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Friday, 18 November 1938

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (AttorneyGeneral and Minister for Industry) . - I wish to make a statement concerning the remarks of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) respecting the export of pig iron; first, however, I shall deal with two points raised in relation to the Kyeema Air Disaster Inquiry, which the Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr. Thorby) has asked me to mention.

As the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) said, this morning's adjournment of the hearing appeared to be somewhat mysterious, since no reason was given for it. Apparently the reason was not announced in consequence of an oversight. I have now made inquiries and have ascertained that the inquiry was adjourned in order to permit the tribunal to visit the Essendon aerodrome to make an inspection, and to examine certain types of aircraft mentioned during the inquiry. The adjournment was apparently normal, though the normal course was not adopted of announcing the reason for it.

The honorable member for Bass (Mr. Barnard) referred to a member of the tribunal whose position had been challenged. Until this afternoon our information on this subject was derived only from newspaper reports, but I have now been- notified that the legal adviser appearing on behalf of one of the parties has made certain representations on the subject. These are under consideration.

The honorable member for Melbourne Ports has referred to a " hold up " that has occurred in the loading of certain supplies of pig iron at Port Kembla. The Government realizes that it is most desirable that problems of this kind shall not be allowed to spread, but shall be settled as promptly as possible. As Minister for Industry I have a very special interest in this matter. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports is well aware that for some time I have been engaged in a series of discussions with representatives of the waterside workers, and others, in relation to the whole problem of waterside employment, in respect of which certain anomalies exist which I am genuinely anxious to remove. I should regard it as a calamity for the waterside workers, and also for the Government and people of Australia, if any action were persisted in by the waterside workers of Port Kembla which would increase the complexity of the problems we are already confronting. The honorable member will fully appreciate that point.

In order to avoid . any action which might add to the complexity of these problems I was requested by the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) to take certain steps in relation to this matter. Yesterday I communicated with the "Waterside Workers Federation in Sydney, and this morning I communicated with the federal council cil of the federation which is at present meeting in Melbourne. My experience of the federal council in these matters is that it is thoroughly prepared to be helpful and to take any action possible to preserve the peace. I have invited the council to co-operate with me in this matter, and I have no doubt that it will do so.

As the real trouble in the minds of the waterside workers at Port Kembla appears to he due to a misapprehension, a public statement on the subject at this juncture may be helpful. I was informed by the representatives of the council in Melbourne that the waterside workers at Port Kembla consider that the shipments of pig iron now being made are merely the first of a series which will aggregate something like 300,000 tons. The information before the Government is that the total shipments will aggregate only between 20,000 and 30,000 tons. If this is so, the quantity of pig iron involved is almost microscopic compared with the quantity involved at the time the Government prohibited the export of iron ore from Australia. If it should turn out that the business is likely to assume proportions totalling anything like 300,000 tons, I assure the honorable member that the new position will he faced promptly by the Government, and action will be taken in connexion with it. As the Prime Minister has already pointed out the amount of business involved at present is of relatively small proportions. For this reason, the Government is not prepared to impose an embargo upon it. If, however, it threatened to assume large proportions, the Government would reconsider tho whole situation. Our information is definitely to the effect that only between 20,000 tons and 30,000 tons of pig iron is involved.

The honorable member for Melbourne Ports suggested that there was a shortage of this commodity in Australia. Inquiry has been made into this aspect of the subject. The facts are, as the honorable member knows, that two kinds of pig iron are marketed. There is basic pig iron, which is used for the manufacture of steel ; and foundry pig iron. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited is practically the only user in Australia of basic pig iron. Foundry pig iron has many purchasers throughout the country. There is no shortage of fpundry pig iron. In fact, accumulated stocks of unsold foundry pig iron are on hand, and the difficulty is orders and not supplies. If the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited were selling to foreigners basic pig iron which in fact it required for its own purposes, a very remarkable situation would have to be faced.

Mr Holloway - It might be done if any question of exceptional war-time profit were involved.

Mr MENZIES - No doubt, such a remarkable state of affairs might arise in remarkable circumstances. The information before the Government is that there is no shortage of basic pig iron, and that the steel masters are not being embarrassed in this respect. I assure the honorable member that specific inquiries have been made on this subject.

Mr Blackburn - The men object to the handling of basic pig iron for export.

Mr MENZIES - I realize that fact, and it brings me to the last point I wish to make. I reiterate the statement already made by the Prime Minister that, while problems and differences of opinion undoubtedly exist in relation to the supply of raw materials to foreign countries, in certain circumstances, such problems must be faced by the Government and the Parliament of the Commonwealth. They cannot be determined by independent industrial action by any union or group of men. This is the place for discussion and decision in regard to the question of the supply of raw materials to foreign countries. With the assistance of the good offices of organized industrialists, I hope that we shall succeed in establishing that these problems must be determined by the Parliament.

Question resolved in tho affirmative.

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