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Wednesday, 9 June 1926

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - I regret very much that there seems to be a continued disposition on the part of certain honorable senators who oppose the Government's proposals to go out of their way, if only to a slight extent, to belittle Australian industry. Senator Barwell has complained of the inefficiency of local engineering firms. I interpret his remarks as applying more particularly to the Islington works in South Australia.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - My last remarks certainly applied to those works.

Senator DUNCAN - I cannot apply them to the Clyde works, near Sydney. Those works are not controlled by men whose desire it is to bolster up inefficiency. As a matter of fact, their attitude is quite the opposite. It is their earnest desire to make their establishment as efficient as possible, and quite recently, with that object in view, they sent their general manager, at considerable cost, to inspect and report to them on similar works in other parts of the world. . He was authorized by them to purchase the requisite machinery to make the Clyde works as up to date as other establishments abroad. They are spending a great deal of money in this direction, not because their works cannot be regarded as ordinarily up to date, but because they want to have them in advance of anything else in the world.

Senator Findley - That also has been done from time to time in connexion with the Victorian Government's works at Newport.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - If that is so, how it is that these Australian firms cannot compete with the margin the South Australian Government was prepared to allow to them?

Senator DUNCAN - The Clyde works have just completed 70 locomotives to the order of the New South Wales railways, and the railway experts have expressed entire satisfaction with the splendid way in which they have been turned out. There ha3 been no quarrel in regard to their cost. It is true that the cost of the engines manufactured at- the Clyde works must be considerably in excess of that of similar engines manufactured in other countries; but the fault is not due to the management or to the fact that the works are not efficient. The harsh conditions that parliaments and governments in Australia impose on our engineering firms make it hard for them to compete satisfactorily with similar establishments in other countries. For instance, because of the action of the Parliament of New South Wales in imposing a 44-hours week on industry in that State, the Clyde works are burdened with an additional labour cost on each engine of £440. ' I am not saying anything about whether the action of the State Parliament is right or wrong.

Senator Mclachlan - An additional cost of £440 on each engine is a mere trifle.

Senator DUNCAN - That is only one item ; there are other things to be taken into consideration. When we compare the wages paid and the labour conditions here with those in other countries, it will be agreed that it is impossible for us to expect the Australian concerns to keep going if we. impose additional burdens on them without, at the same time, giving them compensation in another direction.

Senator McLachlan - The honorable senator's argument would be helpful if he could tell us the relative wages paid in Great Britain by Armstrong, Whitworth & Company, and compare them with the wages paid in Australia.

Senator DUNCAN - According to the evidence given before the Tariff Board, mechanics' wages in New South Wales fixed by award are £5 10s. a week. Holidays and sick pay payments represent an additional 5s. 6d. a week, making a total of £5 Ids. 6d. a week. Mechanics' wages in England are £2 16s. a week. Labourers' wages in New South Wales, fixed by award, are £4 5s. a week, against £1 17s. a week paid in England. In the total cost of a locomotive, labour and charges represent approximately 60 per cent, and material 40 per cent. In a £12,000 locomotive, £7,200 would represent the amount paid for labour and charges in Australia, whereas the amountpayable in this respect in Great Britain, where wages are less than half those paid in Australia, would be £3,600. These facts make us realize how difficult it is for local enterprise to meet competition from overseas. We have splendid examples of Australian enterprise in the locomotive-building industry. Such wellknown firms as Thompson's, of Castlemaine; Walker's Limited, of Maryborough; Perry and Company, of Gawler; the Clyde Engineering Company, of Sydney, immediately come to one's mind. There are also smaller concerns. They all find it difficult to carry on under existing conditions. The increased duty proposed is an attempt to equalize matters once more, and place them on a proximately the same footing as obtained prior to the recent alteration in labour conditions. I have already shown how wages have increased. I wonder sometimes just where we are to end up. Costs are continually mounting up. We have, for instance, the proposal to reduce the hours of labour. I have nothing to say against it. Wages are steadily increasing, and I have nothing to say against that either. But if the Commonwealth Parliament is to find itself constantly saddled with the responsibility of readjusting, by means of Customs duties, the relationship between costs of production and selling prices, it will find itself faced with a task which is beyond its constitutional powers. We are continually being called upon to increase Customs duties in order to keep pace with increasing costs of production. The increased duties we are now considering are primarily due to the increased costs in industry which prevent our manufacturers from meeting the competition to which they are subjected from overseas. Nevertheless, I submit that when we have made this adjustment in the case of other industries, we are hound to do it also for the locomotive-building industry. We have already given increased protection to other sections of the iron and engineering trades.

Senator McLachlan - Does the honorable senator contend that the firms to which he has referred could build any of the big types of engines to which I have referred ?

Senator DUNCAN - There are very few types of engines that cannot be built in Australia. An engineer may have some fad for a particular type of engine not being made here, possessing what he might regard as special advantages, but what others might regard as disadvantages, yet other engines quite as good are being made in Australia.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - No engines comparable with those ordered by the South Australian Government have been made in Australia. Some of them are bigger than any engine previously made in Great Britain. No firm here could handle them.

Senator DUNCAN - If South Australia is out to compete with the rest of the world so far as its engines are concerned, and if it must have them bigger than anywhere else, it must be allowed to do so, but I cannot see why locomotives of the type that do such splendid and satisfactory work in New South Wales and Victoria cannot do the haulage required in South Australia.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - It is economy to have these engines. We are getting our railways on a much better footing than the New South Wales or Victorian railways.

Senator DUNCAN - I am pleased to hear that, because there was plenty of room for improvement. I am not quarrelling with the action taken by the South Australian Government. The letting of contracts abroad was quite within its province, and as a matter of fact it was a step which was not peculiar to the Government led by Senator Barwell. Other Governments have gone abroad for various constructional work. The Tasmanian Labour Government when it wanted a ferry went overseas for it, and had it made large enough to evade the provision of the act that would have rendered it liable to the payment of duty. Senator Barwell is abused for doing exactly what has repeatedly been done by various Labour Governments in Australia.

Senator Sir Henry Barwell - The honorable senator does not think that we could have done otherwise in the circumstances ?

Senator DUNCAN - I am not saying that the South Australian Government did wrong, but we are now asked to give adequate protection to the locomotive building industry in Australia. I have shown that this industry is being efficiently conducted -by various firms in Australia. Are we to give them a proper measure of protection, or are we to allow them to be subjected to all kinds of intense competition from overseas - Germany, Italy and other countries? I hope that the duty proposed by the Government will not be altered.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Newlands - The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

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