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Wednesday, 11 June 1902

Mr BATCHELOR (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Not under the circumstances. The Government propose to establish the iron industry in some form or other. As custodians to the public interest, we have to consider whether it is good enough to allow the iron industry to be established under the control of a few individuals? or whether it would not be better for the States to undertake it. We are fairly entitled to ask honorable members to consent to an inquiry as tothe possibility or practicability of the States taking that course.

Mr Kingston - Would the States not prefer to make the inquiry themselves? The bonus will go to the States which establish the industry.

Mr BATCHELOR - We should have no objection to the States making the inquiry themselves. The Commonwealth can only inquire generally for the whole of the States, who may possibly be rivals in this matter. The question was raised by the. honorable and learned member for Northern Mel bourne whether the Commonwealth has power to take up factory legislation; and the objection suggested would apply equally to the matter of inviting an inquiry. The honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, agreed with the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne in the belief that it would be straining the Constitution to give anything in the shape of a bonus to the States - that it would be a breach of the spirit of the Constitution. But surely it would be no greater breach of the Constitution to give a bonus to a State than to give it to some syndicate? There are a great many advantages connected with the proposal of the honorable member for Bland as compared with the proposal of the Government, the latter of which is to lose or pay out of the revenue £250,000 in order to develop the iron industry. Of course, I know that if the enterprise be successful the money will not be lost ; but, in the meantime, it is taken out of the revenue. If the iron industry be successful under the proposed bonus, it must mean a monopoly. More than three or four companies will not begin operations, and in these days of easy combination, it is not reasonable to suppose they will damage the interests of one another by competition. Even a dozen companies could come to an arrangement with the greatest ease, and we may look forward to the establishment of only one company, or a very early combination. The recent shipping combination presented gigantic difficulties as compared with those attending the combination of a few iron-works. If there be a monopoly, as. there undoubtedly will, it will control the iron supply in Australia, and thus largely dominate our railway systems. To give into the hands of any private company the power of fixing the prices at which the States maylay down railways, would, in my opinion, be a most dangerous proceeding, which would have an important and lasting effect on the railway policy of Australia. The Government propose to bottlefeed the iron industry in its infancy, and coddle it in its childhood, and the great danger is that in manhood it will prove a monster of tyranny. I draw a marked distinction between this and many other industries which have been established or assisted by means of bonuses.

The iron industry must necessarily be a monopoly, while other industries which have beenassisted in the same way do not present that feature. For example, the butter bonuses in Victoria and South Australia have been most successful.

Mr Sawers - Parliament could take away the 10 per cent. duty.

Mr BATCHELOR - Parliament could never take away the amount which in the first instance enabled an individual to impose tyrannical conditions on the people. Look at the enormous damage done to the progress of humanity throughout the world by the monopolies in America.

Mr Mauger - That is exceedingly "casual."

Mr BATCHELOR - I am first of all for the improvement of the condition of the people, and secondly for protection.

Mr Mauger - I think the monopoly under discussion would be found to be in the interests of the people.

Mr BATCHELOR - Wherever protection or free-trade leads to monopoly, with disastrous results to the people, I shall oppose either. I should like to draw the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs to a more enlightened policy which he some years ago undertook in South Australia. In that State, £10,000 was given as a bonus to Messrs. Fulton and Company on the construction of iron piping. The Minister for Trade and Customs was not responsible for the giving of chat bonus, but he was responsible later on for the establishment of a State pipemaking factory, which proved more successful than the private factory. The State factory turned out the goods more cheaply, gave better wages, and provided better conditions for the men in their employ, than had resulted from the bonus. The £10,000 was absolutely thrown away in an attempt to build up an industry for a few private individuals, and a few years later the State introduced the more enlightened policy to which I have referred.

Mr Kingston - I should be delighted to see a State earn this bonus.

Mr BATCHELOR - If we want the States to earn the bonus, do not let us set up a rival in the shape of some syndicate which will take much quicker advantage of the offer of the Government than would any State. If we want the States to have the advantage of the bonus the claws of the syndicate must be kept off.

Mr Kingston - The right way is not to drive the States.

Mr BATCHELOR - Are we to sit down and twirl our thumbs while a great monopoly is grabbed by some private syndicate, from whom the States will eventually have to buy back at an enhanced price the deposits of ore? In the interests of Australia generally, no barrier should be imposed to the Commonwealth or the States under taking this great iron industry. In South Australia the Government enabled a private firm to establish locomotive shops in Gawler by contracting with them for the supply of a large number of locomotives, to be delivered over a period of years, at a price, I think, 30 per cent. higher than that at which they could have been obtained from abroad.

Mr Kingston - The company have also built locomotives for use in Western Australia.

Mr BATCHELOR - Now that these works have been established, however, pressure has been exerted upon the Government of the State during the last few weeks to give the firm a contract for the supply of a considerable number of boilers, in order to prevent Gawler from going down, and the men employed there being compelled to go elsewhere to find work. At the same time, however, the State workshops put in a tender for the supply of the boilers at prices lowerthan those which are to be paid to Messrs. Martin and Company. That case shows how, when a private firm has been built up by Government assistance, interests delevop round it which become strong enough to cause the Government to continue increasing their endowment. It would have been very much better, if at the first there had been no prejudice in South Australia against the Government building the locomotives they wanted, and turning them out as they were required. I admit that there are disadvantages in connexion with State control, and it is idle to say that all large undertakings can be done better by the State than by private individuals. But it seems to me that there are many undertakings which should be under State control. Certainly it is worth our while to cause an inquiry to be made to see whether the iron industry is not one which should be controlled by the Government, just as are the post and telegraphs and the railways. There is no doubt as to the supplies of ore, coal, and the other raw materials available within the Commonwealth. We know, too, that we can get the necessary men. The only question is, should the Commonwealth undertake the business, or should we give special aids to individuals to enable them to do so? The honorable and learned member for South Australia, Mr. Glynn, seems to have some doubt about the iron ore of South Australia.

Mr Glynn - I do not doubt either its quantity or its quality, but I do not think it would prove profitable to convert it into pigiron.

Mr BATCHELOR - There are large deposits of iron ore in South Australia in other districts besides Iron Knob. One of these districts is Oodlawirra. These deposits are very large, and are said to be as rich as any in Australia or elsewhere. To me the important thing is that no private individuals shall be enabled by an Act of this Parliament to lay hold of the iron industry of Australia, but I fear that that will be the result if the Government proposal is carried. In my opinion it would have been better to keep back the Bill until after the Tariff had been dealt with. In regard to the constitutional power of the Commonwealth to undertake an enterprise of this kind, I would point out that a year or two ago it would have been unconstitutional for this Parliament to assemble and pass legislation. Since then, however, the Commonwealth Constitution has been assented to. Is it to be supposed that that Constitution will never be altered ?

Mr Kingston - How long does the honorable member think it would take to bring about an alteration of the Constitution which would enable the Commonwealth to manufacture iron?

Mr BATCHELOR - While I should like to see the iron industry established tomorrow, it would be better to have its establishment deferred for two, three, or five years than to allow the control of our iron deposits to pass into the hands of private syndicates. If the delay that would be caused is the only objection which the Minister sees to making this a Commonwealth enterprise, he should encourage the growth of public opinion in favour of an amendment of the Constitution which would allow it to be done, or would allow the States to do it with the assistance of the Commonwealth. A very bad instance of the improper acquirement by private individuals of opportunities and resources which should belong to the community has recently occurred in South Australia in the case of the Snow Tramway scheme, and I shall not support any measure which would bring about a similar result. I have been asked by the honorable member for Bland to move an amendment upon his amendment. He wishes to insert the word " also" after the word " report," so that the committee may consider and report upon the Bill, and also consider and report upon the advisability of establishing Commonwealth or State ironworks. He wishes also to add the name of the right honorable member for Tasmania, Sir Edward Braddon, which he inadvertently omitted, and to substitute the name of the honorable member for Parramatta for that of the honorable member for Illawarra, at the latter's request.

Mr SPEAKER - The amendment will have to be moved when the question, "That the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question," has been dealt with.

Mr. L.E. GROOM (Darling Downs).I shall support the Bill. I have no serious apprehension that it is likely to bring into existence a monopoly which will have the terrible results depicted by the last speaker. In. any case, the Minister for Trade and Customs has already promised to bring in a measure which will prevent monopolies arising under our fiscal legislation.

Mr Fowler - It is easier to create than to kill a monopoly.

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