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Wednesday, 24 August 1921

Senator WILSON (South Australia) . - In my attitude towards this sub-item, I am going to be guided by the considerations that prompted the Government to enter into what was, to all intents and purposes, a compact with the local manufacturer. Until about two years ago, the Australian manufacturer had not entered this industrial field. Last year a few machines were manufactured, and more will be made, probably 700 or 800 more this year, but nothing like sufficient to supply the whole of the Australian requirements.

Senator Fairbairn - The Minister has just stated that H. V, McKay has promised to manufacture 3,000 this year.

Senator WILSON - A reasonable time must be allowed for any manufacturer to build up an industry like this. It is not going to be done in a few months. I am sorry many honorable senators have not availed themselves of the opportunity that has been offered them to visit some of these manufacturing establishments, as I have done for some considerable time past. Understanding as I do that a compact was entered into by the Government for the manufacture of these machines in Australia, I say, unhesitatingly, that it is the duty of honorable senators to indorse the attitude of the Government. As to the present price of imported machines, I remind them that importers are quite capable of advertising a price that will give the impression that they are going to treat the producers of Australia fairly. But no honorable senator will believe for a moment that any American firm exists for the special benefit of Australia. If he does, then he has something to learn.

Senator Bolton - Why, then, did you reduce the general Tariff?

Senator WILSON - Because I believe that, under fair conditions, the Australian manufacturer can compete with manufacturers in any other part of the world.

Senator Lynch - He is getting more protection now than the manufacturers in

Canada or the United States of America ever dreamed of.

Senator WILSON - And the Australian manufacturer is meeting competition in outside countries, where he gets no protection. In pre-war days, H. V. McKay built up a big export trade in some branches of his manufacturing industry without the protection of this Tariff, as it stands to-day, but I am quite satisfied that no one would expect me to be a party to reducing a Tariff which, in effect, gives expression to the compact entered into by the Government for the establishment of the industry in Australia.

Senator Bolton - For the benefit of the farmers.

Senator WILSON - Yes; all for the benefit of the farmers. Only two or three years ago we were told that we would never be able to make reapers and binders in Australia, because this work was done on the principles applied to the Ford car. But our manufacturers have risen to the occasion, and this Parliament certainly ought to honour the compact. We have heard a good deal in recent years about the tearing up of a scrap of paper. Surely this Committee will not do that.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Did the Government give a guarantee?

Senator WILSON - They entered into a compact which, to all intents and purposes, was a guarantee to induce H. V. McKay to manufacture these machines in Australia.

Senator Pearce - And on the strength of that guarantee the manufacturer has spent £70,000 on plant.

Senator WILSON - That is the compact, and it should be honoured. The question of price does not enter into the argument at this stage. Shrewd importers and manufacturers in other parts of the world were given eighteen months' notice of this deferred duty, and thus they were able to dump machines to the value quoted by the Minister a few moments ago. Our course is quite clear. No one is more anxious than I to give consideration-

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - To the manufacturer.

Senator WILSON - I may be charged with many shortcomings, but not with being unfair to any one, and when I am charged with " playing up " to the manufacturers, all I can say is that my vote and my speeches in this chamber during the last day or two are a sufficient answer. If my honorable friend expects me to be a party to the repudiation of a contract entered into by the Government-

Senator Gardiner - They had no right to enter into an agreement without parliamentary authority.

Senator WILSON - A good deal may be said on that point; but it must be remembered that, on the strength of the agreement) the manufacturers have spent £70,000 on plant.

Senator Lynch - Is that the way business is done?

Senator WILSON - Yes, and that is the way things are achieved in the commercial world.

Senator Lynch - It should not have been done in that way.

Senator WILSON - The compact we are asked to honour was entered into in order to find employment for our returned soldiers, and we should indorse it until it is proved that it is acting adversely to the interests of the producers.

Senator Gardiner - Meantime, the farmers are paying for it.

Senator WILSON - No. The figures quoted to-day show that the price of the local harvester is £95. I have made myself conversant with this subject, and I am satisfied that we must indorse this compact. At the same time I reserve my freedom of action if it can be shown to me that the Government have acted unfairly or dishonorably to the disadvantage of the producers. '

Senator Lynch - When the compact was entered into was the fact made public ?

Senator WILSON - I cannot answer that question.

Senator Lynch - The honorable senator ought to be able to answer it, because his possession of the information evidently influenced a recent vote of his.

Senator WILSON - I take it that the Government are quite willim? to answer the question. In fact, I understand that Senator Pearce had already explained the matter fully.

Senator Lynch - Parliament has been ignored in regard to it. Was there a guaranteed rate of duty which. Parliament must indorse ?

Senator WILSON - The honorable senator has enjoyed all the opportunities I have had to make himself conversant with the circumstances of this compact. I have no secret information in regard to it. I have received certain information, and have carefully perused it. The question is not whether the duty on reapers and binders should be reduced, but whether we should give our indorsement to this compact. I have already said that I am not a Free Trader gone mad, nor am I here to use my position to the disadvantage of any section of the community. I shall vote with the Government to honour the compact into which they have entered.

Senator Lynch - Then one might just as well beat the air as ask for a reduction of this duty.

Senator WILSON - As Senator Lynch has been beating the air very well for the last day or two, he should not mind me having a turn at the drum. This business has been, established in Australia, and certain obligations have been entered into for the purpose of assisting in the matter of repatriation. Is there anything wrong about it ? ,

Senator Lynch - What is the name of the firm concerned in iti

Senator WILSON - The Minister has already mentioned its name.

Senator Lynch - I have not heard it. It is not my part to go behind any one's back to get information.

Senator Pearce - The firm in question came forward in reply to a request submitted to it by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen), and made this offer. It was referred by the Minister for Repatriation to the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), and by him, in turn, to the Board of Trade, which, after investigation, recommended the imposition of a duty. The Minister undertook to carry out that recommendation.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Did the Board of Trade specify what the duty should be?

Senator Pearce - Yes; they recommended a duty of 45 per cent.

Senator WILSON - I ask the Senate to honour the compact referred to. I believe that it will be the means of establishing a great industry in Australia. I know that the trade has been able to regulate prices to ari extent that materially affects the views of honorable senators; but I appeal to them, as one who is directly interested - few honorable senators own more machines than I do - and ask them to make themselves thoroughly conversant with the facts, and honour the compact that has .been entered into.

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