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Wednesday, 21 March 1928

Senator CHAPMAN (South Australia) . - Under this item I notice that some of the fiat rates to which I have previously referred are to be increased. I mention more particularly the ordinary piano, which is used very extensively in the country and also by a large number of working and lower salaried people in the cities. The old rates for upright pianos were £7 British, £8 intermediate, and £9 10s. general, or ad valorem 30 per cent. British, 40 per cent, intermediate, and 45s. general tariff, whichever rate returns the higher duty. The rate how proposed is £7 British, £21 10s. intermediate, £25 general, with the previous ad valorem rates. As honorable senators will see, the flate rates have been considerably increased on the type of piano with which the poorer people have to be satisfied. . It has been said that flat rates are imposed to keep out cheap foreign goods; but the Tariff Board which held an exhaustive inquiry into the importations of pianos, particularly from Germany, stated, that -

Subsequent events have proved that the United States is chiefly responsible for the increased importations. So much is this the case that the main burden of the evidence tendered by the parties to the latest request for increased duties was directed to the competition now being experienced from importations from the United States of America, more particularly in what were described as cheap standardized instruments.

I refute the statement that the instruments in question are cheap and unfit for ordinary use. The Tariff Board says they are not. This is its finding -

Considerable evidence on the quality of the cheaper imported instrument was tendered by both sides. The witnesses appearing in support of the request for increased duties described these cheaper imported instruments variously by such terms as " rubbish," " inferior rubbish," " a menace to the purchasers." and " inferior low grade instruments." This general condemnation was, however, not supported by the presentation of any exhibits that would justify such a general condemnation. The only instrument which it could be said would in any way lend support to any of the general charges was exhibited some time after the inquiry had closed.

I think that it will be seen that these duties are not being imposed to protect purchasers from inferior pianos. They will be paid on serviceable instruments which the general community wish to use. The trade with America has increased tremendously, and the exports from that country to Australia supply food for thought. In 1921-22 our imports from the United States of America, were valued at £18,000,000, and they increased in 1925-26 to £37,000,000. The export from Australia to the United States of America, which in 1921-22 were valued at £8,000,000, increased in 1925-26 to only £12,000,000 I admit these figures are alarming, but the importations of cheap pianos are not responsible for the large increase in our imports from the United States. Between the years' 1923 and 1926, the value of imports of player-pianos increased from £1,395,485 to £2,680,338, while imports of ordinary pianos declined in value from £1,036,419 to £338,477.

Senator McLachlan - Would not the decline in the importation of ordinary pianos be due to the demand for playerpianos ?

Senator CHAPMAN - No doubt the honorable senator is right to a certain extent. As I have shown, the importations of player-pianos from America have doubled in three years. The figures relating to the imports of upright pianos for the three years ending 30th June, 1927, are as follows :- 1924-25, 10,225; 1925- 26, 6,254; 1926-27, 4,239. The poorer classes in the community are, in the main, the purchasers of these pianos, and the figures show that since imports of this class of instrument are declining, the Australian industry is not in any danger. There is only a limited number of manufacturers of pianos and player-pianos in Australia. If these duties are ratified, the people will have a more limited range of selection and of course they will have to pay a higher price for their instruments. Having had an opportunity to examine certain invoices, I find that a piano invoiced at £35 in Germany was, under the old rates, dutiable at £17 6s. lid., but under this item the duty is £25.

Senator Duncan - Will the new duties mean that fewer pianos will be bought by the people?

Senator CHAPMAN - I think the effect will be to increase the price of the cheaper instruments to the people. One has only to go into our outback areas to realize what a difference a piano makes to the happiness of a home. Why, therefore, should we do anything to increase the price of this class of instrument to people who cannot afford to purchase player-pianos? Some time ago I asked a series of questions in the Senate with regard to the duty on pianos and was informed that for the year eliding 30th June, 1925-26, the total amount of duty paid on pianos was £149,128, and on player-pianos £278,429, or a total of £427,557. The total of wages paid in the manufacturing industry in Australia during that year was only £335,502 in respect of the whole of the items included under the heading " Musical Instruments " - nearly £100,000 less than the revenue derived from importations. I protest strongly against the imposition . of the duties on these upright pianos, which will have the effect of increasing the cost to the people of this country.

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