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Wednesday, 14 October 1931

Mr NAIRN (Perth) . - I do not wish to take from the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) the. credit that is due to him for having successfully negotiated the Canadian trade agreement. I point out, however, that in the making of that agreement he departed from the policy of protection of which this Government boasts so much. The basis of the agreement is that import duties as between Australia and Canada are not to be applied.

The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) is not entitled to anything like the measure of credit that he claims in connexion with the correction of the trade balance. It is true that for some years our purchases exceeded our sales. That will inevitably occur when a country has money to spend. For years, Australia lived above her means, because of the plentiful supply of money in this country, chiefly loan money. That is the explanation of our adverse trade balance. But even without a trade embargo it would have been quite impossible for us when the conditions changed to continue our- purchases on the scale to which we had become accustomed. No loan money was available, and comparatively little was being received from our export trade. Embargoes unquestionably have contributed to the correction of the trade balance, but at what a cost to our trade with other countries ! They have resulted in retaliation by many of our best customers', and, unfortunately, that retaliation has been visited on our primary industries.

Mr Yates - Where has that happened ?

Mr NAIRN - In Germany, France, Italy, South Africa and other countries retaliatory laws have been passed, and it is acknowledged that in many cases those laws have been enacted as a counter to the prohibitions that have been imposed by this Government. The idea of Australia living to herself and not trading under ordinary conditions with the rest of the world, will get us nowhere. We are too far away from the world's markets, and have too small a community, to attempt to be self-contained. If we wish to develop to any extent we must be prepared, while maintaining a policy of fair and reasonable protection, to. trade with other countries who are prepared to trade with us. The effect of a policy is best judged by the general results that it produces. While I do not suggest that we should enjoy anything like prosperity whatever policy was adopted, I do say that Australia is in a worse position today after an experience of nearly two years of the protectionist policy of this Government, than it had been in previously within the memory of honorable members ; and it is a striking fact that the period of acute depression commenced when these embargoes were imposed by the present Government. I do not say that our position is due entirely to the operation of these embargoes, nor to the general policy of the Government; but it can be argued that we are worse off than we might have been had we continued a moderate, reasonable policy, and one more in keeping with the tariffs of those countries with whom Ave trade. Australia is in the extraordinary position, of having a tariff higher than that of any other part of the world. I know that we do extraordinary things by legislation in Australia. This is one of the greatest experiments that we have made, but it has not brought prosperity in its train. It has not improved our internal industries ; because they are less prosperous now than they have been for years. They are not producing as much now as they were before. In fact, during the last two years, apart from the favorable trade balance, there has been nothing to which we can point with any degree of satisfaction. I am asking for a fair measure of protection. It seems to me that our present tariff policy, which we were promised would be only of a temporary character, is altogether excessive. If these heavy duties and prohibitions were at the time of their imposition to any extent necessary, at any rate they have now accomplished their purpose. There should be a remission of all these embargoes and excessive duties which have been imposed by this Government.

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