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Thursday, 18 February 1932

Mr NOCK (Riverina) .- As a representative of a rural electorate, I have to admit frankly that I am not satisfied with the address which was delivered by the Governor-General, which outlined the Government's policy for the session. Many things were mentioned in the address, but it appeared to me that it was not as definite as it might have been regarding the policy which the Government proposes to put into operation. I agree with the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Hutchinson) who said that the prosperity of the country depends upon the primary industries. Though it was stated in the Governor-General's Speech that the Government proposed to reduce administration expenses in order to secure budgetary equilibrium, honorable members must recognize that the mere balancing of the budget will not put Australia on the road to recovery. We may economize, dismiss our public servants, and increase taxation, and thus strike a balance for a time, but we shall not thus put Australia on the road to recovery. Until industry is made profitable there can be no real recovery. The fundamental principle of all successful industry is that returns shall exceed costs. It was also stated in the Governor-General's Address that we must not be too sanguine about receiving increased prices for our products. I agree with that, and there seems to me to be only one method by which we can make industry profitable; it is essential that costs of production be reduced.

Before the election campaign began, an agreement was reached between the leaders of this party and of the Government regarding a united policy. It is true that candidates' went before theelectors and asked that they should be trusted to do what they believed to be right, but now that the Government has been returned with such a large majority it is only proper, I think, that it should give the people a more definite indication of the policy it proposes to pursue. In regard to many matters the Government proposes to defer action for a time, and in regard to others it suggests that it would be wise to proceed with extreme caution. Though I am willing and, indeed, anxious to support the Government in carrying out the policy which it placed before the electors, that policy, as it appears in the Governor-General's Address, has been so watered dow.n that we of this party feel that it is our duty to be cautious, too, and require of the Government something more definite than it has given us to date. The successful business man is he who recognizes what is needed, and then adopts a policy of "Do it now!" It might be well if the Government also adopted that for its motto. It is futile to talk about maintaining 100 per cent. living standard, when only 70 per cent. of the people are at work. For 100 per cent. living standard we must have 100 per cent. of our workers employed. I do not care what the wage rate is; I am concerned with the living standard. In order to get the people to work, we must restore the prosperity of our export industries, our mining, wheat-growing, dairying, dried fruits, and wool-growing industries. If there are at present burdens which are hampering those industries, and preventing them from expanding and developing, the Government should act quickly to remove those burdens. This is not a time to defer action. The policy which was agreed upon when we faced the electors included the reform of the tariff, the revision of our arbitration legislation so' as to remove anomalies and harassing restrictions, and constitutional reform.

I come from the Riverina, where the movement which spread like wildfire throughout the country districts ofNew South Wales originated. The people were made to realize that it was time they took a greater interest in their own affairs; that it was not only Mr. Lang who had menaced the welfare of the country districts, but their interests had been menaced for years by the domination of the commercial interests of the cities. They came to recognize that, until they controlled their own destinies, things were not likely to be put right. The people were profoundly stirred, and an undertaking was given that if the present Government were placed in office, provision would be made for a referendum of the people so that they might determine whether they were to have control of their own affairs and obtain adequate representation in the Senate. I had hoped that this matter might have been dealt with at greater length in the Governor-General's Speech, but it was merely touched upon casually in a single sentence. What wewant is action.

The right honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) made the position of the Country party quite clear in regard to arbitration. We propose to leave control of the minimum basic wage and maximum working hours to one federal tribunal, while adjustment of margins should be left to State tribunals, or boards representative of employers and employees. At the present time increasing quantities of Victorian manufactured goods are being sold in New South Wales, because they can be produced more cheaply in Victoria. We cannot expect people to pay more for goods simply because they have to be made in their own State. If the restrictions placed upon industry by arbitration legislation in New South Wales were removed,we should be able to get our own people back to work, and New South Wales, instead of being burdened with a higher percentage of unemployment than any of the other States, would revert to normal.

The primary producers have been misrepresented regarding tariff matters. I have frequently heard the assertion that we are free traders. I contradict that statement absolutely. We are not free traders. We say, however, that when the tariff is being framed, each item should bo dealt with on its merits. Each application for protection should be carefully weighed, and if the amount of extra employment to be provided is commensurate with the added burden to be imposed on the community, then that industry is deserving of protection. Infant industries which require to be propped up until they reach the stage of mass production, should be protected, and given a chance to meet fair competition, but there are many industries in Australia to-day which have received such high protection that they have been rendered unnatural. When protection becomes a menace to some major industry, it is time that it was removed. We should put first things first. For these reasons we request the Government to reconsider its tariff policy, and, instead of deferring action until the Tariff Board has considered the matter, it should do something immediately. The Government has ample justification. There are numerous Tariff Board reportswhich have been disregarded by past governments, and action with regard to them should be taken without further delay. There is, for instance, a Tariff Board report which sets out the position with regard to galvanized iron, and which makes it clear that the public are as much in need of protection as the industry concerned. The last report of the Tariff Board gave instances of industries applying for protection although they were making profits of 100 per cent, on the capital invested. With examples of that kind before it, there is no excuse for the Government deferring action. Other firms whose annual turnover aggregated £1,000,000 or more, have sought protection, although the annual profit on their capital ranged from 12-£ per cent, to 37£ per cent. The primary industries, of Australia produce 93 per cent of our exports, and they deserve to be protected against the unfair incidence of the tariff. Farmers in this country are hampered in their efforts to improve the productive capacity of the land, because of the high price of material. Our primary producers have to pay much more for fencing wire, galvanized iron, iron posts, &c, than have the farmers of South Africa, with whom we have to compete in the markets of the world. In this respect Australia is at a disadvantage. It is all very well to say that iron is a key industry, but so are our primary industries, which produce such a large proportion of our wealth. If our present policy of protection is placing too great a burden on the primary producers, the Government should take immediate action to relieve them of that burden. There is a further justification for immediate action by the Government in regard to the tariff. In normal times certain tariff rates were laid down. Today, however, in addition to those ordinary rates, importers have to pay 25 per cent, exchange, and 10 per cent, primage duty, an additional 35 per cent, protection, besides the normal protection of transport and shipping charges. To this extra 36 per cent, protection industry is not really entitled, and it would not be out of place if the Government were to reduce the general tariff to the extent of the exchange and primage duties as they may exist from time to time. Such a course would not be "unfair to local manufacturers, and would protect the public. We know that when an industry obtains a monopoly, so that those controlling it are able to fix prices, the public suffers and, at the present time, the public are as much entitled to protection as are the manufacturers. At the present time, interest charges have been reduced by 22£ per cent.; manufacturers who rent premises have had their rent reduced; wages have come down, but nothing has been done to ensure that the public who buy manufactured goods shall receive the benefit of those reductions. If the manufacturers are enjoying the benefits of reduced costs, it is the duty of the Government to take such action as is necessary to ensure that this reduction is passed on to the public. As I said before, I am anxious to support the Government in carrying out the policy on which it was elected. I appeal to the Government to act quickly that our recovery may not be delayed, and that the affairs of Australia be speedily put upon a better footing.

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