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Friday, 6 July 1906

Mr ROBINSON (Wannon) .- The Attorney-General's reply to the remarks of the honorable member 'for Wentworth was characteristic. He at first denied that he had said that the tobacco combine controls 99 per cent, of the trade ; then he quoted from the majority report of the Royal Commission on the tobacco industry, and he wound up by declaring that it is true that the combine controls 99 per cent, of the tobacco trade. Thus, in a short speech, he went from "yes" to "no," and back to "yes." Let us' consider! what he referred to as the evidence upon which he based his statement. He had the effrontery to say that the majority report of the Commission is evidence df the facts which he alleged to exist. All that it is evidence of is the opinion of those who signed it. If we refer to the evidence attached to the report, to which he has not paid the slightest attention', we shall see that the facts are not as he has stated them to be. He knows that the four gentlemen who signed the majority report were pledged to the nationalization of the. tobacco industry before they accepted their commissions.

The CHAIRMAN - I understand that the honorable and learned member wishes to show that the tobacco combine is not a monopoly, and should not come within the operation of the clause. He will be perfectly in order in doing that, but I cannot allow him to discuss the report of the Royal Commission on the tobacco industry.

Mr ROBINSON - I do not wish to discuss the report. I am about to show that the statements of the Attorney-General are not borne out by the evidence given before the Commission.

Mr Isaacs - I did not raise that question.

Mr ROBINSON - The honorable and learned gentleman quoted the majority report as evidence that the tobacco combine controls 99 per cent, of the trade. Paragraph 7 says that -

In plug tobaccoes expert witnesses gave the proportion of the combine's business compared to the total business from 75 per cent, to 99 per cent.

The honorable and learned gentleman declared that that statement proves that the combine does 99 per cent, of the plug tobacco trade, but, on turning to the evidence, I find that the statement which I have read is based upon the statement of a dealer in tobacco to the effect that 99 per cent, of his business is done with the firm of Kronheimer Limited, or with the combine, not that 99 per cent, of the trade is controlled by the combine.

Mr Mauger - That is not the only evidence.

Mr ROBINSON - That is the evidence relied upon by those who signed the majority report. There i3 substantial evidence for the conclusion that 75 per cent, or thereabouts of a particular trade is in the hands of the combine ; but in saying that 99 per cent, of the whole trade is in their hands the Attorney-Genera] was making a statement which is without justification. When pressed he said that the trade in cigars and cigarettes is trivial, and such as no one would take notice of; but if he had read the evidence, or even the report, he would know that the manufacturing cost of the tobacco made is .^384,000. of the cigars .£66,000, and of the cigarettes ^171,000, so that the manufacturing cost of cigars and cigarettes is about 40 per cent, of the total manufacturing cost, and their production cannot be deemed an unimportant branch of the industry, because the manufacturing cost is a rough guide to the proportions of the various manufactures to the whole trade. If he had read the report, instead of merely glancing at paragraphs picked out for him, he would know that 425,000,000 cigarettes and over 18,000,000 cigars are annually made in Australia.

Mr Watson - The combine has a practical monopoly of the tobacco trade of Australia, and the honorable and learned member cannot deny it.

Mr ROBINSON - I do not deny that the bulk of the trade in plug and cut tobacco is in the hands of the combine.

Mr Watson - And in the manufacture of cigarettes and the distribution of cigars.

Mr ROBINSON - I do not deny that the greater' proportion of the cigarette trade is in the hands of the combine.

Mr Watson - Practically, the whole of it.

Mr ROBINSON - The honorable member is in error there, because the most popular brand of cigarettes in Australia is the hand-made manufacture of Messrs. Snider and Abrahams, a firm which, notwithstanding the combine, has grown from very small dimensions to be a prosperous business.

Mr Watson - At least 75 per cent, of the cigarette trade is in the hands of the combine.

Mr ROBINSON - I have not denied that.

Mr Isaacs - The Commission says so.

Mr ROBINSON - The AttorneyGeneral means that the majority of the Commissioners say so. Mr. Benjamin, a member of the combine, stated that its proportion of the cigar trade is about 45 per cent. Let us now , deal with the alleged iniquitous operations of the combine, which have been put forward as a justification for the Bill. I say without hesitation, having read more of the evidence than has been read foy any other honorable member, that the statements in the majority report are not borne out by the testimony of the witnesses. In justification of that assertion, I will refer, first, to what is said on the subject of wages and the conditions of labour. The majority report on this question is an absolute travesty of the evidence.

The CHAIRMAN - If the honorable and learned member wishes to use arguments to show that the combine is not a trust, he is at liberty to do so; but I cannot allow him to discuss the report of the Commissioners.

Mr ROBINSON - All I wish to do is to refute the statement of the AttorneyGeneral that the evidence taken before the Commission discloses the fact that labour has been crushed by the tobacco combine.

Mr Mauger - It has 'been shamefully crushed.

Mr ROBINSON - The wages paid and conditions observed in the tobacco trade in Sydney were recently reviewed bv the Arbitration Court of New South Wales.

Mr Mauger - Never mind Sydney.

Mr ROBINSON - I shall presently deal with Melbourne conditions, too.

The CHAIRMAN - Is the honorable and learned member endeavouring to show that this is not a monopoly ?

Mr ROBINSON - Yes, and that the baneful effects of its operations, alleged by the Attorney-General as a reason for this clause, do not exist. The Judge of the Arbitration Court of New South Wales, in declaring the unanimous verdict of the Court, said that the operatives in the trade are among the best paid of any in an industry in Australia, and that they work under the best conditions.

Mr Mauger - He did not say that in reference to the male operatives.

Mr ROBINSON - I have read the judgment very -carefully, and I say that the unanimous decision of the Court was that the operatives, both male and female, enjoyed better conditions of labour and more holidays than almost any other body of employes in Australia. Coming to Victoria, both the evidence given before the Commission, and the records taken "from the wages books of the various factories, showed a steady increase in the remuneration of the operatives. It is a fa:t that, although the employers in the industry have recently said to their men, " Ask the Government to appoint a Wages Board, and we will back up your request; you have our written consent to the appointment of a Wages Board," the latter have refused to take action.

Mr Mauger - I will tell the honorable and learned member. why.

Mr ROBINSON - Evidently it is because they do not think they would obtain any better wages than they are receiving today.

Mr Mauger - They have refused to take action because the law provides that the average wage of the trade shall be the standard, and there is no average other than that fixed by the combine.

Mr ROBINSON - The honorable member is again making a statement which is not correct. Increases in wages have been granted throughout the trade. The records of the wages sheets were produced before the Commission, and sworn to.

Mr Mauger - What is' the average wage that is now being paid ?

Mr ROBINSON - It is about 12J or 15 per cent, better than it was five years ago.

The CHAIRMAN - Does the honorable and learned member for Wannon think he has yet shown that the question of the wages paid in the tobacco industry is relevant to the clause under consideration?

Mr ROBINSON - The AttorneyGeneral mentioned what he called facts, but what I designate fictions, for the purpose of showing that this clause was necessary. I wish to prove that his statements are not in accordance with facts, and that, consequently, there is the greatest possible justification for limiting the operation of this clause.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable and learned member will be perfectly in order in doing that.

Mr ROBINSON - I now propose to deal with the question of the prices of tobacco in Australia. In passing, I may remind the Committee that there were seven members appointed to tEe Tobacco Commission, including two members of the Government. Neither of the latter, judged by their demeanour throughout the hearing of the evidence, evinced the slightest inclination to sign any report in favour of the nationalization of the industry. The minority report states-

Mr Isaacs - Who signed the minority report ?

Mr ROBINSON - Senator Gray.The Attorney-General's colleague was absent at the time getting married, and he sent a telegram to the Commission saying that he had married a wife, and therefore could not attend. He also stated that he could not' sign the majority report. Senator Styles resigned his position upon the Commission a few weeks before its labours terminated.

Mr Isaacs - Senator Styles has the courage of his opinions. He has rendered verv good service to this country.

Mr ROBINSON - The minority report, in referring to the question! of prices, says -

It was not denied that there had been a slight increase in the price of tobacco of recent years, and the manufacturers claimed that the increasewas due to the Federal Tariff.

It then goes on to show that the import and excise duties upon tobacco were raised by the Federal Tariff. It points out that in .New South Wales the duty on imported manufactured tobacco was increased by 3d. per lb., and the duty and excise on tobacco locally manufactured from imported leaf by a similar amount. In Victoria the duty on imported manufactured tobacco was increased by 3d. per lb., and the duty and excise on tobacco locally manufactured from imported leaf by 9d. per lb. In South Australia the duty of imported manufactured tobacco was increased by 6d. per lb., and the duty and excise on tobacco locally manufactured from imported leaf by 10 1/2d. per lb. These figures show a very heavy all-round increase in the duties levied upon tobacco. The report continues -

These increases of duty far outweigh the benefits conferred by Inter-State free-trade. Anessential fact in this regard has also been ignored, and that is the rise in the price of American leaf which would undoubtedly have caused a further rise in price to the consumer, but for the economies which combination enabled the manufacturers to effect.

The report goes on to show. that the independent manufacturers themselves, including Messrs. Dudgeon and Arnell; and the Tobacco- Company of South Australia,, raised the prices. Why? They were not in the combine, but they were compelled to raise their prices because the cost of their raw material had been increased, and because of the extra duty which they were required to pay. Yet the Attorney-General would have us believe that the reason underlying the increased price of tobacco was that the combine was extorting more money from the public. I say that a perusal of the evidence of the independent manufacturers who are hostile to the com.bine, shows that the increase in price was due to circumstances entirely beyond the control of the manufacturers, irrespective of whether they were inside or outside the combine. Then we have been told that the effect df the existence of the combine is disastrous to the grower. The Minister of Trade and Customs made the same

Australian Industries[6 July, 1906.] Preservation Bill. 11 23 statement during the course of his speech upon the second reading of the Bill.

Mr Frazer - It is a fact, too.

Mr ROBINSON - There is no statement which has been more frequently repeated, and I venture to say that there is none which has been made with less justification. To assume that the combine is doing its best to kill the local growers of tobacco is to assume that it is voluntarily paying£480,000 per annum for the sole purpose of destroying a few individuals, and of forcing them into dairying or other pursuits. Does any man with an ordinary grain of common sense believe that the combine would pay away such an enormous sum each year if it were not compelled to do so? The tobacco growers in Australia number only some 200 or 300 at the most. Surely the proposition is the most absurd one that has ever been advanced ! IT the evidence tendered to the Tobacco Commission be scrutinized, it will be found that a number of growers declare that they are at present getting a better price from the combine than they have received for many years past. I do not assert for one moment that the combine is composed of saints and angels, but I do say that the statements made by the Attorney-General, and by others, to the effect that, by reason of its existence, the conditions of the operatives in the industry have been made worse, that wages have been lowered, that the growers have been driven off the land, and that prices have been raised to the consumer, are not borne out by the evidence. I tell the Attorney-General that he would not dare to bring the combine before any Court for a breach of the law upon the evidence tendered to the Tobacco Commission. When we analyze that testimony, we find that most of the allegations made against the combine are either based upon hearsay evidence, or relate to something which took place many years prior to the formation of the combine. I say unhesitatingly that no evidence was forthcoming which would lead any Justice of the High Court, or of the Supreme Court, or of the County Court- indeed, I might include even the most newlyappointed justice of the peace- to regard the combination as being hostile to the growers. To assume that it is hostile to them is to assume that the combine does not know upon which side its bread is buttered, and that it is not in the business for the purpose of making money. There was absolutely no evidence forthcoming that any in crease in the price of tobacco has been due to the action of the combine, but there was overwhelming testimony to the contrary. Consequently the allegations of the Attorney-General do not justify the inclusion in this Bill of the clause under consideration. The honorable and learned gentleman, having raised the discussion, is himself to blame for the fact that time has been occupied in exposing his inaccurate statements.

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