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Wednesday, 13 May 1936

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - I am strongly of the opinion that, owing to its bearing on international trade, this item has been given a significance above its importance in the commercial life of our country. Every honorable senator must decide whether he will base his decision on a commercial, or on an international, basis. If he chooses the former, he must be guided to a great extent by the findings of the Tariff Board ; but should he adopt an international basis, he must decide whether the agreement is subject to a legal interpretation, or is to be regarded almost entirely as an honorable understanding among members of a world-wide Empire in the component parts of which conditions are entirely different. We must review this subject in the lightof those factors if the British Empire is to maintain its prestige in war and in peace. As I have said, we must, to a great extent, be guided by the findings of the Tariff Board, if we regard this as a commercial proposition. It is almost unnecessary to say that the Tariff Board consists of honorable and independent gentlemen, who consider the matters that come before them from a national standpoint, and, in submitting their reports, have no ulterior motive. The board has every opportunity to gain reliable knowledge, because those who appear before it as witnesses give their evidence on oath. Moreover, the constitution of the Tariff Board allows anymember to record his disagreement with the views of the majority. I am not altogether enamoured of boards and commissions, but I submit that, if Parliament constitutes such bodies, it should be guided by their findings. Perhaps no greater argument in favour of accepting the recommendations of the Tariff Board on this subject could be advanced than is afforded by a study of what took place in the House of Representatives during the debate on cement duties. There was considerable conflict of opinion as to the conclusions which should be drawn from the figures submitted. Entirely different deductions were made from the same premises. It was stated there that the wages paid to employees in the Australian cement industry amounted to £2,000,000 a year.

Senator Collings - That amount includes wages paid to men, both directly and indirectly associated with the industry.

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.The wages paid to workers in the industry amount to only £350,000 a year. One member of the other chamber said that wages in England were 50 per cent. below Australian rates; another put them as 100 per cent, lower. Further, the selling price of cement in England, according to various speakers, ranges from 30s. to £2 15s. 6d. a ton. The Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives (Mr. Cur tin) drew attention to the Labour party's new protection policy.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It was so new that it lasted only one day.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It was stated that the freight on cement from eastern Australian ports to Western Australian ports was greater than the freight from England. That may be true; but the remedy lies, not in the tariff, but in an amendment of the Navigation Act. Some honorable senators have described Australian manufacturers of cement as profiteers, and "gogetters." I prefer to describe them as astute business men. It has been said that shares in cement companies, which were listed at £1, have been quoted at 34s., and even as high as 40s. Those figures certainly indicate that the industry has made profits, but they also show public confidence in the management. I do not know how many, if any, members of this Parliament hold shares in cement companies; but those who are shareholders need not blush on that account. I do not hold shares in any such company, but I should like to be a shareholder. All that the cement companies have done has been done within the law. They have paid the income tax demanded of them, and have worked under Arbitration Court awards. Moreover, they have contributed to the revenue of our railways, and assisted other industries. If they are such " go-getters " as some honorable senators would have us believe, what has Parliament been doing since 1.914 that it has not curbed their activities? Those who advocate lower duties on cement do not desire to destroy this Australian industry. I do not think that any government would be so insane as to attempt to destroy an industry of this description. Speaking in Adelaide recently on the new protection, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives said that the Labour party would not protect any industry which employed,, say, 200 or 300 men, if by such protection 1,000 men were kept out of employment. If cement could be landed in South Australia at £2 a ton, that State could employ, in the construction of roads, twenty times as many men as are now engaged in the manufacture of cement. Those who advocate lower duties want to assist the industry, not to destroy it. In my opinion, the local industry has nothing to fear from the admission, free, of cement from Britain, because, as has already been pointed out, Australian manufacturers would still be protected by exchange and primage duty, as well as by the anti-dumping legislation enacted by this Parliament. The penalties prescribed by that legislation are so drastic that no overseas manufacturer would take the risk of dumping cement in this country.

Senator Collings - They are getting close to that now.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I do not think so. The two consignments of cement which have been imported intoWestern Australia from the United Kingdom would not have been brought in had it not been for the Australian shipping strike. As to cement being brought here as ballast, it appears to me that the anti-duinping legislation to which I have referred provides an ample remedy.

Senator Herbert Hays - Has that legislation ever been applied to British products ?

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Not so far as I know, but there is no reason why it should not be applied to them. Some time ago this Parliament was told that certain action which was then proposed would ruin the match-making industry. Action was taken, but the industry was not ruined. Indeed, so affluent has the firm of Bryant and May become that it has instituted a 40-hour week in its factory. Probably the cement manufacturers will be able to do likewise. As has been previously mentioned by honorable senators, the Ottawa agreement must be regarded as being either legally binding or an honorable understanding. I place the latter interpretation upon it. In my opinion it is not open to any question of legality; it is simply an agreement between two parties. Apparently, one of them, in this case, is in danger of breaking it. Although the legality of the agreement is not involved, when the time arrives for negotiating its renewal, the aggrieved party which considers that it has suffered an injury will simply decline to extend its operation. Senator Collings mentioned that the protest of the British Government against the restoration of the duty to 6d. per hundredweight was an inspired action, and the press has, for some time, published similar innuendoes. But I have every confidence that the protest was not inspired; and I believe that if the general public were made conversant with the facts, they would not believe the allegations that are being made by supporters of the cement companies. In Canberra are two representatives of the British Government; the Governor-General has a watching brief at all times, and the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom is an active gentleman whose duty is to guide and direct us and act as a connecting link between the two Parliaments.

Senator Collings - Did the honorable senator say "guide and direct us?" His function is to watch the interests of Great Britain.

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.His function is to help Australia in regard to matters which concern the Commonwealth and the United Kingdom.

Senator Collings - The utterances of the High Commissioner in Melbourne do not look like helping us.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - His remarks may have been a little untimely.

Senator Collings - Especially when the case is sub judice.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I desire to emphasize that the GovernorGeneral and the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom are watching AngloAustralian relations, and an impartial observer will conclude that the protest of the British Government was not inspired. The benefits of the Ottawa agreement to Australia have been considerable. In my opinion it is futile to attempt to deprecate the value of that agreement to the Commonwealth. I do not propose to reiterate the figures that have been quoted a number of times in this chamber, showing additional exports of meat, eggs, butter and cheese to the Old Country as a result of that agreement. I. am confident that it gave the Commonwealth an opportunity to market that extra produce.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator J B Hayes - The honorable senator's time has expired.

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