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Thursday, 12 July 1906

The CHAIRMAN - We are now dealing with the question of unfair competition.

Mr JOHNSON - But the whole of this Part of the Bill deals with the " prevention of dumping." That being so, I hold that we are entitled to ask that the word " clumping " be clearly defined. My definition of the word is " the importation of goods that come into competition with Australian goods." For that is what this Bill really aims to prevent. I have heard it said over and' over again, " Look at these goods from! abroad being dumped on our wharfs." I have heard that remark applied to goods which no one suggested were to be sold below the price of the locally-made article, still less below the cost of production in the country of origin. In the absence of any definition of " dumping " in the Bill, we are entitled to place our own construction upon the term. As to the boot trade, to which I was referring when interrupted, every one knows that a large quantity of English and American boots are imported into Australia, and that a very large section of the community prefer them to boots made of locally-produced leather. One reason among others for this preference is that poisonous materials are used in the manufacture of leather for bootmaking purposes.

Mr Batchelor - Who uses poisonous materia] ?

Mr JOHNSON - It is done in Australia, principally in Victoria.

Mr Batchelor - Does the honorable member think he ought to make such a charge ?

Mr JOHNSON - I make it because I can substantiate it.

Mr Mauger - It is very wrong.

Mr JOHNSON - Does the honorable member mean to assert that barium is not used in the production of sole leather?

Sir William Lyne - Under the Commerce Act we have stopped its use in that way.

Mr JOHNSON - Only, I believe, so far as leather for export is concerned.

Mr Isaacs - But the question of whether or not barium is used in the production of leather has nothing to do with this clause.

Mr JOHNSON - It has to do with it, as it relates to an industry the preservation of which may not be held to be in the interests of the Commonwealth. My contention is that it mav not always be to the interest of Australia to preserve an existing industry from outside competition.

Mr Isaacs - In that case the industry would not come under the 'Bill. It would be excluded.

Mr JOHNSON - I shall proceed to show that I have some grounds for my statement as to the use of barium. About the 25th March, 1905, a Sydney newspaper - I believe it was the Sydney Morning Herald - published, under the heading of "Adulteration of Leather," a report, telegraphed from its Melbourne correspondent, in reference to the use of barium in Victorian manufactured leather. The article was as follows: -

An analysis of Victorian leather was made lately by the Government Analyst. In January last the Premier of Queensland wrote to Mr. Bent that it had been represented' to him that some manufacturers were using deleterious substances to make hides heavier and of a better appearance. Mr. Morgan said it led to a poorer quality of leather, and further .that, according to medical testimony, boots and shoes manufactured from leather so adulterated induced pneumonia and' other diseases.

Mr. Bentcalled for a report from the Board of Public Health, and has now received details of the analysis of Victorian leather. Fifty-one samples of leather were collected, and so far as the inspector was able to ascertain all were Victorian, and in the majority of cases the name of the tanner was obtained. The examination was confined to the determination of the amount of mineral matters, barium compounds, and glucose.

The report states : - It is brought out prominently that the practice of weighting leather does obtain in Victoria, and that the weighting substances used are barium, chloride, and glucose respectively. It is shown that the 51 leathers analyzed originated from 10 different Victorian tanneries. One only of these 10 tanners practises the weighting of leathers with barium, chloride, and glucose, and in two instances with both these substances. It is remarkable that no fewer than 11 of the 13 samples of leather said to have been obtained from one firm were weighted, and it is noteworthy that the weighting was confined entirely to soleing leathers made by this firm, and it is these leathers which are invariably sold by weight. The extent to which weighting is practised by this firm may be judged from one of the samples, which contained an amount of barium equal to 4.6 per cent, of barium chloride, and, at the same time, n. 5 per cent, of glucoses. Thus a total amount of extraneous weighting matter had1 been added to this sample of sole leather of 16. 1 per cent.

Another sample was also weighted with both barium and glucose, the total weighting amounting to 11 per cent. The average cost of the weighting material is id. per lb., and the average price of the leather is 10d., a clear profit of od. per lb. A ton of such weighted leather at 10d. per lb. would contain 358 lb. of weighting, the purchaser buying this faked stull in good faith as leather. Therefore he would be deceived by false weighting to the extent of £13 8s. od. on the purchase of one ton. In this instance there is no possible doubt that the weighting of the leather is a designedly fraudulent practice. The quality of the leather is diminished by weighting, and from this would arise a disinclination on the part of British and foreign buyers to deal in Australian leather.

Dr. Norris, presidentof the Board of Health, says such adulteration would appear to be limited entirely to soleing leather. Without doubt it was a designedly fraudulent practice, one attended by depreciation of quality of the leather subjected to it. Such depreciation may well have been a factor in the conditions which have led to the recent decline in the amount of value of leather exported from Victoria to the United Kingdom, as well as to its exclusion from the British War Office contracts, and there is little reason to doubt that one of the reasons owing to which Australian leather has become more or less discredited, is that to some extent at least it can be spoken of as poisoned leather. The question of the exact and the direct influence of such adulterated leather on health is a difficult one on which to express a definite opinion. No doubt that glucose renders the leather more pervious to water, and such a property must reduce the value of leather. From a health stand-point, barium compounds were a more important adulterant. Without hesitation he stated that in the form commonly used, viz., chloride of barium, known to the trade as normissa, they are poisonous. They may perhaps cause injury to persons wearing boots made from leather containing them, but such leather is more especially dangerous to those employed in making it up into boots. He suggested that a copy of Mr. Wilkinson's report be furnished to the Queensland Government, and that the Federal Government be addressed on the subject, with a view to the framing of legislation, whereby the import, manufacture, sale, and export of leather containing any such weighting should be prohibited, as he was informed was the case in Germany.

Mr Mauger - Has the honorable member noticed the answer to those statements ?

Mr JOHNSON - I have not noticed that there has been any complete and convincing answer to them.

Mr Mauger - That is just the trouble; the honorable member reads the condemnation, but does not read the answer.

Mr JOHNSON - I have read statements made by responsible Government officials in Victoria at the request of the Premier of the State. In repeating those statements, I cannot be charged with having manufactured anything from my own imagination.

Mr Mauger - The honorable member can be charged with unfairness unless he reads the answer to them.

Mr JOHNSON - As I have said, I have not seen any answer to these statements; but I shall be verv glad indeed to know if an effective answer to them has been given. If this kind of thing is carried on in Victoria, and any attempt is made, in the interests of one section of the community,- to preserve an industry the products of which may !be injurious to the health of the people, serious injury may be done to an immense number of the citizens. If we are to pass legislation to prevent the competition with boots made of this adulterated leather, of sounder boots, made of better leather, and giving better results from a health point of view, we may do very serious injury to the people. I can conceive that under this clause an attempt might be made, by shutting out very muchneeded competition, to preserve an industry productive of immensely injurious results to the general public. It is because the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, the other day, made such special reference to the particular subject of boots that I have thought it wise to bring these statements under the notice of the Committee. If it can be shown that the reports of the Victorian Government Analyst and Health Officer a."e unreliable, and that the statements they make are not in accordance with fact, I shall certainly be verv glad to hear the refutation of those statements.

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