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Thursday, 14 May 1936

Senator COLLINGS (Queensland) . - I am astounded that Senator Duncan-Hughes should move a request which proposes to reduce the protection granted to this industry. I am particularly astonished that he should seek to interfere with the intermediate and general tariffs after the Minister's explanation that the Government wants some margin for bargaining purposes.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - With Czechoslovakia ?

Senator COLLINGS - Boots and shoes from that country are menacing the Australian industry. During recent years ladies' basket shoes, manufactured under exceedingly unsatisfactory conditions inside Australia, in places where the factory laws are not observed as strictly as they ought to be, have had a ready sale. Senator Duncan-Hughes asked whether I had been to Central Europe, where similar shoes are made, and was personally acquainted with the factory conditions there. I regret that I have not had the advantage of travel which Senator Duncan-Hughes has enjoyed. Nevertheless, I have a close acquaintance with this industry, because for some years, I travelled up and down Queensland with samples of goods made by a firm for which I worked for more than a quarter of a century. While representing that firm, I came in contact with commercial travellers whose business was to sell boots and shoes made in the United Kingdom, the southern States of Australia, and elsewhere. My acquaintance with the industry is, therefore, not superficial, and I have some backing for my statement that the Australian factories are efficiently conducted. The Minister said that 99 per cent, of the footwear worn by Australians is made locally. That is nothing to be ashamed of. Notwithstanding that Australian manufacturers now command practically the whole of the home market, they are afraid that they will have to face keen competition from overseas if the Government proposals are agreed to. If there is any real worth in the Ministry's proposal to encourage the making of trade treaties by means of an intermediate tariff, it can mean only that the Government is prepared to offer to other countries some real advantage. I do not suggest that it would attempt to make a trade treaty with another country with the definite intention to sell that country " a gold brick," and, therefore, I am forced to the conclusion that the Government requires some bargaining margin in "the general tariff. It wants to be able to offer some advantage in return for other advantages, and, therefore, its proposals mean that some of the Australian market for boots and shoes, which the local factories are now supplying, will be offered to overseas manufacturers. There is no escape from that logic. I know that the boot and shoe industry is not in a flourishing condition. One reason is that there are too many boot and shoe factories in Australia. That state of affairs is inseparable from the system of society in which the Government believes. The Government holds that competition is the life of trade; I know that competition is the death of trade. I agree with Ruskin that competition in all things means anarchy and death ; whereas, co-operation in all things means harmony and life. If all the Australian boot and shoe factories were forced to keep their plant working at full capacity, the production would greatly exceed the demand. That state of affairs cannot be remedied by anything that this committee may do to-day. The Australian industry is not sheltering behind a wall of protection in order to exploit the users of its products; it is playing the game. It is claimed that these duties are an impost on the people of Australia. That cannot be denied. Nor can it be denied that every bounty paid to primary producers out of the revenue provided by the taxpayers of this country is an impost on the community. If I thought that I had any powers of persuasion I should exert them in an effort to get Senator Duncan-Hughes to withdraw his request. It is unworthy of him; I say that with all respect. The Australian industry, which is carrying on under difficulties, has pointed out that the danger point is not far ahead. I hope that, if the request be not withdrawn, it will be rejected by the committee.

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