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Wednesday, 4 May 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- One cannot help recognising that we are called upon to deal with a very important question. It means so much to Australia as a whole that we cannot- afford to look at the matter as affecting one section of the community only. I have been brought up with a community of land workers, and although I have the greatest sympathy with the rural section, I am always averse to legislation which gives an advantage to one section over any other. But realizing as I do, by a perusal of the figures relating to the industry as they affect Australian finance, and knowing the difficulties we shall shortly be confronted with in meeting our commitments, I feel that the Government are justified in giving the Senate an opportunity of discussing this proposal. The value of the wool industry to Australia during the last year of which we had any official record was approximately £42,000,000 ; but it must be remembered that that was the finest year we ever experienced from the wool producing point of view. In a normal year, such as 1914, the export trade in wool was valued at £22,000,000.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was a drought year.

Senator PAYNE - Yes. We are faced with the possibility that this ' year will show a much smaller return than 1914.

Senator Gardiner - - That was a record year for produce; notwithstanding the drought.

Senator PAYNE - It may have been, but as regards wool it was a lean year, and this year may be similar. In view of the commitments of the Treasurer, the 7>osition is serious.. I do not pretend to know much concerning . the ramifications of Bawra, but I have heard sufficient to convince me that we must do all we possibly can to ensure selling as much of our wool as is practicable at the best possible price. I am not prepared to support the proposal of Senator Guthrie to fix the minimum at a higher rate than that suggested by the Government. It is imperative that we should dispose of as much wool as possible to make room for future clips, and w.e certainly will have a better opportunity of doing so at aminimum of 8d. instead of 9d. per lb. A reduction of1d. per lb. might induce buyers to come into the market, who would otherwise hold off owing to the difficulties of financing their purchases.

Senator Senior - That argument would hold good if the price were fixed at 5d.

Senator PAYNE - Exactly. It is reasonable to fix the minimum, and I think that suggested by the Government is fair. I am anxious to see every inducement given to people to purchase Ausvralian wool.

Senator Keating - In the honorable senator in favor of any minimum at all ?

Senator PAYNE - We should have a minimum, and we, should endeavour to assist the pastoralists in their difficulty.

We have been assured that it costs11d. per lb. to produce wool, and it is not unreasonable to suggest that we should fix the minimum at 3d. below the rcost of production.

Senator Bakhap - How long can we keep going if the cost of production in other countries is less than ours ?

Senator PAYNE -I do not know. It has been explained this afternoon that a great deal of the wool will have to be sold at from 2d. to 3d. per lb., particularly a good deal of the cross-bred wool, and that the rate of 8d. is an average minimum. It does not follow that because an average rate has been fixed the wool will not be sold at as low as 2d. per lb. in order to maintain the average.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Thousands of bales will.

Senator PAYNE - Honorable senators who are keeping in touch with current events must realize that there are many countries that will be glad to purchase our wool, but are in the unfortunate position of being unable to do so.

Senator de Largie - Why not sell it to them on long credit ?

Senator PAYNE - If Bawra can arrange -with countries which have some reasonable hope of meeting their engagements on extended terms of credit, the large holdings controlled by Bawra, should be unloaded as speedily as possible as that would be the means of making room lor the new clips. Such an arrangement would be of great benefit to many of our pastoralists.

Senator Crawford - It would pay to take the risk.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Bawra is already ' doing that.

Senator PAYNE - It is only recently that I ascertained what Bawra really meant. I suggest that by that means a very large quantity of wool stored in London can be placed. Some risk will have to be taken, but it will mean to the pastoralists the deferred payment of a dividend which a year or more ago they had no idea- they would receive. They knew they would receive some dividend, but they did not know what it would amount to.

Senator Keating - That is a dividend in addition to the coming July dividend.

Senator PAYNE - Exactly. I agree with Senator Gardiner as to the necessity for regaining customers we lost during the last few years. But the honorable senator, by .the figures he quoted, would lead to an entirely erroneous impression as to the value of wool- purchased by America from Australia during the last few years as compared with the value purchased by America from this country some years previously. The honorable senator quoted only figures that apply to scoured and washed, wool. He did not quote figures that apply to wool in the grease.

Senator Gardiner - I did.

Senator PAYNE - If I remember correctly, the honorable senator told us that in 1914-15 we exported' 4,000,000 lbs. of wool to the United States of America; in 1915-16, 27,000,000 lbs.; in 1916-17, nil; 1917-18, 1,446,000 lbs. ; and in 1918-19, 1,460,000 lbs.

Senator Gardiner - Before that, I mentioned that 115,000,000 lbs. had been sent in grease.

Senator PAYNE - In 1914-15, we exported to the United States of America 61,000,000 lbs. of wool in the grease; in 1915-16, our export of wool in the grease was 115,000,000 lbs.

Senator Gardiner - I quoted tb,at figure.

Senator PAYNE - In 1918-19 we exported to the United States of America, 71,776,000 lbs. in grease, and the previous year only 57,425,000 lbs. So that it will be seen that we are getting our custom back.

Senator Gardiner - The honorable member is skipping the figure for 1916- 17.

Senator PAYNE - We sent to the United States of America in that year only 16,174 lbs.

Senator Gardiner - I quoted that figure also.

Senator PAYNE - The figures show that in 1918-19 we exported over 71,000,000 lbs. of wool- in the grease to the United States of America as against only 16,000 lbs. in 1916-17. The total value of our exports of wool to the United States of America for the five years ending 1918-19 was £20,876,927, and the value .of our export to the United States of America in 1918-19 was £4,982,056. Senator, Gardiner knows well why we did not send a great deal of our wool to the United States of America during the war period. It was because the British Government required all the wool we could possibly furnish them with, to provide necessary clothing and bedding for the troops.'

Senator Crawford - They took the whole of our wool.

Senator PAYNE - They were wise in doing so, and it was our duty to supply them with all we could produce.

Senator Keating - That is how it happens that there is a surplus of wool now.

Senator PAYNE - Exactly. They could not foresee exactly the quantity they would require, so they purchased the whole of our wool clip.

Senator Fairbairn - And America bought in London instead of buying here?

Senator PAYNE - No doubt America bought her requirements through the British Government. It was our duty to give the British Government control of all our wool in orde' that our troops and the troops of the Allies, as well as the British people and the people of the Allies, should not go short.

Senator Fairbairn - And in order that the Germans should not get any of it.

Senator PAYNE - Senator Gardiner's amendment proposes that we should legislate in this matter by the passing of a Bill. I assume that the Government submitted this proposal this afternoon in order to get the opinion of honorable senators upon it, and that they will be guided bv the views we express. If the Government act in this matter by the issue of a regulation under the Customs Act, they will be in a position to amend that regulation, or suspend it, should developments occur between now and next year which would warrant them in adopting that course. But if we were to legislate in the ordinary way by the passage of a Bill to deal with this question, no matter what might eventuate between nowand next year we should have no opportunity of amending the measure.

Senator Elliott - Could we not soframe an Act of this Parliament as to cover a contingency like that?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We have passed measures here before limiting the period of their operation.

Senator PAYNE - We might, in a Bill, give the Government the same power that they are to-day asking that they should have by the issue of a regulation under the Customs Act. but I can see the danger that might arise to Australia if, by a hard'' and fast law, we made a provision which could not be altered or amended for another twelve months. It is, I understand, suggested that the regulation proposed to be issued should remain in force for six months. That appears to be long enough. Something might' happen before that time expires justifying the amendment or repeal of the regulation.

Senator Crawford - A month's experience might show the need for an amendment of the regulation.

Senator PAYNE - That is so.

One or two statements have been made as to the feeling of people not engaged in -growing wool on the subject of the fixation of the price. I can well understand the average man in the street and his wife, who has to bear the heat and burden of making household expenses come within income, wondering why it is that, with the continual outcry about the low price of wool, everything that they require for themselves or their children in the way of woollen goods manufactured in Australia is at such a high price. I have previously said that, in my view, honorable senators should give publicity to any matter coming under their notice concerning what is occurring from time to time in the Commonwealth. Those who have any knowledge of .fabrics, on looking into the shop windows in which they are exhibited with tickets setting out prices which are said to be less than cost prices, which one always discounts, must have been struck by the price charged for one article which must be used by elderly people, and is used by a great many 'who are not elderly. I refer to flannel. This article can be manufactured in Australia of better value than in any other part of the world. I say that from knowledge. But, notwithstanding the low price of wool, flannel which was retailed last year in Melbourne and Sydney at 2s. 6d. per yard is now retailed at 2s. lid. per yard. The consumer naturally wonders how this can be when he knows that the price of wool has come down. He knows that during the last few months there has been no increase in the cost of production, and yet the new season's flannel is being charged for at a higher rate per yard than charged last year, when the price of wool was very much higher than it is to-day. If one tried to probe the anomaly, the excuse given would be that these flannels were made from last year's clip, but when flannels went up in price Q 50 or 70 per cent., when' the big rise in commodities took place in Australia, it was not then suggested that the last season's clip was higher in price than the clip of that year. That is a matter which we should not lose sight of.

Senator Senior - There is no danger that we shall lose sight of it.

Senator PAYNE - We must have regard for the opinion of all classes - pastoralists, agriculturists, tradesmen, workmen, and the general consumer. I venture to say that eight out of every ten yards of flannel used in Australia is Australian made, and it is being retailed to-day at 2s. lid. per yard, though that flannel can be produced and sold, with a good profit to the mill and to the retailer, for from ls. 9d. to 2s. per yard.

Senator de Largie - It is not hard to understand the position. The fact is that the manufacturers will not sell at a reasonable price.

Senator PAYNE - They may sell at a reasonable price, but I have heard it said that the average retailer cannot buy a roll, .or, for that matter, fifty rolls, of flannel from the manufacturer. It has to go through an intermediary.

Senator de Largie - The honorable senator can go to Foy and Gibson's, where they manufacture their own flannel, and he will have to pay as much for it there.

Senator PAYNE - If they manufacture their own flannel, they are making a profit out of all proportion to the material and work put into the article. The general public will realize some day that they have been victimized. I have no grudge against employers or manufacturers. My sympathies have always been with business men who believe in a fair deal, but I could not allow this debate to pass without making public what I know in this connexion. -

I cannot see my way at present to support Senator Gardiner's amendment, as I think it is well that the Government should have power to suspend or amend the proposed regulation if anything to warrant the adoption of such a course should arise before Parliament meets next year.

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