Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 16 August 1921

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - Now that we have overcome the inconvenience of this extraordinary standing order-

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - I cannot allow any reflection to be made upon the standing order, which exists by virtue of the almost unanimous desire of the Senate.

Senator Gardiner - Hear, heart And fairly represents its. intelligence.

Senator DUNCAN - I may remind honorable senators of the great assistance which this industry was to Great Britain during the war in the supply of very highgrade munition steel, which was acknowledged by experts and by the British Government to be equal, for the purpose for which it was required, to anything produced anywhere else in the world. I could go on enumerating the advantages enjoyed, not only by this country, but by the Empire generally, because of the fact that we have had established in Australia an iron and steel industry that is capable of entirely fulfilling our own requirements, and doubtless of building up a big export trade in the future. In the two great concerns engaged in the industry in New South Wales the capital invested, as I have already said, is approximately £7,000,000. I do not know of any other manufacturing concerns in Australia in which anything like the same amount of capital is invested. The total annual output of these firms is about 300,000 tons of finished product. It is expected that in the near future, if this Parliament will do the right thing by the industry, this very large output will be considerably increased, and so further opportunities will be afforded for the building up of subsidiary industries, not only around the present centre of the iron and steel manufacturing industry, but in every State of the Union. The value of the annual output of the factories is about £5,000,000. Messrs. G. and C. Hoskins employ about 3,000 persons, and the Broken Hill Proprietary Company somewhere in the neighbourhood of 6,000, so that there is a total of about 10,000 employees in the industry. The greater proportion of them, we may assume, are married men with families, maintaining homes and rearing the future generation of Australia, and so helping us to make Australia the country which it ought to be. The industry is consuming the products of our primary producers, and assisting generally in the betterment of the community. Surely an industry of so much importance deserves every consideration at the hands of this

Parliament! We should be prepared to pay almost any price in order to keep it going, so long as- the price to be paid does not involve hardship upon any other section of the community. If we grant to the iron and steel industry of Australia the rates of duty which those engaged in it desire, they will not involve any hardship upon any other manufacturers in this country. I find, according to the last figuresI have, that the annual wagessheet represents about £2,000,000 per year.

Senator Bolton - What did the honorable senator say was the value of the annual output?

Senator DUNCAN - I have said that it is about £5,000,000. The industry pays about £2,000,000 in wages and salaries each year. When I come to consider the average wage paid to each employee, I find that it amounts to £5 13s. 2d. per week of forty-four hours. I desire for a few moments to pass to the consideration of wages paid in the industry in other countries with whose productions we have to compete, and which will certainly compete with ours unless this Parliament agrees to the increased rates of duty desired by these engaged in the industry here. The wages paid in the competing countries are much lower than those paid in Australia. In Germany, with the depreciation of the mark, the wages paid are equivalent in sterling to £1 6s. 8d. per week. On 12th July we were informed by cable that wages in the United States of America were to be reduced by 10 per cent. on 16th July. On 16th January of this year wages were reduced by 18s. 6d. per week in Great Britain, and on 15th July the cables stated that there was to be a further reduction of 15s. per week, and of 15 per cent. in the price paid for piece-work.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What will be the wages paid in other countries when the reductions referred to have been made?

Senator DUNCAN - I may inform honorable senators that, prior to the reductions referred to, the wages paid in the United States of America and in Great Britain were about the same as those paid in Australia.

Senator de Largie - What is the authority behind the honorable senator's figures?

Senator DUNCAN -The Iron and Steel Trades,which is: the recognised trade journal of the iron and steel trades throughout the world. It is published both in America and in Great Britain.

Senator de Largie - Has the honorable senator the document ?

Senator DUNCAN - Yes. Any honorable senator who doubts my word can rest assured that I am prepared to back up every statement I make with evidence-. On 16th July, in the United States of America, there was a reduction of $4 per ton on bars and other forms of production of iron and steel, and of $10 per ton on plates. The fact is that in every country of the world to-day, with the exception of Australia, wages and costs of production are falling. They are falling in Great Britain, in America, and in Belgium, from which countries there is a great deal of competition in the iron and steel industry. Wages are falling rapidly in Belgium. The Great Bethlehem Steel Trust, of America has reduced wages during the last three or four months-

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What are the wages paid in other countries, allowing for the reductions?

Senator DUNCAN - I have said that the wages paid prior to the reductions were about the same as the wages paid here. Wages are tumbling all over the world to-day. In Belgium they are paying in this industry very much lower wages than are being paid in Australia. In Great Britain and in America wages are also falling.. Further than that, in other countries the cost of raw materials in many instances is falling also: On the other hand, we. find that in Australia the great firms that are building up the iron and steel industry, for us do not find their costs of production falling. Wages here are not falling.. On the contrary, the costs of production are increasing. If we want to stand by the policy of high wages - and I have no doubt that we all desire to do so - then we should see to it that those who have to pay the high wages awarded by Arbitration Courts, Wages Boards, and other tribunal's are given adequate protection.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When men are paid well can they not do more work than when they are paid low wages, and have to work long hours ?

Senator DUNCAN - I know of some people who are paid, very well indeed but who go home at night while others are working.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But is it not the idea that when a man is paid well, and works short hours, he can do more than when he is poorly paid, and has to work long hours?

Senator DUNCAN - The position is that wages certainly have not fallen in Australia. Even since the introduction of this Tariff' wages have been increased under awards made by Wages Boards; Arbitration Courts and other tribunals. The cost of the raw material, in certain other respects, has also increased. Whilst the iron and steel manufacturers of other countries are able to meet the growing competition by reason of the fact that the cost of their raw material, and the wages they have to pay, are falling, our manufacturers find, themselves in a far worse position than was contemplated when the Tariff was originally framed, inasmuch as they have to pay increased wages and higher prices for their raw material. Surely that is not a fair nosition in which to place them. We. should at least be ready to go back to the position thatexisted when the Tariff was originally introduced, and give the industry the same measure of protection which at that time was considered by the Government, to be absolutely necessary.

Senator Reid - Has the honorable senator any figures as to the production of iron and' steel in Belgium ? Belgium is cutting Britain out of the market at the present time.

Senator DUNCAN - Yes ; I. have here a Reuter's cablegram dated London, 10th August, setting, out that Belgian bars are being, offered at Swansea for. £7 5s. per ton; and that, as a result of this, the South. Wales Siemens Steel Association has decided to further reduce its price to £8 10s. per ton - a drop of £1 per ton - in order- to cope- with foreign competition. Even with that reduction, the Steel Association is charging £8 10s. per ton, as agains £7 5s. per ton, the price at which steel bars can be imported from Belgium-. Ifwe are going to stand by our own in dustries we must be prepared , to pay the price. Throughout the- Tariff discussion the Committee has shown thatitisnotto be deterred from; doing what, it conceives tobe justicetoourindustriesbytheplea that an increased' duty may. mean a slight increase in prices. During the war 'the local industry had no competition. It enjoyed anatural protection as high as any Tariff that we could impose, yet its product was sold at a lower rate to Australian manufacturers than that at which steel could be obtained in any other part of the world. The local industry was able to supply the steel necessary for the carrying on of our secondary industries at a much lower rate than that at which it would have been obtainable if we had not established the steel industry in the Commonwealth. Those engaged in it did not take advantage of the condition of prohibition - that was practically what it amounted to - created by the war.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Yet the Broken Hill Proprietary Company managed to make 20 per cent. profits.

Senator DUNCAN - I do not thinks so.

Senator Drake-Brockman - I refer the honorable senator to the company's balance-sheets.

Senator DUNCAN - I have carefully examined the annual balance-sheets published by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, and if my memory serves me rightly it declared last year a dividend of 11 per cent.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -Brookman. - It has increased its capital from £400,000 to £2,000,000.

Senator DUNCAN - But even since last year conditions have altered to a considerable extent.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - Order! The honorable senator's time has expired.

Suggest corrections