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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) (Minister of External Affairs) . - The position in regard to this measure is very simple. The Government is convinced that the development of the iron industry, and the manufacture of Australian iron from Australian ore, is a great national object worthy of considerable national sacrifices. We were prepared, and should to-day be prepared, if there were any possibility of success, once more to ask this House to vote the necessary sum by way of bounty in order to encourage and develop the industry, in the confidence that any expenditure of that kind would be repaid over and over again by the development both of one of our great natural resources and of the many industries depending upon it. Knowing that to be politically and practically impossible, the Government would have been content to allow the measure to be removed from the notice-paper, had it not been for the strong representations which have been made to us by those who are associated, and desire to be associated, with the development of the iron industry.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They did not know what this Bill means.

Mr DEAKIN - I beg to differ from the honorable member. I believe his constituents to be better informed with regard to the measure than he gives them credit for being, when he admits that he has letters in his pocket asking him not to do anything to impede the passage of the Bill.


Mr DEAKIN - This Bill.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - They think it means duties.

Mr DEAKIN - I am satisfied that they perfectly well understand that this Bill means duties when the making of what may be called raw material - although the first stage of manufacture has been gone through - has been sufficiently developed, when Australian iron from Australian ore has been manufactured sufficiently to enable the duties to be imposed without a serious disturbance of the iron market of the Commonwealth. They know that very well. I am in a position to say, also, that those who employ the ironworkers, whose capital is invested in the Lithgow ironworks, and those who propose to invest capital in other works, are perfectly well aware that this measure involves no immediate imposition of duties.

Mr Bamford - Then what will be the use of it? It will not help them.

Mr DEAKIN - The point is this : our object in bringing in this Bill, at this particular moment, is not due to any political motive; it has not been done of our own motion ; but in consequence of strong representations, both from those interested in the development of the iron industry, and from other channels. We are assured that this particular proposal will be of material assistance and encouragement to them. They believe, and I think rightly, that the tide of opinion in Australia is setting strongly in favour of the development of the iron industry. They believe that the encouragement will be given by higher duties hereafter. They believe that such duties will be given; but in the meantime they require some assurance that Parliament has not altered its mind, and that when a certain state of development has beenreached, this small but encouraging duty in VI. a will be imposed upon the articles which they manufacture. It is from those whose money is at stake today that we have had representations that the passage of this Bill will be of great advantage to them.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is this Bill a guarantee that the duty will be imposed?

Mr DEAKIN - I have said that they rely upon the opinion of Australia hardening in the direction of the encouragement of the iron industry.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will the honorable gentleman answer my question? Is this a guarantee that the duty will be imposed ?

Mr DEAKIN - It is, so far as this Parliament can give a guarantee affecting next session or the next Parliament. Of course, we cannot give a definite guarantee in regard . to any political proposal in the future. The course taken will depend upon the assent of representatives, who are responsible only to their constituents, or, if an election transpires, it depends upon the constituents themselves. Personally, I think that their confidence is well founded. That, however, is not the point. Having been asked to effect this small alteration in Division VI.a of the Tariff - an alteration whichthese people believe would confer a great advantage on them - what would have been the position of the Government had we refused to accede to their request? Should we not have been traitors, not only to the pledges which we have given, but to the great industry, the development of which we are so anxious to assist? In this Bill we are expressing what is practically the unanimous intention of this Parliament. I repeat that we should have been false alike to our pledges and our duty if we had not submitted this measure, even though we did not believe that it would prove as useful to those who desire it as they themselves believe. Personally, I am of opinion that their anticipations of higher duties are well warranted.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Were they aware of the nature of the alteration which the Minister has now made in the Bill ?

Mr DEAKIN - I do not know. They were not consulted as to the details of the measure. They merely asked for an assurance that, though a Bill authorizing the payment of a bounty upon the production of iron from native ores is not passed, and though neither the Commonwealth nor the State were prepared to undertake the nationalization of the iron industry, these duties in VI.a would be imposed if private enterprise developed the industry to such an extent as would justify Parliament in adopting that course. Having complied with their request, we have done our part. In taking another step to re-affirm the decision of a previous Parliament - as embodied in Division VIa. of the Tariff - that the iron industry is one of the most important in Australia and should be developed without delay, we have discharged our duty politically, as well as to those who are engaged in that industry.

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