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Thursday, 2 June 1921

Mr WEST (East Sydney) .- No item in the Tariff is of greater importance than that now under discussion. The way in which it is dealt with must have an effect upon every industry in Australia. I wish to justify the vote I intend to give on this item. I am sorry that, apparently, the Government have not realized the motive which has actuated the supporters of the amendment. A change, has taken place in the economic condition of the world. Since this Tariff was framed, in March of last year, many changes have taken place. To-day, in manufactures, Australia has in America a competitor that she never, had before. The American Government and people have determined to become large exporters of goods to other parts of the world. Our infant industries are not in a position to compete with

American industries that have been long established, and are able to produce at a much lower rate than we can in Australia. There is a great movement in the world at the present time for the reduction of wages, and, despite the advice of the daily press, I say that we must, at all events, maintain a high standard . of living in Australia. That is the only way in which we can insure fitting conditions for human beings in a civilized community. We must pay attention to the movement going on on the otherside of the world for the reduction of wages, and of the standard of living. If we bear that in mind, we shall understand the motive by which the supporters of the amendment are actuated. On this item I take advantage of an opportunity of which I did not avail myself in speaking on the Tariff as a whole, to point out that if it is intended that the dutied imposed in this case shall be of any benefit to the people of Australia, they must be such as will prohibit the importation of. iron and steel from any other portion of the world. I remind honorable members that shipping companies running our large ocean liners quote reduced rates of freight for steel rails, machinery, and other heavy cargo that can be shipped as stiffening cargo for their vessels. This must giveimporters of these goods a considerable advantage, which can only be met by the imposition of heavy duties upon them. I agree with honorable members who contend that the steel and iron industry is a key industry. I have followed occupations in life other than that of a member of Parliament, and I am able to inform honorable members that in the building- trade to-day iron and steel plays a part that was never thought of twenty years ago: Iron and steel structures are to-day amongst the largest items in the requirement for large buildings. The honorable, member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) has a habit of repeating statements. He has referred to a statement made by Mr. Delprat, but ignores the fact that it was made some years ago. When Mr. Delprat was giving evidence before the Public Accounts Committee in connexion with the 'shipping inquiry, he statedthat, the Broken Hill Proprietary Company desired a protective duty on steel, believing that Tariff Protection was infinitely superior to the bounty system. The honorable member for Dampier has asserted again and again that an endeavour is being made to build up a monopoly in connexion with this industry. I recognise that there is a possibility of a monopoly being created, but should that happen, the united wisdom of the National Parliament should be able to devise the machinery necessary to cope with it. If we must handle the product of a monopoly, it is better that that monopoly should be in our own country, where we can deal with it, rather than in some other part of the world, where we can exercise no control over it. A Labour Government would not allow a monopoly to hold sway in this country for any length of time. The honorable member for Dampier and other honorable members of the Country party have referred to wire netting. Wire netting is shipped by measurement, and not by weight, and in order that it may be put into the smallest possible space, it is dumped or pressed to such an extent that the zinc used in galvanizing it is chipped off, and the netting is thus seriously damaged. Locally-made wire netting is worth considerably more than thatwhich is imported.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I call attention to the want of a quorum. [Quorum formed.]

Mr WEST - I hope the . Australian public will take this lesson to heart, and purchase locally-made wire netting, since it is more lasting than the imported article.

The Minister (Mr. Greene) in determining the duties to be imposed under this item, no doubt acted upon information supplied by officers of his Department. He seems, however, to have overlooked the fact that more than twelve monthshave elapsed since the Tariff schedule was , submitted, and that since then the conditions of labour in America and all European countries have materially altered. There seems to be a tendency, not only in America, but throughout Europe, to lower the workers' standard of living. That will mean an interference with the distribution of the wealth of the people, and a very serious position is likely to be created. We should do nothing to hamper, our secondary industries. Our primary industries were urged to produce more and yet more, with the result that we have an abundance of wool, much of which, we cannot sell. Our farmers are likely also to have trouble in getting rid of their wheat, so that we must look to our secondary industries to keep up the standard of living in Australia.

Mr Hill - And yet the honorable member desires to increase" these duties, and so to increase the cost of implements and machinery used by the primary producers.

Mr WEST - It is far better that, our primary producers should pay for a shovel made in Australia ls. or ls. 6d. more than is asked for the imported article. The money spent in the manufacture of the Australian-made article remains in the country. It is distributed among our own people, and is helping to create a local market for the products of ourprimary producers. Our object should be, if possible, to shut out importations. When our imports are declining, Australia is making progress, but when they are increasing, I recognise that the country is being subjected to a strain which, having regard to our war debt, it cannot bear. Our object should be to reduce our imports and to increase our exports. Australia will suffer if she continues to import on the present large scale. We are told that the reason for the increase in imports is that delivery is now being made under many contracts entered into during the "ar; but the fact that we arc importing so largely clearly shows that our Tariff is not sufficiently protective. It ought not to be necessary for us to import iron and steel ; we have here the raw material to produce the finest steel and iron. Experts told the Committee of Public Accounts that the locally-made plate and angle iron used in the ships that we constructed in Australia was better than any that could be imported. That is the opinion of experts, and not merely of members of the party to which I belong. These experts were brought from overseas in the war period to assist in establishing the shipbuilding industry here, and that was the conclusion at which they arrived in regard to the merits of our iron and steel.

There is no justification for the idea that the imposition of the additional duties necessarily means an increase in prices; but, even if it did, and it was necessary in order to maintain wages and our present standard of living, it would have my support. I can remember the day when we .were told by gentlemen with Free Trade proclivities that cheap labour was the salvation of the country; indeed, they would almost have led us to believe, that we must .sink to the standards of China and Japan. This, however, I am convinced, Australians are "not prepared to concede. When I reached manhood, and could think for myself, I' saw the fallacy of ideas of the kind, and I earnestly urge on the Government to remember that this industry i's necessary to our defence and our commercial prosperity. We are an island continent, and, sooner or later, as Australia develops and population increases, our coastal shipping service will be of some magnitude. And when I realize how essential this industry is to us, I feel that I must do something to make the importation of iron and steel impossible. _ If we had to import the raw materials for the industry, I might take a different view; but we know that Australia abounds in all that is necessary for the production of the finest iron and steel in the world. The experts to whom I have referred have no doubt as to the quality of our iron and steel, and they have expressed the further opinion that Australian workmanship cannot be excelled, while production is cheaper here than in England or America.

With all these facts $ before me, I should be a traitor and a renegade if I did not urge the Government to reconsider their attitude in regard to this item. There would be no more wrong .in the Government acting on that suggestion than there would be in the Free Traders of the House submitting themselves to an intellectual readjustment before voting on the question before us. The Government ought to try to bring their supporters together in view of the importance of this industry. It grieved me very, much to hear it suggested to-night by an honorable member that the smaller States were being asked to pay for the advancement of the State from which I come. That is a deplorable spirit to be exhibited on such an occasion; it is a spirit which was not found in New South Wales when the majority of the people there voted for a united Australia, so that the rest of the country might share in her prosperity. We on this side of the House always display a national spirit in dealing with public questions, and I hope that, we shall hear no further references of the kind to which I refer. If one State of Australia is making' progress, that must tend to the progress. pf every other State; and sp, if it State is not doing so well as others, the position can be improved by the display of the proper spirit. There is no doubt that the iron and steel industry is the key to all. the other industries, whether printing, building, engineering, or ship construction. Much of the opposition to the amendment comes from the representatives of the primary' producers; but I remind those gentlemen that if the secondary industries are not able to maintain a high standard of living, primary producers will suffer to a greater extent than they now imagine. I am given to understand that the amendment, if agreed to, might affect other items in the schedule; but I presume the Government are able to safeguard themselves in this respect. I should not be speaking at this length if I did not feel that this i3 the most important question that can come before us in this Tariff discussion. The employment of labour involved is something enormous. Messrs. Hoskins Brothers, at Lithgow, are one of the largest payers of freight that the Railways Commissioners of New South Wales have. Every day they run a train made up of forty trucks. Then they. have transport from Mudgee, and, further, there is the sending of their finished materials to Sydney and elsewhere.

Mr Charlton - I draw attention to the state of the Committee. [Quorum formed.]

Mr WEST - Again, at Newcastle we have the works of the Broken Hill Company. These works not only give an immense amount of employment locally, but keep going an iron mine in South Australia, and a vessel which trades regularly between that State and Newcastle. The ramifications of this industry are paralyzing, and its benefits are widespread. Round about Newcastle there are no empty houses for miles, and rents have gone up enormously. Shopkeepers, clergymen, hotelkeepers, newspaper proprietors and many others owe their in comes to the trade which it causes. What we desire is that Parliament shall meet the circumstances of the day, and keep an eye on the future. This is the duty of statesmen. We need to take a long vision. The amendment before the Committee is much more important than were the proposals of the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), many of which were as useless as a mustard plaster on a wooden leg for the cure of a cold.

I was told by a doctor the other day that I might expect to live for another thirty years, and I guarantee that thirty years hence the people of Australia who meet me will tell me what a great work I did in advocating the increase of these duties. Those who vote for the amendment will not be sorry for doing so, and those who vote against it will regret that they did not take the advice of the honorable member for East Sydney. Some of my friends who live in country districts have not had so good an opportunity as I have had to travel and broaden their minds. I should like them to avail themselves of the benefits of my experience, and take my words to heart. If they do, they will accept the amendment in a broad national spirit. I was brought up in my early days to believe that Free Trade was a godsend, but I was converted at the age of seventeen or eighteen. When I came out to New Zealand and Australia, and saw men walking about the streets with nothing to do, while locomotives and other manufactured articles were being landed on the wharfs, I thought " I will do something for this country by starting the idea that it ought to produce what it needs for its own requirements." It is remarkable how this Tariff has gone through up to the present. Twenty years ago, in our State Parliaments, such a thing would never have been thought possible. It only goes to show the great change that has taken place in Australian sentiment. I am inclined to think that a great deal of this is due to the system of public school education. Of course, in those days, when Australia was divided into petty States, the people had a very limited idea of national life, but when the Commonwealth was inaugurated the people stepped on to the broad path of nationhood, the Australian spirit and sentiment began to grow, and we accepted our responsibilities as a nation. Among those responsibilities is the employment ofour own people and the utilization in the best interests of the people ofour raw materials.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I call attention to the state of the Committee. [Quorum formed.]

Mr WEST - If any item can be quoted to show the real intention of a Tariff, it is this one. I shall always endeavour to go even as far as prohibition in dealing with the importation of articles produced by industries which are in the same position as the iron industry. Not one of those who have opposed the amendment has endeavoured to show that the industry is not essential to Australian progress. It is pure imagination to say that an increase of £1 per ton in the duty would increase the price of the iron by £1 per ton.

Mr Hill - If you had to write out your cheque for £50 or £60 extra for a reaper and binder, you would find that it was not a difference of £1.

Mr WEST - In New Zealand, under Free Trade, the reaper and binder is dearer than in Australia. If the primary producer has to pay 10 per cent. more for his. reaper and binder which is produced in Australia, he has the satisfaction of knowing , that the money he has spent will be circulated in Australia, with the almost certain result of enabling those who require the commodities he produces to pay for them at decent wages. We must do something to keep our industries at a high standard, so far as wages are concerned. If we do not, the primary producer will get no returns, and his land and stock will go down in value.

Mr Hill - It has gone down in value.

Mr WEST - The honorable member should support the amendment, because with the changes which have taken place in other parts of the world, and the possibility of a lower standard of industrial conditions to which I hope Australians will never submit, there is a great danger to our local industry.

Mr JAMES PAGE (MARANOA, QUEENSLAND) - I call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum

Mr WEST - I do not think that the Minister has considered this question as' seriously as he, should do. I do not know of any item in the Tariff that affects so many people as does the one we are now considering. The people are expecting a great deal of assistance from this Tariff. A large revenue from Customs duties is no evidence of the prosperity of a country. On the contrary, a Tariff which reduces importation to a minimum is the one that makes the country progress. We cannot pay our way if importations continue on' the present large scale. One of our greatest troubles is that we are receiving too much revenue from Customs duties, and are thereby extracting from the people in the humbler walks of life a greater amount of taxation than they should be required to pay. Most of the articles from which Customs revenue is derived are necessaries, and, therefore, every individual in the community contributes to this form of taxation.

I do not wish to further detain the Committee, but I know that when my friends read my remarks this evening, they will congratulate me upon my statesman -like view of the Tariff in its relation to the great iron and steel industry. I have no personal interest, commercially or politically, in this industry. I hope that the energies of Australianswill be devoted to something more than tilling the ground, drawing water, or humping wood. No country has done well which has not a high standard of wages, or which has not provided ample employment for its people in industries. No greater duty or responsibility rests on a National Parliament than to provide that employment for the people of the country. It is a pleasure to honorable members when, at the conclusion of theirduties, they pass among their constituents to realize that, as a result of what they have done here, the people are fully engaged in producing wealth for the community at large.

Progress reported.

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