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Thursday, 1 September 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) '. - No item, in the Tariff has given me more anxiety than this has. A few years ago, during the war, I had a long conversation with Mr. Wilkinson, the Commonwealth Analyst. We were dis cussing by-products, and he pointed out that Australia was not producing some by-products which other nations were. He then made a remark which had a great influence upon me. He said that if the British Navy had not kept open the route between Australia and Great Britain, we would not have got supplies of certain ingredients for the making of lithofacteur - dynamite - and, as a consequence, every metalliferous and coal mine in Australia would have been obliged to close down. When I repeated that conversation subsequently to Senator Watson, now ex-Senator Watson, he said that Mr. Wilkinson was not quite right in saying that' all the coal mines would be obliged to close down, because under certain circumstances some of them could still be worked, but the coal won would be extremely expensive, and the quantity produced would be very small in comparison with the normal output. These remarks indicated to me that, should we ever be engaged in war in the future, we must take no risks, and I came to the conclusion that we ought to be in a position to manufacture in Australia, even regardless of expense, explosives and iron and steel. There are many commodities which it is not of much importance from a national stand-point to make in Australia. For instance, we have heard a great deal of pianos to-day. I hope that the piano-making industry will continue in Australia and be successful, but from a national stand-point it would not make much difference in war time if pianos were made here or not. On the other hand, it is a matter of national importance to have explosives made here, not only for the purpose of enabling us to carry on warlike operations, but also so that our coal mines and metalliferous mines may be worked. Had it not been for the conversations I have narrated I would not have hesitated a moment- upon this item ; my vote would have been given to make explosives free. Having come to the conclusion that it is of vital importance to make explosives ourselves, I began to look round to see how this desired result could be brought about. There are quite a number of ways in which explosives can be made in Australia. First of all, I suppose Senator Gardiner will contend that they can be made under Free Trade conditions, but the Committee has already decided over and over again that certain industries - piano making, for instance - cannot be carried on without protection. Then there is the bounty system referred to by Senator Lynch, and there is a good deal to be said in favour of it, just as I might claim that if a bonus were given to the timber getters of Western Australia the Broken Hill mines might be saved from being penalized by the increased timber duties. However, I will not stress that point. The question of nationalizing the industry is one that should also be considered; but the most vital thing of all is to be able to manufacture explosives of a satisfactory quality, so that we would not be dependent on outside sources of supply during a period of war. I was very much interested ki the remarks of Senator Henderson, who can speak with authority on mining, concerning the danger of using an inferior article. If the honorable senator's statement is correct, those who are .advocating increased duties to protect the Australian industry cannot expect very much support. Before this item is disposed of, I think we should be supplied with the names of the companies using the Australian product, and the quantities supplied, and told whether there have been any fatal accidents in consequence. I can speak with some authority on mining as I have worked in the tin mines of Cornwall, the silver mines of Mexico, and the lead mines of Broken Hill, and, as a result of my association with miners, I am able to say that they are very conservative, and hesitate about changing from an article which they understand to one which they do not. ' Before dynamite was introduced into the Cornish mines, powder was used, and it was a long time before the miners were convinced that the former was in every way preferable. If satisfactory answers can be given to the point I have raised, I shall be prepared to support higher duties; but if there is a danger, as Senator Henderson suggests, in using locally-made explosives, we should not only oppose the imposition of higher duties; but, if we have the power, prohibit the use of the local product, because lives of men should not be endangered in order to build up an industry. If it is necessary to manufacture explosives in Australia, I do not think the cost should be taken into consideration. I understand that the coal miners really do not pay for the dynamite they use, although prospectors have to do so. Under a New South Wales award the coal miners in that State have to receive 13s. 4d. per day. If they take a contract to extract coal from, a " face," at the end of a week or a fortnight, whenever payment is due, the value of the dynamite, fuse, and candles used is deducted. If their earnings do not amount to 13s. 4d. per day over that period the difference is made up.

Senator de Largie - If they made 14s. per day they would have to,, pay.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But they would receive payment at the rate I have stated.

Senator de Largie - Only when under the standard wage.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When the men go to work it is on .the understanding that these costs will be taken into consideration, so that they shall receive a certain amount. I do not think it can be said that the coal miners in New South Wales are labouring under any disadvantages in this respect. The metalliferous mines in Western Australia and elsewhere, to which. Senator Lynch has referred, would have to close down if they were not paying ; but prospectors who are searching for minerals on their own account would be compelled to meet the extra cost if the price of explosives were increased. I believe that if the Australian industry is to be properly developed, and becomes firmly established, certain ingredients used in the manufacture of explosives will still have to be imported. If the Committee decides to impose higher duties our requests will have to go to another place for acceptance, and during that time those who are . supporting higher rates should prove that the Australian explosives do not endanger the lives of the men as has been suggested. If they do, their use should be prohibited.

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