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Friday, 26 August 1921

Senator EARLE (Tasmania) .- I am delighted that Senator Thomas has seen the wisdom of supporting this industry. Every effort should be made to sustain and encourage the production of sulphur in Australia. Here is practically the sole opportunity given by the Tariff to benefit the miner. A reliable and adequate supply of sulphur or sulphuric acid is necessary not only in connexion with the manufacture of superphosphates, but in the production of nearly all kinds of munitions. Sulphur is produced in the southern States of America at an especially low cost; nearly all the work is done by cheap negro labour. Another source of supply is Japan, where the production, again, is in the hands of cheap labour. I am sorry that Senator Pratten has seen fit to request an amendment of the rates of duty in the interests of those who use only a very small proportion of the production. I ask the honorable senator if he will agree to amend his request in the direction of providing that sulphur, which is admitted free, shall not be used for any of the purposes for which sulphur which can be obtained from any. pyritic or other sulphide ores can be used. Certain Australian companies have expended considerable sums, and are operating in various States. I do nor want to place them in a position of uncertainty with respect to the Customs laws. I do not desire that they shall be subject to departmental by-laws. Their interests will be safeguarded, however, if provision is made in the direction I have just indicated. At the same time, I regret that any amendment has been requested. It is not desirable that qualifying conditions shall attach to the importation of sulphur merely in the interests of the users of that very small proportion which is employed in this country apart from the actual manufacture of superphosphates. At least 95 per cent. of the sulphuric acid used here goes into the production of fertilizers. Some honorable senators look upon the schedule rates as increasing the cost of superphosphates to the farmers. If an abundant and reliable source of supply can be provided, the farmer will benefit. I assure Senator Wilson that he would not be acting in the best interests of the primary producers if he should take any step to hamper the continuous production of first class superphosphates. I understand that 1 ton of sulphur is absorbed in the production of sufficient sulphuric acid for the manufacture of 10 tons of superphosphates. The average application of superphosphate to the soil is from¾ cwt. to 1 cwt. per acre.

Senator Wilson - About 80 lbs.

Senator EARLE - That being' so, the increased cost imposed on the farmer by the existing duties will amount to l½d. or 2d. per acre. I do not think that honorable senators should be perturbed, when tens of thousands of pounds have been invested in connexion with the production of sulphur, and thousands of men are earning a living in mining the ores from which sulphur is obtained.

Senator Senior - Is there any produced by the electrolytic process in Tasmania ?

Senator EARLE - I do not think so. Sulphuric acid is being produced in South Australia and New South Wales, and I have no doubt that if the duties proposed in the Tariffare adopted other industries will be established. Ores containing a percentage of copper, a few grains of gold, and a few ounces of silver may merely pay mining expenses and the cost of extracting their metallic contents, but if there is a sufficiently large percentage of sulphur in pyritic or sulphide ores - say, 10s. worth per ton - it would make the difference between failure and success. Roughly, from 10,000 to 20,000 men are engaged in mines producing lowgrade ores from which sulphur is obtained, and we are justified in assuming that if we protect the sulphur industry it will not be long before other mines will bo developed and a larger number of men engaged.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What does the honorable senator suggest?

Senator EARLE - I favour leaving the duties as they are, so that all imported sulphur shall he dutiable: but if it is the wish of a majority of the Committee that volcanic sulphur shall be admitted free for the manufacture of certain articles. I shall have to abide by the decision of the Committee. Most of the pyritic sulphur contains arsenic, and, therefore, cannot be used in the manufacture of foodstuffs or aerated waters. If the Committee intend to support Senator Flatten's request, I shall move to amend it, in order that volcanic sulphur shall be admitted free for use only where sulphur obtained from pyritic and sulphide ores cannot be used.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am prepared to accept that.

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