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Friday, 24 April 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - I took the opportunity afforded me yesterday, on the first reading of the bill, to discuss the tariff generally, and I have few comments to offer on the speech made by the Minister in charge of the measure (Senator A. J. McLachlan) in moving the second reading. He referred to the fact that the number of employees in factories in Australia in 1931-32 was 337,000, and with obvious pride he stated that at the end of 1934-35 the total had increased to 459,000. ~No semblance of fairness was displayed in making that comparison, because 1931-32 was a depression year. Where did the Minister expect to find the employees, when half of the factories were closed owing to the declined purchasing power of the people?

On the one hand we are told that the wonderful Lyons Goverment has restored prosperity to such an extent that it is now prepared to consider schemes of migration into Australia, whilst on the other hand we are asked to believe that the increase of the number of factory employees in the Commonwealth is entirel y due to the excellent policy of that Government.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We have done fairly well. The figures to-day in regard to factory employment are higher than they have ever been.

Senator COLLINGS - That story may have a ring of truth in it until it is told in the homes of the hungry unemployed. Another, phase of the speech of the Ministerwhich appealed , to me as deserving of criticism is in connexion with our export trade; In order to enjoy the doubtful privilege of . exporting to the other side of the world our surplus primary products and selling them in foreign markets at a much lower price than we pay for them in Australia, we are told by the Minister thatwe must, give the manufacturers of the United Kingdom an opportunity to compete, on. a reasonable basis with Australian manufacturers. Otherwise, we are told, we shall not be able to pay for our imports. I repeat that the Government is slipping into a Serbonian bog of difficulty, from which it will be increasingly hard to escape.,

Senator Arkins - Could we have oneway traffic?

Senator COLLINGS - In order to overcome some of the traffic problems in the capital cities of the Commonwealth, the system of one-way traffic was introduced and now it is unavoidable. I venture to say that before we escape fromour difficulties we shall have to investigate some avenues of one-way trade. The Minister read with a great deal of satisfaction, which was heartily endorsed by Senator Hardy, and with which the Opposition agrees, a statement made by the Right Honorable J. H. Scullin during his term as Prime Minister, to the effect that manufacturers must not be allowed to profiteer behind the tariff wall. But the Scullin Government was displaced amid paeans of rejoicing on the part of the m embers of the present Ministry and their supporters ; and if profiteering and exploitation of the public have been practised behind the protection afforded by the tariff, surely I have the right to ask what action the present Government has taken to prevent it. The Tariff Board, for example, has given a knock to the cement industry, because it considers that the price of cement has been excessive. We shall have an opportunity to deal with that matter during the discussion on the various items; but if this profiteering does exist, why has the Government delegated its responsibilities in this matter to the Tariff Board ? Why does it not state definitely that profiteering by a highly protected industry in Australia is a crime ?

Senator McLeay - When the Government does take that step, the honorable senator will not support it.

Senator COLLINGS - I realize that Senator McLeay is not the least efficient senator in this chamber, but how he is able to be sufficiently clairvoyant to know what I should do in circumstances that have never yet arisen passes my comprehension. I assure him that the Labour party will range itself side by side with the Government if it develops the courage to take a stand against predatory interests which have been bleeding the country white. I do not propose to detain the Senate at this stage. The Opposition will fight stage by stage every duty which it considers inflicts an injustice upon an Australian manufacturer, regardless of whether the injustice is done by a manufacturer of the United Kingdom or a foreign manufacturer.

In conclusion, I draw the attention of honorable senators, and particularly the Postmaster-General, to the remarkable and deplorable state of affairs that arises whenever adiscussion on the tariff takes place in the Senate. The Australian manufacturer is invariably put in the prisoner's dock; he is always on the defensive; and definite, deliberate and destructiveblows are delivered not against some, foreign industry but against the Australian manufacturer and to the detriment of the Australian workers and the public. As a member of this national Parliament, I register my emphatic protest, and shall continue to do so on appropriate occasions, against the practice of continually putting the manufacturers of Australia on the defensive when dealing with the fiscal policy of this country.

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