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Wednesday, 20 July 1921

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) . -I shall address myself very briefly to this Bill. I think that most of the objects it is intended to achieve are very praiseworthy. We should, however, have learned by this time the urgent need of economy. I frankly confess that I dread any further public expenditure. I am very strongly in favour of economy, and I am, therefore, very diffident about the creation of any more Boards. At the same time, I think it right to remind honorable senators that when we went before the electors we promised to stop profiteering, and I fear that, up to the present, we have not done very much in that regard.

The Tariff will give extraordinary protection to manufacturers, many of whom have been long established in Australia under a high Protective Tariff, and are millionaires, or on the way to be millionaires. The Tariff we have now under consideration proposes to spoon-feed them, but it starves producers and consumers. Weare proposing a tremendous amount of protection for manufacturers, and are thus encouraging further centralization of population, whilst we are giving no protection to consumers. Under paragraph h of clause 15, the Bill provides that the Minister can refer to the Board for inquiry and report -

Any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded by the Tariff, and in particular in regard to his -

(i)   charging unnecessarily high prices for his goods; or

(ii)   acting in restraint of trade to the detriment of the public; or

(iii)   acting in a manner which results in unnecessarily high prices being charged to the consumer for his goods; or

(iv)   refusing to sell to any person goods to the value of Fifty pounds at current market rates.

Whatever proposal is submitted, there can be no question that provision to deal with these matters is absolutely necessary for the protection of the public of Australia. We have, seen lately that, under a high Protective Tariff, the prices charged to the people for clothinghave been unnecessarily high.

Senator Russell - Let me put this to the honorable senator: Take the Bawra Committee, which is probably one of the brainiest Boards in Australia, would the honorable senator advocate that its responsibility should be carried by one man ? That would lead to a riot amongst those concerned.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I wish to support the formation of some Tariff Board. It may be that the Government proposal is the best for the purpose. One honor able senator mentioned that the Tariff Board might be formed of members of both Houses of this Parliament. I cannot think that that would he efficacious, because however good a member of this Parliament mightbe, and however honest in his convictions, he might bebiased by his Tariff views, and, to some extent, by the trades carried on in his own con- stituency.

Nothing has been said about the high prices charged for woollen goods in this country. Tweed, which cost 5s. and 6s. per yard, has been sold to the public at 27s. 6d. and 35s. per yard. Manufacturers, of course, do not get the whole of this profit. They sell their stuff to the " Lane " firms at 12s. 6d. per yard, and the "Lane" charge the retailers from 27s. 6d. to 35s. Is that fair trading?

Senator Elliott - This Bill will not touch that class of trading.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Perhaps not; but it contains provision to prevent manufacturers from making undue profits. I admit that it ought to go further, but so far as it goes it will do good. A penalty is provided for amanufacturer who refuses to sell any retailer goods to the value of £50. I can give honorable senators a concrete instance of present-day methods. In my own town, Geelong, which is a very large wool manufacturing centre, the manufacturers produce some, of the best tweeds in the world, at a cost of only 4s. 6d. per yard; but retail shops within half-a-mile of . the mills are unable to obtain the material. They must make application to Flinders-lane. The stuff is carted past their doors every day of the. week, is shipped by steamer to Flinderslane firms, and is then sent back to Geelong by another steamer before it can get into the retail shops for sale to the general public at 27s. 6d. per yard. The shopkeepers are not altogether to blame. The big profits on Australian-made goods are being made by Flinders-lane firms. I am well aware that the "Lane" people are not having a very good run at present. As a matter of fact, they are losing very heavily. They deserve to lose, too, because of their absolute lack of business foresight. They ordered stuff from the Old Country, and, because, during the war period they could never get the full supply of orders, it became the custom of firms here to order three times the quantity required. Their contracts contained a clause enabling the Britishmanufacturers to deliver when they liked. It now suits the British manufacturers to deliver, and they are completing orders, with the result that these firms now have to pay for stuff which, as it happens, was bought at the very worst time. What is more, they are getting three times the quantity they actually require. To use a colloquialism, they are now getting it " in the neck," because they were over-greedy. The retailers in this country have good cause for complaint against the woollen manufacturing concerns. I was interested in the case of a returned soldier who was anxious to start in business as a draper in Geelong. I advanced him £200, and said to him, " Go down to the manufacturers and buy what stuff you want." He went, down, and tendered the £200, but the manufacturers would not sell to him stuff which was costing them only 4s. 6d. per yard to produce. This man had to go to Flinders-lane and pay 27s. 6d. a- yard for it. For the reason that it will compel the manufacturers to sell direct to the retailers, the Bill, in my opinion, is worthy ofsupport.

I do not think the payment of £5 5s. per day as a sitting fee is sufficient for the business men who may be appointed to the Board. I agree with Senator Russell's view-point, that many honorable and loyal citizens would give their services for nothing, as they did during the war. But I do not think we can expect to get the best brains of the business community to assist the chairman of the Board for £5 5s. per sitting. I doubt very much whether that is sufficient, and I deprecate the suggestion made by some honorable senators that business men of that calibre required for such a post would sit every day merely for the purpose of getting their fees, which, after all, would be a paltry salary compared with what such men could earn in their businesses. Although urging the necessity for economy, I support the Bill, because I see in it so much that is good and because I realize that at last the consumers of this country are' going to get some measure of protection which hitherto has been given almost entirely to the manufacturing interests.

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