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Thursday, 2 June 1921

Mr BELL (Darwin) .- The honorable member for Newcastle (Mr.. Watkins), who has moved to increase the duties on pig iron, and the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), who eloquently supported him, have protested vigorously against the Minister's refusal to accept the amendment. These honorable members naturally wish to benefit an industry which is carried on largely within, or near to, their electorate, and I have no quarrel with them on that ground; but it is for other honorable members to see that a bigger measure of protection than is needed is not given to thisindustry, because that might increase the cost of the iron and steel which it produces, andwhich is their raw material. It was contended that the Minister's speech, properly weighed and considered, justified the proposed increases, but from that I entirely dissent. The Minister (Mr. Greene) is to be congratulated upon his presentment of the case. He has again shown himself to be fully conversant with his subject, and he viewed it in the manner that was to be expected of a fair-minded administrator whose duty it was to see that an important industry was adequately protected without harm being done to dependent industries. Replying to an interjection of mine, the honorable member for Hunter accused me of wishing to benefit the foreign trader, and of being unwilling to support Australian industries. I do not suppose that he meant what he said on the spur of the moment, because an instant's reflection would have caused him to remember that my votes on items already dealt with prove my readiness to give to Australian industries all necessary protection. At the same time, I contend that one industry should not be protected unduly, and at the expense of other industries depending on it for their raw material, which is what would follow from the amendment. As the Minister rightly said, if we increase the duties on iron and steel, we must increase the duties on all lines under the: heading of machinery. There are industries other than the iron and steel industry whose existence is very important to the welfare of Australia.

Mr Charlton - What would become of the industries dependent on the iron and steel industry if it were not kept going?

Mr BELL - The honorable member has asked that question several times. I am willing to give the industry sufficient protection to keep it going continuously. No one would oppose the amendment if it were proved that without an increase of duties this industry would be wiped out.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - You would wait until it was wiped out.

Mr BELL - No. There is no evidence that it is likely to be wiped out. Those who support the increase have drawn attention to the change of conditions in other countries since the Tariff was introduced. The Minister has told us that when the Tariff was first brought down the iron and steel industry needed no great measure of protection, and that he has since taken into consideration the changes in wages and in the prices of commodities in other countries, and other matters which invited attention. That he has done so is proved by the knowledge of the industry that he has displayed; and if he is now satisfied with the duties contained in the schedule I am willing to accept them. The Tariff is to operate, not for a year only, but, we hope, for an .indefinite period. Certainly we should not like to have to consider new Tariff proposals every session. Other industries, such as mining and agriculture, are as important to Australia as is the iron and steel industry.

Mr Charlton - During the war there would have. been no mining industry had not our steel works been in existence.

Mr BELL - It is likely that very soot some of our largest mines will have to close if honorable members persist in opposing the reduction of their working expenses. A few days ago, the very members who are now asking for increased protection for the iron and steel industry were complaining because certain mining companies which, they said, had made huge profits during the war, were not able to cany on because of the fall in the value of metals.

Mr Charlton - We asked that they should abide by the law of the land and the decisions of the Arbitration Court.

Mr Richard Foster - One Arbitration Court has said to the men, " Return to work at reduced wages."

Mr Charlton - Nothing of the kind.

Mr BELL - These honorable members wish to give the iron and steel industry more protection in order that it may continue to make huge profits, as it did during the war; and this must be to the prejudice of the community generally. But as the Tariff discussion has now extended over several weeks, inconsistency on the part of members is not surprising. If never before has there been reason to consider the arguments of members inconsistent, this discussion has provided many instances of inconsistency. When members speak of the reduction of wages that may take place, I would remind them that mining and other primary industries are now being carried on at a loss. Agriculturists are not getting the rewards to which their labours entitle them, and nothing like those enjoyed in this- industry for which certain members are fighting so strenuously because they represent the persons employed in it.

Mr Charlton - Would you think it a good thing for your constituents that their wages should be reduced?

Mr BELL - Of course, not.

Mr Richard Foster - That would not be so bad as having no wages at all.

Mr Charlton - No doubt, .half a loaf is better than no bread.

Mr Hill - Any number of industries have now to be content with the half loaf.

Mr BELL - I shall not support a proposal the effect of which must be to allow one industry to make large, profits at the expense of other- dependent industries. Those who advocate the increase of these duties seem not to realize that other industries, such as agriculture, have already to pay dearly for their machinery, and get very little returns.

Mr Charlton - If you desire cheap machinery, you should be a Free Trader.

Mr BELL - Members of the Corner party have been derided because they wish to obtain consideration for those whom they claim to especially represent, but surely that party - I am not a member of it, though equally with its members I represent an agricultural constituency - is as much entitled to fight for the interests of its constituents as are the members for Newcastle and Hunter for those of the men whom 'they represent. If I judge the Minister's meaning aright, he is not going to agree to the increase proposed by the honorable member for Newcastle, and so ably supported by the honorable member for Hunter. In my opinion, the proposed increase is preposterous, but I can quite understand that, after certain increases being proposed and carried during the earlier part ' of the consideration of the Tariff, some manufacturing interests in the Commonwealth came to the conclusion that they had only to ask in order to receive. I have no doubt that when the debate on the Tariff began, the manufacturers concerned in the iron and steel industries in particular were perfectly satisfied with the Minister's proposals. There is no evidence to show that they are not satisfied to-day, and I would have been indeed surprised if the Minister had acquiesced in the proposal to increase the duties by 50 per cent. I had not intended to speak, but after listening' attentively to some of the speeches on the item, I felt that I could not allow it to pass without entering my protest against the attitude taken up, and the lack of consideration shown, by some honorable members as to the effects of their proposal on other industries. I am out to support a measure of protection that is, in my judgment, sufficient to allow Australian industries to grow up in security, but if I went beyond that I would not be doing justice to myself or the community in general. In all these proposals, we must consider the effect of very high, or, as some honorable members have suggested,' prohibitive duties on subsidiary industries. That aspect has not been realized by those who propose to increase these duties., Had the Minister agreed to the increase, I should certainly have entered a protest, but I am happy to say that he has not so agreed. His reasons for not being willing to' agree were sound and statesmanlike, and I congratulate him on them. I am satisfied that the majority of the members of the Committee will not favour the increase. I shall support the Minister's proposal, and shall not support either an increase or a decrease of it.

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