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Thursday, 1 September 1921

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) . - I. am very sorry that I cannot accept the Commonwealth Analyst as an expert on wool. I have never heard of an analyst who was an expert on wool. The Minister (Senator Pearce) is evidently labouring under a misapprehension in saying that coarse wool is cheaper than kapok. There are wools and wools. As I have frequently pointed out in this Chamber, coarse crossbred and Lincoln wool is practically unsaleable to-day; its price is as low as 2 1/2 d. or per lb., but that is not the class of wool required for stuffing mattresses. The most suitable wool for that purpose is what we call crossbred noils. After the wool is combed, there are certain short pieces of wool called, in the trade, noils, which the combing mills in this country find it very difficult to dispose of. Similarly our crossbred, lambs, and pieces are very difficult to dispose of, and they are suitable, after the necessary preparation, for this industry. The average price of the quality of wool most suitable for stuffing mattresses is 6d. per lb. in the greasy state, and the yield of that class of wool after clean scouring is about 60 per cent., so that the bone-dry scoured article can be valued at lOd. per lb. in the raw state. The scouring costs 2d. per lb., and the teasing another Id. or 2d. per lb., so that, when these items are added, the actual cost of the commodity which is to compete against kapok is, on the -present low price of wool, from ls. Id. to ls. 2d. per lb.

Senator Pearce - On your own showing you' do not need a duty of 6d. per lb.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - But Senator Duncan has pointed out that a greater quantity of wool than of kapok is required to stuff a mattress, that is if people demand the same bulk. It is estimated that it is 40 per cent, more, but I think that it is not so much as that. As the present price of kapok c.i.f. is lOd. per lb., a duty of at least 4d. per lb. would be required to put the Australian article, grown by white people, and handled from the time it is grown until the mattress is made and stuffed, by Australian white people, working under Australian conditions and wages, on an equal footing with the imported kapok grown by black labour in Java, and landed here at the price I have mentioned. The pre-war price of kapok was 4-Jd. per lb.

Senator Pearce - The Customs figures show that the pre-war price was 6|d. per lb.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I know that kapok was landed in Australia at 4 1/2 d per lb. and bought at that price by people who stuff mattresses. If the price of kapok fell to 8d. per lb., we would still require a duty of 6d. to give the local woollen mattress maker a slight advantage. We produce 2,000,000 bales of wool per annum, and it is very difficult to get a market for the very classes of wools which would be used in stuffing mattresses.

Senator Pearce - The people will not use wool in mattresses.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Woollen mattresses have been in use in Great Britain and Europe for the last 100 years.

Senator Pearce - In cold countries.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Wool, being an animal substance, is a non-conductor of heat or cold, and therefore is warmer in winter and cooler in summer than kapok, which is a vegetable substance. Wool is also non-inflammable, whereas kapok is very inflammable. Medical men will tell us that the woollen mattress is much healthier than the kapok mattress.

Senator Pearce - The Commonwealth Analyst says exactly the opposite.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I do not care a rap about what he says ; he knows nothing aboutwool. Here is a case where we want to do something not only to improve the health of the people, but also to encourage the use of our own product against kapok grown by blacks on land owned by the Dutch in Java. Why should we not use Australian wool? We have a glut of wool, and we are looking all over the world for fresh avenues in which to sell it, more particularly those qualities of crossbred pieces, second pieces, and lamb's wool, which are eminently suitable for the stuffing of mattresses. The Minister also made the statement that wool will felt. Short crossbred wools, when properly scoured and teased, will not felt. By encouraging the manufacture of woollen mattresses we shall be building up an Australian activity, and finding another outlet for the product of a staple industry, even if we should at first sight appear to be making the people's bedding a trifle dearer. It should not be forgotten that the life of a woollen mattress is at least three times that of a kapok mattress ; it is much cheaper, therefore, in the long run. A woollen mattress is safer ; it is also warmer in winter and cooler in summer. I cannot understand the attitude of the Minister (Senator Pearce). He bases his views upon the opinions of some departmental chemist who knows no more about wool than my boot. The firms locally manufacturing woollen mattresses are just establishing themselves. They have scarcely had an opportunity to place their production before the public; otherwise, it would be widely favoured. The reason why the woollen mattress has not previously been placed upon the local market is that the proper class of wool has never before been so cheap. But, just now, when the industry is being built up, the Government prefer to discourage it, and to favour a product from Java. The proposed duty of 6d. is very moderate. The local manufacturers originally asked for 9d. ; but I went into the whole matter most carefully in order to arrive at what would be a fair thing; and I now urge the Minister to agree to 6d. Why should a duty of 40 per cent. be imposed upon hair for stuffing mattresses and kapok be permitted to come in free? In any case I am asking for only the same rate, practically.

Senator Pearce - No; the honorable senator desires" an imposition equivalent to 60 per cent.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Upon present values the rates are pretty nearly the same. The Dutch will be pouring in their kapok at about 8d. per lb. for a while in order to crush their new Australian competitor; but until they feared this competition they were charging as high as ls. 2d.

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