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Tuesday, 23 August 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - Those who are supporting the higher duty ought to give us some reason for the necessity for it. The Minister (Senator Pearce) has demonstrated that America is sending to Australia . a great deal more of this machinery than is Great Britain, France, or Canada. I take it that in America wages are higher than in Belgium, England, France, and, possibly, even in Canada; yet the big imports are from the country which pays the highest wages. It has been demonstrated here that iron and coal are as cheap in Australia as in either America or England.

Senator de Largie - Coal is much cheaper here than in the Old Country.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - At any rate, there is no question as to that in the case of America. As I say, wages are higher in America than they are here.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - On whose authority?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Can the honorable senator give figures to the contrary?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am asking you to prove what you say.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have no figures; but it is generally understood that in the industries affected wages are higher in America than here. At any rate, it is obvious that wages are higher here than they are in England.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Granted.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the honorable senator says that wages are not higher in America than here I shall, of course, accept his statement, or, on the other hand, I am quite prepared to take it that, after many years of Protection, wages are no higher in America than they are in Australia after a few years of Protection.

Senator de Largie - I would not say that coal is cheaper in Australia than in the United States of America.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - America has the cheapest coal in the world.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - According to Mr. Charlton who represents Hunter in another place, Australia holds its own very well in the matter of coal. I may be heterodox, but I have always held that we ought not to be afraid of cheap labour so much as of highly-skilled and highlypaid labour. It is the labour of men who are well paid, and have time to read and think, that causes the keenest competition.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - "Would you not alao include 'organized labour?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I should certainly say that organization plays a great part in production; and I suppose that in a highly-skilled nation like America the organization of labour is much better than, say, in Japan, though on that point I do not speak with authority. It has been said that the United States of America is about the most highly organized country in the world.

Senator Elliott - The volume of output has something to do with the matter.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Of course, but we are faced with the fact that the duty in the general column is exactly the same against the highly-paid and highly-skilled labour of America and Canada as against Japan, Belgium, China, or any other country. The United States of America is our greatest competitor, sending more of these particular commodities to Australia than does all the rest of the world. Senator Pratten readily admits that wages are higher in the United States of America than they are. in Great Britain, and yet there is a lower duty as against the Old Country. It may be said that this preference is given as a matter of sentiment, but if the question be regarded strictly from the Protectionist point of view, sentiment cannot be considered. An Australian worker is perfectly justified in saying that if he has to be thrown out of work by foreign competition, it makes very little difference to him whether the competition be that of Englishmen or Americans. Of course, an Australian might naturally say that if he must be thrown out of work he would rather be thrown out by an Englishman; but he does not wish to be thrown out of work by anybody. Duties have been raised, and wages and other costs have gone up in Australia; but that is occurring in other countries also. Senator Senior has told us that wages are dropping in other countries; but he has not shown us how the wages there compare with the wages here. We ought to know what wages are being paid in industries that are not being protected. It is on the agricultural labourer, with the farmer, that, after all, the burden falls; the labourer has to pay his quota towards the cost of the machinery he uses in growing wheat or any other primary product.

Senator Elliott - What does the agricultural labourer buy?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The agricultural labourer helps the farmer to produce wheat, and the cost of the implements affects him in his wages, for a farmer cannot afford to pay some of the higher rates of wages of which we have been told today. I am not at all in favour of lowering wages; but it seems to be most unfair that a man, just because he is employed in an unprotected industry, should receive lower wages than a man employed in a protected industry. Nearly twenty years ago, when the first Tariff was before the Federal Parliament, Mr. Tudor, the honorable member for Yarra, - whom, we all hope, will shortly be restored to health - showed a party over the Denton Hat Mills, and remarked, when in one of the rooms, that every person employed there was receiving at least 10s. a day, which at that time was considered a very fair wage. Now, I was then representing Broken Hill, and while I expressed my pleasure that the employees in the hat industry were receiving 10s. a,day, in surroundings which were comparatively a paradise, I pointed out that the men working in the open cuts on the Barrier, in surroundings which were a hell, received only 8s. 4d. a day - and that in order that men in theprotected industries should receive 10s. -I am glad to say that wages have increased, all round since then. Senator Senior expressed his desire to see men employed in, Australia, and that is my desire also; but I can remember a time when Broken Hillproduced 110,000 tons of lead per annum ; supplied all the requirements of Australia with 10,000 tons, and exported the balance; otherwise, ten out of every eleven men on the Barrier would have been out of employment. I am in favour of men being employed in making agricultural machinery and implements; but if, in order to employ them, men are thrown out of work at Broken Hill, I do not see that the country gains any particular advantage. However that may be, I think we ought to be given some reason why this additional duty is proposed. I should like the Minister (Senator Pearce) to quote figures showing the production of these commodities in Australia.

Senator Pearce - I have not separate figures.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I shall vote for the proposed reduction of the duty because it will help, to some small extent, the man on the land, I stand for the primary producer being supplied with his machinery, which is his raw material, as cheaply as possible. Even from a Protectionist stand-point, there has not been given any definite reason for the additional duty. I listened with interest to Senator Earle, who is a whole-hearted Protectionist; he does not come down to details, but, when he speaks of the good he anticipates from the Tariff Board, and so forth, he puts a good deal of poetry into his utterances.

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

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