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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr FOSTER - Although an interesting document, the report of the Tariff Board is distressing rather than cheerful. As it will come before us for discussion later I shall not dwell upon it now. In June, 1926, the Tariff Board made a very forcible comment on the then existing conditions of industry and the operations of the tariff, particularly as it applied to the steel industry at Newcastle. The works there are as well equipped as any in Australia, and possibly in any. part of the world. Millions of pounds are involved in that big enterprise of which all Australia should be proud. But in spite of its mechanical efficiency and the brains of its management its product was unable to compete against the imported article, the price of which had been reduced by a new process that was being operated in Europe and America. The Tariff Board reminded Parliament that the then existing duties were ineffective and that a condition of industrial paralysis had set in. The duties previously imposed by Parliament had been followed by an application to the Arbitration Court for higher wages, and the cost of living had risen sympathetically. That vicious circle was being followed then as it is to-day. The board therefore recommended to the Government that further assistance should be given to the steel and other industries upon a written assurance being given by the manufacturers, distributors and industrialists that prices would not be increased. Parliament adopted that recommendation and the steel industry was enabled for the time being, to keep its furnaces going and to employ a large number of hands.

Mr Seabrook - No assurance was given by the unions.

Mr FOSTER - I cannot speak of that, but I do not suppose that there was any increase of wages. The conditions of 1916 have arisen again. I am prepared to do anything in reason to assist an industry provided that there is efficiency all round - in mechanism, organization and man power.

Mr Coleman - Is it not the function of the Tariff Board to investigate the conditions. :of an industry before making a recommendation?

Mr FOSTER - The hoard has investigated the industry and reported that it is highly efficient; it could not do otherwise. I agree with the Government's tariff policy generally, hut I cannot follow my enthusiastic friend the Minister for Trade and Customs all the way. So far as Australian industries are concerned every dog is a lion in his eyes. Travelling in the train some time ago I read a very glowing newspaper article based upon a statement by the Minister regarding a new industry which he has discovered. My travelling companion was a successful manufacturer in Sydney, a firm believer in the policy of customs protection and an experienced traveller. I said to him " Here is something good - a big thing for Australia." He read the article and said - " This is another product of the Minister's fertile imagination For God's sake go to Sydney, inspect the building, count the number of hands employed, and let me know how much you would give for the whole box and dice." I have not yet had an opportunity to follow his advice, but I know that to-day that industry is almost down and out. Who is paying for all this ? The farmers are. The steel industry is vital to the defence of this country, and any industry that is efficient and requires help I shall stand by, but I cannot support the Minister in his proposal to protect some tinpot factories that are mere sinks for money and will never achieve anything.

Mr Coleman - Where are they?

Mr FOSTER - AH over the Commonwealth. A lot of our protection does not protect, and I understand that even amongst extreme protectionists the opinion is growing that the time has come to call a halt.


Mr FOSTER - I am sorry that it is not. The Minister, of course, is miles beyond redemption, but the ordinary individual, who sees things as they are, realizes that much of our protection' is ineffective or it would not be yielding millions of pounds of excess revenue each year. The newspapers are saying that we should call a halt in our fiscal policy.

Mr PRATTEN (MARTIN, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What newspaper does the honorable member read?

Mr FOSTER - Even the Age says it is time to pull up - but I do not know whether it means it. We are in a bad way. The Economic Conference at Geneva showed that almost every country was in a similar position. In addition to industrial troubles, Australia, with the exception of Western Australia, is suffering from a poor harvest this year. I am convinced that within ten or twelve years Western Australia will be the biggest wheat producing State in the Commonwealth. We must face the situation.

The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten) to-day introduced a new tariff schedule. The tariff, while assisting Sydney and Melbourne, will seriously affect the farmers of Australia by placing heavier burdens upon them. The tariff does not protect our primary producers, because it increases the price of ' the articles they require, whereas their products have to compete in the open markets of the world. The Minister should know better than to be enthusiastic about such a tariff. Even the Tariff Board disagrees with him. If our tariff were really effective, it would produce no revenue, whereas for the last four or five years the customs revenue has exceeded the estimate by from £3,000,000 to £4,000,000 per annum. That is not effective protection. Already our streets are thronged with unemployed men, and indications point to the army of unemployed being increased during the next twelve months. Money is scarce, and industry almost paralysed. The Commonwealth Government should make an attempt to face its responsibilities. Good men who want work, but cannot obtain it, should be assisted. In this connexion the Development and Migration Commission should be of great assistance, but migrants should not be brought here until unemployed Australians who are genuinely seeking work have found it.' That cannot be done unless Australian workmen are prepared to do their duty.

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