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Tuesday, 23 August 1921

Senator SENIOR (South Australia) . - I quoted from the Melbourne Argus of 1st August a statement made in the British House of Commons by the Secretary to the Ministry for Foodstuffs, who was making a comparison between Great Britain and Germany in the production of steel. The cost of the material was given.

Senator de Largie - It was not complete without the price of coal at the pit's mouth.

Senator SENIOR - That has nothing to do with the question. But in reference to the price of coal in Great Britain, let me quote the following from the British Trade Review, as cabled and published in the Argus of 22nd August, 1921 -

The reduction in the cost of bunker coal from about 41s. to' 26s. for Tyne coal, and to 30s. for South Wales coal has caused a weakening in wheat freights.

These figures show a reduction even on the price I previously quoted. Austraiian coal cannot be bought at anything like British prices to-day.

Senator de Largie - What is the price of Australian coal at the pit's mouth?

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - I must ask honorable senators to connect this discussion on the price of coal with the item under consideration.

Senator SENIOR - The price of coal has a direct bearing on the price of steel, and the cost of producing steel has relation to the price of agricultural machinery. In answer to Senator de Largie's argument that coal is cheaper in Australia as compared with Great Britain, I want to show that it is really higher here than it is in Great Britain to-day.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What is the cost of production in America?

Senator SENIOR - The -honorable senator's interjection brings me to a point that I wished to avoid, because it might be thought that the figures which I shall quote are used by me as against a certain class in the community. The. following cablegram appeared in the Argus on the 22nd August, 1921:-

The United States Steel Corporation has announced that a further reduction of wages for day labour in the steel industry will become effective from 29th August. The reason stated for the reduction is the prevailing low selling price of steel as compared with the cost of production.

The following table shows the increase in wages paid in the agricultural implement making industry in Australia from early last year until the middle of the present year : -

The average increase is thus about 29 per cent. My purpose is to show how the different factors in the making of an agricultural implement have increased in cost.

Senator de Largie - You have merely shown an increase in the cost of wages.

Senator SENIOR - The cost of coal ia another factor.

Senator de Largie - Once more, what is the price of coal in Australia ?

Senator SENIOR - The honorable senator can turn up the figures for himself. He has dug up a lot of ancient history. I invite him to come down to something modern. The value of labour in each £100 worth of implements purchased is at least £36. The increase of 29 per cent, on £36 amounts to £10 10s., so that this 29 per cent, increase in the cost of wages from March of last year means that an article for which £100 would be paid in 1920 could not be purchased now at under £110 10s. The effect of a decrease in the protection given to this industry would be to throw all the trade in agricultural implements to those countries where wages are falling, and this state of affairs would be used as a fulcrum on which the lever for a reduction of wages in Australia would rest. It would mean throwing men out of employment here or depreciating their wages. I give my support to the higher duty in the schedule because the giving of employment to our own people at decent rates of wages would be of general benefit to the Commonwealth, and because the adoption of any other policy would mean employing labour in other lands and compelling our own people to go without work. We would be obliged to pay, not only for the foreign raw material used in making the imported article, but also for all the foreign labour utilized in the making of it, from the mining of the ore to the final painting of the article and making it ready for loading on the railway waggon. I support this duty, not in order to make the article more costly to the person who has to use it, but so that it may be made less costly to him. In any case, I hold that if we do not keep our own market, we shall be advancing the prosperity of manufacturers of other countries, and practically seeking our own doom. I pointed out to Senator Lynch that the basis of his argument had shifted, and Senator de Largie replied by digging into ancient history and talking of what happened before the war, as if the same conditions obtained to-day.

Senator Lynch - You are quoting from the British Trade Review.Senator de Largie quoted from the Commonivealth Tear-Booh.

Senator SENIOR - He quoted from the CommonwealthYear-Book figures as to 1908. Would he quote from the same authority the price of clothing, and say that he could buy the same article to-day at the price quoted in thatYear-Book Would he say that the pair of boots for which he paid 10s. 6d. in 1908 would not cost him at least £1 to-day?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is that the outcome of Protection?

Senator SENIOR - No ; it is the outcome of neither Protection norFree Trade,, but is due entirely to the fact that the world's conditions have considerably altered. At any rate, it is almost an insult to the intelligence of the Senate for Senator de Largie to quote figures of 1908 against those which relate to present-day conditions.

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