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Wednesday, 20 June 1906

Mr McCOLL (Echuca) . - I do not propose to discuss the details of this measure, nor yet to make an academic speech such as we have listened to in the debate upon it. I view the measure with somewhat mixed feelings. While I have every sympathy with the object at which it aims, I certainly have very considerable misgivings as to whether it will fulfil that object, and whether its operations may not be as hurtful to the industries' of this country as thev can possibly be beneficial. I do not believe there are honorable members of any section in this House who do not desire to do their verv best to encourage the industries of Australia in every possible way.

Mr Mauger - Only some go a very funny way about it.

Mr McCOLL - "The industries of Australia " is a very wide expression. They do not consist merely of those carried on bv centralized workmen, who are able to use the power which concentration in cities gives them, perhaps to the detriment of the more important section of the people of the Commonwealth, who have to keep them. In debating a measure such as this we have to look, not first of all to what effect it is. going to have upon the denizens of cities and the workmen there, but to the effect it will have upon the primary industries of the country, because it is to the primary industries of this country that we must look for the prosperity of Australia. I am quite aware that there are honorable members who consider those industries of very little account. Because the farmers are not always in evidence, are not gathered in great numbers to make their wants known bv great clamour, and to buttonhole politicians, they do not care very much what happens to them.

Mr Mauger - Is there any section of the community that has had more help than have the farmers ?

Mr McCOLL - This is a measure of a very far-reaching character. It touches all sections of the community, and its incidence is not merely local, Federal, or wen Imperial, but is also international. It is indeed very hard to say what its effect will be when it is brought into active operation.

I may be unduly cautious, and I certainly like to know where I am going to set my foot before I raise it, but I say that we have not reached a stage of industrial development in this country that calls for the passage of such a measure. The measure is new, and, as legislation is entirely experimental, I do not say that it is bad on that account, nor do I say that we should always follow in the beaten track of the legislation of other countries. But I say that in dealing with a far-reaching measure such as this it would be well to pause and to refrain from going at the present time the full length here proposed. I claim that our industrial conditions do not demand this measure at present. Though that may be admitted by some honorable members, they hold that we should anticipate the demand of some later day. When that necessity arises it will be time enough to pass a measure of this kind. Other countries have had to deal with the evils which have been complained of, which the Bill is intended' to remove; but they have dealt with them differently from the manner proposed, and I think that it would be wise for us to follow their example, and to tread the known rather than the unknown path, making haste slowly. We do not know how the Bill, if passed into law, would affect our present conditions, and it is impossible to know how it would affect future conditions. It does not seem to me to provide a scientific method of dealing with our troubles. I would rather have the importation of harvesters prohibited altogether, if that were found necessary, and* require a guarantee that similar implements would be supplied to the people of this country by the local manufacturers at fair and reasonable prices, than pass the Bill as it stands. It is 'an undoubted fact that the competition of imported harvesters with the locally-manufactured article has brought about the introduction of this measure. Although we have heard of other cases of alleged unfair competition, that is the only one which has been specifically mentioned'. Had the harvester industry possessed less influence, this measure would not have been introduced. The wildest statements have been made bv those who have spoken on the two sides of the question, and it is therefore difficult to arrive at the truth ; but the Government are insisting that we shall deal with it with our eyes blindfolded, by pushing the Bill forward' when, by waiting a very little time, we could get the evidence and the report of the Tariff Commission on the subject, and know the actual facts. Although that Commission has been referred to slightingly, no other Commission in Australia has worked harder or more honestly, and, while its members have not received much thanks for their exertions, I am satisfied that their report will be of value. When a complaint was made to the late lamented Mr. Seddon about the excessive importations of agricultural machinery and implements into New Zealand', he refused to give the local manufacturers the high protective duties for' which they asked, because he saw that such a step would injure the interests of the agricultural classes. Changes are continually being made in agricultural machinery, and agricultural implements wear out very quickly, so that the farmer is put to a large expenditure in maintenance, in addition to a primary expenditure of from ,£250 to ^300 in providing himself in the first instance with the requirements for the working of a farm of 300 or 400 acres. Mr. Seddon would not make the farmers of New Zealand the prey of either outside trusts or inside monopolies, and therefore, while giving the local manufacturers fair play, arranged that "the users of implements and machinery should be allowed to buy them at fair prices. Those who have had to do with the passing of many Tariffs, and who were in politics when the high Victorian duties were in force, know that neither outside trusts nor inside monopolies show any consideration for the users and consumers of what they have to sell, but squeeze buyers as much as they can. Mr. Seddon provided that when the local market was in danger of being swamped', and a complaint to that effect was made by two or. more manufacturers., the matter should be submitted by the Commissioner of Customs to a Board, and a statement was compiled giving the current price of each kind' of implement at the time of the passing of the Act. The Board was known as the Agricultural Implement Inquiry Board, and consisted of the President of the Arbitration Court, the President of the Farmers' Union, the President of the Industrial Association of Canterbury, a nominee of the Trades and Labour Council, and a nominee of the Agricultural and Pastoral Association,, so that all parties concerned were represented. If it was proved to the satisfaction of the Boar.d that prices had been reduced by 20 per cent, as a conse- quence of the operations of importers, he granted a bonus of 33 per cent, to the local makers, and allowed them to import their manufacturing requirements duty free. That seemed to me a much more scientific way of dealing with this matter than that proposed in the Bill. Competition was not prevented, but it was regulated so that the local manufacturers would not be injured, while the farmers! could' still get their implements at reasonable prices. Without competition, makers anywhere will get careless and slipshod in their work. They will not keep their methods and their machinery up' to date, and will do all they can to increase prices. But under Mr. Seddon's legislation prices could not be increased, because there was always the competition of the foreign manufacturers!, although it was not allowed to injure the local manufacturers. Mr. Seddon has been claimed as a labour representative; but, although he had the support of the Labour Party, he never ceased to recognise that the productions of the land are the basis of national prosperity. We have yet to fully recognise that in Australia. Moreover, the problems which we have to meet in cultivating the land are much more difficult and complex than are those of New Zealand, where, in many places, there is an average rainfall of 40- inches', and, with decent farming, crops are assured. A hundred miles from the coast of Australia, however, the rainfall is as low as 20 inches, and gradually decreases as one goes further inland, until it becomes next to nothing. In consequence of the scarcity of coastal land, farmers have had to go back into these arid regions and till them as best they may. The arid regions of America comprise 300,000,000 acres, and for years were looked upon as country of which nothing could be made. But within the last four or five years it has been found, as the result of the experiments of scientists and experts, that, with improved methods of cultivation, and the use of imported drought-resisting seeds, fair crops can be got from that country, and a good living made on it. Still, it's cultivation requires special implements and machinery, the secret of success there being constant tilling. Moreover, it is a dry land, where the feeding of horses and other animals is very expensive, and therefore the greatest ingenuity has been exercised to dispense with the labour of domestic animals. The American Department of

Agriculture has1 a Bureau of Rural Engineering which has devoted itself to the perfecting of implements and machinery for working this country.

Mr Bamford - More Socialism?

Mr McCOLL - That is not Socialism, but education. The honorable member is so pushed for arguments in support of Socialism that he will seize upon everything. In Amenca the efforts of Government are directed, not to giving money to the people, but to educating them in every direction, whether in the ordinary primary and intermediate schools, and in the universities, or in the technical schools. On some of the farms engines are being used which make .gas from brown coal or oil, and are constructed to feed themselves automatically, whilst last year a Bill was passed permitting farmers to grow sugar-beet and potatoes, and from them to make alcohol, which, when denatured, they can use as fuel for their machinery without payment of excise duty. But if the Bill which we have before us is passed into law and strictly enforced, the importation of such machinery and appliances as they are now inventing in America may be prohibited, as interfering with local production. Surely the House will not permit Australian farmers to be deprived of the advantages to be derived from the researches of the scientists! and the ingenuity of the inventors in other parts of the world ? The . United States has been held up as a shocking example of a country under the thraldom of trusts, and, no doubt, for some years past, the American trusts have been an overruling, arrogant power, looking simply to their own interests, and riding roughshod over the community. But they have their good side. America would not be where she stands industrially had it not been for the operations of these trusts. They ran railroad's through deserts in which they had large grants of land, and employed nil the resources of wealth, enterprise, and ingenuity to develop the country. These trusts became very powerful and very rich, and they worked things to suit their own ends, but it was not until many years afterwards that any steps were taken to keep them in check or curtail their operations. Our conditions here are quite different. There is no possibility of a trust producing the same evils that have arisen in America. The trusts in the United States of America are able to keep their grip on the country because they control the means of transportation by land and sea. Great trusts own the railways and the shipping, and they work in conjunction with each other. They are able to bring over immigrants by hundreds of thousands, and to settle them upon the land, thus retaining their grip of the whole community, and controlling production, trade, and labour. There is no gainsaying that they have worked great harm, but similar results are not likely to be brought about here, because the railways are owned by the State, and no private monopoly of transportation can exist. When I was in America last year, I paid some attention to this matter. I asked some of the people why they put up with the trusts, and they replied that they had become used to them. Thev had been brought) to regard the condition of affairs as normal, and did not think it necessary to take any steps to combat the combines. One of the largest trusts - the meat trust - operates in this way : It will send a representative into a village or town and invite the local butcher to join the trust, and thus increase his opportunities for making money. The local tradesman may say, " No, I buy my sheep or cattle from the neighbouring farmers, and I shall have nothing to do with you." The first thing the trust does is to start a shop, and, by selling meat at 1 or 2 cents per lb. below the prices asked by the other tradesman, gradually undermines his trade. The trust then sends its agent to the farmers, and offers to buy their stock. The farmers may say that they have been dealing with the local butchers for many years, and prefer to go on supplying them. The trust then says, " Very well, we shall see what will happen to you." As the trade of the local butchers falls away, they can no longer take the farmers' stock. The farmers then have to send their stock to the railways, which refuse to carry it. Eventually both the farmers and the butchers have to knuckle down to the trust. The great power wielded by the trusts is exercised owing to their control of the means of transportation. They could not operate upon similar lines in the Commonwealth. Another evil influence is the enormous power wielded by the trades unions. These organizations have assumed gigantic proportions, owing, in the first instance, to the overbearing disposition of the trusts. The middle classes of the community, who do not belong to either the trusts or to the trade unions, are gradually being ground between the upper and the nether millstone. The Attorney-General, in his very able and clear address last night, did not appear to 'be on very sound ground when he stated that we could deal with trusts operating within a single State. He seemed' to put that view forward with some hesitation, but was perfectly sure of his footing when he told us that the Commonwealth had authority to deal with trusts whose operations extended over more than one State. It is of no use for us to curb the operations of outside monopolies, if internal monopolies are to be allowed to carry on without hindrance. The position appears to me to be an anomalous one. The AttorneyGeneral stated with perfect clearness that we could not interfere with an individual monopolist. Therefore, whilst two persons joined in a monopoly could be dealt with, they could dissolve partnership, and, by carrying on operations separately, place themselves beyond the pale of the law. The prohibition of importations might lead to undesirable results, because limitation is the very essence of monopoly. This matter presents itself in another aspect. Last year we heard a great deal about Imperial reciprocity. It was suggested that we should enter into an arrangement for a mutually beneficial interchange of goods between Australia and the old country. The late Mr. Seddon, when he acceded to the wishes of the manufacturers of New Zealand, provided not only for their protection, but also for preference to British manufacturers. It seems to me that if any country outside Australia will suffer as the result of this legislation, it will not be the United States, in which labour is highly paid, but Great Britain, where wages are lower, the hours of work longer, and the conditions of labour generally are far below our standard. In America high wages are paid, perfect methods of working are adopted, and the very best plants are employed. I had the privilege of inspecting the Deering implement factory, and I was amazed at the splendid manner in which the work was marshalled. Every man was employed on piece-work, and was working very hard.

Mr Webster - I suppose they were going like lightning.

Mr McCOLL - Yes, they were hustling, a good deal. The honorable member and his friends do not like that kind of thing. They prefer to take it easy. It is important for us to consider how the proposed legislation would affect our relations with the old country. I should like to know how the Treasurer, who has recently been to England, and who, while there, worthily upheld Australian interests, views this proposal. How can he vote for such a measure when he must know that, if its provisions are strictly carried into effect, British manufacturers will be excluded from our markets. The cry " Australia for the Australians " seems to me to be an unworthy one. It would be a worthy one if we extended it as the Prime Minister once, did, but does no longer, to " Australia for the Australians, and for the Empire." The cries "America for the Americans" and " Germany for the Germans " are all right. Those are self-contained countries, whereas we are merely the offshoot of a great Empire. The spirit in which the cry " Australia for the Australians " is sometimes uttered seems to me to savour very much of disloyalty. It is to be noted that the anti-trust legislation in the United States did not originate in the national Parliament. It sprang from the States, and for many years no attempt was made by the national Parliament to deal with monopolies and trusts. The first efforts at legislation in this direction were directed not so much at commerce as at transportation. The subject was a very difficult one, because the trusts, owing to their great wealth, were able to command the State Parliaments, and also a majority in the national Congress. They were thus able to burke discussion and prevent anything from being done to checkmate them.

Mr Mauger - Does not the honorable member think it would be wise for us to prevent any such conditions from arising here ?

Mr McCOLL - No such condition of affairs is likely to arise here, and we must be careful that the remedy does not prove worse than the disease. Anti-trust legislation has been passed in twenty-two States. The first Act was passed in Georgia in 1877. No further measures were brought forward in any of the States until 1889, when thirteen States passed anti-trust laws. In 1890 five additional States entered upon antitrust legislation, and in 189 1 two others did the same thing. The first Federal Act was passed in the latter year. If we are to check trusts and combines, the Federal and the State Parliaments must work hand in hand. Otherwise the Federal authorities will find themselves powerless to deal with certain combinations operating in a single State to the detriment of the public. It is provided in the Bill that competition shall be regarded as unfair if it will tend to lower the standard of wages here. I should like to know who is going to fix the standard of wages. Are we to adopt the standard of the Trades Hall, or are we to appoint a Board which will fix a fair wage? Something should be done to define the conditions of labour that are to be maintained, and also to fix the prices to be charged for the goods made by our own people. I believe that it would be very much better to effect the object which Ministers have in view by imposing fair duties, instead of leaving the matter to be dealt with by an individual, or a Board, whose decisions might be beyond control, and might work great harm to the community. If we are to make any progress as an industrial community, we must keep our machinery and plant thoroughly up-to-date. If we rely entirely upon our own people in this regard, they will notprove equal to the situation. Themajority of the people of Australia are protectionists, but, alt the same time, are not in favour of very high duties. They will support only reasonable duties. In 1891, the late Sir Graham Berry, who was then Treasurer of Victoria, introduced an extremely high Tariff. In a year or two, however, there was a strong revulsion of feeling, and in 1894 the duties were cut down by 20, 30, and 50 per cent. In the same way, if we impose very high duties, the people will resent them, and in the end our manufacturers will suffer as they did in Victoria. Under the Bill no stimulus would begiven to our manufacturers. What we should' do is to excite competition, and to stimulate our manufacturers to turn out goods that willbear comparison with the best of the world's products. If extremists have their way and our manufacturers can shelter themselves under a high Tariff, all competition will 'be bludgeoned if this Bill passes as it is introduced, and the people will have to pay dearly for goods of inferior quality. That was the experience in Victoria. Whilst I shall vote for the second reading of the Bill, I shall endeavour to secure a modification of its provisions so far as farming implements and machinery are concerned. I shall also invite honorable members to follow the methods adopted by the late Mr. Seddon in New Zealand, rather than those proposed in the Bill. I recognise that the measure is really one for discussion in Committee, and therefore Ishall not absorb any further time in debating its second reading.

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