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Tuesday, 8 June 1926

Senator REID (Queensland) .- Although Senator McLachlan said that it would be useless for the Queensland local governing bodies to approach the Minister with a request for reduced duties on road-making machinery, it is rather significant that I, as a representative of that State, which has just embarked on an extensive roads programme, have not received such a request. As a Protectionist, I realize that it is necessary to manufacture roadmaking and cement-making machinery in the Commonwealth, and at the same time to do everything possible to improve our Australian roads. After having travelled over many miles of Australian roads, I believe those in Queensland are worse than those in any. other part of the Commonwealth. A great deal has been said concerning the machinery employed in road-making ; but let us consider the facts. Many of the local governing bodies do not possess road rollers, which are most important in construction work. Since the higher protective duties have been in force the local manufacturers have reduced their prices. Imported road-making machinery can now be landed in Australia at 1^ per cent, above the price f.o.b. London. A good deal of the road-making plant in use in Queensland and Victoria is controlled by a Roads Board, or similar body, and as it can be moved from place to place it is employed throughout the year. According to the Chamber of Manufactures, there are 20 factories in Australia manufacturing road-making machinery in which over 1,000 men are employed, and the locallymade machinery is equal to any that is imported. From information in my possession it appears that the cost of road.rollers has been reduced by 7 per cent., and that of a small oil engine used in connexion with road-rollers by 10 to 15 per cent. One firm has designed a special machine which will reduce the working time of a certain operation bv 50 per cent. Prior to the introduction of the present tariff schedule the plant of this firm was working up to only 75 per cent, or its capacity, but is now working a night shift in order to complete its orders. Additions are also being made to the plant in order to cope with the business that is offering. Those conversant with the engineering trade in Great Britain know that owing to the shipbuilding slump engineers have been compelled to seek foi employment in other directions. The engineering trade in Great Britain is stagnant, but in Australia, owing to the protection "iven to our industries, it is flourishing. Senator Kingsmill, in his customary inquiring manner wished to know what was meant by "a class or kind not commercially manufactured in Australia." The Tariff Board has been appointed to inquire into the capacity of Australian firms to commercially manufacture any article. It is quite an impersonal body, it has no interest in one firm or another, and its sole duty is to afford reasonable protection to Australian manufacturers. As part of its duties it is required to ascertain if those manufacturers can produce an article at a fair value to the people of Australia. I take that to be an answer to the question raised by Senator Kingsmill. The fact that, after making due inquiries, and after sifting the evidence placed before it, the board has recommended an increased duty ou roadmaking machines is sufficient for me. In another place an effort was made to have the duty reduced, but, after a long discussion, a proposal to reduce it was defeated by 30 votes to 20. This should not influence the decision of the Senate in any way, but do honorable senators imagine that we could persuade another place to go back on its previous decision in this respect ? In another place the question was discussed from a parochial stand-point, just as honorable senators have been discussing it.

Senator McLachlan - Does the honorable senator call road making a parochial matter.

Senator REID - No. I am commenting on the parochial stand-point taken up by some protectionists. Because Senator Needham has been overwhelmed by correspondence from Western Australia to do a' certain thing, he has set out to do it. That is approaching the consideration of the tariff from a parochial stand-point. I know that the local governing bodies in the States, like every one else who is pinched by the tariff, are quite keen in their effort to have the duty on roadmaking machines reduced. When considering Customs duties one cannot be logical or consistent. One must use common sense, and go ahead despite the consequence. In Queensland I am quite willing to stand the consequence if the proposed duty leads to an increase in the price of road-making machinery. But I do not think it will retard road-making. If I thought it would, I should vote to admit road-making machinery free, because one can hardly realize how great a part road-making plays in the development of Australia; but I cannot see how an extra 7½ per cent, duty will retard it. The principal cost is in the construction material used, metal and cement, and the labour employed. The machinery used lasts for years. An extra 7$ per cent, on a machine that will last for twenty years is not worth worrying about in calculating the cost of making a road. No State is so far behind in road development as Queensland, but I can support the Minister with a clear conscience. I shall vote against Senator Needham's amendment because I do not think that even if the duty were reduced as he suggests it would make any difference to the development of the Commonwealth by road construction. I regret that gentle pressure has been brought to bear on the protectionist Leader of the Labour party in the Senate to induce him to ask for a reduction of the duties as recommended by the Tariff Board, after hearing all the evidence. Road-making machinery is being made in Australia, and is steadily being improved. With the competition of the twenty firms already in existence the price is likely to be reduced. I see no reason why we should not allow the inventive genius of Australians to be applied to the manufacture of improved machinery which will lead, not only to the speedier development of the Commonwealth, but also to a reduction in price.

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