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Thursday, 14 May 1936

Senator LECKIE (Victoria) . - I would not have participated in this debate had it been restricted to the suggestion that the general tariff should be reduced from 60 per cent. to 50 per cent. In asking for an additional 10 per cent. bargaining margin, the Government has made a reasonable request. Personally, I am not concerned whether the duty is 50 per cent. or 60 per cent., and I do not think that the Australian Glass Manufac turers Company Limited is very much concerned either. The Government, however, says that it would like to have an extra margin of 10 per cent., and if it believes that this will enable it to bargain on a better basis, I see no reason why the committee should oppose its proposal. This debate has developed into a general denunciation of the Australian Glass Manufacturers Company Limited, which has been represented as a vast monopoly, controlled by one or two men, who are exploiting the people of Australia. What are the facts? This industry has grown up within the last twenty years from very small beginnings. The Government has taken the British duty of 25 per cent. right off the main item, which covers bottles, flasks, earthenware and glass. It cannot possibly go further in this direction,unless it is to pay a bonus to importers on their importations! The Australian Glass Manufacturers Company Limited, has already reduced the prices of the articles covered by the main item on glass. In the last twenty years it has developed into a huge successful organization, having a capital to-day of £2,000,000. However, instead of being in the hands of a few people who are exploiting the community, it is a public company in which the shareholders number 2,900. It gives employment to over 4,000 workers, to whom it pays annually in wages £700,000. The company, therefore, is certainly worth encouraging. But so far as this particular amendment is concerned, I do not think the company is in the least perturbed as to whether the general tariff should be 50 or 60 per cent. ; the effect of any such alteration on importations of glass will be negligible. The Government, however, is entitled to ask for a greater bargaining margin in the negotiations it is now conducting with other countries, with the object of disposing of more of our primary products. Yet we find that the representatives of the primary producers in this chamber are opposed to giving the Government such a weapon to be used in the interests of the people on whose behalf they claim to speak. Apparently such honorable senators desire to see the Government left without any weapon at all in this respect.

I could say a great deal more about the Belgian glass companies. I might ask who controls the particular Belgian company which made all the fuss recently in connexion with our importations of barley. The original Belgian glass companies made such inroads into the market of the United States of America that American glass interests, in order to get some of their own back, established a factory in Belgium. It is this American company in Belgium, and not any of the original Belgian companies, which is kicking np all the row on this matter to-day?

Senator Duncan-Hughes - That company has the Belgian Government behind it.

Senator LECKIE - That is so ; if we had companies established here, whether they were American, English or French companies, I, for one, would do everything possible to preserve them and keep them here, because of their value to this country. I have no doubt that that is the attitude adopted by the Belgian Government towards American glass company now established in that country.

Senator Abbott - .Did not the Australian distributors of glass also bring strong pressure to bear on this Government on this matter?

Senator LECKIE - The honorable senator knows that all importers object to any duty.

Senator Abbott - I am not speaking of the importers, but of the Australian distributors, who, I am suggesting, protested to the Government because prices charged to them were becoming too high, and they could not get business.

Senator LECKIE - A retailer invariably wants to secure his goods on better terms than his competitors, and he does not care from what source be gets them. I point out that whilst in all other cases the duties have been substantially reduced, the 25 per cent. British duty in this case, has been abolished altogether. I am not protesting on that point, but when I find honorable senators denouncing the Australian Glass Manufacturers Company Limited, which, as I have already pointed out, employs 4,000 hands, and distributes £700,000 annually in wages, I feel that it is time for some one to speak on its behalf, and to point out that it has made such a success of its business that it has developed an industry vital to the welfare of Australia.

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