Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 18 October 1904

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - I must, at the outset, congratulate the honorable member for Eden-Monaro on the eloquence and fervour which he has displayed in moving the second reading of this Bill. I am quite sure we must all recognise that if he is unsuccessful in passing the Bill, no one else could have succeeded with it. I trust that it will not pass, and I hope to give satisfactory reasons in support of my opposition to it. I must first express my regret that a measure involving the expenditure of no less a sum than £324,000 should have been placed in the hands of a private member. The reasons for the action taken by the Government are obvious. It cannot be denied that one-half of the Ministry do not think that a measure of this kind should have been introduced, while the other half agree with it. That is one of the very best reasons why such legislation should not have been introduced at the present stage. After all, we are not here to force our views on any section of the community, and if legislation is to be passed at all, it should be passed only when there is a very clear majority in favour of it. I hope that, even at this late stage, the honorable member for Eden-Monaro will see .the propriety of refraining from establishing a precedent that would allow private members to take up a measure involving sums of this magnitude It seems to me that it is better for .the House itself that we should insist that measures of this kind shall be taken in hand only by the Ministry, and then only when all the members of the Ministry are thoroughly agreed upon it. There is no doubt that at present the adoption of that course would mean the relegation of the discussion of this Bill to a date subsequent to the next election. I, for one, should be glad if that were done. The honorable member has given us a great many reasons why the bonuses provided for in this Bill should be granted. I am bound to say, in the first place, that I learned to-day with astonishment .that some honorable members who pride themselves on being anti-Socialists are yet prepared to support a Bill which would grant a bonus to a certain number of men who are prepared to take up the industry on no other ground than that those men have a large amount of capital to invest. In other words, they say that the moment men become capitalists, they become worthy of the consideration of Parliament, but that workers are not to be considered for one moment. Such a doctrine ought to be reprobated by every one of us. One is astounded that honorable members professing to hold anti-socialistic views are yet prepared to grant a bonus ,to a big capitalist who has control of half-a-million of money - that they are prepared to grant £324,000 out of the public funds to such a man, and to allow the money to filter through his pockets to the workers, instead of direct from the Government. If Parliament, by the mere passing of a resolution, can make wealth, then the sooner we have three parliamentary shifts of eight hours per day the better it will be. If wealth can be created in that way, let the Parliament sit in eight hours' shifts, and pass resolutions establishing wealth as fast as it can. It is monstrous that honorable members should be asked to agree to pay a sum of £324,000 - collected as it is in such unjust proportions - to any private individual to establish the iron industry. If honorable members would support an amendment which I intend to move, the position would be different. Clause 3 provides that -

The Governor-General may authorize the payment out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which is hereby appropriated for the purpose- and so forth. I propose to move the insertion of the words, " of any sum collected only by direct taxation," after the words " Consolidated Revenue Fund." Mr. Thomas. - That would be fair.

Mr CONROY - If honorable members wished to give a guarantee to capital invested in any particular line, we should thus insure that capital only should pay the guarantee to capital, and that the money should not be collected from the workers, as it would be under the present system by which we collect £.10,500,000 from the poor, and only about £2,250,000 from the wealthy people of the Commonwealth.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does direct taxation fall only on the capitalist?

Mr CONROY - I admit that every penny raised by way of taxation lessens the amount which might otherwise be used for productive purposes. I have never urged that any unnecessary sum should be taken from any one, and if I would object to money being taken unnecessarily from the capitalist, how much more strongly should I object to even a penny, being taken unnecessarily from the workers? That question is involved in the consideration of this measure. Does the honorable member for Eden-Monaro mean to say that the whole of this vast sum should be paid on an output of 450.000 tons? From the figures before me, I find that 2S. 6d. in the ,£1 is all that is paid in wages in connexion with the output of iter,, so that it is proposed to hand over £324,000 to private enterprise in order to obtain that result But let us go still further, and say, that a greater ratio than any which has yet been achieved will be reached, and that one-third of this money will be paid away in wages. If that be so, we propose to hand over to those who are fortunate enough to have the capital necessary to establish so great an industry, a sum of £324,000, so that they may hand back to the workers £100,000. Will any. one argue that that is what we ought to do?

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Where is the honorable and learned member's data for the assertion he has just made?

Mr CONROY - I take it from Mr. Jeans' book, which is in the parliamentary Library. Mr. Jeans was the secretary of the Iron and Steel Association, and with several other gentlemen visited America in order to inquire into the working of the iron and steel manufactories of the States. He says that -

The average cost of producing pig iron in the Southern States of America to-day is 33s. 4d. per ton, although it was claimed that one, or perhaps two, of the smaller firms, who are specially well placed, may produce it for a dollar less. In Alabama, it is claimed that pig iron is made at the very low cost of six and a half dollars. The following for one month, covering a production of 12,000 tons from two furnaces, fairly represents the work over a period : -


Cost per ton - Limestone...... o 8


Mr Austin Chapman - What about the men wHo hew the coal ?

Mr CONROY - I doubled the rate in order to include them. Mr. Jeans goes on to say that -

I may add that I have had brought under my notice within the last few months an important proposal to establish in the Midlands - where they had an enormous royalty - works on modern lines, where it appears probable to produce pig iron at 30s. per ton, and steel billets at 67s. per ton.

When I heard the honorable member talk of the enormous number of persons who would find employment in this industry, I interjected that he was surely making some mistake. He replied that he was not - that some 10,000 or 12,000 men might be employed in the industry. Let us see from a perusal of the figures taken, not from any imaginary source, but from a statement relating to the Duquesne blast furnaces - one of the great iron works of Pittsburg - what reason there is for such a belief. The number of men employed there is 477. These figures include clerks, telegraph operators, draughtsmen, police, bricklayers, those engaged in loading and unloading, and construction men engaged in new works.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But they do not include those engaged in the hewing of the coal, or in getting out the ore.

Mr CONROY - I am speaking of the number of men employed at the iron works. It is in respect of the iron works itself that we would pay the bonus.

Mr Hughes - What is the output at the works to which 'the honorable and learned member has referred? Mr. CONROY.- About four times as much as would meet the requirements of the Australian trade for twelve months. It amounts to 620,000 tons a year. If the work were carried on in Australia in the same way, we should not employ more than 120 men in producing sufficient pig iron to ' supply the whole of the requirements of Australia. I am speaking, of course, of the number of men who would be directly | engaged in the manufacture of the pig iron. In view of these figures, will the honorable member for Eden-Monaro persist in his assertion that the establishment of the h> dustry in Australia would give employment to thousands of persons.

Mr Austin Chapman - If we manufactured only the wire-netting required for the Commonwealth we should employ a thousand.

Mr CONROY - I am dealing simply with the manufacture of the pig iron. Surely, the honorable member will admit that he has not given any proper consideration to the matter, and, in the light of the figures I have presented, will turn right about face, and vote against the granting of any bonus?

Mr Austin Chapman - Does the honorable and learned member know anything of Mr. Sandford's wages-sheet?

Mr CONROY - Mr. Sandfordstated when before the Commission - after calm, quiet deliberation - that he could produce pig iron at 35s. per ton. But, say, for example, that it would cost him £2 10s. per ton to produce it. As local manufacturers know to their cost, ' when they have to make machinery, pig iron is not brought to Australia for less than about £4 10s. per ton.

Mr Austin Chapman - Does the honorable and learned member know what are to-day's quotations?

Mr CONROY - The quotations are but slightly below that which I have stated. Two years ago the price was about £6 10s. per ton.

Mr Austin Chapman - At present the quotations are from 60s. to 80s. per ton.

Mr CONROY - We must not lose sight of the fact that the inevitable result of the granting of this bonus would be that we should be called upon to grant still larger sums to assist the industry. I call upon honorable members on all sides of the House to vote against a proposal of this kind. If we have to establish the iron industry - if it is shown that it is absolutely the life-blood of the community - then comes in one* of the few arguments which can be used for assuming control of it by the 'State. Otherwise, if only one iron works be established, we shall tend to create a monopoly. That is exactly what we do not want to do. Consequently even the strongest individualist would agree that this would be one of the few lines on which State interference ought to be allowed, because State interference, by preventing a monopoly, would prevent inroads upon human liberty in other directions. I do not desire to dwell upon the fact that in other countries where iron industries have been established, the bulk of trie people' appear to have been so misled that some of the greatest fortunes in the world have been built up in connexion with them. The fortunes of men like Flick, Schwab, and Carnegie, have been built up out of iron, at the expense of the mass of the workers, who have contributed to the fortunes of these men out of their hard earnings.

Mr Ronald - We should require a minimum wage and a Factories Act in connexion with the industry.

Mr CONROY - If we grant a bounty of this sort, I shall take care that every restriction that can be imposed shall be imposed, and shall also see to it that the bulk of the money goes into the proper pockets - that is, those of the workers. It has to be remembered that, when we vote large sums of money for purposes of this kind, we are appropriating the earnings of the people of the community for the benefit of a few other people. If any evidence were required as to the effects of bonuses, we have only to consider the revelations in connexion with the Butter Commission in Victoria, where it was found that the bulk of the producers, for whom the bonuses were intended, got very little of the money, which went into the pockets of a few of the larger firms.

Mr Hughes - Would the honorable and learned member favour a clause providing for a minimum wage?

Mr CONROY - Considering that only 2s. 6d. out of £.1 in this industry goes in wages, I should certainly be favorable to insuring that at least 19s. nd. of every £t of the bonus voted went direct to the workers. But I feel sure that the amendment which I have already" suggested in clause 3 - that if these sums are to be voted, they shall come out of direct taxation - will commend itself to most honorable members. If we succeed in carrying that amendment we shall encourage every man to rely upon himself, instead of trying to create in this Australian Commonwealth a body of cringers and crawlers, coming to the Government for everything. It should be remembered that it is only by the industry of the citizens of the country that wealth can be produced. Parliaments cannot add to the wealth of the country. All' that they can do is to withdraw something out of the general fund. I shall leave the honorable member for Barrier to deal with the question of spelter. I feel sure that he can give the House valuable information on the subject, and that honorable members will then have no hesitation in voting against the proposal in that regard also. As to the question of reapers and binders, I am astounded - absolutely astounded - that any member of this House should get up and propose to make a present of £4,000 to any firm. There are perhaps only two firms in Australia at the present time who are making reapers and binders. They make, perhaps, 500 per annum. Because they happen to have started, we are to make a present to them of £4,000- not of our own money, -which we should be entitled to do, but of other people's money. Can there be any justification for that? I shall say no more at the present time, but certainly when we get into Committee I shall move the amendment which I have suggested. \nd if any further sums are to be paid to the capitalists of this country, I shall endeavour to see to it that they are paid only out of moneys collected by direct taxation. By that means we shall insure that the capitalist class will contribute to the capitalist class in respect to these ventures.

Suggest corrections