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Thursday, 4 May 1939

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne Ports) . - I direct the attention of the

Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. John Lawson) to a very important matter affecting his department which should be given immediate consideration. I informed the Minister that I intended to raise this subject.For some considerable time local firms which assemble and distribute for motor car manufacturers have complained that they are being subjected to unfair treatment by large firms in Australia which have a monopolistic control of certain enterprises associated with motor-body building. It is alleged that relatively small firms, which, as agents, import specified quotas of certain makes of motor chassis from overseas, are being placed in a most unfair position in connexion with the purchase of panels for bodies. One definite case is that of the firm which acts as agents for the Nash Motor Manufacturing Company. This firm has stated that, whereas for a number of years it has been able to purchase Australian-made panels at reasonable prices for the chassis it imports, it has lately been called upon to pay an additional 35 per cent. for them. This has put the firm in a most embarrassing position. I am sure that honorable members who represent constituencies in other capital cities have had similar instances brought under their notice, and have been informed that it is becoming increasingly difficult for relatively small firms engaged in this business to maintain their operations. I do not know whether the allegations made to me can be borne out by the facts, but I ask the Government to investigate the whole position. If the situation is as I have stated, I shall find my loyalty to the principle of protection severely strained. I have always been a strong advocate of protection and have voted in favour of every project designed to develop secondary industries in Australia, but it was never my intention that great monopolies should be allowed to establish themselves here and squeeze out of business, by unfair means, smaller industrial enterprises which are of value to Australia and should have their place in our business economy. I am prepared to admit that after a reasonable period it may prove to be desirable and economical for the number of companies engaged in certain enterprises to be limited; the motor industry may be one such instance, but I do not believe that monopolies should be allowed to develop in a sudden and ruthless way. For this reason, I ask the Minister for Trade and Customs to order a close investigation of these ' allegations. If the business of comparatively small undertakings is being disorganized, and the welfare of their employees jeopardized, the Government should take prompt remedial action. Wo should not endanger the welfare of the several hundreds of people whom these small firms employ in the different States. If these workers lost their employment with the firms which now employ them, it is unlikely that more than a few of them would be absorbed in the bigger organizations. If General MotorsHoldens Limited and T. J. Richards and Sons Limited are refusing to supply panels to the smaller motor-body-building firms, except at unduly high prices, appropriate action should be taken through the Trade and Customs Department to correct the position. I would go so far as to say that the firms adversely affected should be permitted to import under by-law a limited number of panels from America. If it can be shown that firms which have been allowed to import a certain quota of chassis each year have suddenly been denied supplies of panels by Australian motor-body builders, the Minister should seriously consider allowing such firms to import at a reduced rate of duty the number of panels they require. This would be determined by the quota of chassis they are allowed to import. These statements have been made to mc and I have been asked to raise the matter in this House. Similar statements have been made to other members, and if they he true, it is the duty of the Minister, as, I am sure, he will agree, to give some relief to this small group in their fight against any efforts being made to squeeze them out of business. It is alleged that this small distributor, who has a quota of chassis for Nash motor cars, has for years been supplied with panels by local manufacturers to the value of £40,000, who suddenly have increased the price of those panels. At the same time, they have reduced the price of their own cars, which suggests that the price they are charging for panels is not legitimate. In this way the local manufacturers are making it impossible for the Nash group to continue to trade unless the department comes to their assistance. The Minister should consider giving this small group of agents some relief, as he is empowered to do under Customs By-law 404, by allowing them to import at reduced rates of duty the number of panels they require. The Minister should immediately investigate these allegations, and if they are found to be true, he has no alternative but to agree to the request, or to admit that all of us who stand for protection and have helped to build up the motor-body-building industry in this country are prepared to give to a powerful group monopolistic powers. I do not stand for that although I do not take second place to any member of this Parliament as a protectionist. We are all pleased to see the progress which has been made by the motor-body-building industry. We hope that in the near future it will unite with other interests in an endeavour to build the complete car in Australia. However, I do not think that any of us, when we agreed to protect this industry, wished to see that protection used as a means of squeezing out legitimate competition. If the request of this small group be not granted, several hundreds of employees will be displaced and a good deal of capital will be lost. The number of panels needed by the Nash group is comparatively small, and the local motor-body builders should be sufficiently fairminded to supply them at the old price. There can be no need to increase the price when the motor-body builders have simultaneously decreased the price of their own cars. If they are not prepared to supply smaller groups with the panels they require at a reasonable price I suggest, although I do not believe in allowing the importation of motor bodies, or wish to see any inroads made upon the local industry, that the Minister should take every step to prevent such groups from being squeezed out of business. I am not claiming that the allegations have been proved ; I am merely repeating statements which have been made to me and to other honorable members, and asking the Minister to investigate them.

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