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Thursday, 12 June 1902

Mr MAUGER (Melbourne Ports) - I have listened with a great deal of attention to the debates upon the second reading of this Bill. Whilst I am emphatically in favour of nationalizing this or any other industry that it is possible to nationalize, I am convinced, after having given close attention to the various speeches which have been made, that the object of the honorable member for Bland will not be achieved by the adoption of the amendment. I am satisfied that my honorable friends opposite, who are supporting that amendment, are not actuated by a desire to grant bonuses for the production of iron or to nationalize the industry. They merely wish to delay and ultimately to defeat the measure. To me the initial means by which the enterprise is established is a matter of indifference, so long as the Commonwealth or the States reap the benefit. Honorable members opposite, however, have not concealed the fact that they are absolutely opposed to the principle involved in this measure, and that they intend voting for the amendment in order to defeat it. In this connexion I wish to say that the party with which I am associated is pledged to the principle of granting bonuses to encourage the development of the iron industry. Not only did we thus pledge ourselves upon the hustings, but at a conference in which leading members of the labour party took part. I hold in my hand a resolution to which the signatures of such representative members of that party as Senator McGregor, Senator Higgs, and Mr. Beazley, of Victoria, are attached.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not as representative labour men.

Mr MAUGER - They were present in that capacity.

Mr Spence - As representative protectionists.

Mr MAUGER - Is it possible to separate the two things? Surely the honorable member would not infer that when they participated in that conference they dissociated themselves from the party to which they belong, and agreed to a resolution which was adverse to its best interests ?

Mr Watson - They may have inadvertently agreed to something which was very wrong.

Mr MAUGER - It cannot be urged that they inadvertently attached their signatures to a motion which was debated at considerable length.

Mr Batchelor - But the conference did not represent the party.

Mr MAUGER - It shows that the leading members of the party at the time of the federal elections, or just before, were in favour of a proposal of the kind.

Mr Fowler - Did they discuss the question of nationalizing the industry?

Mr MAUGER - They discussed the question of the payment of bonuses, and supported the following resolution passed at the united conference of protectionists held in Sydney last year : -

That in view of the enormous benefits which may reasonably be expected to accrue to the Australian Commonwealth from the establishment of the iron and steel industry within its borders, this conference recommends that such industry be encouraged by bonuses from the Federal Government, for a stated period to be fixed thereby, of 12s.6d. per ton for every ton of pigiron or steel ingots, and bars, rods and sheets (whether of iron or steel, produced from native ores and fluxes).

Mr Fowler - What did they say about the nationalization of the industry? Surely that is part of the labour policy.

Mr MAUGER - It was part of the policy of the labour representatives at the conference.

Mr Watson - The two senators mentioned are certainly in favour of my amendment now.

Mr MAUGER - That may be, but those two senators at the conference pledged themselves to that resolution, and if then, and afterwards on the hustings, I promised to support the principle, surely I am only keeping that promise now in voting for the second reading of this Bill. If I were assured that the amendment would achieve the object the honorable member for Bland has in view, I should support it ; and I wish it to be clearly understood that I am in favour of nationalizing the industry.

Mr Kingston - Have we to wait until the industry is nationalized ?

Mr MAUGER - I would make a start at once ; and I invite the honorable member for Bland to submit his proposal on its merits, irrespective of the Bill.

Mr Watson - Knock out the Bill first.

Mr MAUGER - That interjection goes to strengthen my contention that the amendment is being used to defeat the Bill. If the amendment be proposed on its merits, not only for the purpose of inquiring into the desirability of establishing this industry, but for fixing a date on which this Bill shall become law after due investigation, I shall support it.

Mr Spence - That is what the amendment means.

Mr MAUGER - The amendment seeks first to defeat the Bill, and then to commence de novo an inquiry into the advisability of, at some future date, adopting the measure. It is of the greatest importance that there should be no delay in establishing this industry, and the Bill is the best instrument I can see at the present time for developing the resources which lie at our door. I would have the measure fenced in with regulations as to wages and dividends, and provide that the people who avail themselves of the bonus shall at any time be compelled to sell their property to the State which desires to acquire it. It is because I am anxious to develop our resources and find employment, especially at this critical juncture of our national affairs, that I support the Bill. We must look out for every possible avenue of employment all over the Commonwealth if we are to retain our population. The facilities and opportunities afforded in South Africa are of such a character that, unless neutralizing influences are exercised, the consequences will be serious. Men are clamouring for work, and are our natural resources to lie dormant, while we import to meet our requirements ? I support the Government proposal, even if only as a tentative measure, and for the purpose of making a commencement. As I said, if the honorable member for Bland will submit his proposal on its merits - not for the purpose of defeating the Bill, but for the purpose of carrying out his idea of nationalization, he will have no more ardent supporter than myself.

Mr Watson - But that would be when the vested interests have been created, and there would be no possibility of carrying my proposal.

Mr MAUGER - Does the honorable member think that vested interests will be established in twelve months?

Mr Watson - The honorable member must hope so, or what is the use of carrying the Bill?

Mr MAUGER - I do not suppose that the Bill can become operative in a day. When in committee I intend to propose a clause which will read somewhat as follows : -

And also make regulations requiring any person who has received the bonus under this Act to enter into a bond for the sale of the undertaking to the State in which the undertaking is carrying on, and also for prescribing for all matters incidental to such sale.

Mr Thomson - Does the honorable member expect any one to take up an extraordinary offer like that?

Mr MAUGER - I certainly do. If a bonus were given on the manufacture of agricultural machinery with such conditions attached, there are American capitalists in Melbourne to-day who would be glad to start the industry. I make this statement authoritatively.

Mr Thomson - Agricultural implements are made here now.

Mr MAUGER - But not nearly to the extent to which they are used ; and it is a notorious fact that agricultural implements are being manufactured to a less degree as the duty is lowered. Unless some such step is taken as I have suggested, agricultural implement making will ultimately become an extinguished industry.

Mr Thomson - But a bonus is proposed on the top of protection.

Mr MAUGER - The proposal in the Bill is first a bonus, and afterwards protection.

Mr Thomson - I am speaking of agricultural implement making.

Mr MAUGER - If no one took up the industry on the conditions I have indicated, the object of the honorable member for Bland would be carried out, because then the Bonus Bill would be rendered inoperative. On the other hand, if the industry were started, no one would be injured and there would be developed a valuable industry which the State would have a right to acquire. I have consulted the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, and both he and myself are just as anxious as any other honorable member can be to see this industry established and nationalized; but we are also anxious that no such amendment as that proposed shall be used for the purpose of defeating the objects we have in view. Surely that is a logical position to assume.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What is the meaning of the amendment which the honorable member has said he will submit in committee?

Mr MAUGER - It means that in giving this bonus to any company, the State will retain the right at any time to acquire the business on the conditions set out in the regulations.

Mr Thomson - If the company make the industry pay, the State will take it, but if it is not paying, the company will be allowed to go on?

Mr MAUGER - Surely that is the point of view of the honorable member for Barrier - namely, that the State ought not to take over an unsuccessful business ?

Mr Thomson - Then it will have to be startedby philanthropists.

Mr MAUGER - If so, I claim that honorable members of the Opposition, who want to defeat the Bill, should support my amendment, seeing that it carries out the very idea they have in view. I quite recognise that a Bill of this kind should be safeguarded in a number of ways. It should be safeguarded in respect to the wages paid and the conditions of labour. I find that the representatives of Tasmania are supporting the Bill, but if the industry is to be developed in that State under a bonus, we must strenuously safeguard the interests of the workers. I know of no more conservative place within the Commonwealth, in regard to work and wages, than the " tight little island." I would go so far as to insist that the amount paid in dividends should be restricted, that after a fair return has been given on the capital invested the Government should be repaid the bonus. A similar proposal is being seriously conconsidered in America in connexion with the incorporated trusts, and not only are wages and hours being fixed, but maximum profits are prescribed.

Mr Cameron - That is stifling enterprize.

Mr MAUGER - If the honorable member means stifling aggrandizement of wealth he is right. I am pledged and prepared to support such a proposal as is incorporated in this Bill; but I would safeguard it in every possible way. I am not prepared to support any amendment which has for its object, or at any rate, will have the effect, of shelving a question of the utmost importance to the highest and best interests of the Commonwealth.

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