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Tuesday, 1 July 1941

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) . - I support the motion submitted by Senator Aylett. I am astounded at the speech just made by the Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay). First, the honorable senator told us that the processing of flax is a highly difficult operation. That is obvious; every one knows that. Then he said that the statements made by Senator Aylett were grossly exaggerated, but he failed to indicate in what respect overstatements had been made. The Leader of the Senate asks us to accept his estimate of the value of Senator Aylett's statements. It would be very convenient to have a complacent Senate, prepared to do as the honorable senator asks; but before we accept his statement, we should be informed how he justifies his claim that Senator Aylett's remarks were grossly exaggerated. Once again, the Leader of the Senate has indulged in his usual practice of treating this chamber in a contemptuous manner. Senator Gibson, on the other hand, did attempt to submit a case from his point of view. It would have been far better had the Government allowed Senator Gibson to secure the adjournment of the debate. Had that course been followed, Senator Gibson would have had an opportunity to prepare his speech on the motion before the Senate, and I feel sure that we would have had. a better explanation of the position than we have had from the Leader of the Senate. "We have been told that the industry is in the experimental stage.

Senator Gibson - It may be in the experimental stage in Tasmania, but not in Victoria.

Senator CAMERON - Senator Aylett has devoted considerable time and attention to the industry, and, as the result of his observations, he. believes that a committee should be appointed to discover exactly why better results are not being obtained. The request is perfectly legitimate, and the weight of evidence which lias been adduced in this debate supports Senator Aylett's case. The honorable senator's allegations of waste and inefficiency in the industry have not been refuted by the Government. In fact, Senator Gibson has made some damaging admissions, which strengthen Senator Aylett's request for an inquiry. When moving his motion, Senator Aylett stressed the point t'hat he wanted to make certain that this industry would be established on a permanent basis, and not merely for the duration of the war, after which it would be abandoned as so many other industries have been abandoned by anti-Labour Governments. We know that cheapness of labour is the main consideration with which such governments are concerned. If flax can be grown more cheaply in India, I can imagine this Government saying, immediately after the war is over, we must abandon this young industry and import flax.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - -Flax cannot be imported now.

Senator CAMERON - Before the war we were 'importing it iii considerable quantities. Indeed, one reason why the industry is now to be encouraged is because flax fibre can no longer- be obtained from abroad. When the war is over, we do not want the Government to say, as it did after the last war in respect of many primary and secondary industries, that this industry must 'be closed down, and preference given to those countries which can produce flax more cheaply than we can produce it. That danger exists in respect of many primary industries. Owing to the closing down of the shipbuilding industry we find now that we cannot build ships to meet our requirements, or even equal the output of that industry when it was previously in existence. A similar fate may be in store for the flax industry. Senator Aylett has emphasized that we should make certain that the industry is established on a permanent basis, and will bc enabled to carry on successfully, not only for the duration of the war, but after the war. For that reason ho wan ls to be assured that the present management of the industry is capable of running the industry successfully. As a representative of Tasmania in this chamber, ha has rightly directed attention to wastage and inefficiency on the part of the management of the industry. In the absence of any evidence from the Government to the contrary, we can only conclude that his representations arc worthy of support. Senator Gibson has suggested that the matter might be inquired into by one of the various committees which are now functioning. I do not know whether any of those committees is empowered to conduct such an inquiry, but in -the absence- of any direction from this Parliament, each of those committees would be within its rights in refusing to do' so. Consequently, Senator Gibson's suggestion is not very helpful. Our only alternative is to agree to Senator Aylett's motion. In any case, what has the management of the industry to fear from the proposed inquiry?

Senator Aylett - Evidently it has more to fear than I suspected.

Senator CAMERON - The industry should welcome such an inquiry, particularly as it is in the experimental stage. An inquiry is also desirable, because it will be the means of procuring evidence to defeat any move which, may be made later to abandon the industry on the ground that, we cannot grow and pro'cess flax successfully in Australia, or because our costs greatly exceed those in other countries. We can well imagine such a proposal being made after the war, and the Government recommending, reluctantly, of course, that the industry be abandoned. That has happened in respect of many industries which have been placed under national control, because of the opposition of private enterprise, which is more concerned about, makingprofit* than serving the national interests. In this instance, . Senator Aylett is primarily concerned about the nation's interests. I hope, therefore, that his motion will be carried. .

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