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Wednesday, 23 November 1921

Senator FOSTER (Tasmania) . - I would not have risen to take part in this debate but for the statement made by Senator Lynch that the Mount Lyell Company is in such a big way, and is making such tremendous profits out of superphosphates, sulphur, and sulphuric acid, that the representatives of Tasmania in this Chamber must vote for these duties. As I understand the position, the Mount Lyell Company has been in such a bad way that they have been content to carry on, so long as they could meet working expenses, in order to keep their men employed. Senator Lynch said the company made a profit of £50,000 last year; but, when one remembers that the total capital of the company is about £1,500,000, a profit of £50,000 is not so very great. Also, we have to take into consideration the fact that some portion of .this profit was earned in respect of work done prior to last year. I admit that Tasmania is very directly interested in the production of sulphuric acid from South Australian pyritic rock, but I remind the Committee that the Electrolytic Company at Hobart have already spent between £200,000 and £250,000 without so far having made one penny piece of profit, and that their future profits are limited in the terms of the letter read by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) in another place, in which they agreed to supply sulphuric acid to the manufacturers of superphosphates at a stated price. Apart from the interest which. Tasmania has in the .business, . it is an, Australian, and not a Tasmanian, industry. I believe these duties are necessary for the protection not only of our manufacturers against importations from

Japan and other places, but for the protection of the immense Government enterprise at Nauru and Ocean Islands. Senator Lynch mentioned some time ago that the Government expected to be able to meet interest charges and establish a sinking fund to wipe out the capital cost of Nauru and Ocean Islands from the sales of phosphatic rock obtained from those sources. I believe the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) made a wonderfully good bargain for Australia when he acquired Nauru Island, !but I also believe that if Senator Lynch and some of his friends had their way with respect to this Tariff item, it would be a very bad bargain for the Commonwealth. Senator Lynch has said that these Australian companies have done so well in recent years that they have been able to extend their businesses in a most marvellous manner; and yet, from figures that have been supplied to us, we find that the total quantity of superphosphate used in Australia has decreased from 360,000 tons in 1915 to 314,000 tons in 1919, a drop of 46,000 tons. This does not suggest that the companies have been doing so very well.

Senator Lynch - And there will be a further decrease, too - make no mistake about that.

Senator FOSTER - I admit that the wheat-growing industry is in a bad way this year, but at the same time I think that the statements made by some of those who, in this Senate, speak for the wheat-growing industry, must be discounted to some extent. For instance, last year we were told that the price of wheat should be fixed at 9s. per bushel, because the farmer could not afford to grow it for less.

Senator Lynch - Who told you that?

Senator FOSTER - The statement was made repeatedly in the Senate that at 9s. per bushel for wheat the farmers would make a bare living. We are told the same thing now when wheat is down to about 4s. per bushel. If, when wheat was 9s. last year, our farmers were only making a bare living, God knows what they are doing now, with wheat at its present price !

Senator Russell - The year 1915 was a bad year. Although we imported a certain amount of superphosphate, we could not get the required quantity, owing to the shortage of ships.

Senator FOSTER - SenatorWilson has told us that very little Japanese superphosphate has been imported during recent years, and, on that ground, he challenged Senator Senior to record his vote against the Government proposal. If there have not been heavy importations of Japanese superphosphates, and if the farmer had no reason to cavil at the price, why is he prepared to-day to allow Japanese, or any other superphosphate, to come in free of duty? Senator Wilson also said that Japan and South Africa were the only countries that ware likely to come into competition with the Commonwealth industry, the insinuation, of course, being that in agreeing to these duties we were merely protecting some little industry in Tasmania, when, as a matter of fact, we are really aiming to protect the Commonwealth industry at Nauru and Ocean Islands, upon which millions of Commonwealth money have been spent, and upon which we hope to get a return. His statement, therefore, is altogether unwarranted and unfair.

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