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Thursday, 19 November 1936

Senator ARKINS (New South Wales) . - I have already stated that I cannot support the amendment submitted by Senator Badman. In the first place I consider it unwise to focus public attention upon foodstuffs. I see no reason why the proposed alteration of the Constitution should be confined to " primary products, raw or processed, being foodstuffs ". Other raw materials are of great value in respect of our internal and external trade, and it would be foolish to hamper this Parliament with regard to the control it may desire to exercise in connexion with various raw products. So that we might understand the necessity for control of such products let us take, for instance, the history of rubber. We may assume that the British Government is conservative in its methods, yet in 1920 it endeavoured to secure a measure of control over the rubber of the world, and even sought the co-operation of the Dutch Government. J. W. F. Rowe, in his book, Markets and Men, states -

In April, 1934, it was announced that agreement had been reached between the British and Dutch Governments, and also Sia,m and French Indo-China, and that a scheme for the regulation of their exports of rubber would begin on June 1st, 1934.

That action was taken after many years of experimentation in the control of prices. At times it seemed that the action was ill-advised, but eventually the British and Dutch Governments deliberately decided that it was essential to the welfare of the world that rubber should be controlled. Referring to tin, Rowe remarks -

In these critical circumstances the governments of the countries concerned were induced to intervene. Voluntary restriction had proved totally inadequate. The only hope was for a government compulsory scheme. Eventually the Dutch Government was induced to believe that its interests also lay in restriction, and in February, 1931, the present international scheme was established for a period of six years, i.e., until the 3.1st December 1930. It may be observed in passing th:it the negotiations were conducted by the British Government from London, and not by the Government of Malaya, and that there was a very active opposition to the idea, of restriction among some important groups of producers in Malaya.

Following upon the rubber and tin schemes, and the plan adopted in Chile for the control of nitrates, it was seen that the control of important raw products was a matter of great concern to the whole world. In 1927, attention was given to this problem at the Imperial Economic Conference. The Director of the International Labour Office, Mr. Harold Butler, a man of outstanding ability, i>; an Englishman, and he was appointed to his position with the approval of practically all of the nations represented at the annual International Labour Conferences. In his annual report for 1936 he summarized the position as follows : -

Steps towards carrying out these principles were taken by the convention barring the prohibition of exports and imports, which has since lapsed, and by the conventions relating to hides, skins, and bones, which barred the imposition of export taxes u:i these article*. Though the range and application of these conventions was limited, they represent a first attempt to establish freedom of trade in raw materials. The process was carried a step further by the London Economic Conference, whore international control was considered in councxion with a number of articles, including sugar, coffee, wood, coal, copper, and tin. It was recognized by the Preparatory Commission of Experts that economic agreements had contributed to maintaining prices and regulating the market, and the importance of these functions made it impossible for governments not to take account of them. In point of fact, such agreements, in which governments have taken part, are in existence in respect of wheat, tin, and rubber.

It is considered essential to have free exchange of raw products between the various countries, and, despite the fact that experts had advised that difficulties had been created by government intervention, it was realized that governments dare not refrain from intervening.

Australia is a young country, and it is regrettable that action is taken in some quarters to prevent this Parliament from having the full powers in these vital matters which it ought to exercise.

Senator Badman - Would the honorable senator support my amendment if the words " being foodstuffs " were eliminated.

Senator ARKINS - No. It would be wrong to lead the people to think that the proposed alteration of the Constituis designed to give this Parliament power to legislate in regard only to foodstuffs. That seems to imply price fixation, and price fixation only.

Senator Badman - The rates of wages of the workers in secondary industries are fixed.

Senator ARKINS - Of course. I agree that at times the control of prices is necessary, but I do not consider that the control should be confined to foodstuffs.

Senator Badman - "Why hoodwink the people ?

Senator ARKINS - I have no desire to do that. I am trying to prevent the proposed alteration of the Constitution being so framed as to enable unscrupulous persons to hoodwink the electors by misinterpreting the intention of the Government.

Senator Johnstonremarked that Western Australia required some form of protection for its primary industries, because of the disabilities suffered by that State under the fiscal system of the Commonwealth. He said that Western Australia imported from the eastern States secondary products to the value of £10,000,000 a year, whilst the eastern States took from it only £1,000,000 worth. He added that over 30,000 persons secured employment in the secondary industries of the eastern States by reason of the fact that Western Australia annually purchased £10,000,000 worth of goods from the manufacturers in those States. Whilst this is good for the workers in the secondary industries, they will act to their own advantage if they help to ensure that the primary industries in Western Australia, are kept in a strong and healthy condition.

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