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Thursday, 1 September 1921

Senator PLAIN (Victoria)

Much could be said of the necessity or otherwise of imposing duties on superphosphate, but it must be admitted that the soils of Australia must be treated with this product. Every year settlers are compelled by sheer force of circumstances to go further and further back on to the " thin " land in our agricultural areas because the good land has gradually been taken over for sheep farming and dairying. Wheat-growing is essential to the prosperity of our country, and those who are taking up poorer land are shouldering a great responsibility, but are assisting by the development of the country and the production of cereals to increase our exports, and thus reduce our public indebtedness. Being a farmer it is my intention to assist the farmers in getting their manure as cheaply as possible. We do not desire manufacturers to be philanthropists, and dispose of their products at a price which does not pay; but, after the statement of the Minister (Senator Pearce), it is difficult for us to conceive what the real object of the Government is, and whether they desire to protect only the manufacturer of superphosphates and the makers of sulphuric acid.

Senator Pearce - We desire to assist both.

Senator PLAIN - Sulphuric acid is essential in the manufacture of explosives. We endeavoured to impose duties on explosives to give the iocal companies greater protection, but on top of that a request is now submitted which gives them further assistance, but means that the farmers must pay 25 per cent, more for fertilizers to meet the demands of the acid manufacturers. It is not fair to honorable senators or to the farmers to submit this request.

Senator Payne - How does the honorable senator arive at the 25 per cent.?

Senator PLAIN - That is the rate the Minister mentioned. Twenty years ago Japanese superphosphates were coming into Australia, and the price at that time was about £4 5s. or £4 10s. per ton. Japanese manure, according to analyses, was slightly superior to the Australian product; but at that time the Australian manufacturer was able to drive the Japanese product off the Australian market, and, consequently, they have lost our trade. The price at that time was as I have mentioned, but to-day we are paying about £6 per ton, and I understand the strength of the local product has been reduced by 2 units, which is equal to 5s. or 6s. per ton. I admit that it is necessary to protect these industries from dumping, and I understand that the Government intend introducing an anti-dumping Bill. I am sure that no one is in favour of foreign products being dumped here to the detriment of Australian manufacturers.

Senator Payne - Will not this be equivalent to anti-dumping legislation?

Senator PLAIN - It may be; but to the farmer it is a very different proposition. We should take info consideration the position of settlers in Western Australia, where there are vast tracts of arid land awaiting development, and of those in New South Wales and in Queensland. Even the banana-growers in the last-mentioned State have informed me that they use 3 cwt. to 7 cwt. of superphosphates per acre to manure their little plots. The same thing applies throughout the State. When I find representatives of the farmers in another place informing the people that the farmers are themselves about to start a manufactory for the production of the manure they require, and to make it a success without protection, how can I, who claim to some extent to represent the interests of the farmers, ask the Government to impose a duty of 25 per cent. ? I will concede the right to the protection of an anti-dumping measure. It is my intention to submit a request that the duties shall be, per ton, British, free; intermediate,1s.; general, ls. If such a request is carried it will lead to reconsideration of the matter in another place, where the Government can give reasons for the imposition of a duty of 25 per cent, and take responsibility for carrying their proposal. It is not reasonable that another place should turn down a proposal for the imposition of a duty and then ask the Senate to impose a duty because they were afraid to do so themselves.. In another place honorable members did not ask for protection, and asked that sulphur should be admitted free. In this Chamber the Government proposed a duty on sulphur, in my opinion, for the purpose of forcing the Committee to impose a duty on superphosphates.

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