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Wednesday, 6 May 1936

Senator HERBERT HAYS (Tasmania) . - Yesterday, the committee discussed fully the duties on agricultural implements, and a test vote was taken. The decision then arrived at was, I think, indicative of the views of honorable senators in relation to agricultural machinery generally. I should like to know how acceptance of Senator Johnston's request could possibly prejudice Australia in the pending negotiations with Canada and the United States of America. It seems to me that, irrespective of the duties in force at the time of the conference, the whole position will be thrown open to discussion as if the duties did not exist.

Senator Hardy - That is the position in theory, but not in practice.

Senator Sir George Pearce - If the request be accepted, Australia will have nothing to give.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - Should it be found impossible to enter into trade arrangements with the countries mentioned, I take it that a further opportunity to alter the duties would not arise until another tariff schedule was under discussion.

Senator Hardy - The Government undertakes that the duties will be reviewed after the conference.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - I cannot see that the acceptance of the request would make any difference to the negotiations, because the representatives of Canadian and American manufacturers know what is in the minds of honorable senators. We have now an opportunity to express our views on this subject, and to make a small contribution towards a reduction of the cost of primary production. It may be that by reducing railway and shipping freights some relief may be obtained, and that an aggregation of small benefits may result in a substantial reduction of costs; but generally, it is true that, except by way of a lowering of duties no substantial reduction of the cost of primary production is possible. Unhappily there is no immediate prospect of any substantial increase of the prices received for our export commodities. Previous reductions of duties on agricultural implements have been followed almost immediately by lower prices for locally produced machines. Notwithstanding lower manufacturing costs, resulting from reduced railway freights, lower wages and cheaper raw materials, the prices of agricultural implements have not fallen commensurately. Present prices are from 25 per cent, to 50 per cent, higher than they were 20 years ago.

Senator E B Johnston - Prices have risen during the last two years.

Senator HERBERT HAYS - The increased prices charged for agricultural implements have not been offset by better returns from the primary products which we have exported. Any reduction of production costs must have a beneficial effect on Australian primary industries. By agreeing to the request we can make a contribution towards lower production costs, without in any away prejudicing the pending negotiations with Canada. In this instance, I refer particularly to Canada. The figures reveal clearly that over the last twelve months there have been few, if any, imports of farming machinery from the United States of America or Canada. If the committee carries this request, the Australian manufacturers will still be left with a substantial margin of profit, while, at the same time, some contribution will be made towards a reduction of the costs of primary production.

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