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Thursday, 26 August 1920

Mr GREGORY (Dampier) .- Yesterday the Prime Minister, I do not know under what standing order, was able to deliver a lengthy statement, in which he attacked me rather strongly. I do not think that he should surreptitiously obtain privileges here other than) those allowed to honorable members generally, but prior to the asking of questions he replied to a statement that I had made on the previous Friday in relation to a Trade and Customs matter. Before dealing with the Prime Minister's remarks, let me say that it is time that the new Tariff schedule, which was laid on the table about four months ago, was discussed by Parliament, and the duties definitely fixed. Parliament approved of a new Tariff in 1908, and in 1914 an amending schedule was brought in, which was never considered; but, at the end of a session extending over two or three years, was validated by means of a short Bill. Then, this session; another amending schedule, still further increasing the duties, has been introduced; but we have not been told when it will be dealt with. I understand that the Customs authorities are imposing duties according to the schedules of 1908, 1914, or 1920, whichever may contain the highest rate.

Mr Fenton - Do you say that the Department is collecting duties on three different schedules?

Mr GREGORY - It is applying in each case the highest rate applicable to that case in any of the three schedules. Because I had not been able to get a definite reply to questions I had asked, and correspondence I had had with the Department, regarding the embargo on scrap steel and scrap iron, I complained in the House on Friday last of the treatment that I had received. As I have said before, I do not know whether there was a justification for this embargo. I have a great objection to embargoes of the kind, and would not give toa Minister the. power to impose them.When an embargo on exportation is necessary for the building up of any industry, it should be imposed by Parliament, and those in this country owning the product affected should be protected, and should receive a fair price from those who purchase from them. I asked what action the Government had taken, by regulation or otherwise, to provide that the owners of scrap steel and scrap iron would receive a fair price for their metal, and I have never had an answer to that question. In his long statement the Prime Minister carefully ignores it.

Mr Ryan - Do you suggest that he evaded the point?

Mr GREGORY - Most distinctly; he has done so both in correspondence and in his statement. He says that my recollection of the facts is not accurate. Not having been dealing with this matter I am not able to form a judgment as to whether or not the embargo is necessary, but the Government, having seen fit to impose an embargo, it is their duty to see that the owner of the scrap is protected. I asked the Government whether there is a buyer of tin scrap in Western Australia, and, if so, what action the Government are taking to insure that the buyer pays a fair price to the owner? Surely that is fair. The Prime Minister was rather offensive in his reply to my question. He said -

Instead of permitting dealers to export metals to the East to be worked upby cheap Asiatic labour, the Government insist upon the scrap being utilized locally, provided the users are prepared to pay a reasonable price.

All I am asking is that the owners shall be paid a. reasonable price; but the Government are taking no action to insure that that is done. The Prime Minister continued -

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 coloured labour.

There is no necessity for the sneer contained in that statement or to endeavour to obtain cheap clap-trap popularity; but there is a necessity to see that the owners of thescrap get a fair deal. If the Prime Minister wishes to hit hard I will do likewise. We have had quite enough scandal in connexion with the formation of the Zinc Producers Association. I have previously described in the House how the Broken Hill Company and the Mount Lyell Company, and other big concerns, were coerced into forming themselves into a combination to give to the Zinc Producers Association, comprising only a few persons, absolute control of the zinc industry, and the right to not only make contracts for the companies, but to also fix their prices for the next fifty years. Honorable members will recollect that about a couple of years ago there was a large accumulation of tin scrap in the hands of jam-makers and others. I remember the Red Cross Society in Melbourne circularizing people with a request that they should save their jam tins and blacking tins, and send them to the Society. In this way the Society accumulated about 3,500 tons of tin scrap, for which it could obtain only 5s. to 7s. per ton locally. A request was made for permission to export the scrap to Japan, where buyers were offering up to £4 15s. per ton. I produced in the chamber a sale note from Dalgety andCompany to a J apanese firm for 500 tons of tin scrap, f.o.b. Melbourne, at £4 15s. per ton.

Mr Austin Chapman - Was that at the same time as permission to export was refused the Red Cross Society?

Mr GREGORY - It was shortly afterwards.

Mr Hector Lamond - Fancy the Red Gross Society wanting to build up J apan !

Mr GREGORY - What is the use of talking that nonsense? Instead of £30,000 or £40,000 coming into the country through sales overseas, the scrap was sent to the rubbish heap.

Mr Hector Lamond - That is better than building up Japan.

Mr GREGORY - Does the honorable member say that it was wiser to throw the scrap into the rubbish heap than to sell it for £4 15s. per ton to foreigners?

Does he not know thatat that very time Australia was selling to Japan copper, tin, zinc, and spelter? He might as well say that we should not have sold wooltops to Japan. But thehonorable member will be very silent in regard to the wool tops. I hate these stupid interjections. The jam manufacturers were anxious to sell their scrap, because they knew the price that Japan was offering meant tens of thousand of pounds saved, and a deputation from them waited upon Sir John Higgins as the representative of the Attorney-General. They were told that they would not be allowed to export; they must take their material to a local factory. The first charge to be met would be the cost of treatment; the second charge would be a certain rate of interest on the capital invested in the plant, and then the owners of the scrap would get 75 per cent. of the profit, if any, and the owners of the plant 25 per cent. There was no guarantee that the owners of the scrap would receive any return at all, although they were to be wholly responsible for the cost of treatment, which up to that time had not been very successful, and would have to guarantee the interest on the capital ; the result was that thousands of pounds worth of scrap tin wasthrown on to the rubbish tips. If an embargo on any of these articles is to continue, the Government should, by regulation or otherwise, see that the owners receive a fixedprice equal to what they could obtain elsewhere; but so far as Western Australia, at any rate, is concerned, no action has been taken to see that the owners get a fair price. I am not associated in any way with dealers in scrap, but I have received letters from different people complaining of the embargo.

Mr Fenton - To what country did they want to send the scrap ?

Mr GREGORY - In one particular instance it was desired to send old horseshoes to Hongkong, but I am dealing with the question generally. Admitting, for the sake of argument, that the embargo is justified, I say that it is the duty of the Government to see that the owner of the scrap is paid the fair market value.

Mr Ryan - Why not move an amendment to that effect ?

Mr GREGORY - I do not think any such action is necessary.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In other words, the honorable member's speech is not loaded.

Mr GREGORY - If the honorable member will assist me on some other occasion, he may find that I have a loaded gun.

Mr Ryan - I will help the honorable member to fire a gun.

Mr GREGORY - I am a little afraid of the assistance which the honorable member would give me in connexion with embargoes; he might be a little too fond of them. The Prime Minister's lengthy reply yesterday dodged my question, which was whether the Government would insure, if the embargo continued, that the owners received a fair market value. I again ask them to take action in this matter, and, if necessary, make a regulation or appoint an officer for that purpose.

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