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Thursday, 12 June 1902

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I agree with the honorable member for Kalgoorlie as to the importance of the iron industry, but. I do not agree with him that the industries which supply us with food and clothing equally require support. In one sense they may be even more important than the iron industry, but they require much less capital for their development. It is because of the immense capital required for the development of the iron industry that the Government have brought forward these proposals. There are before the House at the present time practically four propositions. We have first the proposals of the Government ; thenwe have those proposals plus the suggestion of the honorable member for Melbourne Ports ; thirdly, we have the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Bland for the appointment of a select committee; and, lastly, we have the proposition of the honorable and learned member for Darling Downs, that the Bill be amended to allow the States or any one of them to engage in the iron industry and receive bonuses from the Commonwealth.

Mr Kingston - They can do that now.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - It was at first my intention to support the honorable member for Bland, but, having since heard the speech of the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne, and having consulted with other legal men upon whom I can place reliance, I am persuaded that it would be utterly unconstitutional for the Commonwealth to engage in any manufacturing business. That being so, it would be useless to appoint a Select Committee to inquire into the subject.

Mr Thomas - But lawyers differ on the question.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I think that the honorable member for Bland himself admitted that he has grave doubt as to whether the Commonwealth can engage in manufacturing. I believe that he went so far as to say that the Constitution may have to be altered to enable the Commonwealth to establish the iron industry as a national undertaking.

Mr Thomas - The Select Committee will be able to determine those questions.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - All that the committee could do would be to recommend an alteration of the Constitution. I should like to support the proposal of the honorable member for Bland, but it would be idle to agree to something which would have no practical effect. The Government propose to expend £324,000 in developing the iron industry. I think it would be better to spend the money in establishing works of our own than in providing profit for capitalists, who may conduct their operations in a way of which we would not approve, or who, after receiving the promised bonuses, might throw up the sponge and not go any further. It would be better for the Government to establish their own works, but, unfortunately, that appears to be impossible.

Mr Watson - It would not be possible for us to subsidize the States.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Provision might be made in the Bill whereby the States, as States, could establish ironworks.

Mr Kingston - They can do that now, and they can draw the bonus.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - My purpose would be accomplished if the States were to take up this industry. If a large amount of Government money is to be expended, it should, if possible, be invested in State workshops. If we could give effect to the proposal of the honorable member for Bland, I should vote for his amendment ; but I am satisfied that we cannot do as he desires. I shall, therefore, vote for the Bill on the understanding that provision will be made for the States to take up the industry.

Mr Thomson - No, permission is necessary.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I do not say that the States require any permission, but I wish them to derive benefit from the bonus.

Mr Thomson - Are the States so poor that they need assistance?

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - I do not suppose they are ; but the industry is so important that it might be greatly to the advantage of the Commonwealth to assist any State in establishing it. I do not know that the State of Tasmania, for instance, would be very well able to establish the iron industry, and develop her large iron deposits, and it might be greatly to the advantage of the Commonwealth if the industry were established there.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Surely New South Wales would be able to start ironworks of her own ?

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - That is no reason why other States which are not in so fortunate a position should be debarred from receiving assistance.

Mr Kingston - We should not refuse to the States the encouragement we are willing to give to an individual.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Quite so. I hope the result of passing the Bill will be that ironworks will be started as a State enterprise, because it is apparent that the Commonwealth itself cannot enter upon such an undertaking.

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