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Wednesday, 13 May 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . -This afternoon we have heard a variety of opinions expressed, but very few honorahle senators have emphasized the extreme importance of this industry to Australia, although it is true' that Senator Sampson mentioned cement in relation to defence. It might be just as well to examine the subject a little more closely in order to ascertain what is in the minds of those honorable senators who arc urging the Government to press its requestfor the removal of the British duty. The industry employs, directly and indirectly, a large number of Australian workers - figures which have been furnished to me put the number at about 12.000 - -and the wages bill amounts to about £2,000,000 annually. But there is another phase which should receive consideration. Those honorable senators who know New South Wales and Victoria will understand what I mean. If the British duty is removed, and if Britishcement competes so fiercely with the local product as to threaten the extinction of the Australian industry, whole townships that have been built up around cement works in the various States will be destroyed. In that event, what will happen to the little communities at Kandos, Portland, and Berrima, in New South Wales, and the workers attached to the factory at Geelong, in Victoria?

Senator Arkins - We could not allow anything to happen to them.

Senator COLLINGS - I hope that the majority of- this committee will emphatically refuse to he a party to any action that would make such a disasterpossible. The party which I lead in this chamber does not intend to take any risks where Australian primary or secondary industries are involved. We believe it to be the duty of this Parliament, at all times, to protect Australian industries up to the hilt against competition from any country, including the United Kingdom. Labour's policy is, first, preference to Australian industries ; second, preference to the United . Kingdom; and third, favorable treatment for any countries with which we can make good bargains. Every other country is doing this. Even in the United States of America, so we are told, special precautions are taken to protect the American cement manufacturers from British competition.

Senator Hardyhad something to say this afternoon about the " new protection ", and the Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) interjected that " new protection " had lasted only for a day. In the general debate on the tariff, I made an official pronouncement of the policy of the Australian Labour party, because I wished to have it on record in Hansard, as protection against the irresponsible ramblings of gentlemen like Senator Hardy, who this afternoon repeated some of his misstatements about Labour's policy. Let me briefly tell the committee again that Labour stands for the effective protection of Australian industries- with measures to prevent profiteering and to assure protection to workers; it stands also for import embargoes to secure the home market for Australian industries capable of fully supplying the demand, subject to the control of prices, and industrial conditions and the maintenance of Australian standards.

Senator Dein - Does the honorable senator believe in protection for the consumers ?

Senator COLLINGS - We believe that all sections of the community should enjoy a worth-while standard of living, Th is cannot be said of the workers in some other countries, including the United Kingdom. We stand for the maintenance of Australian living standards against allcomers.

Reference was made this afternoon to the price at which British cement can be sold in Australia ; but not one word was uttered about the living standards of British cement workers which is one factor that enables United Kingdom manufacturers to undersell Australian competitors. Varying statements have also been made about shipping freights. The freight on cement from British ports in British ships has been as low as 13s. a ton, and it is well known that, if shippers can guarantee a large shipment in one vessel, a rebate is obtained on even 13s. a ton, so the report of the Tariff Board, in that particular at least, is not reliable. We should always consider the entirely different conditions prevailing in the industry in Great Britain and Australia. This continent is so vast that Great Britain could almost be dropped in some waterhole and one would hardly notice the splash. With a population of 6,500,000 of people spread over this great continent, it necessarily follows that transport charges on primary and secondary products are heavy in comparison with charges in Great Britain with its enormous population settled in a comparatively small area. In the Mother Country cement works are established alongside the raw material.

Senator Hardy -Some of the Australian companies also have that advantage.

Senator COLLINGS - Every Australian cement manufacturer is required to pay heavy freight charges on either the raw material or the finished product. This expenditure is incidental to Australia's industry. If the majority of honorable senators adopt the attitude of good internationalists and favour international freetrade, we shall continue to import cement and other manufactured goods and to produce pineapples, sugarcane, and other such commodities. But the Opposition will have ' none of this tariff-hacking policy, which threatens the extinction of Australian industries. We know, however, that we are powerless, except in association with other honorable senators, to affect the final result of this discussion, but I ask those honorable senators who have given serious thought to this item to consider where this destructive tariff policy is going to end. To-day the attack is on the cement manufacturers; to-morrow it may be directed against another equally important Australian industry. It is significant that, in every tariff discussion, it is the Australian manufacturer, not his overseas competitor, who is impeached and put in the dock for trial. Those honorable senators who have not yet made up their minds on this item should ask themselves why the cement manufacturers of the United Kingdom did not, either indirectly or through their representatives, appear 'before the Tariff Board when it was inquiring into the industry.

Senator Hardy - They knew that they did not have a chance.

Senator COLLINGS - They did not appear before the board because they knew that their interests were quite safe in the hands of this tariff-hacking Government; that the nefarious job of injuring Australian industry would be done more efficiently by the Ministry. It seems that, in this game of tariff-making, the dice are always loaded against our own people. The Tariff Board, we have been told, did not visit any cement works to obtain first-hand information of the manufacturing process, nor did it invite manufacturers of the United Kingdom to send representatives to give evidence, yet it reached certain conclusions which we are expected to endorse. I am not impugning the honour of the Tariff Board, I believe that the members of that body did their best according to their lights, but in my opinion the board's outlook is an ti- Australian. Therefore it should not be placed on a pedestal, and all its recommendations should not be above criticism.

Sitting suspended from 6.16 to 8 p.m.

Senator COLLINGS - The duties on cement should be considered intheir proper perspective. I have a strong suspicion that behind the agitation for cheap cement is the sinister shadow of the Hume Pipe Manufacturing Company, which is meeting with severe competition from the makers of earthenware pipes in Australia. If the Government's proposal is accepted by Parliament, and the decision of the House of Representatives is upset, the road will be clear for that company to wipe out its only competitor - the manufacturer of earthenware pipes.

Senator Hardy - Does the honorable senator think that the company persuaded the Tariff Board to bring in its recommendation?

Senator COLLINGS - This "note of interrogation " who leads the Country party, is like a mosquito; his objectionable feature is not so much his bite as his continual buzzing. This afternoon Senator Hardy said that the price of cement in England was about 30s. a cwt. He then attempted to compare that price with the price of cement in Australia. It is not possible to deal with this subject in that way. The Tariff Board is supposed to have taken certain factors into consideration. It said that steamer freight, insurance, and other charges on cement imported from Britain, totalled about 27s. 6d. a ton, whereas the fact is that 13s. a ton is the prevailing rate, with a possibility of rebates for larger quantities. Australian standards are different from those of England, and therefore, a fair comparison is not possible. Honorable senators must decide whether they will champion the Australian standards, or agree to the continual whittling away of them. The United Kingdom manufacturer not only has his raw material close at hand, but he has also shorter haulage from his works to the place at which his product is used. Reference has been made to the action of the Opposition in supporting cement companies which, it is alleged, have made, and are making, extravagant profits. I am reminded of the story of the housewife who borrowed a kettle from the lady next door. Her neighbour took action against her on the ground that the kettle was damaged when returned. The defence was that if the kettle were damaged, which was denied, it was damaged before it was borrowed; in any case it was returned in as good condition as when it was obtained. That seems to be the "line adopted by some honorable senators in connexion with these duties. They say that the cement companies are making exorbitant profits; but the companies deny the charge. Even the Tarin* 150arc admits that some of these cement-making companies are sailing dangerously close to the wind, lt imagines that a profit of lOs. a ton allows a sufficient margin; but it appears to have overlooked the fact that out of that profit taxation has to be paid, amortization funds created, and unexpected expenses met. The Opposition holds no brief for' the exploiter or the profiteer, but that is no reason why it should remain silent should either the Tariff Board or the Government attack Australian manufacturers unjustifiably. If the cement companies in this country are exploiting the users of cement, the Government should have sufficient courage to prevent that exploitation. It has the power to do so. I have a closer acquaintance with the manufacture of cement in Queensland than in the other States. I know that, not only has the Queensland company not made extravagant profits, but also that for years, ic could not pay any dividend at all. Indeed, only during recent years have its shareholders received any return on their capital. iSo far from being callous and indif'ferent to the welfare of its employees, the company takes more interest in them than is customary among companies. The Queensland Cement and Lime Company has established an employees' sick benefit and welfare club, the objects of which are the raising of funds by donations, voluntary contributions, and endowments, such funds to be applied to the assistance of members when absent from work through illness or accident, or to be paid to their dependants in case of death; the provision of medical attendance and medicine, and overhead expenses of the committee of management, or otherwise as the committee directs. Although the committee is composed entirely of employees, the company subsidizes fi for £1 all amounts raised by it. The fund is in credit about £1,200. The employees of the company enjoy benefits which they would not receive in most manufacturing establishments. I know that it will bc said that it is strange to see a Labour Opposition taking up the cudgels on behalf of these companies. We on thi 3

Bide believe that the cement-making in dustry in this country is efficiently conducted. Indeed, the Tariff Board does not assert otherwise. We believe also that, if given a fair chance, the local industry will continue to improve its output until it is able to supply the whole of the Australian requirements. In considering this item we must, not overlook the fact that the duty was ls. a cwt. until the present, schedule was tabled in the House of Rep- _resentatives. The Government now proposes to remove entirely the duty on cement from Britain, thereby leaving the local industry at the mercy of manufacturers in the United Kingdom. As a compromise between ls. per cwt. and free importations, the House of Representatives decided on a duty of 6d. per cwt. on British cement. In my opinion, that was a fair and reasonable compromise. We are now asked to reverse that decision, and to inform the other chamber that the Senate refuses to ratify the extremely reasonable compromise which was submitted to it. I hope that the committee will reject the request.

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