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Wednesday, 11 June 1902

Mr CAMERON (Tasmania) - In my opinion it was a mistake on the part of the Minister for Trade and Customs, and also on the part of members sitting behind the Government, to introduce the word "protection " in connexion with the proposed bonuses. As a revenue tariffist, when I hear the word " protection " it is liable to make me suspicious. At one time I had decided that I could not support these bonuses ; but on taking into consideration the fact that the system has operated very favorably in connexion with the butter industry of Victoria it seems to me possible that it might have similar results in regard to the iron industry. I was somewhat surprised by the fear which has been expressed by several honorable members that a monopoly will be created if we vote these bonuses. That fear, appeal's to me to be absurd, because if by any chance a monopoly were created, and prices unduly raised, it would be perfectly possible for the Federal Government to admit iron duty free, and at once bring the Syndicate or company into competition with outside sources of supply. The honorable member for South Sydney was inclined to support the Bill, but in the face of the fact that not even the Treasurer can tell what the revenue is likely to be during the next twelve months, he has some doubts as to the wisdom of taking that course. But misgivings of that kind need not agitate the minds of honorable members. Even if the bonuses were to come into operation tomorrow, probably a year and a half would elapse before the plant could be in full operation. If the Treasurer's Estimates are correct, there will be a certain surplus this year, and as prosperity returns with good seasons, the revenue will become more elastic. If the majority of honorable members believe that it is a good system to encourage industries by means of- bonuses, there need be no delay from any fear of our not,being. able to provide the money when required. There are immense bodies of ore in several parts of Australia, including Tasmania, and the smelting industry has already been tried. Nearly 20 years ago, something like £100,000 was invested in that industry in Tasmania, but. I am sorry to say that failure was the result. The ore which has been discovered since is totally different to that treated in Tasmania; but we cannot hope to induce men to embark in industries of the kind, unless there they are shown some reasonable prospects of success. I should never support any form of protection ; but knowing that we are, comparatively speaking, a young country, with immense sources of wealth in a state of nature, which we have not sufficient capital ourselves to develop, and knowing that capital will flow from every part of the world if there is reasonable prospect of a profit, I am, as a taxpayer, prepared to make some sacrifice in "the hope of benefiting the community as a whole. It seems to me that the bonus system is about the fairest that could be evolved with this object ; and I am perfectly prepared, so far as the iron industry is concerned, to support the proposals of the Minister. I want it to be clearly understood, however, that if at the end of the term provided in the Bill, any further pro.posals for assistance are introduced, I shall, if a member of the House, oppose them. A fair and straightforward course for the Ministry to take would be to say that while they are prepared to give a syndicate assistance for so many years, in the shape of a bonus, they will not be prepared to continue that assistance any longer. To grant any extension would be neither more nor less than protection. On these terms I shall support the second reading; but while I shall vote for bonuses being extended to pig-iron, puddled bar-iron, and steel, I cannot see my way to give the assistance promised to the manufactures contemplated in classes 2 and 3 in the schedule. The spelter industry has already been established. Welsh workmen and experts have been introduced, and I see no reason why assistance should be rendered to those interested.

Mr Watkins - Does that objection not also apply to the manufacture of iron 1

Mr CAMERON - I do not know that iron is being manufactured in any of the States. It was tried some years ago, and those interested, who were Australians, were ruined by the lamentable failure. Since then fresh vast deposits of iron ore have been discovered, and proved to be exceedingly rich and valuable; but .the first failure has prevented the investment of Australian capital. I know very little about galvanized iron, but I understand that its manufacture is carried on in Victoria at the present time, and as that commodity is at present the subject of a protective duty, which assists the industry to some extent, I am not prepared to extend any further assistance. In regard to wirenetting, we know that a large factory has been in operation in Sydney for some years, and as the proprietors, Messrs. Lysaght Brothers, have acquired control of the whole of the markets of Australia, I fail to see why they should need any help. I am not prepared to give special support to industries which have already been successfully established, but the bonus system might, be extended to a number of enterprises which are not likely to be embarked upon unless some special encouragement is afforded.

Mr Wilks - The ship-building industry, for instance.

Mr CAMERON - If we could manufacture the iron plates necessary for use in ship-building we might offer a bonus to assist those engaged in that industry. The production of mineral oil is also a" matter that should engage our attention. I shall support the Bill so far as it provides for bonuses for the encouragement of the iron industry, but I shall not be prepared to grant any extension of the bonuses beyond the period specified in the Bill.

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