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Wednesday, 13 May 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - The committee is indebted to the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) for the figures which he has placed before it, but, in my opinion, the Minister gave away the Government's case. His speech contained two statements of particular interest to the Opposition. First, he said that there are too many cement-making plants in Australia, and that they are over-capitalized, and secondly, he referred to the huge profits made by Australian makers. The difficulties mentioned by the Minister are inseparable from the form of government of which he is a part, and the social order of which he is a champion. Duplication of plant, and over-capitalization of industry, represent a considerable waste of energy ; but they are inevitable under the capitalistic order which exists in the world to-day. .

Senator Hardy - Why does the honorable senator continue to support the evil?

Senator COLLINGS - The honorable senator will have an opportunity later to tell the Senate all that he knows of this subject. It is idle for a champion of the present social order to claim that in the cement industry alone there is overcapitalization and duplication of plant. In the street in which I live, in the capital city of Queensland, about 24 bakers' carts deliver bread to 24 houses. In my opinion, that is a criminal waste of energy. Yet we are asked to believe that the cement industry is an outstanding example of how not to do things. It is cited as an instance of an industry possessing more plant than it requires. At the peak period of production, Australian factories produced 750,000 tons of cement a year. The rated capacity of the plants is over 1,300,000 tons of cement annually. The Government has invested the cement industry with an importance to which I do not believe it is entitled. Instead of honorable senators being able to discuss the duties on cement calmly and dispassionately, the turmoil of the last two or three weeks has elevated this subject to one of major national, even international, importance. Indeed, so important has it become that the Government of the United Kingdom has been moved to protest to the Commonwealth Government against the proposal to reduce duties on cement. The British Government has deemed it necessary to enter a protest against the action of the elected representatives of the people in the other chamber of this Parliament! I am somewhat sceptical regarding the protest. I do not doubt that a protest has been received ; but I wonder whether it might not have been inspired from this end, in order to run the rule over this Parliament. I shall express my view regarding that protest by registering' an emphatic vote against any lowering of the duties on cement.

I am not in a position to present to the committee the financial aspect of this question as it affects any cement-making industry outside Queensland. I remember well when the Queensland factory was established. My remarks cannot be suspect as special pleading by one who owns shares in the company. In this respect, as in others, the Opposition has clean hands, and a clear mind, for its members do not own shares in any cement-making concern.

Senator Hardy - A member may be a. shareholder, and yet have clean hands.

Senator COLLINGS - I know numbers ofpeople who invested money in the Queensland company. For years they did not receive any dividend; indeed, only lately has the company been able to make any return to its shareholders.

Senator Hardy - Is that why its shares are at a premium?

Senator COLLINGS - I anticipate that Senator Hardy will tell us again that, in opposing lower duties on cement, the Labour party is supporting an overfed monopoly, the bloated capitalist, the rich profiteer, and the dastardly exploiter. I retaliate by saying that the Government is insincere when it complains of the profits made by Australian manufacturers of cement. If they are making excessive profits, the Government has an effective remedy in its own hands. The Government does not need to tinker with the tariff policy of the Commonwealth in order to prevent any company from making excessive profits. The course which lies open to it is to compel the companies by taxation to disgorge those extravagant profits into the Commonwealth exchequer.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The Government will not do that, because it is afraid of hurting its supporters.

Senator COLLINGS - These bloated capitalists, exploiters, and predatory vested interests supply the Government's election funds and enable it to broadcast its propaganda throughout the Commonwealth. According to the speech of the Minister in charge of the bill (Senator A. J. McLachlan) the remedy for excessive profits, which, in this case, means unduly high prices for cement in Australia, is to permit the admission free of duty of cement manufactured in Great Britain.

Senator Hardy - Does the honorable senator believe that there should be excessive profits

Senator COLLINGS - I assure Senator Hardy that the Opposition is familiar with the passage about Satan reproving sin. I have a newspaper article headed "Huge Cement Profits; British Prosperity ", in which I find that the cement manufacturers of the United Kingdom, whom the benevolent Tariff Board, and still more benevolent Government which patronizes it, recommends should be allowed to send cement to Australia free of duty, make enormous profits. The Government;, having established the Tariff Board, is now obliged to patronize it because the creature has become greater than its creator. The figures which I shall cite will show that the British cement manufacturers, on whose behalf the Government has gone on its knees to request Parliament to remove the duty from imported cement in order to prevent Australian manufacturers from making extortionate profits, are far from being impoverished. The Alpha Cement Company, in 1933, earned a profit of 10.1 per cent, and paid a dividend of 4 per cent.; in 1934, the respective figures were 6.3 per- cent, and 5 per cent.; and in 1935, 13.8 per cent, and 10 per cent. The Associated Portland Company, in 1933, earned a profit of 7.1 per cent, and paid a dividend of 7 per cent. ; in 1934, the respective figures were 6.3 per cent, and 5 per cent. ; and in 1935, 13.8 per cent, and 10 per cent. Those profits are not so bad, but the British Portland Company has set Australian manufacturers such an example that they will have to put on their running shoes in order to catch up with it. This company made the following profits


Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Surely these are not the skinny fellows that the Government desires to assist !

Senator COLLINGS - It is on behalf of these British manufacturers that the Government desires to emasculate the Australian industry. The profits of the Tunnel Portland Cement Company are equally illuminating -


The article continued -

In addition to these improvements in annual profits Eastwoods Lewes Cement recently raised its interim from 2 per cent, to 4 per cent, and Ketton from 24 per cent, to 3| per cent. Perhaps the most significant declaration, however, is the doubling of the Associated Portland Cement dividend.

These figures demonstrate how unworthy are the crocodile tears shed by the Go vernment about the profits made by Australian manufacturers of cement.

Senator Foll - Is any duty placed on cement admitted to Great Britain?

Senator COLLINGS - Of course there is. Is not the honorable senator aware that Great Britain has become a protectionist country? I believe that I am correct in saying that the cement makers of the United Kingdom offered no evi-dance before the Tariff Board; but in spite of this omission, the British Government has been moved, because of the action taken, in the House of Representatives in restoring the duty on imported cement to 6d. per cwt., to send a diplomatic protest to the Commonwealth Government. We have been told that the action of the House of Representatives in imposing a duty of 6d. per hundredweight constitutes a breach of the Ottawa agreement. Previously the . duty on British cement was ls. per hundredweight, and we are now requested to admit it free of duty. The ' House of Representatives adopted a compromise of 6d. per hundredweight, which seems to me to be eminently fair, but we are told that this action is dishonorable because it violates the Ottawa agreement. I do not propose to elaborate this matter; I shall content myself with making one or two definite pronouncements :. First, when the Ottawa agreement was being ratified by this Parliament, the Opposition definitely declared its attitude towards it. In the House of Representatives, the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), stated unequivocally to the public and to those who would participate in the benefits or disadvantages of the Ottawa agreement, that if the Labour party were returned to power, the treaty would be reviewed for the purpose of terminating those features of it which inflicted hardship upon Australian industry.

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