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Thursday, 2 June 1921

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) . - I desire at this stage to deal with only two points raised by the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), one of which was that, because the invoices to which he referred were expressed in terms of steril- ing, that that was . sufficient proof that the exchange position between the country from which the goods were invoiced and Australia had nothing to do with the question.

Mr Gregory - And the price that was paidfor the article.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am afraid I cannot follow the honorable member. The position, of course, is that the sterling price at which the invoice is drawn out is the conversion of the price in the currency of thecountry into sterling, and nothing more. It has nothing Whatever to do with the relative value of the goods as expressed in sterling here and in the country of origin. I shall endeavour to illustrate that from some figures I have before me. My authority is the United States Monthly Labour Review, dated July, 19.20, which quotes the Bureau of Labour and Statistics of the United States of America.

Mr.Hector Lamond. - Where did the Minister get that? The Library cannot supply it.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Perhaps we obtain a lot of information that does not reach the Library. I have before me the rates of wages in March, the number of employees, the average daily' earnings, and the various classes working in the iron and steel works in Oppeln and Silesia. In July, 1913, the average daily wage of the labourer in the steel works inGermany was2.10 marks; but the average daily wage of the labourer in the steel works in Germany to-day is 12 marks. When we convert the daily "wage of the German to-day at the current rate of exchange as between the sterling equivalent and the mark, we find that his wage is a little over11d. When these wages are expressed in marks in the value of the product itself - as they have to be eventually when they sell the product - it costs many more marks ; but when we bring the mark back into the sterling current rate, we get a lower wage, and one infinitely below that paid here for the same class of work. When we convert the 12 marks, which are paid in Germany to-day, as against the Australian Tate, which is 14s.8d., the German is being paid only11d.

Mr Considine - What is the exchange rate of the sovereign to-day?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The computationsI have given are at the Tate of '243 marks to the £1 sterling, When we convert cost of the product in marks into sterling for invoice purposes, there is still the vast difference in the exchange between the two countries. It is true that we are not trading with Germany. We are trading with Belgium; but we get an extreme instance as between Germany and ourselves. Nevertheless, the same principle applies between Belgium and Australia, and that is why Belgian iron and steel is being quoted at a lower price than the British product. That is why, within the last week or two, England has taken action to give her Minister controlling the Customs Department the power to deal with this exchange position. America is doing the same, and We must follow suit if our industries are to be given a reasonable chance to live. I say that the fact that these invoices are quoted in sterling does not in the least alter the fact that the exchange position gives to continental countries an undue advantage, and they are at the present time quoting prices lower than British prices, and lower than our people can compete with.

Mr Charlton - In view of the statement made by the Minister, will he not postpone the further consideration of this item, and see whether he cannot agree to increase the duty?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No ; I want to get on.

Mr Charlton - The honorable gentleman will not get on in that way.

Mr McWilliams - The amendment of the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) only affects imports from Great Britain. It will not affect imports from Belgium or Germany.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that the duties I have proposed should be agreed to.I am dealing with the argument of the honorable member for Dampier, and not with his proposed amendment.

I want to say a word or two concerning his statement that, in the interests of the primary producers, we should not protect these industries. I cannot follow the honorable member in that statement. If there is one class in this community which, more than another, suffered during the war from the exploitation of firms abroad through the tremendous prices they were charged for the goods they required, it was the primary producers. No class in this community has been exploited by importers and, in their turn, by the people in whose goods they dealt, as the primary producers have been. There is no other class either that has, by the establishment of these industries in Australia, received more relief than have the primary producers. I will give just one instance in support of this statement. Every one knows how the price of wire went up during the war. Every one knows that until this industry was started here on a big scale at Newcastle the price of wire was up in the clouds. What happened? The works at Newcastle were put up under war conditions. Their overhead charges were relatively 400 per cent. greater than those of companies that had been supplying Australia with these goods before. But when the Newcastle works got going - and I speak now of April, 1920 - they fixed the price of wire from their works at £24 10s. per ton.

Mr McWilliams - What was the price before the war?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am speaking of what happened during the war. I say that in April, 1920, the price of wire f.o.b. Newcastle was £24 10s. per ton.

Mr Hill - I paid £31 10s. per ton for it in Melbourne six weeks ago.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I can tell the honorable member what the price was f.o.b. Newcastle, but I cannot tell him how much was added to that price by others. The f.o.b. price in England in April, 1920, was £42.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - That was f.o.b. London.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, London or Liverpool.

Mr Bell - Was not the price in one case for black wire, and in the other, case for galvanized wire?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; I am quoting prices for the same class of wire. The May price was £24 10s. f.o.b. Newcastle, and £43 10s. f.o.b. England.

Mr Gibson - Can the honorable gentleman give the American price at that date?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; I have not the American prices before me. The June price was £24 10s. f.o.b. Newcastle, and £44 10s. f.o.b. England. The September price was £24 10s. f.o.b. Newcastle, and £41 10s. f.o.b. England, and so it goes on. The importers were not able to pass their price on. They had made contracts spread over a considerable period, and were getting deliveries of wire to keep their trade, and they were obliged to sell every ton of wire they imported at a loss against the Newcastle wire. I, therefore, repeat that the primary producer, at all events, has reaped a very considerable benefit from the establishment of this industry in Australia. If it had not been established, he would have been called upon to pay infinitely more than he has paid.

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