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Wednesday, 4 May 1921

Senator BAKHAP (Tasmania) . - Although it may savour of temerity on the part of one who has not the slightest connexion with wool producing, and the marketing of the product, and all the industries incidental to the main one, to have anything to say upon this question at all, my experience of life has taught me that it is not always those who are most directly associated with a matter that are the best judges as to what should be done. I did not rise for the purpose of criticising the objective of this scheme. The objective is laudable enough. All human life is a matter of expediency. We have to do what is often the best thing in the circumstances.

Senator Fairbairn - A choice of evils ?

Senator BAKHAP - Yes. I was only privileged to. hear the Minister (Senator E. D. Millen) for a few minutes, as I had to go out of this chamber, but I understand he was diffident,- and not prepared to forecast- with any degree of exactitude the outcome of the scheme.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not reckless enough to do that.

Senator BAKHAP - No; I do not think any one in this chamber would care to venture a definite prophecy as to where this thing is going to lead us. That being so, it is just as well to point out certain features of the scheme which seem to indicate its economical unsoundness.

Senator Fairbairn - Can you give us anything better?

Senator BAKHAP - I may be able to do that. I admit that those who are most directly concerned' in the industry are in favour of the proposal submitted to the Senate, but I say that I would not care if the whole of the pastoralists of Australia were in favour of the scheme. If I thought it was wrong, I would exercise my own discretion, and vote against it.

I have said that it is a matter of expediency, and it is just as well to indicate what we are doing, because, whether for good or evil, this proposed action, will be quoted as a precedent before many years have gone over our heads. If I may be permitted to say so, we are endeavouring to do with wool what the much-decried miners of Great Britain are endeavouring -to do with coal. In other words, they have been enjoying certain benefits - perhaps much-deserved . benefits- - in the way of improved wages and working conditions consequent on the high price of coal produced during the war. Naturally, they do not want that price to be reduced, any more than we wantwool tobe cheaper. But their protest against a reduction in the production of coal has resulted in other countries getting a hold of markets that were previously supplied with British coal. It is a well-known axiom in commerce that a. market lost is very difficult to regain. I think Senator Gardiner made some similar observation in regard to the wool market in America, and Senator Payne endeavoured, in his turn, to prove, I hope to his own satisfaction, that that market is being restored. But it is hard to regain trade, and it is because the British miners believe that the price of coal should be sustained in the face of obvious economic difficulties that Great Britain is in danger of losing her coal trade, and, in fact, is in grave danger of losing her prestige as a manufacturing country.

Senator Keating - That is what we have to avoid as regards wool.

Senator BAKHAP - I point this out with all due respect to Senator Guthrie, who has most patriotically and carefully busied himself for some time past in educating honorable senators and members of, another place into that frame of mind which he believes will enable them to take action which I am honestly convinced he is thoroughly satisfied will he in the best interests of the Commonwealth.

Senator Crawford - The Government took drastic action recently to save the carbide industry.

Senator BAKHAP - Yes, and, as I have said, it was an expedient. The Government has taken drastic action for some years to save the Queensland sugar industry.

Senator Crawford - No. To prevent the exportation of sugar.

Senator BAKHAP - The Government, I hope, will take somewhat similar action in connexion with another important industry in Tasmania, not altogether connected with carbide.

Senator Crawford - But I referred to the carbide as an Australian, not a Tasmanian, industry.

Senator BAKHAP - It is an Australian industry, particularly fostered and developed by Tasmania, if the honorable senator cares to have it that way.

It is well to put on record the belief that we are treading a very devious and dangerous path in regard to this proposal to help the wool industry. I would not mind any charge of a breach of long-held principles that may be made against me in regard to my vote if I thought any contemplated action by the Government was going to be a success; but I have very grave fears that the objective we have in view cannot be realized. "I will try to explain why I think it will not be wise to anticipate success from our intended action. This proposed legislation is supposed to be necessitated by a break-, away on the part of 6 or 7 per cent, of the wool-growers of Australia from the scheme which has been formulated to protect the industry. I have nothing to say about the willingness of those people, if they were given an opportunity, to come into the scheme. I am dealing with ' the economic position, and the probable result of the proposed action. If we produce only 25 per cent, of the rough stuff in wool, how are we going to meet the breakaway - because it is a breakaway - of the other 75 per cent, of the world's producers? Fully 75 per cent, of the world's producers will be selling in a free market quite apart from the breakers away from the Australian situation. There is no doubt about that.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - There is only the Argentine.

Senator BAKHAP -- If there are 75 per cent, of the world's producers selling in a free market, how can legislation enacted by this Parliament be effective in regard to the breakaway of only 6 per cent, of the 25 per cent, protected ?

Senator Crawford - How much other wool is being sold in the markets in which we sell?

Senator BAKHAP - That produced by 75 per cent, of the world's producers.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Not at all. The only competitor we have is the Argentine.

Senator BAKHAP - I do not believe that at present there are any manufacturers of woollen goods in the Argentine. I believe they export the whole of their product. There are other countries that produce wool. 1

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Not for export.

Senator BAKHAP - What does South Africa do with her wool?

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - South Africa pro: duces all merino wool, and we have the predominating influence in that connexion.

Senator BAKHAP - I am merely dealing with the situation as it appears to me from figures quoted by Senator Guthrie, who said that we only produce 25 per cent, of the rough wool.-

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I did not say that. We produce 25 per cent.1 of the world's output irrespective of whether it is coarse or fine, and apart altogether from where it is sold.We only produce 36 per cent, of crossbred wool.

Senator BAKHAP - If such is the case I am afraid the honorable senator's statement supports mine in connexion with the economic situation, and that is that whatever action we take will nothave any beneficial effect in the direction we desire.

Senator Keating - What is the posir tion in the markets in which we do sell?

Senator BAKHAP - We are in competition with a quantity of rough wool which is greater than that which we produce.

Senator Keating - Senator Guthrie says that it does not come into the same market.

Senator BAKHAP - As honorable senators seem to think there are difficulties in the way I shall not pursue this line of argument any further, because I do not want to unduly distress them, but to point out that in my humble opinion we shall not secure the economic result we are aiming at. The thought that must be in the minds of all of us is the method of using the Customs Act to prohibit exports in time of peace. Anything is justified in time of war, but there were some who cavilled at what the Government thought fit to do even then. The psychology of the people in times of peace is quite different from the psychology of the people in times of war, and although we consented to the practical suspension of a habeas car-pus in times of war, are we prepared in times of peace to accept such a situation in the administration of justice? This proposal is after all based on war legislation, and I am prepared to admit that it is dealing with a matter which is the outcome of war. Nevertheless, it is a somewhat hazardous method to employ in times of peace. If we do this now, there will come a time in the ebb and flow of matters politically when a Government will be in charge of the administration of the affairs o'f the Commonwealth which will submit a policy that will probably be obnoxious to nearly all the members of this Chamber as it is at present constituted. In other words, a Government may be in power to which the members of the party I belong to will be openly hostile. What sort of a precedent are we establishing? We are giving them the oppor tunity of following the course the Government are now suggesting in connexion with anything they may caTe to do, however sinister 'it may appear to be.

I am not going to impede the passage of what I believe will have the support of a majority of this Chamber. I believe that Australian legislators are prepared to take the risk, and give the people of Australia who produce the wool an opportunity of improving their position. Long, long ago, during the time of the debates on the Federal land tax, we were told that sheep were butting men off the land in Australia, and I was able to hold up to audiences I addressed graphs and pictures from the Commonwealth Year- Book, and other publications prepared by Mr. . Knibbs, somewhat on a pyramidical scale, showing that the prosperity of Australia centred largely on the wool industry. It was regarded as the one big block of granite supporting all other Australian industries. I used -to say, "Lord, bless my soul! Let me read how many millions Australia receives from the pastoral industry ! " There was so much from agriculture, which represented a fair number of bricks, a smaller number representing the mining industry, and still smaller numbers representing forestry, 'poultry farming, and bee farming, which were almost infinitesimal in size. The prosperity of Australia is Teally based upon the pastoral industry. There is no doubt about that. Australia has been referred to by poets and flowery writers as the Land of the Golden Fleece, and the Golden Fleece is in our Australian coat-of-arms.

I do not lightly regard any unsatisfactory position in the pastoral industry, and if we can assist the industry out of its present difficulty, let us by all means do it. Very reluctantly I intend to cast my vote in favour of the intended course of action, the reluctance not arising altogether because I believe our action is something different from our usual practice, but because I hope the step may bring success. I am, however, extremely doubtful of its success, and I am sure that economically our action is on all fours with that which the coal miners of Great Britain desire the Government to take in regard to coal, and which the Government would be exceedingly unwise to attempt. We are plucky enough to take the risk, hut in the name of common sense and sound economics do not let us anticipate very much from the action we propose taking.

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