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Thursday, 27 May 1926

Senator REID (Queensland) .- I have listened to so many debates on protection and freetrade that I hesitate to join in a general discussion, which generally leads nowhere. But as one who has supported the tariff on two previous occasions, and baa noted its beneficial results, I desire to reply to the suggestion made by some honorable senators that the tariff is framed to offer a premium to inefficiency on the part of manufacturers and workers alike. Specific, instead of general, charges should be made, and the articles that are said to be manufactured under inefficient conditions should be enumerated. Reference has also been made to the work of the Tariff Board. Although the criticism has not been altogether favorable, I am prepared to support the board, because I know that increased duties are not proposed unless it has inquired thoroughly into the merits of the applications.

Senator Thompson - I think that the board " slipped " over whisky.

Senator REID - I am not troubling about that commodity at the present time; but it is highly desirable that general innuendoes should be replaced by definite charges. Having visited many of the manufactories built up in the Commonwealth under protection, I can bear testimony to their efficiency. A splendid spirit of enterprise and thoroughness is evident on every hand. Almost every factory I have visited has adopted the most improved methods, and I have always found them to be doing all that can be expected of them, having regard to the comparatively small market available in Australia for their commodities. I agree with those honorable senators who contend that this country will never be in a position to export manufactured articles to any considerable extent, owing to the high cost of production and the long distance between Australia and the principal markets of the world. The United States of America has been able to build up an enormous export trade in manufactures because of her huge population. She can produce cheaply, and her surplus is dumped in other countries. I recollect that, when the McKinley tariff was introduced, fear was expressed that America could never stand the burden. Since its application, however, that country has progressed by leaps and bounds in population and production, and it has nothing to regret. I am sanguine that the Australian tariff will be equally effective in building up our secondary industries. On account of th.e comparatively isolated position of this country, great difficulty has been experienced in establishing many of those industries ; but increased population will solve our difficulties. Until our local market is built up by this means, we shall not receive the full benefit of the tariff. A large body of consumers will be of the utmost advantage to both the employers and the workers. Our arbitration courts are reducing the hours of labour, and this is handicapping our secondary industries, which are unable to compete with the rest of the world. If it were not for the tariff, our market would be flooded with cheap European goods produced by factories in which longer hours are worked and lower wages paid than those obtaining in Australia, lt has been said that an industry that cannot pay a living wage should be wiped out of existence; but that would be an expensive way to build up a nation. Industries in Australia are handicapped by the fact that our courts, in fixing working conditions, start on the basis of a living wage for all industries.

Senator Lynch - If every pioneer had proceeded on those lines, this country would never have been developed.

Senator REID - That is so. If the arbitration courts insist on the maintenance of the wages that have been paid hitherto, many industries will be strangled. It is well to be candid. I have done hard work, and I do not wish to preach; but I say, from my own knowledge of industrial life, that there is too great a tendency on the part of the majority of the workers of Australia to go slow. All sides in politics desire to maintain the present high standard of living. It should be realized, however, that if the nation is to be built up on permanent lines, there must be an adequate return for the wages paid. I am not an advocate of huge profits for the employer at the expense of the workman. There must be efficiency on both sides, or the whole fabric of in dustry will crumble.

Senator Grant - Do not the employees give a fair return for the wages th.ey receive ?

Senator REID - No.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Newlands). - I am afraid that this discussion is extending beyond the ambit of the measure.

Senator REID - The discussion of that subject may be beyond the ambit of this measure, but all occupations are involved. No one knows this better than Senator Grant.

Senator Grant - Give us one specific instance.

Senator REID - Very well, I remind the honorable senator of the position in the bricklaying industry.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.Order ! The honorable senator may not refer to bricklaying in this debate.

Senator REID - I bow to your ruling, sir, but Senator Grant knows, just as well as I do, how many bricks are laid daily by the average bricklayer as compared with the number laid a few years ago. It is difficult for honorable senators from Queensland to avoid clashing with conflicting interests in the debate on this measure. Maize-growing is an important industry in my State. Our maize-growers have benefited considerably from the imposition of the duty on African maize. But unfortunately the central and north-western portions of Queensland are suffering from a severe drought. Sheep are dying in large numbers owing to the absence of grass and water. Many station-owners are feeding their flocks on maize, and have to cart water to keep them alive. All these people are clamouring for the removal of the duty on maize.

Senator Sir Thomas Glasgow - Only as a temporary measure.

Senator REID - That is so. They have written to all Queensland representatives for assistance. Only those who have had experience of a drought in Queensland can realize what it means. I have known droughts to extend over many years, and have seen sheep dying month after month, so I can fully sympathize with the pastoralists in the drought-stricken areas of my State. I am also receiving letters from Queensland maize-growers demanding that no action be taken to remove the duty, so honorable senators from other States will, I hope, appreciate our difficulty in trying to deal fairly with all our primary producers.

The wool industry, which Senator Guthrie stated a few days ago was responsible for 75 per cent. of the wealth received from primary production, is in serious difficulty in Queensland, and I have no hesitation in urging the Government to remove the duty temporarily, until rains come and the situation is relieved. I am in favour of doing all that is possible to build up our primary as well as our secondary industries, because they are interdependent.

Senator McLachlan - The Minister for Trade and Customs should have the power to suspend the duty in the circumstances mentioned by the honorable senator.

Senator REID - I agree that he should, because the situation is really very serious. I am, as I said, in favour of protection, and. I am pleased to know that it is helping to build up the cottontweed industry in Australia. We heard many lamentations in another place about the imposition of these duties, but from the samples which I have seen, I am satisfied that the Australian article is better than the imported.

Sen ator Payne. - Non sen se!

Senator REID - Although it is some years since I had anything to do with the business, I have handled as much tweed in my time as Senator Payne has. I know quality, and I say that the Australian cotton tweed is equal to the imported material.

Senator Payne - At double the price, perhaps.

Senator REID - I saw samples in the Queen's Hall, and was able to compare the Australian article with the imported cotton tweed, which I was informed was being quoted at the same price.

Senator Payne - Then the honorable senator has been grossly misled.

Senator McLachlan - Did the honorable senator see samples of imported cotton tweeds in the warehouses?

Senator REID - No ; I saw samples in the Queen's Hall, and, in my opinion, the Australian article is more suited to Australian conditions, especially for a hot climate like that of Queensland. I am satisfied that the duty will be instrumental in building up another important secondary industry, and directly benefit a branch of primary production.

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