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Friday, 5 May 1939

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- I congratulate the honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. John Lawson) upon his appointment as Minister for Trade and Customs. That is a very interesting and responsible position, in which he will have great scope for the exercise of his undoubted ability. On the 3rd May he tabled a schedule that had been in operation from May 'last and which we were told would be ratified by Parliament by November of last year. However, that period was extended a further six months, which meant that the schedule should have been dealt with item by item by the 4th of the present month. But finding that this would probably embarrass the Government, the Minister has brought down a further schedule, with the result that these items may remain on the table for another six months. I draw attention to the history of this particular amendment of the Customs Act 1901-1930 which was effected in July, 1934, by adding to the appropriate section the following words : - or before the expiration of six months after such tariff or tariff alteration is proposed, whichever first happens.

We were told that this amendment would become operative as from the 1st January, 1935, and that it was intended that all schedules would be considered by Parliament item by item before the expiration of six months after their having been tabled. Although it conceded this amendment to the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), the Government, apparently, has found it inconvenient to adhere to it. We have been told that all items contained in this schedule have been inquired into by the Tariff Board. In addition, I presume the experts of the Customs Department have also investigated them. That being so, I am satisfied that ample inquiry has been made. Perhaps, however, the Tariff Board has been hamstrung to some extent by the provisions in clauses 9 to 13 of the Ottawa Agreement, which caused the board to take an altogether different view from that which it held previously as to what constitutes reasonable protection for Australian industries. Those clauses have proved an embarrassment to the board, as, indeed, they would to any government that stands for adequate protection of Australian industries. I was glad to hear the Minister say -

The secondary industries of the Commonwealth are expanding, and the output from Australian factories is now 20 per cent, higher than the maximum figure recorded prior to the depression.

I am pleased to note such a big expansion in our secondary industries. I believe that I can rightly claim that this improvement is largely due to the very sound protectionist policy inaugurated by the Scullin Government in which I was Minister for Trade and Customs. That policy has played some part, at least, in laying the foundation for the big development which is taking place in Australian industry to-day. Naturally, some time elapsed before the benefits of that policy became apparent. When it was introduced, Australia was suffering one of the worst economic depressions in its history. Our warehouses were filled with imported goods, whilst the purchasing power of the people had been reduced by half. A considerable time had to elapse before those goods could be cleared and the purchasing power of the people improved as the result of better . conditions. It is very gratifying to know that the sound protectionist policy inaugurated by the Scullin Government has proved so fruitful, and that, to-day, as the result of that policy, economic conditions generally have improved and greater employment is available for our people. I was pleased to hear the Minister say that there was evidence of increased efficiency in secondary industry and that a fair export trade had been established. That is what we aim to do. We wish not only to supply our own requirements, but also to build up an export trade, and it is gratifying to know that, notwithstanding improved working conditions and higher rates of wages, our factories reveal a sufficient margin of efficiency to enable them to compete with the manufacturers in countries adjacent to Australia. The Minister said that the margin between the intermediate tariff and the general tariff is provided for the purpose of treaty making, the benefit of that margin being given to countries which complete treaties with us. That brings me to the whole question of trade treaties, including the Ottawa Agreement, with respect to which 1 shall have something to say later.

I should like to have heard something from the Minister concerning the manufacture of motor car engines in Australia. The establishment of such an industry would be one of the biggest engineering enterprises ever attempted in this country. I should like to know if, and when, the present Minister intends to revive the proposals which were so carefully considered three years ago by a government in which the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) was Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties. That honorable gentleman is Minister for External Affairs in the present Government, and, perhaps, it is premature to suggest that either he, or the Minister for Trade and Customs, is not now so enthusiastic about the establishment of that industry.

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