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Friday, 19 August 1921

Senator FAIRBAIRN (Victoria) . - I was rather surprised at some of the figures quoted by Senator Pratten, and since the luncheon adjournment I have had an opportunity of looking more closely into them. I do not mean to sug- gest that the figures he quoted were incorrect; but, although they were the latest available, they were only up to the 30th June, 1919. The honorable senator said there were 42,867 taxable farmers, that the annual income tax paid by each averaged £12, and that there were 11,493 taxable pastoralists who paid on an average £170 each. These figures convey the impression that the pastoralists to-day are doing much better than the farmers. In 1919 the price of wool, of course, was at its highest, whilst that of wheat was only about 4s. per bushel, as against, approximately, 9s. at present. The farmer, therefore, was in a much worse position then than he is in today, but, on the figures for the year ended 30th June, 1921, the pastoralist was not even so favorably situated. I speak with a good deal of authority, because I have approached many experts and business men who visit the pastoralists, when I say that to-day probably not 5 per cent. of the pastoralists are making sufficient to . pay wages and land and income tax. I do not like to contemplate what is likely to happen in the coming year. The cost of producing wool has been estimated at about 9d. per lb., but the average price of wool at present is about 8d. per lb. Very many people are misled by the prices quoted in the press, and by statements to the effect that wool has risen and is still rising in price. Many are guided by the maximum prices, and do not consider the lower rates which, at some times, are as low as1d. per lb. I absolve Senator Pratten from any intention to distort the figures; but we have to remember that the position has completely changed since 1919.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The figures I quoted were official.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Yes ; I believe the honorable senator did his best to ascertain the true position, but that, as I have said, has completely changed. I believe that the pastoralists require as much consideration as the farmers - or, perhaps, more - because their product has fallen in price to such an extent that it does not provide sufficient for the payment of wages and land and income tax. I am one of those who agree entirely with the opinion expressed by Mr. Barwell, the Premier of South Australia, that the only thing that is going to save the country from a tremendous amount of unemployment is a reduction of wages. Instances have been brought under my notice where men employed on pastoral properties have approached their employers and requested them to reduce wages in preference to discharging some of them.

Senator Lynch - If the price of products kept up that would not be necessary.

SenatorFAIRBAIRN.- Certainly not, because pastoralists and graziers could well afford to paythe wages they have been paying in the past. In almost every industry we are faced with a similar position, and I am afraid that by increasing the duties on agricultural implements the conditions of the industry will be so favorable that the employees when they see that the manufacturers are getting higher prices for their products will ask for higher wages. Then wages in the country will have to be still further reduced, while the city workers will receive an additional reward.

Senator Lynch - It will be difficult to get men to go inland when high wages are prevailing on the coastline.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - Exactly. Of course, the inflexibility of Arbitration Court awards is responsible for much of the trouble, because wages are fixed irrespective of the ability of the industry to pay them.

Senator Lynch - It is to be regretted that some of our Arbitration Court Judges have not to conduct, at their own expense, some of the industries at the wages they have awarded.

Senator FAIRBAIRN - It has been pointed out that a Judge is unfitted to assess the wages of workers, because he is not fully conversant with the conditions . and the responsibilities of employers. Mr. Justice Higgins laid it down that if any industry could not pay the wage that he thought it should pay, that industry should be closed down. What would be the condition of affairs if that principle were carried to its logical conclusion? The mining and pastoral industries would be in a most unsatisfactory position, as would also threefourths of the industries in the Commonwealth. Wages are now fixed entirely irrespective of what they produce. I believe that a great many of the working men are reasonable enough to admit that such is the case, although I am sorry many of the leaders take a distorted view of the situation. I have been interviewed by a great many manufacturers in connexion with the industrial situation, and I always ask them what wages they pay. The reply always is, " They are very high. We are working under a log, and there is another one coming along which will make wages still higher." A new log served on the boxmakers provides that the saw "doctor" shall receive £12 12s. per week - apparently he is to be paid in guineas, because of his professional appelation - the head benchman, £10 per week, and the person who throws off the timber - work that can be done by a boy - £8 per week. It would be impossible for such an industry to prosper, whatever protection we might afford, under those conditions. It is impossible for the primary producers to carry such heavy burdens, and many do not realize the position in which some Australian industries are at present. I am delighted to learn that our implement manufacturers, who are producing implements second to none in the world, are doing well. But if we keep on demanding higher and higher Protection the wages of the city workers will be increased to the detriment of those who are employed in rural areas, and the result will be that more people will be compelled to live in the larger centres of population. I have never known the pastoral industry to be in such a parlous condition as now ; there is a possibility of many of the smaller men being ruined because it is impossible for them to pay the wages demanded. Many of the smaller men have discharged their employees and are endeavouring to carry on with their own labour. In these circumstances, I am in favour of reducing the protection afforded to implement manufacturers-. Even if 1 thought that reduced protection might be the means of these magnificent works being closed I would take the risk, but I do not think that would happen, because they have become well established on lower duties. They have enormous protection in the matter of freights alone. I do not think people realize the position in which our primary producers, who have to market most of their products overseas, are placed. Before the war the freight on wool was fiveeighths of a penny per lb. and now itis1d. per lb., or a rise of 116 per cent. In 1914 the freight on tallow was £2 7s. 6d., and now it is £8 10s. per ton, a rise of 258 per cent. In pre-war days the freight on wheat was 20s.. per ton, and it is now £2 6s. 8d. or a rise of 133 per cent.

Senator Earle - Is not there a possibility of those freights being considerably reduced in the near future?

Senator FAIRBAIRN - I do not think so. No one cares to tackle the labour question until he has to. Those who man the ships do not make the welfare of the Australian primary producers their first concern.

Senator Earle - But the shipping companies have made big profits, and they could carry our products at cheaper rates than are prevailing at present.

Senator FAIRBAIRN -I quite agree with the honorable senator ; but the shipping companies do not feel inclined to tackle the question of wages, which' comprise a large proportion of their expenditure. The shipboard workers are so well organized' that the shipping companies are paying high wages, which results in high freights, and no advantage will be gained until the producers establish voluntary pools, and undertake collective bargaining. The shipping companies will not endeavour to reduce freights until they find that those who own the produce they carry are taking a determined stand. So long as the shipping companies can pass on their costs to the primary producers, the present rates will be maintained. Although I am anxious to see our implement manufacturers succeed in the huge undertakings they have launched, I am not prepared to support a tremendous increase in duties. When the industries were established the duties were almost nominal, and we are now asked to support impositions, the lowest of which is a rate of 22½ per cent. That is more than the primary producer can bear, and for these reasons I shall support the request.

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