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Wednesday, 11 November 1959

Mr O'CONNOR (Dalley) (12:20 PM) . - I wish to bring to the notice of the House the effect which the importation of what is known as ready-made rattan furniture is having upon the Australian manufacturing industry. Some weeks ago I received a deputation from this industry, and I have also received representations from the union concerned. As the result of the importation of this ready-made rattan furniture the Australian manufacturing industry is facing complete collapse, and a demand is being made upon the Government to take urgent action to avert such a happening. I am keenly interested in this matter because this industry, which employed 475 people before the war, is reduced to such a state that it now employs only 60. In the area of Leichhardt there are nine small manufacturers operating, some of whom have been in business for 50 years and others for 30 years. Where once they employed 30, 25 and eighteen men, to-day some of them are employing only one man. The nine firms operating in Leichhardt employed 138 men, an average of sixteen employees each, three or four years ago. To-day, they employ a total of 32, or fewer than four each.

The base material used in the manufacture of this furniture is cane that is procured in Indonesia. It is controlled by a monopoly of overseas interests. After being purchased in Indonesia, the cane is shipped to either Japan, China or Hong Kong where it is made into ready-made furniture and exported to Australia. The retail cane trade is enjoying a boom in Australia, but the Australian manufacturers and their em ployees are not sharing in that boom. This trade has become a monopoly of overseas interests.

There are two important aspects that require investigation by the Government. The first is that overseas interests are setting themselves up in business here to the detriment of Australian manufacturers. Nobody objects to overseas interests establishing themselves in Australia so long as they do not do so to the detriment of Australian industries. The figures I have quoted show, however, that without protection from the Government, the Australian industry has suffered severely. It is in dire straits and cannot stand up to the competition it is meeting from these overseas interests which are setting themselves up in the capital cities. I know for a fact that two or three of them' set themselves up in business in Sydney recently with disastrous results to the local manufacturers.

The other aspect is that the Australian retail houses are now importing this particular commodity direct. One Australian manufacturer who was accustomed to receiving an order worth £6,000 a year from one large retail house in Sydney was told by that retail house a few months ago that it would have no further business for him, that in future it would be importing the furniture direct. I should like to know how it is that this retail house is getting a licence to import this furniture when the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) has said on many occasions that certain regulations and conditions govern the issue of import licences.

The overseas interests to which I have referred have also been guilty of very questionable practices. The representative of one of them called upon a local manufacturer some time ago, inspected his factory, obtained brochures and price lists from him and then departed, leaving the local manufacturer with the impression that he would be receiving a large order. Instead, the overseas interests imported the furniture direct from Hong Kong. They flooded the Australian market. I put it to the House that no industry can stand up to practices such as that. An Australian industry which once employed 500 men is now employing only 60. These Australian employers have always given their employees decent wages and conditions and they are now suffering at the hands of overseas interests who are importing from Hong Kong furniture manufactured by labour for which the wage rate is 2s. a day. The local manufacturers have impressed upon me that it is urgent that the Government take action to protect them, otherwise they will face complete extinction. I sincerely hope that the Government will take the action necessary to protect the industry from that fate.

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