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Thursday, 18 August 1921

Senator FAIRBAIRN (Victoria) . - I am in agreement with Senator Lynch in his desire that primary producers shall obtain their- materials as cheaply as possible. All honorable senators certainly favour the establishment of the iron industry in this country. During the war, I was not able to buy barbed wire. Australia was then put to great straits to secure any supplies at all. That fact demonstrates the need for the establishment of the industry within our own borders. I am glad that a renowned English firm has practically interested itself in the Commonwealth to the extent of establishing an enterprise, and I trust that Australia will shortly become self -sustained - if it is not so already - in the matter of the wire products under consideration. If the Australian iron industry were to languish and fail, importers would combine to " skin " the man on the land far more thoroughly than local manufacturers would ever be likely tq do. To keep prices down to reasonably low limits, the best means is to encourage local competition. I understand that the average price qf barbed wire to-day is about £40 per ton.

Senator Russell - The selling price in Melbourne at present is £35 per ton.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - There are various qualities of barbed' wire, but I think £40 may be taken as a fair average figure. Before the war, barbed wire could be bought for £12 10s. Prices may return to normal some day, but there will be fluctuations round about comparatively high quotations for a long time to come. The British preferential rate of 68s. per ton is equivalent at present prices to an ad valorem duty of 10 per cent. That is not a very high impost, but it certainly would be if the price of barbed wire were to fall, with a return to normal times, to somewhere about £12 10s. I suggest, therefore, that, instead of imposing fixed duties, the Government would be acting more equitably in devising ad valorem rates, so that, if a duty equal to 10 per cent. is considered fair to-day, that relative degree of protection should remain, no matter what the price might be. My suggestion applies both to barbed wire and to wire netting.

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