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Tuesday, 8 June 1926

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - To a certain extent I am in agreement with the opinions expressed by Senator Needham. I intend to ask the Government to go a little further than the honorable senator proposed, and to revert to the duties in force prior to the introduction of this schedule. The burden of my song will be to encourage the copper mining as well as the gold-mining industry, and, in fact, other metalliferous mines which are in need of assistance. It seems to me that' the proposals of the Government are not designed to, in any way, assist the mining industry. Senator Needham quoted figures showing the extent to which gold mining in Western Australia has declined, and I too could quote interesting statistics showing the extent to which gold and copper production in Queensland has fallen off. Although large quantities of payable ore have been mined in Queensland, a much greater quantity would still be won if the conditions were more favorable. The cost of production has increased considerably during recent years, and if higher Customs duties are imposed on mining machinery, development will be further retarded. There was a time when 3,500 men were employed at the Mount Morgan mine - during that period a good deal of new construction was being undertaken - but, to-day, there are only 350. The future development of that mme largely depends upon the possibility of securing the necessary mining machinery at a reasonable price. A scheme is at present being tried out on a small scale, and if it can be shown that by means of it the ore can be commercially dealt with, a much larger project will be launched and fairly heavy expenditure on plant incurred. It is not now known whether the machinery it is proposed to purchase will be obtained in the United States of America, but, possibly, a good deal of it will come from that country.

Senator Crawford - If similar machinery is not manufactured in Australia, it will be admitted free.

Senator THOMPSON - My experience in connexion with the Rockhampton Harbour Board dredge compels me to regard such a suggestion rather sceptically. It would be preferable to revert to the duties in force prior to the introduction of this schedule, and I should be glad if Senator Needham would agree to such a proposal. I have received the following letter from the general manager of the Mount Morgan Goldmining Co. Ltd. -

I note that mining machinery, n.e.i., now carries 40 per cent. duty. Previously, the duty was 27½ per cent, under machines and machinery, n.e.i. The latter duty has been increased to 45 per cent., and mining machinery, n.e.i., listed separately at 40 per cent. There seems to be no good reason why the latter should carry a higher duty than ore-dressing machinery, rock-boring machinery, &c, 27½ per cent., or agricultural machines, n.e.i., 20 per cent, and no justification whatever for an increase from 27½ per cent, to 40 per cent. The foregoing are British preferential rates. If the increased duty is really put up for protective purposes, would it be possible to obtain a remission of duty paid by mining companies working at a loss ?

It would, I know, be impossible for the Government to give effect to the proposition mentioned in the concluding portion of the communication, and, apparently, the best way in which to assist the mining industry is to revert to the duties previously in force. If Senator Needham will amend his request accordingly, I shall support him, otherwise, I shall have to submit another request.

Senator Needham - What does the honorable senator suggest?

Senator THOMPSON - I desire the British preferential rate to be reduced from 40 to 27 J per cent., the intermediate from 50 per cent., to 35 per cent., and the general from 55 to 40 per cent.

SenatorCRAWFORD (Queensland- Honorary Minister) [8.301. - After hearing Senator Needham and Senator Thompson, one would imagine that the

Government had very little desire to assist the mining industry, and that the whole of the machinery and appliances used in mining carried very heavy import duties. So that honorable senators may know the exact position, I shall quote a schedule showing the machines, appliances, and materials used in connexion with this industry in Australia which are admitted either free or at a low rate of duty. Goods provided for in the tariff are as follows: -


Goods admitted under departmental by-laws for a limited period only to cover certain specific shipments are: -


Machines and appliances used in the mining industry on which various rates of duty are charged are: -


Further assistance is afforded to the mining industry as shown hereunder : -


Furthermore, a bounty is payable on shale oil according to production as follows : -


It is clear, therefore, that the Government has given very careful consideration to the requirements of the mining industry, and has made the tariff burden on the appliances used by it as light as possible consistent with the protective policy of the country. We all regret that mining is not as flourishing as it was some years ago ; but, as Senator Needham has admitted, the principal reason for this is the lower grade of ores available at the present time. I was very interested in a little pamphlet I received from a mining organization in Western Australia, advocating the pay ment of a bonus on the production of gold. It contained some most interesting information, and among other things showed that the oreraised in Western Australia last year averaged a fraction over 10 dwt. a ton. The position is the same in other States. Not only is the grade of the ore mined lower ; but it has to be raised from a greater depth. Last year the dividends paid in Western Australia were comparatively small. In fact, it cost as much to raise the gold as it was worth. Therefore, gold-mining is not a profitable business at the present time.

Senator Thompson - AH the more reason for giving it assistance.

Senator CRAWFORD - If the industry were assisted, it would last for a limited period only. No matter how rich a mine is, or how large the body of ore it has, it closes down sooner or later. Other industries, such as those protected by this item, if carried on under reasonable conditions, will last for all time, and be of increasing value to the country. No figures have been quoted, or facts advanced, to justify the claim that the reduction of duty proposed by Senator Needham would afford any relief to the mining industry. Honorable senators have complained that sufficient information has not always been available to support proposed increases of duties, but it can also be fairly claimed that practically no information is given in support of proposals to reduce duties. Statements are made as to the probable effect of a reduction, but .no figures are quoted in support of those statements.

Senator Thompson - We depend on facts.

Senator CRAWFORD - The Government has every sympathy with mining, and considers that it is equitably treated under the tariff. I am pleased to see Senator Kingsmill in the chamber. He asked earlier in the day what was meant by " commercially manufactured." It is impracticable to lay down a rigid definition of the term, but generally speaking, " commercial manufacture " in Australia means the manufacture of articles in reasonable quantities at costs which, having regard to the difference in costs of material and labour, reasonably compare with the costs of similar goods manufactured abroad. There are, in addition to the difference in costs of labour and materials, other factors to be taken into account, such as output and large home markets. Australian manufacturers have not the extensive markets enjoyed by the United Kingdom and other overseas manufacturing countries. These factors must be considered in determining whether an Australian manufacturer is producing commercially. For instance, wages and material costs in Australia are twice as high as they are in Great Britain or Germany.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Newlands - The Minister has exhausted his time.

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