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Wednesday, 23 November 1921

Senator WILSON (South Australia) . - It was not my intention to speak again, but I am compelled to reply to the utterances of Senator Earle, who made some astounding statements, and who is, apparently, basing his argument upon the figures contained in a pamphlet which has been handed to honorable senators. By interjection, I reminded the honorable senator that all of these factories were in operation in 1914.

Senator Vardon - Since then we have imposed a duty on sulphur.

Senator WILSON - That is the foundation of the whole trouble, and I shall deal with it later. These manufacturing establishments were in existence in 1914, practically the same amount of capital had been subscribed, the output was about the same, and the number of employees was practically what it is today, when duties were not imposed. At that time the primary producers were producing superphosphates at £4 . 2s. 6d. per ton, but to-day it is £6 2s. 6d. Let us consider the matter from another aspect. The price of wheat is in the vicinity of 4s. per bushel, and notwithstanding the decreased price and the additional burdens which the primary producer will have to carry, we have throughout the Tariff" been imposing conditions upon the primary producers which make it almost impossible for themto carry on at a profit. We are told that if protective duties are not imposed importations from the other side of the world will be dumped here.

Senator Senior - Is that not true?

Senator WILSON - It is not, and I shall tell the honorable senator why. In 1914, when importations were admitted free of duty, the Australian producers more than held their own with their foreign competitors, and a comparatively small quantity of superphosphates came in. Why was this duty imposed? Simply because those engaged in an industry in Tasmania were clever enough to pull the strings to such an extent that a duty of £2 -was agreed upon. The superphosphates manufacturers then considered their position, and as a result of their influences- this proposal is submitted. Why should we be concerned with what has happened in Tasmania when, all the wheat produced in that State could be carried in a bucket by one man without banding his back. The primary producers of Australia are up against a difficult proposition, and Senator Newland and other honorable senators representing wheat-growing States know the position in which settlers on newly developed lands are placed. It will be impossible for many of them to carry on with the additional burdens that are being thrown upon them. Senator. Earle has said that the superphosphates industry cannot carry on without a protective duty, but I desire to inform him that the fortunate shareholders in the industry have had a very good time during recent years, and I do not think those who are managing the commercial side of the enterprise in Australia desire the sympathy or support of the honorable senator.

Senator Senior - Did they .make all their profits from the manufacture of superphosphate ?

Senator WILSON - In what, other direction could they make a profit when they are solely engaged in the manufacture of this commodity? Do honorable senators realize that the rock from Nauru Island is being supplied to the superphosphates companies at a cheaper rate than it has previously been supplied, from other sources? If my information is correct, the companies are obtaining rock of the highest quality for 15s. per ton. less than they previously paid. Are we going to place a further burden on the producers ?' Commonwealth money has been spent to obtain certain rights in the island of Nauru, with the idea of securing cheaper rock, and notwithstanding; this, the Minister in justification of his attitude produces a letter in which the manufacturers have undertaken not to increase the price. Conditions during recent years have been abnormal, but any one possessing common sense must realize that prices must recede. I am astonished at the Minister thinking it wise to read such a communication to the Committee.

Senator Bolton - Has not the cost of production increased since 1914?

Senator WILSON - It has; but we must remember that the cost of the raw material to the manufacturers has been reduced by 15s. per ton. Does the honorable senator suggest that wages have increased by 50 per cent, since 1914 ? A very fine mathematical computation is necessary to arrive at the exact extent to which wages have increased in proportion to the cost of production; but I am safe in asserting that the increase has not been anything approaching 50 per cent. The industry has done so well that its success has been an incentive to others to form companies. During the last election campaign the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), and many others, said that if Australia is to prosper we must increase our production. Is this a way of doing it?

Senator Senior - If there is any force in the honorable senator's argument the competition which has arisen in consequence of the success of the enterprise will tend to reduce the price.

Senator WILSON -v-It may, but we do not need an artificial Tariff to protect an industry when it can be clearly shown that importations from overseas in 1914 did not affect the position to any extent. I was under the impression that the object of a Protective Tariff was to develop industries and encourage thosealready established. What are we doing in that direction by imposing "these duties ?

Senator Reid - Saving the. industry.

Senator WILSON - It does not require salvation. The manufacturers of superphosphates are in a very happy position: Surely it is not our duty to build up a secondary industry at the expense of the primary producers !

Senator Crawford - Is the phosphate rock from Nauru Island 15s. per ton less than in 1914?

Senator WILSON - I do not think it was being obtained from there in that year. Prom the information I have been able to- gather, there is no chance of Japanese superphosphates being brought here.

Senator Senior - The Customs returns prove that they are imported.

Senator WILSON - I wish the honorable senator would ascertain the imports from Japan, and let his vote on this question be guided by the result. If wel produce all the superphosphate that can be. manufactured in Australia, there will be no need for the proposed duty. "With superphosphate at £6 2s. 6d., money at 7 per cent., and wheat at 4s., Australian wheat-growers will, indeed, be in a grave position.

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