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Thursday, 23 March 1961

Mr JONES (Newcastle) .- I wish to mention a matter of importance to primary producers, particularly those in the oyster industry. On 15th March the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) addressed a question to the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) relating to the supply of wire netting as used in the tray production of oysters by oyster farmers. This Australian-made meshing is almost unprocurable and large quantities have to be imported from overseas, with a consequent drain on our overseas balances. In his reply the Minister stated, amongst other things -

Of course, the manufacturers could not forgo their contracts-

This followed the Minister's statement that the manufacturers had already entered into certain contracts with overseas interests for the supply of wire mesh. He continued - but they have been speeding up production and trying to make up the lee-way so that they can supply the Australian consumers. I do not think they have yet achieved that objective; but the Department of Primary Industry has investigated this matter and will do everything possible to help primary producers as well as oyster farmers to obtain the necessary wire.

On the same day the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Alan Fraser) asked the Minister a supplementary question in these terms -

Is it a fact that both Lysaght Proprietary Limited and Rylands Brothers (Australia) Proprietary Limited have declined this year to supply the netting of small mesh required by the oyster industry since the tray production of oysters was instituted?

In his reply the Minister stated -

I have no knowledge that the firms mentioned by the honorable member are not interested in this type of production, but I do know that there has been a shortage of this netting. The honorable member asked me whether I am prepared to bring pressure to bear on these firms. Of course, I have no intention of issuing any direction, because I have no power to do so. However, as I intimated to the right honorable member for Cowper, I will bring the matter before the firms to see whether I can do anything to assist oyster producers to obtain their requirements from Australian sources.

Who was being fooled? When this matter became public, members of the Australian Workers Union directed my attention to the fact that although Rylands Brothers in Newcastle have 49 looms that are capable of producing the wire that is required, only 23 are in production and many skilled men who normally operate these machines - they are skilled men and they have not acquired their skill overnight - are now cleaning up the yard of the factory and doing other labouring work. I see that the Minister is now in the chamber, and I should like him to tell me who was being fooled on the 15th March when he said that these firms are doing their best to overcome the shortage. If Rylands Brothers are doing their best to meet the requirements of the oyster farmers and other primary producers by operating only 23 of their 49 machines, thank heaven they are not putting forward their worst effort! The Minister should have a real look at this matter to find out what is going on. He should not try to pull the wool over the eyes of honorable members, particularly when a member of his own party asks him a question. When the honorable member for Eden-Monaro suggested that Lysaghts and Rylands were not doing their best, the Minister tried to talk him down and to make out that he did not know what he was talking about. But these are facts and I challenge any Government member to prove that they are incorrect. I have based my statements on figures that were given to me yesterday by the organizer of the Australian Workers Union who is concerned with this particular industry.

Mr Duthie - From which country do we import the wire?

Mr JONES - I could not ascertain that. According to the January, 1961 issue of the Monthly Bulletin of Overseas Trade Statistics, imports of wire manufactures - iron and steel - in the first seven months of this year were almost double the imports in the corresponding period last year. I assume that much of the imported wire would be coming from Japan because most of the imports of this kind of wire and of galvanized iron in the past have come from that country. I am not having any crack at Japan about this. We have the machinery and the raw materials but the industry has not been able to meet the requirements of the primary producers of this country.

Mr Pollard - They cannot get fencing wire.

Mr JONES - The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited has had a complete monopoly on the production of steel and it has failed this country badly by its inability to meet the demand. If a Statecontrolled electricity commission were falling down on its job and there were continuing blackouts, there would he great headlines in the press. We all remember the criticism of "calamity Cramer" and members of the New South Wales Government a few years ago during the electricity shortage. But that Government, by its planning, was able to overcome the shortage of electricity in New South Wales. However the B.H.P. organization - .that great monopoly - has not had the foresight and the ability to plan sufficiently far ahead to meet the requirements of the primary producers and industry as a whole. These products have to be imported into this country. The value of the imports of iron and steel single-strand wire increased from £406,000 in the first seven months of 1959-60 to £2,244,000 in the same period of the year 1960-61. These imports, which are a drain on Australia's overseas balances, are necessary because the monopoly interest in the steel industry cannot meet Australia's requirements. I wonder whether the company is deliberately keeping down its production of these products. I wonder whether production has been retarded and kept to a minimum level so that when the harebrained bonus system that was outlined by the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. McEwen) is introduced, the company, by increasing production then, will receive a greater bonus. I believe that these are matters that should be examined.

But, most important of all, I think the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Ader mann) should have another look at his answers and find out who has been advising him and where they obtained their information. He should also find out whether it is a fact that only 23 of the 49 looms at the Rylands works in Newcastle - works which are capable of producing the wire that people want - are operating and that skilled labour is being dispersed around the works. The men are concerned about this because rumours are rife that there will be a lay-off. The company has assured the men in the industry, through the union, that there will not be a lay-off, but where there is smoke there is fire.

Mr Cairns - But there is no wire.

Mr JONES - No. I hope that these men will not be displaced and that the Government will bring some pressure to bear on this company to put the other 26 looms back into production. If the company produced all the wire that it is able to produce, then, instead of having to import wire, Australia would be in a position to export it.

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