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Tuesday, 8 June 1926

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - I am supporting the request made by Senator Thompson, in the belief that the importation of this commodity will not result, as the Minister would have us believe, in a curtailment of employment or interference with the Australian iron industry. For the information of honorable senators who look to the Tariff Board to guide them in these matters, I point out that, some time ago, the board recommended that scrap iron be permitted to enter free. Those who are objecting to this duty, which by the way is imposed for the first time, point out that the Broken Hill Proprietary Company in support of its application to the Tariff Board submitted figures designed to suit its own ends. That company took 1918 as its starting point. Importations in that year totalled 374 tons. We all know that shortly after the outbreak of war shipping services were so dislocated that it was impossible to import pig iron, the available shipping space being required for more important purposes.

Senator McLachlan - Did not the Minister say that it was imported as ballast ?

Senator LYNCH - Yes. I believe the Minister's statement is correct, and as it is imported as ballast we are told it interferes with the sale of local scrap iron in the Commonwealth. The answer to that is that, during the war, the whole of the Commonwealth was ransacked for anything in the shape of scrap iron, so that there is hardly any left in Australia. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company advised the Tariff Board that importations of scrap iron were in an ascending scale from 1918, when they totalled 374 tons, until 1924-25, -when they were 17,000 tons. But that company, as I have stated, selected the most favorable period for its basis of comparison. I wish now to present the other side of the case, and to give figures dealing with importations over a much longer period. My information is that in 1906 our importations of this very necessary raw materia] totalled 16.097 tons - practically the same as last year. In 1907 they were 14,533 tons; in 1908, 14,781 tons; and so on, until the year before the war, when they were 22,554 tons. Then they fell away to 1,220 tons in 1916-17, to 146 tons in 1917-18, and rose again to 374 tons in 1918-19. The Tariff Board, being busy with various matters, I presume, did not have time to examine the figures dealing with the imports over a longer period than that selected by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, and, therefore, the case for the duty on scrap iron was determined on an entirely false basis.

Senator Drake-Brockman - In those earlier years there was practically no iron industry in this country at all.

Senator LYNCH - I am not so sure about that. Sixteen years ago, when I was in Lithgow, Messrs. Hoskins Ltd. were engaged on a fairly extensive scale in the manufacture of pigs and blooms, and other iron products.

Senator Crawford - But manufacturing was only on a small scale then.

Senator Thompson - If manufacturing is now on a larger scale, there should not be the same need for protection.

Senator LYNCH - I submit that the recommendation of the Tariff Board was not in the interests of the iron and all the other important allied industries mentioned by Senator Thompson. Manufacturers, we are told, must have this raw material, otherwise they will be obliged to smelt iron twice, in order to manufacture articles of the proper tensile strength, and this double process means higher manufacturing costs. The proposed duty is an unwarranted handicap on allied industries.

Senator Ogden - Is scrap iron essential for Australian manufacturers ?

Senator LYNCH - In the interests of economy, yes; because, as I have stated, if they cannot get and command an adequate supply they will be obliged to smelt iron twice to get a raw material of the proper texture. As for the argument that the proposed duty will shut out importations, I have only to remind honorable senators that before the war the price of scrap iron was from £3 to £3 10s. a tori. It then rose to £14 and £15 a ton, with the result that manufacturers ransacked the Commonwealth for any kind of scrap iron that could be obtained. It was even good business to purchase old machinery plants and break them up for scrap iron. This should be conclusive proof that the proposed duty will not prevent importations. Its only effect will be to increase the price of the locally-manufactured articles to the user.

Senator Grant - The duty is not intended to prevent importations. It is merely a revenue-producing dodge.

Senator LYNCH - The proposed duty of £1 per ton will not keep it out. Is it likely that manufacturers will go to all the trouble and expense of smelting iron twice to avoid payment of this duty ? Have I not shown that during the war they were prepared to pay four times the pre-war price for this necessary raw material ?

Senator Findley - Move for an increase in the duty. That will help to prevent importations.

Senator LYNCH - The honorable senator is always prepared to see the duties mounting up almost to any level. In expressing these opinions I am endeavouring to enlist reason and equity.

Senator Ogden - This, then, is penalizing local enterprise?

Senator LYNCH - Yes. The users will have this commodity irrespective of the duties imposed. Those honorable senators who have already proclaimed their willingness to tone down the tariff and to agree to reasonable adjustments between the two sections should now act up to their professions. In this instance I expect to have the support of Senator Barwell and several other honorable senators who have so freely expressed the opinion that many of the duties in the schedule are excessive. When will these honorable senators cease throwing sticks at the Government, toe the mark and square opinion and precept? It is about time they made a start. This industry is being handicapped without any reason whatever. I believe that scrap iron comes to Australia as ballast, as the Minister suggests,_ or, if not, at a nominal charge; but if it does, the ships bringing it out pick up return cargoes at lower rates, and thus primary producers are indirectly assisted.

Senator Ogden - Does the honorable senator think we started right on the first item in the schedule?

Senator LYNCH - Yes, I believe we did. I am opposing this item because I think it is about time we started to assert our strength, and show that wc possess independent judgment. The time has arrived when the Senate should no longer be a body which merely revises the work of another place, but should be one in which independent opinions are expressed in the interests of the whole of the people. We should not accept everything that comes from another place as a preordained message that cannot be improved upon or departed from in any way. We should exercise our own judgment in the interests of the people who send us here. I am supporting the request moved by Senator Thompson, and hope that an effective step will now be taken to place the schedule on a commonsense basis.

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