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Tuesday, 19 May 1936

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) I am disappointed that the Minister has not seen fit to agree to a compromise. When previous items have been under consideration, the Government has urged the committee to stand by the report of the Tariff Board ; but, in this instance, it has departed from the board's recommendations. The Minister speaks of administrative difficulties, but he has not specified them. It would appear that the cotton spinners and weavers of this country are to be wiped out of existence, because the department cannot overcome some administrative difficulty!

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Nor can the Tariff Board.

Senator LECKIE - The board got over the difficulty.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - When the board gave the matter further consideration it could not overcome the difficulty.

Senator LECKIE - The effect of the lower duties on lightweight materials has been that, whereas previously 80 per cent. of the importations of the goods covered by this sub-item were of materials weighing more than 6 oz. per sq. yd., and 20 per cent. represented materials under 6 oz., the position is now reversed. A further result is that, whereas hitherto the cotton spinners have been able to take almost the whole of the cotton grown in Australia, their orders this year will not, represent more than half the crop. Yet the Minister says that if lower duties are found to be harmful, the Government will come to the rescue.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I did not say that. I said that, if there, was any transposition of the trade, the Government would take other steps.

Senator LECKIE - That transposition has already taken place. On the shelves of the Australian manufacturers is half a million yards of materials weighing more than 6 oz. per sq. yd., which cannot be sold. In anticipation of a continuance of trade, the local factories proceeded with the manufacture ofthe heavier materials, only to find that, out of a quarter of a million yards made during the last six months, the gross sales did not exceed 20,000 yards.. What further proof of the detrimental effect of these lower duties does the Minister require? The Government should admit that it has made a mistake in not adhering to the Tariff Board's report in this instance. Acceptance of the board's recommendation would relieve the Government of the responsibility for destroying the cotton-growing industry, which is of great value to this country. If the existing position is not sufficiently serious for the Government to take " other steps", I cannot imagine the state of affairs which must exist before it will take action. If the Minister thinks that the proposal to substitute 3 oz. for 6 oz. is too drastic, he should consider a compromise of, say, 41/2 oz. Under the existing duties, importers bring in material weighing 5.8 oz., or even more, to the square yard, and dye and dress it in Australia, thereby making it over 6 oz. per sq. yd. Much of the material from which doctors' white overalls are made weighs 5.8 oz. per sq. yd. when imported from Japan. During this tariff discussion, I have, at times, criticized the Government severely; butI realize that it has consistently followed the recommendation of the Tariff Board, and that, apart from " the three musketeers " of the Labour party, it has been more protectionist than the majority of its supporters. I, therefore, ask the Minister to adopt the board's recommendation in this instance, thereby saving not only the industry, but also the Government itself. Surely the supporters of the Government are entitled to some concessions. The Government should not insist on the bond, and nothing but the bond. It should not expect the committee to accept itsproposals without question, even to the extent of the crossing of a " t "or the clotting of an " i ". Now is the time to remedy an already serious situation; but, if action be not taken promptly, the position will be irretrievable. It would appear that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) has misread the Tariff Board's report. I do not blame him for that, because this is a most complicated subject. The Tariff Board recommended two duties - one to apply in the event of cotton yarns being admitted free, and the other if a duty were imposed on yarns. The Minister has, I think, misunderstood the board's recommendation. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to consult with his colleague, the Minister for Trade and Customs, with a view to agreeing to a compromise. I assure him that the situation is indeed serious. A great amount of capital has been expended in an attempt to build up the cotton industry in Australia. It is a natural industry, and, therefore, entitled to some consideration. Acceptance of a compromise, by which the duty would apply to materials 41/2 oz. per sq. yd. and over, would not cause the Government any loss of dignity. 1 appeal to the Minister to give the industry a chance. Already 125 operatives have been thrown out of employment because of the lower duties.

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