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Thursday, 19 July 1906

Mr CROUCH (Corio) .- This is the first time during the present session that I have claimed the attention of the House on grievance day. I rise now to refer to a grievance which is almost five years old. It relates to the case of a lady who claims to be the designer of the Australian flag. It appears that at the exhibition organized by the Barton Government, at which the prize for the best design for an Australian flag was awarded, the exhibit of this lady, owing to some oversight, did not secure the recognition to which it was entitled. The name of the lady in question is Mrs. Rose Shankland Knight, wife of Mr. Andrew T. Knight, State-school teacher. Prior to the Government exhibition a competition was promoted by the Herald, and Mrs. Knight sent in the design of a flag which was identical in all respects with that subsequently adopted by the Commonwealth, on the advice of experts, as the national emblem. This design was shown by Mrs. Knight to Colonel Williams, editor of the Ballarat Courier, who commissioned his chief reporter, Mr. Cotton, to interview her, and subsequently, after the Australian flag had been selected bv the Barton Government, sent to compliment her. Mrs. Knight has written several letters asking that her claim, not for the money prize, but for the honour of being the designer of the Australian flag, should be recognised, but has received' no acknowledgment. She is able to produce, if desired bv the Government - and I presume that thev would like to ascertain who was really the designer of our national emblem - a .copy of the interview between herself and the reporter from the Ballarat Courier, as well as the notes made bv Mr. Cotton, and a communication from Colonel Williams, and also the evidence of people who know she sent in her design to the Herald competition Perhaps the best course I can pursue is to communicate with the Minister of External Affairs to see if he cannot acknowledge Mrs. Knight's claim to be the designer of the Australian flag.

Mr Ewing - Will the honorable and learned member give me the lady's name and address "later on.

Mr CROUCH - I shall do so.

Mr Ewing - Very well, I shall have the claim investigated.

Mr CROUCH - Another matter to which I desire to refer relates to the Department of Trade and Customs. In consequence of the number of hides and sheep skins now exported from the Commonwealth, many fellmongers here experienced great difficulty in finding employment at their trade. These exports have affected the fellmongery trade to such an extent that a lot of fellmongery yards and sheep skins basil factories have been closed. I do not know whether a remedy is to be found in the Anti-Trust Bill which has left our hands, or whether it is provided by a section of the Customs Act, which prohibits certain exports. I have no desire to interfere with our export trade, but in a matter of this kind we must have regard for the greatest good to the greatest number. When I find that the export of hides is assuming such large dimensions owing to the labour available for their treatment in foreign countries, being 50 per cent, cheaper than that obtainable here, I cannot help thinking that the matter is one of which the Department should take some notice. It appears that the hides exported from the Commonwealth in 1905 were of the value of £3,879,398, the exports from Victoria alone being of the value of £1,152,583. In 1901 the hands employed in the fellmongery trade totalled 1,831; in 1903 they had fallen away to 1,640, and in 1905 there were only 1,000 so employed. These figures show a decrease of 831 hands in less than five years. Let me give a few figures relating to the Geelong factories. It is from information supplied by the local men that I am able to present these statistics to the House. There were 745 men employed in the Geelong tanneries in 1899-1900, and now there are only 78. In Connor's tannery there used to be 30 hands ; there are now only three ; in's tannery there were 65 hands employed, there are now only 15 ; in the Australian Tannery Company's yards there were 60 men employed, there are now only 25 ; in Gardiner's tannery there were 30 hands employed, but there are now only 15; whilst Douglas and Company had fellmongery yards employing 60 men, but are now employing none in that branch of labour. The value of the leather manufactured in Victoria between 1899 and 1903 fell off to the extent of £77,512. A return furnished by . the Department shows that in the year's 1901-2-3, the Commonwealth exported 20,300,000 sheep skins, valued at £3,091,811, and 894,393 hides, valued at £787,587. In 1904, 4,338,962 sheep skins and hides, to the value of £100,610, were exported; whilst in I9°5» 7,52 I,000 sheep skins and 171,173 hides were shipped. To quote a writer, Mr. E. Plumridge, a great authority on this question -

These sheep skins and hides are exported to foreign countries, such as France, Germany, and Belgium. The wages paid in those countries averaging fully 50 per cent, less than in Australia, and the hours worked being very much longer.

It appears that the wages paid in Belgium average from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 2d. per day of ten hours, whilst the wages paid in Australia would be 6s. per day. In addition to these difficulties, the industry has to compete against the fact that these hides are taken as ballast in ships which are subsidized by foreign Governments. A bonus is also paid by these Governments to vessels conveying the largest number in a given time. I am told that some of these facts have been brought before the Tariff Commission.

Mr Fuller - We went thoroughly into the matter.

Mr CROUCH - I hope that there is a possibility of obtaining a report from the Commission which will give some satisfaction to the industry. Something needs to be done when out of twenty yards which were being used some years ago only six are now engaged in the industry. I find that other countries have met this difficulty. I myself wrote in reference to the subject, at the request of some of my constituents, to the Consul-General for the Argentine Republic in Sydney. I have not received a reply from him, but I have here a letter which .gives an account of an interview with the Consul for the Argentine in reference to the subject. The letter is from the manager of the Australasian Leather Trades Review. He says -

Dear Sir, - In accordance with your request, I interviewed the Consul for the Argentine Republic, and although he is not in a position to fully answer the questions contained in your letter, the following information relative to the export duty on hides, skins, and wool, and the average prices realized for those articles, should be of interest. By the Tariff regulations of the Argentine Republic, the price for adjusting duties on cow hides is fixed at 6£d. per lb., and the export tax is id. per lb. On salted hides the duty is £d. per lb. Sheep skins (lambs, dirty and washed, in whatever condition, quality, or price), are valued for the Tariff purposes at Mr. James Munday, Mr. Palmer, and yourself .

I am told that the imposition of these export duties has not had the effect of decreasing the price of skins at the place of shipment. The duty has been paid by the exporter. If that be so, seeing that our fellmongers have lost their employment, and that the tanners have suffered so largely, I think that the Government might give favorable consideration to the proposal to impose an export duty. That could be done, in my belief, without injury or loss of price to those who export skins, whilst it would give employment to a large body of men who otherwise would materially suffer. It is a great national question to which at a later time I hope the House will give full and just consideration.

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