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Tuesday, 30 September 1958


Dr EVATT (Barton) (Leader of the Opposition) . - This proposal, Mr. Speaker, has arisen out of discussions that took place in the House the other day with relation to the attendance of the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) at the Montreal conference. It was obvious, from questions asked and answers given at question time, that considerable confusion existed amongst honorable members supporting the Government, from one part of the House or an- other, and it seemed absolutely imperative that the matter should be clarified.

The first point I want to make - and I do not think it will be contradicted now - is that despite the violently expressed protests of the Minister for Trade, the fact is that the recently announced import cuts imposed by the United States Government were pending, and known to be pending, for quite a considerable time. I think that fact emerged, to some extent at least, from the remarks of the Minister for Supply (Mr. Townley), and it is very important that the House should be informed, first, as to what knowledge the Australian Government had of the impending restrictions proposed by the United States authorities on imports of lead and zinc from Australia, especially as the industry concerned is very important to Australia and to the problem of employment in Australia. When was information obtained regarding these proposed cuts? What steps were taken by the Government to put Australia's position before the United States Government? What alternative steps might be taken? I understand - and again this is based largely on newspaper accounts - that the actual cut in our exports of lead and zinc to the United States is not only based upon a quota but has been made more severe because of the fact that in the last few years our exports have been at a high level. It is not only a pro rata or a percentage quota, I understand, and therefore the danger is all the greater.

It was said once by Canning that in matters of commerce the fault of the Dutch was in giving too little and asking too much. That is a comment, I think, that to-day would not be limited to any particular country. Although in matters of trade one's own government is not supposed to look after the other party to the transaction, nevertheless there must be mutual give and take. It seems extraordinary to me - and I think this must be said - that some arrangement was not made concerning this proposed restriction which was obviously going to affect adversely our Australian industries. The Minister for Trade stated that Australia would feel anger at the ruthless character of the restriction. Was that a proper remark to make, in view of the knowledge that the Minister had had?

This, of course, is simply one aspect of the matter. What we want to debate is not merely the matter of zinc or lead or some other export commodity, but the problem as a whole. We should try to throw some light on the subject and find out what the Government proposes to do to meet the present position. I noticed that the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), in one of his comments outside, referred by way of criticism to the trade position left by the Chifley Government. What a pity he did not tell the people the facts! He should have told them that more than £800,000,000 was left by the Chifley Government in overseas credits in sterling - the very basis of our operations with relation to overseas trade and commerce. He said not a word about that. The fact is that our position with relation to overseas trade has been prejudiced by the inflation of prices, which has reached enormous dimensions under the present Government. In many respects our exports have been out-priced because of this development.

It also emerged, Mr. Speaker, from statements in this House, that a delegation of representatives of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited and Mount Isa Mines Limited was to go to the Far East. I understand that the Minister claimed that this delegation had government authority or backing. Subsequent newspaper reports gave quite a different version, suggesting that the enterprise involving the ship " Delos " was arranged by these bodies without reference to the Government at all.

Having referred to the restrictions on lead and zinc exports to the United States, Mr. Speaker, I now wish to refer to Australia's position with relation to Eastern countries. The relevant figures are set out in the report of the Bureau of Census and Statistics recently issued. They indicate a very serious position. They show, for instance, a decline in Australia's exports to Ceylon in the year 1957-58, as compared with the previous year. They show a similar position with regard to India, Pakistan, and pretty well all the Eastern countries with which our trade figures are significant. With regard to Indonesia, of course, the difference is enormously against us. It is extraordinary that we cannot improve trade with Indonesia. What has the Government done to promote trade in these countries? It has some sort of an organization. It has appointed trade commissioners, some of whom are experts. I think the main point is that the Government has been taking the position for granted, despite statements made from time to time by Ministers by way of comfort to those most concerned about the position - the producers.

Take the position with regard to Ceylon. Our total exports to that country in 1956-57 amounted to £10.000.000, and they have declined to £5,000.000. This leads me to the important point that there is a trade agreement in existence between Ceylon and China under which the Chinese have bought a good deal of rubber from Ceylon. This has given China certain rights in return. What is forgotten in connexion with trade with China - I am referring to mainland China - is that if trade between mainland China and Australia occurs, and is encouraged, it will enable Australia to get the benefit of China's relationships with other countries.

Apparently, the Government has completely failed to meet the needs of the situation. One Minister said, earlier to-day, that the Government, neither encourages nor discourages trade with China. What an attitude to take towards trade - the lifeblood of this country! The Government is either for it or against it. The truth, in my opinion, is that the Government, without appearing to be against it, does everything it can against it. I do not say that that applies to all the Ministers of this Government. One could see, in this House the other day, the differing points of view that Ministers held. The Minister for Defence (Sir Philip McBride), for instance, who was asked whether zinc and lead were on the list of exports to China that were banned, did not know. What is the list? In Britain and the United States of America, lists of banned exports are published for the information of traders. Are not the people and the traders of Australia entitled to know what' exports are banned? Apparently not, in the eyes of this Government! The whole situation is confused. The Government is making no real effort to promote overseas trade, especially to countries like mainland China.

Some one asked the other day why we call mainland China by that name. Thai is the description used in order to describe the country correctly in all United Nations documents and in the official statistics of the Bureau of Census and Statistics from which I am quoting.

The trade pattern developing between Asia and Australia, and the refusal of the United States to trade with China, do not lead to the strengthening of the West. They lead rather to the strengthening of China. If one looks at the situation in that light, the matter is serious. This Government's refusal to help trade with China in every possible way is especially serious, because China's main purchases would be made in Australian wool, in either raw form or in wool tops. China is one of the few countries in the Far East with which our trade is increasing. In 1956-57, nearly all the £6,000,000 worth of trade with China was in wool, and in 1957-58, the figure increased to £9,000,000. It is very important that that trade should be encouraged. But the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), instead of encouraging it, asked a question the other day in the course of which he insulted representatives of the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia, apparently because they had been associated with the financing of some of the transactions that led to our wool being bought by China. It is a well-known fact that the Commonwealth Trading Bank does its job as a banker in such transactions. Why should it be attacked by the honorable member for Chisholm on that account? We jokingly say here that he belongs to the Formosan lobby, but the truth about it is undoubtedly that he does not want us to trade with China at all. That is his view, and if the Government wishes neither to encourage nor to discourage such trade, it is quite clear that the honorable member does not put the Government's point of view.

What is the position of the Australian Labour party? Let me state it frankly, Mr. Speaker. The position that the Labourparty has taken for years now, since it was decided by the authoritative conference of the party, in relation to mainland China is that it is absolutely wrong to fail to recognize the Chinese Government, which has now been in existence for nearly ten years. It should be recognized. It represents the main body of the Chinese people - a population of probably well over 600,000,000 - and ali the Chinese who were opposed (o it are now confined to Formosa. 1 am not dealing with the future of Formosa or the future of mainland China, but I say that recognition of mainland China is essential. Proper arrangements could be made, of course - and would be made - by the United Nations for the protection of the people of Formosa, and it would ultimately decide their future destiny. Broadly, that is the view of the Australian Labour party. But, in the meantime, thi> trade about which 1 have been speaking is vital to Australia.

If we traded with China, we should be in a better position in our trade with Ceylon. The statistics illustrate thai. Apparently, China's industries are growing. There is an enormous market to be obtained there, and what rhyme or reason is there for closing our eyes to the benefits of a trade to the people and the producers of this country? What sense is there in such an attitude? China is one example of a country with which we should trade - and it is a very important example. The matter is linked to some extent, of course, with international affairs. I do not wish to debate them now, except to say that, regardless of international policy towards China, trade between Australia and that country is necessary for the welfare of Australian industry and for the improvement of the employment situation here.

China offers the most favorable signs among the Far Eastern countries with regard to trade, and I believe that the whole of the trade at present taking place between Australia and that country is due entirely to the desire of the Australian people to trade with China without government assistance at all, for there has been no real government backing for that trade. If the Government has done anything to help that trade, it has never said so. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. McMahon) certainly has hesitated to say so. He said, in effect, " If people want to trade with mainland China, they can ". That is not the attitude towards trade that this Government should take at the present time. It should be prompt and eager to get on with the job of increasing our export trade. It knows that, in that respect, we are now in a desperate position.

This attack by the United States on one of Australia's important exports is one feature of the present situation. The prospects of trade with China are typical of the prospects of trade with many of the eastern countries. I believe that, in future, European markets will become increasingly difficult for us, and that Australia's hopes lie in closer relations with the people of Asia - in trading with them, helping them so far as we can, and treating them as we should - as people with whom we are not at war. Why does the Government not take that attitude? That is the attitude of the Australian Labour party, from a human point of view. I believe that, from a business and trade point of view, the overwhelming majority of the people of Australia are in favour of full-scale trade with China, especially in the present economic slump. To-day, the Government undoubtedly should be behind trade with China, and it should send representatives there to assist those who want to sell our wool tops . and other commodities to the people of China. This applies not only to China.







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