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Thursday, 1 September 1921

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - If the proposals of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in his -policy speech at Bendigo were compared with the present action of the Government, it would be a puzzle to find out what sympathy or consideration is being shown to the primary producers. I have failed to discover a vestige of it. We were told, in the first place, that an interest had been acquired in Nauru as the result of bargaining, and that the island was to be under the triple control of Great Britain, New Zealand, and the Commonwealth. We were told that the island was a valuable possession, and that, as a result of the interests which the Commonwealth had acquired, the farmers of this country would be able to obtain a cheapand plentiful supply of superphosphates. What is happening now? In what way is the product of this island being handled and turned to account? Was not Australia's interest in Nauru given as a prize to the Prime Minister? As a result of our interest in Nauru, superphosphates will now be dearer.

Senator Pearce - What proof has the honorable senator of that?

Senator Bolton - On what grounds do you make that statement?

Senator LYNCH - Was not Nauru set down as a prize for the Prime Minister at the Peace Conference? Now that we have an interest in the island, the farmers, instead of being supplied with cheap manure, will be asked to shoulder an additional burden.

Senator Pearce - That is a wild assertion.

Senator LYNCH - I challenge and defy the Minister to deny that it was not said that Nauru was acquired as a means whereby the wheat farmers would be able to obtain supplies cheaper than they had been doing in the past.

Senator Bolton - That is a fact.

Senator Pearce - I do not deny that. I reaffirm it. The honorable senator's statement was that, as a result of our interest in Nauru, superphosphate will be dearer.

Senator LYNCH - We know the slim and wily way in which argument can be conducted, and that is how the matter is being handled at the Ministerial table. We were told that the raw material which comes from Nauru and Ocean Islands would be available at a lower rate, and the farmers are now justified in asking what has become of the promise of the Government. It is up to the Government to " deliver the goods." If there is to be any increase in the price of artificial manures, many of the farmers will have to leave their holdings.

Senator Pearce - But there has been no increase.

Senator LYNCH - Here is a proposal for a duty of 25 per cent.

Senator Pearce - But there has been no increase in price.

Senator Plain - Since the Government have been interested in the island of Nauru, the price has gone up 20s. a ton.

Senator LYNCH - Why was there not an increase in price during the war period ? Will the Minister tell us that?

Senator Pearce - There has been an increase owing to the higher freights and increases in wages.

Senator LYNCH - The price has gone from £4 to £6 per ton.

Senator Pearce - My statement was that the local manufacturers had not increased their prices to the extent of those Vuling outside Australia.

Senator LYNCH - There was a slight increase.

Senator Pearce - Yes.

Senator LYNCH - Why was there not a greater increase such as there was in New Zealand ? What is the reason ? If the Minister does not know, I shall tell him. It was because some manufacturers came to the Government, and made arrangements whereby the raw material was to be taken at the Government expense - which means the expense of the taxpayers of the Commonwealth - to the factories where it was to be treated. Notwithstanding this, the Minister is endeavouring to give credit to the manufacturers; but thanks should be tendered to the general taxpayers, who have had to shoulder the burden.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator say that?

Senator LYNCH - Yes; the stuff was brought down in Government ships at rates far below those ruling at the time.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator has been misinformed. The Government charged the usual freight on those contracts.

Senator LYNCH - Does the Minister seriously say so?

Senator Pearce - I do.

Senator Earle - The honorable senator is relying on his imagination for his facts.

Senator LYNCH - I am saying that the Government agreed to carry the raw material at a stipulated price.

Senator Pearce - Certainly.

Senator LYNCH - It was in the neighbourhood of 30s. per ton, which, compared with the ruling freights, was far below what others had to pay. These vessels were flung in the way to assist the manufacturers, who now have the audacity to say that they did not increase their prices. If they did not, it was because the raw material was brought to them below cost price. My statement rests on the fact that raw material was brought down at a lower figure than other ship-owners would carry it.

Senator Pearce - That does not prove that it was carried below cost price.

Senator LYNCH - I challenge the Minister to contradict my statement that the material was not carried at a lower price than other shipping companies would carry it.

Senator Foster - If the Government did that, they were helping the primary producers.

Senator LYNCH - I am dealing with the statement that the manufacturers did not increase the price.

Senator Foster - I thought the honorable senator was blaming the Government for increasing the price after acquiring a measure of control over Nauru.

Senator LYNCH - The manufacturers are claiming credit for a virtue they never possessed, and there is no need for the Minister to endeavour to bolster them up at the expense of my intelligence. The proposal now is to impose a duty of 25 per cent., and that figures out to the farmers at something in the neighbourhood of ls. per acre.

Senator Senior - Then the honorable senator is against Senator Wilson ?

Senator LYNCH - Yes; he mentioned a different figure. The price of superphosphate is going up to the extent of the protection that is now being afforded. Twenty-five per cent, to-day is equal to 30s. a ton, which means 2s. 6d. a bag. A bag contains 180 lbs., and as it takes, even on rich soil, 60 lbs. per acre, onethird of a bag at 2s. 6d. would be 10d., and that is what the price will increase per acre. I am givingaway too much. Here is a proposal to add virtually ls. per acre to the cost of cultivating wheat lands. Would the Government dare to bring down a land tax of ls. per acre?

We know that they would not, but that is the effect of what they are proposing now.

Senator Earle - The honorable senator will persist in saying that the duty will increase the price of the article.

Senator LYNCH - Senator Earle threw out his chest like Ajax defying the lightning, and said he was prepared to face any primary producer in the country. We know that he does not come from a wheat-growing State, and, like the manufacturers of superphosphates, he is claiming credit for a virtue which he also does not possess. Normally, the honorable senator makes valuable contributions to our debates; but he comes from a State that is not a wheat-growing State, and it is the wheat-growing States that will feel the pinch of this duty.

Senator Gardiner - The fruit-growers of Tasmania require a good deal of this article.

Senator LYNCH - They do, but not to the same extent as wheat-growers. Superphosphate is essentially a wheat land fertilizer. It is the four wheatproducing States that are most concerned in this matter. I return to my figures, and I say that this impost is in the neighbourhood of from10d. to ls. per acre; and I again ask whether the Government would have the hardihood to come down with a proposal for a land tax of ls. per acre on top of the taxation already existing. If they did, they would be kicked from the Treasury bench quick and lively by the primary producers of this country, and rightly so. How many forms of duty is the wheatgrower called upon already to bear under this Tariff? This is the last straw to press him into the earth, and I say it is not a fair thing. What is the other side of the picture? Is there any warrant for the proposed duty? Here are two companies established in this country without a duty.

Senator Pearce - There are eleven companies manufacturing this article.

Senator LYNCH - That only makes my argument stronger. I am concerned chiefly with two companies that bulk more largely than any others, whose industries were established without a penny piece of protection. I know that in 1908 those interested in these companies came with the same story, looking for a duty. I do not blame them when they know the Government's chaotic policy for preventing progress by the imposition of outrageous and unasked-for duties; but I say- that their industries were established without protection. I commend the enterprise and skilful management that enabled that to be done. But it was done without a penny piece of protection against even Japanese imports. These industries are thriving to-day, and apparently are paying a handsome return on the capital invested in them. is it a fair thing that we should give these companies an increased duty? I know that they would not ask for it if it were not that a duty was passed the other day in the interests of those producing sulphur in Tasmania. But was the Tasmanian company established for the purpose of extracting or manufacturing sulphur? Of course, we know it was not, and we know, also, that the farmers must pay this taxation. As Bacon said, " You cannot contend coldly for what you believe earnestly," and I am quite at a loss to account for the action of the Government in this matter. They agreed, in the first place, to a duty ; then they decided that there should be no duty; and now they ask the Committee to start the ball rolling and to impose this tax on the primary producer. Will he regard the Senate in a friendly light if this proposal is agreed to? He will be possessed of a higher nature than the average of human beings if he does so.. On the contrary, he will regard the Senate, as an institution designed specially to impose a load of constant taxation on him. All the rhetoric of honorable senators to the contrary, this means a tax on primary production. I want to. know why it should be proposed. I have heard all the talk indulged in about motor cars, and so on. But though you may see one farmer using a motor ear, you will see 100 using a rickety old spring cart or sulky. Bacon said that a man always marks a hit, and never a miss, and in the same way, in connexion with Tattersalls sweeps, we hear of the man who wins, but we hear nothing of the scores of thousands who lose. In common with Senator Plain, I make an appeal on behalf of the men who have been driven on to the drier and lighter soils of Australia. By virtue of their native industry and physical powers, they are making those lighter and dryer soils productive, and to pile on extra taxation upon those men is selfish, unreasonable, and unpatriotic in the extreme. Honorable senators have not the slightest consideration for the men who are so situated.

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