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Thursday, 11 August 1921

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) . -I am led to believe that sub-itemc, piece goods, n.e.i., relates to flannelette. I cannot understand the basis upon which this Tariff has been drawn up. On flannel, which is a much safer, cleaner, and healthier article, made of Australian wool, duties of 30 per cent., 40 per cent., and 45 per cent, are imposed; whereas flannelette, which is inflammable, dangerous, unhealthy, and a rubbishy imitation of flannel, is free under the British preferential Tariff, and is subject to duties of only 5 per cent. and 15 per cent. respectively under the intermediate and general Tariffs.Flannelette, which is made of American cotton in England, America, and Japan, and enters into competition with Australian flannel, made of Australian wool, is free under the British Tariff; whereas in section 2 of sub-item aa, duties of 20 per cent., 30 per cent., and 35 per cent., are imposed on other cotton piece goods. Evidently,- this Tariff is designed to encourage the people of Australia to wear flannelette made of American cotton rather than flannel made of Australian wool. I therefore intend to move a request that the duties under sub-item c be 20, 30, and 35 per cent., which will bring them into line with the duties we have just passed in respect of another branch of cotton goods.

I have always had an objection to flannelette, which is highly inflammable and dangerous. During the last six years an average of eighteen women and children per annum have died from burns caused by their flannelette clothing catching fire. Our importations of flannelette have run from £320,000 worth in 1917-18 to £432,000 worth in 1919-20. Seventy-five per cent. of it comes from Great Britain, but a large quantity is also imported from Japan and America. Thisrubbish is made of American cotton, which to-day is nearly double the price of the Australian wool which enters into the composition of Australian flannel. My desire is that the people shall be encouraged to wear the healthier article. Let me here point to another inconsistency on the part of the Government. This afternoon, when we were dealing with leather cloth, which is used in the kitchens of the poor, the Minister in charge of the Bill (Senator Russell) said that it was necessary .to impose a duty on that material because it entered into competition with Australian leather. In order to be consistent, surely the Government will agree to impose the duties I have mentioned on flannelette, which enters into competition with Australian flannel. I am pointing out as politely as possible the glaring inconsistencies in the Tariff. It is full of anomalies.

The Minister said this afternoon that oil cloth - that horrible stuff which enters into competition with Australian leather - was largely the product of the cheap labour of Japan. He was quite right in referring to the cheap labour of that country. Those employed in Japan's textile trade work seventy-two hours aweek for a weekly wage of 20s. That is another reason why I want substantial duties on foreign-made flannelette - the product of the cheap labour of Japan - which competes with our splendid Australian flannels. By encouraging the use of flannelette we are fattening up the cotton-grower of America, and the Americans, in return, have put a prohibitive Tariff on Australian wool. I repeat that we are encouraging our people to wear flannelette made of American cotton, yet when we want to "sell our wool to the United States of America we find the door definitely closed against us. As every one knows, flannel is a healthy material. It is a non-conductor of heat and cold, and is almost uniflammable whereas flannelette is not only a conductor of heat and cold, and therefore the cause of much sickness on the part of those who wear it, but dangerous also because of its inflammability. Having regard to the price pf wool to-day, it should be possible for us to make flannel at a price equal to that at which flannelette can be obtained. The average price of cotton is just on 8d. per lb., whereas the average price of the wools used in the manufacture of flannel - such as second and third lambs, locks, and second cross-bred pieces - is about 3d. to 4d. per lb. Thousands of bales of such wools are obtainable in Australia to-day at about that price, and it should be our object to encourage the use of the more healthy Australian article by the Australian people.

The Government, again, are going to reduce the duty on luxuries such as vel vets, yet they have carried duties of 20, 30, and 35 per cent, on cotton piece goods. Flannelette, on the other hand, for some extraordinary reason, is free when it comes from Great Britain. If I had my way, I would prohibit its importation, since it is dangerous to the community. As illustrating how cheaply pure woollen flannel can be made in Australia, I would mention that the owner of a certain mill in Geelong made a huge fortune out of a Government contract for 4,000,000 odd yards, at ls. 3 1/2 d. per yard. That gentleman boasted that he had put over £100,000 into the war loans. I had the unpleasant task of exposing his firm in this House, pointing out the immoral way in which portion of the huge profit had been made by the adulteration of the flannel. This fortune was made during the war period, and even at that time the firm in question could have made flannel at lid. per yard. The average price of greasy wool was then 154d. per lb., and the wools which go into the manufacture of flannel were at least double their present-day price. If the gentleman to whom I have referred could make a fortune out of a Government contract for the manufacture of flannel from wool purchased on the basis of 15 1/2 d. per lb., there is no reason why, with an abundance of much cheaper wool in Australia to-day, flannel should not be available at a greatly reduced price.

Senator Crawford - How does flannel compare .with flannelette in the matter of durability ?

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - It will last four times as long as flannelette. No one will deny that flannel made of pure wool is more durable, and in every other respect better, than flannelette, which is only teased cotton. With a view to discouraging the use of this dangerous imitation of flannel, and of encouraging the greater use of Australian wool, as well as with the object of trying to secure some measure of Tariff uniformity, I move -

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the duty, sub-item (c), general, ad. val., 35 per cent.

If that request be carried, I shall move further requests that the duty under the British preferential Tariff be 20 per cent, and under the intermediate Tariff, 30 per cent. I am not in favour of exceptionally high duties in any ' case, and the rates which I am now proposing are considerably less than those proposed by the Government in respect of all-wool flannel.

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