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Wednesday, 26 May 1926


Senator THOMPSON - I shall explain my meaning as I proceed. By our customers abroad, I mean the people who take our primary products, such as wheat and wool. If Australia proceeds to slam its door in their faces it must expect them to adopt a similar attitude.


Senator Lynch - We are doing that now.


Senator THOMPSON - Not at all. So far as our secondary industries are concerned we must look for a market within our. own borders. Our manufacturing conditions are so artificial that we can never expect to compete outside with the manufactures of other countries. In this connexion I detect a good deal of inconsistency on the part of honorable senators opposite who advocate high protection, but deprecate immigration. These two things must go hand in hand. If we are to make a success of our secondary industries we must encourage an increase of population to consume the goods we manufacture. As to living conditions, about which we hear so much, I would remind the Senate that Sweden, which compares favorably with Australia in regard to living conditions, is able to compete successfully with our own producers in the supply of matches and timber in Australia. I happen to know a good deal about Sweden, because it is ' part of my business to read the literature of that country. Although wages in Sweden are not as high as in Australia the cost of living there is lower, and altogether the conditions of the people are not so far below those obtaining in Australia as honorable senators opposite would have us believe. It was with regret that at Mildura recently I saw a tremendous slack of shooks of timber in one of the fruit-packing stores. I noticed a Swedish brand upon it, and I asked why Australian timber could not be used. The person to whom I addressed the question stated that Queensland timber could be obtained, but it was cheaper to secure Swedish timber and pay the duty on it.


Senator Foll - That is the fault of the Queensland State Government in charging high royalties.


Senator THOMPSON - Yes. I was going to say that Queenslanders. take an entirely different view from that of Senator J. B. Hayes on the question of timber duties. In my State we have a great industry that uses a vast quantity of timber, and I have been requested to oppose any increase in the duties upon it. I am sorry to find myself at variance with the honorable senator from Tasmania. The Queensland Government, I am informed, has directly taxed the timber industry of that State to the extent of £1,137,128 since 1918, and has expended less than £520,000 in re-afforestation. My informant goes on to say: -

As we are very large users of timber in normal times, and pay about £8,000 per annum in timber royalty, we feel entitled to protest against any proposals, which so far as Queensland is concerned at any rate, will add greatly to the burden of the builder and consumer, without providing any necessary relief to those engaged in the industry..... It should be noted that in 1020, royalties on mining timber in Queensland were increased by 400 per cent., the increase varying according to the distance of timber from mills or railways, and it was only after a united protest by consumers and timber getters, who made it clear that a large number of men would be thrown out of employment if payment of the new royalties were insisted on, that the old rates wore restored. . . . An addition to the duty on timber will only add to the public burden, for the benefit of owners of standing timber, without conferring any benefit worth mentioning on those who fell and mill it.


Senator Grant - What is the royalty on Queensland timber?


Senator Crawford - Up to £1 per 100 super, feet.


Senator McLachlan - How do people build houses there?


Senator THOMPSON - They continue to do so, although the cost has increased tremendously. A cottage that could be built for £400 a few years ago now costs £800. This is a tremendous tax on the user of timber.


Senator Foll - It . is all due to the State Labour Government.


Senator THOMPSON - Yes. I think the schedule to this bill is a very fair effort on the part of the Tariff Board, but I do not think the mining industry has been given that consideration which it deserves. We all know what a wonderful help it has been to the different States at various times, particularly at critical periods in their history, and I venture to say that it will still be, in the future, a great help to them. But instead of more consideration being extended to it in the framing of this tariff, the duties on mining machinery have been considerably increased. It is true that the machinery upon which these increased duties are placed can be made in Australia, but only at a prohibitive cost. If the Minister cannot see his way to admit machinery required for mining purposes free, I shall ask honorable senators to- support me in moving in that direction.

SenatorReid. - The honorable senator will have Walkers Limited opposed to him if he does so.


Senator THOMPSON - No. Machinery required for sugar extraction, which is now being landed at Mackay, has to pay the increased duty provided in this schedule. It is a class of machinery that cannot be commercially produced in Australia, and should be admitted free or, at any rate, at a very low rate of duty. Recently theRockhampton Harbour Board had occasion to purchase a trailing suction dredge, and accepted the tender of Fleming and Ferguson, of Scotland, at £48,670. Poole and Steele, of South Australia, submitted a tender of £125,000. That was the highest tender received. Other Australian tenders received were from Walkers Limited, Queensland, £97,300; the Government Dockyards, New South Wales, £89,500; and Mort's Dock, Sydney, £80,000, the last-mentioned being the lowest Australian tender received. Even after the duty of 30 per cent, had been paid on Fleming and Ferguson's dredger, its cost was only £63,000, as compared with the '£80,000 tender from Mort's Dock.


Senator Crawford - Was that the Scottish price for -the dredge delivered in Australia ?


Senator THOMPSON - Yes, I understand so. When I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs- (Mr. Pratten) to give some consideration to the Harbour Board he said that, inasmuch as the dredger could have been built in Australia, he could not see his way to grant my request. I asked, "At any price whatever ?" and he replied, " Yes, at any price whatever." I maintain that that is an improper attitude to take up, because the vast difference in price shows that this kind of dredger is not being commercially manufactured in Australia. Therefore, consideration should have been extended to the Rockhampton Harbour Board. I am grateful that, iu another place, the Minister has seen fit to make crude and residual oils free. As these are oils which are largely used in modern flotation processes, the concession will be of distinct benefit to mining in Queensland. The duty, as originally proposed, was considerably perturbing people at Mount Morgan. When the Senate rose early in the year the impression which the Minister in this chamber representing the Minister for Trade and Customs had was that these oils were to be free, and, unfortunately, I telegraphed to my constituents that they were to be free, only to find afterwards that they would not be. However, subsequently, the duty was removed in another place, and I am now pleased to welcome this addition to the free list, because I am sure it will be a great help to the mining industry of Queensland.


Senator Elliott - I thought that the Mount Morgan mine was closed down.


Senator THOMPSON - No ; it is working, but, instead of 1,700 men, it is employing only 350. The company is experimenting on a new process which, if it is demonstrated that it can be commercially worked on a large scale, will mean a great deal for the mine. It will probably' afford employment for 1,000 or 1,100 men, as well as a number of others on construction work, because it will need a very expensive plant. There is so much lowgrade ore in sight that if the experiments now in hand demonstrate that a bigger plant can be worked successfully, the mine will be given a new lease of life, to the great .advantage of Central Queensland and the State in general. When Mount Morgan is out of commission, the gold production of Queensland decreases considerably, and very many people are thrown out of employment. Another item upon which there is a diversity of opinion is structural steel. This diversity of opinion illustrates the difficulties that an honorable senator encounters. I hear from one large user of steel that the Broken Hill Proprietary are fully meeting Australian requirements at a price which is from £5 below the cost of imported structural steel. On the other hand, the Townsville Chamber of Commerce opposes the duty on structural steel, because it will adversely affect industry. What is a poor senator to do in such circumstances ?


Senator Crawford - I have received a letter from the Townsville Chamber of Commerce asking me to oppose the increases generally.


Senator Grant - The honorable senator should follow the advice of a well-known character, and " holler with the biggest mob."


Senator THOMPSON - Another matter about which I am also gravely concerned, and equally diametrically informed, is the duty on maize. I have a letter from the Queensland Mixed Farming Industrial Advisory Board, appealing for the retention of the protective duties. I have another letter from the Graziers Association of Queensland pointing out what is very true, the appalling state of the sheep industry of Central and Northwestern Queensland, and asking that maize be admitted free in order to save the starving stock. There is a good deal to be said on both sides of this question, and I hope that it will be dealt with in a practical way. For instance, if the season is good, with plenty of maize production, and there are no starving stock to be fed, I should say, " By all means give us the necessary protection on maize." But at a time such as this, when we are informed that we are likely to lose 5,000,000 sheep in Queensland, if the free importation of maize, or if its importation at a low rate of duty will prevent the sheep from dying, I think the matter of removing the duty should be given proper consideration. There are other items to which I shall refer in committee, but in passing I should just like to mention that the Townsville Chamber of Commerce has ideas with regard to cotton goods and cotton tweed. It declares that the duties proposed are too high, and as cotton goods are used in the north, in the sugar and other industries, it asks honorable senators who represent Queensland to oppose these duties or seek a reduction of them.


Senator Crawford - The sugar people have not invoked the aid of the Townsville Chamber of Commerce in this matter.


Senator THOMPSON - Mention is made of the fact that the sugar workers use these goods. However, I shall use my own judgment when the item comes forward. I am simply mentioning it now to show the nature of the requests that honorable senators get. In committee, I hope to offer a word in support of an increased duty on marble. We have large deposits of magnificent marble in Central Queensland, but it cannot compete with Italian marble. The cost of production in Italy is low, and the freight from Italy to the southern ports of Australia is less than the cost of transporting Central Queensland marble to Melbourne. In these circumstances, I think we may safely ask for some consideration for this Australian industry. It is true that the Queensland deposits are quite a distance from a railway line, and that a largo proportion of the cost of production is due to the long haulage from the quarry to the railway, but if our marble requirements could be confined to our Australian product, we could certainly meet it from Our unlimited supply of very good quality marble in Central Queensland. I think Australian whisky is already sufficiently protected. I regard the proposal of the Government to increase the duty on whisky as an interference with the liberty of the subject. I do not like Australian whisky; it is not as palatable or as good as the Scotch whisky to which I have been accustomed.


Senator Grant - Can the honorable senator tell one from the other ?


Senator THOMPSON - Yes ; but I should need to drink them at distinct intervals. Last year, when I ventured the opinion that the Australian whisky was not as good an article as the Scotch, one gentleman in the trade told me that he would put four glasses of whisky in front of me, and defy me to know the difference between them. I replied that a wine and spirit expert with my firm had probably forgotten more, concerning spirits, than most men in this country knew, and was well-stocked with new hats he had won by the same trick. It is only a trick, because when the first sample has been tasted, it is impossible to tell whether the second spirit tested is brandy or whisky.


Senator Grant - That is ridiculous.


Senator THOMPSON - It is not. An expert can tell by the bouquet. In Rockhampton on one occasion I tested both the imported and Australian whisky, and can say that the Australian product when compared with matured Scotch is very crude. I have nothing against the Australian whisky, but I think that it has all the protection it requires. If further assistance is necessary I suggest a reduction of the excise by 5s., which would afford the Australian manufacturers ample protection. Senator Ogden referred to the question of the collection of duties as they stood at the time when a vessel reached its first port of call in Australia, which is one that should be settled without further delay. I have attended Chamber of Commerce congresses in different parts of Australia, and know that this is not by any means a new question. The mercantile community have brought this matter under the notice of the Minister for Trade and Customs on many occasions, and his invariable reply has been that -an amendment of the act is necessary. If that is so, we should have amending legislation. The present practice operates most unfavorably in Queensland. If duties are raised between the time when a vessel reaches Fremantle, which is the first port of call in Australia, and the time when she reaches a Queensland port, as sometimes happens, importers in that State are at a disadvantage. It is quite an easy matter for duties to be made uniform throughout the Commonwealth the moment a vessel touches Australia, and I trust the Government will introduce amending legislation to overcome the difficulty. The non-refund of duty where reductions have been made or commodities placed on the free list also requires attention. The department continues to collect the duty originally imposed, and, so far as I know, no refunds are made. That is inequitable. It would be fair to take stock under departmental supervision and make refunds to those holding stock. I believe that precedent is against such a course, but it is a fair proposition to bring before the Minister.


Senator Crawford - It would be practically impossible to take stock in ali the warehouses throughout Australia.


Senator THOMPSON - Only a few lines may be affected.


Senator Crawford - But those lines may be stored in warehouses throughout the Commonwealth.


Senator THOMPSON - Not necessarily; but another method is that it would be easy to ascertain how much duty had been' paid and then assess a fair percentage to be refunded to those who had paid it.


Senator Grant - What of those who have paid increased prices in the meantime?


Senator THOMPSON - In most cases the importers have the stocks on hand. I feel that I am under a debt of gratitude to Senator Graham. My self-esteem had reached a low point when Senator Guthrie declared that he was clad from head to foot in everything of Australian manufacture. I could not say the same. My clothes, although made in Australia, were not manufactured from Australian material. On one occasion, when I asked my tailor if the material I had selected was made in the Commonwealth, he replied, " They cannot make that in Australia." I then asked him if they did not make such good stuff in the Commonwealth, and he replied in the negative. Later, at the opening of the Goulburn woollen mills - which are not the largest mills in Australia, but which have the most up-to-date machinery in the Commonwealth - I was conversing with the manager, who is a Bradford man, whose father and grandfather were also woollen manufacturers, and I informed him that I had been told in Sydney that certain tweeds could not be made in this country. I asked him if his mill could produce anything like I was wearing. He replied that they could not, but he directed my attention to two looms in the corner of the factory with which they were going to try to produce such material. He also informed me that if they were successful, and there was any demand for it, they would add to their plant, and endeavour to cater for that class of trade. I cannot say that my boots are of Australian material, because they were made by a man named Stewart, in Brisbane, who imports a good deal of his material. His work is of a very high standard, and he pays the wages which this country demands. I felt that Senator Guthrie was a political Brobdingnagian, and I only a political Lilliput, but when Senator Graham came along, and took the feet of clay from under our political god, my self-esteem returnedto normal, and I felt that, after all, I could justly claim to be as good an Australian as Senator Guthrie is. I shall reserve any further remarks I have to make until we are dealing with the schedule, and. I trust, when that stage is reached, I shall be instrumental in effecting some necessary amendments.







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