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Wednesday, 13 May 1936

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - I have to confess my inability to understand the attitude of some Government supporters on this item. Senator Guthrie and Senator Foll appear in the role of " Yes-No " men. Not long ago Senator Foll expressed the hope, that the Government would take action to protect the cement industry in Queensland from overseas competition, which, he said, would if allowed to continue at the present rate smash the industry. To-night Senator Foll adopts a different attitude. He is willing 'to allow the Government to smash the Queensland cement industry by permitting the free importation of British cement. I cannot follow the honorable senator's reasoning. I have received a letter from the Queensland Cement and Lime Company - one of the concerns that is threatened by the removal of the

British duty - informing me that the importation of British cement into Queensland in January of this year was only 125 tons ; in February it rose to 368 tons, and in March to 451 tons, making a total for the first three months of thi3 year of 944 tons. Honorable senators opposite say that they are desirous of encouraging Australian industries. Senator Guthrie expressed that desire, and then went on to mention the huge profits made by Australian cement companies. As a supporter of the existing social system the honorable senator should be delighted that his friends are making these profits. There has been an increasing inflow of cheap cement from England. What guarantee have we that the increase will not continue?

Comparison has been made of the wages paid in Australia and in England to cement workers. The comparison is most interesting to members of the Labour party. Ordinary labourers in the cement works of England are paid lOd. an hour ; the rates in Queensland range from ls. 9d. to 2s. Id. an hour. Tradesmen in England receive ls. 3d. an hour, whereas their fellow tradesmen in Queensland are paid from 2s. 2d. to 2s lOd. an hour. The rate in Queensland is 100 per cent, greater than in England. Moreover, general stores, including engineering parts, are from 50 per cent, to 100 per cent, higher in Australia than in England. We on this side do not ask for protection for this industry in order that it may exploit the people. But we realize the necessity to. safeguard the basic industries of this country. This afternoon, when I said that if the Government had acted properly it would have arraigned i these companies under section 15 of the Tariff Board Act for making excessive profits, the Minister in charge of the bill called me a bush lawyer. I do not mind that, for I have known many bush lawyers to possess great intellectual powers, whilst, on the other hand, I have known many members of the legal profession to be congenial idiots. I have in mind -a barrister who could pass almost any examination after twelve months' study, but in the ordinary affairs of life is a. complete misfit. As a bush lawyer with some experience of life, I claim that the Minister in charge of the bill grossly misinterpreted my remarks. There is a proper way to deal with any company which exploits the public. A man who is charged in a court of law with petty larceny is not likely to be found guilty of arson. The cement companies appeared before the Tariff Board in connexion with an investigation which had nothing to do with excessive prices or restraint of trade. Had they been dealt with under a different reference they would have been able to submit evidence on their own behalf, and everything would have been fair and aboveboard. First, there was one inquiry and, later, another. I ask the lawyers on the other side, who are acquainted'.with every legal point, whether the second inquiry was held in public, or in camera. Were the cement companies told that they were to be punished for making excessive profits? They were not told that because they had been making excessive profits and paying huge dividends, cement from England would be admitted free instead of being subject to a duty of ls. a cwt. The position is similar to that which would exist if a man who was charged with petty larceny, and then given ten \ears for arson, were told that he could have defended himself under the first charge.

I come now to the Ottawa agreement. Senator Guthrie is desirous that that agreement shall not be broken, yet Sir Geoffrey Whiskard - a fine type of English gentleman - says definitely that Australia has broken that agreementSenator Foll says that, although he desires to help Australia, he must support, the Government in connexion with these duties, because Australia has broken the agreement. The Acting AttorneyGeneral (Senator Brennan) attempted to cloud the issue by saying that, there is a great deal of misunderstanding in regard to the agreement. Article 10 of that agreement, which was signed by Mr. Bruce and Sir Henry Gullett on behalf of Australia, provides -

His Majesty's Government of the Commonwealth of Australia undertake that during the currency of this agreement the tariff shall be based on the principle that protective duties shall not exceed, such a level as will give United Kingdom producers full opportunity of reasonable competition on the basis of the relative cost of economical and efficient production, provided that in the application of such principle special consideration may be given to the case of industries not fully established.

Article 11 contains the words "existing protective duties ", of which Senator Brennan made a strong point. That article provides -

His Majesty's Government in the Commonwealth, of Australia undertake that a review shall bc made as soon as practicable by the Australian Tariff Board of existing protective duties. . . .

A few days ago the Acting . AttorneyGeneral informed us that the " existing duties " were not those in force when the Ottawa agreement was signed, but those which were in operation after the Tariff Board made its inquiry, and when the schedule was laid on the table of the House of Representatives. Did any one ever hear such an utterly foolish argument from an eminent legal gentleman? Any man of intelligence who read3 the Ottawa agreement will conclude that those who signed it - both Englishmen and Australians - believed that by " existing duties " was meant the duties operating at the time the agreement was signed.

Senator HARDY - Evidently one party to the agreement does not agree with the honorable senator.

Senator BROWN - I admit that there is a great divergence of opinion.

We on this side resent the charge that our opposition to the Government's proposal in regard to the duties on cement is merely factious. We oppose the free entry of cement from England because we know that the decision of the House of Representatives is not a breach of the Ottawa agreement. This committee has the right to say whether it considers any report of the tariff is fair or unfair.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Badman - The honorable senator's time has expired.

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