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Friday, 15 May 1936

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) .- On investigation, it transpires that the whole trouble over motor bodies, in respect of delay and otherwise, is with the English suppliers. I thought that there was a complete answer to the wild statements that had been made on this subject. and it is so. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) detailed an officer of his department to investigate certain complaints- made by persons interested in the marketing of British motor cars in Australia. The report of the officer is, of course, a departmental document, but the Minister has stated that it completely exonerated the company involved. Although doubt was expressed of the efficiency of one Melbourne firm, apparently no effort was made to obtain prices from other firms, either large or small. In the case of the company that was criticized, I am informed that firm orders were placed for a number of bodies for two models of English cars. The company made a considerable number of bodies for one model, but the delivery was refused, and a demand was made that bodies of another type should be produced.

Senator Gibson - Was the car model changed in the meantime?

Senator LECKIE - I do not think so. The trouble was that the firm ordered bodies of one class, and, when the order was practically completed, declined to take delivery of them, and demanded bodies of another description.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - Is not a shortage of supply bound to keep prices up?

Senator LECKIE - I do not think so, but, in any case, the existing duty cannot be used as a justification for an increase of prices, for the duty on all the panels required for a double-seater touring car is only £3 Os. 9d., and for a single-seater car, only £2 14s. Three large, or comparatively large, firms are making motor bodies in Adelaide, and two large firms are doing so in Melbourne. In connexion with the complaints that have been made, James Flood Proprietary Limited wrote as follows: -

Wc confirm the information supplied to your - officer that- we are at present interested solely in bodies for English car distributors, and that we are supplying to the orders of Western Australian distributors, and, furthermore, we are right up with delivery dates.

Martin and King Proprietary Limited made the following comments : -

We beg to point out that insofar as highgrade foody production for English chasses is concerned, we have been able to give our usual six to eight weeks' delivery on all orders placed with us over the last twelve months, and can still offer this service for present orders. This is the only class of business for which we cater. At the moment, we have building extensions in hand which will accommodate a further 40 hands, and have in the last month spent £1,000 in new plant. With these additional facilities we anticipate no difficulty in keeping well abreast of requirements.

The whole trouble is bad organization by the English manufacturers, individually and collectively When two American motor car manufacturing corporations found themselves in trouble, they did not clamour for a reduction of the duties, but organized the motor bodybuilding industry in Australia, with the result that two large Adelaide firms are to-day making motor bodies for them. They have either a big interest or a controlling interest in these organizations, and I have not heard that they are experiencing any difficulties in providing bodies for their chassis. Why do not the English motor car manufacturers do the same thing? The procedure of the American motor car manufacturers, when they decide to market a new model, is to despatch copies of their blue prints to Australia several months before the new model is to be placed on the market. r.«2|

This provides opportunity for the manufacture in Australia of the necessary dies - work which may take three or four months. I know what a complicated business the manufacture of dies is, because of the experience in my own firm with relatively small dies, some of which take up to two months to manufacture. The American motor car manufacturers realize that, if their new models are to be placed on the market under satisfactory conditions, they must allow time for the manufacture of the dies and the organization of the whole business in Australia. One big body-making company in Australia, dealing with the internal organization of the industry, has stated -

With regard to the time taken to produce, this is not the fault of the Australian body builder. For a period of years we have been able to induce the American manufacturers to send their blue prints out to Australia at the same time as they are developing their bodies in America, so that we have as long as five to six months in which to develop and complete the first bodies so that they will be available at the time of the arrival of the chassis, but in regard to English manufacturers their methods of manufacture are so far behind time, and the liaison between themselves and their agents is so unsatisfactory, that on occasions the blue .prints from which to build the bodies do not arrive in Australia more than a week or two ahead of the chassis.

I realize that there is something to be said on both sides on this subject, but I cannot understand why the British motor car manufacturers should confine themselves to complaints. They should put their house in order, so that their cars may be marketed under reasonable conditions in Australia. The duty on motor body panels has been reduced by 75 per cent, by this Government, and that surely should be an indication of its goodwill towards the English motor car manufacturing industry! The duty on panels required for a two-seater touring car is only £3 Os. 9d., and for a sedan car £13. Formerly, the duty was upwards of £30. It appears to me that a few disgruntled people have set themselves out to cause trouble. Although I consider that the reduction of duty on motor body panels has been too drastic, I am prepared to support the proposals of the Government; but some honorable senators appear to be anxious to cripple this valuable Australian industry. One of the motor body-building organizations ir>

Adelaide employs 7,000 hands directly, and a lot of others indirectly, and the other gives employment to between 1,000 and 2,000 people. The largest firm in Melbourne employs between 900 and 1,000 hands, and two or three other motor bodybuilding organizations give employment to about half that number of people. Surely this is an industry worthy of preservation. If the wishes of some honorable senators were acceded to, many of these employees would be put out of work. It is of little use for honorable senators to express the pious hope that this would not be the result of a further reduction of duties.

Senator Guthrie - Why should any of them be put out of work by a reduction of duties?

Senator LECKIE - Surely it is obvious to the honorable senator that if panels are imported into Australia in large quantities the workmen who to-day manufacture them in this country would be deprived of their employment.

SenatorFoll. - We are trying to give Great Britain some trade which is at present done by America.

Senator LECKIE - If the British motor car manufacturers would put their house in order, they would have no difficulty in getting the trade.

Senator Plain - We have put the house of the American manufacturers into thoroughly good order to the detriment of Great Britain.

Senator LECKIE - - Honorable senators would do well to bear in mind that a sufficient number of motor vehicles is marketed in Australia nowadays to justify the establishment of several chassis manufacturing enterprises here. The only reason why this industry has not been established before now is that investors are afraid that if they put their money into the business on a certain basis of tariff protection, they may find after a year or two that the duties will be reduced, and that they will be left high and dry. Nevertheless, it is evident that within the next three or four years, not only complete aeroplanes, but also complete motor cars will be . manufactured in Australia.

Senator Guthrie - We all hope that that will be so.

Senator LECKIE - A condition precedent to that state of affairs is the assurance of reasonable tariff protection against cheap labour and poor working conditions, such as prevail in certain other countries. Investors must be confident of a fair deal and reasonable protection before they will provide the capital for the establishment of this industry. It is of little encouragement to them to see industries which have already been established in this country with a reasonable tariff protection, suddenly deprived of it. That sort of thing discourages both internal and external investors. We must shelter our industries against the products of low-wage countries, where hours of labour are long and raw materials are cheap.

I assume that all honorable senators are well aware that the pressed steel necessary for the making of motor bodies is not at present manufactured in Australia. The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, of Newcastle, is, however, taking steps to manufacture both pressed steel for motor bodies and tinned plate for other industries. The tinned plate is merely a finer gauge of pressed steel. It is hoped that within the next eighteen months, or even less, this industry will be operating on a successful basis within the Commonwealth, and that this raw material required for motor body-building will be obtainable here. In these circumstances, surely it is not too much to suffer a little inconvenience in the meantime.

Senator Plain - But it is all detrimental to the British motor car manufacturers.

Senator LECKIE -I do not appreciate argument of that kind from gentlemen who regard themselves as sound protectionists. If Senator Plain desires the inference to be drawn from his remark that I wish to give some advantage to the American motor car manufacturers over the British motor car manufacturers, I point out once again that I am first of all an Australian, and afterwards a Britisher - and a Britisher all the time. I wish to see Australian industries adequately protected, and when that is assured, I am prepared to do everything possible to assist British industries. At the same time, I repeat that the British motor car manufacturers should improve their selling organization, and, in fact, all their trading practices in relation to Australia. If they would adopt progressive methods, their business in Australia would soon be put on a good footing.

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