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Wednesday, 29 November 1944

Mr McEWEN (Indi) . - A significant feature of this debate is the fact that the Government has studiously refrained from supplying those facts and figures which are essential if the House is to reach a considered decision. The Government has merely said that it would be a good idea to make aluminium in Australia because there are bauxite deposits and electric power here. The Government has avoided acquainting the House with the fact, as did the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Bowden), that certain other essential ingredients in the manufacture of aluminium have to be imported. How much else the House has not been told we, not being experts, do not know. Therefore, it is proper that the Leader of the Australian Country party (Mr. Fadden) should have moved that the measure be postponed until the proposal can be referred to the Tariff Board for investigation and report. The status of the Tariff Board is well established, and no authority in Australia is better qualified to make an inquiry into the issues involved. There is no real urgency. Government spokesmen, in order to give weight to their arguments, have stated that the manufacture of aluminium in Australia would be a contribution towards the country's war effort. A lurid picture was painted by the Minister for Munitions (Mr. Makin) of the scarcity of aluminium ingot at one stage during the war, and he argued that it would be much better to manufacture the aluminium here. The facts which he presented are, less the trimmings, substantially correct, but no one with any real knowledge of the position believes that the manufacture of aluminium in Australia, by the time it would be possible to begin manufacture, could be any contribution to the country's effort in this war. Insofar as the establishment of an aluminium industry has any relation to defence, the Government must be thinking in terms of the next war. So far as this war is concerned, the diversion of labour, materials and machinery on the vast scale necessary to establish the industry could only represent a substantial subtraction from the country's war effort. In addition, it would be necessary to ask manufacturers in allied countries to produce for us certain intricate machinery which at present we cannot manufacture here. Those overseas manufacturers would have to suspend the manufacture of certain weapons of war while they made for us electrical conversion machinery, &c, necessary for the establishment of the aluminium industry, and this so that we may be prepared for the next war. That is not a good enough reason for asking Parliament to vote money which can be obtained only by appealing to the people to increase their contributions to the next victory loan. Insofar as we may have been remiss in not having provided ourselves with the aluminium needed for this war, nothing is achieved by crying over spilt milk. For the present, there is a stockpile of aluminium in America upon which we can draw to the amount of thousands of tons. The House should not be misled into believing that the Government's proposal has anything to do with the war effort.

As for the post-war period, I wish to see established in Australia all the industries which it would be reasonable to establish. I look to the balanced development of Australia's economy. I know that the basic industries are those associated with the land, but I hope to see grow up side by side with them secondary industries which will provide us with the requirements of peace and war, and which will give employment to the consumers of our primary products. However, I do not want to see established uneconomic industries merely so that we may boast that they are here. I do. not, for instance, wish to see established an aluminium industry if it can be done only by imposing a tremendous cost burden upon the public. I realize that, since we are so dependent upon the export of our primary products, we cannot afford to close foreign markets against those products. If we set out to produce here everything that it is possible to produce, regardless of cost, there will be an inevitable reaction abroad which will result in the closing of markets against us. It is true that we can produce aluminium here; nobody denies that. It is true that Germany can grow wheat, but while we could grow it at 4s. a bushel, it was costing Germany 12s. a bushel to grow. It is true that we can produce aluminium here at costs which are fantastic in comparison with those in countries more favorably situated for the production of this metal. The Government has brought before us an example of that economic nationalism - which was the subject of criticism, derision and contempt when practised by those nations which are today our enemies. This same economic nationalism has, in a thousand speeches, been arraigned as one of the chief causes of the war. "What does the Atlantic Charter mean? "What do the pledges regarding freer trade between the nations mean, if we, applying a policy of economic isolation, decide to close our country against the products pf other nations, including our sister dominions, when those countries are much more favorably situated to produce certain commodities than we are? I am not competent, nor is this Parliament competent, to estimate the prospective requirements of Australia in aluminium ingot after the- war, and it is with the post-war period (hat we are concerned. Not only are wo unable to estimate the prospective consumption of aluminium in Australia, but we do not know what would be the minimum economic unit of production, yet those two factors must be related. We have not been told what will be the probable cost of production of aluminium here. We have been told nothing of other metals or plastics which, after the war. may compete in the market against aluminium. These facts are relevant to the proposal before the House, a proposal which involves the expenditure of £1,500,000 of Commonwealth money. If the Government's scheme be adopted it will possibly have the effect of closing certain overseas markets to our primary products, which are the natural products of Australia. The policy of the Australian Country party calls for the establishment in Australia of new industries which will make for a balanced economy, which will attract that larger population which is so necessary, and which will support new consumers of our primary products. We do not agree, however, that we should rush in to establish an industry merely because a Minister walks into the House with a proposal, and insults us by failing to put before us information to which we are entitled. We are invited to write a cheque for £1,500,000, and it looks as if the Commonwealth will also have to find the other £1,500,000 which ostensibly to be provided by the Government of, Tasmania. Seeing that (here is no urgency in the matter, the proper course is obviously to refer the proposal to the Tariff Board, and then to bring it before the House again at a more appropriate time, when the House will have before it the information to enable it to reach a proper decision.

Ifr. McE wen.

I know that there is no more popular course than to stand up, either in this House or in the Domain, and make a virulent attack on trusts, combines and monopolies. One can always get a cheer by doing that, but I also know that there are some highly technical processes which must necessarily be carried out on a vast scale, so that there is no alternative to government ownership other than ownership by companies which, because of the large amount of their capital, arc described as wealthy companies. I see no sense in standing up one day and attacking the Government for nationalizing interstate airlines, and the next day attacking companies which, while admittedly highly capitalized, are also in possession of those technical facilities which are necessary for certain manufacturing processes. I say to my friends who are for nationalization of industry that we should welcome the establishment in this country of certain industries, first, proved to be economic and, secondly, established in such circumstances that they are controlled in respect of prices and activities along lines which are for the public good. I know from the experience I had when administering the Department of Air that there are few industries more involved in a technical sense than the aluminium industry. I recall that in the course of our programme to manufacture Beaufort aircraft we were seeking certain tubular sections for those aircraft. The designers had chosen a tubular section of peculiar character. The British manufacturers were unable to supply it and we had to turn to the alternative source of supply - the United States of America. We placed orders with one of the greatest aluminium companies in that country, but after having expended 250,000 dollars in endeavouring to manufacture a certain kind of tubular extrusion according to the specifications, it had to confess that it was unable to manufacture it, and we had to wait until the British manufacturers were able to supply us. When an industry is so intricate in some of its processes that a great American company with millions of dollars of capital and great experience is unable to make an extrusion we take long odds if we brightly say that we need merely to vote so much money and set up a Government factory in order to succeed. Quite clearly snore than money is needed in some of the modern industrial processes. What the trades call " know how " has to be . added to the money. I am not prepared to Relieve that, because the aluminium fabrication plants in the Commonwealth arc owned by a company known as the Australian Aluminium Company the capital derivation of which has been explained by some of my colleagues, that is entirely bad and that the right thing for the Government to do is to take it over and run it. I should be unable to argue that that should be done and at the same time argue that it is entirely bad that the Government should acquire and operate the interstate airlines. Every activity in this country, whether it be the conduct of airlines or the manufacture of aluminium or anything else is under the control of the Government and, insofar as any activity is against public good, it is not only the duty but also the power of the Government to take such steps as are necessary to correct the position. I, as one who believes in private enterprise as against nationalization of industry, much prefer that this industry should be established with Australian capital and Australian labour and with all the prospects of success that would arise from the ingenuity of great Australian privatelyowned industries such as Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited. To proceed with the manufacture of aluminium ingots instantly can mean no more than a subtraction from our war effort, and to proceed with it at all, without first acquainting the Parliament with the results of a most thorough investigation, by the most competent authority, unquestionably the Tariff Board, is a grave mistake and in conflict with the traditional policy of this Parliament in respect of proposed new industries during at least the last ten or twelve years. I am wholeheartedly in support of the amendment moved by the Leader of the Australian Country party.

Dr.EVATT f Barton Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs) [9.50]. - I ask leave to reply on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Supply and Shipping (Mr. Beasley).

Leave granted.

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