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Wednesday, 7 March 1928

Senator OGDEN (Tasmania) .- If there are still any freetraders in this chamber, which I very much doubt, I suppose they will have something to say concerning the schedule to this bill. Like the Leader of the Opposition (Senator

Needham), I am pleased to be able to call myself a scientific protectionist. There is, however, this difference between us, that whereas the honorable senator will support the highest possible duties on every occasion and for every conceivable industry, I am inclined to the belief that we are pushing the bogy of protection too far. With the advice of the Tariff Board to guide us, and using our own judgment, we should take stock of our position and see if we have not gone far enough. At one time a freetrader could be found in the ranks of the Labour party; but to-day there is not one. A member of the Labour party to-day who -dared to advocate freetrade would find himself cast, like the Roman traitors of old, from the Tarpeian Rock. The Labour party believes in the policy of high protection, because, amongst other things, it gives employment and incidentally increases its voting strength, in industrial electorates. But, instead of bringing about the millennium, as anticipated by some members of the party, the policy of high protection is actually increasing unemployment in the cities. Many of our industries enjoy high protective duties, but the cost of production is so great that it prevents successful competition with the older and more firmly established industries in the old world. This means stagnant and unprofitable industries which are unable to retain their full staff. Instead of high duties decreasing unemployment they have the opposite effect. The Leader of the Opposition directed attention to the fact that our adverse trade balance was about £20,000,000 and pointed out that a large proportion of our imports were coming from countries where cheap labour conditions obtain. I would remind him that our adverse trade balance with the United States of America, a country where the conditions, of employment are quite as good as those in Australia - the wages paid are actually higher- is £25,000,000.

Senator Needham - Does the honorable senator contend that the conditions in America are as good as they are in Australia?

Senator OGDEN - They are better in some cases. Where are these cheap labour countries? We import from British countries £85,000,000 worth of goods. I do not think the honorable senator will say that these goods come from countries where cheap labour is available.

Senator Needham - Does the honorable senator say that the conditions in Britain are as good as they are here ?

Senator OGDEN - They are not; but' wages in Great Britain have in some cases increased by 100 per cent, since the war. Many mechanics in Great Britain are paid as much as they are paid in Australia. We import only £4,000,000 worth of goods per annum from Japan, where labour is cheap, and we sell her over £11,000,000 worth. France sends to Australia goods to the value of £3,750,000 a year and buys from this country goods to the value of £18,000,000. Italy is in much the same position. That country sells us goods to the value of about £1,500,000 a year and buys from us products worth about £5,000,000.

A perusal of the figures relating to imports and exports shows that our most serious competitor with regard to secondary products is America, the country which pays the highest wages in the world. But America is not without its unemployment problem. The cabled reports in the newspapers to-day stated that there are 500,000 workers unemployed in the United States of America. Senator Needham declares that protection provides employment. If what he says be true, how is it that, notwithstanding that our secondary industrieshave enjoyed high protection for many years, unemployment in Australia is more serious to-day than at any other period since federation. Clearly the facts disclose that protection does not ensure continuity of employment, and is no guarantee against an industrial crisis such as that which now confronts us.

I do not propose to deal in detail with the items in the schedule. I shall have an opportunity to do that at the committee stage of the bill. I wish, however, to stress the point that there appears to have been a disposition in certain quarters to over-estimate the value of high protective duties from the point of view of employment, and as a consequence the people of Australia have been penalized in order to protect certain industries which give only a limited amount of employment. Senator Needham admits that protection does not assist the primary producer in his State. Tasmania, possessing few secondary industries, also derives very little benefit from high protection. Only two States, Victoria and New South Wales, have benefited from the imposition of high tariff duties.

Senator Findley - Is the honorable senator a freetrader in regard to timber duties ?

Senator OGDEN - At the outset I stated that I was a protectionist. I believe that tariff duties are absolutely essential to protect certain industries. I have voted for protection on former occasions and will do so again if I believe protective duties are warranted ; but I do not favour high protection for every little tin pot industry that asks for assistance. I believe in the adequate protection of our natural industries, including our iron and steel products - those industries which have some chance of competing with overseas rivals. Industrial concerns which do not give promise of employing a large number of men should not be protected. It would be far better to allow free competition in respect of such concerns. I hope that before the tariff schedule is passed we shall be able to reduce certain of the items. It is my intention to move for a reduction of duties in respect of one or two industries in which I believe high tariff imposts are working an injury to the producers pf Australia.

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