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Tuesday, 16 August 1921


Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - We have been told that the iron> industry of Australia is in a bad way, yet it is only recently that that has been discovered. As a matter of fact, the ironmasters of thi3 country, noticing the outrageous duties proposed for the benefit of other persons, .have said, " We might as well have a share in this largesse." I donot blame them, but it is my duty to point out the effect that the duties in the itemunder discussion will have on the. general" prosperity of the country. We haveheard of the 6,000 persons at Newcastle^, and the 3,000 persons at Lithgow, towhom the iron industry gives employment ; but what about the 235,000 personsengaged in agriculture who use iron im- plements, and the 64,000 men in the mining industry, who are, also dependent on the iron industry and are taxed to support it? Are these not to be considered? We know that the metalliferous mining industry of this country is declining, and the next thing we may know if a change does not come is that it is dying. What is the reason for the present state of affairs ? One reason is that there is not enough prospecting. In Western Australia, hundreds of square miles of metalliferous country are still unexplored. Men will not go out to seek the hidden resources of that vast area so long as the cost of mining remains such that it will hardly pay to work anything but a very rich find. For the mining industry to succeed, it must be possible -to work medium grade ores at a profit. Men will not stake their all on the discovery of a bonanza at every venture. But at present only an exceptionally rich mine pays to work, and what contributes more than anything else to the cost of working is the cost of equipment. The duties under discussion must have the effect of greatly increasing that cost. The miner, like the wheat-grower, has to sell his produce in the markets of the world. He cannot, like those engaged in the various industries that are protected by the Tariff, pass on to the consumer any charge whereby he may be hampered. If he said to prospective purchasers abroad, "I have to pay a duty of £1 a ton on pig iron, a duty of 25 per cent, on wrought and angle iron, and so on, right up the scale," he would be told, "A fig for all that. Others will sell to me more cheaply, and therefore I shall buy from them." The State of Western Australia, of which I have the honour to be arepresentative, welcomes population which will turn its vast resources to account. It is capable of producing 90,000,000 bushels of wheat. But every duty that is imposed -makes it more difficult for men to go out into dry, uninviting districts to struggle for a living. Unfortunately, too many honorable senators follow the Government blindly.

I admit that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company deserves well of this Parliament. It has put brains into a venture which it has managed well, and I wish to see it hold its own. If it does so, it will be a good thing for the Commonwealth. Its balance-sheets, however, show that it has not done too badly. Let us consider the balance-sheets for the last seven years. Omitting the year 1913-14, we find that the profits, which have varied from time to time, on the subscribed capital, which, in 1915, was £472,000, and to-day is £2,100,000, were as follow: -

 

The actual profit on the shareholders' capital is in the neighbourhood of 15 per cent., -which is not a bad return; and it has to be remembered that the returns for last year are for a period when the Broken Hill operations were at a standstill owing to the strike. There were slight adjustments in metal receipts that perhaps balanced expenditure at Broken Hill.


Senator Russell - The honorable senator must not forget the debentures.


Senator LYNCH - I am showing what has happened in. 1920, when debenture liability was brought to account, and when the company had the protection which we now seek to reduce. I am prepared to support Senator Drake-Brockman, who is in favour of a duty of 15s. per ton on importations from Great Britain, and I.' am willing to allow the other duties to remain as they appear in the schedule. I am anxious to see the industry thrive, and I believe the duties suggested are sufficient to enable thatto be done. I could, if time permitted, quote the opinion of Mr. Bell, a leading ironmaster in Great Britain, who says that he wants a gross profit of only 10 per cent, on his iron investments in Great Britain, and that should be sufficient for the company with which we are dealing. As I have already mentioned, we have also to consider the interests of those who are engaged in other fields of activity, including those who are raising metals from the depths of those vast and untrodden wastes, and who have to pay exorbitant prices, by virtue of this Tariff, for everything they require. We also have to keep in mind those who are operating in our wheat areas, not on. established farms, and who have to stand the strain of enhanced prices for land and equipment. There is no direct or positive inducement to them to leave the cities. And in an endeavour to hold the scales evenly, and equalize the incidence of these duties, I shall support a British preferential duty of 15s. per ton.







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