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Wednesday, 29 November 1944

Mr HOLT (Fawkner) .- Normally every honorable member would welcome proposals from the Government for the establishment of important new industries, and would readily give their approval to such projects. If we could be assured that the proposal to establish the aluminium ingot industry in Tasmania was soundly based, we would quickly commend, it, for we would be glad to know that a State which had not hitherto enjoyed an undue proportion of the industrial development of the Commonwealth was to be the home of the new industry. We realize, of course, that new industries which are soundly based, provide employment for our people, and ensure industrial progress. 1 am certain, however, that the Government must have been impressed by the criticism of this measure. The Opposition is asking, firmly, that before this industry is established proper investigation shall be made to ascertain how it will stand in the face of future world competition. Our practice in the past, has been to give adequate tariff protection to new and economically sound Australian industries, because we believe that they are good national assets; but we have not been given sufficient information to justify the conclusion that this industry would have reasonable prospects of success, considered apart from its importance as a defence measure. We must pay some regard, of course, to the possibility of threats from aggressor nations in the future, and it may be that a strong case can be stated for the establishment of the aluminium industry in this country on security grounds. I do not wish to repeat the arguments of honorable gentlemen who have already competently put their views before the House, but I say without hesitation that a clear and compelling case has been made out for further inquiry, in order to justify our proceeding with this proposal. I base that, not merely on the fact that the Government itself has made so little information available to us; both the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden) and the honorable member for Calare (Mr. Breen) who, obviously, have given a great deal of study to this matter, are in. direct conflict in regard to what they believe to be statements of fact. The honorable member for Gippsland, in a clear and interesting statement, informed us that, without further development in Australia, this industry would bc virtually in the hands of the overseas combine which controls the production of aluminium at the present time. The honorable member for Calare challenged that statement, and stated his view, .based on such information as he had - which, in his opinion, provided a complete answer.

Dr Evatt - I am informed that cryolite is now being made in Australia.

Mr HOLT - I accept that interesting statement. We are gathering information as the debate proceeds. I am certain that, at its conclusion, few honorable members will consider that they have such a complete picture of a projected new industry as they ought to have, particularly in view of their serious misgivings as to whether or not the industry can be conducted in Australia so economically as to permit it to compete on favorable terms with the production of other countries. The important question is not so much whether the honorable member for Gippsland is right and the .honorable member for Calare is wrong, or whether or not other honorable members have stated facts accurately but whether or not there has been that full presentation of the facts which would enable this House to make up its mind on such an important matter. But even that is not, to me, the phase of the highest importance to which this House should be devoting its attention. The international aspect has been comparatively untouched in the debate, although it was mentioned by the Leader of the Opposition. If we have a realistic appreciation of our place in the world, we know that Australia of itself can fill only a minor role. If we are to have any influence on the conduct of international affairs, there are two important ways in which it can be exercised, namely, asone of the components of the Englishspeaking group of nations, or, in the way to which we have become accustomed, as a unit of the British Commonwealth. In either of those two ways, we should have an influence and an authority out of all proportion to the number of our people. I do not need to dwell on that matter, because it should be clear to all honorable members. I fear that the Government is treading on dangerous ground, and is setting a hazardous course, when it adopts the procedure that has been followed in connexion with this measure. It may be convinced that it has "all the information it requires to justify the establishment of the industry. Certainly, it has not yet given all that information to the House. But let us assume that it has taken all those precautions which a prudent government would deem necessary before embarking on such an important undertaking. It has not discharged its responsibility to the full, having regard to the significance of an economic development of this kind at the present stage in our history, and its possible repercussions on other English-speaking countries. From time to time in this place, the Minister for External Affairs (Dr. Evatt) has stressed the importance of the text of the Atlantic Charter. We know that the spirit of that document, and a good deal of its language, deal with future economic relationships between the peoples of the world. The whole spirit of the Charter is that there should be a freer and wider movement of trade between the peoples of the world. Those who have some knowledge of the recent political history of President Roosevelt and of Mr. Cordell Hull in respect of economic policies, can readily imagine that they have contemplated some lowering of world tariff barriers and a very much freer movement of goods than was the case immediately prior to the war. The Atlantic Charter was followed by a document a little more explicit in its terms, to which to-day Australia is a consenting party. The Leader of the Opposition has recited the terms of Article 7 of the Lend'-Lease Agreement made between the United States of America and the United Kingdom in February, 1942, and has pointed out that that article was adopted as the basis of an agreement between the United States of America and Australia. It sets out one of the international obligations into which this country entered. If honorable members will examine the text of it, they will see that the terms and conditions of the lend-lease arrangement were to be such as would not burden commerce between the two countries but would permit mutually advantageous economic relations between them and promote the betterment of world-wide economic relations. Later, reference is made to the appropriate international and domestic measures to be taken by both countries in regard to production, employment, and the exchange and consumption of goods, which the document describes as the material foundations of the liberty and welfare a* all peoples. It proposes the elimination of discriminatory treatment of all forms in international commerce, and the reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers. Yet, deliberately, as we approach the conclusion of this protracted war, this country is about to establish a new industry, knowing that there is a world glut of the metal which it is proposed to manufacture, and that the United States of America and Canada are significantly involved in its world-wide distribution. That knowledge of itself, may not be. sufficient to deter us from proceeding with a proposal which we believe to be desirable from the stand-points of development and defence. But surely our commitments in relation to international obligations, and a realistic appreciation of what we may expect to be the state of mind of the governments in countries with which we are to-day on most friendly terms, should compel us not only to make the most searching inquiries, but also to see that the findings of that inquiry shall be made known to those countries. I should feel a good deal happier about the measure had I the knowledge that the Tariff Board had conducted a full investigation of the prospects of the industry, including an examination of its economics, and of world production, the present condition of world stocks and prices, and the relevant local and defence considerations, as well as all the other items that would be part and parcel of a full dress inquiry; and, having taken evidence for and against the proposal from interested parties, had published its findings in the full light of day, so that not only this Government and. Parliament, but also those other countries with which we must preserve the most friendly trade and political relations, might be fully informed of the reason for our making this important decision. That has not been done ; and so long as it remains undone we shall run the very grave risk of having Australia's attitude and policy misunderstood by those other nations. Australia is not entirely a manufacturing country. It is true that, in recent years, all the emphasis internally appears to have been on industrial manufacture. During the war years we have given a great impetus to the development of our secondary industries, and our discussions in this place have been largely concerned with matters relating to them. But surely we have not forgotten that this is a great exporting country, which must rely on the satisfactory disposal overseas of its surplus primary production in order to maintain a sound internal economy ! If we accept as verity that we are largely dependent upon the successful sale of that surplus in order to have prosperity within this country, then we shall not by any deliberate act do anything that might jeopardize those world markets that are available to us. Yet, I submit, that is the very consequence that is threatened by the actions of the Government in this matter. We know that Great Britain, for example, has increased its primary production by more than 50 per cent, during the war years. It has expanded its acreage, and has produced additional foodstuffs in order to keep its people alive. I have heard it suggested that, having so developed its agricultural industries, it is determined to maintain them after the war, even should that mean the erection of high tariff barriers. That, perhaps, is a natural state of mind in the people of Britain, who have experienced the deprivation arising from a scarcity of foodstuffs. Similarly, it may be argued that our experience in trying to obtain aluminium in the early stages of the war impels us to the decision to establish this industry. But in doing that, we are disregarding the spirit of the Atlantic Charter and, in fact, the actual text of the lend-lease agreements. Are we to give only lip service to those undertakings? Is each country to take such economic action as would nullify them completely? Australia can ill afford to be the first country to move in the direction of the defeat of those important objectives. Yet that is what is being done. So I have very great uneasiness in regard to this measure. I do not condemn the establishment in Australia of the aluminium industry because, frankly, I would not claim to have the information on which a sound judgment could be based. Only by the inquiry suggested could honorable members be placed in a position to give a worthwhile judgment. But I am. even more concerned in regard to what I believe will be the repercussions in the other English-speaking countries, particularly the United States of America and Canada, and to a less degree Great Britain, of an act of this kind which cannot be justified in their eyes without their perusal of a public and detailed document warranting the establishment of the industry, and which is performed in such a casual manner by the government of the day. It is still not too late for the Government to take the action suggested. I do not believe that the House is hostile to the creation of an aluminium industry in Australia, and if the facts were properly presented there might be overwhelming support for the project. We should be failing in our duty, having in mind the need to maintain healthy economic development, if we did not demand a full inquiry; and the Government will be failing in its duty to the people if it takes action likely to create friction with our friendly neighbours and trading colleagues by refusing a full and reasonable inquiry so that the reasons for its decision may be patent to all who are interested. I wish to impress this particularly upon the Attorney-General, who is also Minister for External Affairs. In that capacity he must have a very lively regard for what people in other countries may think of this proposal. Presented as it has been, it lays us open to the suspicion - indeed, to the resentment - of other countries which are looking forward to a post-war era in which industry will not be seeking the same high protection as before the war. The Governments of all countries will be seeking to discover ways in which the most economic production can be most widely distributed. Because this matter is so internationally important, I heartily endorse the amendment, and will give it ray full support.

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