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Wednesday, 20 June 1906

Mr LEE (Cowper) - - I congratulate the Minister of Trade and Customs upon having chosen a very high-sounding title for the Bill. "A Bill for the preservation of Australian industries, and for the repression of destructive monopolies" sounds very well, and, judged by its title alone, the Bill ought to receive abundant support. The honorable member for Bland branded honorable members on this side of the House as bogus anti-Socialists. I would suggest to the leader of the Opposition that he might take his cue from the Minister of Trade and Customs, and change the name of the party. He might call it "A party for the preservation of the individual rights and liberties of the people of the Commonwealth, and for the repression of destructive land-tax legislation." If that highsounding title were adopted, we should no doubt be able to enrol many more members under our banner. After all, 'however, perhaps the shorter name we now have is the better one, and we shall continue to fight under it. The Minister ofTrade and Customs is an ardent advocate of protection. He is the high priest of that fiscal cult. Although a representative of New South Wales, which is essentially a free-trade State, no more pronounced protectionist could be found in Victoria. In season and out of season he has commended protection as a remedy for all evils. Now, however, he seems to have found that his invariable panacea is deficient, and hence he has deemed it necessary to introduce a measure which practically embodies the principle of prohibition. I think that the appeal made by the honorable member for Perth should have received the most serious consideration of the Government. The Tariff Commission have been engaged during the last two years in inquiring into the effect of foreign competition upon local industries. They have taken an immense volume of evidence from representatives of nearly every industry that could be affected by the Tariff, and I think that we were entitled to have their report placed before us before being called upon to deal with this measure. The Tariff Commission have done good work, and if we had had their report before us we should have been better able to judge how far the Tariff had proved efficient to protect our native industries. The Bill has been introduced to enable the Minister to combat the International Harvester Company and the Massey-Harris Company, whose importations are said to be injuriously affecting our colonial manufacturers.

Mr Page - The Minister denies that.

Mr LEE - He does not deny it. Among the combines with which it was desired to deal, he mentions the International Harvester Company, the Massey-Harris Company, and the Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

Sir William Lyne - I also mentioned the shipping combine.

Mr LEE - There are a number of other trusts and combines which the Minister did not mention.

Mr Wilks - What about the brewers' combine ?

Mr LEE - I intend to ask the Minister whether he intends to deal with the tiedhouse question. Two sessions ago the AttorneyGeneral could not sleep owing to his concern for the welfare of our industries, which, he said, were being ruined owing to the operation of the Tariff. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports also repeatedly directed attention to the extent to which our industries were languishing in consequence of the ineffectiveness of the Tariff to protect them. They agitated for the appointment of the Tariff Commission, and yet they are willing to deal with this measure whilst honorable members are completely in the dark as to the result of the inquiries of the Commission.

Mr Mauger - What has this to do with the Tariff?

Mr LEE - It has everything to' do with the Tariff. The International Harvester Company and the Massey-Harris Company, with which it is proposed to deal under this measure, are trading here legitimately.

The prices they charge to our farmers are the same as those which rule at their factories in the United States and Canada respectively. They do not sell at a loss, but at a profit. Both companies were prepared to submit their books for examination by the Tariff Commission, in order to prove that they are charging fair prices, provided that Australian manufacturers of agricultural implements were willing to adopt the same course. At present the Sunshine Harvester Company have an advantage over the importers of harvesters to the extent of £20 per machine.

Mr Page - Who pays that amount ?

Mr LEE - The farmer has to pay it. The Minister took credit to himself for having broken up the harvester ring. I think that that ring was broken when Mr. McKay gave information that the Massey-Harris Company were invoicing their harvesters at prices lower than they charged at their works. If the Minister can break up rings, as he claims, why should it be necessary to introduce this measure? The Minister also' mentioned the case of the Standard Oil Company. That may be a destructive monopoly in the United States, 'but it cannot be contended that it has operated to the detriment of. the people here. The company control the whole of the Australian market, and yet they have not raised the price of kerosene. They sell their product at about 7s. per case, ex warehouse, and it cannot be pretended that "their action has proved injurious to any of our industries. The Minister says that a company has been formed, with a capital of ^600,000 or ^700,000, and that it has expended £80,000 in developing the kerosene shale product in New South Wales. All honour to a company that will do so. They are doing this despite the fact that no duty is being levied upon kerosene at the present time. But there is nothing to prevent that company - assuming that this Bill be passed in its present form - from coming to the Minister and saying, " The Standard Oil Trust is ruining our industry," and from endeavouring to make out a case for prohibiting the importation of kerosene from abroad. If that were done, the Australian consumer would probably be unable to purchase kerosene for less than double its present price. That is not a pleasant prospect. In moving the second reading of the Bill, the Minister of Trade and Customs said' that the reason he suspected a design on the part of the Inter- national Harvester Company and the MasseyHarris Company to deprive the Sunshine Company of their trade in the manufacture of harvesters, was to be found in a speech which had been delivered by a Mrt Coxton at Numurkah, in which that gentleman 'had declared that the two firstnamed companies were determined to secure the trade, adding that if one agent was not enough to place in a town, they would appoint two, and that if two were not sufficient, they would appoint three. The Minister may believe such statements, but I am sure that any person who is familiar with business methods will treat them very lightly. W-hy, every commercial traveller, when he interviews a customer, almost invariably assures him that lie represents the best house, that the goods which he sells are the best, and1 that his firm are able to knock out everybody else. I pay very little attention to such observations. Do we not all know the methods which are pursued by business houses to advertise themselves? Only the other day I noticed a pictoral advertisement upon a railway hoarding setting forth (hat Harper's oatmeal was the best obtainable. Underneath were the words, " We all eat it" That statement is scarcely correct, but we know that it is merely intended as a trade advertisement. Quite recently the Lithgow Iron Works entered into a contract with the New South Wales Government for the manufacture of pig-iron and steel rails. That contract was undertaken with the full knowledge of existing conditions. But if this measure be passed, the day may speedily come when that company will be in a position to stop the operations of the great steel trust of America, so far as Australia is concerned. I hold that that is not right. I am in favour of preventing any person from introducing into the Commonwealth good's which he intends to dispose of at less than a proper selling price, but I am not in favour of preventing him from selling them at a reasonable price. The Minister of Trade and Customs has declared that the cane-growers in Australia who have spoken, to him upon the subject, have affirmed that they do not receive a proper return for their cane from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company. When I asked him whether the Board which he would appoint under this Bill would be able to deal with that complaint his reply was " No, it is a matter for arrangement between the growers and the Colonial Sugar Refining! Company." I have nothing to say against that company, except that they conduct their business upon true commercial lines. They sell their sugar at so low a price that nobody can take their market from them, and at the same time they exact the last farthing from the consumer. They enjoy the benefit of a duty of £6 per ton upon imported sugar, but I understand that a great deal of the protection which they are thus afforded goes to the cane-growers. The company came to the relief of the sugar industry in its earlydays when it was in a languishing condition, and I am sure that the success of the industry is very largely due to their operations. But the time Kas now arrived when we should consider whether this company should always control that industry in Australia. I believe that the proper way to deal with this question is by means of cooperation. I do not know whether the Minister has come to the conclusion that we cannot deal effectively with outside monopolies which are alleged to be endangering our own industries, by means of our Tariff. This afternoon the honorable gentleman was asked to mention one case of dumping in which an Australian industry had been interfered with, but his reply was that he was withholding the information until the close of the debate. I contend that he should have placed it before honorable members at the earliest possible moment. At any rate, he might have supplied it when he was asked to do so by the honorable and learned member for Corinella. I do not know whether this Bill is necessary in order to give effect to the policy of "Australia for the Australians," upon which the Government intend going to the country. To my mind it looks more like a measure which is designed to set apart Australia for the manufacturers. The best way to develop the Commonwealth is not by bolstering up artificial industries - not by excluding free competition - but by fostering a spirit of self reliance amongst our people. -We want to extend our internal and external trade. All the trusts in the world cannot interfere with our natural industries. No trust can kill our butter, coal, wheat, or timber industries. We fight the trusts, so far as those products are concerned, in the markets of the world, and we are able to hold our own. There is one gigantic combine in Australia to which I find that no allusion has yet been made. Only the other day I noticed that the Victorian brewing companies have recentlyformed a combine. Thev have closed two or three breweries, and intend to control the whole of the trade in Victoria.

Mr Tudor - They have not closed them ; the combine has not yet come off.

Mr LEE - We know that half the licensed houses in Melbourne are tied to these breweries. That, I take it, would constitute a restraint of trade under this Bill. Notwithstanding that the publicans are the slaves of the brewers, the Government do not propose to deal with the brewing combine. If they do, they have kept very quiet about the matter. The brewing combine is the most gigantic trust in Australia to-day, and it is the one which most injuriously affects the character of our people. Only the other day we discussed the question of whether Dr. Danysz should be permitted to conduct experiments with the microbes which he has introduced into Australia for the destruction of rabbits, and some persons were under the impression that we had no right to interfere with the Government of New South Wales in regard to such a matter. But we had a higher duty to discharge than had the Government of that State, because we had to protect the lives of the people of Australia. For the same reason we should not hesitate to deal with the brewing combine. Then there is the gambling evil which exists in Tasmania, to which we might profitably devote our attention. No matter what the State rights of Tasmania may be, we should have no compunction in stamping out that evil.

Mr Webster - Does the honorable member propose to deal with it in this Bill?

Mr LEE - It is in the hands of a combine, and I hope we shall be able to deal with it under this Bill. I feel sure that the honorable member for Gwydir will give his assistance, because I know that he does not approve of gambling in any way. I do not believe that this measure will do all that the Government expect from it. I do not wish to oppose its second reading, because if it will not do much good, it may not do much harm. I point to the fact that the present Government are responsible for a number of measures which have remained inoperative. The leaves of the Arbitration Act are still uncut, and the Minister of Trade and Customs has! issued regulation's under the Commerce Act which he is not able to manage. The honorable gentleman has drafted regulations which he knows he cannot work.

I defy him to carry out those regulations. It is impossible, for instance, for the honorable gentleman to insist that a stamp shall be put upon every box of butter.

Sir William Lyne - After this' speech we will have to stamp them.

Mr LEE - The Minister is not able to do it, and he knows that. How can he stamp every box in a shipment of thousands of tons?

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