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Thursday, 28 March 1957

Mr ADERMANN (Fisher) .- Not very much need be said in addition to what the Postmaster-General (Mr. Davidson) has put to the House, but I do want to support the bill and the action of this Government over the years in giving a necessary guarantee to an industry that is so worthy of assistance. Looking back over my years of advocacy on behalf of the industry I recall that, when I was on the Opposition side, my colleagues and I fought for a guarantee of 9d. per lb. At that time imported raw cotton was costing 30d. per lb. The then Government, in which the present honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) was Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, accepted the Tariff Board's recommendation and offered no guarantee so far as costs were concerned. It is true, as the honorable member for Lalor has said, that the then Government followed the board's recommendation. I have a great admiration for the board's work but I cannot, even now, concede that the board was right on that occasion. It recommended that the £68,000 owing by the industry on plant and machinery should be waived but that nothing more should be done.

When we went over to the treasury bench the industry was, to all intents and purposes, dead. Only a few hundred bales were produced in that year, and, within the first twelve months of coming to office, we honoured our election promise to give a guarantee of 9d. per lb. I could never understand why the Tariff Board had not the vision to recognize the worth of the cotton industry.

The Postmaster-General's reference to an ample market is borne out by the import figures. I looked them up again to-night and found that raw cotton imports for the seven months to the end of January, 1957, indicate an annual cost of about £7,000,000. Cotton yarn imports are costing £2,600,000 a year and piece goods, cotton and linen, about £30,000,000 a year. Surely no one would object to a subsidy that would give a guarantee somewhere near the cost of production. It would widen the scope of this industry and, in turn, boost the manufacture of piece goods and textiles in Australia.

I cannot understand the suggestion of the honorable member for Lalor (Mr. Pollard) that this is socialist legislation. It is merely a matter of paying a subsidy, as is done in the dairying industry. Honorable members should not forget that the consumers too, benefit because they are able to buy their goods more cheaply. If the Labour government had given the subsidy down through the years Australia would have been saved millions of dollars. Cotton could have been grown at 9d. per lb. and we would not have had to pay 30d. per lb. for the imported product. I could never see any wisdom in the action of the Labour government, or in the recommendation of the Tariff Board.

Mr Duthie - What is the cotton like in quality?

Mr ADERMANN - It is first class. The guarantee has brought confidence to the industry and encouraged farmers to import the mechanized equipment that is needed if costs are to be kept down. Most of our cotton picking is now done mechanically. As is the case in some other primary industries, it is necessary to harvest within a few weeks of maturity, or the whole crop will be lost. Even more important, it must be harvested when the weather is favorable. Heavy rain can destroy a crop. The Government's action in continuing the guarantee of 14d. per lb., even at a cost to this country of some thousands of pounds a year, will mean an ultimate monetary saving and greater employment because it will create confidence and encourage an extension of manufacturing. I support the Postmaster-General in his suggestion that the Minister should look forward and give sympathetic consideration to the industry's desire for a guarantee period of a further five years after 1958. An early announcement on that matter would encourage the industry to import the machinery that it needs if it is to be up to date. The industry has had a couple of bad seasons and it is to be hoped that the tide will now turn and we shall have good crops so that the industry may prove its worth. I press for an early announcement by the Government that the guarantee for this very worthwhile industry will be continued.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Pearce) adjourned.

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