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Wednesday, 7 December 1960

Mr CLAY (St. George) .- I wish to refer to Amendment No. 23. When the matter of furnishing fabrics was brought before the House on, I think, 27th October last, some honorable members asked what was moquette. Moquette is an old trade name which was applied to what we now call Axminster carpets. It is broadly applied to a variety of what are now known as warp pile fabrics with pile formed or raised by wires. Those wires are subsequently withdrawn and the loops cut and you have what is called the pile on top of the carpet. In some cases the wires are raised and as they are withdrawn the loops are cut automatically. To-day man-made or synthetic fibres are used to a great degree to replace or blend with the natural fibres that were used so much in the past. That is where one of our difficulties has arisen. We have secured protection, which appears to be adequate, for the manufacturers of furnishing fabrics until such times as the other fabrics are used.

It is pleasing to know that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) recommended an emergency hearing of the claims which were made by manufacturers of furnishing fabrics as they have become the victims of a set of circumstances entirely beyond their control and external to Australia in origin. The report that was recently submitted to Parliament appeared on the surface to be helpful, but in the light of the suddenly altered circumstances, due in no small measure to the lifting of import restrictions, a crisis developed in the industry with the most alarming rapidity. A large quantity of furnishing fabrics began to pour into this country at a price below the Australian price, and of a character and quality which, when allied to the lower price, wrought great harm in a few weeks to the Australian industry which was struggling to establish itself.

It is axiomatic in manufacturing that to succeed and to prosper plant must work at full capacity. Although any business must expect to have its ups and downs in a period like this when, by Government policy, credit is restricted, it has to be a wealthy concern to afford to store for very long unsold textiles costing in the vicinity of £1 a yard and more. The point is soon reached at which production must be cut back. When this happens, one of two things must be done, and each is equally distasteful to the humane employer. Either he will cut the working week from, say, 40 hours to 32 hours, as was done in a furnishing textiles plant in Melbourne where 160 trained employees were directly affected in the month of November, only a few weeks before Christmas; or he will dismiss a proportionate number of people from his employ in the hope that he will be able to get them back again if and when he can dispose of his unsold stock profitably or without too great a loss.

In the first resort, where he shortens the working week, he runs into trouble with his staff who, while they may be sympathetic with him in his predicament, cannot afford to remain at a job which yields only four days' pay and has become uncertain and insecure, especially at this time of the year when Christmas is so close. In the second resort, if he dismisses a proportionate number of his staff and lays looms idle, the union has lost members, he has lost staff which he had trained at no small cost, but, worst and most damaging of all. because the plant no longer works at full capacity his unit cost has increased and he is in a worse position to compete with Australian or overseas manufacturers. Sometimes, when I contemplate the difficulf'=? which are faced by manufacturers, not only in the textile industry but also in other industries. I wonder whether it is courage or foolhardiness that leads them into the business of manufacturing.

I have perused the Tariff Board report dated 20th June, I960, which indicates that the Minister for Trade referred the matter of furnishing and upholstery piecegoods to the board in June, 1958, for inquiry and report. The Minister's reference was of departmental origin and arose from a recommendation which was made by the board in its report of 7th December, 1955, to the effect that the question of assistance to furnishing and upholstery piecegoods manufacturers should be reviewed after two years of operation of the increased duties which were recommended in that report. Thus the board commenced a fresh public inquiry, after due notice had been given, in Sydney on 5th March, 1959. After several sittings, the inquiry concluded on 2nd April, 1959, four weeks later.

The report, which consists of twenty closely printed foolscap pages, is a revelation in itself of the exhaustive care and meticulous attention to detail which characterizes our Tariff Board. However, it was not submitted to the Parliament, although it was produced on 20th June, 1960, until 27th October - four months later. This, I think, is an indication that is plain for all to see that not only the Tariff Board but also the Minister for Trade are grossly overworked. The Minister received the report on 11th July this year - and, of course, its recommendations - but in the meantime things began to go haywire. Import restrictions had been lifted and importers looked for and found gaps through which the board's recommendations could be by-passed. The industry was in a very serious position.

On a smaller scale, when a manufacturer in Australia embarks upon a selling campaign, there always arrives the point at which the market has been satisfied and he may have to retain a large amount of stock. He has to find a way in which to dispose of that stock. On the international scale, if a country has overproduced, at the end of the season it looks around for another country in which to deposit its unsold stock. I think that for too long Australia has been the happy hunting ground of other countries, especially in relation to textiles. I am convinced that a large amount of what is called end-of-range selling has been indulged in by the United States and by Belgium. If they were to sell their end-of-range materials in their own countries prices quite easily could become depressed. Rather than do that, they are prepared to dump their products in Australia and it is hard - in fact, impossible - for us to prove that those countries are selling their materials here at a price which would have represented a loss had the goods been sold on their home market.

It may be of interest to honorable members to know that one of our furnishing fabric manufacturers has a contract to supply the material for the new Ford Falcon motor car. If the Ford organization, faced with the difficult position which has arisen as a result of the increased sales tax. decided to cut costs by trying to buy cheaper fabric, it could turn to another country for its supplies, and very easily one of our furnishing fabric companies, relying on the Ford contract, could be in very serious trouble.

I hope that at its emergency hearing the Tariff Board considers that aspect and pays keen regard to the welfare of the motor trade as well as of the textile industry. The fabrics which have caused such great concern under the existing protection are expensive to manufacture and, although cheaper fabrics are protected adequately, the expensive ones are not. I believe that the only satisfactory solution to this problem is for the Tariff Board to add an ad valorem content to the duty on moquette. 1 think the House can easily understand the position of the manufacturers of furnishing fabrics, when you have fabrics costing £1 or more per yard and the same duty applies. Therefore it would be farcical to say that a duty of 2s. 8±d. per yard is adequate on all furnishing fabrics. Another point to which I wish to refer relates to the manufacture of moquettes. The Belgians have been turning out quite a satisfactorylooking moquette. but they use cotton or man-made fibres where we use wool. Until one examines the Belgian product closely one could imagine that one was looking at a wool moquette. In fact it is a cotton moquette, and the price is considerably less than that of the product made from wool. The Belgians have had access to cotton grown in the Congo, at a lower price than cotton is available to any one else in the world.

In conclusion I want to refer to a recent report of the deputy chairman of the Tariff Board which was tabled in the House yesterday bv the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) and in which an emergency hearing was refused. I agree with the Minister. I do not think that in that case there was any need for an emergency hearing, although the possibility existed for a short period that there might have to be such a hearing. However, that need has passed and the Tariff Board, with its usual powers of perception, ruled, I think wisely, that no emergency hearing should be held. There is fierce competition between textile manufacturers in Australia. In this country there is no line-up or tie-up between manufacturers of textiles, and no inside agreements to control prices and keep them at a certain level. I repeat that there is fierce and genuine competition in this industry. The textile manufacturing industry in Australia is subject to competition not only in the matter of prices, but also in the variety of designs and patterns which can be submitted to the buyers for the retail stores.

It is easy to imagine that a country with perhaps 20 or 50 times the number of looms that can be found in another country will turn out a much larger variety of patterns. I saw the textile patterns produced by the Japanese manufacturers when I visited their trade ship on Monday last. They are fantastically beautiful and they cover a very wide range. Because the Japanese have a much larger number of looms than we have, and a much larger market, they are able to produce a variety of patterns that we cannot possibly hope to imitate in Australia. However, our textile industry still has the right to grow and fortunately, in Australia, this industry is decentralized, which is very important. Our textile industry has established itself not only in the great cities of Australia but also in many country towns, where it provides opportunities of employment for both men and women. It deserves all the help we can possibly give it. This industry is most valuable and it merits the approbation of this House.

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