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Thursday, 11 August 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- I am very glad that the Minister (Senator Russell) has not said that the duty of 5 per cent, under the British preferential Tariff has been imposed for purely revenue purposes, since I am satisfied that it has been introduced for a wholly different reason. Leather cloth, as Senator Vardon has said, is used largely in the book-binding industry, and the duty will increase the price of many of the articles used by the masses. It will really mean an increase of 10 per cent, in the price of articles in which a certain 'proportion of American leather cloth, is used. The average man on wages cannot afford to pay more than £10 for a suite of furniture, and purchasers of suites covered with leather cloth will have, as a result of this duty, to pay £10 10s. instead of £10, as' hitherto. Why should we penalize such individuals to the extent of 10s.- when there is no good reason for the impost?

Senator Bolton - Why should we not convert into leather all the skins andhides that we now export?

Senator PAYNE - But suites of furniture covered with genuine leather are beyond the reach of the masses. The price of leather in ' Australia to-day is probably three times greater than it was a few years ago. We must refrain from doing anything that will increase the cost of living to the poorer sections of the community. I have here a lot of samples of leather cloth, but shall not .attempt to describe the various uses to which the material is put by many manufacturing industries. It is used in connexion with book-binding as well as for upholstering purposes, and surely a suite of furniture covered with leather cloth must be far more economical than is one covered with., ordinary cotton fabric. Leather cloth. has met a need in Australia in connexion with the manufacture of furniture. It is a good-looking, useful substitute for the cotton fabric with which cheap furniture was formerly covered, and it gives four times the wear. No one with any intelligence would mistake a suite so covered for a leather suite.

Senator Bolton - I know many cases where people have been so deceived.

Senator PAYNE - I have not met a man in the furniture trade who has had the audacity to offer as a genuine leathercovered suite a suite covered with leather cloth.

Senator Pearce - From my own personal observation, I would say that it is done every day in the week.

Senator PAYNE - Persons who resort to such misrepresentation should be prosecuted. I have had dealings with furniture establishments in New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, and have not seen in any one of them a suite covered with leather cloth exposed for sale as a leather-covered suite.

Senator Pearce - How is the average person to distinguish between the two? The face is the same.

Senator PAYNE - There is a very material difference, and the difference in the price is in itself a sufficient guide. No one suggests that a suite covered with genuine leather can be obtained for the price asked for a suite covered with leather cloth.

Senator Pearce - Many people think they are getting a genuine leather suite when in reality it is only a suite upholstered with leather cloth that they are buying.

Senator PAYNE - This material is not described as leather cloth with the object of misleading the public. It was imported long before the leather industry of Australia had become established. I can remember it being sold. here forty years ago. The duty will not protect the leather industry, hut will serve only to increase the cost of articles in ' the manufacture of which leather cloth is used; I hope, therefore, that the request will be agreed to.

Senator LYNCH(Western Australia) f3.39]. - Will the Minister (Senator Russell) be good enough to inform the Committee of the extent to which cotton' piece goods are manufactured in Australia, and the number of persons employed in the industry? While the request is that, in accordance with what has been the practice for the last eleven years, the sub-item shall be free so far as British imports are concerned, we are asked to agree to an increase of 10 per cent, in the duty on imports from other countries. A duty of 15 per cent, is neither for protection, purposes nor for revenue purposes. If it is for the latter I want to know the justification for it. If it is for the former, I want to know what it will adequately protect. The great bulk of the cotton piece goods used in Australia come from Great Britain, and it is proposed to admit them free from that country, but America and Japan are also sturdy competitors with the Old Country in regard to supplying this household requirement to the vast majority of our. working people. But what reason can be advanced for imposing this duty on goods coming from those countries unless a corresponding gain is to be derived, according to the theory of the Government, by the establishment of a local industry?' We may be straining this tendency to give a preference to Great Britain to an undue degree. Hitherto in going through this schedule we have been affording preference to the United Kingdom in respect of a lot of products that do not come from that country, but we are now on the threshold of a portion of the Tariff covering items which have been coming to Australia from Great Britain for years past. The British Parliament has not given any. protection to British people who are engaged in the manufacture of cotton piece goods, yet we propose, in effect, to tell the Mother of Parliaments that it does not know its own business in this respect and seek to penalize ourselves by doing something which the Old Country has shown an unwillingness to do. The immediate effect of our action will be to increase the price of cotton- piece goods. I want to know what people are engaged in the manufacture of cotton- piece goods in Australia, how many persons they are employing, and what their output is. I want this information so that I may. understand what I am doing in agreeing to impose a duty of 15 per cent, on a necessity of the people, which .comes to us from countries other than Great Britain.

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