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Wednesday, 4 May 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) . - I need not . detain honorable senators long upon the main question itself; but I am entitled to point out, in answer to various criticisms uttered during the debate, that the Government are not in any way responsible for the situation which has arisen with respect to wool. One or two honorable senators have expressed the opinion that, in some manner, this was just another of the responsibilities of the Government. I hope it will not be mentioned outside of this chamber, but the Government have probably committed sins enough on their own account without being asked to carry responsibility for the misfortunes of others. The Government are not seeking to interfere. We did not come forward in an endeavour to thrust ourselves into other people's difficulties, and we have, not sought to impose our will upon any one. When confronted with a request, which was practically unanimous, from many of the interests involvedaround the growing of wool - when we were requested to come in and lend a hand - we thought it right and proper to see if it were possible to smooth the difficulties away. Much has been said about the Government striving to interfere in the trade and commerce of the country. I do not want a false impression to go abroad concerning the real attitude of the Government in this matter.

One phase which was referred to by Senator Fairbairn had to do with the position of the fellmongers and scourers. That pointhas been brought under the notice of the Government. It is a little intricate and complicated. . There are circumstances connected with the industries which would appear to require some special treatment. The Government are now seeking advice from those most competent to express opinions and assist us in the matter. Without definitely committing myself, I desire to state that some provision will be made to meet the position which Senator Fairbairn has pointed out.

I only wish to direct attention, further, to the fact that among the honorable senators who have spoken, 95 per cent, of them have addressed the Senate in tones of criticism of the Government's proposal, but that no two of them have agreed in the views which they have expressed. While they have been critics of the Government's proposal, they have not agreed either upon the line of criticism or in pointing out what was wrong with our scheme, or in advancing alternatives.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - They have not proposed any alternatives.

Senator MILLEN (TASMANIA) - It is almost impossible, without knowing the details of the wool sold and the various grades offered, to suggest an alternative.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I cannot see that any deatils regarding the wool sold can affect the position, nor would the situation be in the 'slightest degree changed if the commodity were lead, rather than wool. The whole position has arisen from the fact of there being a too abundant supply in relation to the absorbing capacity of the world; and the problem would have been the same whether the commodity were wool, coal, lead, or anything else. I hope that when the opportunity occurs we shall have the pleasure of hearing Senator Gardiner discuss the advantages of renewed and increased trade with other countries. But I should like to correct his statement as to the attitude of the United States of America towards Australian wool. It seems to me that America is doing just what Senator Gardiner says Australia ought to do, namely, protect' the home market for her own wool.

Senator Gardiner - That is a fallacy the truth of which you taught me years ago.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is one of the greatest compliments that 'has ever been paid to me in my life. 'If, when I preach fallacies, truth results, then I shall have accomplished much. I should like to say a word or two with regard to the American anti-dumping law, about which we have heard so much of late. America has seen Australia with big quantities of wool likely to come into competition with her own, and also with her cotton, and she has done just what Australia has done in similar circumstances. We have an anti-dumping law on our statute-books, and, therefore, we cannot quarrel with the United States of America for passing similar legislation. But the real difficulty from our point of view is not the loss of the American market alone, valuable though it was. The purchasing power of the world to-day, compared with what it was ten years ago, is negligible. America may buy less, and some other country more, but the central, dominating factor is that we are growing and possess more wool than the world can buy. Do honorable senators consider where these proposals to sell wool on lengthy credits to an impoverished and bankrupt Europe will lead us? Is it not clear that if we do this we shall be rendering English spindles idle?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not if we sell for internal consumption only.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That would mean, then, that English spindles could not make and sell to those countries?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But if they cannot buy our cheap wool, how much less can they buy English tweeds?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If, by reason of a lessened purchasing power, they cannot absorb our wool, selling to them on long terms . must render English spindles idle.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - That is not so.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have as much right to an expression of my view as Senator Guthrie has to his. My experiences in Europe recently justify me in asserting that thisquestion of international credits was criticised by men thoroughly competent to question it. There is in England a very great fear that a system of international credits, designed to restore the shattered manufactories of Europe, would deal a deadly blow at the manufactories of England. This is a very genuine fear, and I decline to believe that it exists entirely in the imagination. It seemed to me to be quite a reasonable fear.

SenatorCrawford. - If we deal exclusively with England, England should return the compliment.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not think that Australia has the slightest justification to talk in that way about England. Our wool has been paid for; and, though England has every right to put it on the market, she has very generously compromised, in the interests of the Australian wool-grower, by agreeing that only one bale shall be placed on the market for every two bales of the new clip.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - England has not enough spindles to work the whole of the Australian clip.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And not enough people to buy and pay for it. The solution of the difficulty depends entirely upon the purchasing power of the world; and I say the purchasing power is not there at present.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - America is doing trade on long credits, so why cannot we do the same with our wool?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator should consider the circumstances. The United States of America id getting tremendous forestry, mining, and other concessions in those European countries. We must' remember, also, that the United Statesof America has a population . of 113,000,000, and is in a position to lend. She claims even England as her debtor. Australia is in a vastly different position. Australia is not anxious to give credits. As a matter of fact, she is going around the world asking for money for the products she has to sell It is idle to put us in the same position as America. In conclusion, I have to . thank honorable senators for the manner in which the debate has been conducted.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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