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Wednesday, 17 August 1921

The CHAIRMAN - If no other honorable senator desires to submit a request which should come before that which Senator Guthrie proposes to move, the honorable senator will be in order.

Senator Payne - Then I shall have no opportunity of submitting a request.

The CHAIRMAN - Not if Senator Guthrie moves the request of which he has given notice.

Senator Payne - I shall have to move in another direction.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - The sub-item with which I wish to deal is sub-item e 2, which is dutiable at, per ton, British, 52s.; intermediate, 72s. 6d. ; general, 90s. I did intend to move a request for a very much more drastic reduction than I shall now ask for. On reflection and consultation, I have cut the reduction down to a minimum, and I think that honorable senators will be prepared to agree to them. My proposal will be to make the duties on sub-item e 2, per ton, British, 44s.; intermediate, 72s. 6d. ; general, 90s. In previous Tariffs this item was free. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), in introducing the Tariff, said, "We have a huge continent which is undeveloped." I quite agree with him. The honorable gentleman may be regarded as the leader of the centralization party, and the hinterland of the big cities will, as a result of his action, be brought to rack and ruin, because the primary producer, and particularly the wheat farmer, are being called upon to pay terribly high prices for all they use and for all their machinery ,and tools, whilst a considerable and enormous fall in the value of their products is taking place.

The consequence will be that their lot will become such a miserable one that they will be driven into the cities. where they may expect to receive much more favoured treatment. I do not wish honorable senators to think that I do not approve of secondary industries. We all know that they are essential and most desirable. It is quite right that they should be encouraged, but it should not of grass were in places about 5 yards apart. After that old pioneer had spent a huge sum of money on improvements, fencing the country into many paddocks, and stocking it with sheep, it was found, after thirty years of occupation, that country which formerly grew only a tuft of grass here and there had a thick sole of grass and was carrying, in the smaller paddocks, nearly a sheep to the acre. This, it should be remembered, was land which was said to be absolutely valueless, and this old pioneer was regarded by his friends as being extremely rash in attempting to develop it for either sheep or cattle. His success was only one of many illustrations how country hitherto regarded as worthless may, by subdivisional fencing and occupation, be profitably occupied. In this way, also, obnoxious animals are checked. Fencing wire and wire netting are essential in order to combat the dog trouble, which is very bad indeed in the Darling country and the western district of New South Wales and Queensland. We all know also what a terrible fight the farmers have to put up against the rabbit plague. Wire netting is an absolute necessity. The. country cannot be developed without it. I think we are extremely moderate in asking only for a reduction in the British preferential Tariff. We have heard much about the necessity of giving adequate protection to our secondary industries, and what a splendid concern the Broken Hill Proprietary Company's works at Newcastle is for the Commonwealth. I would be very loath indeed to do anything that would damage those great industries, but I am sure honorable senators do not fully realize how important it is that we should safeguard our great primary industries, notably wool, meat, wheat, and butter production.

On behalf of the whole of the primary producers, of the Commonwealth, I protest against the continual persecution to which they are being subjected by being singled out for . class taxation. This Tariff penalizes two sections of the community, the primary producers and the consumers, while every consideration is given to- the manufacturers, both of the hot-house variety and those who have done so well that some of them give every promise of becoming multi-millionaires. Most of them have been amply protected hitherto, and are already getting comparatively enormous interest returns on their outlay. Increased protection is not needed. Honorable senators seem to forget that the farmer has to pay more than the city man for everything he uses because of the extra freight and the higher cost of distribution, and this Tariff will still further add to his burden. The man on the land is probably paying 25 per cent, more for all his commodities and necessaries of life than the people in the cities who are already growling about the high cost of living. Number 10 black wire, hundreds of thousands of tons of which is used all over Australia, was selling at £10 per ton in 1914. It is now quoted at £32 per ton.

Senator Russell - Is that the Australian price?

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - That is to-day's price in Melbourne or Sydney.

Senator Russell - It was £43 per ton in America in 1920.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - That is a splendid argument for a reduction in the duty, especially in view of the fact that our primary producers get no protection, no bounties, and no encouragement whatever. I know that honorable senators are inclined to think that, because I was connected with land industries, and once held a few farms, I am biased in favour of the primary producers. I can assure them that I got out of the wheat-growing industry because ; I could see only too well what, was coming. For fifteen years the average return from wheat-growing was £2 17s. 6d. per acre as against the cost of production of over £3. What is it going to cost to produce wheat in the future with the price of ploughs, reapers and binders, threshers, mowers, fencing wire, and all other requirements at enhanced values as the result of this Tariff ? I say, in all sincerity, that, after having been connected with the business of wheat-growing for thirty years, and having followed the position very closely from a statistical point of view, if we do not take care we shall kill primary production in Australia. The natural protection which these great secondary industries such as that of Broken Hill enjoy is extraordinary. They have cheap coal, cheap iron, and labour certainly as cheap, considering its excellence, as in England. Therefore, I see no reason for a further increase in the duty. For the whoie of the manufacturing industries of the Commonwealth the average outlay in wages is only £129 per head per worker, and for every £100 worth of finished product the proportion paid for labour is 17 per cent. It is of no use blaming labour costs for all the increased cost of production. Labour costs certainly do enter into the problem, but, as I have shown, to the extent of only 17 per cent. We should do all we can to encourage those plucky pioneers who are prepared to go out and develop the empty spaces of this continent. If we do not endeavour to make the lot of the man on the land more profitable and certainly more comfortable by the construction of railways, roads, water channels, telephones, telegraphs, and similar conveniences, and at least provide for only reasonable protection on manufactured articles which he uses as his tools of trade, we shall be failing in our duty. We have heard. a good deal about the great number- of men - 10,000 - employed in these1 great secondary industries in. NewSouth Wales. I should like to remind honorable- senators that the' much-abused: pastoral industry' employs much more1 labour; and- pays higher wages than any Other industry in the - Common-wealth.

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