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Wednesday, 5 September 1928

Dr EARLE PAGE (Cowper) (Treasurer) . - I take strong exception to the suggestion of the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Theodore) that the Government is trying to shelter itself behind any body. The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) made it abundantly clear that in this case the Government is taking the course usually taken in connexion with all matters that are referred to the Tariff Board. That is the only proper course for it to take in the circumstances. Quite apart from that aspect of the matter, however, T point out to the House, and through it to the country, that this question is not so flagrantly urgent as the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde) and the honorable member for Dalley suggest. There is ample time to examine it in all its aspects. Quite a number of points must not be overlooked; otherwise we might do a considerable amount of harm to the textile industry, the knitting industry, the spinning industry, the clothing and manufacturing industry, as well as other industries, which are dependent upon this basic proposition. I am given to understand that the whole of the present season's crop of raw cotton has already been sold or arranged for, and it is universally admitted that a satisfactory price has been received. The next crop will not be available until, at the earliest, April or May, 1929.

Mr Forde - But unless a duty is imposed immediately, the importers will flood the market with their product.

Dr EARLE PAGE - The honorable member for Capricornia has laid considerable stress upon the importation of cotton yarn, but his statements are not supported by the official figures, which show that the total importations in 1926-27 were valued at £836,000, while in 1927-28 the value dropped by £164,000 to £672,000. There is no justification for suggesting that the Commonwealth Government has not given this industry the fullest and most favorable consideration. Five or six years ago, it gave practical evidence of its sympathy by agreeing to bear a certain proportion of the loss that would be incurred in connexion with the guarantees given to the growers by the Queensland Government. Under that arrangement, it made payments" of £46,000, £75,000, and £48,000 in 1923, 1924 and 1925 respectively. Having jointly with the Queensland Government helped to establish the industry, it has now accepted the whole of the responsibility in connexion with it. Last year we paid by way of bounty the sum of £80,000.

Mr Duncan-Hughes - The bounty has failed to produce results.

Dr EARLE PAGE - I would not say that. The proposal of the late Minister for Trade and Customs, which was to combine the development of the cottongrowing industry with that of the textile industry, has been recognized as statesmanlike. I have admissions by Mr. Pryce, Mr. "Webster, and other persons associated with the cotton industry, to that effect. There is no justification for the statement that this Government has not, at all times been willing to extend to this industry the most favorable and sympathetic consideration. The only way in which we can be sure that it will receive the most satisfactory treatment is to refrain from dealing hurriedly with the question of how to place it upon a proper basis. The problem is one that must be solved by the most highly technical and skilled brains. We must act as we did in connexion with the previous application. On that occassion, as a result of the experience, the vision and the hard work of the then Minister for Trade and Customs we were able to evolve a very much better system than that which was suggested by either the Tariff Board or the cotton growers or spinners.

Mr Forde - There is no justification for a delay of six months.

Dr EARLE PAGE - The point I wish to stress is that this year's crop has already been dealt with, and that there will be ample time in the new Parliament to deal with the question of the next crop.

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