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Tuesday, 30 September 1958

Mr TOWNLEY (Denison) (Minister for Supply) .- First of all, I take this opportunity to correct some misunderstandings and misconceptions which have arisen over two separate matters. The first concerns the proposal of the Australian Exporters Federation to send a trade mission to the Far East. This has been represented in many quarters as an act of retaliation on the part of Australia because of the restrictions imposed by the United States of America on the imports to that country of lead and zinc. Secondly, for some extraordinary reason, this mission to the Far East has been interpreted as a mission to Communist China.

The charge of retaliation against the United States can be disposed of in just one sentence. The Australian Exporters Federation arranged last January to send a delegation to the Far East, and to suggest at this stage that that arrangement, made at that time, should be regarded as retaliation against the United States for imposing import cuts on zinc and lead, is nothing short of ludicrous.

The second point is the assumption -which has been expressed in many quarters, and implied to-day in this House, that this mission to the Far East is a mission to Communist China. A simple recital of the facts is the most effective way of dealing with that suggestion. The Australian Exporters Federation, on behalf of its members, decided, last January, to send a trade mission to the Far East. About a dozen members were chosen, representing 70 or 80 Australian firms. It has not been apparent, aor has it been made obvious by what the Opposition has said to-day, that under this Government, Australia's trade with the Far East has increased to more than 23 per cent, of its total exports. This is a dramatic and amazing increase over the last few years, and shows how well aware this Government is of the potential and possibilities of extending trade in the Far East.

Quite understandably, the members of the Australian Exporters Federation said, "While the business is there we are interested in following it up ". Naturally, they decided to go and see what they could do in the Far East. Just as naturally, they sought a ship which would take them to as many ports in the Far East as possible. For this reason they selected a vessel called "Delos", a ship which trades regularly to the Far East and which calls at more Far Eastern ports than most other vessels that run there.

I might interpolate that this ship is not a trade mission ship as other ships are sometimes regarded, for example, when a country charters a whole vessel, fills it with goods and sends it on a selling mission around the world or to some particular area. This was an ordinary ship on which the Australian Exporters Federation booked a dozen berths and sufficient space in which the exporters could display some of their goods.

As I have said already, the reason that " Delos " was chosen was that she calls at more ports in the Far East than does any other suitable vessel. It calls at ports in New Guinea, Borneo, Manila, Hong Kong, five different ports in Japan and at Shanghai. The voyage which these men will make is not a special voyage, but one of the regular voyages of this ship. It calls at Shanghai on every one of its voyages, but not specifically to take an Australian trade mission there or to provide an opportunity for trade with red China. It calls there in its normal course of taking up or setting down cargo, as any other similar ship would do.

Because the Australian Government is so keen on developing trade with the Far East it said that it would co-operate, and it has maintained that attitude. The Government believes that the private exporters, the private industrialists and commercial interests of Australia should get out themselves and sell their goods. The Government does the best it can in the matter with trade agreements and trade fairs and, as the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) has said, has its trade commissioner service and trading posts abroad. But basically, the Government considers that it is the job of commerce and industry to get out and do their own job. It is convinced that these interests will do this job far better than any government could.

In conformity with this policy, the Government said that it would co-operate with this mission to the Far East and that it would send a publicity agent in advance. Accordingly, a very highly skilled publicity officer from the Department of Trade was to go a month ahead of the ship. He was to arrange commercial advertising and those other matters which a public relations expert attends to, and he was to visit all those places in the Far East where "Delos" would call.

Returning to the proposition that has been put forward that the Australian Government is making an all-out attempt to woo Communists into trading, I point out that the very fact that the trade publicity officer is not going to Shanghai should be sufficient answer.

The second misconception or misunderstanding which I wish to correct is in relation to the action of the United States in restricting imports of zinc and lead. Undeniably, this has been a blow to certain sections of Australian industry, but there is one thing which is essential, and that is that we should see the matter in the proper perspective and above all have the facts straight. The Prime Minister has detailed what has happened in this matter. He pointed out that, months ago, the United States Tariff Board brought down a report, and subsequently the Seaton plan was evolved, to which Congress refused to agree. He stated what our ambassador our trade commissioners and our Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) have done, and said that we in Australia have been informed about all these things.

A suggestion that this trade mission is an act of retaliation is the sort of illadvised comment which will prejudice negotiations which are still going on. I, for one, believe that the United States will treat us fairly in this matter and that the outcome will be as just as it can be. Do not let us forget that the United States knows, as we know, that in the world to-day there is over-production of zinc and lead to the extent of some 200,000 or 300,000 tons. Right from the start the United States said, " You other exporting countries should get together and try to rationalize your exports to the rest of the world. We, the United States, are doing what we can. We are stockpiling, but the day will come when there will be a limit to our stockpiling because we are over-producing, as the rest of the world is."

Mr Edmonds - Why did not the Government do that?

Mr TOWNLEY - On 11th September last, as the result of discussions which had been going on for some months in a special committee appointed under the auspices of the United Nations, in which our representative, the Deputy High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Sir Edward McCarthy, took part, the matter was discussed along the lines which the United States had indicated would be desirable.

Mr Ward - What results did he get?

Mr TOWNLEY - The honorable member for East Sydney is getting anxious. On 14th September this special committee made certain recommendations which were sent to the twenty or more governments concerned with zinc and lead production. These governments will discuss those recommendations, and that special committee is expected to meet again in London on 14th or 15th October.

So much for lead and zinc. Now I come to the general charge that the Australian Government has not done enough to promote our exports. When we compare the performance of honorable members opposite when they were in government with what is happening to-day, we see just how hollow are the charges and criticism levelled against the Government.

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