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Wednesday, 17 August 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - I am glad to hear Senator Pratten's statement on his attitude towards the Tariff. The honorable senator uttered one remark which astonished me. He said that he could not understand my attitude, and. if such is the case, he is the only member in this Chamber who cannot. When the discussion of the Tariff was first commenced, I made it quite clear that, in my opinion, in endeavouring to protect some industries, we would be placing burdens upon others, and the discussion on this item provesthat my contention is correct. The farmers in this community, the landownersand the users of wire will now find themselves interfered with by the duty which has already been placed upon the raw material. Senator Pratten has referred to the question of fencing wire, and I realize that the primary producer is at present responsible for much of our wealth. I know, however, that the countryis developing, and when our population is six or seven times greater than it is to-day, the secondary industries will play a more important part. But if we deliberately lay ourselves out tosay that the material which the primary producers must have is going to be placed beyond their reach, the position will be acute. A few years ago fencing wire was £8 or £10 per ton.

Senator Senior - What was the country of origin?

Senator GARDINER - That does not matter.

Senator Senior - The bulk of it came from Germany.

Senator GARDINER - The greater proportioncame from Britain, and some from Germany. I say good luck to the Germans if they could produce fencing wire at a reasonable cost, and be the means of enabling our primary producers to make their operations moreprofitable.

Senator Wilson - Quite a number of them would refuseto use German wire.

Senator GARDINER - I know their patriotism is very sincere-; hut I would like to put them to the test. If I was offering German wire at £10 per ton, and British wire at £15 per ton, and Senator Wilson was in the market, I know which he would purchase. Before the war wire was selling at £8 and £12 per ton, and £10 per ton could be regarded as an average price for No.8 or No. 10 gauge. The price is now more than double that figure, and yet we are informed that this is only 8s. per ton protection. The protection that the wire manufacturers have at present is more than £8 per ton. Freight is estimated at 25 per cent., and if wire is being sold at £32 per ton, there is considerably over £5 protection in freight alone.

Senator Drake-Brockman - But is it £32 per ton?

Senator GARDINER - I am taking, the Minister's statement, as I like to be on the low side. If it is £32, why should the primary producer be asked to pay more than three times the pre-war price for his fencing wire?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I said that No. 16 gauge wire was sold at £22 per ton; but I now find that it was No. 8 gauge.

Senator GARDINER - Unless the 16 gauge was used, in making barbed wire, I do not know where it could be used. No. 8 and 10 gauge is used for fencing purposes, but No. 12 may be used in some cases. I will accept Senator Pratten's statement that No. 8 wire is being sold for £22 per ton. That is more than double the pre-war -price, and it cannot be said that the cost of production has doubled. The argument has been used that the industries producing the raw material will charge higher prices, and this argument merely convinces me of the soundness of my position when I assert that, if it is to be applied all round, protection is impossible. What is the use of speaking of 8s. per ton on wire as protection if the persons who are protected to that extent must' pay the increased charges, on all the articles which they use, and which are the product of other protected industries? The whole business- from beginning to end is so stupidly impossible that none but Protectionists could be found to support it. When industries have developed' under Free Trade, as the iron industry did, it is claimed that their development, has been due to the imposition of Customsduties. The wire industry grew up without a duty, but as soon as it becomes established, some one with a personal interest in the business brings his interest under the notice of the Minister for Trade and Customs, of the Government, or the party, and duties are imposed for his benefit. Senator Pratten. has reminded me that the members of my own party follow the same course, and I have candidly acknowledged that on this matter I am right out of - step with the members of the party to which I belong. But, because I do not agree with every detail favoured by the majority of the members of the party, is it to be assumed- that I am not at liberty to express the opinion I have formed from the experience of a lifetime that what they are attempting is impossible? I was very pleased to hear Senator de Largie's interjection when Senator Pratten was speaking, suggesting that the honorable senator's determination to cut out imports of wire from Great Britain savoured of fiscal Sinn Feinism. Judging by Senator Pratten's attitude to the centre of the Empire, I must regard him as-- a fiscal Sinn Feiner. He is out to destroy the Empire so. far as interferencewith the'free interchange of commoditieswith Great Britain may tend to do so. The honorable senator will not permit the indulgence of a sentiment in favour of trading with Great Britain. We "have in the schedule now under consideration provision for the imposition of duties in the intermediate column to enable us to trade with New Zealand and Canada when those Dominions are ready to come into line and make similar concessions in respect of Australian goods sent to them. Here we have Great Britain admitting our- goods without charge or demand, and yet we set up a Tariff against imports from Great Britain, though they may be the very things which our primary producers most require. Wire-netting is a continual need of every man on the land. There is no progressive farmer in Australia who is not continually adding to his "fencing. These duties will represent a continual drain upon the progressive farmer, because they will add to the cost of his fencing. When Australian manufacturers can- obtain No.8 wire for £22 per ton, and, according to Senator Guthrie, £32 per ton for the finer wire, I fail to understand why it should be necessary to impose any duties on the British product. Senator Pratten stated that Great Britain did not ask us for Free Trade. That is so. She looks after her own business, and trusts that we will look after ours. But I do not see that there is any occasion when we are considering a Tariff to' declare fiscal war against Great Britain, especially when by doing so we are punishing our own people. A duty of 52s. per ton on wire may not be regarded as a serious impost, but it means that if a British manufacturer is prepared to supply an Australian farmer with wire, and the farmer wants the British product, he must pay a fine of £2 12s. per ton for the right to use it. I think the whole Empire should be bound together, and what stronger binding material could we have than fencing wire? Fencing wire might be an excellent means for linking the various parts of the Empire together. There is no Empire sentiment displayed by traders in the community. I commend Senator Russell for agreeing to the. compromise proposed by Senator Payne, and accepting a reduction of 5 per cent, on- the smaller wires. Why should not the hon7orable senator agree to the proposed reduction of Ss. per ton on the British product? In view of the spirit of compromise and the sweet reasonableness which the Minister has exhibited in agreeing to Senator Payne's proposal, he might very well agree to a duty of 44s. per ton on the British product, instead of the 52s. per ton proposed. He should bear in mind that the reduction would mean an advantage of 8s. per ton to pastoralists and land-holders generally throughout Australia on an article which they continually need. They have petitioned the Senate in con'nexion with this matter, and I believe that many members of the Committee are sufficiently interested in the owners of land and the workers on land to listen to that petition. The Minister might meet the request of the primary producers, to whom we can give no protection under the Tariff, because their products must be sold in the markets of the world. I appeal to the honorable senator to accept a duty of 44s. per ton on British imports of this article in lieu of the proposed duty of 52s. per ton. He should realize that the primary producer needs protection as well as the secondary producer.

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