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Wednesday, 25 August 1920

Mr HUGHES - The honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), on the motion for the adjournment of the

House on Friday last, put to my right honorable colleague the Treasurer (Sir Joseph Cook) a question which, earlier in the day, he had addressed to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) in relation to the embargo on the export of scrap steel imposed by the Department of Trade and Customs, at the instance of the Attorney-General's Department. In the course of his remarks, on the motion for the adjournment, he made the following statements: -

(a)   Although I have made specific representations, I have failed to obtain anything in the nature of a definite reply.

(b)   I have never yet had from the Attorney-General's Department a lucid answer to any question I have put to it in regard to the metal industry.

(c)   I can get no information from the Government as to whether or not its export will be permitted.

The honorable member's recollection of the facts is not accurate. His representations on this subject have received full attention. When the honorable member first raised the question about permitting a dealer in Western Australia to export some 70 tons of horse shoes to the East, I made a comprehensive statement in the House. On 20th May last(Hansard, page 2415), I made a statement on this subject, and cannot do better now than remind the honorable member of a portion of it.

In the case referred to by the honorable member the applicants did not hold any horse shoes, but wished to buy 70 tons for export to Hong Kong. Permission to ship was refused by the Government, as local users were prepared to purchase the horse shoes at a reasonable price for local treatment in Western Australia, where electric furnaces are at present being erected to treat the Western Australian production and accumulated stocks of scrap steel.

Moreover, in reply to the honorable member's further representations, a letter was sent to him from the Prime Minister's Department on the 12th June, stating that the question of permitting the exportation of the horse shoes was fully considered before my statement previously referred to was invade, and, further, that " in view of the circumstances then explained, it is regretted that permission to ship cannot be given."

Again, on the 30th June, a further letter was addressed to him by the Prime

Minister's Department, advising him as follows: -

I desire to inform you that the Metal Exchange did not refuse the application to ship the horse shoes. The decision conveyed to the company by the Metal Exchange was the decision of the Government, the matter having been submitted by the Metal Exchange for such decision. As Messrs. Paterson and Company had telegraphed to the Metal Exchange, a reply was sent to the applicants through the same channel.

The honorable member now repeats the old statement that the Metal Exchange refused the permit. He has. been repeatedly told that .permission to ship would not be given, and that the Metal Exchange simply conveyed to the applicants the decision of the Government;

Let me repeat what I stated here on 20th May last: -

The Government cannot permit dealers to export scrap steel, making for themselves from £1 to £2 profit per ton, whereas, by insisting on local treatment, at least £27 per ton is spent by the steel founders in the Commonwealth, mostly in direct wages, and reasonable prices are at the same time obtained by the producers of the scrap.

The honorable member stated that an embargo had " now " been placed on the export of scrap steel. There has been an embargo for nearly five years, and during that time the Australian iron and steel industry has made gigantic strides. Scrap iron and steel has been essential to this industry. In last Friday's Argus extracts are published from the Broken Hill Proprietary's annual report. This is one of the extracts -

In most countries this (scrap iron and steel) is very readily obtained, and from 30 per cent, to 35 per cent, is considered a proper mixture. At Newcastle, however, the supply of this material is very limited, and only about 17 per cent, of the charge can be added. This will be remedied by the installation of a duplex plant, which uses molten metal without any scrap.

Instead of permitting dealers to export scrap metals to the East to be worked up by cheap Asiatic labour, the Government insists on the scrap being utilized locally, provided the users- are prepared to pay a reasonable price. If this scrap was sold to the East, the resultant steel would compete in the world's market with steel manufactured in Australia by Australians. The local iron-works must have scrap, but the dealers for whom the honorable member acts as advocate are not concerned with national industries. The dealer wants his own little profit of fi or so per ton on the scrap, but the Government takes a different view. It is not the producers of scrap who complain. ' They have expressed no dissatisfaction with the prices offered by the local iron founders. No complaint of any kind has been made by a producer. The dealers who were applicants in this case when they applied for permission to ship did not hold any scrap, but if they obtained permission to ship would be prepared to buy some. No injury was done to them by refusing a permit; but the sound reasons underlying the metal policy of the Government do not come within the range of their vision.

In conclusion, I appeal to the honorable member to assist the establishment of the iron and steel industry in the West. A company which has already made good in New South Wales has now put in a plant in the West, which is expected by October to be producing sufficient steel of various grades to meet the requirements of that State. Without an assured supply of scrap it cannot carry on. It is a customer for all the available Western Australian scrap. So long as producers are paid fair and reasonable prices, the Government cannot permit dealers to export the life blood of the electric steel industry to the East to be worked up there by cheap Asiatic labour.

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