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Thursday, 17 November 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I hope the Committee will press its request for a preferential Tariff of 25 per cent. The Senate accepted the House of Representatives' rates of 35 per cent, intermediate, and 40 per cent, general. Since the intermediate Tariff is not in operation in respect of the manufactures under review, the effect is that all except British manufacturers are compelled to compete in the Australian market under the disability of a 40 per cent. duty. It appears that, if we can produce anything at all in Australia, the question of British preference, in respect of that article, goes by the board; but, if we are not making it we are ready to grant some slight measure of preference to the Mother Country - just enough to allow local purchasers of the British article to secure their requirements for a little less than they would have to pay for foreignmade goods. The advantage given to Britain is only very slight; and, as a matter of fact, it is on the side of Australian interests every time. Prior to the war the greater portion of imported electrical plant and machinery came from America and Germany.

SenatorE. D. Millen. - More than half of our imports came from Great Britain.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not much more than half, at any rate. What is the outstanding difference between the British Tariff imposed by the House of Representatives and that requested by the Senate? Merely a matter of 2½ per cent. But, insignificant though it is, it is sufficient to afford a good opportunity to those who would taunt us about the quality of our loyalty.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The measure of British preference is not 2½ per cent., but a matter of 25 per cent, or 27½ per cent.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Many Australians are prepared to talk loyalty and wave the flag when it costs them nothing. But, when loyalty becomes entangled in their business interests, some would split hairs, even to the extent of disagreeing upon a difference of 2½ per cent. If an Australian industry cannot pay a living wage it should be closed down. The Senate offers to give local manufacturers a virtual start of 25 per cent, upon British makers; but that handicap is extended by considerations of freight and other costs which are probably equivalent to 15 per cent. Thus, the Australian manufacturer is protected from his British competitor up to 40 per cent. If a local industry cannot be carried on except with the assistance of a higher duty than 40 per cent, it ought to be closed down. The Senate is asking for a duty of 25 per cent, against a country which pays wages, in the industry immediately concerned, that are Quite as high as those ruling in Australia. Probably, indeed, they are higher. Surely, then, the amount of protection is sufficiently high, in all circumstances. The Senate has not essayed to reduce the intermediate and general Tariffs as fixed by the House of Representatives. Personally, I have never strongly favoured preference. No British Government has ever asked that the Dominions should concede preferential treatment to manufacturers in the Old Country. Hitherto, the Imperial authorities have preferred the principle of world-wide Free Trade.

Senator Keating - But the honorable senator must know that British manufacturers havei appreciated the preference accorded by the Dominions.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Naturally, the manufacturers would gladly have preference.

Senator Keating - And they appreciate 'the preference Australia has given already.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes ; but the British Government have not asked for it.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is obvious that if the British Government had asked us for preference they could not resist our application for a similar privilege.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I admit that; but the British Government say that it would not pay them to have preference.

Senator Keating - They have nothing to give us in return.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not in the matter of preference in regard to foodstuffs?

Senator Keating - They can offer us nothing so long as they adhere to . their Free Trade policy.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the British Government asked in what particular direction we desired preference we would, of course, say that we wanted special Tariff treatment in relation to wheat, fruit, butter, and other primary products Of course, they would then say that it would not suit them to give preference in foodstuffs, because they could do better by dealing with the world at large. The British Government have never asked for preference. What did Mr. Winston Churchill say? He declared that we had " closed', banged, and barred the door.." Anybody who reads the interchange of correspondence between Mr. Asquith and Sir William Lyne will be rather amused. I know the Senate as a whole views this Tariff in a somewhat different light from what I do. We agreed to the intermediate and general Tariffs on this item, and we simply requested that the British preferential Tariff be reduced to the extent of 5 per cent. We say that we want to give the British manufacturer preference, and', therefore, we should insist upon our views being respected.

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