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Tuesday, 16 August 1921

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I am obliged to Senator Lynch for enabling me to continue my speech. I shall not unduly delay the Committee by padding the facts at my disposal. I clearly see that an alteration of the duty on gig iron must involve an alteration of the duties proposed upon other subitems, as pig iron is the primary product of the iron industry. We have in connexion with this great industry three divisions of manufacture to consider. We have the basic division of the bloom; the second division carries the bloom to the finished product; and we have, in the third place, to consider the other industries dependent upon the finished product of the iron industry. The industry has its ramifications throughout Australia, and is truly of national importance. It is an Inter-State, and not an intra-State, industry, inasmuch as Tasmania and South Australia are to-day supplying most of the ore that is being manufactured into iron. The measure of protection designed and devisedby the Government has, as I have said, . been seriously reduced by increased wages and the increased cost of coal. The next point of importance is that prices in the world's markets are so tumbling down that I doubt very much whether any duties that the Committee would be inclined to pass can save the iron industry unless other measures are devised. That brings me to the question of the great necessity for an anti-dumping Act.

SenatorLynch. - We must be a poor people, after all, if nothing will save us.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I want to say quite frankly that, so far as my investigation of the iron industry goes, it seems to me that wages- are going up all the time and are practically keeping the industry on the " bread line." I indorse the- remark of Senatorde Largie that the time has come when we must consider whether wages will not have to be reduced. That is one of my difficulties in considering the imposition of increased duties. An increase in these duties may, in some cases, involve increased cost in other industries ; and I feel that the real solution of the problem with which the iron industry is faced to-day, speaking generally, and with a reservation in respect of only two or three items, is to be found in an antidumping measure to cope with the international position. I believe that the sooner we adopt such a measure the sooner we shall be in a position to effectively protect the workers in the iron industry.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about the workers employed in other industries?.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I hope that their interests will also be protected by the Committee. I believe that honorable senatorswill endeavour to give a fair deal all round. Senator Drake-Brockman took some exception to the financial figures of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company. So far as I have been able to examine them, I should say that the company has done exceedingly well since 1915, the first year of its establishment. But it has been somewhat conservative with regard to paying away the whole of" its profits. Whilst it has declared only moderate dividends, it has capitalized' the remainder of its profits, and used them for the extension of the industry. In addition a large amount of money has been borrowed on 6 per cent, debentures, and the result is that the capital which was in the company in 1915, in connexion with its other metal activities; has been very largely increased, but, so far as I can. see, there is not very much of what is called, watered capital in the. many millions invested in the industry. I am opposed to the request moved by Senator Drake-Brockman. I was sorry to hear the honorable senator say. that he considers the interests of iron consumers of greater importance than the establishment in Australia of the iron industry. In other words, the honorable senatorbelieves that parochial, are greater than national interests. I am not sure thatan increase of 5s. or 10s. per ton in the duty on pig iron would effectively enable us to cope with the international position that certainly is looming. I feel, particularly with regard to this basic product of the iron industry, that the only instrument that is likely to be effective for its salvation against- foreign competition is an anti-dumping law, which I believe the Government are determined, if possible, shall be passed by this Parliament. To-day bar iron is quoted at £9 per ton f.o.b. European ports, and blooms are quoted at £6 10s. per ton. Other iron is equally cheap. I consider that unless this industry is carefully watched and nursed, we shall have an era of very great unemployment in Newcastle, and that thousands of very fine, men will, find their employment gone; the blast furnaces will be shut down, and it will be very difficult, indued, to restore the industry to its present state of great activity and productiveness. '

Senator de Largie - Cheer up,, brother !

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The condition of the iron position throughout the world to the industry in Australia is not calculated' to make one very cheerful. It is our duty to see that we do not shut the stable door after the horse has gone. We should frankly discuss with one another what is the true position, and what we ought to do to meet it. I again stress the point that from all the evidence at my disposal the consumers of iron in Australia, during the last six years, have been saved £10,000,000 as compared with what, they would have had to pay for their iron if theyhad imported it f rom abroad. I feel that there is some, gratitude due to the companies manufacturing iron in Australia for treating Australian consumers of iron as fairly as they have done. Already we have listened to very strong arguments on behalf of the sugar-growers of Queensland to the effect that because, during the war, they sold their product at much lower than the world's parity, they were entitled to consideration. In my opinion, the time to give consideration to the iron industry has now arrived. I doubt whether the increase of duty suggested by Senator Duncan of 5s'. per ton on pig iron will have any good effect. I doubt whether an increase in the duty of 10s. per ton would be of any real use. I do deliberately say that until we have an anti-dumping Act we shall be deliberately risking the ruin of this great industry that has been established on the eastern coast of Australia, which I think is a credit to those who -have established it and which was of inestimable service to Australia during the war.

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