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Wednesday, 23 November 1921

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - The members of the Committee must be in a penitent mood if they are going to allow this proposal to pass without saying a word on what is a most serious question, and one of vital importance to primary production in this country. The history of this proposition isvery clear, and, fortunately, well known. It does not reflect any credit upon the Government. When the Tariff reached this Chamber from another place, there was no suggestion of imposing any duties at all upon fertilizers, but, apparently, the Committee has been 'used , to insert everything nasty, distasteful, and refrogressive. A move was made, influences were exercised, and strings were pulled, with the result that a staple article used in the manufacture of fertilizers has been made dutiable. Then, having taken one false step, it had tobe followed by another, and a duty has been imposed on the completed product. I do not wish to injure any industry in this country, primary or secondary, but I desire first consideration to be given to primary industries.

Senator Wilson - The honorable senator objects to secondary industries destroying primary industries.

Senator LYNCH - Absolutely. At the same time, I desire to see primary and secondary industries working harmoniously together, but when the time comes for an important industry such as this to be threatened with extinction, and a large number of people engaged in it thrown out of employment, it is time for this Committee to assert its authority and not to be made a medium for imposing duties.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - My proposal is to remove the duties.

Senator LYNCH - That is too thin altogether. The Minister is not speaking on the " stump."

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am speaking to one !

Senator LYNCH - Yes, a steadfast one, whose position is always known. The Minister does not require a scale to know where I stand. I am as solid as a stump at any time, and in that respect I am unlike the Minister. It does not require a compass or a divining rod to determine my position on this or any other question before the Committee. We have been informed that this modification should be accepted because it is for the purpose of removing the duties. It is nothing of the kind. The Minister cannot throw dust in my eyes by making statements which would probably be accepted if delivered from a public platform, but which should not be swallowed here. Superphosphates are required for the dry soil in the interior, and the Minister knows little or nothing about the requirements of the primary producers. There is not a member of the Cabinet who knows anything at all concerning the subject under discussion. Not one member of the Government has everattempted to grow as much wheat as would be required to feed a broody hen, and yet the Government attempt to enlighten people who have made wheatgrowing a lifelong study, and have staked their all in the industry. I am not going to treat the proposal of the Minister in any jocular manner, nor do I intend to invoke the art of wordy artifice to sustain the position I take up. I approach the matter with a genuine desire to see that manufacturers of fertilizers in Australia get a square deal; and, on the other hand, I am also going to try to obtain fair treatment for the people who must buy their products. The presumption is that this industry is languishing; but we have heard nothing from the Treasury bench to support that view.

Senator Vardon - Who said it was ?

Senator LYNCH - Then why ask for this duty? Is the honorable senator supporting it?

Senator Vardon - I am.

Senator LYNCH - Then he is supporting a duty for an industry which, on his own admission, is not languishing.

Senator Vardon - I want it protected.

Senator LYNCH - I previously gave the Committee some information from the report of a Royal Commission, which sat in New South Wales, on the wheatgrowing industry in that State. They were not my own figures that I quoted, but were the result of careful research by the Commission, and the result of a study of operations over a period of ten years snowed that, while the industry was far from profitable, in individual cases there was, generally speaking, the barest margin of profit. The profits did not exceed more than a few shillings per acre. We have had similar commissions of inquiry in other States, and in Western Australia in particular. To the latter State, where I am sorry to say the average quality of the land is not as good as in other parts of Australia, though the area is vastly greater in extent, numbers of men are being attracted, because of the wheatgrowing possibilities, and it is on their behalf that I am raising my voice to-day. I hope that honorable senators will be convinced that the manufacturers of fertilizers are not in need of protection. Tasmanian senators are bound to vote for the duty on sulphur, and then they must follow up their action by supporting a duty on superphosphates. This is the vicious circle always set up through a bad beginning, and the Government have fathered the bad beginning. This is the first attempt made to put a duty on fertilizers, which are needed so much in Australia,and I protest against such barefaced iniquity. If there is one thing that we should do with our light and dry soils, it is that we should make them productive ; yet a policy is brought down to impoverish them.

What standard are we to adopt in judging whether this duty is needed or not? The Government should have examined the balance-sheets of the particular companies concerned ; but they have not done it. Although I have supported the Government in other matters, they are not my leaders in this, and I say most emphatically that they arein my debt; I am not in theirs. We have heard a great deal about what the Government intend to do to encourage primary production. The producers need practical assistance, not promises which are never fulfilled. The Government are helping the manufacturers rather than the men on the land. I have gone to some trouble to ascertain whether the manufacturers need a duty or not. Information on this point should have been furnished by the Government. This insane policy of the Government was begun by giving a duty on Tasmanian sulphur; but I understand that the people producing sulphur in Tasmania are doing very well. According to the latest balancesheet of the Mount Lyell Company, it is, I am glad to say, making satisfactory progress. While the copper mines of Queensland, and those at Wallaroo, in South Australia, are in deep waters by comparison, the Mount Lyell Company has kept in operation, and has even increased its output. But the Tasmanian company's operations are not confined to mining. It has big chemical works in Melbourne and Adelaide, and also a plant in Western Australia. On last year's operations the company lost no ground, so far as profit to its shareholders was concerned.

Senator Wilson - Can a man go on growing wheat, with all these extra charges, if he is only to receive 4s. a bushel ?

Senator LYNCH - No ; he will have to go out of the business. He will run a few sheep, and when the countryside is deserted, and is unable to absorb labour, the people in the cities will feel the pinch. The cost of living then will go up, and matters will have to be a good deal worse before they can be better.

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