are almost invariably upheld by the High Court. Opposition members claim that should this Government be returned at the forthcoming general election, it will “ stack “ the High Court. I remind the Senate that Labour assumed office in 1941 and since then has had ample opportunity to appoint new justices to the High. Court bench if it so desired. It has not done so because it firmly believes that some day the people of this country will be prevailed on to amend the Constitution, and thus empower a Labour government to do the things that it wishes to do in the interest of this country. Labour has been accused of showing political bias in its appointments. Recently in this chamber, a question was asked about Sir John Latham’s appointment to the High Court. The truth is, of course, that in 1932, when the late “ Joe “ Lyons abandoned the Labour party, although he was accepted by most of Labour’s political opponents at that time as their leader, he was not regarded favorably by Sir John Latham, who indicated quite clearly that he was not prepared to forgo his claims to leadership without receiving something in return. He was given something, and that was membership of the High Court. If that was not political bias, I should like to know what is. I do not suggest for one moment, however, that Sir John Latham, as Chief Justice, would bow to the wishes of his political colleagues, who believed that by appointing him to the High Court they would have that tribunal in their pockets.
– How did Mr. McKell become Governor-General ?
– Because of his outstanding ability. Mr. McKell is, I consider, the nearest approach to Abraham Lincoln that this country has ever produced. There is a need to impress upon the people of this country that the Commonwealth Constitution, drafted at the turn of the century, is outmoded in this machine age. It is because of our antiquated Constitution that we are to-day faced with chaos in relation to petrol supplies. During the campaign which preceded the rents and prices referendum, the people of Australia were told - quite untruthfully, as they have since found to their cost - by members of the Opposition parties that the States could carry on prices control satisfactorily; but what has happened since the defeat of that referendum? There has been nothing but chaos, rising prices and, consequently, a rising cost of living, which is exactly what the Labour party forecast at the time of the referendum. The history of petrol rationing has been somewhat similar. The anti-Labour forces in this country are not prepared to accept petrol rationing because of their political ambitions. The States have no more chance of carrying on petrol rationing successfully than they have of administering prices control in the interests of the people and of the country. Not long after the High Court declared petrol rationing invalid, the Prime Minister gave to the States all available information on petrol supplies overseas. He appealed to the States to bring down legislation to authorize the Commonwealth to implement a nation-wide rationing scheme. Some States, including New South Wales, Queensland, and, I think, Western Australia, conferred that power upon the Commonwealth because they were sufficiently realistic to divorce the petrol issue from party politics. Victoria, however, refused to co-operate with the Commonwealth. The Victorian Government hoped to be able to say to the people of that State, “ Petrol supplies have come to their present chaotic state because of that power-grabbing Prime Minister at Canberra “. The Victorian Government very soon realized its mistake, and its attitude will have a severe reaction upon it. Obviously, if Labour bad in mind only the winning of the election regardless of the cost to this country, it could eliminate all restrictions such as petrol rationing; but that is not Labour’s attitude. Labour’s policy is to maintain a sound economy as the foundation of a great nation, which will offer all the opportunities that have been promised to our ex-servicemen of two world wars.
The Leader of the Opposition mentioned banking. We all know quite well why the Melbourne City Council challenged the 1945 legislation. The council was merely the tool of the private interests that it represented. What was the reason for the challenge to that legislation? When the Commonwealth Bank was established, it obtained1 a loan of £10,000 from the then government. That money was never used, but, to-day, the assets of the Commonwealth Bank run into tens of millions of pounds, and substantial annual profits are returned to the people. The private banks, of course, are annoyed to see these large sums of money returning to the pockets of the people instead of going into their own coffers. That is why they have opposed Labour’s hanking proposals. To-day, ex-servicemen can obtain loans at a. maximum of 4 per cent, interest. After World1 War I., under anti-Labour governments, the maximum was anything up to 10 per cent. Returned soldiers of World War I. were truly put “ back on their feet “ - and without any soles on their shoes. However, banking has nothing to do with the bill now under consideration. The oil companies were fully aware of the world position when rationing was challenged’ in the High Court. Had1 they wanted to assist the Government and this country, they would have limited their sales during the unrationed period to what they were before the High Court’s decision was given. I understand that the Vacuum Oil Company Proprietary Limited did try to do that, but the others did everything possible to increase their sales. The Leader of the Opposition claims that primary producers have bought large supplies of petrol to ensure that they will have sufficient for harvesting operations; but farmers need have no fear of being neglected’ by the Government. Every thing possible will be done to ensure adequate supplies of petrol for primary production. When rationing was lifted the oil companies loaded their lorries with 44-gallon drums and sent them all over Victoria and New South Wales. I was in Corowa about a month ago and, on three different farms, I saw approximately 150 44-gallon drums of petrol. Those hoards will never be used for the coming harvest or for any other harvest. As I have said, the Vacuum Oil Company was the one organization that did not make a “ welter “ of selling when rationing ended; but, in July, seeing what was being done by the other companies, that company decided that it too moist be in the race and commenced unrestricted selling. To-day, petrol bowsers are empty, and motorists are stranded. The shortage has been engineered for political reasons. I believe that the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) will tell the Senate later that the oil companies have just as much petrol to-day as they had during the rationing period, but are withholding it in the hope that the prices authorities will permit an increase of perhaps 3d. or 4d. a gallon. As I have said, the vast stocks of petrol that have been hoarded by primary producers will never be used. Goodness knows what’ will happen to them. Incidentally, the farmers can only purchase that petrol in the first place because, under the progressive policy of this Government, they have been able to market their commodities at remunerative prices. Had the petrol shortage occurred in 1936, 1937 or 1938, most farmers could not have bought even one 44-gallon drum of petrol.
The catch-cry of the Opposition is now “ Empty out the Government ; fill the bowsers “. I remind the Senate that when the Opposition parties were in office in this Parliament, the bowsers were full, but most of us did not have a “ zac “ to buy petrol. We all hope that in the. near future all the States will have passed legislation to enable the Commonwealth to ration petrol. A rationing scheme is necessary to ensure the equitable distribution of petrol to all users. The interests that are represented in this Parliament by the Opposition parties are not concerned with the needs of the small man. They do not care whether he gets his few gallons. They believe that the man with the most money should get the most petrol. This Government, on the other hand, believes that everybody should have his fair share of whatever commodities are in short supply. That is why we favour rationing in times of shortage.
The Leader of the Opposition spoke about petrol being available in sterling areas. I know something about this matter because I have taken some part in endeavouring to obtain supplies of petrol. The Leader of the Opposition did not mention Russia. He told a deliberate untruth to members of this chamber. I am fully conversant with what has transpired. On the 22nd August, a director of Ampol asked me to approach the Prime Minister on behalf of the company to get a permit to import petrol from Russia. I did so because I knew that the attitude of the Prime Minister and of the Government generally was to get petrol if it were at all possible to do so. The Prime Minister told me that if there was any possibility of getting petrol from Russia the Government would issue a permit for its importation, but he also stated that he did not think that any petrol was available in Russia. Of course, the Government had already explored all the available sources of supply. The only petrol that Russia has, in fact, exported since the war has been an occasional tanker of petrol to one of its satellite countries in order to appease the people of that country. Investigations were made during the week-end, and a permit was promptly issued to the company to enable it to import petrol from Russia. I thought then that our political friends opposite would be happy, notwithstanding that the petrol was to come from Russia ! However, a few days later the businessman concerned came to me and said that he had made a mistake, that the petrol that he desired to purchase was available not in Russia, but in Poland. I again approached the Prime Minister and made representations for the issue of a permit to enable the company to import petrol from Poland. Another licence was promptly issued by the Government, although the Prime Minister was frankly sceptical of the availability of petrol in Poland. No delay whatever occurred in the issue of the licence. That is a fact which the Leader of the Opposition cannot deny, because it is well known to every one concerned in the transactions. Later the director of Ampol again approached me and informed me that petrol was not then available for export from Poland because the source of supply in that country had dried up in the meantime, but that he would be able to obtain petrol from France. At his request I again approached the Prime Minister, and a permit was duly issued for the importation of petrol from France. That licence was issued almost three weeks ago. The Leader of the Opposition in this chamber and the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) have accused the Government of jeopardizing the supply of petrol by delaying the issue of import permits, but in the light of the facts that I have mentioned, honorable senators will realize that no undue delay occurred in the issue of import licences. Finally, I remind the Leader of the Opposition that a short time ago he stated that European petrol had actually been loaded for shipment to this country and that it would be here before Christmas. We are still awaiting the delivery of that petrol. The acute shortage of petrol is, of course, a contentious matter now, and it will receive a great deal of attention during the forthcoming election campaign. In this connexion, I particularly remind honorable senators of the statement made by Mr. Warner, Minister for Works and Housing in the Victorian Government, who is associated with a firm that imports petrol.
– He, too, was going to deal with Russia !
– When Ernie Thornton returned to Australia he probably had a chat with Warner, and, no doubt, completely pulled his leg, because Mr. Warner made statements, which received a great deal of publicity in the Melbourne Herald and other newspapers, to the effect that ample supplies of petrol were available in Russia. It was said that all that wasrequired for the petrol to be shipped to Australia was the issue of import licences by the Government. I made some inquiries concerning the basis of his statements, and I interviewed representatives of the oil companies. I asked them what the position was concerning tankers for transport of oil to this country from Russia, and they informed me that no tankers whatever would be available. I then inquired about storage space in this country for petrol landed here, and they informed me that none was available. I then approached the Prime Minister and asked him what the Government proposed to do about Mr. Warner’s proposals. The right honorable gentleman informed me that neither Mr. Warner nor his associates had ever made application for an import licence. Of course, the statements made by Mr. Warner, and the wide publicity given to them in the press, were all pure political propaganda. The antiLabour Administration of Victoria wanted to score a political advantage over Labour by suggesting to the people that the Chifley Government was responsible for the shortage of petrol; and that the shortage could have been overcome by the importation of petrol from Russia, but that the Government was not sufficiently enterprising or efficient to take advantage of the Russian supplies. It hoped to persuade the people, by way of contrast with the Government, just how enterprising Mr. Warner and other members of the Victorian Government were. That was part of its plan to persuade the people to oust Labour from office, and to return the anti-Labour parties to power so that Mr. Menzies, Mr. Casey or Mr. Fadden, whoever won the toss, might lead this country. However, the people have awakened to the insidious publicity circulated by the Opposition parties in this matter of petrol shortage. Just as the people killed the hopes of the Opposition parties at the general election in 1943 and 1946, so they will again kill their hopes at the forthcoming election. I certainly do not think that the disloyal propaganda circulated by the Opposition parties will assist their cause. As I said earlier, Labour would be only too happy to discontinue rationing, but we know that in the national interest we cannot afford to do so yet. The Leader of the Opposition has appealed to the people to “ oust the Chifley Government and fill the bowsers “. In reply, I appeal t. to the people to retain the Chifley Government and retain prosperity, because if they reject the Government then we shall return to the dole, and there will be no petrol.
– As I listened to the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) speaking about Australia’s dollar deficits, I could not help thinking that if there is one thing worse than the incompetency of the conservatives, it is their audacity. Itdoes not matter in what field of endeavour they intervene, their objective is always to thwart Labour. In the important field of international affairs they are opposed to the continued existence of the United Nations; but they are unable to suggest any alternative hope for mankind. The same negative spirit characterizes their approach to the matter of petrol supplies which we have been discussing. The measure that is now before the Senate was introduced because it is again necessary to ration petrol. The Leader of the Opposition complained that the petrol situation had been badly handled. Of course, it has been badly handled. We all remember when the little gentleman from the north coast took his case to the High Court, and persuaded that body to upset the whole constitutional basis of petrol rationing in this country. His photograph appeared in every newspaper in. the country with captions hailing him as the man who had “restored our liberty”. The Prime Minister is a wise man. Indeed, I think that the greatest of his attributes is his wisdom, and I commend to honorable senators the passage in the Book of Proverbs, which states that of all the things that man can desire none is to be compared unto wisdom. Because of the wisdom that he possesses, the Prime Minister immediately counselled the States to introduce rationing themselves. Whilst the Labour Administrations of New South Wales and Queensland were prepared to do so, the reactionary Government of Victoria, which is distinguished for its remarkably homogeneous Liberal-Country party coalition, would not listen to the proposal. Instead, the Victorian Government proclaimed, “ There is no need to worry about petrol; there is plenty for all”. The Prime Minister then attempted to get the thing that is known as “ private enterprise “ to play the game. He appealed1 to the oil companies to supply their customers with no more petrol than they had supplied during the rationing period, and, at the same time, pointed out to the community that if the oil companies restricted the sale of petrol there would be sufficient. However, the black-market operators became active, and petrol supplies dwindled’ rapidly. I say to members of the Opposition now that they cannot conscientiously oppose the passage of this bill; indeed, I challenge them to do so. If they had any fairness they would admit that if it were not for the action which the Government now proposes to take, the country could not carry on at all. What alternatives does the Opposition suggest?
– I mentioned three alternatives in the course of my speech.
– While a member of Ihe Opposition was speaking I interjected to ask whether the Opposition opposed the bill, but the Chair ruled that interjections were disorderly.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator nicholls). - Order! Interjections are still disorderly.
– A lot depends, of course, on whether the interjections are relevant or not. Of course, I am always opposed to interjections if they do not suit my argument. However, I do not consider that it is disorderly for me to ask the Opposition now what alternative it can suggest to the re-introduction of rationing. Its members complain that the petrol shortage has brought about a state of chaos. Why are we experiencing chaos ? Because the High Court said that the Government cannot, constitutionally, continue to invoke its “ defence powers “ to enforce petrol rationing. The State governments refused to accept the advice tendered to them by the Prime Minister, and contended that everything in the garden would be lovely. Fortunately, New South Wales and Queensland have since passed legislation to support the Commonwealth Government in the event of some one challenging the legal validity of the re-introduction of petrol rationing. After all, when any commodity is in short supply, what is the alternative to rationing? The person who wants to petrol from the United States of America, obtain two or three gallons of petrol to enable him to visit a sick relative or for some other urgent purpose has no chance of obtaining his requirements on the black market unless he can afford to pay an exorbitant price for the petrol. I remind the Senate that when rationing operated, it was always possible for people to obtain an emergency issue in special circumstances.
Of course, members of the Opposition, who have opposed everything the present Government has attempted, are, in reality, in favour of nothing. They have no programme, unless it consists of a necklace of negatives. During the forthcoming general election we shall undoubtedly hear a great deal about the “ red “ bogy. I have been in Australia a long time, but throughout that period the present Opposition parties have never ceased to invoke that bogy to scare people from supporting Labour. Although I was only a boy when I came to this country I was interested in politics even then, and I can remember the late Sir George Reid parading the “ Socialist Tiger”. To-day, the parties that are in Opposition still try to exploit the same type of propaganda. Despite the lengthy dissertation delivered by the Leader of the Opposition on the petrol situation, it was apparent throughout his speech that the mentality of the conservatives had not changed despite the passage of 40 years. In fact, the only discernible change in the present Opposition parties has been the change in their party names.
When I walked up Martin Place some months ago and saw the newspaper posters declaring that petrol rationing was no longer valid I remarked to a man who was with me that chaos would inevitably ensue. He, like many others, did not realize the significance of the High Court’s decision, and expressed the view that everything would be all right. Of course, everything would still have been all right if the State administrations had heeded the advice offered to them by the Prime Minister. Indeed, the course of events has proved the right honorable gentleman to have been correct at every stage of the subsequent developments. A great deal has been said about the need to obtain more but those who suggest the purchase of greater quantities of petrol from the dollar area do not seem to appreciate how desperate is our shortage of dollars. As an instance of the extent of that shortage, I mention that when I attempted to get a glass for my gold hunting watch in Sydney a few days ago, I was told that watch glasses were no longer available because they had to be imported from America, involving the expenditure of dollars. Concerning the suggestion made by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) that we could obtain petrol from Russia, or perhaps from Poland, I point out that that suggestion was particularly naive. Any one who knows anything of present conditions in Europe knows that the production of petrol in Russia is still much below the pre-war production of that country, and that because of the enormous rehabilitation programme undertaken by Poland, that country requires all the petrol that it can obtain for its own purposes. However, the suggestions made by the right honorable gentleman and other members of the Opposition parties were not made as a genuine attempt to improve the situation, but merely to score a political advantage over the Government. I invite Senator O’sullivan to tell us what he suggests should be done to overcome the present difficulties. Does he suggest that the anti-Labour parties could have done any better?
– God forbid that they should not. What a mess Labour has made of it!
– I challenge the honorable senator now to outline the proposals of his party to improve the situation. Does he suggest that anything could have been done to improve that situation that has not been done by the present Government? Does he deny that the Prime Minister suggested that the States should re-introduce rationing? Does he oppose the measure now before us? Of course, the present Opposition parties do not believe in governmental controls; they advocate that everything should be left to private enterprise. That callous attitude means that the highest bidder is always the ultimate purchaser. If a man has a “ tenner “ to spend he can get what he wants ; but if he has only a few shillings, then God help him ! Every one knows that when goods are in short supply there must be control of distribution. If members of the Opposition parties were honest they would admit straightaway that the Government is quite right in seeking to re-introduce rationing of petrol. Indeed, the country is indebted to the Chifley Government for having taken steps to re-introduce rationing, and if the Opposition parties were sincere they would co-operate earnestly in persuading the State administrations to play their part in re-introducing rationing as quickly as possible.
From time to time a number of unreasonable complaints have been made about the necessity for controlling the distribution of petrol in this country. People have asked : “ What about South Africa ? That country is not worried about scarcity of petrol “. Of course, South Africa is in a different position from Australia because that country is virtually cn the gold standard. It is probably the world’s greatest producer of gold. If we had gold we could get a lot of things that even dollars will not purchase. In any event, petrol rationing has, in fact, been introduced in South Africa, and I understand that it has also been found necessary to ration petrol in India. Only a few days ago Senator Rankin inquired what was the good of high wages when the cost of living had risen so greatly. One would imagine that the honorable senator was genuinely concerned about the increased cost of living, and might overlook the fact that she did her utmost to oppose the present Government’s proposal to continue control of rents and prices. The people of this country have every reason to be grateful to the Chifley Government for having pulled the chestnuts out of the fire on more than one occasion. The introduction of the present measure is just one more such occasion. The petrol position had deteriorated so greatly and was getting worse «> rapidly that within another fortnight no one knows what might have happened. However, as I say, the Government has again come to the rescue. Had it not been for the opposition of our political friends opposite and the. interests which they represent, the situation would have been retrieved even sooner. To return for a moment to the contention of Senator Rankin, I point out that, although the cost of living has increased considerably in this country, following the discontinuance of control of rents and prices by the Government, that increase :is not nearly so great as that which has occurred in other countries. As I have frequently asserted in this chamber, the great masses of this country are far better off than are the peoples of other countries. Even if hundreds of thousands of additional migrants were brought here there would be jobs for all. It is time that honorable senators opposite subscribed to an Australian outlook. They opposed the proposals of the United Nations merely because the AttorneyGeneral (Dr. Evatt) was president of that body, and are opposing this bill because Labour introduced it. Party politics should be set aside. The Opposition should say, in effect, “ We agree that this should be done. As real Australians we should not be wasting time debating this measure. Because of the scarcity of. petrol, rationing should be reintroduced as quickly as possible in order to ensure that the farmers and other workers of this country will obtain their fair share of the available supplies “. Let us consider what would be the position if the boot was on the other foot, and the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Menzies) were in office. If the right honorable gentleman said to the States, “ I ask you to ration petrol. If you do not do so chaotic conditions will result”, and the States where Labour is in office refused to comply with the right honorable gentleman’s request, whereby within a few months conditions in relation to petrol became chaotic, we can well imagine what the attitude of the press of thi9 country would be.
I contend that at every turn, the Prime Minister has adopted the only correct action in* connexion with this allimportant matter. He dealt with it courageously, patiently and determinedly from beginning to end. Although honorable senators opposite have criticized this measure severely, I point out that they have not placed before the Senate any evidence to prove their assertion that we could have carried on without re-introducing petrol rationing. My regret is that supplies of petrol have been allowed to fall so low before it will be possible for the Commonwealth again to take charge of the distribution of petrol. In a large degree the shortage has been accentuated because the States have used the situation to further their own narrow political points of view. Honorable senators opposite have declared that the Government should have taken notice of the information that was placed before it by the Leader of the Australian Country party. As I said in this chamber last week, the right honorable gentleman reminds me of these famous lines that were written by Dryden in relation to Lord Buckingham - -
Stiff in opinions, always in the wrong. Was everything by starts, and nothing long.
The anti-Labour parties have advanced no constructive suggestions during the last 40 years, but they have moved adjournment motions for the most trivial of reasons. I am delighted that this measure has been introduced, because I am convinced that after rationing is reintroduced there will be sufficient petrol available in this country to honour all petrol tickets issued. I have much pleasure in supporting the bill. In my opinion the people of this country are indeed -fortunate that there is in office to deal with ‘this matter a government of the calibre of the present Labour Administration, so ably led by Mr. Chifley, whose wisdom is undoubted. It is to the right honorable gentleman’s credit that he heeded the persistent demands for the Commonwealth to deal with the chaotic conditions that developed in relation to petrol distribution in this country. I hope that when Senator O’sullivan speaks to this measure he will admit that only by the wise administration of this Government can the people of this country be rescued from their present dilemma.
.. - I have listened very attentively to the arguments that have been advanced by the Opposition both in this chamber and in another place. It occurs to me that if the tremendous volume of words that the Opposition has used to oppose this measure could be transformed into petrol there would have been made available to the people of this country sufficient petrol to operate their motor vehicles for the next ten years. However, if the vast number of words that were used by the Opposition to make any constructive suggestion about this matter were transformed into petrol, there would not have been produced sufficient petrol to fill my cigarette lighter. Of course it is realized that this is not a popular measure. Its introduction has been rendered necessary by the chaotic conditions now existing in relation to the distribution of petrol. Although the Commonwealth at present has not the power to control the distribution of petrol in Australia, it has power to do something in co-operation, with the States to rectify the conditions that have arisen because of the maladministration of petrol distribution following the invalidation of the petrol rationing regulations by the High Court. The principal object of this bill is to ensure that all motor vehicle owners shall be given, a “ fair go “. That has not been the position since the Commonwealth lost its power to ration petrol. I remind the Senate that prior to the High Court’s decision the owner of any motor vehicle, whether it was a vehicle to be driven over the public roads, a farm implement, aircraft or a motor boat, could be reasonably assured of obtaining sufficient petrol to get him back home after commencing a journey, provided that he had petrol tickets in his possession to exchange for petrol.
The price factor is operating to delay the distribution of petrol in this country. It is somewhat significant that the oil companies at present have an application before the price-fixing authorities for the granting of an increased price in relation to .petrol. In my opinion this is more than a coincidence. I have reason “to believe that once prices are adjusted to the satisfaction of the oil companies petrol will flow more freely. The petrol problem has been used as a political football to a degree that has not previously been my experience to witness. No government could allow to pass unchallenged the numerous misstatements and distortions that have emanated from the Opposition. I am, convinced that there is not enough petrol in the world to-day to go round. The world is moving on wheels as it were. Vast numbers of motor vehicles of all descriptions are being produced. The world’s resources of petrol are being ex-‘ hausted rapidly. I point out that the United States of America, which is the home of petroleum experts and tech’nicians, is placing large orders for the purchase of sterling area petrol from Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, and . Bahrein in the Persian Gulf. Geologists in the United States of America have discovered that the reserves of petroleum in that country will be sufficient to supply industry for only another 30 years. Therefore the United States of America is conserving its petrol and is buying petrol for sterling on the world’s markets. In fact, petrol is one of the biggest dollar-earners possessed by the British Empire.
After all of the propaganda of the Opposition parties about Polish petrol it is interesting to see what is the real position in that country. The oil fields of Southern Silesia cannot produce sufficient petrel to meet the needs of Poland. The only port in Poland from which exports are now shipped is the port of Gdynia, which is situated in the Polish corridor. It was ceded to Poland by the Treaty of Versailles, when that nation lost the port of Danzig. Even after tankers from other European countries had been secured the petrol from that port would have to be transported three-fourths of the way around the world in order to reach Australia. It is therefore obvious that there is no foundation in fact for the suggestion that has been advanced by the Ampol interests. If the Opposition had genuinely wanted to . ascertain the position with relation to the possibility, of obtaining petrol from either Russia or Poland, a lot of hocus-pocus that has been witnessed in the ranks of the Opposition could have been avoided by inquiries being made at the respective embassies in Canberra. Men who are expert in the economic affairs of those countries are attached to the embassies, and could have furnished reliable information on this subject. It is ludicrous to assert that petrol would have been forthcoming from either of those countries merely by the issuing of import licences.
It would appear that there will be shipments of petrol from France to Australia before very long. However, it is not generally known that France is not a petroleum-producing country. Whilst it is quite true that crude oil is treated at large refineries in that country for the purpose of extracting lubricating oil, bitumen, and the high quality petrol that is used by the French people, in all probability the crude petroleum that is refined in France comes from the dollar areas sunder the Marshall recovery programme. It will be interesting to observe the reaction of the American administration, headed by Mr. Snyder, when it is evident that petrol obtained by refining the crude petroleum that was intended to facilitate the internal recovery of France, has been exported from France to Australia.
Russian petroleum production is centred in the area around the Caspian Sea, mainly at Baku and in other areas in the south of Russia. I point out that any petrol exported from that area must first be piped to the sea, then transmitted to the Black Sea port of Odessa, from where it must be carried three-fourths of the way around the world in order to reach Australia. Russia has never been a large exporter of petrol, and to a large degree has depended on Rumania for supplies of petrol.
I should like to see some constructive action taken to assist the discovery of oil, in Australia. No concrete proposal has been advanced by the Opposition either in this chamber or in another place. Nothing has been said about oil experts coming to this country to explore the possibilities in New Guinea, which is one of the main unexplored oil areas in the world. If the oil resources of New Guinea were developed great national benefit would accrue to Australia. Nothing has been said by the Opposition about bringing to this country men with the “know how “ to explore for oil in New Guinea. I remind the Senate that the German synthetic oil plants and chemical industries produced nearly two-thirds of the combustible fuel that the giant German military machine needed during the recent war. I consider that the Opposition has missed its opportunity in connexion with this matter. During this debate it has not advanced even a trickle of an idea or one concrete suggestion to ease the problem and assist the people of this country who are desperately in need of petrol. My support of this measure is based on sound common-sense. I hope that the Governments of South Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania will realize that this matter is far too serious to be treated as a political football, and kicked around according to State jealousies and idiosyncrasies. The harvesting season is approaching, during which large quantities of petrol will be needed to keep our industrial machine moving. I hope that this measure will be implemented quickly, and that the authorities who will be charged with the issue of licences and petrol tickets will be at least as efficient as the staffs that previously handled petrol rationing. I trust that the organization will be gathered up in time to ensure that the petrol situation will be taken in hand and controlled as it should be. I heartily support the bill.
– I shall deal first with some of the remarks that were made by Senator Hendrickson. What relation those remarks had to the bill was not altogether apparent, but I mention them because they were probably in keeping with the foundation of falsity upon which his argument was based. He had the temerity, the foolishness, the rashness, and the disregard for truth and decency, to say that the Menzies Administration had exported petrol to Japan in 1940. The remainder of his statements were equally unreliable and I shall not waste further time upon them, except to correct a mis-statement that he made about the delay in granting a licence for the importation of petrol from Poland. The honorable senator spoke of the delay as having been a matter of a few days. The facts are that the application for permission to import the petrol was made on the 22nd August and that the permit was granted on the 7th September. There was an interval of sixteen days. In a world where there is a keen business demand for commodities that are in short supply, is it reasonable to expect people to be humbugged’ abou* for sixteen days without being given an ans wer “ yes “ or “ no “ ? That sort of thing may be all right under socialism, of course, and that is probably why Australia is in such a mess to-day. But it is not good business, and it is not common sense. As the result of that humbugging, Australia lost the petrol that a private company had arranged to import. The Government now says with great glee, in effect, “ There you are ! The company could not get the petrol”. But it was not the company that went without the petrol. The people of Australia and the industries of Australia were deprived of that important fuel. If the Government can get any cold comfort out of that fact, it may as well do so because it will not be a government for much longer.
Even the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) said in a sneering, jeering sort of way that the Opposition parties would trade with Russia. Apparently, it is all right to take nonsensical political ideas from Russia, but not to buy scarce goods from that country.
– Does the honorable senator support the bill or oppose it?
– The honorable senator’s inquiry is like the old question : “ Have you given up beating your wife yet ? Answer ‘ yes ‘ or ‘ no ‘.” It is just as unreasonable for the honorable senator to ask whether I am in favour of the bill as it would be for him to ask a mother whether she was in favour of surgeons amputating the gangrenous leg of her child after the child had been injured and neglected by some person to whose care the mother had entrusted’ it. The honorable senator is merely seeking to drag a red herring across the trail. The point that the parent would be entitled to have clarified’ would be how the condition occurred. The gangrenous condition of the Australian economy in relation to petrol has been brought about by either one of two causes. The first possible cause is complete neglect on the part of the Government arising from its utter indifference to the requirements of our expanding industries. The second possible cause is that, as in the case of prices control, the situation has been brought about deliberately by the Government out of sheer pique because the
High Court took its power away from it. The attitude adopted by the Government in this instance is precisely the same as the querulous, petty attitude that it adopted when the people refused to allow it to continue to control prices. Hero we have a government, bloated with power, arrogant in the exercise of its power, and avid for more power, sulking like a small, petulant child because it has been denied still further power. When its appeal to the people at the prices referendum was rejected, it threw the entire responsibility for maintaining prices control into the unprepared laps of the States in the hope that they would make a mess of the whole business. In spite of the indecent haste with which this Government discarded prices control, it is well known now by the people that prices have risen higher in Canberra, where the Commonwealth is in absolute control, than they have risen in any State capital city.
The loss of this power-drunk Government’s control over the distribution of petrol resulted from the action of an Australian who refused to be shoved around by it any longer. He successfully challenged in the High Court its right to ration petrol. The present situation is entirely attributable to the Government’s lack of preparedness. The war has been over for more than four years. The Chifley Administration has been in power throughout that period. It has trade commissioners, consular representatives, and political representatives in most parts of the world. What has it done to find supplies of non-dollar petrol?
– The honorable senator said that there would be plenty of petrol if rationing were discontinued.
– I said no such thing. What has the Government done to obtain non-dollar petrol? It has done precisely nothing. It is something more than a coincidence that the only three countries in the world in which petrol rationing has any serious effect upon industry and trade are the three socialist-governed countries of Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.
– What about South Africa?
– There is no petrol rationing in South Africa. We have the spectacle of formerly occupied Prance now .being a substantial exporter of petrol. For the edification of Senator Murray, I point out that that petrol does not come from dollar areas; it comes from the French territory of Alsace. We also have the spectacle of conquered Italy exporting petrol. We helped to win the war, but we, and our unfortunate fellowvictims of socialism in Great Britain, are suffering the effects of petrol rationing.
– The honorable senator was quite happy about the idea of getting petrol from Russia.
– That is where Senator Hendrickson gets his ideas.
There are no restrictions upon the use of motor fuel in Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Portugal, Turkey and, since February, Finland. There is no rationing in the strict sense in Holland or in the Scandinavian countries, with the exception of Sweden. In other countries the degree of rationing is so slight as not to have any harmful effect upon business or industry.
I know that this is not pleasant hearing for supporters of the Government, but I repeat that the unf ortunate citizens of those three socialist-governed countries are the people upon whom the impact of petrol rationing falls heaviest. Yet we are told by no less an authority than Senator Grant that we have a wise Prime Minister! With all the machinery, conveniences, technical data and commercial advice that have been at his untrammelled disposal during the last four years, the Prime Minister has done precisely nothing to obtain non-dollar petrol for Australia. It is much-despised private enterprise that is bringing extra petrol to us at the rate of 30,000,000 gallons a year, commencing with shipments of 4,500,000 gallons each, without any encouragement from the Government, and, in fact, despite the frigid attitude of the Government. It is extraordinary how the socialist tone can change from one of great sadness to one of great boastfulness. Only recently, when the Senate was dealing with the budget, we heard the little birds on the Government side of the chamber chirping great songs of untold prosperity.
We were told that never before had we enjoyed such huge surpluses of exports over imports; never before had our revenue been so high; never before had we had so. many hundreds of millions of pounds to our credit on the other side of the world. Yet, in spite of that great buoyancy, it appears now that we cannot afford to expend £6,000,000 for essential petrol.
What is the good of this alleged prosperity if we cannot buy the bare essentials that are needed to keep the national economy going? Reasonable people must ask whether such a state of affairs is inevitable under a socialist plan. I am sure that the people of Australia will take a reasonable view on the 10th December and will be resentful of the Government’s misconduct. They cannot fail to realize that such bungling is inherent in the socialist system. Under socialism we have plenty of money and plenty of regimentation but a complete lack of the things that we all need. Notwithstanding assertions to the contrary by supporters of the Government, there is no world shortage of petrol.
– How does the honorable senator know that?
– The authorities are available in the Parliamentary Library for any honorable senator who cares to study them. I notice that supporters of the Government would rather make wild and uncorroborated statements than bother to check the facts. World production of crude oil and refined petrol is substantially increasing and has increased by millions of gallons annually since the end of the war.
– How does the honorable senator know that?
– I went to the trouble to find out. I can appreciate the discomfort of Government supporters who have based their arguments in favour of petrol rationing upon premises which are entirely false and fallacious. I understand why they shuffle and squirm when a few simple facts completely explode the basis of their case.
In conclusion, I shall mention a few matters that have been discussed repeatedly by members of the Opposition in this chamber and by the leaders of the
Opposition parties in the House of Representatives without causing any perceptible action by the Government. What would be wrong with the Government arranging for an Empire conference to discuss the incidence of petrol rationing in the various Empire countries? Why is petrol rationing much more severe in Australia than in any of the sister dominions? By virtue of the nature of our economy and the vast distances in Australia, the need for petrol here for industrial purposes is much more acute than it is in any other part of the Empire. Has any conference such as I have suggested been held? If so, what was the result? The Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) in presenting the bill to the Senate, made some reference to information of a confidential nature. Are Ministers going to be like boys playing with toys all their lives? What is the meaning of all this talk about confidential information? The war is over. Did we not have enough of censorship and restrictions during the Avar? There is no suggestion that our security is involved in this matter. After all, the Parliament is entitled to that information. The Government is by no means noted for accuracy of detail in statements that it makes on subjects of great importance to the public but it asks us to take this completely on the “ nod “. We have had reason to challenge in serious respects statements that it has made recently on other matters. Only a few days ago I drew attention to the fact that on two occasions the Government issued statements dealing with Manus Island that were completely contradictory. We are now asked to take the Government’s word on this matter which is of the gravest importance. It has been suggested, first, that the Government should take the initiative in calling a conference of representatives of the British Commonwealth of Nations to consider this problem, and, secondly, that it should make some effort to make greater use of non-dollar tankers. Apart from the price of the petrol, the use of dollar tankers contributes substantially to the increased costs of importing petrol. The Parliament has not been informed whether the Government has made any effort to save the country dollars by using sterling tankers instead of ‘dollar tankers. .
Taking the long view, another aspect of this matter that is of grave importance to Australia is the development and expansion of our refinery capacity. The Prime Minister has admitted that there is no shortage of sterling crude oil. The Government has not hesitated at any time to spend millions and millions of pounds on wildcat socialist schemes. Much of that money has gone down the drain. The Government now has an opportunity to ensure the safety of the country by developing our capacity to refine crude oil. It is admitted universally that there is no shortage whatever of sterling crude oil.
– Where could it be refined in this country?
– The Government during the years of office that it has enjoyed should have laid the foundation upon which the refining industry could have been well developed at this stage. Had it done so it could relieve the acute situation in which we find ourselves to-day. In conclusion, I repeat that we have been given no evidence whatever since the end of the recent war that the Government has taken any steps to prevent the present shortage of dollars which has resulted in the restriction of imports of dollar petrol. Secondly, in spite of the fact that the Government has trade commissioners, consuls and other representatives throughout the world, it has not put before the Parliament details of any negotiations, inquiries or research that it has made, or arranged to be made on its behalf, concerning the possibility of our obtaining non-dollar petrol. It has been left to the initiative of private enterprise to ferret out sources of additional supplies of sterling petrol. If, because of the nonavailability of petrol we must have rationing, that is all that can be said on that point. As I have already said, if a child has a gangrenous leg and it is necessary to amputate the leg, then it must be amputated. However, the Chifley Government cannot escape responsibily for the existing state of affairs.
– I do not intend to delay the Senate unnecessarily upon this matter. Senator Murray said of a certain speaker that words poured out of his mouth in torrents, hut the ideas were a mere trickle. J cannot do better than apply that observation to the remarks just made by Senator O’sullivan. He kept asking for ideas, but he did not offer any ideas to the Government. The petrol problem is a very long story. It behoves the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) and his colleagues, as Senator Aylett intimated by interjection, to make themselves familiar with its background. When the Fadden Government collapsed and was ejected from office by a vote of the House of Representatives, the Curtin Government, which then took over, was confronted by the fact that the inept Menzies and Fadden Governments that had preceded it had allowed the petrol tanks of this country practically to run dry. They did that when this country was at war. When the late Mr. J.- A. Beasley was made Minister for Supply the first thing he did was to scour the world for petrol in order to replenish the supplies which preceding governments in so criminal a fashion had allowed to disappear almost entirely. The Leader of the Opposition knows that what I have just said is correct. The Opposition parties have never liked rationing in any form, and they always shirked responsibility for rationing. The Parliament threw upon the Curtin Government the responsibility for prosecuting the war. That Government realized right from the outset that it must institute a reasonably fair sharing of all available commodities among all the people. For that purpose it instituted the rationing of various commodities in addition to petrol. A very prominent member of the Opposition parties was asked if he would join Mr. Coles and me as members of the Rationing Commission. That gentleman replied, “ I shall be happy to work on the Rationing Commission if my party agrees at its next meeting to my accepting the position “. When the Opposition parties held their next meeting after the Parliament again assembled, that gentleman told them that he had been invited to become a member of the Rationing Commission, and they refused to acquiesce in his acceptance of the position.
– Why does not the Minister deal with the bill?
– Members of the Opposition parties have never liked accepting responsibility to do the right thing when that responsibility has rested on their shoulders. To-day they appeal in press advertisements to the people to “ empty out the Government and fill the bowsers “. That is their story now, but in 1940, before Labour came to office, their attitude was, “ Let what is available run to waste and those with the money buy the most, and let those without money or friends battle .along as best they can for what they want “. Quite obviously, the Opposition parties will again adopt that attitude if by accident they should be returned to office. Under the Menzies and Fadden Governments petrol tanks in this country were practically allowed to run dry, and a similar state of affairs would recur immediately if the Opposition parties again obtained control. The history of the problem is a long story. I have made those remarks by way of comparison because it is only by recalling what happened yesterday that we can obtain a clear idea of what may happen to-morrow. The present Government from the time it assumed office set out to establish a fair sharing of the petrol that this country could afford to buy. The Labour Government in Great Britain has had an experience similar to that of the Curtin Government. In 1947 the total quantity of crude oil available for refine- ment in the United Kingdom was just in excess of 2,000,000 tons.
a socialist government.
– The socialist government could not be ‘blamed for that fact, because at that time it had only just been elected to office. Rather, we must look back over the years to the incompetence of those who have controlled the petrol industry in Great Britain. Already, the refinery capacity in the United Kingdom under a socialist Government has been increased to 4,500,000 tons, and it is estimated that by 1953 that capacity will be increased to over 20,000,000 tons a year. But, to-day, the dollar content of petrol used by the United Kingdom and countries within the sterling bloc amounts to approximately 700,000,000 dollars a year. That is the blackest commentary that can be made on those who controlled the industry in Great Britain in the years before the recent war. In the administration of the .Department of Supply and Development we have the greatest difficulty in obtaining the necessary materials for even the most limited drilling operations or for any activities associated with the oil industry. Great Britain cannot supply our requirements. Therefore, they must be paid for in dollars. That fact is a condemnation of those who failed to make the petrol industry in the United Kingdom self-sufficient during the long period that they were in control in that country when millions of British workers were unemployed.
Honorable senators ‘ opposite have spoken of France. The position of that country is entirely different from that of Australia. France exports refined oil not only to the United Kingdom, but also lo the United States of America, which is the great haven of private enterprise. That may sound strange to honorable senators opposite, but it is a fact. They have said that there is no rationing of petrol in France. On the contrary, petrol is rationed in that country in the cruellest possible form, and in a form that we are endeavouring to avoid in this country. I.n France, tickets are issued for a certain mim bor of gallons of petrol, but individuals may obtain all the petrol that they want above that quantity provided they are prepared to pay the price that is asked for it. “When 1 was in France last year there was a widespread black market in the sale of petrol tickets, sellers of which were obtaining sufficient to give themselves a good holiday. One of the greatest black markets in the world is the black market in petrol in France to-day. Yet, honorable senators opposite hold up that system as an example of what we should do in this country. The Government is resolved to stand by its obligations to Great Britain. It is determined to help the Mother Country in this matter. Perhaps, the Opposition parties, if they were returned to office, would be able to obtain sufficient supplies of petrol, but after a brief period our economy would be. completely wrecked. The Government recognizes its responsibility to share what is available fairly among the people ; and it is determined to do that.
– Why does not the Government import petrol from France ?
-Because petrol is not available from France in the quantities that we require. In addition, certain difficulties arise with respect to the procurement of petrol from France, or Italy. The Government does not wish to inflict rationing upon the people. Rationing is absolutely essential, because the Government wants to distribute the supplies available as fairly as possible. That is the object of this measure. To-day, our capacity for refining crude oil in Australia is nil. Who is responsible for that? Would the honorable senator have the Government move another step along what he regards as the road to socialism? Does he not agree that the provision of refineries is a fair responsibility to place on private enterprise ? After all, that is the business of the oil companies. Is it unfair to ask private industry to set up adequate refining capacity in Australia? We are drilling for oil in Papua and on the Australian mainland, but if oil. is found, we shall not have sufficient refining capacity to handle it. Is it fair to ask the oil companies to provide that capacity, or should the Government erect its own refineries? I leave that question to be answered by the honorable senator, but I have no doubt that if the Government, announced its intention to build refineries, Senator O’sullivan would regard that action as another infringement of the rights of private enterprise. Australia to-day is waiting, as the United Kingdom waited, for private enterprise to do a job that is within its province and capacity. Great Britain waited too long and the people of that country are paying dearly now. I support the bill.
– Senator O’sullivan delivered a tirade of filthy abuse and lies-
– I rise to order. The honorable senator’s words are offensive to me, and I ask that they be withdrawn.
– The honorable senator must withdraw the expressions to which objection has been taken.
– I withdraw them if Senator O’Sullivan objects to them. Instead of filthy lies, I shall say filthy untruths.
– I abject to the word “ filthy “.
– The honorable senator must conduct the debate on parliamentary lines. His language is unparliamentary and he mustwithdraw it.
– Out of respect to you, Mr. President, I withdraw the word to which the honorable senator objects. I say, however, that the whole of Senator O’Sullivan speech had no foundation in truth. There is an urgent necessity for a uniform scheme of petrol rationing throughout the Commonwealth, but I doubt very much’ whether the passage of this legislation will mean that such a scheme will be introduced because, regardless of the support that this measure may receive in this Parliament, complementary measures must be passed by all the States. At least part of the responsibility for the present petrol position lies with the oil companies themselves. Had they played the game, we should not have been debating this measure to-day. When they could not get an increase of -the price of petrol, they set OUt to embarrass the Government in every possible way. Despite undertakings given to the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley), when petrol rationing was abandoned they set out to sell as much petrol as they possibly could. They sold thousands of 44-gallon drums of petrol to individuals whose greed had been restricted under the petrol rationing scheme. Much of this hoarded petrol will be lost to Australia. Hundreds of thousands of gallons are at present stored in containers of all kinds, including private bowsers. In a few months, unless that petrol is brought to light by legislation compelling hoarders to declare their stocks, three-quarters of it will have leaked away or evaporated. This will be a grave loss to the nation at a time when every gallon is required. I am not optimistic about the success of this legislation because, as I have said, its implementation depends upon the concurrence of the States. The Tasmanian Legislative Council refused to pass legislation to enable the continuance of prices control administration by the Commonwealth, and, knowing the personnel of that council, it iamy firm belief that members of it, acting in their own interests, will not agree to the reintroduction of a Commonwealth-wide rationing scheme. Some of them have huge stocks of petrol in 44-gallon drumson their properties, and they have no wish to declare their hoards to the Commonwealth authorities. They want to keep the petrol for their own personal use. So, when rationing legislation comes before them, they will put their own interests first, as Senator O’Sullivan often does, to the detriment of the welfare of the nation. Knowing the make-up of these men, I say that the passage of rationing legislation by the Tasmanian Legislative Council would be a miracle. Without agreement by all the ‘ States, a uniform rationing scheme cannot be implemented! throughout the Commonwealth.
– How will Tasmania itself get on?
- .Senator Murray asks how Tasmania will get on. He should ask our Liberal friends in the Upper House in Tasmania - our Liberal friends who oppose Labour’s legislation in order to further their own ends, regardless of the interests of the community. For any chaos that may result from the lack of uniform rationing legislation, the Australian Government, of course, will be blamed. I notice that our learned friend, Senator O’Sullivan, has suddenly disappeared from the chamber. It was clear from his speech to-day that he is frequently absent from the chamber. For instance, towards the end of his -remarks, he said that the Government had never given a detailed statement of the dollar position to members of the Parliament. The truth is, of course, that on many occasions the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley), who is the Leader of the Senate, has answered questions and made comprehensive statements. In the House of Representatives, the Prime
Minister himself has spoken many times on the dollar position. As recently as Sunday night last, the right honorable gentleman made a five-minute broadcast over a network of commercial stations, explaining our petrol difficulties. Apparently Senator O’Sullivan, who has now left the chamber, never listens to any of these things. If he will devote some of the spare time that he spends out of this chamber to reading Hansard, he will be forced to eat all the words that he used in his speech to-day. The honorable senator, in the course of his tirade of abuse, said that approximately sixteen days had elapsed between the making of an application by a private company for a licence to import petrol from Poland and the granting of such licence. The honorable senator claimed that, owing to that lapse of time, the petrol had been lost to this country. Nobody knows better than he does what a callous untruth that statement was. Nobody knows better than does the honorable senator that there was no petrol available in Poland to export to this country. Another callous and wicked untruth was his statement that Australian consuls and trade commissioners had done nothing to secure petrol from nondollar sources. I point out that it was through our trade commissioners and consuls that we received the correct information that there was no petrol available in Poland for export to this country. The story of the importation of petrol from Poland was just another piece of political propaganda, designed to mislead the people of this country. The honorable senator was well aware that the story waswithout foundation.
– There was plenty of foundation for it.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) joins in the chorus. He professes to be opposed to restrictions of any kind. He opposes any form of rationing; yet he tells us that adequate supplies of petrol must be made available to primary producers and other essential users. He condemns the Government’s attempt to reserve petrol supplies for the very people that he claims to represent - or perhaps I should say misrepresent. Our learned friend, Senator O’Sullivan, went on to say that the present petrol position had been brought about by complete neglect. I think that after hearing what the Minister for Supply and Development (Senator Armstrong) had to say, nobody could accuse this Government of neglect. I remind the Senate that when Labour assumed office there was only about a fortnight’s supply of petrol in this country. Before the Curtin Government had been in power for six months, stocks had been increased to more than 100,000,000 gallons.
– That was after the United States of America came into the war.
– Never mind who came in. Preceding administrations did not have the foresight, courage, or ability even to make overtures to the United States of America for petrol. Senator O’Sullivan went on to say that the Government was sulking like a child that had lost some of its toys.
– That is quite true.
– Apparently the Leader of the Opposition is in full agreement with his colleague. He played a prominent part in the successful campaign of the Opposition parties to deprive the Commonwealth of its power to control rents and prices. The result of the defeat of that referendum has been everincreasing prices. Control of prices enabled the Commonwealth to ensure an equitable distribution of commodities and their sale at reasonable prices, but the Leader of the Opposition said, in effect, “ You cannot have these powers because they prevent the people whom I represent in this Parliament from obtaining more than their fair share of the commodities that are in short supply, at the expense of less fortunate members of the community who cannot afford to pay higher prices for them “. His policy was, “ Plenty for those who have plenty and nothing for those who have to battle “. “Whilst I would not accuse the honorable senator of being a ‘party to a political conspiracy, I feel that some members of the Opposition parties may be, because those parties draw funds for electioneering purposes from black market operators, and maybe realize that if the operations of the black market operators were curtailed by the reintroduction of rationing, the contributions to their party funds made by those operators may be reduced accordingly. At all events, we know that since the successful campaign to discontinue control of rents and prices, high prices and inequitable distribution have characterized our economy. Senator O’Sullivan went on to accuse the present Government of having dumped its responsibilities and left the State governments to “carry the baby”. Of course, the fact is that after the referendum campaign, during which the Opposition parties and the interests which they represent, had succeeded in persuading the people that they should defeat the Government’s proposals, the Government had no alternative but to refer the control of rents and prices to the States. “We all know now how correct the Government was when it warned the people that a chaotic situation would inevitably develop if the Commonwealth surrendered control of rents and prices. The present petrol situation is one of the consequences of the campaign waged by the Opposition parties to terminate the Government’s power to control rents and prices. Senator O’Sullivan went on to say -
What has the Government done to get [jetro I from non.-dollar areas? Nothing.
Of course, it would be unparliamentary for me to call the honorable senator a liar, but I have never heard any statement that was farther from the truth than the statement that I have just quoted. During the last three years Senator O’Sullivan has listened to repeated statements of the action taken by the Government to obtain petrol from non-dollar areas, and he must have been impressed by the magnitude of the economic ‘problems presented’ to the Government by the current situation. Nevertheless, the honorable senator alleged that for four years the Prime Minister had done nothing to obtain supplies of petrol for this country. He must remember very well the flight made by the Prime Minister to London some time ago. It was given great publicity and was undertaken for the specific purpose of solving economic problems associated with the dollar shortage. Fancy, then, the honorable senator having the audacity to utter such a criticism of the Prime Minister! Not satisfied’ with having made such reckless statements, the honorable senator went on to say that the Government had spent millions of pounds upon wild-cat socialistic enterprises, but had done nothing to establish a petrol refinery. At the conclusion of his speech, the honorable senator who next addressed the Senate challenged Senator O’Sullivan to name one socialist enterprise in which the Government had invested its money that had not proved worth while to the national economy. What did Senator O’Sullivan do? He got up and walked out of the chamber like a whipped cat. He probably crawled up some hollow log outside to take shelter, because he knew that he could not name one industry in which the Government had invested funds that had not benefited the Australian economy. Is Senator O’Sullivan opposed to the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme? Of course he is not; but I remind him that, although private enterprise has had the opportunity to develop that area ever since this country was founded, it has never lifted a finger to do so. Yet the moment a Labour administration displayed the foresight and courage to tackle the problem it was attacked’ as being communist and socialistic. The honorable senator also accused the Government of having failed to establish a petrol refinery in this country. I point out to him at once that if a refinery were established by the Government in this country, it would be a national enterprise, and therefore would incur his criticism as a “ socialist enterprise “.
It is significant that during his speech the honorable senator expressly refrained from declaring that he either supported the bill or opposed it. Like the Loader of the Opposition, he is trying to have “ 2s. each way “. Surely any member of this chamber should have the courage to stand up and declare his attitude on a matter of such importance as the measure at present before us. Although both the Leader of the Opposition and Senator O’Sullivan spoke at some length, they, lacked the courage to say where they stand, and what action they suggest the Government should take. The reason for their equivocal attitude is that they know perfectly well that if they oppose the bill the electors, many of whom have no chance of getting petrol unless rationing is re-introduced, will remember it at the forthcoming election. However, they also know that if they support the proposal to re-introduce rationing they may lose the support of the big black market operators who contribute to their party funds. Therefore, they are sitting on the fence, lacking the courage to tell even their own political supporters what their attitude is in regard to this bill, and whether or not they favour the establishment of a national petrol refinery in Australia.
– What is the issue before the Senate? Are we concerned with the re-introduction of rationing, the importation of petrol, or the construction of a national refinery?
– I have accused the Leader of the Opposition and Senator O’Sullivan of sitting on the fence and of lacking the courage to tell the people where they stand on this issue. I also accuse them of lacking the courage to tell the people whether they favour the establishment of a government refinery to provide petrol for Australia. I throw down that challenge to both honorable senators now, but I know that neither of them has the courage to accept it. In conclusion, I repeat my support of the measure.
– I have little to say because I realize the need to pass the bill as soon as possible. Although I paid careful attention to the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) and by his supporter, Senator O’Sullivan, the issue before us is clear. It is, “ Can we get more petrol?” Would any administration re-introduce petrol rationing on the eve of a general election unless it was absolutely necessary for it to do so ? After all, the Government deserves credit for its integrity in placing the national interest before party-political considerations. Although petrol is required for the forthcoming harvest, which will commence in December, harvesting in most parts of the country will not begin until after’ the election. It is clear, therefore, that had the Government chosen to place its prospects at the forthcoming election before the national interest it would have been quite safe in refraining from re introducing petrol rationing at this stage. However, the Government knows that this country is vitally dependent upon the marketing of its primary produce, and it is determined that sufficient petrol will be available to primary producers to enable them to harvest and market their crops.
Members of the Opposition have suggested from time to time that petrol is available in various countries and have alleged that the Government has lacked the enterprise to obtain it. Of course, those statements were made for purely propagandist purposes, and when put to the proof were found to lack substance. Only the other day a member of the Opposition suggested that petrol could be obtained within the sterling area. The fact is that the petrol companies and importers generally are most anxious to obtain petrol from the sterling areas in order that they may sell it at a profit, and they can be relied upon to do their utmost to exploit any opportunity to obtain petrol. They were given virtually an “ open go “ by the Government, which undertook to issue licences for the import of petrol from non-dollar areas. The fact is that not one gallon of petrol has been imported from those areas. If members of the Senate permit themselves to be hoodwinked by the irresponsible statements made by members of the Opposition, they will be mere weaklings. The economic life of the nation must continue, and the harvest must be gathered. If the crops are not harvested and taken to market millions of pounds of national wealth will be lost. Yet the Leader of the Opposition, who represents the Australian Country party in this chamber, contends that it is not necessary to reintroduce petrol rationing. But he has been careful not to declare his attitude towards this bill, because there is no doubt that primary producers generally wholeheartedly support the bill.
The Leader of the Opposition referred at great length to what he described as the present “ dangerous position “. But how did that position arise? It arose principally because of statements made by the Leader of the Australian Country party Mr. Fadden, to the effect that petrol could be obtained in non-dollar areas. When the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) replied to that suggestion and pointed out that petrol could not be imported from non-dollar areas overseas because it was not available, many people, including supporters of the Australian Country party, immediately began to hoard petrol. Even in the small State of Tasmania, which I represent, large private stocks of petrol have been accumulated. The Go- vernment has been accused of not having taken positive action to prevent the present situation from arising. Let me remind the Senate that on the7th June, the very day after the High Court had declared petrol rationing invalid, the Prime Minister summoned the premiers and explained to them that because the Commonwealth no longer possessed constitutional power to ration petrol, it was necessary that they should take immediate action to continue the rationing of petrol. Incidentally, the decision of the High Court that petrol rationing was ultra vires the power of the Commonwealth of Australia, proved once more that the High Court really controls Australia. Then the Prime Minister summoned the managers of the oil companies and requested them to sell petrol on a scale not exceeding that which had obtained during rationing. The oil companies’ representatives undertook to do so, but their promise proved to be only piecrust. The oil companies did not attempt to ration the sale of petrol; on the contrary, they deliberately set out to sell as much petrol as possible in the belief that by disposing of their existing stocks of petrol they would compel the Government to import more petrol, and so enable them to make more profits. They did not realize that, after all, the Government had only a limited amount of dollars available for the purchase of petrol, and that it could not expend more than that amount.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– The Leader of the Opposition and Senator O’Sullivan made a great song about the fact that the licence for the importation of petrol had not been issued until sixteen days after application was made for it. As I have already pointed out, negotiations that were taking place held up the issue of the licence. Senator O’Sullivan said that had the licence been issued immediately we would have secured the petrol. That is an unauthorized statement. Nothing has been advanced to prove that even if the licence had been issued the next day Australia would have obtained the petrol. Subsequently it was shown that petrol was not available from that source. The Liberal party cried out during the campaign which preceded the referendum on rents and prices similar to its howls during this debate. At that time its supporters said that the Commonwealth should not, be allowed to continue prices control, and that the States could carry on the control of prices. Because the people of this country were misled, the referendum was lost. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) immediately handed over control to the States and said that he would give them every assistance to control prices. He also indicated that they could use Commonwealth staff for the purpose. In addition the Commonwealth offered to pay the expenses of the organization in order to assist the States. Notwithstanding all of the assistance that the Commonwealth thus rendered to the States, prices control by the States was a failure, and prices increased considerably. The Opposition has asserted that prices increased because the Commonwealth withdrew subsidies. As every honorable senator in this chamber knows, however, the people of Australia were told that if the referendumfailed subsidies would be withdrawn. This paragraph that appeared in the May, 1948, issue of the Tasmanian Railways Gazette is interesting -
The Federal Government is at present paying £40,000,000 per year in subsidies in order to keep the prices steady. If the referendum is lost, then the subsidies will cease and prices will immediately increase by £40,000,000 at least.
Senator O’Sullivan has said that the subsidies were withdrawn because of pique. That was not so. It would have been economically unsound for the Commonwealth to continue the subsidies unless it exercised control over prices. If prices increased considerably and some of the State governments closed their eyes to what was happening, the Commonwealth would have been called upon to make up the deficiency in order to keep prices down. No responsible government could act in that manner. Recently a member of the Liberal-Country party in Victoria was honest about this matter. I refer to Mr. Lechte, the Liberal-Country party member for Oakleigh. This statement appeared in the Argus of the 6th September, 1949 -
Pro-referendum .promises by the LiberalCountry party to control prices and charges, although given sincerely, have proved impracticable and a failure.
Although that possibility “was indicated clearly in the beginning, unfortunately the representatives of the monopolies wanted to look after their friends and to give them an open go, which they did.
Under the system of capitalism existing to-day, people who have goods to sell naturally send them to the market where they will obtain the highest prices. If petrol was in abundance, people in all parts of the world would be buying it, because the petrol traders want to make as much profit as possible. Senator O’Sullivan also said that the Government’s representatives in various countries could have found out the position in those countries with relation to petrol and informed the Government. Would it not have been a fine thing for our representatives overseas to inquire in the different countries about the stocks of petrol available, and whether the Australian Government could acquire it on behalf of the people of this country? What a squeal there would have been from the Opposition. It would probably declare “ There is socialism again “ and condemn it as socialism in action.
I believe that all of this propaganda is being disseminated for the definite purpose of trying to defeat this Government at the forthcoming general election. The Opposition is endeavouring to place the blame for the shortage of petrol on this Government. But the people outside of the Parliament realize that the Opposition is trying to “flog a dead horse”. No sane government would introduce petrol rationing on the eve of a general election if that could possibly be avoided, because it is an unpopular measure. Nevertheless, this Government is prepared ‘to place the requirements of the nation before its own interests. Again I point out that statements made in the House of Representatives by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) is not based on substance. Nobody has come forward to prove his statement that petrol could be bought from sterling areas. Every reply that has been given by anybody in a responsible position, from the Prime Minister down, has proved that Mr. Fadden’s statement is not based on substance, and that petrol could not be purchased as he had asserted. The suggestion has been made that the petrol companies are working in co-operation with anti-Labour parties to defeat this Government. Their actions after the High Court had declared the regulations invalid proved that to be so. On the 7th June, the Prime Minister called the State premiers together and asked them to ration petrol. Sales thereupon increased by leaps and bounds. The States wanted the Commonwealth to restrict the importation of other commodities from dollar areas, because there was a limit to the amount of dollars that could be spent overseas. I am convinced that the people outside this Parliament realize that the “horse” that the Opposition is trying to flog is dead. I am pleased to support the bill.
– A great deal of hypocrisy has been indulged in by the Opposition not only in this chamber but also in another place. Senator Morrow was correct when he suggested that because the Opposition was so bereft of policy to place before the people of Australia during the election campaign in connexion with the forthcoming general election, it had seized upon the present shortage of petrol as a drowning man clutches at a straw. Apparently the Opposition parties hope to gain support by appealing to the selfish instincts of a section of petrol users. The Opposition is appealing to the baser instincts inherent in us all. -From the remarks of the Opposition one would think that the matter of petrol shortage had only arisen within the last few weeks. The fact- is that the Australian community has not been able for a considerable time to use all of the petrol that it might have used had it been given an open go. I do not like rationing. 1 believe that if one has the wherewithal to purchase commodities he should be permitted to do so. That is human nature. But we have to consider this matter fairly and squarely. We must ask ourselves, “ Is it in the interest of Australia that there shall be restriction not only in regard to petrol but also in regard to many other commodities ? “ Although the dollar shortage has existed for a number of years, it has been accentuated in recent years. At one time Great Britain was able to exchange its sterling reserves for dollars quite freely. As we are part and parcel of the British Commonwealth of Nations, and as our interests are bound up with those of Great Britain, because Great Britain is to-day unable to convert its sterling into dollars as easily as a few years ago, we are suffering from a disadvantage. From the criticism of the Opposition one would think that this Government, by deliberate action, was responsible for the lack of petrol in Australia. During and since the war period it has been necessary for the Government to restrict the importation of many commodities from dollar areas. Australia has worked in unison with the United ‘ Kingdom Government, through the Bank of England, which is responsible for the conversion of sterling into dollars. The momentous decision of the High Court was not that it was wrong to institute petrol rationing, but, in its opinion, because the war had ended, the powers which had been exercised -by the Commonwealth during the war period were no longer valid. That was the opinion of very eminent legal men. They were not called upon to decide whether the continuation of rationing of petrol or any other commodity was a good thing, or a bad thing for Australia. As the war bad been over for a period of time the question was whether the Commonwealth was justified in continuing to exercise those powers. The High Court decided that their continued exercise was not in accordance with the Constitution. I point out that neither the Parliament nor the Australian Government is master of its own destiny. Even the people of Australia, through their elected representatives, are not masters of their own destiny. We are all subject to decisions of justices of the High Court, who are not elected to that .position by the people. They are removed from the people. The High Court must give its decisions in accordance with the law. It cannot allow itself to be guided by consideration for the interests of the people. When it made its decision upon the challenge made by certain petrol interests from Queensland, this Parliament lost all power in relation to the rationing of petrol. The Government, knowing that only a limited number of dollars was available to finance all of Australia’s imports from dollar countries, suggested that rationing should be continued by the States under their sovereign powers. The decisions of State parliaments are not liable to be upset by the High Court. Their acts cannot be challenged before the Privy Council. Because of the dollar problem, the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, suggested to the premiers that they exercise their powers in order that industries which depend upon the use of liquid fuels could continue to operate normally. But some of the premiers began to play at politics. They tried to shift the responsibility from their shoulders and said that they were not willing to exercise their authority. They tried to lead the people to believe that there was plenty of petrol in the country. Their claims were ably supported by the anti-Labour press, which was less concerned with the welfare of the nation than with its anxiety to defeat the Labour Government. The newspapers appealed to the selfishness of the people and blamed this Government for the petrol shortage.
I have listened very attentively to the statements that have been made by Senator O’Sullivan, and I have read very carefully the pronouncements that have been issued by the Leader of the Australian Country party, Mr. Fadden, and by the propagandists of the oil companies. They claim that there is plenty of petrol in the world. Nobody has denied that contention. The difficulty is to land it in Australia without expending dollars. .Senator O’Sullivan suggested this afternoon that the Government had missed a golden opportunity to erect oil refineries in Australia. The honorable senator, has practised as a barrister. ‘ I suggest, therefore, that he knows something about the Commonwealth Constitution and the decisions of the High Court in relation to the Constitution. I suggest, too, that he knows what would have happened if the Government had expended millions of pounds to erect oil refineries. It would have been unable to dispose of the petrol produced in those plants. Under the Constitution, the Australian Government has no power to engage in trade and commerce. That was laid down by the High Court after World War I., when many of us hoped that the Commonwealth would take over the Cockatoo Island dockyard and other instrumentalities. We wanted the Government to use them for the benefit of the community, but the High Court ruled that the government of the day, which was not a Labour government, had no power to engage in trade and commerce. Senator O’Sullivan raised a specious argument in order to mislead the people. I am astonished that the honorable gentleman should use arguments of that kind.
The Government has been severely criticized during recent weeks on account of its socialistic enterprises. Advertisements which urge the people to vote against the Labour Government and protect themselves from socialism appear daily in the newspapers. During the budget debate, Senator O’Sullivan was loud in his condemnation of the Government’s socialistic activities. What would he have said if the Government had erected oil refineries and had begun to dispose of their products to the people? He would have cried, “ Here is another socialistic enterprise by the Chifley Government ! * The Government’s establishment of a people’s airline to compete with private enterprise was criticized as socialism. As the Minister for Supply and Development (Senator Armstrong) pointed out this afternoon, the war-time Labour Government was bitterly criticized because it established power alcohol distilleries when the nation was in danger of exhausting its stocks of vital petrol. We had scarcely any reserves of liquid fuel when World War II. broke out and the Labour Government, in desperation, expended millions of pounds upon plants to distil power alcohol from wheat so that our aircraft could be maintained in the air even if overseas supplies of fuel were cut off. What did the Opposition parties say about that action? They condemned it as a wild-cat scheme and a waste of the taxpayers’ money. Not one word has been said by members of the Opposition in this Parliament about the failure of the big American and other overseas oil interests to establish oil refineries in Australia. They were content to leave the task to private enterprise and, as a result, petrol is scarce in Australia to-day. It paid the oil companies better to bring petrol from countries where oil could be refined by cheap labour than to bring crude oil to Australia. They were not concerned about Australia’s welfare. They worried only about their profits.
Hyprocrisy is rampant amongst members of the Opposition. They are the greatest makers of promises that Australia has ever known, particularly when they are in Opposition. Through advertisements published in the newspapers to-day, they appeal to motorists by declaring that, if Mr. Menzies and Mr. Fadden form a government, plenty of petrol will be provided for them. Of course, honorable senators who have had some experience in this Parliament know that Mr. Menzies and Mr. Fadden have as much chance of uniting to form a stable government as one would have of mixing oil with water. However, they want to displace the Labour Government, and so they tell the people that they are united. Their conduct reminds me of the days when Mr. Scullin was trying to guide Australia safely through one of the greatest crises in its history. The Opposition parties, which were then led by the late Mr. Lyons, told the people, “ Return us to power and you will have a job in the morning”. Thousands of Australians who were then without work, as thousands of motorists to-day are without petrol, heeded that promise and gave the Scullin Government the “ right-about “. They overlooked the fact that the Opposition parties, through their majority in the Senate, had refused to make available to the Scullin Government the money that it needed in order to provide jobs for the workless. They also overlooked the fact that the finances of the nation at that time were tied up by a bank board which resolutely refused to obey the behest of the Parliament.
– They will be tied up again, too, if the Opposition parties gain power.
– Of course they will. Unfortunately, many of the deluded citizens who were out of work on that election eve voted against the Scullin Government and went looking for jobs on the Monday morning. But did they find work? Certainly not! For years afterwards many of them were still looking for the jobs that the anti-Labour parties had promised to provide for them. Motorists would be disappointed in the same way if the Opposition parties were elected to power at the forthcoming election.
Members of the Opposition declare that petrol can be obtained from sterling countries. That is true, but tankers are needed to bring that petrol to Australia. We have not been ‘able to do what the United Kingdom did during the war, when operation “ Pluto “ enabled petrol to be pumped across the English Channel. We cannot pump fuel to Australia from those sterling countries where petrol is available. Members of the Opposition have not reminded the people that tankers and other merchant ships were built by dollar countries during the war while the United Kingdom was building only warships. The United Kingdom has lost most of its merchant vessels; they lie at the bottom of the seven seas. There are no sterling tankers to bring petrol to Australia. What attitude did the Opposition parties adopt towards the Government’s plans for the establishment of a healthy shipbuilding industry in Australia? A bill was introduced a few months ago for the purpose of enabling the Government to engage in shipbuilding. The Opposition parties objected to its passage. Under present conditions, petrol that we buy in sterling countries must be shipped in dollar tankers, thus imposing further demands upon our sorely limited dollar resources. Yet honorable senators opposite condemned, as a socialistic enterprise, the Government’s plan to build ships in Australia! The Opposition parties described the Government’s project for the establishment of the shipbuilding industry in this country as another example of Chifley socialism. To-day, we would be fortunate if weowned tankers that we could use to bring a few million tons of petrol to Australia, and could pay the crews of such vessels in Australian currency, or in sterling. Honorable senators opposite imagine that supporters of the Government have short memories. In this debate they have been completely hypocritical. If they had been sincere, they would have said to the people after the High Court declared the Government’s petrol rationing regulations to be invalid, “Australia has available only the amount of dollars that it can earn, and we can only earn dollars by selling our products to the United States of America “. The Leader of the Opposition was a member of the Senate when we discussed in this chamber the desirability of persuading the United States of America to reduce its high tariffs on Australian wool. That country maintained those tariffs in order to protect American-grown cotton. On that occasion we discussed generally the possibility of increasing our exports to the United States of America from which we then imported large quantities of petrol and other commodities, principally motor chassis. Unfortunately, we have not been able to increase our trade with that country. We cannot compel the United States of America to buy from us. Consequently, we are unable to earn the dollars that we need to-day. In order to make good that deficiency we rely mainly upon the Mother Country whose unfortunate plight during the last six months is well known to honorable senators. The Australian consumer of petrol and the people of Great Britain must go without other commodities in order to enable us to obtain greater supplies of petrol. I believe that when the issue is presented fairly and squarely to the Australian people they will be prepared to accept the condition that existed when petrol was rationed up to the time that the High Court declared petrol rationing regulations to be invalid. I refuse to believe that the Australian people are so greedy that they are unmindful of the terrific struggle that the British Commonwealth of Nations is waging to-day in order to survive and play its part in world economy. The Australian people are sufficiently patriotic to recognize that this fight has to be fought, and, therefore, they will accept the re-imposition of petrol rationing. Their primary desire is that the Government shall ensure that available supplies of petrol shall be distributed fairly among all who desire to use it. That is the object of the measure now before the- Senate. The wealthy sections who can afford to pay for all the petrol that they require should not be able to obtain supplies to the exclusion of other consumers. Such a condition of affairs would not be in the best interests of the people. T trust that members of the Opposition will cease playing at party politics in this matter and realize their responsibility to enable Australia to make its contribution to the survival of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The arguments advanced by honorable senators opposite in this debate are the most hypocritical that I have ever heard throughout my political career.
– The members of the Opposition parties have blamed the Government for the necessity to re-impose petrol rationing. The story behind their criticism is clear. I have not the slightest doubt that the present position has been deliberately brought about by the oil companies that are responsible for distributing petrol in this country. The Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley), in his secondreading speech, pointed out that immediately after the High Court declared the Government’s petrol rationing regulations to be invalid, the Government called & conference of executives of the oil companies and asked them to restrict the distribution of petrol to the quantity that had been distributed under rationing. The Government pointed out to them that it was not in a position to increase imports of petrol. The Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) made that appeal to those companies. However, in June, July and August of this year they increased their sales by 22,000,000 gallons, or an increase of 21 per cent, compared with the quantity that was distributed when petrol was rationed. In doing that, those companies committed a breach of faith. Their action was a miserable piece of double-crossing. To-day’s Sydney Morning Herald publishes the following cablegram from London : -
London, October 24. - The Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, to-day will seek to shock Britain into realizing the gravity of the country’s economic plight.
All honorable senators are aware of the plight in which the Mother Country has found itself for many months past. The United Kingdom is passing through a grave crisis and it is criminal for certain organizations in this country to exploit so vital a commodity as petrol for party political gain. Recently, a number of men were sentenced in the United States of America to long terms of imprisonment with heavy fines after having been found guilty of sedition. They had been found guilty of planning to overthrow the Government of that country. Behind the plot that has resulted in the position that now exists with regard to the distribution of petrol in Australia is a clearcut plot to overthrow not only the Australian Government, but also the United Kingdom Government, in the crisis that now confronts it. The oil interests are not newcomers to the world scene. We have known of their operations for many years. In order to give some indication of their activities, I read the followingpassage from a book entitled Patents for Hitler, written by Guenter Reimann -
Patent monopolies and an alliance with private world empires, made it possible for the Nazis to increase their oil reserves before the outbreak of war, to raise their own production and intensify supply difficulties in regard to aviation gasoline in foreign countries - even in America. They actually succeeded in making foreign States pay for the oil which helped” to bomb them.
In the present state of affairs we are dealing with similar organizations, such as the Standard and Shell oil companies. The quotation continues -
The German chemical trust was to be granted a share in royalties on high-octane gas equal to that of Standard Oil. This tax was to be paid by consumers of the “ strategic “ aviation gasoline throughout the entire world. Royalties were decided upon just before the outbreak of the war and the grotesque situation arose whereby the Royal Air Force paid a royalty to I.G., and thus to the Nazis, for its aviation gasoline. The war-time transfer of this money was difficult, so a temporary arrangement was prepared by which Standard Oil acted as I.G.’s trustee, retaining the German company’s share in royalties “ for the duration “ - to be paid after the war.
Thus we had the fantastic situation that the Fighter Command in England, when it was fighting the Battle of Britain, was paying royalties to Germany for petrol that had been supplied to it by the very interests that are responsible for the distribution of petrol in this country. Earlier. I referred to the imprisonment of persons in the United States of America who had been found guilty of planning to overthrow the Government of that country. I place in the same category the organizations in Australia that broke their pledge to the Prime Minister that they would restrict their sales of petrol to the quotas that had been observed when petrol was rationed. Senator Hendrickson pointed out that the Japanese, too, were supplied with American oil products. In tie publication from which I have already quoted, their is clear evidence that the same oil organizations granted gasoline rights to Japan. Universal Oil Products Company grants oil rights to Japs Gasoline KK. That has been the policy of the major oil companies throughout the world for many years. They are world empires holding a world-wide oil monopoly, and what is occurring in Australia to-day is nothing more than one of their political stunts, by means of which they make or break governments. It is interesting to recall that in the latter part of the past decade the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Menzies) appeared for a certain oil company in a case involving the Commonwealth. That leaves no doubt at all about where the interests of the Opposition lie.
– Yes. While representing the people of the Commonwealth as Attorney-General, he appeared in an action which was against the Government of which he was a member. Whatever may be said about the reasons for the shortage of petrol in the Commonwealth to-day, the fact remains that Australian motorists are not getting petrol in their cars. Our annual imports are limited to 440,000,000 gallons. Between the actual importation of that petrol, and the time it is made available to motor vehicles, it is in the bands of the organizations to which I have referred. Their form, as I have said, does not bear inspection. We have had no reason to trust them in the past, and I do not think that any intelligent person will believe that to-day they are doing anything but organizing a gigantic political stunt in this country. It is sad indeed that this should happen at a time “when Great Britain is going through its economic gethsemane; hut Great Britain will survive this crisis. It will survive the oil companies. It was there before them, and it will be there a long time after them, and so will the Government of this country. The oil companies are revealing themselves in their true colours, and those of us who believe in right and justice will make it our business to ensure that the propaganda that they are disseminating now by insinuation and implication will be exposed throughout the country. Therefore, I welcome this measure. It is necessary and timely. It is a great pity that the High Court, in its wisdom, found it necessary to declare the petrol rationing regulations invalid. I am quite confident that when the true position is known, as it will be known, and when the activities of the oil companies are exposed, as they will be exposed when this measure becomes operative, the Opposition will be forced to revise its attitude. By restricting our dollar needs to the minimum we are not only assisting Australia, but are also helping to ensure the continuance of a great Empire which has higher ideals and higher moral standards than international business empires such as the oil combines have ever had.
– I should not have spoken on this measure had it not been for the very unworthy suggestion made by Senator O’Sullivan that the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) had, by acts of commission or omission, acted1 contrary to the best interests of the people in dealing with the petrol shortage. To back up that untrue statement, Senator O’Sullivan referred to the rents and prices referendum, and’ the ultimate smashing of the low price structure which the Government had maintained to the great benefit of our internal economy, which resulted in the defeat of the Government’s proposals. He said that, on that occasion, the Commonwealth had handed over prices controls to the States, holus-bolus, without ceremony, and without allowing the States adequate time to prepare for the difficult task of administration. That was entirely untrue. In fact, the Commonwealth did everything possible to ensure that the States would be able to carry on prices control to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, in spite of the claims made by the Opposition during the referendum campaign, the States have proved themselves unequal to the task. However, that is not the responsibility of the Common.wealth The States were given ample time to introduce efficient prices control measures in their own spheres. Before the referendum, the State Premiers agreed at a conference, to introduce in their respective legislatures, measures complementary to Commonwealth legislation providing for uniform prices control throughout the Commonwealth. That proposal, however, was defeated by certain legislative councils, which, I remind honorable senators, are elected not on a full adult franchise, but on a restricted property franchise. Those councils rejected the legislation which the Premiers had promised to pass, or interfered with it in such a way that a uniform system of prices control was impossible. Subsequently, the anti-Labour parties marshalled their forces and, with the support of big business, embarked upon a campaign which cost approximately £250,000 to defeat the referendum. Their campaign was successful, and so the people of the Commonwealth are in their present position. Prices control by the States is neither efficient nor effective. What has happened in regard to petrol? As early as the 17th June - only eleven days after the petrol rationing regulations had been declared invalid by the High Court - a conference of State Premiers was called to consider how the position that had arisen could be met. I do not quarrel with the High Court’s decision, but I do criticize the manner in which the Opposition parties have handled the petrol situation both inside and outside this Parliament. They have endeavoured to embarrass the Government, but the Government has not been embarrassed. Instead, Australian industry has been seriously embarrassed. In many undertakings, both rural and secondary, chaos exists. In addition, users of liquid fuel throughout the Commonwealth have been seriously inconvenienced. The general shortage of petrol in this country has not arisen from any legislative enactment. It is the result of a shortage of dollars within the British Commonwealth of Nations, and amongst other sterling countries. Australia relies substantially upon the Empire dollar pool for the purchase of petrol. The Opposition knows that quite well. Certain supplies of petrol are available within the sterling area, but in the main, the British Commonwealth of Nations has to rely upon dollar countries for this commodity. Had the United Kingdom decided not to make dollars available to Australia for the purchase of” petrol, our supplies would have been considerably below the minimum required for the maintenance of industry. But the United Kingdom has made dollars available for petrol purchases. It would have been impossible for us to earn those dollars in our ordinary trade with the United States of America. Our total dollar earning capacity would not have been sufficient to meet the situation. The Opposition parties claim to be in favour of assisting Great Britain to the utmost. Both the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, and the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber (Senator Cooper) have said frequently that the British Commonwealth of Nations should stand together in times of crisis. Some time ago, a conference of British Commonwealth countries was held in London to discuss the dollar situation. It was attended by representatives of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ceylon, India, Pakistan, New Zealand, .South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. The agreement reached at that conference was subsequently ratified by those countries, including Australia. The decision of the High Court made it impossible for the Australian Government to ration petrol. There appears to be little doubt that the lower houses of the .States will all agree upon Commonwealth action to ration petrol. In fact, Queensland, Western Australia, and New South Wales have already passed legislation permitting the introduction of a Commonwealth-wide rationing scheme. The other States may come into line. The only indication that they may not do so has come from those citadels of privilege, the legislative councils. They are “showing some tendency either to reject the complementary legislation or to delay its operation. Therefore, profiting by the lesson of prices control, the Government lias drafted this bill to provide that its operation in any State or territory shall not depend upon its operation in any other State or territory. Therefore when this measure has been passed by the Commonwealth Parliament and proclaimed, the States which pass the necessary complementary legislation, will have the benefit of a uniform rationing scheme.
Propaganda about the availability of petrol supplies in the sterling area has created considerable misunderstanding in the public mind. The Opposition can take full credit - if credit is the word - for that. Until this bill becomes effective, the petrol position will deteriorate gradually. There was one responsibility that the Commonwealth could accept under its constitutional power. The Australian Government could legislate under its defence powers to provide for a sufficient reserve of fuel oil for the national defence. In fact, the Opposition does not oppose the grant of such powers, but it suggests that the defence reserve should be released in order to provide additional petrol for the community. Of course, the reason for that proposal is not so much to fulfil the needs of industry, as to save the faces of certain prominent members of the Opposition parties who have made irresponsible statements in connexion with the supply of petrol. The fact is that when rationing is reintroduced the average citizen will be able to obtain sufficient petrol to enable him to continue his legitimate operations. That is of particular importance to primary producers, who are doing so much to assist the afflicted people of Great Britain in their splendid effort to achieve economic survival. The measure is undoubtedly necessary, and the State governments have themselves requested the Government to pass this legislation. I do not intend to impede its passage by speaking any further, and I again express my support for the bill.
– in reply - I am indebted to those honorable senators who have spoken in the debate for their contributions; but
I regret that members of the Opposition have, as usual, endeavoured to make political capital out of a national emergency. In particular, I invite the attention of honorable senators to an advertisement attacking the Government that appeared in the press to-day. Because of the insertion of that advertisement I was particularly grateful to the Minister for Supply and Development (Senator Armstrong) for the valuable contribution that he made to the debate this evening. He explained the situation concerning the supply of petrol that confronted Labour when it took office from the discredited Administration formed by the present Opposition parties early in the war, and his remarks indicate the degree of reliance that can be placed on the statements made by the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), who had so much to say concerning petrol. Indeed, we all know that the ineptitude of the coalition administration under the leadership of the right honorable gentleman was one of the reasons why it was turned out of office, not by Labour but by its own supporters. One of the factors that contributed to the defeat of the Fadden Government was -its failure to provide sufficient petrol for Australia, during the war. Apart, however, from reminding the Opposition of some unpleasant facts, I want to let the people of Australia know something about the manner in which the anti-Labour parties controlled the importation of petrol when they were last in office. When Labour took office in 1941 the supplies of petrol were desperately low. The country had only a fortnight’s supply, and the member of the then government who was principally responsible is a member of the present Liberal party. So bad was the situation that it was necessary for the Curtin Administration to arrange for special shipments of petrol from the United States of America in 44-gallon drums. Needless to say, the shipment of petrol in that form cost the country considerably more than the delivery of petrol by the ordinary bulk methods. Special representations had also to be made to the British Government to divert oil tankers to this country in order to enable sufficient stocks to be accumulated for us to continue the war.
Yet many of those who now criticize the present Government for the petrol situation and appeal to the people to “ empty out the Government and fill the petrol bowsers “ were among the members who held office in the last two disastrous anti-Labour administrations. Even during time of war they were unable to fill the country’s petrol bowsers, and if they are returned to office the country’s bowsers will again be empty.
The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) seemed to be particularly concerned about a statement which the Prime Minister (Mr. Chifley) made some months ago in which he pointed out the disastrous effects which the abandonment of petrol rationing would have on the national economy-
– It was a panic statement.
– If there is one thing of which the Prime Minister cannot be accused it is of losing his head. The statement made by the Prime Minister on that occasion, like all other statements he has made on important issues, was honest and factual, and the course of subsequent events has verified his statements. Indeed, as head of the Government, the right honorable gentleman would have been wanting in his duty to the nation if he had not made such a statement. Furthermore, the right honorable gentleman took very prompt action to protect the country against the consequences of the abandonment of petrol rationing. The day after the High Court decision invalidating petrol rationing was delivered, the Prime Minister called together the Premiers at a conference in Canberra and explained the position to them in detail. Incidentally, I want to deal now with the advertisement that appeared in the press to-day which stated that adequate supplies of petrol exist overseas. No one denies that there is plenty of petrol overseas, and the present Government has never denied that fact. The fact is, however, that .that petrol can be obtained only by the expenditure of dollars, and the newspaper advertisement very subtly omitted to mention that fact. Members of the Opposition are always waving flags and parading their loyalty to Great Britain and the Empire. In fact, they were very vehemently parading their loyalty during the early stages of the late war when they left this country so desperately short of petrol. The fact is that whenever thisGovernment attempts to do something to assist the hard-pressed people of Great Britain, who are now fighting for their economic survival, the Opposition never hesitates to attack it. The Government is trying to curtail the expenditure on dollars in order to assist the Empire and particularly the people of Great Britain, but that does not matter to the Opposition, who are trying to exploit the present situation for political gain. I warn members of the Opposition now that their attempt to extract a political advantage from the present situation will not avail them at the forthcoming election.
One of the biggest problems confronting our economists is the limited refinery capacity available in the sterling area, and although I listened carefully to the speeches made by the Leader of the
Opposition and Senator O’Sullivan during the debate, I did not hear them make any constructive suggestion to overcome -the present shortage. In fact, the speeches of both honorable senators bore an extraordinary resemblance to the terms of an advertisement that was inserted by the Victorian League of Bights in newspapers on the 9th September last. That body, like the Constitutional League in N”ew South “Wales and the Federal Taxpayers Association, seems to have unlimited funds at its disposal, because it is always publishing advertisements which attack Labour. As an instance of the extraordinary similarity of statements made by members of the Opposition to advertisments that have been published by the bodies to which I have referred, I point out that in the early part of his speech the Leader of the Opposition said that Australia was using less than half the quantity of petrol per vehicle that other Empire countries were using. That statement was contained in anti-government propaganda issued by a motoring journal in Melbourne, which furnished what purported to be a comparison of the incidence of rationing in Australia and other Empire countries. As an example, that article mentioned that the average consumption of petrol per vehicle in Canada was 726 gallons a year. Did the Leader of the Opposition mention that figure?
– No. I did not deal with any dollar country.
– The Leader of the Opposition probably mentioned the consumption of petrol in Canada in a casual manner and not in the categoric manner adopted by the leader of his political party in the House of Representatives, the right honorable member for Darling Downs (Mr. Fadden). However, the Leader of the Opposition did refer to the consumption of petrol in New Zealand. The statement which appeared in the Melbourne journal to which I have referred set forth a comparison of the consumption of petrol and the registration of vehicles in Australia and New Zealand during 1948. In both countries motor vehicle registrations had increased rapidly, and statistics indicated that at the 30th June, 1948, the number of vehicles registered in New Zealand, including motor cycles, was 343,893, and the quantity of petrol consumed was 110,300,000 gallons, which is an average of approximately 343 gallons per vehicle. The corresponding figures for Australia were 1,107,345 vehicles registered and 407,300,000 gallons of petrol consumed, which is an average of approximately 367 gallons per vehicle.
– Is the Minister suggesting that I said that? I did not say one word about that.
– A great deal of propaganda has been circulated by members of the Opposition parties, and particularly by members of the Australian Country party, concerning the activities of an Australian petrol company which attempted to obtain petrol. Quite recently a number of pamphlets headed : “ Ampol’s purchases from sterling areas save dollars”, were distributed by that company. The pamphlets went on to state that the petrol imported by the company was shipped from Bahrein to Australia. As a matter of fact, a good deal of petrol is exported to various parts of the world from Bahrein, the total quantity amounting to approximately 200,000,000 tons annually. The Bahrein oil-fields and refinery are owned by the Bahrein Oil
Company Refinery Limited, which is registered in Canada in order to comply with a treaty of 1880, under which the local sovereign granted a concession exclusive to British concerns. Another oilfield of almost equal capacity is situated in Saudi Arabia, only eighteen miles from Bahrein. This field is exploited by the Arabian Oil Company Limited, which has a refinery and harbour at Ras Tannura. Its output is about the same as that of the refinery at Bahrein. The total output of both oilfields is approximately 250,000 barrels daily, or 12,500,000 gallons. The two concerns are sister companies. They are the Persian Gulf daughters of the Caltex Company, which was formed by an amalgamation of the Californian Standard Oil Company and the Texas Oil Company. Although the advertisement claims that the petrol is wholly sterling petrol, actually it has a 90 per cent, dollar content. That advertisement is an indication of the propaganda that has been disseminated throughout Australia by persons interested in bringing about the defeat of this Government. I am convinced that the advertisements containing lying statements that have been published in newspapers have been paid for by anti-Labour interests. I am concerned not about the political advantage that the Opposition is endeavouring to gain, but about the inconvenience that has been occasioned to thousands of people in this country. I should not be so concerned if the truth had been publicized. The Leader of the Opposition claims that after the Prime Minister made the statement to which I have referred, people throughout Australia panicked. The honorable senator stated that he knew of primary producers who had taken advantage of the situation, fearing that there was a likelihood of petrol again being in short supply. As honorable senators are aware, the representatives of the oil companies undertook that they would make deliveries to the retailers in accordance with the scale previously in operation. However, in the three months June, July and August, following the High Court’s decision, petrol was oversold by 22,000,000 gallons, despite the fact that the oil companies had promised to make deliveries of only 440,000,000 gallons in the twelve months’ period. I am convinced that the ordinary workers did not obtain the benefit of that oversale of petrol. The big business interests of this country that the Opposition parties represent secured the main advantage. It was very wrong of them to do so. I am informed on the best authority that some big business interests have sufficient petrol stored to enable them to continue their business operations for at least two years. It is common knowledge that petrol was hawked around the country in 44-gallon drums for sale. A chemist was recently charged before a court in Sydney ‘with having stored on his premises petrol in excess of the quantity of sixteen gallons permitted under State legislation. He had six 24-gallon drums of petrol stored. I should not be surprised if the Opposition claimed that he was a primary producer and required that petrol. That is an indication of how the 22,000,000 gallons of petrol that was oversold has gone astray. In the majority of instances it did not go to the people who needed it.
Senator Cooper also complained that the Government had not directed its overseas representatives to endeavour to locate dollar-free petrol. It is well known that although the Government owns a preponderance of shares of Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, it has not the final say in the management of that company, or in the determination of its operations. An anti-Labour Government very subtly provided against that happening. However, apart from Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited, the provision of petrol in this country is entirely in the hands of private enterprise. Because private enterprise has failed to secure adequate supplies of petrol for the people of Australia the Opposition considers that it is the duty of the Government to assist private enterprise to find or secure petrol. I contend that private enterprise is in the best position to do so. Senator Cooper also complained about the alleged delay in the issue of an import licence to Ampol. The facts are that on the 22nd August Ampol made its first application for a licence to import petrol into Australia. However, full details were not made available to the Commonwealth until the 29th August, on which date Ampol furnished supplementary in formation. I do not consider that even Senator Cooper would contend that any person should be able to apply to the Department of Customs and be issued with a licence to import 5,000,000 gallons or 10,000,000 gallons of petrol as readily as one might purchase a packet of cigarettes. Obviously the Government must make some inquiries in connexion with such matters. In this instance consultation with the British Government was necessary also. Only eight days elapsed from the time that full details were furnished until the Commonwealth’s decision was communicated to Ampol. That disposes effectively of the Opposition’s claim that there was a delay of a fortnight. In point of fact there was no delay at all. During that eight days the Commonwealth had to consider the implication of Ampol’s request in the light of the dollar question generally, and world petrol supplies. Consultation with the authorities in the United Kingdom was necessitated because this was an entirely new development. The Australian Government approached the Government of Poland as expeditiously as was possible in order to assist Ampol to obtain the licence sought.
The Opposition has claimed that the Government is piqued because it lost control of petrol rationing as a result of the decision of the High Court. Apparently the Opposition would have been willing to increase the troubles of the United Kingdom Government by making heavy drawings on the dollar pool in order to purchase additional supplies of petrol.
– The Minister is hedging.
O’Sullivan referred to confidential information, and implied that there should be nothing confidential in times of peace. However, not so long ago the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden), and other members of that political party, made great noise about the alleged disclosures of secret information. The Opposition must be changing its view about confidential information. The information to which the honorable senator has referred was made available to the State Premiers.
I do not consider that it is necessary that I should re-state the need for the curtailment of purchases of petrol from dollar areas. It is not altogether a question of world supplies of petrol. 1 have already made it clear to the oil companies that the Government has no objection to their importing as much sterling petrol as they desire provided that no dollar content is involved either in the commodity itself or in connexion with the tankers that convey it to Australia.
– Will the Minister say whether it is possible for dollar petrol to be brought to Australia in sterling tankers?
– I shall be pleased to furnish the Senate with information about that aspect of the matter during the committee stage. The Opposition has drawn attention to the fact that the Government has not made provision for the establishment of a refinery in Australia. My colleague, the Minister for Supply and Development, has already pointed out that any development of that nature is the responsibility of the oil companies. If the Government were to undertake such a venture the Opposition would immediately claim that socialism was being further implemented in this country. However, I shall cause investigations to be made about the possibilities of establishing refineries in Australia. T commend the bill to honorable senators.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– We come now to the serious operation upon the sick child to which I have previously referred. I refer to the portion of the preamble to the bill which states that the Australian Government shall have complete control over the importation of petrol. That is a basis upon which I, personally, will not oppose the bill. The preamble sets out the resolutions that were adopted at a conference of State Premiers on the 28th September. One of those resolutions was as follows: -
If, as the result of the exercise of such control, rationing becomes essential to ensure an equitable distribution to essential users, the imposition of such rationing is a matter for determination of the Commonwealth Government.
If rationing becomes necessary, who is to be held responsible for the circumstances that will make it necessary? In my second-reading speech, I mentioned the fact that Australia had trade commissioners in various parts of the world, and, when I asked what they had done to ensure that we should get a share of any petrol that was available, I was given the very idle reply that it was not the business of the Government to enter into commercial undertakings. I did not suggest for a moment that the Government should buy any commodity. If there be any purpose in having trade representatives in other parts of the world, that purpose is to find ready markets for our products and sources of supply for the items that we need. That does not mean that the Government must either buy or sell. Our trade representatives are appointed for the purpose of giving service to the commercial community of the country that they represent. No answer was given by the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) to my inquiries concerning the efforts, if any, that those representatives had made to obtain petrol. Honorable senators who are privileged to enjoy the secrets of caucus may know something about the subject, but the Parliament and the people have been told nothing about it. When I suggested that encouragement should be given to the expansion of Australia’s refineries, supporters of the Government immediately raised their hands and suggested that I was advocating socialism. The truth is that members of the Opposition in this chamber have commended the Government consistently for the support that it has given to our secondary industries. There is a vast difference between a government giving assistance to industry and a government stifling and strangling industry with regulations and controls.
– Order ! The honorable senator is not permitted to make a second-reading speech at this stage.
– I am con- netting my remarks with the preamble, by discussing whether rationing should be necessary, and also with clause 6, which deals with regulations. Those regulations would not have been necessary had the Government taken the precautions that I have indicated. The mere fact that I say that it should assist refining operations, and thereby make more petrol available and render rationing unnecessary, does not mean that I invite it to lay its clammy hands upon the industry and strangle it. The function of a government under such conditions is to assist industry to develop, not to kill it.
Senator ASHLEY (New South “Wales - Minister for Shipping and Fuel J [9.35]. - Senator O’Sullivan appears to be concerned about the Government having complete control over the importation of petrol, and he alleges that it has made no attempt to relieve the current shortage by calling upon the services of its trade commissioners abroad. I point out to the honorable senator that the petrol companies have more representatives abroad than has the Government. Any inquiries about petrol could have been made just as efficiently .by them. Senator O’Sullivan also suggested that the Government should establish refineries in Australia, and complained that it had not taken any steps to increase local refining capacity. Upon his recommendation, I shall certainly have the suggestion examined.
– I am sure that the Minister for Shipping and Fuel (Senator Ashley) was not serious in attempting to misrepresent what I said. I repeat, for the third time, that I have not suggested at any stage that the Government should establish and conduct any undertaking in Australia. The function of the Government is to assist private enterprise to conduct industry efficiently and effectively without any exploitation of the people. The Government could ease the acuteness of the situation that has arisen by assisting in the expansion of our refineries. That is what I said. I did not say anything in favour of the cold, clammy hand of socialistic regimentation. I have received no reply yet to the other point that I made. I can readily understand why that is so. The Minister for Ship-
ping and Fuel proceeded earlier to make a lengthy reply to a speech that that had never been made. Apparently it was written for him yesterday in anticipation of something that the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Cooper) was expected to say, but did not say. Glib though the Minister was with those refutations, he did not answer my question, except by trying to pass it off. I asked what action, if any, had been taken by our various trade representatives to obtain petrol for Australia? In case the Minister does not know about those officials, I inform him that we have trade representatives in Canada, New Zealand, Egypt, the Middle East, the United States of America, India, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands East Indies, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Africa, Japan, Pakistan, Ceylon and China. In a smug, sneering fashion, he said that it was the province of the oil companies to do the work of those representatives. Does he mean that our trade commissioners have no function whatever and that it is the responsibility of industries to make their own inquiries at their own expense although, as taxpayers, they are being charged £197,000 a year for the upkeep of trade commissioners’ establishments? Are those positions maintained merely in order to provide holidays for friends of the Government? If the duty of our trade commissioners is not to seek sources of supply for raw materials that we need and markets for the goods that we produce, what is their function? I should like the Minister to treat this matter seriously and not pass it off with a cheap sneer by saying that the oil companies have plenty of money and should make their own inquiries.
– I did not say anything like that. I ask for a withdrawal of the statement that I said that the oil companies had plenty of money.
– I ask Senator O’Sullivan to withdraw the statement.
– I withdraw it. What did the Minister say?
– The honorable senator can answer that himself.
Sena tor O’SULLIVAN.- Apparently the honorable gentleman is ashamed of what he said and will not repeat it. The inference to he drawn from his statement was that the oil companies were well capable of looking after themselves.
– That is quite right.
– Apparently the Minister is much more familiar with the ramifications of the oil companies than I am. I know nothing about them and I have no brief for them. I am interested in the people and the industries of Australia and I seek to advance their welfare. Australia’s trade commissioners should have been instructed by the Government, in the interests of the people, to make the most complete inquiries in order to secure some relief from the petrol shortage.
– Petrol is not available in non-dollar areas.
– We do not know. No reports have been made to us on the subject. It is a very poor reply to say that the oil companies can look after themselves. I am not interested in the oil companies. I am interested only in the welfare of the people and the development of Australian industries. Apparently the Government does not care two hoots about that.
– Senator O’Sullivan has worked himself into a frenzy over a statement that I made. He has referred to Australia’s diplomatic representatives in every country.
– Trade representatives !
– I question whether that has any relation to the subject.
– They are trade representatives, not diplomatic representatives. I referred to Australia’s commercial intelligence service abroad.
– If it will satisfy the honorable senator, he referred to commercial representatives in every country. I point out to him that any interference would have been resented by the oil companies. Private enterprise would have been the first to object to government interference. I assure Senator O’Sullivan that the Government acted when requested to do so, secured information, and tried to assist the oil company that was trying to import petrol into Australia.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 21st October (vide page 1818).
Proposed vote, £3S,338,000.
– The allocat.ions being made in all States in respect of motor vehicles and accessories, including replacement of existing units and motor vehicles and accessories consisting of additions to fleet have been increased substantially compared with actual expenditure under those headings last year. For instance, in New South Wales whilst only £37,250 was expended last year on replacement of existing units, the allocation this year is £135,400, and whilst only £62,399 was expended last year for additions to fleet the sum of £390,100 is being allocated for that item this year. Corresponding increases are shown in respect of each State for those items. Whilst approximately a total of £250,000 was expended for those items in all States last year, approximately £1,380,000 is being allocated this year. In view of the magnitude of the increase of those votes I should like the PostmasterGeneral (Senator Cameron) to give some details of those items to the Sena te.
– For some years the department’s requirements for new motor vehicles have been considerably in excess of the vehicles available on the market with the result that the department is gravely short of essential vehicles. Suppliers can now meet the department’9 requirements, and large orders have been placed for new vehicles. Of the orders placed for vehicles during the last financial year, vehicles to the value of £250,000 were not delivered or paid for at the 30th June last. Orders totalling £550,000 have been placed since the 1st July last making a total of £750,000 to be paid this year for the department’s requirements to the 30th June last. The balance of £250,000 is in respect of requirements for the current financial year and it is expected that the whole of that sum will have been expended at the 30th June next.
– Having regard to the shortage of dollars about which we have heard so much, I should like to know what classes of vehicles will be purchased by the department.
– No expenditure of dollars will be involved. All payments will be made in sterling for vehicles that will bo built in .Australia.
– When replying to a question that I asked on Friday last, the Postmaster-General said that the department expected to install at least 90,000 telephones during the current financial year. Can he inform the Senate whether that number of installations will overtake the lag in respect of applications that have already been made for new telephones?
– Assuming that the requisite buildings, materials and man-power are available and that the scheduled 90,000 telephones are installed, a lag will still remain. The experience of the department since the end of the war has been that applications for telephones are constantly increasing. However, the present lag will be considerably reduced, and should sufficient materials, manpower and buildings he available, any lag existing after the 90,000 telephones have been installed will be overcome much more rapidly.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £2,915,000.
– No allocation is shown in respect of the installation of television and frequency modulation broadcasting services. I should like to know whether provision is made elsewhere in the Estimates for those items.
– No provision is being made for the installation of television broadcasting services.
– What about frequency modulation broadcasting?
– Frequency modulation broadcasting services have already been initiated in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney.
– The sum of £125,000 is being allocated for the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. Of that sum., an amount of £2,500 is being provided for extra duty pay. As that board has just been formed and is still organizing its services, I am a little curious to know what need exists to make provision in respect of such an item.
– During the initial stages of the board’s operations a good deal of overtime will be worked.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £1,395,000.
– The allocation -for the Northern Territory is £358,200 greater than the actual expenditure incurred during the last financial year. The Northern Territory has for a long time been regarded as the Cinderella of the territories of the Commonwealth and I am sure that no honorable senator will cavil at the proposed increased expenditure. It is necessary to develop the territory not only in the interests of our general economy, but also from a defence point of view. I notice that under the heading of general services the permanent staff is being increased by fourteen, of whom six will be cadet surveyors and three will be cadet draftsmen. I endorse that provision. However, only one additional officer is being appointed to the animal industry section. In view of the importance of the territory in the production of meat, that provision seems to be rather niggardly. I also notice that five additional prison guards are being appointed. Does that provision reflect an increase of crime in the territory?
approves of the increases of staff to which, he has referred. Generally, they reflect the progress and expansion of the work that is being carried out in the territory. The additional prison officers are needed because of the greater population.
– Provision is made under Division 242, “ General Services “, for £12,000 for the destruction of dingoes. Last year, the vote was £6,000, but the actual expenditure was £9,520. I should like to know whether this increased expenditure indicates that the dingo pest is increasing in the Northern Territory. What form of destruction is being carried out? Is this money to be expended on a subsidy to scalpers or is the dingo destruction corps in operation in the Northern Territory?
– I should like to know what bonus is paid per scalp of dingoes destroyed in the Northern Territory, and how many scalp3 were returned last year?
– The vote indicates that the dingo pest is increasing in the Northern Territory. However, steps are being taken to deal with this pest. A reward of £1 a head is paid for the destruction of dingoes. The sum of £5,000 is being made available for aerial bait-dropping campaigns
– Does that mean that more than 9,000 dingoes were destroyed last year?
– No. The total sum expended on the destruction of this pest last year was £9,520. That included expenditure on aerial bait-dropping campaigns.
– Under the heading “ Other Services “, the sum of £100,000- is provided for “Aboriginal Affairs - Maintenance”. Last year, the vote was £55,000 of which £53,420 was expended. Therefore, this year’s provision represents a substantial increase over expenditure last year. There is also an increased vote for “ Payments to
Missions for Aboriginal and part Aboriginal Welfare “. The vote last year was £17,000, but this year £36,000 is being provided. I assume that this money is being handed over to the missions to meet the higher cost of living, and to provide increased amenities. I should like to know what is the purpose of the £100,000 to which I have referred. Is it to provide extra food, blankets, and general amenities?
– The money is being made available in conformity with the general policy of the Government to improve the conditions of the aborigines. The £100,000 will be expended on the general welfare, education and protection of the aborigines.
– I draw the attention of the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) to the provision of £1,000 last year for a nutrition survey of the Northern Territory. Of that sum £994 was expended. No similar provision is made this year. As nutrition plays an important part in the prevention of disease, I should like to know why no money is being voted under this heading for expenditure in the current financial year. I should like to see a report of the survey.
– The survey for which £1,000 was provided last year was completed. It was a comprehensive survey of nutritional needs in the Northern Territory and was made by Commonwealth officers. The report on the survey has been published, and I shall be pleased to make a copy available to the honorable senator. It contains a number of useful findings. It is not necessary, of course, to repeat that survey. The matters examined included soil deficiencies, transport difficulties, deterioration of green vegetables, &c. The honorable senator will appreciate that once recommendations on those matters have been made, it is not necessary to repeat the survey annually.
– -Is attention being given to whatever deficiencies the survey revealed ?
– Yes. The authorities who conducted the survey have drawn attention to the need for better refrigeration on ships carrying vegetables around the coast from Western Australia, and also to the desirability of better transport facilities generally. Steps are being taken to rectify those matters. The survey revealed that residents in some parts of the Northern Territory were not receiving the full benefit of the normal vitamin content of the foods that they were consuming. The first problem of course, in these matters is to ascertain the fault, and the second problem is to correct it. Frequently it is much easier to find the trouble than to remedy it. Vast distances have to be covered in the Northern Territory. For instance, the transport of food from Adelaide involves a long train journey to Alice Springs, and then a long run by road up through Tennant Creek to Darwin. It is only natural that perishable foodstuffs will deteriorate and lose some of their virtues on a journey such as that. I assure the honorable senator that adequate attention is being paid by the Department of Health to the needs of the Northern Territory. Provision is also made in this year’s vote for health surveys. We have a body of exports surveying the whole field of tropical diseases, and checking health precautions at aerodromes. A team of experts is engaged on a survey of leprosy amongst the natives. Clearly, the Government is not neglecting the needs of the Northern Territory. I may add that we are also taking very definite steps to correct deficiencies in the medical services there. I refer particularly to deficiencies in the numbers of trained personnel. We have been able to secure a skilled surgeon from England, and we have adequately strengthened medical services, particularly in Darwin. We have hospitals at Tennant Creek, Katherine, and Alice Si) rings. Having regard to the great difficulty in attracting trained personnel in the different professions to these areas, great progress has been made in the provision of improved medical facilities for the people of the Northern Territory.
– Do the health surveys include an examination of school children, with particular reference to the food that they eat?
– Yes. I can assure the honorable senator that particular care has been taken in that direction. Officers of the Australian Institute of Anatomy who conducted the survey, spent many months in the Northern Territory. They revisited the territory during different seasons to investigate the varying climatic conditions. I shall be happy to provide the honorable senator with a copy of their report which gives an excellent impression of the thoroughness of their work.
– I notice that the vote for “ Aboriginal Affairs - Maintenance “ is £100,000 this year compared with £55,000 last year. Does that mean that the Government is accepting the responsibility for providing additional food, clothing and blankets for the aborigines? I ask that question because I have travelled fairly extensively in that country and have had some contact with the aborigines there. The unfortunate aborigines have been driven into the remote portions of the Northern Territory, where food is not plentiful, and their general living conditions are far from good. Most of the aborigines in the far north live in a state of semi-nudity. They have no blankets and no permanent place of abode. They live a tribal existence and are on the move all the time. I trust that the proposed increase will provide sufficient to enable the natives to live in settled communities rather than to have to continue their present, nomadic existence.
– The increased vote is made up in part as follows: -
The cost of rationing aborigines has been assessed at 16s. a head, which i3 based on a diet scale recommended by the authorities in Canberra, who. recently carried out a dietetic research of native requirements in the Northern Territory. The expenditure included in Item 2 of section C is in furtherance of the Government’s policy of improving the economic status of aborigines. Settlements in the Northern Territory will be devoted to the rearing of stock and training of natives in station work while the saw-milling project is being operated at Melville Island. The Government is making a determined effort to improve native conditions generally in the Northern Territory.
.- Division 246, “Other Services “, contains the following item : -
Can the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna) furnish any information concerning the number of lepers in the Northern Territory and the steps that are being taken to eradicate the deadly disease from which they suffer.
.- The item
Covers the maintenance of hospitals. I referred a short time ago to the hospitals at Darwin, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Alice Springs. It also covers the cost of maintaining the labour stations at Channel Island and of the station which it is hoped to establish at Melville Island. The most recent statistics of the number of lepers in the Northern Territory, who are being treated on Channel Island puts the number at from 90 to 100.
– Is the number of lepers under treatment decreasing?
– No ; it is increasing, but fortunately the reason for the increase is not disturbing. Some time ago, as the result of the use of a new drug in the treatment of leprosy, from seventeen to twenty natives were discharged as being in a safe condition. Most of the patients on the island are aborigines, there are only a few halfcaste and white men. When the aborigines who had been discharged returned to their tribes, the other members of the tribes realized that they could be cured of the disease if they attended voluntarily for treatment. Previously whenever any medical parties had gone looking for them the afflicted natives had gone bush “ and their relatives had conspired to hide them. It is a good thing to know that the natives are now realizing that they can obtain early treatment for their complaint and that they are now coming into the mission stations. I have spent many hours on Channel Island, and unfortunately, the conditions are not the .best imaginable. The station is erected on an island that is about 14 miles from Darwin. It has no natural supply of water, and except in the rainy season, water has to be carted to the island. The facilities for treatment and the amenities generally for patients and staff at the settlement have been improved considerably since 194S. The tobacco ration has been increased, bioscope entertainment has been provided, electric light has been installed on the island, and better accommodation generally is available for patients and staff. The lot of the nursing sisters and of the nuns at the mission station has been considerably ameliorated. However, the Department of Health is not yet happy about the settlement, and it plans to utilize a much more suitable site on Melville Island, which is about 60 miles from Darwin. The utilization of that island will require the construction of wharfs, the making of air strips and the provision of numerous buildings, and we are dependent upon the Department of Works and Housing for the completion of that work. As that department has a very full programme of work in the Northern Territory, some time will probably elapse before it can complete the work required by the Department of Health on Melville Island. The site chosen is good and has an ample natural supply of “water. In addition, natives will be able to live fairly natural lives and the island will provide facilities for them to “ go walk-about “. They will be able to eat native food and live a normal native existence. I am glad that the honorable senator raised the matter because it has enabled me to give the Senate an idea of the important work that has been done >by the Department of Health in the Northern Territory.
– I refer to Division 242, “ Other Services “, item 6, which shows that a sum of £35,000 is to be provided for “ Mines Branch, maintenance of batteries and ore samples “. Does that mean that prospectors in that area who find lodes and bring in samples are to be assisted?
– I regret that I cannot supply at the moment the information sought by the honorable senator, but I shall obtain it for him. However, I think that the answer to his question is in the negative. My understanding is that apart from the provision of general assistance to prospectors no ‘ special assistance is provided to prospectors in the Northern Territory.
– Division 243, “ Other Services “ includes the following item : -
In 194S-49 the amount lost on the conduct of hostels in the Northern Territory amounted approximately to £20,000, and the fact that the Government has budgeted for an increased loss of £5,000 calls for some explanation.
– The occupants of the government hostels in the Northern Territory are public servants, and like the hostels in the Australian Capital Territory the hostels in the Northern Territory are operated at a financial loss, because it is not practicable to charge the. occupants the full tariff that would be necessary to cover the cost of providing the service.
– The hostels will be permanent ?
.- Adverting to Division 242, “ Other Services “, item 6, will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior ascertain whether any prospectors in the Northern Territory receive assistance. Does the Government intend to assist prospectors in the Northern Territory? I point out that many of them are living under most unsatisfactory conditions. Many of them have to subsist on kangaroos, birds, birds’ eggs and lizards. I have received a letter from a prospector in the Northern Territory asking for government assistance. He states that he has discovered a copper lode, and he wishes to know whether the Government will assist him financially.
– Provision is made for the Maranboy battery and Tennant Creek central battery and the Mines Branch in the Northern Territory. I am unable to answer the question raised by the honorable senator offhand, but will make inquiries of the Minister for the Interior and inform the honorable senator in due course.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Australian Capital Territory.
Proposed vote, £1,127,500.
– Division 250, “ Other services “ contains the following item : -
Canberra has grown so rapidly that it has now become quite a city, and whilst for a long time it was administered solely by the Department of the Interior, the department is now assisted by an Advisory Council, which is not, of course, a full civic authority. I have before me the report that was furnished by Mr. H. J. R. Cole, Town Clerk of Hobart, about the civic administration and the propoasl that there should be established a city council for Canberra. The report is very illuminating and contains sound, recommendations based on common sense. Will the Minister inform me whether this report has yet been considered by the Government and whether we may expect that a city council similar to the councils that operate in other Australian cities will function in Canberra in the not far distant future.
.- I understand that the Cole report has been brought to the notice of the Advisory Council, and that it will be considered at the next meeting of that body.
– Does the Minister suggest that the Advisory Council would advocate its own abolition?
– I agree that advisory councils do not generally do that, sort of thing. The proposed vote of £850 includes allowances of £100 per annum for each of the three elected members of the council and minor expenses including rental of accommodation for council meetings, telephone calls, and stationery. Additional provision has been made to defray the expenses of an election this month.
.- The proposed vote for rabbit and dingo extermination in the Australian Capital Territory, under Division 250, “ Other Services,” is £11,000. Expenditure under this heading in 1948-49 was £10,717. I point out that, by comparison with the Northern Territory, the area of the Australian Capital Territory is very small. In fact, I think one could claim that its area would not exceed the area of an average horse paddock in the Northern Territory. Will the Minister dissect the expenditure in 1948-49 and inform me of the expenditure respectively for rabbit destruction and dingo extermination? Is a bonus system, similar to that prevailing in the Northern Territory, in operation in the Australian Capital Territory? If so, what amountis paid for each scalp? What is the method of destruction of rabbits and dingoes in the Australian Capital Territory?
.- The proposed vote of £11,000 covers the wages of rangers stationed throughout the Australian Capital Territory who are employed on the destruction of rabbits, dingoes, and other noxious animals on unleased Commonwealth lands, roads, plantations, reserves, &c. Because of the inability of the Department of the Interior to secure wire and wire netting there has been increased rabbit infestation of the territory lands, which has necessitated the employment of additional men in connexion with destruction work, in order to minimize infestation of leased lands. Additional rangers are being employed to deal with the menace on Commonwealth lands and leased holdings where it has been necessary to take over the destruction, because of the inability of the lessees to obtain labour. A charge, of 6d. an acre a year is made for this service.
– Are the rangers paid wages ?
– I understand so.
.- The proposed vote .for 1949-50 for the maintenance of parks, gardens and recreation reserves, under Division 250, “Works Services”, is £140,000. Will the Minister inform me whether the proposed vote includes provision for the payment of wages? How many gardeners are employed on this work?
– With the steady improvement in the man-power position due to the influx of displaced personnel, it is expected that arrears of maintenance work will be further overtaken during 1949-50. It is proposed to maintain parks, gardens, and recreation reserves at an improved standard and to meet the expansion that has taken place because of residential and business development and in connexion with Commonwealth establishments. As honorable senators are aware, Canberra is growing rapidly, and a considerable amount of work under this heading is entailed.
– I refer to the proposed vote of £13,000 under Division 250, “ General Services “, in respect of the loss on the city omnibus service, for payment to the credit of the Australian Capital Territory Transport Trust Account. Although the vote for 1948-49 was only £8,000, an amount of £28,000 was expended under this heading. Will the ‘Minister advise me what steps are contemplated to overtake the loss on operation of this service? As the proposed vote is less than half of the expenditure in 1948-49, evidently some steps have already been taken to reduce the loss.
– The proposed vote provides for an amount to be transferred to the Australian Capital Territory Transport Trust Account towards meeting anticipated loss on the operation of the city omnibus service in 1949-50. As the honorable senator is probably aware, fares were increased recently. The cost of repairs has risen during the last few months. Unlike many cities, Canberra is widely dispersed, with the result that the costs of operating an omnibus service are heavy. However, every effort is being made to bridge the gap, and to provide a more efficient service.
– I refer to the proposed vote of £15,500 for the conveyance of school children, under Division 250, ‘ “ Education “. Will the Minister inform me whether it is the practice to convey all children to school? What is the longest distance that children are conveyed to school ?
– The proposed vote for 1949-50 is greater by £3,199 than was the expenditure in 1948-49. This has been occasioned by the necessity to’ meet higher costs of travel and to provide for additional services to outlying areas, as well as additional and extended services within the city area, consequent upon the city’s progressive development. As new suburbs come into being the omnibus services are extended. The children pay a flat rate fare of1d., irrespective of mileage.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Papua and New Guinea.
Proposed vote, £3,634,000.
.- I should like the Minister to supply me with information relative to the proposed vote of £100,000 for the restoration of plantations, land and roads, under Division ‘253, “Miscellaneous Services “. It appears also that there was a vote of £20,000 in 1948-49 in connexion with agricultural potentialities survey with the British Overseas Food Corporation, but no expenditure under that heading was incurred. I should like an explanation of this also.
– Although a deputation headedby Mr. Turner carried out preliminary work in connexion with the proposed survey, very little action has so far been taken.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Proposed vote, £4,500.
, - I refer to the proposed vote of £500 for library, services under Division 255, “ Miscellaneous Services “.
– That expenditure arises from the purchase by the National Library in Canberra of books for Norfolk Island.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Second Schedule agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without requests; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determination by the Arbitrator, &c. - 1949 - No. 79 - Actors and Announcers’ Equity Association of Australia.
Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act - War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal - Report for year 1948-49.
Commonwealth Public Service Act Appointments - Department -
External Territories - L. T. Gleeson.
Interior- J. I. Brett.
Labour and National Service - J. C.D. McDonnell.
Repatriation - P. M. McMicking, M. F. Stephens, S.R. Tooth.
Supply and Development - K. A. Townley.
Dried Fruits Export Control Act - Twentyfifth Annual Report of the Dried Fruits Control Board, for year 1948-49, together with Statement by Minister regarding the operation of the Act.
Norfolk Island- -Report for year 1947-48.
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Australian Capital Territory Soil Conservation Council - Second Annual Report and Statement of Receipts and Expenditure, for year 1948-49.
Sugar Agreement Act - Eighteenth Annual report of the Fruit Industry Sugar Concession Committee, for year ended 31st August, 1949.
Senate adjourned at 10.47 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 25 October 1949, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1949/19491025_senate_18_205/>.