16th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. J. Cunningham) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I have before me a number of very interesting publications dealing mainly with the war, and they are profusely illustrated. Will the Minister for Information inform the Senate whether these have been distributed by his department, and to whom, besides members of Parliament, they have been distributed?
SenatorFOLL. - The pamphlets have been issued by the British Department of Information and a large number of them have been sent to Australia. They have been distributed by my department on behalf of the British Department of Information. I cannot give, offhand, the names of those to whom they have been sent, but I can say that a large number of persons, other than ‘members of Parliament, have received them.
– Will the Minister for Information inform the Senate as to who accompanied him on his recent trip to the Netherlands East Indies and Malaya, what was the total cost of the. trip, what was its object, and whether any benefit accrued from it?
– I was accompanied by representatives of various Australian newspapers, who had been invited to visit the Netherlands East Indies and Malaya by the Governments of the Netherlands East Indies and the Straits Settlement. I cannot inform the honorable senator as to the cost of the trip, because, being a guest, I was not so discourteous as to ask our hosts what expenditure had been incurred in connexion with the visit. The invitation was extended to the whole party by the Governments of the countries visited, and I am hopeful that before long the Commonwealth Government will extend an invitation to representatives of our friends and allies in that part of the world to visit Australia.
– Is the Minister representing the Minister for Air aware that a number of airmen have received serious injuries as a result of crashes in machines in which they have been flying, andhave lain between life and death for some weeks without their next-of-kin being notified? Will the Minister take steps to sec that in such eases the nextofkin are immediately informed?
– The custom of the Department of Air is to notify the nextofkin as quickly as possible when such accidents occur. If the honorable senator will bring special cases to my notice I shall undertake to place them immediately before my colleague the Minister for Air, so that they may be investigated.
– by leave - I move -
That leave of absence for one month be granted to Senator E. B. Johnston on account of ill health.
I have received a letter from Senator Johnston, and also the following certificate from Dr. Basil Williams, of Macquarie-street, Sydney, which Senator Johnston desires me to read to the Senate -
This is to certify that SenatorE. B. Johnston is suffering from acute bronchitis and is advised to rest for a month completely, and is unfit to attend parliamentary duties for this period.
I was travelling with Senator Johnston in Tasmania recently in connexion with the work of the Joint Committee on Rural Industries when he was taken rather seriously ill through a bronchial cold.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– I have received from Senator Ashley an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “The delay of the Government in granting permission to
Mr. D. A. Craig to establish a refinery for the treatment of crude oil, petrol and bitumen
.- I move-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till to-morrow at 10 a.m.
– Is the motion supported ?
Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion,
– I wish to draw the attention of honorable senators to the delay occasioned by the Government in. granting permission to the company in which Mr. Craig is interested to establish an oil refinery in New South Wales. The original application was made some three years ago. Honorable senators will recognize that if the establishment of the refinery was highly desirable in a time of peace, it is doubly necessary to establish it under war-time conditions. I am not concerned about the financial circumstances of the company. That is a matter for the Government itself, because the Capital Issues Advisory Board and other authorities can investigate it. I am, however, concerned about the necessity for the establishment of this industry for the production of petrol and bitumen from crude oil. The company renewed its application some months ago, but the request has been bandied about from cabinet meeting to cabinet meeting. During the last Parliamentary sittings this matter was raised by Senator Keane, and we were then informed that the Cabinet was dealing with it. It was admitted by the then Minister for Supply and Development (Senator McBride), on behalf of the Government, that some delay had occurred, and that an injustice had been done to the company. Apparently the Government has not yet arrived at any decision in this matter, for I was informed yesterday, in reply to a question, that the matter was still before cabinet. I understand that some difficulty arose with the Capital Issues Advisory Board in relation to deferred shares in the company, but I understand that that matter has now been adjusted to the satisfaction of the Government. If that be so, I cannot understand the reason for not giving to the company permission to go ahead.
The establishment of an oil refinery in Australia by this company would be of enormous assistance to both primary and secondary industries, particularly in view of the fact that petrol rationing is in operation. I do not say that some form of petrol rationing was not necessary, but I do not agree with the ruleofthumb methods which have .been adopted. Almost daily I receive complaints - and I have no doubt other honorable senators do also - of interference with industry and essential services because of inadequate petrol supplies. I have brought a number of cases of hardship before the Minister concerned, and am glad to know that many of them have been rectified. One case was that of a carrier who was carting silica, which is an essential ingredient in the production of steel. This man’s supply of petrol had been so reduced that he would have been compelled to relinquish his contract had not his ration been increased. Only this week I received a complaint from a man who was carting pit timber for use in mining operations, and I was able to have his claim adjusted. These, however, are only a few of the many complaints that I have received. Petrol rationing has caused great inconvenience to men on the land situated 20 or 30 miles from a town. In some instances they do not get sufficient petrol to ena’ble them to obtain necessary supplies. To-day, as the result of the war, a number of small companies are establishing their own petrol-producing plants. Last week I visited one such plant at Mittagong, involving the use of high temperature carbonization, which has been started by Peters American Delicacy Company Limited. In various parts of New South Wales and other companies are operating, but almost every conceivable obstacle has been placed in their way. I do not blame the Commonwealth Government for all the difficul ties that have been encountered for the State Government must accept its share of responsibility for what has taken place. Surely people who are pioneering the production of fuel oil in Australia should be helped rather than hindered. The Mittagong company to which I have referred pays a royalty of 1s. 9d. a ton of shale to the owners of the land on which it is operating, and a similar royalty to the lessee of the land. It also pays 4d. a gallon to the owner of the process which it is using, and, in addition, it has to pay 4d. a gallon excise to the Commonwealth Government. That tax should he abolished. That shale being used at Mittagong is of somewhat inferior quality, and will produce only about 40 gallons of oil to the ton. In this country there are enormous deposits of shale, and the people who are prepared to pioneer the production of oil from shale should be given every encouragement, as, should their efforts prove successful, the petrol obtained would be of great value to both primary and secondary industries, to say nothing of its value in the event of Australia being blockaded by an enemy. The importance of the establishment of a central refinery in New South “Wales can scarcely he overestimated. I mention New South Wales because in that State and in Tasmania are the largest shale deposits in Australia. The absence of a ‘central refinery makes it necessary for every company engaged in the production of petrol from shale to establish its own distillery at a cost probably as great, or even greater, than that of the plant required for the treatment of crude oil. The pioneers of this industry deserve better treatment than has so farbeen given to them.
Since the commencement of the war the price of bitumen has increased from about £7 a ton to approximately £15 a ton.
– There is practically no importation of bitumen.
– That is so. Evidence tendered before the Tariff Board showed that bitumen could be produced in Australia and sold at about £6 10s. a ton, less than half the present price.
– Is the honorable senator prepared to guarantee sales at that price?
– I have quoted from the report of the Tariff Board, an instrumentality that is recognizedby the Government.
– The Tariff Board did not report that bitumen could be produced in Australia at £6 10s. a ton.
– That price was given in evidence before the Board.
– Who said that bitumen could be produced in Australia at £6 10s. a ton.
– The Minister will have his opportunity later to refer to this matter. A representative of the Department of MainRoads, New South Wales, in giving evidence before the Tariff Board said: -
In giving evidence in favour of tariff assistance another witness stated : -
It is considered that the price of £6 10s. could be maintained in the face of reduced prices for products other than bitumen obtained in the refining process, as increased output would enable prices to be kept down.
In answer to the interjections of the Leader of the Senate I can cite no higher authority than the Tariff Board.
– The Tariff Board does not state that bitumen can be produced for £6 10s. a ton.
– Evidence was given to the board that it could be produced at that price. There are many interesting features of the Tariff Board’s report. One in particular, bears out the contention of honorable senators on this side of the chamber that the Government is dictated to by the major oil companies.
– The honorable senator does not believe that.
– Honorable senators supporting the Government make no attempt to hide it. The Shell Company of Australia Limited, which is one of the major oil companies and which opposed the granting of tariff assistance to the producers of bitumen, demands cash for petrol supplied to resellers, yet I have been informed that the same company made a loan of £50,000,000 to Germany just prior to the outbreak of war. Is it because the company is afraid the British Empire will lose the war that it demands cash for petrol supplied to resellers? What has been the attitude of the major oil companies in regard to the petrol rationing scheme? What assistance have they given to this nation in its time of peril? ls it not a fact that when they were asked to assist this Government and the nation by building up reserves of petrol they neglected to do so? Is it not also a fact that the intensified restrictions which have been imposed on the use of petrol to-day have become necessary largely as the result of the failure of the major oil companies to build up these reserves! The whole history of the petrol rationing scheme in Australia does not reflect credit on the Government. Is it not true that the major oil companies, which have preyed on the people of this country for many years, demanded guarantees from the Government in respect of any reserves which they might establish? I would have no objection to the granting of guarantees if the major oil companies had played their part in the war effort of the nation, but they have not done so. When the new cartel system was about to be formed, the major oil companies advertised extensively suggesting to their clients the advantage of storing petrol, not with the object of building up reserve stocks of petrol to assist primary producers and the industries of this country, hut in order that, when the cartel was formed, they would be able to produce figures to show that they should get a larger quota than the independent companies. Since the commencement of the war the price of petrol in Sydney has been increased from ls. 9d. to 2s. 6d. a gallon. Of that increase, the major oil companies receive 4d. Since the introduction of the rationing scheme the normal consumption of petrol has fallen from 30,000,000 gallons a month to 12,000,000 gallons a month.
– The extra 4d. a gallon received by the companies is less than the added cost of petrol to them as the result of the war.
– The honorable senator will be given an opportunity to refute my statements if he can. The major oil companies are making greater profits to-day than they made when users were able to secure their normal requirements of petrol. I shall endeavour to show why the major oil companies are now making larger profits.
– Would the honorable senator pit his judgment against that of the Prices Commissioner, who knows the facts?
– I shall not be guided by the Prices Commissioner.
– Will the honorable senator be guided by the facts?
– Yes, and I shall give some of the facts. It is admitted that the consumption of petrol in Australia, to-day is being reduced to 12,000,000 gallons monthly. That is the objective being aimed at by the Government. Various excuses have been advanced from time to time in order to justify the rationing of petrol. First, we were told that petro] must he rationed in order to conserve dollar exchange. Then, the reason given was that insufficient tankers were available to bring our normal requirements of petrol to this country. At that time, however, a fleet of tankers was lying idle at Singapore. The real reason for the introduction of the present scheme of petrol rationing will possibly be revealed when a full inquiry is made into the interests which are now pushing the sale of producer-gas units. Let me analyse the increase of 4d. a gallon now received by the major oil companies. As a tanker holds 3,000,000 gallons of petrol, an increase of 4d. a gallon works out at a total increase of £50,000 on a tanker of petrol. As most of these companies own their own tankers, 1 fail to see how they are faced with any additional charges in respect of transport. I admit, of course, that something must be allowed in respect of increased insurance risks, but, after apportioning £10,000 in respect of that item, which is a very high estimate, the major oil companies a.re receiving an additional £40,000 for every tanker of petrol brought to Australia. Thus, they are better off financially under petrol rationing than when they were supplying our normal petrol requirements. Further, each company does not bring its tankers to its own particular depots. For instance, if a tanker is about to arrive, say, in Fremantle, it unloads its petrol at that port whether it be Texaco, Vacuum or ‘Shell petrol. Actually, therefore, one grade of petrol is being handled, and let me say in passing that it is a very poor grade that is now being retailed to the Australian public.
– If the honorable senator has not given us any other facts, that, at least, is a fact.
– The overhead costs of the oil companies have been reduced by 50 per cent. They have taken their travellers off the roads, and have ceased advertising. To-day, wo do not see in the press, or hear over the air, advertisements ‘ of the various oil companies, which, before the introduction of petrol rationing, were to be seen and heard everywhere. In view of this reduction of their overhead costs in relation to their increased profits, it must be admitted that the part that these companies are playing in our war effort, when the nation is in peril, is most discreditable to them.
– The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– I regret that this matter has been brought up in the Senate to-day because, as honorable senators are aware, it is now under the consideration of Cabinet, and thus, at this juncture, I am unable to make as full and complete a reply to the honorable senator as I should like. Mr. Craig made his application for protection of bitumen manufactured in this country, in the first place, to the Tariff Board. That was before the war. I can well imagine that in peace-time such an industry would probably have been very well worth fostering. In any case, in normal times, it would be a matter almost entirely for the determination of the Tariff Board, because over a long period of years governments have established the practice of accepting the recommendations of that board on matters of this kind which are referred to it for investigation. Unfortunately, however, we have since become involved in war, and what in peace-time may have seemed to be a very desirable industry, must now be examined from an entirely different angle. Further, with the progress of the war, a considerable change has taken place in the attitude of the Government towards the establishment of industries generally. That, of course, is due to the fact that, apart altogether from the economics of a project, we must now decide whether or not it is necessary in order to make our war effort as a “whole more effective. Consequently, an entirely new set of conditions has arisen since this application was first referred to the Tariff Board. We are gradually, though not too gradually, increasing our war effort. Indeed, some competent people have said that, in view of our limited resources, we are working with surprising rapidity. One of the responsibilities with which this Government is charged is to decide first of all whether we are capable of maintaining at peace-time level many of the industries which have been established in time of peace. Then, we have to decide what industries that we now lack are necessary for the full development of our war effort. It is on that basis, in a general way, that the question of establishing the bitumen industry in Australia has to be considered. The honorable senator mentioned certain figures in regard to bitumen. Of course those figures were submitted before high costs were incurred owing to increased transport and other charges. I do not think that the honorable senator himself would suggest that the company could operate on the costs originally submitted to the Tariff Board. He must recognize, as I am sure the promoters of this company do, that owing to the large increase of the costs of raw material, whatever manufacturing costs might be, the price of the resultant product must be very substantially increased.
– Would not the Tariff Board take that into consideration at the time?
– I am sure thai the Tariff Board took into consideration all evidence submitted to it, but unfortunately this is a progressive matter, and what may be entirely correct at one point. may change very rapidly as the war proceeds. It is well known that freight charges, insurance rates, and other such costs are continually increasing as the difficulty in obtaining shipping space becomes more acute. Consequently, it cannot be suggested that bitumen produced to-day could be sold at the price originally submitted to the Tariff Board. Another point which we must consider is that the proposition is based on the assumption that the raw material would be obtained from the United States of America. That, of course, would involve us in dollar exchange liability, whereas a great proportion of the bitumen brought into this country recently was obtained from sterling countries, thus avoiding increased dollar exchange commitments. Another factor which is of some importance is that considerably less bitumen is now being used than was used in peace-time.
– It cannot be obtained.
– It is not a question of obtaining the material, but of developing only the roads and highways required for strategic purposes. The normal peace-time roadmaking programme has been abandoned, and consequently the large quantities of bitumen previously required are not now necessary.
SenatorFraser. - That is not altogether correct-
– I suggest that it is a fact. Since this matter has been allied with one particular person, the Senate is entitled to know something about that person whose interests have been advocated so strongly by Senator Ashley.
– I said nothing about the person concerned.
– The honorable senator mentioned Mr. Craig by name.
– He applied for permission to float a company.
– That is just what I am saying. It is well that the Senate should be informed in regard to the proposition made by that person. When Mr. Craig, in collaboration with Mr. Watson, made an application for permission to form a company, he claimed that he had a tie-up with a certain Californian company for the sup ply of raw material. He laid great stress on the necessity for such a tie-up, and suggested that a company would be greatly handicapped in this country without some security in regard to the supply of raw material. Unfortunately for Mr. Craig, the tie-up which he had at the time of his application has been discontinued.
– I am just giving the facts, and in this case one fact is that Mr. Craig no longer has a tie-up with that company.
– People are not prepared to hang around for twelve months.
– That may be the cause, but the fact remains that Mr. Craig does not now have that tie-up. Secondly, Mr. Craig claimed that he also had a tie-up with another company named the Signal Oil Company, and I understand that that arrangement also has been departed from. It can be seen, therefore, that the advantageous position which Mr. Craig claimed to be in when his application was first made no longer exists. Furthermore, it is well that the Senate should know the type of prospectus which was submitted to the Capital Issues Advisory Board along with the application. The suggestion was that it should be a company of 390,000 shares of £1, which would be offered to the public, and 200,000 deferred shares of1s. Obviously that suggestion would not appeal to a competent Capital Issues Advisory Board.
– That has been varied.
– Whatever alteration has since been made, that was the original proposition. I suggest that the proposal savours very much of company flotation by promoters who are not concerned in the national interest, but rather are anxious to get a rake-off for themselves. Strong objection was taken to that aspect of the matter. The honorable senator claims that the proposal has been varied, but I have no information in that regard. I know that Mr. Craig was written to and asked to put up a new proposal, but I was informed to-day by my officers that no other proposal has been received from him. Whatever the facts’ may be in that connexion, the conditions which I have outlined were contained in the original proposal, and it was in these circumstances that the Capital Issues Advisory Board refused the application in November of last year. Mr. Craig was not prepared to accept that refusal, and he then applied to the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden). Since then, a good deal of discussion has taken place in respect, to this matter but, owing to the changed conditions in which we find ourselves in this country, what may have been desirable in peace-time may very well be regarded as completely undesirable in war-time.
– Was that the guiding factor in reaching a decision?
– As I mentioned to the Senate earlier, a decision has not yet been reached.
– The Capital Issues Advisory Board made a decision and a recommendation.
– The board made a decision on the prospectus submitted with the application. I know from my experience in connexion with the establishment of munitions factories that, during this critical period, many factors occur which’ cannot be ignored. Owing to the extreme urgency of the situation and the continued drain on our resources, it is not possible for us to establish many factories which in peace-time might be considered desirable. For instance, the company which it was proposed to float would require a great deal of plant and we should have to look very carefully into our material and engineering resources to ascertain whether, in view of our more urgent munitions requirements, we could allow such plant to be made available. I have in mind a project which was only recently considered by the Government, and which it had to turn down completely on the score that it could not reduce- productive capacity for the manufacture of the necessary plant because the available man-power was needed for the production of munitions. Honorable senators will realize that the Government has a considerable number of projects in view, including its shipbuilding programme, which is throwing on our engineering resources a great strain, which we are trying to relieve by the expenditure of large sums of money in setting up government factories. I repeat that the matter raised this afternoon is still under the consideration of the Government. I have endeavoured to indicate to honorable senators some of the factors which must receive serious consideration before a final decision can be reached.
.-I listened with interest to the speech by the Minister for Munitions (Senator McBride), and agree that the circumstances in regard to this application are substantially as has been stated by him. When it was represented to Mr. Craig that the original prospectus provided for the issue of 200,000 shares at1s. each, he said that that could be completely eliminated, because he was anxious to get on with the work. The Capital Issues Advisory Board has on three occasions authorized the issue of deferred shares by other companies. Craig had a connexion with two oil companies in the United States of America and on three trips to America he expended £5,000. One of his engineers, when on his way back to Australia, travelled with Sir Norman Brookes of. Melbourne, and then an application was made by the group with which Sir Norman Brookes was associated in order to “ crib “ Craig’s oil supply. Another application then had to be made, and, when it went, before the Capital Issues Advisory Board, there was also an application by Sir Bertram Stevens, of New South Wales, who represented a group which 1 contend purloined Craig’s brain and organizing ability by taking from him his oil connexion. In certain correspondence which I shall give to the Minister, there is a statement in a letter written to the Signal Oil Company, in which that company was told “ not to waste its time with Craig, because he had no political pull “. The Minister will find something on the file to substantiate my remarks.
– The honorable senator does not suggest that anybody else has been given permission to undertake this work?
– I am suggesting that, if there had not been some intervention, the other company would probably have got away with Craig’s proposition.
Negotiations have been in progress for nineteen months, and practically every member of the Cabinet has had the matter placed before him. On three occasions, Craig was in a position to carry out his project, but under the law as it stands, a new company cannot be launched unless its formation is authorized by the Capital Issues Advisory Board.. With that legislation I am in entire agreement, but I suggest that muddling has occurred in connexion with this case during the last nineteen months.
It is claimed that Craig’s proposition is economically sound. Ordinarily, the policy of this Government has been to give effect to recommendations of the Tariff Board. The fact that the board reported in favour of the proposal is one reason why the Government should grant the company’s application. Another strong reason is that oil tankers are not readily available. Assuming that the application is granted, Mr. Craig will have to leave immediately for the United States of America, and he could do nothing in the matter unless a supply of tankers was assured. I suggest that Craig, not the Government, must accept all responsibility in regard to tankers. I have made at least five attempts to see the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) in regard to this matter, and I protest against the great difficulty which private members have experienced in interviewing the heads of rais and other governments. The Clerk of the Senate typed a memorandum which was sent to the ex-Prime Minister, seeking permission for me to interview him for five minutes, but five months elapsed before I was able to have a word with him. Ministers should see that their officers are instructed that senators and members at least should have priority of access to members of the Cabinet. The ex-Prime Minister undertook to consider this matter carefully. The Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) telegraphed to me yesterday as follows: -
Have perused file. Will submit application to my Cabinet to-morrow.
When Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited sought permission to increase its capital to £25,000,000, the Prime Minister, who was then Treasurer, lauded the efforts of that company in being able to enlarge its capital to that enormous amount, but, when Mr. Craig wished to do something on a much smaller scale, every possible obstacle was placed in his way. Despite the war, there is urgent necessity for the establishment in New South Wales of the proposed cil refinery. Senator Spicer knows that, with the discovery of oil in Gippsland, a refinery will be required there.
– A different kind of refinery altogether.
– No. Mr. Craig’s proposal was to bring crude oil from America, and refine it in Australia. There is every necessity for the establishment of the industry.
– Does the honorable senator suggest that it would be economic, to obtain tankers from America when the journey can be shortened by one-half by obtaining oil from the Netherlands East Indies?
– I contend that Mr. Craig’s proposal is economically sound. Crude oil could be obtained from America and refined in Australia, and the petrol that would be produced is badly needed in this country. The refinery could be adapted for the treatment of oil from the various oil shale fields in New South Wales. Therefore, the whole case in favour of the proposal is sound. It is regrettable that the matter has been bandied from board to board, from minister to minister, and even from Cabinet to Cabinet. There has been such a game of battledore and shuttlecock that it is not surprising that the applicant is sore over the matter.
– His application has been refused once.
– No. His application has never been withdrawn at any time, and the file of the Capital Issues Advisory Board should be examined to prove the correctness of my statement. The applicant persists in his original application, although the ex-Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) suggested that he should submit a new one.
– He is not prepared to give information that is asked of him, apparently.
– To the best of my knowledge, he has supplied all information that has been demanded.
– I have seen a draft of his reply, and am convinced that this protest to-day is justified. I hope that a decision will soon be arrived at.
SenatorFRASER (Western Australia) [4.6]. - This discussion to-day has given to honorable senators an opportunity to see the inner workings of the Capital Issues Advisory Board and also to discuss the report of the Tariff Board which inquired into the position of the proposed company. In the light of that report, which is dated the 8th May last, and of what Senator Keane has said this afternoon, it would appear that the Government has attached more importance to the evidence of the major oil companies than to the statements made by the applicants.
– No evidence was given by the major oil companies.
– That is not so. The Tariff Board inquired into the position of the proposed company.
– And it has submitted a report.
– I do not hold any brief for these people, but I do say that the Tariff Board submitted a report on the evidence submitted to it.
– The Tariff Board does not take cognizance of the effect of the war on our economy. It is not asked to do so.
SenatorFRASER. - If that be the only reason for refusing the application, why the delay in arriving at a decision? Is it necessary to hold up the application for several months? The reasons for not granting the application are based on evidence submitted by the oil companies. The Minister referred to deferred shares in the proposed company. If the Government were disposed to refuse the proposed company’s application because of some difficulty in connexion with its deferred shares, the Government could have asked it to confine itself to certain requirements before the application was granted.
– The application has not been granted.
– It has not been refused. If the Government honestly fears that this proposed company may be a bogus concern, it is entitled to impose certain restrictions on the company. The
Minister also referred to the necessity for saving dollar exchange, but what has the Tariff Board to say on that subject ? The following extract from the board’s report hardly bears out the Minister’s statement : -
It is very doubtful whether the local production of bitumen would effect any saving in non-sterling exchange. The present tendency is for increasing proportions of bitumen to be imported from sterling sources and the indications are that any saving in non-sterling exchange now used for the purchase of bitumen would be counterbalanced, if not exceeded, by the non-sterling exchange needed for the purchase of crude oil.
That statement does not contain any reason for not complying with the company’s application.
– It is a factor which must be taken into consideration.
– Admittedly. This controversy has arisen out of the delay on the part of the Government in coming to a decision. What is the reason for the delay? I quote again from the report of the Tariff Board-
Reference has already been made herein to a suggestion on behalf of the Shell Company of Australia Limited that it should be left to the cartel companies to decide when a refinery or refineries for the production of bitumen in Australia should be established and that outsiders should not be permitted to enter the business. The Board has not taken any cognizance of the suggestion in its consideration of this question, nor does it offer any comment thereon. It regards the matter a.’ one of policy for determination by the Government.
I have a suspicion that the evidence tendered by the major oil companies isthe reason for the delay in coming to a decision.
– If the company’s application were granted, would the honorable senator invite his friends to invest their money in this concern?
– That is not the point. I have risen in support not of the proposed company, but of a principle. 1 want to know the reason for the Government being unable to come to a decision in this matter. Senators Ashley and Keane have told us that, because of the delay on the part of the Government in coming to a decision after it had received the Tariff Board’s report, this man had lost his connexion with certain Californian companies. I regard the report of the Tariff Board as the opinion of an impartial body which has no axe to grind. After reading the Tariff Board’s report I am of the opinion that the Government has given undue weight to the evidence of the oil companies and has ignored certain references in the report. I wish to make it clear that I do not know this proposed company, and am not in any way connected with it; but I am convinced that the Government has left itself open to criticism because of its failure to come to a decision. I cannot see any reason why a decision could not have been reached long ago.
.- I should not have risen to participate in this debate were it not that Senator Ashley, in referring to the prices of petrol since the outbreak of Avar, made statements which are demonstrably false. In days like these, it is undesirable that an honorable senator, or indeed any person, should endeavour to create in the public mind the impression that large companies - oil companies and others - are making profits out of the war, which, in fact, they are not making. Senator Ashley said that since the outbreak of war the price of petrol had risen by 8d. a gallon. He conceded . that 4d. of that increase represented additional duties, but he endeavoured to have the Senate believe that a big proportion of the other 4d. found its way into the pockets of the petrol companies in the form of profits. The Joint Committee on Profits, of which I am the chairman, called before it the Prices Commissioner, who gave evidence on this very matter. In view of what has been said here to-day I propose to read to the Senate from the report of his evidence.
– When did the Prices Commissioner give evidence before the committee?
– He appeared before the committee on the 5th August last.
– Has there been any increase of the price of petrol since then?
– I do not think so.
– The honorable senator would do well to make inquiries.
– I am dealing with this matter as on the 5th August last.
Giving evidence before the committee, the Prices Commissioner said -
The price of petrol has risen by8d. since the outbreak of war. Of that amount, 4d. is additional duty which no one gets. I was astonished to read a statement by a responsible man that the8d. went to the oil companies.
– I did not say that 8d. went to the oil companies.
– I am reading from the evidence submitted by the Prices Commissioner who evidently had come across a statement as irresponsible as some of those which the honorable senator has made in this chamber to-day.
– I rise to a point of order. I did not complain when the honorable senator said that I had made statements which were demonstrably false, but I now say that his later statements also are offensive to me, and should be withdrawn.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown). - Strictly speaking there is not any point of order, but as Senator Ashley has objected to certain statements made by Senator Spicer, the remarks should be withdrawn.
– I had no intention to be personally offensive to any honorable senator, and if Senator Ashley objects to what I have said, I am willing to withdraw the remark. The Prices Commissioner went on to say -
The other 4d. is due to increased landed costs in the main, but not altogether. When I refer to landed costs I mean the average increase for all importations of petrol on landing in Australia. We have had a check made. Apart from the fact that we obtained returns from the companies, we know the gold price and the general changes of the cost of tankers and freight to Australia so we know that the landed cost in Australia should be going up by a certain amount. Having checked these returns we are satisfied that they are correct, and that the increase in the landed cost is in accordance with the figures given in them. I am not at liberty to say what is the increase in the landed cost, but I may say that when we allowed the rise of 4d. last March - before which date it was 3d. - the rise in the landed cost was at least 4d.
In other words, the Prices Commissioner said that the increased cost to the petrol companies was 4d. a gallon.
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable senator in order in quoting from a document which has not yet been submitted to the Senate and is not yet the property of the Senate ?
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Brown). - The honorable senator is in order.
– I rise to a point of order. I have no desire to create a difficulty for you, Mr. Deputy President ; but I think that it is most improper that this document should be quoted from by Senator Spicer. I submit that the matter should be given further consideration. The document is in the possession of Senator Spicer as chairman of a committee which is still sitting. Although a report has not yet beenpresented by the committee, the evidence tendered to the committee will be the basis of the report. As the report has not yet been submitted to the Government the evidence is still the property of the committee, and I doubt whether the honorable senator, as chairman of the committee, is acting rightly in reading it.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - I understand that Senator Spicer is quoting from evidence which is public property. If the evidence before the committee has been published, the honorable senator is in order in quoting from it.
– I rise to a point of order. Senator Spicer is quoting from evidence given by one person. The committee has not yet concluded its investigations. Evidence may be tendered to it subsequently which may justify the statements which I have made this afternoon and completely rebut the contentions advanced by Senator Spicer. If the honorable senator is in order it is at- least unfair that he should be permitted to quote from the document.
– It surprises me to find that honorable senators opposite should object so strenuously to what was a perfectly honest desire on my part to bring information before the Senate which seems to be material. I am merely quoting from sworn evidence of a responsible officer who is employed in the very important task of controlling and fixing prices in this country. A statement has been made in the Senate this afternoon which was intended to suggest that the major oil companies got, if not the whole, at any rate the major portion, of the increasedprice of 4d. a gallon.
– That is correct.
– I can see nothing objectionable in reading evidence given publicly by the Prices Commissioner.
– Has the honorable senator had the permission of the committee to quote it?
– The honorable senator has no right to use the document in this chamber.
– It is sworn evidence which is in my possession as chairman of the committee.
– The honorable senator is abusing his position as chairman of the committee.
SenatorSPICER. - Senator Armstrong also has a copy of the evidence. It has been published in the newspapers. Surely members of the Senate are entitled to have their attention drawn to sworn statements made by a responsible officer of the Government on this important matter.
– I rise to a point of order. I am still far from satisfied, and I have no intention of being satisfied until the position is cleared up. Senator Spicer says that the evidence which he is reading was given in public and in the presence of representatives of the press. If the honorable senator quotes from any document it is within the province of any honorable senator to rise in his place and demand that the document from which the honorable senator has quoted be laid upon the table and become the property of the Senate. So that it may not be further quoted from, I now propose to take action under the Standing Orders to have the document impounded.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Immediately upon the conclusion of the speech of an honorable senator an order may be made that any document from which he has quoted be laid upon the table of the Senate.
– I shall not occupy the time of the Senate on this matter at greater length than to quote a little more of the evidence. The Prices Commissioner continued -
The averaging system was still operating to give a price for petrol which was below the landed cost. Of the 4d., the oil companies got 3¾d. ; the other¼d. went to the reseller of petrol to increase his margin. The percentage profit margin of the oil companies is¼d. lower than it was before. There is also a reduced turnover, all of which means that the oil companies are now making substantially less than they were before the outbreak of the war.
– That has no bearing on the matter.
– It has a bearing on the comments made by Senator Ashley. If it has no bearing on the matter I am surprised that members of the Opposition should have been so assiduous in trying to prevent me from putting these facts before the Senate.
– . Standing Order No. 364 reads -
A document quoted from by a senatornot a Minister of the Crown, may be ordered by the Senate to be laid upon the table; such order may be made without notice immediately upon the conclusion of the speech of the senator who has quoted therefrom.
I now request that such an order be made, and that the document from which the honorable senator has quoted be now laid upon the table of the Senate.
That the document quoted by Senator Spicer during his speech be laid on the table.
Senator Spicer having accordingly laid on the table the document mentioned, viz. : -
Minutes of evidence before the Parlia- mentary Joint Committee on Profits.
– I support the motion so ably moved by Senator Ashley and supported by the members of the Opposition. I regard it as my first duty to deal with the proposition put forward by Senator Spicer. The Prices Commissioner did give evidence before the committee in Melbourne on the lines set out by Senator Spicer; but merely because he did so is no guarantee that what he said is correct. After all, he was expressing only his own opinion.
– Based on evidence.
– The Prices Commissioner, and many other learned gentlemen, expressed very definite opinions in 1931 concerning the financial proposals of the then Government. Today, the same gentleman, when giving evidence before Parliamentary committees admit that they were then not right. A little while hence, we may find that the evidence submitted by the Prices Commissioner or some other expert witness before the Joint Committee on Profits are not quite right. We have had evidence from statisticians to show that the cost of living in the United States of America has risen by about 2 per cent., but American information discloses that the cost of living in that country has risen almost out of control. So great has been the increase that legislation has recently been introduced into the Congress of the United States of America to peg commodity prices. Subsequent investigation frequently proves that figures submitted by experts to prove what they regard to be facts are often incorrect. The figures produced by the Prices Commissioner show that freights form a. very large proportion of the increase of the landed cost of petrol. But, actually, what is the position of the major oil companies in this respect? Figures have been produced to show that freight costs of these companies have increased by almost 32 per cent. I should say, that all of the tankers that are used by the Shell Company of Australia Limited, for instance, are owned by that company or chartered by it for long periods. Thus, any increase in respect of freight is merely a book entry, and like so many book entries, is used simply to mislead the Prices Commissioner.
I should like to deal with several of the points put forward by the Minister for Munitions (Senator McBride). I feel that the Government should have made a decision one way or the other. However, in this matter it has once more run true to its form of the last few years, and has again exhibited its incapacity to make decisions, right or wrong. Ministers appear to fear that as any decision they might come to might be wrong, they should come to no decision. Consequently, we have witnessed contradictory pronouncements on all matters of major importance. For instance, contradictory statements have been made from time to time with regard to petrol rationing. The
Government has no straight-line policy. Now, when it is asked to make a decision in respect of Mr. Craig’s application for permission to float this company, it is unable to come to a decision. It is- a sorry day for this country, particularly in a time of war, when the Government cannot come to decisions on important matters. I have no doubt that Mr. Craig would have been pleased to have got a decision favorable or unfavorable, twelve months ago. He would thus have been enabled to save, not only considerable time, but also a large sum of money, which he has been obliged to waste in endeavouring to force a conclusion, one way or the other. The Minister has failed to justify the extraordinary delay that has occurred in this matter. His main point was that special consideration had to be given to this application. He said that even some existing industries might have to be abandoned because they might not be deemed by the Government to be essential industries. We can understand that point of view, but when we hear so much talk of a total war effort-
– I did not mention total war.
– The Minister said that in view of the need to prosecute our war effort to the full, even some existing industries might have to be abandoned. If the term “ total war effort” offends the Minister, I substitute the term, maximum war effort; although I feel that it cannot rightly be described as such. The term is used purely as fodder for the newspapers. For instance, what percentage of the people one sees daily in Pitt-street and Martin-place, Sydney, is engaged in productive work? How many of them are still employed in parasitical occupations? If the Government were sincere in its talk of a maximum war effort it is time it transferred the thousands of able-bodied men and women, who are not yet engaged in productive work, to essential industries. Until it does so, it cannot say that it is making a maximum war effort. However, it has no intention of doing that, because such action would cut across the interests of certain of its friends. The Minister also said that, owing to changed circum stances, this proposed company could not now produce bitumen at the cost it originally claimed.
– I said that even Senator Ashley would not suggest that this proposed company could produce bitumen as cheaply to-day as it originally claimed it could.
– But is it not also apparent that the price of imported bitumen is increasing ? And does not that fact balance the increase of the cost of producing bitumen in this country? Indeed, it can safely be said that the cost of imported bitumen will rise much more rapidly than the cost of the local product. That must be so if we take into consideration only the war insurance risk now payable in respect of imported bitumen. The Minister also said that bitumen is not used nearly so much as formerly. I agree that that is so. However, if we made a maximum war effort in the direction of constructing strategic roads, we should require twice as much bitumen as we use in peace-time. Indeed, if we constructed only the strategic road connecting Darwin with the south of Australia, as it should be constructed, we should require all of the bitumen we could import, or manufacture, to-day. The final point made by the Minister was that Mr. Craig had refused to give to the Government information concerning the American contacts, from whom he was to obtain crude oil if given permission by the Government to import it. In view of the fact that during the .last nineteen months, two American business interests which were to supply the crude oil were lost to Mr. Craig, because of the vaccilation of the Government in this matter. Mr. Craig was justified in refusing to give that information. There was a danger that such information would be bandied around the corridors of Parliament, and other gentlemen might take advantage of it, as Sir Bertram Stevens and his friends took advantage of similar information twelve months ago. Thus, there was a danger that Mr. Craig’s project would have been undermined, or taken over by certain influential friends of the Government. The Minister also suggested that Mr. Craig’s proposal regarding deferred shares savoured of a rake-off. Mr. Craig’s commercial reputation is sound.
– Does the honorable senator agree with that prospectus?
– That proposal was made in connexion with Mr. Craig’s original application, but as Senator Keane has stated, Mr. Craig was prepared to abandon any right in deferred shares immediately he received the decision of the Tariff Board. I do not agree with large numbers of deferred shares being held in respect of any prospectus. However, Senator Keane has mentioned at least three cases of that kind in which the Capital Issues Advisory Board gave permission for the issue of capital. Therefore, the Government believed in deferred shares particularly, when there was no danger that the interests of the major oil companies, or monopolies, in this country would be affected.
– The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– in reply - I regret that Senator Spicer has left the chamber. He said that some of the statements which I made earlier were false. I have never made a statement, either in this chamber or on any public platform, which I did not believe to be correct. I am not in the habit of making false statements here or anywhere else.
– He did not say that they were deliberately false.
– He said that they were demonstrably false. I maintain that no answer has been given either by the Minister for Munitions . (Senator McBride), or Senator Spicer to my allegations. I still contend that, on the basis of an increase of income of 4d. a gallon, the major oil companies are making an additional profit of £40,000 on each tanker of petrol arriving in Australia, that is, after allowing a sum of £10,000 in respect of increased costs. However, as Senator Armstrong pointed out, the majority of the major oil companies own their own tankers, and, therefore, are not at the mercy of the shipping companies which have sky-rocketed freights. In those circumstances, the estimate of £10,000 in respect of additional transport charges is very liberal. I do not retract one word of my earlier remarks. These companies are receiving an additional profit of £40,000 on each tanker of petrol arriving in Australia. On the basis of a monthly consumption of 12,000,000 gallons, that represents approximately an increased profit of £160,000 a month. I do not know Mr. Craig personally, he is probably better known to the Minister, and other honorable senators, than he is to me. I met him on a couple of occasions, when he supplied me with certain particulars. However, apart from Mr. Craig, 1 was requested by an officer of the Government of New South Wales to endeavour to find out the reason for the delay in granting permission for the establishment of this industry. Naturally, I consider it to be my duty as a representative of the people of that State to ascertain the reason. It should be known to the Minister and to the Government. Yet, when I asked questions on this matter previously, the only . reply the Minister gave was that the Cabinet was still considering it. The Government should make a decision as soon as possible. Whether the decision does or does not favour the proposition is not the point. I want some finality in the matter, and so do those who wish to form a company. The information upon which I have based my case to-day is contained in the following statement: -
In October, 1938, Mr. David A. Craig returned from a visit to the United States of America with the object of establishing an oil refinery, having as its primary purpose the production of bitumen. Australia’s requirements of bitumen total 140,000 tons per annum, and it was with the object of meeting Australia’s requirements that Mr. Craig proposed the establishment of the oil refinery. Mr. Craig visited Canberra in October, 1938, and, during an interview with Customs officials, received encouragement in support of the establishing of the undertaking. During Mr. Craig’s visit to America, he interested certain independent American oil interests, who sent experts to Australia to investigate the proposal. These experts endorsed the soundness and economics of the proposal and their principals eventually decided to subscribe half of the required capital. In the meantime the Capital Issues Advisory Board was formed, and immediate application was made to it for consent to register a company. The fullest information was made available to the Capital Issues Advisory Board, and although no definite advice was received regarding their rejection of the proposal, it was ascertained from the then Treasurer (Mr. Spender) that the reason for the failure to grant consent was on account of the proposition being economically unsound. The American interests, after waiting many months to get approval, were so disgusted with the delay- that they withdrew from the proposition.
A second group of oil interests in America was then interested, who despatched experts to Australia. They also agreed as to the soundness of the proposition. The principals of the second group of American oil companies agreed to find capital and provide technical assistance and make available plans for the building of the refinery. They also undertook to make ample quantities of crude oil available.
The second group of experts who visited Australia happened to travel on the same boat as Sir Norman Brookes, and, as a result, Sir Norman Brookes was acquainted with the mission of the American technicians. As a result of Sir Norman Brookes’s interest in the proposal, Sir Bertram Stevens, former Premier of New South Wales, was introduced to the Americans, and Sir Bertram advised that Mr. David Craig had no political pull and therefore would never receive permission to form a company.
The American interests then called upon Mr. Craig and his associate in the venture, Sir John Butters, and inquired whether they were in a position to form the proposed company. They were forced to admit that the company could not be formed until such time as consent to register was obtained from the Capital Issues Advisory Board. The American interests then decided that Sir Bertram Stevens was the man who could get finality and an arrangement was made whereby Sir Bertram Stevens made an application to the Capital Issues Advisory Board for permission to register a company along lines similar to those originally submitted by Mr. Craig.
Within a period of four weeks, the application was granted, but was subsequently withdrawn when it was discovered that Mr. Craig, who had made a prior application, still had his application on the file and that it had not been disposed of.
Bound about this time, Senator McLeay, as Minister for Customs, referred the question relating to bitumen production to the Tariff Board for inquiry and report. The Board’s report, which was presented in June of this year, after a delay of seven months had elapsed, introduced the proposals of Mr. Craig, and substantiated all claims made by him. Since the presentation of the report in June last, most Cabinet Ministers have been interviewed in the vain hope that the new industry might be allowed to getunder way.
After the board’s report was received a letter was written to Mr. Craig from the Capital Issues Advisory Board, suggesting that he make a new application for permission to register and that the fullest information be furnished relating to the American suppliers of oil, the names of overseas firms likely to be interested in the proposal, so that the information could be made to the Oil Advisory Committee. As the members of that committee are associated with various interests associated with the oil industry, and naturally opposed to any new refinery in Australia, Mr. Craig declined to furnish the information sought and referred the Capital Issues Advisory Board to his original application. Had the Capital Issues Advisory Board not stopped the establishment of the refinery, production would have been commenced in November of last year, and the through-put of the refinery would have been 20,000,000 gallons of petrol per annum. Employment would have been found for 300 men and there would have been effected a saving in overseas exchange of over £1,000,000 per annum.
I have no personal interest whatever in this matter. “My only concern is that encouragement should be given to those who are trying to alleviate hardship caused by petrol rationing. The cost of providing retorts for the production of oil fuel from shale and coal would probably be double that of the plant necessary for this project. I ask the Government to give immediate consideration to this matter and to facilitate the inauguration of this industry in New South Wales.
– I rise to a point of order. During the period in which the Deputy President occupied the chair this afternoon, Mr. President, something occurred which will place a joint committee of this Parliament in an extraordinary position. Senator Spicer, the chairman of the Joint Committee on Profits, has had his copy of the evidence of that committee impounded. The file of documents contains information which he requires in order that the inquiries of the committee, may proceed. I should like to know what steps are necessary for him to regain the papers which have been laid on the table of the Senate.
– I understand that a document from which Senator Spicer was reading was, at the conclusion of his speech, ordered to be laid on the table of the Senate.
– Yes, the chairman’s copy.
- .Senator Spicer should be able to obtain another copy from the source from which the impounded document was obtained.
– But the documents included the chairman’s copy of the evidence given before the committee.
– The secretary of the committee has a copy.
– The chairman’s papers and records may differ from those of the secretary or of anybody else. It is a private record which is absolutely necessary for the conduct of the committee’s inquiries.
– I do not think that I can help Senator Spicer very much. He will be able to refer to the copy that has been tabled. Moreover, I understand that the document does not contain anything that has not been published.
Motion - by leave - withdrawn.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Navy has supplied the following answer : - 1 and 2. Mr. Kneeshaw is chairman of the Australian Shipbuilding Board, which functions within the Ministry of Munitions, and acts in a. purely honorary capacity.
Widows - Returned Soldiers’ Dependants
asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
Will the Government consider increasing the pensions of widows and dependants of returned soldiers, having in view the fact that the present rate was arrived at in 1918, when the basic wage was £3 per week?
– This question involves a matter of policy of some magnitude, and the subject will be considered in due course.
asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
What provision, if any, has been made to rehabilitate in civil life members of the Military and Air Forces stationed in Australia who have enlisted for full-time duty overseas or in Australia and have been discharged for medical reasons for which they have no responsibility?
– This matter does not primarily affect my department. I shall see that it is brought to the notice of the Minister for the Army and the Minister for Air respectively.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
Will the Minister take immediate action t” extend the provisions of the National Security (War Service Moratorium ) Regulations to provide adequate protection for relatives of deceased members -of the Defence Forces ?
– The Minister for Labour and National Service has supplied the following answer: -
It is not possible to furnish an answer to a question framed in such general terms, but, if the honorable senator furnishes the AttorneyGeneral with particulars of the matters in respect of which he considers the existing regulations inadequate, his representations will receive consideration.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice -
Will the Minister give consideration to extending to the Mercantile Marine a share of the funds collected by the various patriotic appeals so as to bring the Mercantile Marine into conformity with the other fighting services ?
– The Minister for the Navy has supplied the following answer : -
This matter has already been the subject of correspondence with the general secretary of the Australian Comforts Fund, who has intimated that the constitution of the fund limits its activities to the attention of the Australian Defence Forces on active service and that, under the circumstances, the fund is unable to assist men of the Mercantile Marine. The various patriotic funds in Australia have been established for the specific purpose of aiding men of the fighting forces by supplying additional clothing, comforts, &c, which otherwise they may have no opportunity of obtaining. It ls understood that in all principal ports in Australia institutes conducted for the benefit of visiting merchant seamen and maintained through the generosity of the public provide meals at a nominal rate and arrange for the entertainment of seamen while their ships are in port.
Motion (by Senator MoLeay) - by leave - proposed -
That the following signal be conveyed to the Men of Tobruk, through the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army : - “ The Parliament of the Commonwealth has placed on record its appreciation of your magnificently stubborn feat of arms. The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army, therefore, convey to you this Parliament’s congratulations on your most effective, gallant and courageous resistance. When the history of this war is written the epic of Tobruk will certainly be one of its most glorious pages.”
– I do not desire to oppose the motion, for I am rather in agreement with it, but, in my opinion, it is somewhat invidious to select one section of the fighting services for special congratulation to the exclusion of others. Whilst I recognize their wonderful gallantry, the men at Tobruk have been relieved from time to time. Other members of the Australian Imperial Force have been through the Libyan campaign and have also served in Greece and Crete.
– Did not the Prime Minister cover that ground in a statement made recently in the House of Representatives ?
– I am dealing with the motion now before the Senate, and, whilst I recognize, that the men of Tobruk have been through hell, it seems to be not in the best interests of the fighting services to select those men for special congratulation by this Parliament. I should like a message to be sent to the whole of the fighting services, recognizing their glorious deeds and paying a tribute to them for their gallantry.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Order of the Day No. 2 - International Affairs - Proposed visit of Prime Minister to London - Ministerial statementread and discharged.
Debate resumed from the 17th September (vide page 279), on motion by Senator Collett -
That the following paper be printed: - “ International affairs and the war - Recent developments - Ministerial Statement.”
– It has been frequently said that one of the difficulties of the Opposition arises from the fact that it is expected to oppose every proposal submitted by the Government. I have never conceived it to be my duty to adopt that policy invariably, and my brief remarks on this motion will be offered, not for opposition’s sake, but because, in my opinion, I am called upon to discuss the statement presented by the Minister (Senator McBride). Although I do not wish to be unkind to the
Minister, who was faced with the duty of reading the statement prepared for him, I do not think I can be accused of using extravagant language when I say that there was little of value to any of us in the statement. Practically everything in it had already been read by us in the press. It contained certain comments, which, of course, we could not have read, .but those were merely comments by officials. It seems to me that the statement would not have been presented to us except for the fact that the Government had no other business to place , before the Senate. I do not object to Parliament being called together, because it had decided to reassemble not later than the 17th September, but the Government should see that we have work to do when we meet.
I was delighted, as I am sure every other member of the Opposition was, to notice that Australia is extending its reciprocal diplomatic and trade relations with other countries. That is one of the most gratifying developments in connexion with the national Parliament in recent years. I welcome the fact because I have always held the opinion that along that pathway lies an immediate better understanding of other countries and their problems, as well as a better understanding on their part of us and our problems. Ultimately, the extension of our friendly relations will result, I believe, in such a wide acceptance of the principles of democracy and democratic institutions that we sha.ll approach nearer than ever to a state of universal brotherhood, and eventually achieve the complete outlawry of war.
I was interested in some of the remarks of the Minister regarding our relations with Russia. I was pleased to note the admirable references to the remarkable fight that Russia is putting up against the common enemy. .We all hope that its efforts, together with those of Great Britain and the great republic of the United States of America, as well as the other countries that are holding out in the hope of being able to render some assistance to the cause of the democracies, will be crowned with success. Our great need at the moment is additional allies. We should not imagine that, because a country may hold a certain political faith, it cannot render assistance to our cause. We in Australia stand for the British and democratic way of life, but we have no right to criticize another country’s way of life merely because it happens to differ from our own. I hope that ere long we shall see consular representatives of Russia in Australia, and that Australia will be similarly represented in Russia. We should do all we possibly can to promote friendly relations with the people of Russia, and with any other country that is prepared to join the democratic cause. While the present Government remains in office it should not attempt to fill in gaps by the introduction of statements of this kind which can be of no real value to the country. As far as the hurly-burly of politics permits, the Government should arrange that, when the Parliament is called together, business is placed before it.
– The statement under consideration contains nothing which has not already been published in the newspapers. In presenting a statement of this nature to the Parliament, the Government should, if possible, say something in addition to what we have read in the press. Everything in the statement has been most carefully censored by officials who, although responsible to the Parliament, are privileged to know a great deal more than are members of the Parliament itself. I wish to direct attention to what is said in this statement in regard to Russia -
In this connexion, there is apparently a certain amount of misunderstanding regarding Australia’s formal relations with the Soviet Union. The Government has received many representations suggesting that some specific step, such as exchange of diplomatic representatives with Moscow, should be taken to demonstrate our sympathy and moral solidarity with the Soviet Union in its present struggle. But the real position is perfectly straightforward. The King has been in diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union since 1924, and as is the case with every other European country, Australian representation in Russia is effected through the medium of the British Diplomatic and consular representatives.
Australia should have direct representation in Russia. If it is considered necessary to have direct representation in the United States of America, Japan, Canada, China and Great Britain, it follows that it will be an advantage to have direct representation in Russia rather than that our representation in that country should be through the medium of the British Diplomatic and Consular Service. Officials of that service are not responsible to this Parliament. If we allow such a position to remain unchallenged, these representatives, acting on their own responsibility and without any consultation at all with this Parliament or with the government of this country, may do and say whatever they consider fit, in the name of Australia. That is a most undesirable state of affairs, and this ‘ Parliament should not allow it to exist. Nor should it allow a statement of this kind to go unchallenged. If the British Diplomatic and Consular representatives wish to apeak in the name of Australia they should do so only after consultation with, and with the approval of, the Parliament of this country. The principle laid down here is one which Australia has challenged from its earliest days of settlement. We challenge a state of affairs which permits persons who owe no allegiance to Australia, and are not directly responsible to this Parliament, to make statements on behalf of Australia. I cannot see any justification for being satisfied with a state of affairs which means that Australia speaks only through the medium of the British Diplomatic and Consular Service. I suggest that that service represents interests which are not only different from, but in many important ways, are also in direct conflict with the interests of Australia. That is the only point in this statement to which I desire to direct attention; but it is a matter of outstanding importance.
I express the hope - it may be a vain hope - that in future we shall be told more about the war than hithherto we have been told in this Parliament. I have received communications from various sources which are most disquieting, in that they indicate that things are not going as well as ministerial statements would lead us to believe. The Government has nothing to lose by taking the Parliament into its confidence. “We have had secret sittings of senators and members, but most of what we have been told on those occasions had already appeared in the press. The fact is that this Parliament is subject to the control of the censors. That may be regarded by some as a statesmanlike attitude to adopt, but it is not very helpful, and the Government has no reasonable ground for objecting if suspicion which it finds hard to allay is aroused.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) agreed to-
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Wednesday next, at 3 . p.m.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– It is not my intention to anticipate the budget, but it will be generally conceded that when it is introduced the bone of contention will be matters of finance. For that reason, I bring to the notice of honorable senators some happenings at a recent meeting of the Loan Council, which was presided over by the Treasurer (Mr. Fadden). At the August meeting of the Loan Council Mr. Cosgrove, the Premier of Tasmania, moved -
In order to give effect to this policy in a practical manner, the Loan Council recommends to the Commonwealth Government the adoption of the following principles: -
Mr. Fadden, the chairman of the Loan Council, ruled the motion out of order, and that ruling prevented Mr. E. Dwyer Gray, the Treasurer of Tasmania, from saying all that wasnecessary. in supporting the motion of his leader. However, he did say -
I remind the Council, further, that at the Loan Council held in Melbourne, on19th January, 1940, I moved the following motion and received no support, namely:
An approximate amount of £42,000.000 being required this council advises the Commonwealth Government to make arrangements for an extension of national credit through the Commonwealth Bank solely of at least £15,000,000, the balance to be financed by a later public loan for war purposes only after effecting the arrangements with the trading banks suggestedby the State of Tasmania.
At present, the press of Australia is misleading the public as to what national credit really means. Recently, a Sydney newspaper took me to task. I put it down to the effect of an interjection by Senator Gibson, who admitted that paragraph 504 of the report of the Royal Commission on Banking and Monetary Systems stated that the Commonwealth Bank “ can “ advance interest-free money to the Government, but did not say that the Commonwealth Bank “ shall “ do so. Of course, the Royal Commission did not use the word “ shall “. What right has any commission to lay down the financial policy of the Government? The commission was engaged on an inquiry, at the termination of which it submitted certain recommendations. I wonder whether Senator Gibson, who is chairman of the Joint Committee on Broadcasting, would go so far as to tell the Government what it “ shall “ do regarding the future of the Australian Broadcasting Commission ?
– The committee will no doubt make recommendations.
– That is what the royal commission to which I have referred did. On the evidence presented to that royal commission, which was presided over by a judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia - a gentleman with a high reputation as an authority on constitutional matters - the commission reported that the Commonwealth Bank can lend money to the Commonwealth Government free of interest. The only objection to implementing that proposal is that the commission did not say that the Commonwealth Bank “ shall “ do so. That is an absurd argument.
– The honorable senator can lend to me money free of interest if he so desires.
– I remind the Minister that banks do not lend money at all ; they merely create credit out of nothing. It is time that the Minister either decided whether I am right or wrong, or held his tongue.
– What do the honorable senator’s colleagues think about his views?
– I do not intend to take any notice of inane interjections. At the last meeting of the Loan Council, Sir Harry Brown told that body that the Commonwealth Bank could advance £25,000,000 to meet the requirements of the States. Evidently, the Commonwealth Treasurer thinks that wars are won with money, but he should know that they are won by the issue of credit.
– They are won with arms and munitions.
– -The Commonwealth is spending thousands of pounds in an effort to convince the people of Australia that if they do not subscribe to war loans, the output of munitions will be adversely affected. Nothing could be more absurd. The total supply of gold in the world was estimated at, $14,000,000,000 in 1939. Most of that gold was held by the United States of America, Great Britain and France, although Belgium, Holland and other small countries held various small amounts. But theremarkable thing is that Germany. Italy and Japan had not gold resourcesequal to those possessed by the small nnation of Switzerland. Surely that proves that wars are not won with money. The Battle of Waterloo has not .yet been paid for. At the Loan Council meeting, Mr. Fadden made it appear that money had to be conserved in order that the war may be won. When Sir Harry Brown, who is a most capable man, told the Loan Council that the Commonwealth Bank “can” advance £25,000,000 for the requirements of the States, Mr. Fadden =aid: “No; we want the money for the prosecution df the war”.
– What did the Premier of Tasmania say?
– That is the trouble. We were let down by the :: heads”.
– The honorable senator should not get out of step with all of his colleagues.
– The people should know what national credit really means. Unfortunately, many members of Parliament have only a kindergarten knowledge of the subject. In trying to placate both Government supporters and members of the Opposition I am afraid the Treasurer will fall between two fires. For three years I have urged that greater use be made of the national credit of this country, and I have successfully challenged members of the Government to controvert my statements in regard to finance generally. Only by the use of the national credit will Australia be saved from financial failure and repudiation.
Senator CLOTHIER (Western Australia [5.37]. - To-day, in answer to a question relating to the pensions of widows and dependants of soldiers, I was informed that the matter was still under (he consideration of the Government. As honorable - senators are aware” the widow’s pension rate of £2 2s. a week was fixed during the 1914-18 war when the basic wage in most of the States was £3 a week. The cost of living has increased considerably since then. A recent award of the Arbitration Court in Western Australia fixed the basic wage in that State at £4 10s. 5d. In view of the greatly increased cost of living since the pension rate was originally fixed the
Government should see that a commensurate increase is made. I do not suggest that the increased rate should be based on the basic wage paid in Western Australia, but that it should be such as to compensate these unfortunate people for their added living costs. On the 2nd September at a meeting of the executive of the Soldiers’ Dependants Appeal, which is associated with the Western Australian War Patriotic Fund, the following resolution” was passed : -
That this organization make early representations to the Federal Government with a view to the pensions of widows and dependants being increased owing to the high cost of living.
These unfortunate people are unable to support themselves on a pension of £2 2s. a week. I appeal to the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Collett) to use his influence in the Cabinet to see that the pensions paid to the widows and dependants of ex-soldiers are more closely related to living costs.
– I desire to make a few remarks regarding the sustenance allowance paid to discharged members of the fighting forces and to draw attention to the unsatisfactory treatment meted out to some of these young men. Although the Government is giving consideration to this matter it does not appear to be getting anywhere. I wish to refer particularly to the plight of young men who joined the Australian Imperial Force and, after having served for a considerable time in Australia, particularly in Northern Australia, have been invalided home and discharged. They are given about a fortnight’s pay and are then left to look after themselves, even though their physical condition renders them unable to work. To give the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Collett), who is himself a returned soldier from the last war, some insight of the conditions under which these men exist to-day, I propose to read an extract from a newspaper report of a returned soldiers’ meeting which was held in Burnie recently. The report is as follows: -
At a meeting of the Returned Soldiers’ League at Burnie last night, concern was expressed at the plight of a soldier discharged as medically unfit after a year and 40 days’ service, most of which bad been spent in Northern Australia. It was stated that, because he had not served overseas, he was not entitled to sustenance, nor could he become a member of the league. He was in hospital as a result of an illness contracted while in the military forces as a member of the Australian Imperial Force, it was claimed. . . . The soldier was discharged with 12 days’ pay. . . . Several members said they understood that, in a recent announcement by the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender), it had been made clear that Australian Imperial Force men serving in Northern Australia were on the same basis as those who served overseas. They could not understand the local case in the light of that statement.
Mr. Weight. ; It is a disgrace. And we are appealing for recruits.
). - It certainly appears to be contrary to the Minister’s statement.
After seeing that report I made some investigations and ascertained that this man was regarded by the authorities as ineligible for admission to a Repatriation Hospital and had to be admitted to the Launceston General Hospital. Although he was very sick, he was compelled to travel across Bass Strait on a second-class pass whilst strong and healthy officers were allowed to travel first class. People complain that even sick soldiers are not allowed to travel first class because they might mix with the officers. I do not say that that is the reason why this man was given a secondclass pass, but I do say that it is scandalous that sick men should be denied the best of accommodation. If a man enlists in the Australian Imperial Force and before he’ leaves Australia has to be discharged on account of ill health, he should be granted sustenance on the same basis as that granted to those who are discharged after serving overseas. It is no fault of the soldier that the military authorities have kept him in Australia. The Minister for Repatriation said yesterday that sustenance of ?2 a week will be paid to cx-soldiers on their return from overseas if they are discharged physically unfit and - are unable to work. Sustenance on that scale is not always paid. Recently an ex-soldier approached me and asked me if I could find him a job. He told me that he was a married man with four or five children, and had just returned to Australia and had been discharged from the Army. He was in ill health and had been advised by his doctor not to work until he had regained his strength. This man was granted a sustenance allowance of 12s. 6d. a week, on which he was expected to keep himself, his wife and his family. He said that if I could find him light work he would sooner do it and die on the job than try to exist on 12s. 6d. a week. Feeling sorry for him, I succeeded in placing him in employment in a flax mill, where his services are giving satisfaction.
During the last few weeks, income tax has been deducted from the pay of mar 1’led soldiers, with three or more children, in military camps in Tasmania. Evidently the Commissioner of Taxation received from the Government instructions to take into account payments of child endowment. This action causes severe hardship. Privates with one child or two children, are not affected; but a private with three children pays from 2s. to 3s. a fortnight, whilst a man with six children pays about 10s. a fortnight. So far as I am aware, such deductions are illegal. The statement which the Minister made to the Senate yesterday may remedy the position, but I ask him to make further inquiries and ensure that all of the moneys which were illegally collected in this manner are refunded to the troops. In. addition, the men should not be under the obligation to make application to the department in order to secure refunds. Many of them probably threw away the stamps when they received them and the law provides that no refund shall he made unless the stamps are produced. .1 urge the Minister to give immediate attention to the subjects that I have raised.
– I realize what the matters to which Senator Aylett referred, mean to him, and 1 thank him for his interest in them. He may rest assured that those subjects that affect the Department of the Army will be brought to the notice of the Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender), and tha: other matters which concern my department will receive attention.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre- sented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determination by the Arbitrator, &c. - No. 23of 1941 - Australian Third Division Telegraphists and Postal Clerks’ Union.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at - Bairnsdale (near), Victoria - For Defence purposes.
Laverton, Victoria - For Defence purposes.
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act -
Ordinance No. 13 of1941 - Medical Benefits and Hospitals (No. 2).
Regulations - 194 1 -
No. 9- (Darwin Administration Ordinance ) .
No. 10 - (Motor Vehicles Ordinance).
Senate adjourned at 5.55 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 18 September 1941, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1941/19410918_senate_16_168/>.