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Friday, 15 November 1935

Senator COLLINGS (QUEENSLAND) -It does. For the last 25 years the members of the Labour party have been telling the people that unbridled competition brings ruin in its train. It was stated inthe House of Representatives that Vesteys have ceased to continue operations in Australia because of the extravagant demands made by Australian workmen. That is not true. Every one connected with the meat industry knows that Vesteys closed down their meat works in the Northern Territory, leaving expensive buildings and machinery in charge of a caretaker, not because of the demands of Australian workmen, but because it was to their advantage to obtain their supplies from Argentina.

Senator Foll - Vesteys are still operating in Australia.

Senator COLLINGS - I know that, but they are not operating their extensive and expensive works. Vesteys did not discontinue operations in Australia because of the extravagant demands of labour.

Senator Cooper - They did.

Senator COLLINGS - Some years ago I travelled north from Brisbane with a representative of Vesteys, who should be competent to speak on the subject, and as the conversation occurred many years ago I shall not be breaking any confidence if I disclose the information then given to me. I asked if it was true that Vesteys had closed down their meat works in the Northern Territory because of the extravagant demands of labour. After denying the statement he said that the company could afford to pay any reasonable wages but at that time it did not suit them to carry on in Australia because they could make bigger profits from their operations in Argentina. Owing to the way in which Great Britain is conducting this business, particularly in respect of quotas, Argentina has now been given practically dominion status. The amount of British capital invested in Argentina is between £450,000,000 and £500,000,000, but the amount of British capital invested in Government securities in Australia is £560,000,000. For over 25 years Australia has given wonderful preferences to

Great Britain, but upon that point I shall have more to say later. Australia, unlike Argentina, has never defaulted in respect of its interest liabilities of Great Britain.

Senator Arkins - New South Wales was about to default.

Senator COLLINGS - That benighted State, under the leadership of Mr. Lang, proposed to set an example to the world ; but the proposal was thwarted by this Parliament.

Senator Arkins - The people of New South Wales repudiated that gentleman.

Senator COLLINGS - Yes, but only after some of us, including myself, had raised strenuous objections to his policy. The Argentine default in respect of interest due to Great Britain exceeded £200,000,000. When the ratification of the Ottawa agreement was being discussed by this chamber, the members of the then Labour opposition, including myself, stated definitely that the agreement would act detrimentally to the interests of Australia.

Senator Brennan - Has it?

Senator COLLINGS (QUEENSLAND) - Yes. The Ottawa agreement has been practically emasculated because of the other trade treaties that Great Britain has entered into with foreign countries. The preference which Australia extends to Great Britain - I do not suggest that it shouldbe cut down in any way - undeniably jeopardizes our opportunity to open up trade with other countries. The Labour party, which sees more clearly and immediately than any other party, the possible results of any (measure, was quick to recognize that danger.

Senator Arkins - Is the honorable senator in favour of abolishing Empire preference ?

Senator COLLINGS - No, but I maintain that Great Britain should be requested to make Empire preference really Empire, in the proper meaning of the word, instead of granting partial preference to the dominions, and giving more considerable benefits to foreign countries. The Ottawa agreement was made ostensibly to encourage the development of Great Britain's home production and to give the dominions an increasing share of the trade of the United

Kingdom. Both were worthy objectives. The Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties (Sir Henry Gullett), said in his speech on the United Kingdom and Australia Trade Agreement Bill-

After 1933, no restrictions on dominion exports are contemplated.

That is a very definite statement. The Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) himself went further than I would have the temerity to go in this chamber when he stated that -

Unless Australia can sell her produce freely in Britain it will not be able to meet its debt commitments. The Country party has always protested against restrictions on the export of Australian products.

I remind honorable senators, however, that the Minister for Commerce expressed that sentiment when the Country party did not share the Government of Australia. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), in a statement issued at the beginning of November, 1934, denied that the Government had assented to the principle of restriction. He said-

Both before and during the elections campaign. I clearly declared my Government's opposition to any proposal which implied restrictions.

Since making that statement, the Prime Minister has visited the United Kingdom, but he found it impossible to secure that expanding share of the British market which was guaranteed to Australia by the Ottawa agreement. After the ratification of the Ottawa agreement, Great Britain commenced to enter into trade agreements with foreign countries, and strong condemnation of its pacts with Denmark, Argentina, and others was expressed by the Research Committee of the Empire Economic Union in its survey of Britain's trade policy. This body is not a Labour organization and has no connexion with the Labour party, either in Australia or abroad. Its report emphasized that these pacts not only hampered agriculture at home but also endangered relations between the various countries within the Empire. Therefore, it declared, the agreements should not be renewed ontheir expiration. I emphasize these points, because the Labour party believes in the development of trade within the Empire, while first fostering our home market, because it is the best. If we can increase the purchasing power of the Australian public, the consumption of our primary products will be stimulated. The Labour party advocates a policy to attain this objective, which would make the conditions in this country attractive to our kith and kin across the seas, and in this way increase our population.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - Is the Australian market the best market for wheat, for instance?

Senator COLLINGS - Obviously Senator Duncan-Hughes is incapable of understanding a definite statement. I said that the Labour party believes that the home market of Australia is the best possible market. I do not maintain that at the moment it is able to consume the greater proportion of what we produce, but I supplement my statement by saying that I would make it the best market by increasing the population and creatingpurchasing power sufficient to enable the people to buy greater quantities of Australian commodities. If that were done, there would be no further instances of under-nourished mothers, malnutrition and rickets, which result from the industrial and social policy of this Government. I am delighted with the present proposal because it is a step in the right direction. The Research Committee of the Empire Economic Union stated in its report -

In the past, the pursuit of foreign trade has almost been an obsession and some people have regarded it as a peculiar merit of its own. We must realize that there is no merit in obtaining from a foreigner something which can bc obtained from a Briton at home or overseas.

The agreement with Argentina provides for a 10 per cent, reduction of the quotas of chilled beef, but in respect of more than 10 per cent., that agreement provides for a corresponding reduction to b>* imposed by Great Britain on meat supplied from other countries as well as Argentina. It also stipulates that no levies shall, be imposed during the currency of tha agreement. We were told that great benefits to the meat industry of Australia would accrue from the Ottawa agreement, but from every quarter of the continent - newspapers, experts, and the industry itself - comes the testimony that the very opposite has been the result. This bill will have the advantage of giving the industry an opportunity to control export, and in addition, the authority which will be created by the measure will be able to take a general Australia-wide survey of the industry, and do the things that are so strenuously objected to in another primary industry, referred to yesterday by Senator McLeay. A costly Government delegation visited Britain this year. I do not know whether any honorable senator has been curious enough to inquire, or has secured the information, about the expense incurred by that large delegation.

Senator Grant - It is not all over yet.

Senator COLLINGS - No ; Sir Henry Gullett seems to have lost himself abroad or become entangled in trade agreements. The numerous array of Ministers and Government officials failed to effect any satisfactory settlement of the meat export problem.

Senator Hardy - 'Where did the honorable senator get. that information?

Senator COLLINGS - If it is claimed that the delegation did arrive at a satisfactory arrangement, the various authorities to whom' I have referred must be wrong. If they are wrong, I err in good company. One newspaper of some standing in the community, says that the whole thing has been a huge bluff and it asks the question: "What has Australia got out of it?" The paper itself answers the .question in the one significant word : "Nothing". Australia could not take advantage of the alleged opportunity to export more beef, because chilled beef is the only item mentioned and this branch of the industry in- the Commonwealth is only in the experimental stage. I admit that wonderful work is being done in that connexion and that shipments of chilled beef from Queensland have opened up in Britain in a highly satisfactory condition, due entirely to what the Queensland Control Board has been able to do through, the agency of Mr. E. F. Sunners and his associates. The authority to which I have referred stated -

Notwithstanding the assertions of Mr. Lyons and other federal Ministers, the marketing of beef in England is still in the air.

Senator Brennan - From what authority is the honorable senator quoting?

Senator COLLINGS - From the Sunraysia Daily.

Senator Sampson - That is not an authority.

Senator COLLINGS - Not only is this journal an authority, , but it is a greater authority on this particular subject than any of the honorable senators who have showed amusement at the mention of the name of the journal. If ever a representative in this chamber was an authority upon Empire trade, and an enthusiastic propagandist and protagonist of the policy, in Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere, it was ex-Senator R. D. Elliott. Honorable senators who expressed amusement at the mention of the Sunraysia Daily are merely revealing their own ignorance; their derision of an authority like ex-Senator Elliott is equivalent to impudence laughing at dignity. I shall now quote another authority.

Senator Sampson - I hope it is a better authority than the last one.

Senator COLLINGS - I propose now to quote very briefly from statements made by the Right Honorable Stanley Melbourne Bruce who, as the official representative of Australia in London should, and does, know a great deal about this business. Although I am not in the habit of throwing bouquets at my political opponents, I have to confess that, in respect of this Government's activities in connexion with the Australian meat export trade, Mr. Bruce knows his job. When last ho was in Australia I and a number of other representatives of this Parliament had an interview with the right honorable gentleman in Brisbane, and I frankly admit that I was astounded at the wealth and accuracy of his knowledge of all phases of the trade.

Senator Arkins - A Daniel come to judgment !

Senator COLLINGS - I at least have had more years of experience than the honorable senator, and, therefore, I have a greater capacity to estimate worth when I discover it, even in my political opponents ; and as I have had a few labels attached to me in this Senate lately, the one added by the honorable senator will not perturb me. Mr. Bruce, in an address delivered to representatives of the Royal Empire Society at the summer school in Great Britain said, as reported in the Wellington Evening Post, a reput able anti-Labour journal of New Zealand, of the 10th October, 1934-

They would have to apply to Britain, in regard to agriculture, some system of rules such as Australia in the Ottawa agreement used for the development of its secondary consideration - manufactured products. The question that was occupying everybody's mind just now was the beef industry in Great Britain. But there was a limit as to how far they could go in the production of prime British beef. In Britain a beast had to realize between £25 and £30, whereas in Argentina £8, and in Australia £10 would seem such remunerative prices that every one would be wanting to start growing beef. They wanted 5s.6d. a bushel for wheat in Britain, but close examination in Australia revealed that if the price only wont up to 3s. for the Australian farmer they would all be planting wheat. Mr. Bruce added: "But you have sot your limit, and if you stick to it you will be meeting the social and other sides, and you will not be putting an impossible burden on the people of this country." Continuing, he said: "There are certain treaties with Scandinavia, Argentina, and Central Europe. I will make only this one comment : Whatever any one might think, their effect for the next two years will be nothing at all. That gives us a breathing space, but it seems to me that at the end of the two years the whole position should be reviewed, and Britain oughtto review it with a very grim appreciation of her own interests, and remembering that she is the only market in the world of real interest to the* agricultural countries. To those of us who imagine we are going to give themaximum to Britain it is essential that she should live prosperously. There is one thing Australia can take that the Argentine and Denmark can never take - that is your people."

That is the point. Unless Great Britain concedes what was guaranteed to us under the Ottawa agreement, namely, an ever expanding share of the United Kingdom market, it has no right to expect us to continue the substantial measure of preference which we give to British products in the Australian market.

Senator Hardy - That is exactly what we have enjoyed since the Ottawa agreement - an expanding share of the British market.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - We also undertook, as part of our bargain to reduce primage on imports from Great Britain. What about, that?

Senator COLLINGS - The following appeared in a recent issue of the Sydney Morning Herald: -

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