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Tuesday, 23 August 1921

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - Senators Earle and Senior stressed, almost to breaking point, the relation of the cost of the raw material to the manufacture of articles included in this item. I cannot understand any one who has given attention to this subject advancing that as an argument in favour of high duties. It is well known that Australia has cheaper coal and cheaper iron than any country with which our "manufacturers are likely to compete.

Senator Senior - What is the price of coal now?

Senator DE LARGIE - I will quote the figures before I resume my seat. Australia has always been a cheap producer of coal. Unlike the older countries of the world, notably Great Britain, Belgium, France, and, to a certain extent, Germany, where the coal seams are deeper and thinner, and consequently more difficult to work, the coal measures of Australia are comparatively easy to operate, and therefore we produce it at a lower cost.

Senator Senior - This may be all very satisfactory, but what is the price to-day?

Senator DE LARGIE - No doubt Senator Senior thinks I intend to evade the point, whereas I merely wish to develop my argument in my own way so that even he may understand the position. I find, on the authority of the Government Statistician (Mr. Knibbs), that the dearest coal countries in Europe are Belgium, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, in the order named; and that for the years 1908-

Senator Senior - Ancient history!1

Senator DE LARGIE - I am afraid that Senator Senior is not in a very logical frame of mind this afternoon. His interjection is intended to suggest that my figures are valueless, but before I conclude he will realize that they are well worthy of consideration, because the period from 1908-12, which is covered by the official figures before me, were normal years, prior to the war, so far as the supply of coal is concerned.

Senator Plain - And therefore your argument is strengthened.

Senator DE LARGIE - Undoubtedly it is. It is well known that the conditions arising out of the war have been responsible for a considerable fluctuation in prices everywhere, but what the ultimate effect will be on coal prices no one at the moment can say. We know that prices are now on the decline, so that before long we should be near to normal conditions again. These figures, I remind honorable senators, relate to the cost of production in normal years. During that period coal at the pit's mouth in Belgium ranged from lis. 8d. per ton up to 13s. 5d. per ton; in France from 12s. 3d. to 12s. lid. per ton; in Germany from 9s. 9d. to 10s. 6d. per ton ; and in Great Britain from 8s. Id. to 9s. per ton. I will now give the Australian prices.

Senator Senior - Give them for the same years.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am in an accommodating mood to-day, and therefore, to satisfy Senator Senior. I shall quote the Australian prices for those years. The figures ranged from 7s. 4d. to 7s. 6d. per ton. In New Zealand quotations for the same period ranged from 10s. 4d. to 1 ls. Id., and in Canada from 10s. 8d. to lis. 5d. These figures have an important bearing upon the cost of the raw material for iron manufactures in all these countries concerned.

Senator Bolton - Those are not present prices in Australia.

Senator DE LARGIE - No; but they relate to normal years of production, and any fair comparison must be upon that basis. I defy any honorable senator to state the price of coal in any country of the world at the present time. Quotations are coming down everywhere.

Senator Senior - I quoted recent prices.

Senator DE LARGIE - But on what authority ? The honorable senator cannot say whether the prices he quoted were at the pit's mouth or delivered 100 or 1,000 miles from the point of production. He is quite unconscious of these circumstances, which, nevertheless, must be taken into account.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I understand that Senator Senior's authority was a British Minister in the House of Commons, and that the quotation related to German prices f.o.b.

Senator DE LARGIE - Is that the honorable senator's interpretation of the statement ?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Certainly.

Senator DE LARGIE - I would like the honorable senator to give some further proof on that point. I repeat that our manufacturers are getting their raw material as cheaply as manufacturers in any other part of the world. We have cheap coal and iron in abundance, and, consequently, so far as the raw material is concerned, we should not fear competition.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about wages ?

Senator DE LARGIE - What have wages in the manufacturing industry to do with the problem, if the coal-miner of Australia can produce 2 tons of coal as against 1 ton produced by an English or a Scottish miner in a given time? The things that matter are coal and iron prices to the public in this and other countries that are in competition with each other.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But do not wages bear some relation to the cost of production?

Senator DE LARGIE - Undoubtedly, other things being equal. If the British coal-miner were on an equality with the Australian coal-miner in the matter of production, then the wage element in the manufacturing industry would be important; but I have shown that in the older countries of the world the coal seams are deeper and thinner, and consequently it is impossible for the coal-miner there to produce coal so cheaply as in Australia. Therefore, there is nothing whatever in the argument . adduced by Senator Senior and Senator Pratten.

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