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Thursday, 14 July 1921


Senator WILSON (South Australia) . - When one faces his constituents, the first question he has to answer is, ' What is your policy ?" I have listened with interest to the various speakers for the last two days, and have come to the conclusion that the only pronounced Free Trader in the Senate is the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Gardiner). Before the elections the Government promised to introduce a scientific Tariff to assist the development of our secondary industries, and one that would not be a burden to the producers of Australia. In listening very attentively to the lengthy and interesting speech delivered by Senator Gardiner, I could not help wondering how he could favour the policy he enunciated whilst he remained an advocate of a White Australia, because, in countries that are not very distant, men and women are labouring under conditions repugnant tothe Australian people, and underFree Trade they would be our competitors. We all realize the burden which the war has cast upon us, and our responsibilities and liabilities must be met by increasing production, which can only be done under a reasonable policy of Protection. During the discussion honorable senators have been asked whether they are Free Traders or Protectionists, and in case some honorable senators may be somewhat impatient, I may say, believing as the Minister (Senator Russell) stated, . that this is a scientific Tariff, that I am a " Scientific Tariffist." I intend to support the Tariff; but at the same timethere are many items which will have tobe carefully considered on their merits, irrespective of whether the duties imposed favour the policy of one party or the other.

During the present session frequent reference has been made to the taxation, imposed and the action of profiteers. A few days ago I was charged with being a representative of the profiteers.


Senator Gardiner - The honorable senator did not deny it.


Senator WILSON - I did not think it worth while, because, . if the profiteers wore looking to me for support they would not receive much encouragement. During the last few weeks I was informed that a wealthy gentleman, who is temporarily residing in Australia, is taxed in Great Britain to the extent of 16s. in the £1.


Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator might have informed him that we would not charge him as much in Australia.


Senator WILSON - He could not bring his capital here, as it is invested in property.


Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - He could dispose of his property and invest his capital in. Australia.


Senator WILSON - He is a representative of the Home authorities, and, perhaps, that would be impracticable. Australia's success depends largely upon what she produces, and our industries must be protected in such a way that they will be adequately assisted. Naturally, when the schedule is under consideration different opinions will be expressed; but I am not likely to support heavy duties on tools of trade or any articles that are necessary in producing from the soil. The primary producers are now asked to pay a considerably higher wage than was the case five or six years ago; but while they are getting an- adequate return for the money paid I do not think they will complain. In addition to high wages, men are working shorter hours, and now a rural workers' log has been submitted. If the rates suggested in. that log have to be paid it will be the death knell of many primary industries, because they could not possibly carry on. I direct attention to the condition of cur dairymen. How can we expect that industry to develop under working conditions of eight or nine hours per day? As a matter of fact, if a man desires to be successful inthe dairying industry, he must be prepared to work fifteen or sixteen hours a day.


Senator Bakhap - And nearly all the members of his family as well.


Senator WILSON - That is so. A man, with a family is entitled to the fullreward of his labour every time. In addition to the shorter hours now worked) in the various industries, there is the further handicap that the labour return is not so good as it was five or six yearsr ago, and, in addition, the primary producer is up against the difficulty caused; by dearer money. Very few are working entirely on their own capital. As a general rule, they have to pay6½ per cent, or 7 per cent, for borowed money, as compared with 5 per cent, a few years ba.ck.


Senator Vardon - We are all in the same box.


Senator WILSON - No doubt, but the honorable senator can pass his increased working costs on to somebody else, whereas the farmer has to sell in the markets of the world, and, in addition to higher working costs, shorter hours, and dearer money, he is face to face with a declining market for his products.


Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -brockman. - And seasons are uncertain.


Senator WILSON - In the State from which I come we are fortunate in that respect, and can expect a reasonable return, though occasionally, like other, parts of Australia, we are subject to droughts.

I agree with other honorable senators that we ought to have the Tariff Board Bill before us at the very earliest possible moment.


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If it is ever coming.


Senator WILSON - We live in hope, at all events.


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - No.


Senator WILSON - If that is the case, then we shall know what to do with this Tariff. We ought, at least, to have that Bill before we deal with the Tariff, so that we may give an intelligent vote on the various items. I have endeavoured to. make myself conversant with working conditions in this country, and I know that the overhead burdens on industry are becoming increasingly heavy as the result of action that has been taken by the various unions connected with them.


Senator Reid - Are you referring to the four-fifths principle?


Senator WILSON - I am pleased that principle has been abolished. It should never have been adopted. I refer particularly to the reduction in working hours in many industries from forty-eight to forty-four per week, because the economic effect of this reduction upon the industrial position of Australia is most important. At Cockatoo Island Dockyard, for instance, just to mention one industry, employing, I suppose, about 2,600 men, the reduction of hours from fortyeight to forty-four per week means an absolute economic waste to the Commonwealth of over £70,000 per year. Unless we are prepared to work reasonable hours in all industries, we can never expect to build up our economic position, and meet competition from overseas: One of the biggest contractors in Australia told me recently that a few years ago the men employed in an industry in which I am financially interested shifted, on the average, 4 tons per day per man for a wage of 10s. per day, and to-day, for 14s. per day, they shift only 2£ tons per man per day.


Senator Gardiner - Would it surprise you to know that, according to Knibbs, the production in the factories of theCommon wealth ' to-day is infinitely greater, per head than it was six years ago ?


Senator WILSON - It would noi surprise me in the least, because the value of products has gone up at least by 60 per cent, in recent years.


Senator Vardon - That estimate, therefore, is based on inflated figures.


Senator WILSON - The honorable senator is quite right. Senator Gardiner might repeat this statement about the increased production in our factories to people who would take it as they would a sugar-coated pill. Those of us, who, unfortunately, are interested in some of these industries, realize that there is a practical side to that statement as well.


Senator Gardiner - Even after you took part in an investigation into the working conditions of Cockatoo Island Dockyard, you had no occasion to report that there was any "go-slow " method about the men there.


Senator WILSON - In our report concerning Cockatoo Island Dockyard we stated we had no evidence of the adoption of the " go-slow " principle. It would be very difficult, indeed, to get evidence of that nature, particularly in connexion with a public concern. I speak of personal knowledge concerning this matter, when I say that the labour return for a higher wage is not so good as it was a few years ago.


Senator de Largie - What industry are you referring to?


Senator WILSON - I om referring to a big industry, handling stone in South Australia.


Senator Reid - Have you improved facilities for carrying on the work ?


Senator WILSON - Certainly ; but all that goes by the board, and so the position is worse than it appears to be.

Senator Gardinerspoke about the growth of our cities, and I say, unhesitatingly, that the party to which he belongs is largely responsible for this condition of affairs. Our cities are growing, but conditions in the country are not so satisfactory. In our cities men work only eight hours per day, and they drop the pick quick and lively on the stroke of 5 o'clock, whereas in the country a man who desires to make good gets up at 6 o'clock in the morning, to feed his horses, works all day, and at 9 o'clock at night is feeding his horses again. We who are interested in primary production know that these are the factors that are eating the heart out of industry, and retarding the development of Australia. We must wake up to the fact that our primary industries must be developed to a greater extent than at present. Seven or eight years ago, persons engaged in the currant industry were able to employ boys and girls, during the holiday season at Christmas time, for 4s. or 5s. per day for currant picking, but this is not possible to-day. Boys may be no longer engaged, although it is only boy's work. The producer is compelled to pay union rates of 12s. 6d. per day, and directly a man comes on to a property he is under the union log as to conditions and wages, starting at 8 o'clock in the morning and knocking off at 5 o'clock at night. Last year when a storm threatened to destroy the currant crop in one of our settlements representations were made to the men as to the necessity for working overtime in order to prevent economic waste, but the union decided that no overtime would be worked. While such conditions obtain we cannot expect men with capital to risk their money in these industries. It is our duty to assist our primary producers to* the fullest extent possible, by means of this Tariff, so that we may develop our rural industries and insure a greater production of that wealth which has to carry the burden of taxation.

I regret that I cannot declare, for the advantage of my many friends, whether I am a Free Trader or a Protectionist. Instead of doing so, I shall content myself with saying that I intend to deal with the Tariff in accordance with the best interests of Australia. I hope that we shall be able to make the best possible use of one of the finest countries in the world, as God intended us to do.


Senator Gardiner - Does the honorable senator favour a reduction of the duties upon farming machinery.


Senator WILSON - I have already said that I do.


Senator Gardiner - I want the honorable senator to say it clearly.


Senator WILSON - My honorable friend is so accustomed to speak in ambiguous terms that I quite understand the difficulty which he experiences in appreciating my candid statement that I shall assist the primary producers of this country to obtain their tools of trade at the lowest possible price. At the same time we must not forget the need which exists for protecting industries that are already established in our midst. A Free Trade Tariff, of which we heard so much yesterday, will not hold water. In New Zealand there is practically a free Tariff.


Senator Gardiner - No. New Zealand is a Protectionist country.


Senator WILSON - Agricultural machinery is admitted into New Zealand free of duty. As a matter of fact, it is more expensive to purchase a harvester there to-day than it is to purchase one in Australia. Why ? Because we have encouraged the development of the agricultural implement making industry in the Commonwealth. ' It is due to the thrift of the persons who have embarked upon that industry that our farmers are able to obtain their machinery to-day cheaper than that machinery can be purchased in New Zealand.


Senator Gardiner - Mr. Gregory says the very reverse.


Senator WILSON - I can assure Senator Gardiner that my statement is perfectly accurate.


Senator Gardiner - I shall supply the honorable senator with Mr. Gregory's figures to-morrow.


Senator WILSON - I shall be pleased to have them, and I hope that, in the interests of the primary producer of this country, the honorable senator will assist me to secure a reduction of many of the duties which have been imposed under this Tariff. The farmer, the grazier, and the fruit-grower will be pleased indeed to know that Senator Gardiner is willing to aid me in the matter. It is rather encouraging to find that Queensland has something of which she has reason to be proud: - I refer to the banana industry. Personally I am opposed to placing a duty upon a fruit which has become almost a food for the child life of this country.


Senator Crawford - What about a duty of 3d. per lb. upon currants ?


Senator WILSON - It has always been my aim to prevent my children from eating that sort of fruit. But bananas are practically a food for children, and until the representatives of Queensland can satisfy me that that State is able to supply Australia with bananas at a reasonable price, I shall not be prepared to protect the industry to the extent which has been asked. Queensland will not buy my vote by offering to sell eighteen bananas for ls. for the brief period of a month or six weeks.


Senator Crawford - A great State like Queensland does not do that sort of thing.


Senator WILSON - But the middlemen who handle its fruit are keen enough to do it, even if the growers are not.


Senator Crawford - There are a lot of unscrupulous people in the South.


Senator WILSON - Yes, in the South of Queeusland. Any honorable senator who considers the Tariff items without paying due regard to the requirements of our people will utterly fail in his duty to the Commonwealth.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a. first time.







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