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Thursday, 19 February 1959


Mr FAIRBAIRN (Farrer) .- As this is the first occasion on which I have spoken in this new Parliament, I want to commence by congratulating the Speaker on his re-election to office, and by commiserating with the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), who at least has had the consolation of knowing that his private member's bill dealing with divorce has been accepted by the Government. His bill is one of the first private member's bills that has been accepted for a long time. I also congratulate the mover and seconder of the Address-in-Reply, particularly on the standard and the excellence of their speeches. It is a long time since honorable members have heard two such excellent speeches on the motion for the adoption of the AddressinReply.

The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Luchetti) pointed out that honorable members are allowed a very short time in this debate in which to cover a multitude of subjects. He, I am sure, had many more subjects that he wanted to cover, and I find myself in similar difficulty. One can either say a lot about a little or a little about a lot. I have not the time to deal with the subject discussed by the honorable member for Macquarie, but I know that it is a subject ot particular importance. I refer to the provision of funds for local government, and I must congratulate the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) on his announcement earlier this week that the Australian Loan Council has agreed to increase by £4,000,000 the borrowing power of local government authorities.

I leave that subject and get on to the first subject thai I have selected as being one of great importance, and that is the announcement by the Governor-General in his Speech of the meeting at Broadbeach in Queensland of the Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East. That body, which is sponsored by the United Nations organization, inquires into the economic development of the Far East. Many of the people who will be present at the meeting of Ecafe at Broadbeach will be people with whom I served on the second committee at the United Nations. I want to remind honorable members of the action that I had to take at the United Nations. As a delegate from this Parliament, I found myself a member of a committee that had decided to set up a special fund for the assistance of under-developed countries. The fund was not to be a complete capital development fund for under-developed countries but one that would help them to develop their countries and obtain technical assistance to get certain developmental schemes under way.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at the United Nations, I was told that the Australian Government had decided that if and Then that fund was set up, this Government would not be in a position to contribute to it. I found myself in a rather humiliating situation. Many countries that were much smaller than Australia, did contribute to the fund. One of our near neighbours to the north, Laos, which is a tiny country compared with Australia, made a contribution. Perhaps, it was only a token contribution, but at least it was a contribution. The New Zealand Government, which had only recently succeded in bullying the Australian Government into lending it £10,000,000, made a token contribution. New Zealand's financial position at that time was far worse than ours. Our sister dominion of Canada, as well as contributing in a major way to the Colombo plan, gave 2,000,000 dollars to the special fund. One can realize the position in which Australia was placed. I consulted the Minister for External Affairs and the head of the Australian mission to the United Nations and they said that I, as the Australian delegate, should not speak about the special fund at all. They said that if I did, other countries might ask how much Australia was contributing. It was a most invidious position for me. I know the Government's attitude about it. I have discussed this matter with the Treasury. The Government's attitude was that it was making a large contribution under the Colombo plan towards under-developed countries. The Government said that the funds allocated under that plan were earmarked as coming from Australia whereas countries receiving funds from the special United Nations fund would only know that the money was coming from the United Nations. They would not know what particular countries had contributed the money. Well, by all means, I say that we should keep up our contributions under the Colombo plan. But I do hope that before the United Nations meets next year Cabinet will reconsider this decision and will make a contribution even if only in a minor form. I point out that I was the only member of the 84 members at the pledging conference who got up and made a flat denial and said that Australia was unable to contribute. Admittedly, the representatives of a number of other countries were not game to contribute, but they had no instructions from their governments and said, " We are considering the matter, and we will let you know later ". I had to get up and say that Australia was making no contribution! I do hope that this matter will be reviewed by Cabinet and that action will be taken. I cannot think of any better action than for the Governor-General, when he opens the conference at Broadbeach shortly, to indicate that Australia is prepared to make a contribution along these lines.

I pass to the next topic that I have decided to talk upon in the short time available to me. It is the reference in His Excellency's Speech to the fact that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is achieving considerable success in research to enable wool to maintain its competitive position with manmade fibres. My recent trip to America enabled me to see and to evaluate the threat to wool by synthetics. Let me give the House some examples of how synthetics have replaced the use of wool in the United States. In the blanket industry alone there has been a replacement of something like 20,000,000 lb. of wool annually by synthetics. There are the wash-and-wear suits that now account for about 17 per cent, of all suits that are bought in America. These suits are not made of wool. They are made generally of dacron and cotton. They can be thrown into a Bendix washing machine, hung out to dry, and worn again without pressing. They have a ready sale. There are combinations of dacron and wool, which account for something like 20 per cent, of the total sales of suits in America and so again the sale of Australian wool has been reduced considerably. There are replacements for wool in carpets, such as nylon and acrylon and various things of that nature. There are expected to be at least five more synthetics, all competitors to wool, that will come into the market in the coming year. So we have no cause for complacency at all about the future of wool. We have to fight very hard indeed if we are to retain that market and to regain some of the lost ground.

What has brought this about? First of all, there are enormous resources behind the synthetics. The Du Ponts and Imperial Chemical Industries are interested in synthetics and can spend enormous amounts of money on developing the industry. Last year they spent between 50,000,000 and 60,000,000 dollars in the United States on research, publicity and advertising. By comparison, the figure for wool was 2,041,000 dollars. I suggest that is not adequate. I do believe that the Wool Bureau in America has got reasonable value for its money, but obviously it cannot compete successfully against those who are spending vastly more.

In Australia, the Wool Bureau has considerable funds at its disposal. It has a capital account of something like £4,000,000, but at the present time it is just living on its income. I feel that it is a bit like the position of a hermit who dies in poverty and when some one goes along to clean up his affairs thousands of pounds which he has not touched are found in a secret hiding place. We cannot afford to see the wool industry die on its feet while the bureau has those funds. I say that we should get into it while we have the funds available,, and when those funds need replenishing, the graziers must be prepared for a considerable levy per bale for publicity and research. At the same time I think that the Government, which has a very lively interest in the sale of wool, must be prepared for a considerable increase in the funds available for research and publicity.

The second thing that has led to the undoing of the wool industry in America is the inefficiency of the American wool industry itself. I do not know whether any other honorable members have been there, but wool and mutton in America are on the way out. The number of sheep in America has dropped in recent years from about 50,000,000 to 25,000,000. The bulk of these are grown, not for wool, but for mutton and fat lambs. The industry itself is remarkably inefficient. The classing consists of just getting the whole fleece, wrapping the belly, neck and crutchings together, tying it up with a piece of string and putting it in bags; then some one comes along and makes an offer for it. I forget the number of classifications we have, but there would be a few thousand. So, we are paying the price for an inefficient industry in America while we have probably the most efficient wool industry in the world.

Unfortunately, to support the American industry the Americans have placed this severe tariff of 25 cents per lb. against Australian wool imports. As a result, of course, we are hit. But in actual fact the tariff is not supporting the American woolgrower; it is supporting the synthetics. I feel that the strongest representations should be made to the American Government by our Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) for the removal of that tariff. It is equivalent to from one-third to one-half of the value of our wool. Because of it, our wool is not on a competitive basis with synthetics. Not only is this so in relation to our natural wool; there is a strong tariff placed against imported made-up tops by America. At the moment 5 per cent, of the local manufacture has been imported, and there is a very steep increase in tariff which makes the importation of made-up cloth almost prohibitive. I ask the Minister to take up this matter very strongly indeed. We have a severe adverse balance with the United States, and I think we could bring pressure to bear by saying, " We will not buy from you unless you buy from us ".

The United States tariff applies not only against wool. In recent months, it has been increased on lead imports, resulting in a decline in our exports of lead by 50 per cent.

Great strides, His Excellency said, have been made in improving wool as a textile. There has been permanent pleating or crease resistance, which is probably the greatest discovery in wool that has been made for a decade. There has been developed a new cold-dip process by which wool is dipped cold and dyed in ten seconds instead of the old process in which the whole thing had to be boiled together. Unfortunately, it is not completely clear from the laboratory yet. There is more work to be done on it, but the effect on the sale of our wool abroad will be tremendous. There is a new method designed to increase, by using a surface-active wetting agent, the recovery of wool from the carbonization process. When I asked about this in the United States I was talking to the biggest buyer in Boston, the centre of the wool trade in America. He told me that he had not heard of this process. The same thing applied to permanent pleating. I found that not one firm was using permanent pleating although, in the last week before I left, one firm started it on test - years, not months, after the process had been cleared in Australia. We cannot afford the luxury of wasting so much time between finding and clearing a process from the laboratory at the C.S.I.R.O. and bringing it to real use in the trade. I feel that that is one breakdown in our research activities. Our research plan itself is excellent, but from the time a process is cleared by the laboratory until it becomes a common practice nearly always a year or so elapses. Surely we can have men standing by ready to catch the first plane to the wool centres of the world and explain to the wool manufacturers how these processes can be implemented. Many other improvements could be made, but there is no need for me to go into those. I only want to say that the C.S.I.R.O. has done a great job and is doing a great job. As the Wool Bureau pointed out in its latest report -

As in most industries, a gap exists between the scientific research work and its practical application to the finished product.

We have a government member's wool committee and we are doing our utmost to study this problem. A number of leaders in the industry have spoken to us on measures that could improve wool either by way of research, sales promotion, or marketing. We intend to carry on that activity. We hope to be able to report back to the Government towards the end of this autumn session and to make some recommendations which we feel may be of use. I do no want to say any more about wool now because I shall have quite a lot to say about it at a later date.

During the short time remaining to me I want to get on to another of my hobby horses - civil aviation. I apologize to the House for bringing this matter up again but I had the opportunity while abroad of making some further study of the subject and I feel that, after all, if the House sends me abroad I should report back and tell honorable members some of the things that I have seen.

The Governor-General announced in his Speech that this year would see the introduction of new air services and new aircraft in Australia. I had the opportunity, while in America, England and France, of visiting a number of aircraft factories. I went to the Lockheed works at Atlanta, the De Havilland works at Bristol and the Sud works at Toulouse. I must say quite bluntly that, although I disagreed with the Government's policy on aircraft buying before I went abroad, I have come back disagreeing with it even more strongly. The Government has made four decisions which have affected the purchase of aircraft by Australia. Every one of those four decisions was made at the expense of British aircraft and in favour of American aircraft. Let me detail them to the House.

The first decision related to the intention of Qantas to re-equip with Boeing and Electra aircraft. Honorable members will recall that, at the time I pointed out in the House, that there was a tremendous cost in dollars to Australia in implementing the Government's decision and, secondly, that apart from the cost of purchasing the aircraft, there was the cost of making runways for them. Honorable members may know that the Boeing and the larger American jet aircraft require about 10,700 feet of runway to take off, whereas the Comet requires only 6,500 feet and can operate from any normal aerodrome. In fact, it has a much lighter loading on its landing wheels than has the Electra. So we find, now, that we are up for £20,000,000 to build a new aerodrome at Melbourne. At Nandi, in Fiji, the airport which was adequate at 6,700 feet for a Comet, has been extended to 10,200 feet and is still not adequate for a Boeing to take off. In other words, the Boeing will have to take oft underloaded in either freight or passengers because it requires 10,700 feet. When I brought this matter up the answer of the Government was, quite rightly perhaps, that the board of Qantas had made a decision, and that Qantas being an excellent airline, the Government supported the decision.

What was the next decision? The board of TEAL spent about two years in visiting every factory engaged in the production of aircraft which might be suitable for the New Zealand-Australia run. I hesitate to use the term " expert " in regard to these men because some one recently said to me that the definition of an expert was that X was an unknown quantity and that a spurt was a drip under pressure. So shall I say that these technicians decided, after seeing every possible available aircraft, that their company should buy Comets? Immediately that decision was made, officials of the Department of Civil Aviation and the Minister flew to New Zealand and put the utmost pressure on the board of TEAL to rescind its vote and to take American aircraft which it had not asked for and which it did not want.

The next decision of the Government related to an application by Trans-Australia Airlines to buy two Caravelles. The Caravelle is a beautiful plane. I flew in one in

France. It has a speed of about 515 miles an hour and has two Rolls Royce Avon engines. It would have been ideal for the Australian run but the Government said, " No. Although you, the experts, have said that you want Caravelles, you cannot have them. You must take Electras." So, TEAL was forced to take Electras, although it had not asked for them. May I say that this was an anti-British move?

I discussed this matter in England with the director of the Society of British Aircraft Contractors. He was not unreasonable. He said to me, " The British aircraft industry believes that it could not sell a British aeroplane to Australia even if it had a diamond in every rivet hole." Of course, he was not alluding to the Viscount, because there is absolutely no competitor for that aircraft, but in every case in which there has been an American competitor, the Government has forced airlines which wanted to buy British or French planes to rescind their decision and buy American ones. In the case of France, we must remember that not only has she produced an excellent aircraft, but that she has a very adverse trade balance with this country. France is the third largest purchaser of our wool and, over all, purchases about ten times as much from us as we purchase from her.

In the fourth case, Mr. Butler applied to buy some Caravelles and a quite spurious argument, to my mind, was put to him. The Civil Aviation Department said, "We are sorry, but the aerodromes will not be able to take Caravelles before 1962 or even 1965 ". If the department wishes to keep certain aircraft out, it should say so and not offer a completely spurious argument. There is no aerodrome that I know of which can handle Viscounts or Electras and which cannot handle Caravelles. They use the same fuel and have a similar performance on the runway. So why should the department say that it will not be possible to use a Caravelle here until 1965? We know that Boeings which take 4,000 feet more of runway than the Caravelle will operate in Australia before 1965. This shows that what the Director of the Society of Aircraft Constructors in Britain said to me to the effect that British manufacturers believed they could not sell a British 'plane to Australia even if there was a diamond in every rivet hole has some strength in it.

I do not say that we should always buy British aircraft. All I ask is that if things are even we should lean to Britain rather than to America. A number of British firms have established branches in Australia and are employing Australian workmen. American aircraft companies have established no factories here as the De Havilland and Bristol companies have done.

We have been buying about 80,000,000 dollars worth of aircraft from the dollar area although in my opinion we could have got similar aircraft from the sterling area. British workmen are being laid off from British aircraft factories. The Bristol company has said that unless orders eventuate very shortly it will have to put 10,000 workmen off.


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

Debate (on motion by Mr. Cope) adjourned.







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