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Tuesday, 16 August 1921

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - I understood Senator Duncan to say that in January last some employees in the iron trade of Great Britain had their wages reduced to 19s. 7d. per day, but I did not understand from him that that was the ruling wage at the present time. The honorable senator quoted from the Iron Age. He might also have quoted from the Melbourne Age of the 6th

August last, or from the Melbourne Argus, or from any other metropolitan journal of the same date, the following cablegram despatched from London on the 4th August: -

Midland Counties Wages Board reports that since January the price of finished iron has fallen to the extent of £13 a ton. The effect of this reduction is an 80 per cent, reduction in the wages of the workmen.

The North-East Coast Arbitration Board has reduced the wages of puddlers, forge, and mill workers to theextent of 47 per cent.

Accepting Senator Duncan's statement that 19s. 7d. was the wage in certain divisions of the industry in January last, and also accepting the statement that wages since then have decreased by 80 per cent., we have no right to calculate on a competition based on anything like 19s. 7d. a day. I do not profess that what I have read is correct, but I have given my authority.

Senator Plain - Is that reduction from the rate in January last, or from some higher figure previously?

Senator KEATING - From January last, I take it. Those of us who read the English newspapers must have noticed in many industries a considerable drop in wages, and realize that 80 per cent, is nothing phenomenal. Very high wages prevailed in England during the war in the coal industry, the iron industry, and many others which it is the fashion to designate as key industries. The altered conditions since the peace have necessitated enormous reductions, and it is this fact that is the cause of a good deal of the present unrest in the Old Country. Whether the drop is justified by circumstances or not it is not for us to inquire; we have to accept the facts. We cannot attempt, in adjusting the duties on this particular item, to have regard to wages and conditions that prevailed in the competing industries in Great Britain twelve months ago, or in the early part of this year. Whatever be the actual wages paid, I feel sure there has been a considerable drop in the last nine or ten months, and that the wages at the beginning of that period probably represented a drop from some previously higher figure, especially during the war. I cannot see my way clear to support the request proposed. A Protectionist policy in a young country, like Australia that does not succeed in, firmly establishing an iron and steel industry can be compared to the staging of Hamlet without the appearance of a

Prince of Denmark. It is the greatest of all industries, other than those purely primary. It is the industry on which the country's prosperity, safety, and very existence depends. Having listened patiently to the arguments on. both sides, I cannot, as I have said, see my way to support the- request.

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