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Thursday, 11 August 1921


Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - I do not think that all-night sittings will assist our progress with the Tariff, and although we have not got as far as we should have liked to-day, I suggest it would be only fair to report progress now. The supporters of the high duties ask why the consumption has not been overtaken, and why the duties have not enabled the manufacturers to succeed. I remind honorable senators that Australia has been federated for only twenty years, and that Victoria, which was then the one Protectionist State, imposed a duty of only 15 per cent, on woollen goods. At that time Victoria was competing against Great Britain and all other countries which desired to get control of her market. The wages and conditions in Great Britain then were, as Senator Guthrie has said, and as most of us know from experience, much inferior to those in Australia. Furthermore, the freight on raw material from Australia to the Old Country is now three times what it was prior to 1902. It will be seen that the Victorian manufacturers were Competing against the British manufacturers under most disadvantageous conditions. What did Federation do for the woollen industry? The only Protectionist colony in Australia a little more than twenty years ago was Victoria.


Senator Reid - Queensland also.


Senator LYNCH - At any rate, Victoria was regarded as the Protectionist State, and the rate of duty imposed upon imported British woollens was only 15 per cent. That was inadequate, bearing in mind the conditions under which Australian manufacturers had to contend with outside competition. Wages are now becoming equalized all over the world. Mr. Ambrose Pratt, in his publication, uses a new phrase when he states that there is an international labour charter to-day. At the time in question, however, wages in England were from a third to one-half of the rates paid in Australia, which fact reveals that the local manufacturers had to fight fierce competition, and were scarcely able to hold their own. When Federation was accomplished, the Victorian Tariff was adopted, and the duty remained at 15 per cent. The difficulties with which Australian manufacturers had to contend were not lightened. The 1908 Tariff provided the first attempt to place the woollen manufacturing industry of the Commonwealth upon a fair footing. The duty was raised to 25 per cent. That marked the point from which the industry began to hold its own. From 1908 to 1914, when the war broke out, the young industry was given a chance to overtake local consumption. Manufacturers had only five or six years in which to perfect their organization, set up plants, meet the worldspread competition, and overtake local consumption. The brevity of that period really explains why the Australian demand has not yet been filled. Now comes the question whether the present duty is fair. Under the conditions, and in all the circumstances, I hold that it is. At any rate, it is one which should be given a fair trial before a heavier impost is placed upon imported woollens. I am prepared to make due allowance for the war period, and for the disturbing effect which it had upon production and consumption. Parliament is endeavouring to frame a Tariff which will cover the transition period during which conditions are sliding down from abnormal to normal. It would be wrong to place an exaggerated value upon the conditions pertaining to the war years. To do so would lead Parliament, perhaps, to cut down the degree of protection to a dangerous margin. The best authorities concerning whether the duty hitherto ruling was fair or insufficient are the manufacturers themselves. What do they say? One of the leading Australian woollen manufacturers - Mr. Vickers, of New South Wales - stated in the course of a public speech about the beginning of last year that the time was fast approaching when the manufacturers of woollen goods in this country would overtake consumption. He said so without asking for increased protection.


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When Mr. Vickers made that remark the British duty was 30 per cent., and it had been so since 1914.


Senator LYNCH - If such is the case, my argument is to some extent weakened. Possibly Mr. Vickers had in mind the lower rate of duty. Certainly, he would not go out of his way to state that the imposition of 30 per cent, was unduly high, even although, in his heart, he might feel that it was. At the same' time, there are the statements of witnesses called before the Inter-State Commission, not one of whom asked for an increased duty. Before I record my vote I desire information from the Minister (Senator Russell) or some one else concerning the "hard times" the factories of the Commonwealth experienced prior to the imposition of the higher duties. We shall then have an opportunity of balancing those arguments against the statements submitted by Senator Guthrie, one of which was to the effect that a comparatively small mill-owner in Geelong had made a fortune of £680,000. We hear on one hand that struggling millowners have been driven into liquidation or that they had such a bad time that they could not carry on profitably, and on the other that huge fortunes are being made. I do not wish to do anything which would press unduly upon these men, and I would like some information before a division is taken.


The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - The honorable senator's time has expired.

SenatorPRATTEN (New South Wales) object of the duty of 45 per cent, under the general Tariff is to prevent the importation of German and Japanese products.







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