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Thursday, 26 November 1936

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) .- I understand that there is need for this bill to be passed this week and therefore I shall not delay its passage by discussing it at length. I cannot, however, allow the opportunity to pass without referring to a matter which has been brought under my notice recently. I refer to the appointment of Trade Commissioners in the East, and the value of the Eastern market. Honorable senators are aware that for some years Australia has exported large quantities of butter, mostly in tins, to the Netherlands East Indies. Indeed, of that country's total imports of butter in 1932, tinned butter from Australia represented over 96 per cent. Under the Ottawa agreement, Great Britain placed a duty on butter entering the United Kingdom from foreign countries. That was done largely in the interests of Australian producers of butter. Previously, Holland had sent large quantities of butter to Great Britain, but the imposition of that duty meant additional charges amounting to 9s. 6d. per cwt. Naturally, the butter producers of Holland sought another market, and found it in the Netherlands East Indies. The result is that, notwithstanding that Australia has recently appointed a Trade Commissioner to the East, who lives in Java, the export of Australian butter to that country has gradually declined. Whereas in 1932 Australian butter represented 96.7 per cent. of the total butter imported into Java, the quantity in the next year fell to 91.4 per cent.; in 1934 it was 83.6 per cent.; and in 1935 it fell to 82.3 per cent. For the first six months of the present year, Australian butter represented only 77.2 per cent., of the imports of butter into Java. The progressive decline of this trade has alarmed the Australian packers of butter, whose trade with Java had taken over a generation to build. They approached the Government in August or September of this year, and were promised sympathetic consideration and assistance in maintaining a market in the East. That market is undoubtedly of great value to Australia. They also approached the Butter Equalization Committee, only to be informed that the committee was not concerned with the market in the East, so long as Australian butter found a ready market in England. Notwithstanding the promise of the Government, so far as the exporters of butter are aware, no steps have been taken to help to retain the market in the Netherlands East Indies. Tinpercentage of Australian butter to the total imports of butter into Java dropped to 56.S per cent, in August and September of this year. That is to say, there has been a drop from 96.7 per cent, in 1932, to 56.S per cent, in August and September of this year. I am credibly informed that, unless some assistance te given to Australian packers of butter, the trade in this commodity -with the Netherlands East Indies will cease by February or March of next year.

Senator Payne - Has there been- a drop from 96.7 per cent, to 56. S per cent, of the total importations of butter into Java?

Senator Sir George Pearce - The comparison is with butter obtained from Holland.

Senator Payne - What is Australia's share of the butter trade with Java?

Senator LECKIE - There has been no increased consumption of butter there during the last three years. The loss of this trade will deprive Australian dairyproducers of a second market, and confine them practically to the English market. I ask the Government to consider this matter sympathetically. It is useless to appoint a Trade Commissioner to Java, in the hope of increasing Australia's trade with Eastern countries, if he is not to be given every assistance. Mr. Critchley must view the situation with alarm, seeing that, almost immediately following his appointment, Australia's trade m butter with Java began to fall. I hope that the Government will examine the matter in its entirety in order to see what can be done to restore to the Australian producer. some of the trade which they formerly enjoyed. Honorable senators are aware that the balance of trade with the Netherlands East Indies is unfavorable to Australia; we import a good deal more from those countries than we sell to them, and with the cutting off of the butter trade, valued at £500,000, our trade position with those countries will become bad indeed. This matter is so important, of such far-reaching consequence, and evidences such short-sighted policy on the part of the butter producers, that I thought it desirable that it should be brought to the notice of the Senate and the Government, so that some steps might be taken to rectify the position.

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