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Thursday, 2 June 1921


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) . - The Minister has made out one of the best cases possible for a high rate of duty upon the raw materials used in connexion with iron and steel production. He has stated that, even on the basis of the increased rates suggested by the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins), the foreign combine competitors will not be kept out. That being" so, I would go further. I would make the duty twice as heavy ; and, if that were not sufficient, I would treble the rates. This is the key industry of the Commonwealth. It is the backbone of Australian manufacture. The only matter about which I am disturbed has to do with the interests of the subsidiary industries. My heart is in those works at Maryborough, because the men at the back of them have been struggling for the past thirty or thirtyfive years as best they could against foreign competition. In many instances; notwithstanding that they had to pay high wages and high prices for imported raw material, they have held their own against outside competitors. Here is the chance to do something worthy and really practical on behalf of our fellow Australians, and I am satisfied that Parliament will rise to the occasion.


Mr Charlton - The schedule will not pass this month if these are to be the rates.


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - We would be false to the Australian people behind us if we were to allow the schedule to pass in its present form, after the speech which the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) has made this afternoon. I will relate the circumstances which converted me to . a belief in complete Protection for our key Australian industry. Honorable members will recall that, when the East-West Railway was beingconstructed, Mr. King O'Malley was the Minister whose Department controlled that great work. He tried to get rails and fastenings as cheaply as possible, and he called for tenders in all the four corners of the globe. The peculiar thing was that he could only secure certain portions of the iron and steel requisites from Great Britain, a certain quantity from Germany, and a certain portion also from the United States of America. What was the position? Some honorable members in the Corner now say that we are in the grip of a Combine. It is better to be in the clutch of a Combine inside the Commonwealth than of one outside, which we cannot touch. The prices for the whole of those steel rails and fastenings, and the like, which were urgently required for the building of the Transcontinental line, were exactly the same from each of those countries mentioned..


Mr McWilliams - What were the p rices ?


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - The first quotation, I think, was £6' and £7 for steel rails. We would not accept it, but finally we had to pay £8 17s. 6d.


Mr McWilliams - What is the price of steel rails now?1


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - That was before the. war. I do not know what the price is to-day, nor do I care. It matters not to me what may be the price, so- long as the product is Australian made. I am concerned about the outside Combine. It made us pay just what its members liked, and it would do the same again tomorrow. Mr. King O'Malley made a deal with the Russian Government to supply us with all our requirements of rails and fastenings. That source of supply was outside of the foreign Combine which he had previously run against, and we were overjoyed to think that the Minister had beaten the Combine. But when the Russian authorities tried to secure freight to carry their steel products to Australia, not a. single ship could.be had. The Shipping Ring was linked up with the Steel

Combine. We had to go back again to the latter, and those people made us pay for endeavouring to break away from them by putting' on £1 17s. 6d. to their quotation for rails.. I thus became a strong Protectionist for life where Australia's iron and steel industry was concerned. If, as the Minister says, the proposals of the honorable member for Newcastle are not sufficient to keep out the foreigners, I would treble the proposed duty. But for the Broken Hill Proprietary Company starting the Newcastle Steel Works1, where would our subsidiary industries be to-day ?


Mr Charlton - There would be none.


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - Absolutely none; and no one knows that better than the Minister. We hear honorable members talking of the price of harvesters to-day. Purchasers: would have been compelled to pay through the nose - if they could have got the machines at all - but for the Broken Hill Company's works at Newcastle. During the war period that firm did not put up the price of its products, although the opportunity was afforded to raise them to fabulous heights, seeing that the people who wanted steel had! to buy from that, source alone. As a good Australian, I feel that the least that I can do is to give this great Australian- industry the measure of protection required, namely, sufficient to keep out foreign competition. The objection has been advanced, that that will have to be done by the introduction of special legislation.. If the Government are serious, about the need for this special legislation, where is it?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - We lean . only do one thing at a time.. >


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I will tell the Government what to do, and they will get the thanks of the Australian people for taking my advice - common-sense and practical as I am convinced that it is. Let the Minister quadruple the rates of duty until the necessary measure dealing with foreign exchange shall have been passed.


Mr Charlton - Hear, hear! Save the industry first.


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - We should not let it languish or be killed by the foreign Combine.


Mr Corser - How would the honorable member's proposal assist firms such as the one in Maryborough to which he he has referred?


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - We can trust the men behind the key industry, just as they proved worthy of out confidence during the war period. If, however, the Broken Hill (Proprietary Company will not agree to supply Australian subsidiary industries with their 'necessary -steel and- iron products,there is a way by which the Government can overcome the deadlock. Happily, there is plenty of raw material in Australia. We have . been told that the South Australian iron ores are the richest am the world. If "there is danger, of the dumping of cheap foreign materials, it is our duty toremove that menace. Let us not only protect . and save Australia's key industry, but, at the same time, encourage the establishment and growth of subsidiary industries. Mr. Hoskinstold me some time ago, by the way, that it is his intention to construct new works at Port Kembla. Here is an opportunity to give him a good . start with his new subsidiary venture. I am certain that the Minister is sympathetic. Will he agree to temporarily increase the dutyrates in order effectively to shut off cheap Belgian steel ?


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Thebetter course will be to ; get the Tariff schedule out of the way, and for the Government then to introduce the Bill -dealing with exchange.


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - But promises are vague.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member knows that if I make a promise I will act up to it.


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I do not doubt that for a moment; but there are others to he dealt with.


Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will guarantee that it will be done.


Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I am 'quite prepared to accept the Minister's assurance. I am pinning : myfaith to the proposed Board of Trade, because I believe the operations of that body will be the solution of our difficulties. The Board will take the matter out of the hands of the manufacturers, and will submit concrete proposals to this Parliament, which we will either have to ratify or reject. This is the key industry of . the Commonwealth, and this item is the most important in the whole Tariff. I seriously ask the

Minister to . give consideration to my suggestions, because it -is the . easiest thing in the world to reduce or remove a duty that has been imposed if, as the result of experience, it is found to be excessive or unnecessary.

Mr.GIBSON (Corangamite) [5.41].- During the debate on this particular item we have heard a good deal concerning the operations of the Broken Hill Proprietary Limited. Unfortunately, I have notbeen ableto visit the works of this company at Newcastle, but we have been informed by honorable members that they are the finest in the world, possessing very up-to-date machinery, and producing sufficient to meet the requirements of Australian consumers. But are they meeting ourrequirements at present? I donot think so. It seems that 'we are endeavouring to place the whole of our subsidiary industries in the hands of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company and Hoskins Limited. At present these two manufacturing concerns are not producing anything like the requirements of the Australian people, as in February last the Broken Hill Proprietary Company were asking certain purchasers of steel in Australia to import their requirements.


Mr Watkins - That was during a strike period.







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