Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 21 May 1926

Senator NEEDHAM (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I am optimistic enough to believe that we can become absolutely self-contained, and we should make a determined effort to become an exporting nation to a greater extent than we are. I think Senator Guthrie will subscribe to that policy.

Sitting impended from 1 to;? p.m..

Senator NEEDHAM - I nave some figures which, illustrate the way in which the tariff has .operated during the last few years, and which show that it has not the protective incidence which some people attribute to it. For the year 1921-2, the imports were valued at £103,000,000; and for the year 1924-5, at approximately £157,000,000, showing an increase of £54,000,000 during that period. The output of Australian, factories in 1921-2 was valued at £320,000,000; and that in 1924-5 at approximately £370,000,000; or an increase of £50,000.000. From these figures, it will be seen that the value of the output of the manufacturing industries in 1921-2 was approximately three times the value of the imports for' the same period. Therefore, an increase of £54,000,000 of imports in the period from 1921-2 to 1924-5 should, if we maintain the same ratio of three to one, mean an increase in the manufacturing output for the same period of £150,000,000, instead of what it is, viz., £50,000,000, which would make the total trade for the three years £204,000,000. The total increase in trade, imports and output of industries, between the years mentioned, was £104,000,000, £54,000,000 of which represented increase of imports, and £50,000,000 the output of industries. It will therefore be seen that,, as far as manufacturing is concerned, Ave are not holding our own with imports, because on the three to one ratio, and taking the £104,000,000 increase in trade in the three years, £78,000,000 of it ought to represent the increase in the output of the manufacturing industries, as against £26,000,000 increase of imports, instead of £54,000,000 increase in imports and £50,000^000 increase in the value of our manufactured output. In analysing these figures, we are confronted with a serious position, which can only be remedied by manufacturing many of the articles at present imported, and in some cases giving more protection to our industries against overseas competition. There is another feature of the measure to be considered, and that is the relation of our fiscal policy with the defence of the Commonwealth. One of the planks of the Labour party's defence policy is, " Convertible factories for the manufacture of small arms, munitions, and aeroplanes." "We should like to see factories in Australia that can easily be converted, into plants for the manufacture of small arms in the event of trouble, instead of our depending upon supplies from overseas. We wish to keep our factories going, ourpeople employed, and to see that our workmen receive fair wages,, and work under conditions that are reasonably comfortable. It was on that point that Senator Guthrie and I came into conflict; but I still contend that we can pay reasonable rates of wages and give fair conditions to our employees, and at the same time compete with manufacturers in overseas countries. In other parts of the world, men are receiving wages and working under conditions that would not be tolerated here. I am sure that no honorable senator, whatever his fiscal belief may be, desires to see the conditions of labour and rates of wages in Australia reduced. I think it is the general desire that they should be improved. 'Die Labour party is responsible for the better conditions and higher wages enjoyed by Australian workmen.

Senator Sir Victor Wilson - The Labour party is not solely responsible.

Senator NEEDHAM - It is mainly responsible, because of its organization. If we had not had in Australia a number of vigorous trade unions we would not have the conditions of employment which obtain to-day.

Senator Guthrie - The first Factories Act in Victoria was introduced by a Liberal government.

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes, but at that time there was a virile Labour organization, consisting of militant trade unionists, who impressed upon the Liberal 'government the necessity for introducing such legislation. If we had not had such men in Australia, the conditions of labour and the rates of wages would not be what they are to-day. Good as the conditions are, they can still be improved, and credit must be given to organized labour for the work it has done. I now come to a phase of this subject, the policy of the Labour party on fiscal matters, to which I have previously referred. A plank of the Labour party's platform is new protection, which means that not only shall the Australian manufacturer be protected, through the Customs House) and the employees in industry receive reasonable wages and. fair conditions, but that the consumer of the articles protected shall not be charged exorbitant prices. It is the last mentioned phase of new protection which is most important. We contend that there should be some tribunal to* see that protected goods are not sold at exorbitant prices-.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - General price-fixing ?

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes ; that is what new protection means.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - It also means prohibition.

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not think so. In 1911-13 the Labour government of the day submitted to the people of Australia a policy of new protection, but the electors did not grant the Commonwealth Parliament the necessary powers to give effect to it. Ever since 1906 the fighting platform of the Federal Labour party has embodied new protection. In 1908 the Deakin Government supported new protection, .and said it would go to the country with such a policy. Later on, however, it joined forces with the free trade element, and the matter was dropped. I am referring now. to the year in which the famous Fusion Government was formed, when the arch-priest of high protection, Mr. Deakin, joined forces with the arch-priest of freetrade, Sir Joseph Cook. On two different occasions the people have been unsuccessfully appealed to to grant these powers. Every one who has followed tariff matters knows of the test case brought before the High Court. An excise duty of £6 was placed upon harvesters, to be refunded1 if wages ' awarded by the Arbitration Courts were paid, and a reasonable rate charged for the article. That was declared unconstitutional. Since then we have been working- within the ambit of the Constitution. It is now rumoured that the Government is bringing down a measurewhich, perhaps, may affect the situation. I have nob seen it, but if it. goes as far as diet the proposal of 1911-13, I shall welcome it. I realize that until we have new protection, under which the manufacturer, employee, and consumer are alike safeguarded, we shall never have a, sound fiscal policy. As far as. this tariff is concerned, I think that half a loaf is better than no bread. I am not what I believe one honorable senator has described himself - a Himalayan protectionist. I do not believe altogether in unlimited protection, nor do I believe in a revenue tariff. I have already said that a revenue tariff is one of the worst forms of indirect taxation. I believe in taxing goods the Customs House merely for the protection of our industries, and I do not favour such protection being afforded too long. The intention of a protective policy is to foster and establish industries. I do not believe in an industry being protected for ten or fifteen years, .and then asking for additional assistance. If industries connot get on their feet in a reasonable time, they should be compelled to meet outside competition.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator is not in favour of protecting an industry after it is established?

Senator NEEDHAM - I would not give it as much as before.

Senator Sir "Victor Wilson - -Every case should bo treated on its merits.

Senator NEEDHAM - Yes . If an industry has been reasonably protected for ten or twelve years, it should be able to stand alone.

Senator Crawford - How can an Australian industry paying £4 or £5 a week to its employees successfully compete with a similar industry in another country which pays its operatives perhaps only 10s. a week?

Senator NEEDHAM - I think that industries can, if properly protected, compete with those of other countries, despite the fact that wages outside are lower.

Senator Crawford - Does the honorable senator suggest that when they are properly established protection should be withdrawn ?

Senator NEEDHAM - I do. not say that protection should be wholly withdrawn, but they should not be given the same measure of protection afforded in the early stages. They should be able to stand on their feet.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Which means that the protection should bo withdrawn ?

Senator NEEDHAM - Either withdrawn or reduced. If up-tc<-date- machinery were installed in all our factories, a larger output could be obtained at a lower cost. That is an answer to the interjection of the Honorary Minister (Senator Crawford). The honorable senator, by interjection, drew a comparison between" the rates of wages in Australia and some other countries. He must admit that many of our factories are equipped with machinery that is not sufficiently modern to enable them to compete with other parts of the world. If they had that modern machinery their output would be considerably increased, and that would assist them to compete with other countries.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - The industries that are protected to-day will require just as much protection in twenty years' time.

Senator NEEDHAM - A difference of opinion exists upon that point.

Senator Crawford - Is the honorable senator aware that America quite recently granted increased protection to a number of industries?

Senator NEEDHAM - I admit that. I would do as Senator Wilson has advocated - treat each case on its merits. If it were shown that protection was necessary to preserve an industry, I should continue it. I understand that one of our manufacturing firms - Bond's, of Sydney - will supply retailers with their hosiery only on the condition that they charge the public a certain price for it. If a manufacturer is in a position to make that stipulation, why cannot the Government act similarly?

Senator Sir Victor Wilson - That has been the custom for many years with a number of items.

Senator NEEDHAM - The Commonwealth Government should have the power to fix prices. I now come to another phase of this question; that is, the 44- hour working week. We have listened to-day to complaints regarding the high rates of Australian wages. We are at present involved in a struggle for a 44- hour working week. If the manufacturers of Australia would install modern machinery a 44-hour working week would not cause them any trouble. Those very employers who to-day are appealing to the Parliament for greater tariff protection are leagued against the employees in an effort to prevent them from obtaining a reduction in their working hours.

Senator Payne - The honorable senator's argument would apply also to a working week of 36 hours.

Senator NEEDHAM - The arguments that are being adduced to-day in opposition to a week of 44 hours were adduced during the agitation for a week of 54 hours, and, later, for a week of 48 hours. It was then said that our manufacturers would not be able to stand up against the competition of outsiders, and that capital would flee the country. In five States of the Commonwealth the employees are working 44 hours a week, under either statutory authority or administrative act. Queensland and New South Wales have given statutory authority to that number of hours, and in Western Australia all Railways and other Public Works have been given it by administrative act. The employers have availed themselves of a. technicality in the Constitution to deprive the employees of .a reduction in their working hours.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - Does not the honorable senator think that our manufacturers would require still further protection if they were compelled to conform to the 44-hour working week ?

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not think so. My view is that the protection afforded under this bill is ample, and that a 44-hour working week would not in an)7 way handicap our manufacturers in competition with outsiders, provided they installed proper machinery.

Senator Crawford - Does the honorable senator argue that a machine will do as much work in. 44 as in 48 hours?

Senator NEEDHAM - The modern machinery that lias so far been installed has increased the output. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) the other day, in another place, referred to the increase that had taken place recently in our production. If that is so, there can have been no going slow.

Senator Sir Victor Wilson - The honorable senator has not answered the Minister's question.

Senator NEEDHAM - That question was not relevant to the issue.

Suggest corrections