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Wednesday, 3 October 1956

Mr WHEELER (Mitchell) .- In the time at my disposal I should like to direct my remarks to the proposed vote for the Department of Trade, because I believe that a debate on the Estimates of that department is a more appropriate debate in which to discuss some of the most important phases of the Suez Canal dispute than is a debate on foreign affairs. It seems to me, rightly or not, that we have to face up to the problem that we shall have to enjoy life somehow without the Suez Canal at our disposal and that, whatever the trend of the course of events, with or without war, with or without agreements that may be concluded with Colonel Nasser or his successor, we must face a period in which we can no longer rely on the undisturbed use of the canal.

Mr Makin - I rise to order, Mr. Temporary Chairman. I am very reluctant to intrude upon the honorable gentleman's remarks, but I should like to direct your attention to the fact that other honorable members have been denied the opportunity to speak on this particular subject during this debate. In those circumstances, I ask whether the honorable gentleman is in order in raising a matter which is: already on the notice-paper?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - I have been listening very closely to the honorable member for Mitchell (Mr. Wheeler) and he has so far related the Suez affair to trade. Provided he continues to do so he is in order.

Mr Haylen - I rise to order. J submit that whether or not the honorable member relates the Suez affair to trade that matter appears on the notice-paper and, therefore, he is entirely out of order in raising it during this debate.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - I have given, my ruling. If. any honorable member disagrees with it a proper course is. open to. him.

Mr WHEELER - The honorable members. for. Bonython (Mr. Makin) and Parkes (Mr. Haylen), with their characteristic impetuosity, have not even given me the opportunity to inform the committee that all I have' to say about the. Suez Canal is concerned with- trade, alone. If mention of the Suez Canal offends those honorable gentlemen the purposes of my argument could equally be served by relating it to the. Panama. Canal-. Had I been allowed to proceed they would have realized that I was dealing with, trade.

It seems- that the day is coming when the Suez Canal will not be open freely for use at- an economical rate. This waterway has dominated Australia's thinking for many years, but a closer examination indicates that its loss need not be such a disaster for Australian trade as might at first be thought. The loss of the Suez Canal will increase the distance by sea between Australia and Europe by 800 miles. To compensate for that, however, the situation that will arise promises substantial benefits to Australia in trade with Asia and with the Middle East if. we gear our overseas commercial machine to take advantage of those opportunities. The real problem of going round the Cape is- not so much the extra mileage involved as the fact that the distance is largely an unproductive haul for cargo. It involves a long sea- run without ports. However, Australia's traditional policy of living by exporting raw- materials to Europe and importing manufactures in return has already lost a great deal- of its attraction. One has only- to look at our recurring crises in foreign exchange and continually increasing import restrictions to realize the truth of that statement. Great Britain, which is Australia-'s principal market, has become unprofitable because it will take only a big proportion of our commodities- at an unpayable price to' our producers. To get that export trade we buy from Great Britain a much, greater, volume of imports at prices very often above, what we would have to pay else? where. The combination of low export prices and high import prices is steadily driving Australia into bankruptcy in international trade. However much goodwill we may feel towards Great Britain, iiic situation is one which must have its limitations in the interests of both countries.

A re-assessment of our whole trade, if it were not overdue before the Suez crisis* is certainly warranted now in the light' of recent events. I' know that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) has laboured long and' earnestly to obtain, a new deal from Great Britain, in respect of our contracts; but. I' cannot see. how Great. Britain can give Australia anything worth while when, the trade of the two countries is no longer complementary as it used to be. Europe, and principally Great Britain, must remain our market and supplier for a long time to come, but it is time we recast our. thoughts to include a larger share of trade with countries in our half of the world. If the situation at Suez forces us to make a reassessment it may be a blessing in disguise. If we are alert we should devote ourselves to some solid " After-Suez " thinking in order- to gain trade advantages rather than suffer the disaster which so many anticipate and predict. If we face the realities of trade at the moment, nothing is to be gained by bemoaning the loss of the use of the Suez Canal' and what that loss might mean to the United Kingdom. It is to be hoped that having profited from its experience the United Kingdom will show a little more realism and virility in its future diplomacy and will safeguard its trading posts of Hong Kong and Singapore.

Turning to affairs in Australia, it is obvious that we should concentrate on trade with countries in our immediate vicinity. There is no time better than the present to explore future- trade prospects with SOuth.East Asian countries. The problems of

South-East Asia are the problems of Australia. The ill-fated Avro Vulcan bomber reminded us that Australia's isolation is a thing of the past. Recently, that bomber made a non-stop flight from Singapore to Melbourne in, I think, six hours fifty minutes. Every recent happening, whether on the political, commercial or scientific front, points to the fact that Australia's future is wrapped up with its capacity to hold its established markets, and, at the same time, seek new markets. New markets require new methods and a new approach whether they are on a trader-to-trader basis or are inspired by governmental activities. To procure these new markets will cost money. I note from the Estimates that, excluding administration expenses of £856,000 and a Tariff Board provision of £75,200, an amout of £508,800 is provided for the maintenance of overseas commercial intelligence services. The question arises in my mind whether that vote is large enough and whether sufficient funds are to be made available to enable our trade representatives to talk, live and sell Australia on the same level as do the representatives of other countries.

Australia needs capable trade representatives overseas, and we must offer salaries and living conditions high enough to attract not only trained men from the department but also men from other spheres of commercial activity. The man who accepts an appointment as a trade representative, or in the diplomatic service, makes a great sacrifice for his country and should be well compensated for the loss of equity interests which other men who remain in Australia may build up. The feeling has been fostered by old die-hards and colonials that in a young country like Australia our representatives are lacking in background and in the traditions of commercial and trading experience which is part of the inheritance of older countries. To some degree that impression has unfortunately gained ground. Repeatedly our trade negotiators, with the United Kingdom for instance, have not completed satisfactory agreements. That has not been because they have been outsmarted. Quite frequently decisions have been made by the United Kingdom traders before the Australian representatives have reached the conference table, and all that has remained to be done has been for the contract to be signed and the colonials to be duchessed and permitted to go back home. But I have faith in our trade representatives abroad, and 1 am insular and provincial enough to believe that there is always a good selling line in a steady flow of Australianism. If we are Australians selling Australia, bt us do it, by all means, in the Australian manner. However, our representatives must have the backing of goods. That backing should be not only in physical merchandise and goods, but also in private and governmental knowhow. The development of market technique is costly both for private enterprise and on a governmental level. Accordingly, I would much prefer to see a little less money spent here in Australia on unproductive government works and more spent in encouraging our industries, both primary and secondary, to develop production, manufacturing and marketing efficiency.

There is a wide field for trade promotion to our north. If, by virtue of the upheaval in the Suez Canal area, Britain's trade should weaken in those parts of the world which Britain still prefers to call the Far East, we should be ready to make our bid for this trade, because we cannot afford to allow it to pass out of the hands of the British Commonwealth of Nations. When I say there are avenues of trade available, I wish to give the example of Formosa, which I recently visited. There, with a little imagination, we could become direct traders. Formosa buys, for example, approximately 2,000,000 to 3,000,000 United States dollars' worth of wool tops each year. That is Australian greasy wool which has been purchased in the local market, shipped overseas, scoured and combed and freighted back to Formosa. That country also buys Australian goods, not from us, but through the trading posts of Hong Kong and Singapore which, of course, load on brokerage before the goods reach their destination. In addition, direct shipments of goods from Australia to Formosa are valued at from £1,000,000 to £2,000,000 per annum.

In Formosa, there is quite a market to be developed in Australian goods, and it is not difficult to imagine that, if we could add a little drive to our fond hopes for markets, we could establish a fair direct export trade not only in wool tops, but also in hides, metals and dairy products such as butter, cheese and processed milk. In Formosa, a popular brand of condensed milk comes from Denmark. This matter takes me back to my original remarks concerning the Suez Canal and the need to explore this situation from the stand-point of trade. It is to be noted that trade in Formosa is watched most carefully.

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