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Tuesday, 6 December 1938

Mr BEASLEY (West Sydney) . - This morning all honorable members, I think, received a circular letter from parties interested in the manufacture of handkerchiefs in Australia, which draws attention to the fact that the Australian trade agreement with Switzerland will be responsible for the lowering of the duties on ladies' and men's handkerchiefs to such a degree as to affect very seriously the Australian handkerchief industry. The circular states -

Statistics show that in twelve months endingJune, 1937, imports from Switzerland were 227.493 dozen handkerchiefs valued at £24,204 sterling. In the twelve months ending June, 1938, imports had risen to 294,673 dozen, value £28,029 sterling, an increase of67,000 dozen, increased value £4,000. These figures alone prove that the present tariff rates are not too high.

In 1932, our managing director was in Great Britain, and, encouraged by the protection afforded by the Government at that time, ho. bought machinery in Belfast and founded the embroidered handkerchief industry in Australia. The first two machines were soon in production, and cost over £1,000. Direct employment was immediately given to two senior males and fifteen females. Shortly afterwards a further three machines were purchased from Belfast. At the same time, further hemstitching machines were bought to feed those embrioderers ; the amount of capital now expended in this special work would amount to £6,000. Extra staff was immediately employed, and there are now 80 Australians directly employed by these machines. As 85 per cent. of our production from these machines is put into quarter-dozen boxes and half-dozen boxes, substantial increases in staff were recorded by our boxmakers and printers. Even at the present rate of tariff it is impossible for us to compete against Swiss importations, and we have had to transfer the bulk of our production to initial handkerchiefs. If there is any lowering of tariffs, as suggested in the trade agreement, our machines will definitely, be stopped, causing immediate heavy losses and substantial reductions of our staff, the majority of whom have been specially trained for this class of work, and would now find it difficult to obtain other employment.

We are an Australian firm, built on Australian capital; our executive staff and all our employees are Australians, working under award rates and conditions, and we extenda hearty invitation to members to visit and inspect our factory at any time.

We have been manufacturing handkerchiefs in Australia since 1908, and at present we have over 300 employees on our staff. A large percentage of this staff is threatened by the proposed lower duties. We therefore beg of members that they give this matter their serious consideration and treat same with urgency.

I receivedthis communication only within the last hour or so, and I have had no opportunity to check the details contained in it. I think, however, that the Minister should go into the matter in order to ascertain whether the position is as this firm claims. It is all very well to enter into agreements with a view to increasing the volume of our export trade with foreign countries, but we should consider whether the result may be to displace our own Australian workers. We should try to strike a proper balance in these matters. It seems to me that this is a new method of reducing the tariff. A new technique, apparently, has been devised for whittling away the protection of Australian industries. I should like to receive an explanation from the Minister.

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