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Tuesday, 30 September 1958

Mr HAYLEN (Parkes) .- One would imagine, in view of the importance of this matter and its nature, that there would be a galaxy of government talent to answer the charges of the Opposition, but there is only one Minister in the House, and the serried ranks on the Government side are sadly broken. Not one representative of the Australian Country party is listed to speak in this debate, and the speeches that have been made from the Government side, from the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) down, have been pathetic in the extreme. There is no interest on the Government side in this problem, but there is a great deal of fear because figures can be produced to prove that Australia is broke overseas and that the Government's trade policy has fallen to pieces both in regard to our exports and our internal position.

There has never been anything so pathetic as the speeches that have been made by the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) in the United States of America. He has referred to " a mere £8,000,000 of adjustment " and, in order to soothe the country, the Prime Minister reads a message from President Eisenhower. His own Minister said, however, that the cuts were brutal, savage, and unnecessary. Everybody can see that he is seeking an alibi for the fact that we are broke overseas.

Our overseas balance totals £300,000,000 whereas once, as the Leader of the Opposi tion (Dr. Evatt) has pointed out, it was £800,000,000 sterling. The balance has been slipping at the rate of £37,000,000 since 30th June last. The picture is so black that the Minister for Trade is grabbing at straws and seeking an alibi in the decline of lead and zinc purchases, grievous as it was. He has suggested that he knew what was behind it. The total collapse of our overseas trade is threatened because of bad management and too much nonsense and rhetoric in this House.

One dared not ask the Minister for Trade, who is now absent, an ordinary question on trade because he would burst into volcanic flames and talk for ten minutes on the subject, leaving the questioner more in the dark than ever. Anybody who goes to William-street or across the road to the bureau of bureaucracy in Barton will find that he cannot get an answer to the question, " Can I get a permit to trade " or any understanding of his inquiries, particularly in relation to trade with China. The whole thing is a mass of bureaucratic and ministerial chaos.

The Government stands charged with that very thing, and Ministers reply by deserting the chamber and leaving it to a diversion such as the trifling, niggling and insignificant speech of the honorable member for Chisholm (Sir Wilfrid Kent Hughes), who spoke as the protagonist for the Formosa lobby. This is a matter of great moment to Australia. It is not a matter of whether you are pro-Formosa or otherwise. This is not a debate on foreign affairs. It is a question of survival.

I should like to quote some figures regarding trade and in relation to the cuts that have been made in our lead and zinc exports. There are some grievous figures to be given. Wool is down 33 per cent.; that cannot be denied. The price is down roughly 8d. per lb., and is £53 a bale compared with £96 in recent years. So we have a net loss of £130,000,000 in the wool trade, and wool is our greatest export. China would buy more wool if we had some common sense and took up the challenge of the Sydney " Daily Mirror ", which said, " Get out and sell where people want our goods and restore stability to this country. Do not talk nonsense about restricted markets."

There is a great glut of wheat overseas, and a big local yield is likely this season. Canada, France and Germany report that their granaries are full or running over. What is our stupid and futile trade organization going to do about it? Nothing except let the trade go by default, and talk about the inadvisability of trade with China! If every Chinese child had some breakfast food, the glut would be cut out within two or three days of the decision to trade with China. Our flour mills are working half time, and some have been closed altogether. If honorable members want the full story, I refer them to the speech of Senator Wade in the Senate. He denounced his own Government for its attitude to wheat and the breakdown of wheat sales inside and outside Australia. Butter overseas is down by 28 per cent. It is a drug on the market. The prices of metals are down 35 per cent. Meat is down 16 per cent, and eggs are down by 25 per cent. Ten Commonwealth steamers are laid up in Sydney without any cargo.

England and the Continent are building up a free market in which seventeen countries are prepared to incorporate 170,000,000 people. Our markets overseas, which were regarded as our great home markets, are dwindling. Warnings have been given year in and year out that customs unions, from the formation of Benelux onwards, have been geared to protect the primary section of overseas production, and we will be on the thin end of that argument when the whole thing is organized. Our only future lies in the East.

Trade with China is a logical thing. It is not a political matter. Flour sales have been very bad in the East because our traditional markets have been lost to heavily subsidized French and German wheat. The only market to-day - and the businessmen realize it - is the market of continental China, a vast market provided by 600,000,000 people who are emerging from feudalism. The Chinese are planning to give everybody a square meal and a job. Everybody there is a potential spender. What a stupid and unnatural thing it would be if we missed the great potential market having regard to distance, availability and requirements.

The Prime Minister himself said that the market overseas has grown. While the Government protests that it will have nothing to do with red China and piously looks through the slats and between its fingers to see where the ships are going, it still bans trade with China. One futile Minister does not know what are and are not strategic materials, and another Minister says he does not care whether we trade with China or not, yet in the past twelve months, we have lifted trade with China to £10,000,000. We have earned £8,000,000 more, which cancels out the loss of our market in the United States of America of lead and zinc, stockpiling of which has ceased.

There is no reason for these things. The Leader of the Opposition was assailed by the Prime Minister in the weakest speech that the right honorable gentleman has made in this House for a long time. He said, " You are only talking about recognition of China ". Certainly recognition follows trade and the British people have set us an example, in that respect, in common sense and complete understanding. They have an arrangement with China. They recognize China. Their charge d'affaires is in Peking and they are daily reaping the advantages of new trade coming to China. This is not only a matter of today; we are looking to the advantage that will accrue later from our trade with this great resurgent giant of China when it sends its traders throughout the world. We are thinking of the things that China will produce and need.

How can we be so blind as to make this a political issue? How can the Government be so completely recreant to its trust as to put the question of trade with Communist countries before the Australian people as a matter of politics? The British, who are always much more logical and less passionate than we are, more sensible and naturally more libertarian than we are, have decided - as was decided at the conference which our Minister for Trade attended - that general support should be given to trade with various Communist countries. The world is divided into two great camps but, for the purposes of trade, there should be no camps. As Shakespeare says, " Venture trade abroad ". Wherever trade is possible, it should be pursued. The speech of the Prime Minister was sheer evasion. It was nonsensical. He did not grapple with the problem and he will not gain any credit from the Australian people by talking glibly about the Leader of the Opposition wishing to recognize red China. That is our policy. Recognition of red China would mean a sweep of trade to this country. We are practically broke and we need it.

The Minister for Supply (Mr. Townley), who spoke after the Prime Minister, was full of apologies and fell back on reading some badly written notes which nobody understood. The honorable member for Chisholm decided, frankly, that he was not going to have any arguments about trade. He could not stand up to the figures which have been quoted. He merely traced the cause of the Formosan problem.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

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