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Tuesday, 8 November 1910

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - I indorse nearly all that has 1 *en said by the previous speakers. I think that no fiscal controversy can be imported into the discussion, in view of the fact that it is generally " recognised that the Commonwealth has adopted a certain fiscal policy, and that this measure is merely carrying out that principle. Indeed, so well established is the principle now, that it would be rather idle for any one to question it. The industry which we are called on to assist is as much a mining as an oil-producing industry, so far as surface work is concerned, and for that reason I gladly welcome this measure. Mining has had to pay the piper on almost every occasion when fiscal proposals have been laid before the Senate. There are so few things in mining to which the principle of Protection can be extended that we ought to gladly avail ourselves of an opportunity to assist the industry. As regards the wages paid, I can speak with an intimate knowledge of the principal company which is likely to produce oil in Australia for some years to come. The Commonwealth Oil Corporation is a very large private enterprise concern. Of the various companies whose operations I have become acquainted with in recent years not one of them can be said to carry on its business in a more creditable way than does the Commonwealth Oil Corporation. As a Labour man, I had a unique experience in connexion with the shale industry. I was called upon to arbitrate in a strike at part of its works, not at Newnes, but at Ayrlie, where mining of this kind has been carried on for a very large number of years. When the true state of affairs was explained, and it was shown that it was an industry which ought to pay a very reasonable rate of wages, the company accepted the award with, I dare say, better grace than any mining company of which I have had experience. The award undoubtedly provided for the payment of a high rate of wages. Not only was it accepted with the best possible grace, but, so far as I know, it has been carried out to the strict letter. I understand that there has been a strike at another part of the company's works, but situate in another district, and that also, I believe, has been settled successfully. Tudging from the figures which I have seen published in connexion with the other district, I think it must be admitted that the wages paid in this oil industry, compared with the wages paid in mining in other parts of Australia, are very satisfactory indeed.

Senator Millen - Is not the employment less intermittent than in the case of ordinary coal-mining?

Senator DE LARGIE - Yes. It is not liable to the fluctuation which marks the coal trade. Its trade is fairly regular all the year round. In New South Wales, shale mining has been a rather neglected industry. For twenty-five years, to my knowledge, and for many years previously, they have been operating shale on the Blue Mountains. During my time, the industry has not been on as satisfactory a basis as it might have been. That has been due, perhaps, to the fiscal policy pursued in New South Wales, and to nothing else.

Senator Rae - There was an import duty of 3d. per gallon on kerosene.

Senator DE LARGIE - The industry had the benefit of that duty, but it did not seem to have the effect which Protectionists naturally anticipated. I think that, if instead of the Protectionist duty, which was imposed, strange to say, by a Free Trade Government, the bounty system had been adopted, the result would have been much more satisfactory.

Senator Rae - The duty put up the price of kerosene.

Senator DE LARGIE - The honorable senator's interjection recalls the fact that during the late general election when a duty on kerosene in common with other necessarien of life was regarded as a possibility of the future, the idea was roundly condemned by most of the candidates sitting on this side of the Senate, andI think that the country supported the attitude taken up by the Labour party. Kerosene is consumed to such an extent that a duty would fall heavily on the poorer section of the community. It would be a tax on country residents as against city residents. In the country, people are obliged to use kerosene, whereas in cities they may use gas or electricity. Since a duty on kerosene would amount to a tax on a largesection of the people, it would be very unsatisfactory, I think. I am pleased that the Government kept that view in mind and decided to propose a bounty in aid of this industry. If it is to become a serious element in the industrial affairs of Australia, the oil industry must be placed on a. sound basis. Its competitors are, perhaps, the strongest which any companyin the world is called upon to face. I do not propose to enlarge upon the operations or tactics of the Standard Oil Company; these are so well known, and I need hardly say that few competitors can withstand its power. It is sufficient, I think, for me to mention that that company is one of the strong competitors which any Australian oil company is obliged to face. Another great competitor is the Borneo Oil Company, whose operations are carried on principally by black labour. Considering what we have done to put Australian workmen on a fair competitive footing with black labour, I think it will be agreed that a bounty is necessary if a fair and reasonable amount of encouragement is to be. given to the oil industry. In my opinion, it deserves every possible encouragement. I regret, however, that it is practically confined to New South Wales. I should like to see other States participating in the allocation of the bounty.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - It is in Australia, so that is all right.

Senator DE LARGIE - I agree with that view, but, nevertheless, I regret that the mineral is not more generally spread over the Commonwealth, and that other States are not to get a fair share of the bounty. I understand that recently some shale deposits have been tapped in Tasmania, so that it is possible that it may participate in the bounty. Although Western Australia is not to derive a benefit from this legislation, it has my cordial support, because I am here to encourage the develop.ment of Commonwealth industries, no matter in which State they may be established.

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