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Thursday, 1 September 1921

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for Defence) .- This little proposition would mean taxing, the bedding of the people of Australia to the extent of £150,000 a year. Do not let us humbug ourselves with the idea that woollen mattresses would come into use. To-day coarse wool is cheaper than kapok, and why are people not using woollen mattresses?

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Coarse wool in the scoured and teased state is not cheaper than kapok.

Senator PEARCE - Will Senator Guthrie say that this coarse wool cannot be bought for less, than 10½d. per lb. today?

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - In its prepared state wool suitable for mattresses cannot be bought at that price.

Senator PEARCE - The honorable senator has frequently told us that coarse wool is unsaleable, and that the most it will realize is 2d. per lb.; but, when it suits his argument, wool suddenly increases in value. The fact remains that the price of coarse wool, which would be used for these mattresses, is not above a fifth of the price of kapok, and yet it is not used for the purpose of making mattresses. Why not? Because the people prefer kapok mattresses, especially in the warmer parts of the Commonwealth, where woollen mattresses would be insufferable. Kapok is not used out of a pure spirit of contrariness. It possesses certain qualities, which wool has not, that makes it eminently suitable for mattresses. I will quote the opinion of Mr. Wilkinson, the Commonwealth Analyst, who was asked for a report upon this proposal, which had been made to the Department by Senator Duncan. In his report, he says -

The fact is generally accepted by the bedding trade that the public prefer a kapok mattress to a wool mattress, even if the kapok costs more. It is common knowledge' that kapok is odourless, and, unlike wool, it does not retain odours. Kapok does not felt under the combined effect of heat, moisture, and pressure. Wool, unless exceedingly, coarse in the fibre, will always felt, more or less, under the above conditions, and the cleaner the wool is scoured the more liable it becomes to felt under the conditions above mentioned. From a hygienic aspect, no objection whatever can be taken to kapok.

Before the war the price of kapok was 6½d. per lb. c.i.f. Its present price is 10d. per lb. c.i.f. The duty proposed would represent a tax of £150,000 per annum on the mattresses used by the people of Australia. Senator Duncan says, " Why not use our own kapok?" Is he not aware that this Tariff operates against New Guinea, and that any kapok coming from that Territory would have to pay this duty, which represents something in the neighbourhood of 65 per cent, on the present price of kapok. It would be absolutely the highest duty in the Tariff.

Senator Payne - Except that on . clothes pegs.

Senator PEARCE - I do not think Senator Duncan has fully realized the effect of his. proposal. From a Protection stand-point, one could not justify ' such an impost. At any rate, it would not cause the use of a single lb. of wool more than is being used to-day. If all the mattresses of Australia were stuffed with wool, it would mean utilizing only an infinitesimal portion of the wool produced by us, but at the same time would make kapok mattresses dearer to the people of Australia. For these reasons the Government cannot accept the request.

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