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Friday, 29 October 1920

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) .- I listened with deep interest to the debate on this motion for the extension of the Geelong Woollen Mills. The amount required f for the work is small ; and, in view of the fact that we already have at Geelong the necessary land, buildings, and plant, the proposal of the Government is judicious, more particularly when we take into consideration the great shortage in supplies, and that those supplies can be increased very considerably by means of this project. Under the circumstances the motion shall have my support.

It is generally supposed that there are three parties in this House, but if the discussion on this motion be any indication, it would appear that there are at least seventy-five parties, each member, apparently, being desirous to have woollen mills erected in his constituency at the cost of the Commonwealth.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - Here is one that does not desire such a thing.

Dr EARLE PAGE (COWPER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And here is another.

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - Then I must make an exception of those two honorable members. What would it cost the country if the various members who have spoken on this motion had their requests granted? I venture to say that to equip a mill, equal in every particular to the existing Commonwealth Woollen Mill, would cost, at the present time, at least £500,000.

Mr Riley - Who told you that? You are not dealing with butter now; this is a matter of which you know nothing.

Mr ROBERT COOK (INDI, VICTORIA) - Possibly the facts I am relating are strange to the honorable member, but, however that may be, I intend to deal only with facts. There seems to be a desire on the part of some honorable members for sole Government control of the woollen business; but no such proposal shall have my support. It is recognised that there are great openings for this industry in Australia, but what is required for its development is the encouragement of co-operative effort and private enterprise. No doubt Government assistance, both State and Federal, is necessary. By that I mean that it is probable the Commonwealth may have to finance the States, but it is for each State to finance such industries within its boundaries. In different parts of the Commonwealth there are several pro posals for the establishment of woollen mills; quite a number of companies are on the verge of flotation, and in my constituency at least two are ready for registration. Those concerned in these enterprises do not desire any " spoon-feeding," nor, indeed, any assistance without offering tangible security. The feeling in my district, and I trust in other districts also, is that those immediately concerned should find as much of the necessary capital as possible, say 50 per cent., the balance to be advanced by the Government on first class security. There is no idea of raiding the Treasury in any shape or form; they ask for no advances which they do not intend to repay. All they desire is, as I say, some assistance on good security.

In my opinion it will be many years before the necessary labour for a woollen mill could be obtained in the Federal area. If the Government have money to spend in this direction, their wisest course would be to wait until the housing and general conditions in that part of Australia are more congenial; at present, I regard the amendment as outside practical consideration.

As to the woollen industry generally, I have collected some information from the Bureau of Commerce and Industry, of which Mr. Stirling Taylor is the Director. We are told that the establishment of this industry must have many advantages for young Australia. This country, we are told, should not only grow wool, but should manufacture it, at least, to such an extent that the Australian people may be clothed with Australianmade woollen goods, the making of which would find employment and wages for Australian workmen, and for other population which is so much desired, and is offered. It is generally agreed that we require population ; and, taking into consideration that we are such an extensive wool-producing country, the wool industry offers great opportunities, indeed, for a most desirable class of immigrant. Quite a number of people are of opinion that the Bureau is desirous that there shall be a huge socialistic Government venture. That is not so; and, I, for one, am very much opposed to any such idea. In reference to the proposal that the industry should be under Government control, the view is expressed by the Bureau that it is essential that the development of the manufacture of woollen goods should be left entirely in the hands of private enterprise, backed up, of course, by any reasonable financial assistance the Government are prepared to give. In my opinion, this is the safest and most economical way of carrying on the industry. At the present time, it is pointed out, the' output of woollen and worsted goods from Australia is only 15 per cent, of the requirements of the Commonwealth, which is a shocking state of affairs, taking into consideration the fact that Australia produces something like one-fifth of the world's supply of wool. It is estimated by the Bureau that £14,000,000 would be required during the next ten or fifteen years to establish complete up-to-date woollen mills in each State. Seeing that the BritishAustralian Tobacco Company Proprietary Limited has a capital of £5,500,000, Howard Smith Proprietary Limited a capital of £5,000,000, and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company a capital of £4,000,000, the three companies having a total capital of £14,500,000, there ought not to be any difficulty in raising sufficient money to establish the manufacture of woollen goods in each State, particularly when we realize that even to meet the present requirements of the population would necessitate the treatment of at least 2,000,0*00 lbs. of greasy wool per annum. The suggestion of the Bureau of Commerce and Industry is that a company should be formed in each State on the basis of the wool produced within the State, and it is estimated that the capital required to finance the scheme would be approximately £5,000,000 for New South Wales, £3,000,000 for Victoria, £2,000,000 for Queensland, £1,000,000 for South Australia, £1,000,000 for Western Australia, and £250,000 for Tasmania. The best indication that the development of the industry would prove profitable is the fact that our existing mills do not produce more than 15 per cent, of our requirements ; but there is no doubt an enormous increase in population would follow, and that a great impetus would be given to the development of kindred industries, such as fertilizers, tallow, candles, soap, glue, tanning, leather, boot3, bags, harness, building motors, and electrical. There would also be an increased demand for food products. All this expansion which would follow would certainly justify the amount of expenditure involved. 1 would be very sorry to see the woollen industry nationalized, and the scheme suggested by the Bureau of Science and Industry is not on those lines. An attempt to nationalize it would not only deliver a serious blow at private enterprise, but also retard the development of the Commonwealth considerably. I trust that honorable members who are anxious to 'promote the establishment of the manufacture of woollen goods will consult Mr. Stirling Taylor, the Director of the Bureau of Commerce and Industry, because he has the latest data on the subject collected from all parts. His information is thoroughly reliable, and beyond contradiction, and if honorable members would avail themselves of his advice, they would find it most valuable. In conclusion, I trust that the woollen industry will be developed, not only in the interests of the wool-grower or the consumer, but also in the interests of the general welfare of Australia.

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