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Tuesday, 2 September 1902

Mr HIGGINS (NORTHERN MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - That may be, but I am saying what I really think. I take it that the motion for the appointment of a select committee is intended to shelve the Bill, and I think it would be better for the honorable member for Bland to frankly say so. This session of Parliament is nearly at an end, and if the motion is carried providing for an inquiry with a wide scope such as the honorable member has suggested, the Bill will be shunted for this session, and we. shall not know when the next session will begin.

Mr Watson - That will be the fault of the Government.

Mr HIGGINS - The honorable member said that he desired that the committee should enquire, not only into the immediate details of the proposed scheme for the granting of bonuses, but into the whole of the circumstances of the iron industry.

Mr Wilks - That is the only way in which a proper investigation can take place.

Mr HIGGINS - I contend that we have a committee in the responsible Government which alone can give the bonuses. I feel that it would be of the greatest advantage to us if we could secure the establishment of the iron industry at a time like the present when industries are sadly needed. The primary producers have, to a large extent, failed us, and there are hundreds and thousands of men who are anxious for work, and who cannot secure it, and if there ever was a time at which it was important to develop new industries it is at present. It is not in times of stint that we should close up our purse ; at such times, . we should open it as far as we can. lt is true that this expenditure will fall upon all the States in proportion to population, and that some of them may find it hard to pay their way. I recognise that £250,000 is a large sum. .

Mr Watson - That refers to only the iron industry ; the total expenditure will be more than that - it will be £300,000.

Mr HIGGINS - That is not so, but it is a very unimportant detail. The extraordinary position is that whilst the principal expenditure in connexion with this scheme will probably take place in New South Wales, the representatives of that State are most keenly opposing it.

Sir William McMillan - That shows our honesty.

Mr HIGGINS - Victoria has nothing to gain directly from this scheme, and yet I feel that it is regarded by some of my honorable friends on the Opposition side as a sinister deep-laid plot for the purpose of securing wealth to Victoria.

Mr Wilks - I never gave the suggestion a thought.

Mr HIGGINS - The honorable member for Wentworth also spoke of the money that would be taken out of the pockets of the taxpayers of New South Wales, but I would point out that the amount spent in connexion with the proposed scheme would be new expenditure, which would have to be borne by all the States upon, a population basis, and that Victoria would therefore have to contribute one-third of the whole amount. We are anxious to afford an opportunity for the establishment of the iron industry. We draw no lines between Australians. We feel that it will be good for Australia to have the iron industry established, because our people move about from place to place in search of work. The iron industry is an industry of industries, and is not to be compared with any other. We cannot foretell the number of industries that it will bring in its train, if it is once well established. Free-trade and protection have nothing to do with this proposal, because the best of free-traders are advocates of the bonus system. This is not a question of imposing protectionist duties, but of granting bonuses, and the best men of the Cobdenite school are strongly in favour of bonuses.

Sir William McMillan - Does the honorable and learned member wish the representatives of New South Wales to depart from their principles, because their State will benefit under the scheme proposed ?

Mr HIGGINS - No ; the honorable member said that he was opposed to the granting of bonuses, and I think that his stiff', starched, and pedantic attitude on this question is to be deplored. We cannot be guided solely by theory in these matters. It should be remembered that in a new country we have to deal with new conditions. Although I should prefer to see the iron industry controlled by the States, and although I voted in favour of giving them the exclusive right for one or two years to embark upon the enterprise, I feel that we cannot expect them within that period to nationalize the undertaking. Bather than that the industry should not be established, I favour encouraging private individuals to engage in it. At the same time, I think that Parliament should insist that' any company or syndicate which may be induced by the payment of a bonus to eater upon the work of iron production should pledge itself to sell its undertaking to the State in which its operations are being conducted, upon a valuation, after the lapse of a reasonableperiod.

Mr Kingston - The Government would be willing to agree to a fair right of purchase.

Mr Watson - The representative of one company told me that that company would not agree to any provision being made in regard to resumption unless at the expiration of a very long period.

Mr HIGGINS - I think I can understand any company making that statement ; but when it comes to a choice between being granted a bonus and being denied it, the company will very quickly change their tune. If the Bill be passed, the money for the payment of the bonus will belong to the taxpayers, and therefore it would be only fair to insist that, if the people of the State in which the industry is established wish to carry on the undertaking they should be allowed the opportunity to do so. I regret that a sort of " dog-in-the-manger " attitude is shown by the House at the present time. I do not think that the Minister will carry this measure unless there is a considerable change of front on the part of those who are. anxious to see the iron industry developed, even at some little cost. However, I shall assist him as far as I possibly can. I feel, however, that a great mistake is being made by a section of this House. Having regard to the vote which was taken in the New South Wales Parliament the other night, it is utterly absurd to expect that State to nationalize the work of the production of iron. After all there is a good deal to be said in favour of allowing private individuals to experiment with a new industry at their own expense, instead of at the expense of the Commonwealth. This is a very different case from that of the railways. Supplies of iron can be obtained from abroad, where the industry is controlled by trusts, but no syndicate or trust can run the Australian railways in parts outside Australia, and therefore it is safe to assume that they will be carried on by the States Governments. But, considering the huge industrial movements which have their centre at the present time in America, it by no means follows that the States will be able to supply iron and steel in sufficient quantities to satisfy the wants of our railways and our people. Our efforts in regard to iron production would be very puny as compared with those of the great iron industries abroad. But we can render this industry very valuable service here. If private individuals, with the aid of a Government bonus, are prepared to risk their money in the enterprise, either at this or any other time, I am willing to give them the opportunity of doing so. Of course, it must be clearly understood that the States can always ask for a bonus if they desire it, and I am quite sure that the Government would give them a preferential claim. But I think honorable members ought to recollect that it is a distinct advantage to Australia to have people who are prepared to risk their money, time, and labour in a novel industry of this sort. Any bonus in which they may participate will be really a small thing as compared with the good results to the Commonwealth. In the event of the Bill being carried, stringent regulations could be imposed by the Government, and I am quite sure that in framing those regulations, which have to be submitted to Parliament, we may trust the Government to protect the interests of the inhabitants of Australia.

Mr. BATCHELOR(South Australia).The honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne has read those who do not support this measure a lecture upon their attitude.

Mr Kingston - They deserve it.

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