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Wednesday, 11 May 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Repatriation) . - Senator Earle has already indicated that he did not give me any notice of his intention to bring this matter forward. I take no exception to that, and mention it' merely as an explanation of that complete ignorance of the matter on my part which may . possibly become obvious as I proceed. There are two or three aspects of the question to which I should like to direct attention. First of all, whatever the position may be, in no sense can the Government be charged with creating it.

Senator Earle - That is so.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a common habit, and has become almost a fashionable pastime, if anything is wrong - a refusal of cows to give the customary quantity of milk, or of crops to grow without rain - to blame the Government for it. If the Government do anything they are wrong, and if they abstain from doing anything they are equally wrong. Whatever the right or wrong of this matter, the Government at least are clean-handed in regard to it.

Senator Gardiner - It is delightful to hear of one case in which the Government are not wrong.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It' is no doubt very distressing to Senator Gardiner. If the honorable senator were genuinely looking for cases' in which the Government have done right, they are all around him ; but I fear that he is temperamentally unfitted to see them. I gather from an interjection that there is a feeling that a regulation which deals with the industry under consideration in some way works to the detriment of those engaged in it. The only regulation affecting lie industry which is to-day in operation is one which provides that those who make a sale must register that sale. Senator Bakhap has already mentioned the fact that some time ago the producers claimed that they should not be under an obligation to sell to a particular company.

They pleaded for an open market, and said that if they were given a free market they would be quite all right. They contended that if local buyers had to compete with foreign buyers, those engaged in producing the ores would get the world's fair value for what they produced. That was provided for, and then, as Senator Earle has pointed cut, in spite of that, those engaged in the industry found that there was still only one buyer.

Senator Earle - I quite expected that at the time.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Government did then what they could to meet the wishes of the producers of these ores.

Senator Earle - Hear,, hear! The Government did all they could.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - They not only did what they thought right, but they did it at the suggestion of the men engaged in the industry.

I think that Senator Bakhap put the correct view of the matter. We are up against the condition that the value of the product is falling, because the cost of treating it has risen. That inevitable result is before the Senate and the country, not merely in connexion with the silver-lead industry, but in connexion with many other industries. There hasbeen a suggestion that some sinister influence has been at work through the Metal Exchange, but I should like to say that if those on the Exchange had been animated by the most sinister feeling towards the producers of silver-lead ores, they could not affect them in the slightest degree by any action which the Metal Exchange is entitled to take. All that is asked of the producer is that if he sells his product, he shall register his sale. He is not required to ask the Metal Exchange whether he may sell his product. In the same way Senator Earle does not require to ask the police if he may keep a dog, but must register it if he keeps one. Metal producers are free to make sales as they please, but they are required to register the details of those sales. I am therefore quite unable to understand how the members of the Exchange can influence for good or for ill the operations of the producers of silver-lead ores.

I should like to raise the question whether this is a matter in connexion- with, which the Federal Government ought to be appealed to. We are being asked to say whether the charges made by a certain company are fair and reasonable.

Senator Earle - The matter is one which affects all the States, and even the Northern Territory.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so. We are being continually urged to try to get back to normal conditions, and I question whether in 'normal times it would be the duty of the Commonwealth Government to inquire into these matters. If upon inquiry we found that the charges were not reasonable, where would we stand? Suppose that We said that the Sulphide Company ought to charge £1 less. That would not help us very much, if the Company replied that it would not pay and they preferred not to do so. I share the somewhat pessimistic but comm on sense view expressed by Senator Bakhap. We are up against one of the consequences due to a period of great depression, and those interested in this industry must cease their operations or in some way or another adjust the producing cost to meet the situation. I can offer no suggestion to meet the difficulty, nor can I give- a definite reply to the request for an inquiry. I shall bring the remarks of Senators Earle, Bakhap, and Fairbairn before my colleagues, and will make myself a little more acquainted than I profess to be now with what is taking place in the Department in connexion with this matter. If out of that some course of action may suggest itself which is likely to benefit the industry, honorable senators will understand that the Government and I have but the one desire, and that is to take any course which may promote and stimulate any of our industries, and particularly the primary industries, upon which the prosperity of Australia so much depends at the present moment.

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