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Tuesday, 16 August 1921

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia.) . - No one, I think, can charge me with lack of sympathy with the iron industry of Australia, notwithstanding Senator Duncan's remarks in regard to my lack of knowledge on the subject. Senator Duncan would be well advised, when discussing matters of this kind, to try to control his temper; it certainly does not help his case, or increase his own knowledge of the subject, to charge others with ignorance. As a matter of fact, the establishment of the iron industry is rather a pet subject of mine, and one which I have brought more often before the Senate than I think has any other senator. It is an industry with which I have a life-long acquaintance.

Senator Duncan - To my knowledge, the honorable senator, has not been engaged in the industry for the last thirty years.

Senator DE LARGIE - I have not been engaged in the industry for many years now; but I was engaged in it at one time. I was born, and bred, and lived at the very home of the iron industry in Scotland, and, therefore, I know something of its conditions. What experience has Senator Duncan had of the industry ? I should say that it is so small as to make it presumption on his part to question the knowledge of others. I suppose the honorable senator, in the whole course of his life, has seen only the works at Newcastle, and the works at Lithgow.

Senator Duncan - I frankly admit that.

Senator DE LARGIE - Yet in a selfsufficient manner, the honorable senator lectures others who have a life-long knowledge of the subject. Many years ago I introduced, and had carried, a resolution in this Chamber in favour of the establishment of the iron industry in Australia ; and I claim to be able to speak with some little authority. In my opinion, the greatest danger of this industry in the future is not, perhaps, the lack of sufficient Customs duty, but rather the effects of foreign exchanges, and the dumping of iron in its raw form. During thegreater part of our history, pig iron, rails, and bars in the rougher form have been brought here as ballast, carried practically, for nothing, and sold on the market for what they would fetch. Quite a number of our secondary iron industries have .grown up on supplies of this cheap raw material. As Senator ' Drake-Brockman has very, correctly pointed out, this is a question of the supply of raw material for secondary industries, and if this raw material is increased in price beyond a reasonable point, it is obvious what must happen. These industries, in such an event, must be given much higher duties than are provided at present in the schedule; we cannot raise the price of the raw material above a certain point to the engineer, the iron-moulder, the boilermaker, the agricultural implement maker, and the hundred other mechanics who handle iron, without increasing in proportion the duties they enjoy. Agricultural implement making is, perhaps, the greatest of the secondary iron industries in the Commonwealth ; more money flows in and out because of that industry than because of any other of the same class. There is certainly a large industry in railmaking, but, in view of 'modern processes, that may rather be regarded as a primary industry. With plant such as is seen at Newcastle, where the pig iron is practically turned into steel rails in two processes - a more direct method than, perhaps, is -to be found in most places - no excuse is presented for saying that the work is carried out under antiquated conditions.

Senator Duncan - Hear, hear!

Senator DE LARGIE - I am glad to have that expression of approval from so great an authority. I have not seen the plant at Lithgow, which I understand is not quite so up to date as that at Newcastle. It is said, however, that Hoskins Brothers are considering a suggestion made by myself many years ago that the works should be established at a more advantageous place. The suggestion I speak was made to Mr. Sandford, the predecessor of Hoskins Brothers, and he agreed that it was one which ought to be carried out. At' that time, however, he. had command of a very limited capital, and could not make the change to the Illawarra coast, where is produced the best coal for coking purposes. To Illawarra, the ore can be carried from any part of the Commonwealth by sea, the cheapest mode of transit for heavy, raw material of the kind, and placed in the furnaces with very little handling, altogether at a cheaper rate, all round, than is possible at Lithgow. I am glad to know that the Hoskins firm, with a capital of something like £2,000,000, is now proposing to establish works at Illawarra, where they will be able to establish an uptodate plant, quite as efficient as, and perhaps more efficient, than that at Newcastle.

Senator Duncan - Provided they have ample duty.

Senator DE LARGIE - I have always admitted that in this industry a duty is necessary ; the only question is how much. What is the industry entitled to in the Way of duty, in order that it may supply the necessary raw material for the secondary iron industries? We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that the other industries, which have already been established, have even greater claims upon us than have industries that are now coming into existence. In . Melbourne, for instance, no pig iron or other raw material of the kind is made ; and we cannot ignore the iron foundries and factories of Perth, Hobart, Ballarat, and other places in the Commonwealth. We cannot confine our attention and care to the production of the raw material at Newcastle, Lithgow, or on the Illawarra coast, for- if we do we shall defeat our object, which is to extend the iron industry generally and increase employment. The iron industry, taking it altogether, is not confined to the production of pig iron, steel ingots, and so forth, but extends widely into subsidiary industries, whose interests it would be foolish to disregard. If the price of the raw material be raised by means of the Tariff, the effects must be evil ; and, as I said before, the question we have to ask ourselves is what protection this iron industry requires to make it a success. On that point, I think the opinions of gentlemen who have invested their money in the industry are entitled to consideration. From printed evidence, given on oath before the Inter-State Commission and published broadcast, we learn that Hoskins Brothers, during the war, expressed themselves as quite prepared to accept as sufficient a duty of 15s. per ton. The House of Representatives has fixed the duty at 20s., which I think is a very fair increase on that asked by the proprietors of the Lithgow blast furnaces.

Senator Bolton - Conditions have altered in the meanwhile.

Senator DE LARGIE - I admit that conditions have altered, but not to any great extent.

Senator Bolton - There has been an increase in the cost of labour, for instance.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am speaking of the war period, when that statement was made.

Senator Duncan - Was the statement made to the honorable senator himself?

Senator DE LARGIE - No; I have not the pleasure of Mr. Hoskins' acquaintance. The statement was made publicly.

Senator Duncan - What is your authority?

Senator DE LARGIE - A printed document issued by Hoskins Brothers, which may be found in the Library. Under the circumstances, it cannot be said that any undue advantage is being taken of those at present engaged in the industry. . Further, Mr. Delprat, the head of the Broken Hill Iron Works, gave evidence before the Inter-State Commission.

Senator Russell - Mr. Delprat is out of the company now.

Senator DE LARGIE - That is not so; Mr. Delprat may not occupy his former position, but he. is still the moving spirit of that great corporation, and is one of the greatest authorities on the subject in Australia. Mr. Delprat, in the course of his evidence, said that at the time he entered into the industry he could do so without any duties at all.

Senator Vardon - What does he say to-day? I do not know, and would like the information.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am quite prepared to let Mr. Delprat speak for the second time. In the opinion of Mr. Delprat, and all other reasonable men, the amount of duty provided by the House of

Representatives is quite ample. Senator Duncan, when referringto foreign competition, spoke of Belgium, and 'of the prices toppling down in : the iron industry inthat country. If what Senator Duncan says is correct, it is very creditable to Belgium. During the war the great mines and iron works therewere destroyed, : and now we are told thatthe industry has so far recovered as to be able to compete successfully with our industry and others which were in operation during the whole of the war period.

Senator Duncan - The Belgian works and mines were not destroyed.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap -Senator deLargie's time has expired.

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