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Thursday, 23 April 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [4.3]. - I congratulate Senator Guthrie on the speech which he has delivered on this subject. Because of his knowledge of this question, his association with the industry, and his practical mind, we knew that he would present his facts in a speech of the most arresting character. And that he has done. When, during the course of his remarks, he referred to the falling-off in the use of wool in the United States of America, the thought occurred to me whether that was entirely due to the competition of rayon and other synthetic fibres. There came back to my mind an incident that occurred when I was in the United States of America in 1922. which might account to some extent for the falling-off in the use of wool in that country. One day I was passing a tailor's shop and interested myself in his exhibits of cloth and the cost of his suits. Out of curiosity, and to compare prices of similar quality suits in the United States of America and Australia, I inquired as to what it would cost' for a suit similar to that which I was then wearing, which was made by an Australian tailor of Australian cloth made from Australian wool. I found that the price of such a suit in the United States of America was very much higher .than in Australia. When I asked the tailor why the difference was so great, he said, " The suit you are wearing apparently is an English worsted; that is why the price is so high". I said to him, "Have you no American worsteds " ? He replied, " Certainly, but I thought you wanted a good suit ". I said, "I do, but I would like to see an American tweed or worsted ". He produced an American worsted; and, although I am not an expert in these matters, I could see the difference at once. I asked him, " Do you know why the British tweeds and worsteds are so much superior to the American products " ? He replied, " No, I cannot understand why we cannot make material of the same quality ". I said to him, " The reason is because you have to pay a duty of 6d. per lb. on the best wool in the world, Australian merino wool, which the British textile manufacturer imports free, of duty. For this reason, the American manufacturer is compelled to use inferior wool ". It was probably because of that competition that fibres came into use in the United States of America, and the quantity of wool used diminished. At any rate, there was no corresponding falling off in the manufacture of wool in England. In that country, there is as much wool used to-day as ever there was.

I deprecate the action of Senator Abbott in having raised the question of trade relations with Japan - a matter not mentioned by Senator Guthrie, and I trust that other honorable senators will not debate it at this juncture. I make this appeal because, at the present juncture, negotiations with Japan are proceeding, and any remarks made now may prejudice the success of the negotiations. Honorable senators will appreciate that Ministers at this moment are not free to say all that they might like to say on this subject. I can assure Senator Abbott, however, that there is a reply to the statements he has made, and to the statements which are appearing in the newspapers ; but the time to make that reply is not' to-day. It would be most inadvisable to discuss that subject at the present time. The Government desires, if at all possible, to act fairly by our own people,- and to continue the good trading relations with

Japan. It is desired to negotiate a treaty which will be fair to both countries. A debate on the trade relations with Japan at this juncture, when Ministers are unable to present to the Senate all thu information at their disposal, would bc distinctly inadvisable and rather unfair. I therefore suggest that we might defer it to a more appropriate time, giving, at the same time, the assurance to honorable senators that when a more favorable occasion arises an opportunity will be presented to members of both Houses of the Parliament to discuss our trade relations with Japan.

Coming to the points raised by Senator Guthrie, I can assure the honorable senator that the Government has been watching this matter very closely, and, as he knows, there has been correspondence between various interests and the. Government on the question of propaganda. J am not aware that there has been any noticeably hostile propaganda against wool, although there has certainly been propaganda in favour of rayon and other fibres that come into competition with wool. But honorable senators cannot blame the manufacturers of those products for pushing their wares.

Senator Duncan-Hughes - There has been a good deal of hostile propaganda; the case of dermatitis has been mentioned.

Senator Guthrie - The propaganda has been of such a hostile character that I thought it inadvisable to repeat it here.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - . I was not aware of that. At any rate any scheme of publicity put forward by the wool-growers will receive the fullest and most sympathetic consideration of the Government. We are given to understand that the wool-growers are now devising a publicity scheme, and that when it is ready they will submit details of their proposals to the Government. As soon as these are presented, we shall consider them most sympathetically. As Senator Guthrie has pointed out, the wool industry is of tremendous importance, not only to Australia, but also to the Empire as a whole.

Much has been said and written concerning the menace which wool substitutes constitute to the Australian wool industry. The Government has been carefully studying the position for some time, and believes that the danger is not. so serious as some people have suggested. During last year, Commonwealth Ministers and departmental officers who were overseas closely investigated this matter, and reviewed the headway made in different continental countries in the manufacture of fibres which, it was proposed, would replace woollen goods. The experience of the last few months, however, shows that many of the prophecies of the commentators on the subject have not been fulfilled. One of the remarks of Senator Guthrie himself gave support to this contention, for he pointed out that the prices obtained last season showed that the demand for wool is still keen ; and as we all know, the position revealed by firms which closely follow the wool market is that there is very little, if any, carry-over. One of the reassuring features in regard to the wool is that £his great primary industry is about the only one which throughout the depression met the market unaided. In practically every other instance, restrictions, regulations or embargoes were imposed by various countries. Wool was not subjected to restrictions or embargoes, because every country has need of it, and there was no great surplus of it during the depression. It is rather remarkable that whilst every country in Europe placed embargoes or restrictions of some kind on wheat, fruit, meat, metals and practically every other primary product, not one of them put an embargo' on wool. To my mind, no better proof of the soundness of this industry could be afforded than the creditable way in which it stood this fiery test during the world depression. I can assure Senator Guthrie and other honorable senators that the Government realizes the great importance of the industry, and the necessity for safeguarding it. Any action the Ministry can take which will be sound and effectual will receive its sympathetic consideration.

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