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Thursday, 11 August 1921

Senator REID (QUEENSLAND) (1:50 AM) . - I listened with great interest to the speech of Senator Guthrie. Some of his statements were extraordinary. If the Australian woollen industry is as flourishing as he would make out, why are the people of Australia importing so many British goods at such high prices when the honorable senator says they can buy Australian products at a much cheaper price?

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - We have not over-' taken the demand.

Senator REID - No, because the call for Australian woollen goods has not been such as to induce people to invest their money in the industry and attempt to supply the demand. The public will have imported goods. Any tailor will say at once that until recently the majority of his customers preferred to buy imported tweeds.

Senator Payne - There has never been any difficulty in selling Australian tweeds when they have been offered at a reasonable price.

Senator REID - Nine out of ten persons will choose the British article in preference to the Australian tweed.

Senator Payne - Many people prefer worsted to ordinary wool, because it does not stretch at the knee; and the Australian mills have not been able to turn out worsted.

Senator REID - The Australian article does not give the same wear and satisfaction as the English material.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - That is a sweeping assertion.

Senator REID - I speak from twenty years' experience in supplying the public, 0and l am giving facts. Nine out of ten people will choose the British article because the Australian cloth does not give satisfaction in the wear; at least, it has not until lately.

Senator Payne - It wears all right, but it gets unshapely.

Senator REID - A suit of clothes made from Australian tweed bags and sags, and gets out of shape, and is done for if it gets a soaking in the rain, because it cannot be pressed into shape again owing to the fact that the packing and canvas cannot be restored to their original positions.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Would the honorable senator say that that would occur in the case of suits made from the tweeds turned out by the Commonwealth Woollen Mills?

Senator REID - Those mills have turned out an excellent material, but the samples displayed by the honorable senator do not compare with material of the same quality made in the Old Country. They will not make up so well as English cloth, or stand the same amount of strain. The suit made from Australian cloth may wear well, but it will not keep its shape.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - Is the sample of cloth I have shown inferior to the English material, which costs 30s. per yard

Senator REID - I am saying nothing against the Australian-made article; but I contend that we have not yet reached that stage at which we can produce a cloth up to the standard of the imported material. That is why I support these protective duties, because they will enable the industry to be built up, and will induce men to invest their capital and use their experience in producing a material equal to that which is produced in the Old Country. We have heard a lot of facts of what it costs to make a suit of clothes. Three and a half yards of the excellent segette turned out at the Commonwealth Woollen Mill at 7s. 6d. per yard will cost £1 6s. According to the latest arbitration award, the labour employed in turning that cloth into an ordinary suit of clothes such as is worn by the majority of people should not cost more than £2 4s. With an allowance of £1 at the outside for trimmings and cutter, and it is a liberal allowance, it should not cost more than £4 10s. to produce that suit of clothes; and whatever more is charged for it goes to Flinderslane or the retailer. English material of the same quality costs 30s. per yard.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - It did during the war.

Senator Payne - The next lot that comes out will not cost anything like that amount. ,

Senator REID - I am speaking about cloth produced under conditions corresponding with those under which the Australian material is produced at a cost of 7s. 6d. per yard. Yet the people prefer to buy the article which costs 30s. per yard.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - They have been paying the same price for Australian goods, because whoever sold Australian material advanced its price to that of the English article, and, in fact, sold most of it as English cloth.

Senator REID - The Australian article may have been sold to the public as English made, but the manufacturers sold it to the wholesale houses or the retailers as an Australian cloth. If the Australian mills had seen that their own material was put on the market, and sold at a proper price, the industry would have obtained such a hold that no more British goods would have been handled. But I am ashamed to say that there was profiteering going on, though for that, I do not blame the mills.

Senator de Largie - Do you say that no more British goods would have been handled in spite of the inferior quality of the Australian goods?

Senator REID - I say that the Australian wool- was produced so cheaply that it would have paid people to pay for three local suits instead of one imported suit.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - If the Australian wool can be produced so cheaply, there is no necessity for a duty.

Senator REID - I am speaking of the conditions during the war period. Senator Payne could not tell us what increases of wages had taken place in the mills in relation to the production of flannel.

Senator Payne - I said that the article was formerly made for Hid. per yard; and that the same proportion of profits could be produced now &t ls. 6d. per yard.

Senator REID - I shall give some figures to show what the Australian manufacturer has to contend against. In 1913, the wage per week for adult males was £2 2s., as compared with £4. 4s. in 1921, showing an increase of 100 per cent.; in 1913, the wage of females was £1 ls. per week, as compared with £2 2s. now, also an increase of 100 per cent.

Senator Payne - In 1914, the adult male wage was more than £2 2s.

Senator REID -I am comparing wages in 1913 with the wages in 1921. In 1913, coal was 14s. 6d. per ton as against 34s. 6d. to-day, an increase of 130 per cent. ; oil, per gallon, in 1913 was ls. 3d., as compared with 2s. 9d. to-day, an increase of 120 per cent.; while dye wares in 1913 were 2s. 6d. as compared with 9s. per lb., an increase of 260 per cent. Wages and conditions in Europe may once more reach a low level, and, if so, Australia will not be able, to hold its own even with a high Tariff. The Australian market will be flooded with European goods, and one of our most important industries may have to struggle for its very existence, as it had to do ten or twelve years ago, when many mills - one to my own knowledge, for years - were not paying dividends. That they are now solvent is due to the fact that they were commandeered by the Government to produce flannel and other goods required for war purposes. Then the machinery was kept constantly going.

Senator Payne - If the mills had formerly concentrated on flannel, they would have made the industry pay.

Senator REID - The mills did not do that until they were commandeered by the Government, and, as I say, made solvent. I am afraid that if we lower the duties we shall find our market flooded with cheap foreign goods. Germany was formerly one of our greatest competitors; she imitated $11 the British patterns, and sent the goods in large quantities to Australia. Some of these goods were of high quality, while others were quite the reverse; but if Germany regains her former position, and acts -in the same way, our mills will have very little chance.

Senator Payne - How could Germany do that with a Tariff of this kind, and a depreciated market?

SenatorREID. - I am simply showing what may take place if we dispense with the duties. Senator Guthrie said that the industry could stand alone.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I did not say it could stand alone against Germany and Japan, but that it could against England or France, with the present wages and conditions, combined with high freights both ways.

SenatorREID. - We do not know what freights or wages may be in the future ; but we do know the standard that we wish to maintain in Australia. Even if extra profits were made owing to war conditions, I am still in favour of keeping the industry going. I am sure that Senator Guthrie regards it as one of the most important industries in Australia.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - I should like to see woollen mills all over the country.

SenatorREID. - So should I, and, therefore, I am in favour of retaining tie Tariff as it is.

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