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Thursday, 1 September 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) .- The rates upon pianos, as originally proposed by the Government, were, respectively, 30 per cent., 40 per cent., and 45 per cent. An amendment was inserted elsewhere, however, reducing the rates to 20 per cent., 30 per cent., and 35 per cent. I intend to request the re-insertion of the rates as they first appeared in the schedule. I now move -

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the ad val. duty, sub-item (a), general, 45 per cent.

The Government consider that the duties decided upon elsewhere are inconsistent in a Protectionist Tariff. They are not now protective; they are simply productive of high revenues.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Does not a duty of 35 per cent, give protection?

Senator PEARCE - Its imposition will not effectively protect the' Australian piano manufacturing industry, but will open it up to competition with cheap Continental instruments. Numbers of honorable senators have visited factories in which Australian pianos are made. They will agree that these places would be a credit to any country. The works employ a very fine type of artisan, and utilize Australian materials almost entirely. I refer especially to the employment of Australian timbers. The Australian makers turn out a piano of which this country has no reason to be ashamed.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - And they charge a jolly good price, too.

Senator PEARCE - Only such a price as enables the makers to carry on with reasonable profit. What country would be our principal competitor if protection were not afforded? Germany, without doubt. The industry was pre-eminently a German one prior to the war. It was the war, and the effect of the Australian Tariff, which gave the local industry an opportunity to become established. Germany, to-day, is preparing to attack and regain the Australian market. Any reduction of the rates of duty, therefore, would be tantamount to an invitation to the foreign makers to recover the Australian trade.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Are the Government prepared to re-impose the general duty, but to reduce the preferential rates?

Senator PEARCE - No ! Great Britain will be given preference to the extent of 15 per cent, over, Germany. British makers are largely to blame, by reason of their own negligence and bad commercial practices, for having lost the piano trade to Germany.

Senator Keating - Have not the British piano factories recently sustained a severe financial blow, so that numbers of well-known firms have had to cease their activities?

Senator PEARCE - That is so; and it is due to the revival of the Continental trade. Australia is giving substantial preference to Great Britain; but our first duty is to our own interests. Very few industries employ such a large proportion of adult skilled labour. In most of our factories there are to be found a few skilled hands, and a great proportion of unskilled and, often, juvenile labour. In our piano factories, however, practically every employee - young or old - must possess some degree of special skill and knowledge.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.

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