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Thursday, 1 September 1921


Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) . - I strongly support the request which has been moved by the Minister (Senator Pearce). We recently agreed to a duty of 50 per cent, on sulphur with the object of protecting a by-product of the electrolytic zinc industry which has been established in this country. If a market were not created for that by-product it would be wasted, and it would be practically impossible to carry on the electrolytic zinc process here. Having gone so far, we must take a further step and develop a means whereby sulphur can be used with phosphatic rock in the production of superphosphates here. The Commonwealth has spent something like £1,500,000 on acquiring interests in Nauru and Ocean Islands for the purpose of developing the superphosphate industry here; but if the request is negatived, or even if the amendment which has been suggested by Senator Plain is carried, Japanese superphosphates will be brought in and render that impossible. At the time that we acquired Nauru the Japan ese secured a mandate over the Caroline , Islands, where there are also vast phosphate deposits, so that the Japanese are in a much better position than they were in before the war to compete with the superphosphate industry of Australia. They have immense deposits of sulphur, and by means of their cheap labour could but for our Protective duties place superphosphate on the market at a price that would render it impossible for the local industry to carry on. In that event we should get no return for the money that we have expended on Nauru and Ocean Islands. In addition to these considerations, we must have regard to the development of the production of sulphuric acid, which is the basis of the chemical processes of importance in almost every stage of manufacture. A supply of superphosphate is essential. We ought not to be compelled to depend for it on outside sources of which we might be deprived at any moment, either by a direct war with the people who produce it, or by a war with some other nation which would cut us off from our supplies. The last war enabled our superphosphate manufacturers to get a good start, and it would be suicidal now to allow the Japanese product to come in and destroy the industry.


Senator Wilson - Does the honorable senator really think that the Japanese could knock out the local industry?


Senator ELLIOTT - I do.


Senator Wilson - Does the honorable senator know that that is not the opinion of those engaged in the industry?


Senator ELLIOTT - I presume that this request has been submitted by the Minister at the instance of those engaged in the industry, and because also of a desire on the part of the Government to obtain some return for the money which has been expended by the Commonwealth on Nauru.


Senator Wilson - Does the honorable senator think that since the passing of the duties on sulphur the farmers have had an opportunity to put their case before the Government as fully as the local manufacturers of superphosphates have done?


Senator ELLIOTT ---I presume it is open to the representatives of the farmers to state their case to-night.


Senator Wilson - We shall have to state it.


Senator ELLIOTT - I would point out that every .thousand tons of superphosphate that is imported - directly deprives fifty men of employment, and indirectly throws twenty men out of work. If the imported article captured the market, the £600,000 invested in the industry have to lie idle. I do not know what is the annual consumption of superphosphates in Australia, but the figures I have given will convey to the Committee some idea of the number of people who are dependent upon the industry for a livelihood. The Australian manufacturers of superphosphates stood manfully behind the farmer during the war. They had a monopoly of the trade, and could have obtained high prices had they desired to do so.


Senator Wilson - Does the honorable senator know the extent to which they put up their price during the war ?


Senator ELLIOTT - They increased it to about £6 per ton, but in New Zealand the price went up to £12 per ton.


Senator Wilson - It was £4 10s. per ton before the war, whereas to-day it is £6 per ton.


Senator ELLIOTT - Our interests in Nauru have not yet been properly "developed; but I have no doubt that when the arrangements for bringing phosphates from that island are in full-going order, the price of locally-manufactured superphosphates will be reduced.


Senator Wilson - Before the local manufacturers were able to draw on Nauru, under the present arrangement, they charged only £4 per ton for their superphosphates; they now ask £6 a ton for them.


Senator Pearce - There was nothing to prevent them putting up the price to £12 per ton during the war.


Senator Wilson - Not if the Government chose to let them do so.


Senator ELLIOTT - The request submitted by the Minister, if agreed to, would still leave the Australian market open to competition from all parts of the British Empire so that there need be no fear of a local monopoly.







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