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Thursday, 19 November 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - I do not intend to repeat on this bill the speech that I made on the bill that has just been passed. I wish, however, to make some comments on the speech just delivered by the Minister in charge of the measure (Senator A. J. McLachlan) .

The honorable senator referred eloquently to the condition of affairs in

Europe, which, during recent years, has forced Belgium into a policy of opportunism - the word is his; I consider that his choice was most unfortunate. Of course, world events have forced Belgium into a policy of opportunism. That is exactly what my colleague, Senator Brown, and I told the Minister when we addressed ourselves to the previous bill. "World events are forcing Australia into a policy of opportunism, as they have forced every other country within the last decade. Great Britain itself, the home of freetrade, has at last been forced by the march of events to adopt the policy of protection. It is paying huge subsidies to its primary-producing industries. If Great Britain, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, and all other countries overseas are doing this, what valid objection can be offered to Australia's doing it?

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We have a " stab " at it occasionally.

Senator COLLINGS - Of course we do. Senator Arkins soared into the heights of poesy to describe the wonders of the modern romance in Czechoslovakia. If he will accompany me to the factories in New South Wales and Victoria I shall lead him to men who have been dismissed as the result of the adoption of the policy of opportunism, and he can ask them in my presence what romance they can see in the receipt of a notice to quit. The policy that is being pursued by this national Parliament is forcing people out of employment in our great secondary industries. There is no romance in that. I would remind Senator Arkins that it is as bad to be robbed of one's employment by a nation which is pre-eminent in the establishment of libraries, as by a nation that has no libraries and is illiterate. It may be even worse, because there is such a thing as the refinement of cruelty. If a man uses brutal methods you feel that you can use your boot on him- but if he has a polished manner and affects an Oxford accent, the case wears a different complexion. I ask the Minister whether this treaty gives Belgium any advantage. A perusal of the schedule will show what the Commonwealth proposes to allow it to send to this country with greater facility. If the treaty is of advantage to Belgium, then, it obviously must be disadvantageous to some industry in Australia. Honorable senators opposite cannot have it both ways; they cannot gain on the swings as well as on the roundabouts. Either it is of advantage to Belgium, or it is not. If it is not, then Belgium has been the victim of a confidence trick. There is no escape from the logic of events. We have been given to understand that Australia has derived an advantage from every treaty that has been made, including the Ottawa agreement. I would point out, however, that we cannot have our cake and eat it. If Belgium is given one slice, Czechoslovakia another slice, and Great Britain another slice, there is so much less for the people of Australia who are dependent on it. Their diet may be changed from cake to rye bread, and their stomachs still be filled, but they are not getting the same favorable deal.

The Minister in charge of the bill has mentioned wheat. Both my colleague, Senator Brown, and I endeavoured on the last measure to show the impossibility of the Government finding its way out of the hole which it has entered, because there is no egress from it. As soon as Russia experiences a decent season for its wheat, all the Government's propositions in regard to wheat will go overboard, because the markets of the world will be filled with the Russian crop and will not need our wheat. As Senator Brown has said, when a treaty has been made with every country that is willing to make one with us, we shall be no better off. The Minister hinted that glass is the principal commodity that Belgium exports to Australia, and argued that, as it buys our wool, we should be wise not to say too much.

Senator Arkins - We might sell Belgium some sugar.

Senator COLLINGS - Some ribald senator has made a remark about sugar. It merely amuses me. It would be a case of " God help Australia " if the northern portion of the great State from which I come did not produce sugar. Those allegedly jocular remark's by senators who do not know whether sugar prows underground or on the tops of trees are vastly amusing to those who represent Australia's great sugarproducing State. That, however, is by the way. i was rather interested to hear the Minister say that Belgium buys Australian wool in grease. Of course it does. So does the United States of America. The reason is that they are determined that their workers shall find employment in the removal of the grease from the wool, and in the treatment of the by-products that result from the scouring of it. We are foolish enough to export our wool in the grease. It does not matter to us whether our wool scours flourish or are idle, or whether the opportunity is provided for the building and equipping of additional scours to perform this operation. I realize that many honorable senators wish me to conclude my remarks as quickly as possible, so that they may linguistically tear me to pieces. I am perfectly willing to give them the opportunity to make the attempt. As a matter of fact, during the short period that I have had the onerous duty of leading the Opposition I have discovered that the gentleman who occupies that position is merely a swingle-bar for the kicking mules of senators who do not agree with the policy of the Opposition.

I wish to make a brief reference to glass, and have no desire to be told when I resume my seat that I am the protagonist of a greedy monopoly; that does not cut any ice with me. I affirm that this country has wit enough, and ought to have courage enough, to tell its manufacturers that they will not be allowed any longer to profiteer behind the shelter of the tariff wall. If, when I have concluded my dissertation on glass, I am accused of being the protagonist of a bloated capitalistic, company, my withers will remain unwrung, and I shall not be disturbed in the slightest degree. I propose to read short extracts from the sworn evidence given by the representatives of the Australian Glass Manufacturers Company Limited before the Tariff Board in Melbourne on the 24th June, 1935. This was the last of a series of inquiries that have been conducted into the glass industry. My reason for quoting appropriate portions of this evidence is that the Minister deliberately threw down the gauntlet when he mentioned that glass is the principal . commodity that the Commonwealth proposes to allow Belgium to pour into this country. The evidence reads - 1 would invite the board's attention to the growth of the glass industry in Australia. It started in Melbourne in 1S72 as a small bottle works, but the Australian Glass Manufacturers Company Limited was not formed tin 1015.

I have said repeatedly in this chamber that I am old enough to remember the time when Australia did not manufacture one item of its requirements. I do not suggest that I am old enough to recall events of 150 years ago; but I am old enough to remember the arguments advanced 60 years ago whenever courageous Australians suggested that there was a fitting opportunity to develop an Australian industry. We have been told recently that it would be uneconomic to manufacture motor car chassis in Australia. A similar argument was advanced with regard to boots and shoes, beer and whisky, cheese and butter, jam and confectionery, and many other things which are produced here, and which are equal in quality to the products of any other country.

Senator McLeay - What about the balance-sheet of the Australian Glass Company?

Senator COLLINGS - Whenever a plea is advanced on behalf of an infant industry, honorable senators opposite assume an indignant air, and say that as it is only a backyard industry, it is not entitled to consideration. The glass industry was established in Melbourne in 1S72 as a small bottle works but it has developed into the huge undertaking which is now called a profiteering concern. The Government cannot have it both ways. Any big industry must have a small beginning. The sworn evidence given before the Tariff Board continues as follows: -

In the course of twenty years, therefore, from a comparatively small bottle works has been built up one of the largest industries in the Commonwealth, with capital amounting to nearly £2,000,000, subscribed by 2,900 Australian shareholders, directly employing nearly 4,000 workers and distributing wages at the rate of approximately £700,000 a year.

I am more concerned about 2,900 Australian shareholders who are getting their " loot " in this country, and about -1,000 Australian workers who are spending their wages here than I am about shareholders and workers in Belgium.

Here let me interpose that the Opposition supports this bill. A certain amount of laughter comes from honorable senators on the ministerial bench. On this occasion the united support of the Opposition in this chamber does not mean a great deal to the Government, but there have been times not very far back in the history of this chamber when no laughter arose as the result of an announcement that the Opposition intended to support the Government. In fact, when revolts have occurred in the ranks of the United Australia party and the United Country party the votes of the Opposition have saved the Government from defeat. The Opposition is not now "damning this bill with faint praise but it does assert very definitely that members of the Labour party consider that our economic difficulties cannot be overcome by unscientific and piecemeal measures, which are merely temporary expedients. I can well imagine the Minister directing negotiations for trade treaties (Sir Henry Gullett) throwing the treaty measures on the table of the House of Representatives, rubbing his hands with glee and exclaiming, Micawber-like. " Thank God that's paid for " ! But the debt cannot be discharged until a better method of overcoming these trade difficulties has been devised.

I had a conversation last week with a representative of the Australian Glass Company, and I have seen all of its works.

Senator Guthrie - Has the honorable senator inspected its balance-sheet?

Senator COLLINGS - Honorable senators who interject are no doubt annoyed that they did not get in on the ground floor, so that they could now be sharing in the profits of this wealthy company. The members of the Opposition in this chamber have received no " rake-off " as the result of their efforts to serve the interests of the primary producers and the workers in secondary industries.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- The honorable senator should connect his remarks with the bill.

Senator COLLINGS - I shall endeavour to do so. Qualified or skilled workmen in Belgium are paid from 74 to S francs an hour, on the basis of 175 francs to the £1, -which is equivalent to lOd. an hour in Australian currency. Unskilled workers receive 4£ to 4£ francs an hour, or 6d. an hour Australian currency. The factories in Belgium work three eight-hour shifts. The English rates of wages mentioned in evidence before the Tariff Board are from ls. to ls. 4£d. an hour, whilst the rates in Australia are ls. 8gd. to 2s. 2-2/lld. an hour. The difference in wages costs between Australia and the continent of Europe is even greater than the rates indicate, for the reason that women and children are employed on the Continent on work that only a male adult is permitted to do in Australia. It is considered that a fair comparison would be to say that the continental wages are equal to 6d., the English rate ls. 2£d., and the Australian rate 2s. an hour.

Regarding window glass, no complaint is made as to the quality of the Australian product. The Australian Glass Company's window glass branch is equipped to supply the heaviest demand which can be made for the product in Australia. It is allowed to supply only slightly more than half of the total effective demand within the Commonwealth, but the plant is capable of fully supplying the demand, and therefore practically half of the factory remains idle. The Opposition supports the bill because it thinks that it is preferable under existing circumstances, to having no agreement at all with Belgium. Our only criticism is due to the facts to which Senator Brown and I referred in the debate on the previous measure. "We then explained that Australia cannot get out of the wood by digging further into it.

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