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Wednesday, 13 May 1936

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - Some honorable senators seem to be under the impression that members of the Opposition support monopolies which are making large profits at the expense of the workers and the community generally. I remind Senator Hardy that profit-making, which is due to the economic system under which we are living, is not confined to cement manufacturers.

Senator Hardy - Not excessive profits.

Senator BROWN - Doubtless, honorable senators opposite have shares in companies, some of which are making excessive profits. At present there is antagonism between certain sections of the industry. Manufacturers of concrete pipes are competing with those producing earthenware pipes, and have even asked the cement manufacturers for rebates to enable them to compete more successfully. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) has mentioned that the members of his party are not financially interested in these companies. That is somewhat unfortunate; I should not be ashamed to admit that I had a few thousand shares in the Hume Pipe Company, an Australian cement company, or even in an English organization engaged in the production of cement. I would not condemn an honorable senator who fought for the retention of the duty, even if he were the sole owner of a cement-making concern; I would applaud him for the fight he was putting up in his own interests. Unlike honorable senators opposite, who are interested in timber, glass and other products, the members of the Opposition can study this subject in an unbiased way.I remind Senator Hardy, who seems to be somewhat perturbed because excessive profits have been made by certain Australian companies, that only a. few days ago Senator Sampson mentioned the losses made by one of these companies. It would be better if honorable senators, such as Senator Hardy, who speak of the excessive profits made by the cement companies, mentioned also the losses incurred.

Senator Hardy - Can the honorable senator do so?

Senator BROWN - Senater Sampson mentioned the losses incurred by one company, and the Leader of the Opposition gave the amount which has been expended on the industry. If these companies are making excessive profits, the Government should have exercised its power under the Tariff Board Act of 1921, section 15 of which reads - (1.) The Minister shall refer to the board for inquiry and report the following matters: -

(h)   any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection offorded him by the tariff, and in particular in regard to his -

(i)   charging unnecessarily high prices for his goods; or

(ii)   acting in restraint of trade to the detriment of the public; or

(iii)   acting in a manner which results in unnecessarily high prices being charged to the "consumer for his goods. and shall not take any action in respect of any of those matters until he has received the report of the board.

Has there been a full inquiry in regard to this matter? Has the Government received such a report from the board? We believe that the board should furnish a. full report. We are not here merely to uphold the interests of companies. If a report has been made - and I am open to correction on this point - then, of course, action could be taken. Subsection 3 reads -

If the board finds on inquiry that any complaint referred to it under paragraph (ft) of sub-section (1) of this section is justified, it may recommend -

(a)   that the amount of duty payable on the goods the subject of the complaint be reduced or abolished; or

(b)   that such other action as the board thinks desirable be taken, but shall, before it makes any such recommendation, consider carefully the conditions obtaining in the industry as a whole.

If the charges of profiteering against cement companies constitute prima facie evidence that they are making undue profits, then it. is the duty of this Government to see that a thorough inquiry is made into the industry under the provisions which I have just quoted.

Senator Hardy - Does the honorable senator think that those companies have made high profits, or not?

Senator BROWN - I am not pronouncing judgment at the moment. I emphasize that members of the Opposition do not uphold exploitation of the workers in any form. As a matter of fact, we represent a party which hopes, through the efficient organization of industry, that there will be no exploitation, but that industry will be carried on for the welfare of the community generally. "We do not support profiteering by companies, whether in respect of timber, cement, or any other commodity. The Minister has told us of excessive exploitation on the part of cement companies and said that they are overcapitalized. My leader replied that overcapitalization is general in industry. If we were a wise people, we would ensure that the factories built up by the workers would be used- for the benefit of the community as a whole. There is no doubt that, if the community were run economically - -that is, if the best were got out of industry - every cement works in Australia to-day would be operating at full capacity. "We know that we are using an article in the construction of roads which is not the best for this purpose. A few years ago I listened to a speech by the president of the Automobile Association of America at New Farm, Brisbane, in which he pointed out that, in building bitumen roads, and building these too narrow, we are repeating America's mistake. Suppose, for instance, that we commenced to build roads of cement.

Senator Guthrie - That should be done.

Senator Hardy - How could we manage to do so with cement costing £4 a ton ?

Sen ato r BROWN. - If all our cement works were producing at their full capacity, prices naturally could be reduced. Members of the Opposition always advocate that industry should be utilized to the fullest. Over and over again I have said that no good will be accomplished by dividing our markets for base commodities; in this instance, we are dividing our market between British and Australian cement, which can be produced here in abundance. Honorable senators who support such a policy are following a false track. When we are wise in our generation we will not be arguing about dividing our market, which is limited because of our stupid economic system, but will be utilizing to the full our machinery for the production of the greatest quantity of the articles we need. I have laboured this point repeatedly; we shall not solve the problem of over-capitalization and excessive charges by admitting cement free from the Old Country, thus enabling British manufacturers to compete successfully with factories already established in this country. That is a foolish and stupid idea.

Senator Arkins - Do I understand the honorable senator to say that we should not build bitumen surfaced roads?

Senator BROWN - I was quoting from a speech by the President of the Automobile Association of America.

Senator Arkins - Many authorities disagree with that view.

Senator BROWN - A great many authorities agree that experience over a long period has shown cement roads to be cheaper and more satisfactory.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Badman - The honorable senator has exhausted his time.

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