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Thursday, 12 May 1960

Mr CLAY (St. George) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,I think I am known in this House as one who never interjects or wastes the time of the House. However, I desire to support the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters), and because of the limitation of time I shall confine my comments to the industry which seems to be singled out for sacrifice whenever the Government is in a dilemma as to how to satisfy its friends, the importers, and at the same time encourage the sales of our greatest and most important primary product, wool. I concentrate upon the textile industry because nearly two-thirds of Japanese imports into Australia are textiles. I shall refer to some of the delays which occur in the giving of tariff protection to our industry, in order to show that the change in policy by the Government is unwarranted and dangerous. The matter of cotton piece goods was referred to the Tariff Board in August, 1957. The board reported to the Government in 1958, and the Government dealt with it in November, 1959. So the board, from August, 1957, to October, 1958, took more than fourteen months before it brought down its findings. A year and one month later the Government shook the sleep out of its eyes and dealt with a tariff board inquiry which began two years and three months earlier.

The matter of cotton canvas and duck was referred to the Tariff Board in March, 1957, and the board reported in September, 1958; but it was not dealt with by Parliament until November, 1958. It took eighteen months from the time of reference, March, 1957, before the board made its report on 19th September, 1958, and Parliament did not deal with it for a further two months. The Government will need to do more than double the membership of the Tariff Board in order to meet Australia's need for rapid hearings. It will need to establish specialist boards along the same lines as those provided under our arbitration system, where commissioners are allocated to particular groups of industries.

I shall deal next with an agreement entered into between the Japanese Government and the Australian Government. On 30th June next, an agreement entered into between them will expire. The agreement provided, in the matter of man-made fibre piece goods, that no more than 8,000,000 square yards would be exported to Australia in this financial year from Japan. In response to a great volume of protests from all adversely affected in the textile industry, the Government graciously consented to expedite a hearing for Australian manu facturers by the Tariff Board. That hearing began on 29th February last and a report is now in the hands of the Government. As it is expected that this House will rise tomorrow week until August next, I want to know what protection against the products of low-wage countries is contained in the Tariff Board report now in the hands of the Government and, what is just as important, whether the Government will implement the report before the House rises.

In the interval before the Budget session, in August, there could be a flood of manmade fibre material into this country, with very damaging effects on Australian manufacturers and their staffs. Although only three more sitting days remain of the current sessional period, there is still no indication from the Government that it intends to act. Is the Government yielding to pressure from Japan? Is Japan threatening to purchase less wool? These two questions are particularly pertinent to textiles which appear to have been placed upon the altar of sacrifice, as can be demonstrated by the figures for Japanese exports to Australia since 1953-54. In that year, £6,500,000 worth of Japanese goods came into Australia, of which £4,700,000 worth represented textiles and apparel. In 1954-55, total Japanese imports were valued at £18,400,000, of which £9,000,000 was for textiles and apparel. In 1955-56, total imports from Japan were valued at £22,600,000, of which £9,000,000 was for textiles and apparel. In 1956-57, total Japanese imports fell to a value of £12,900,000, but more than half that amount, £7,200,000, was for textiles and apparel. In 1957-58, total Japanese imports rose sharply to a value of £23,800,000, of which £15,700,00 was for textiles and apparel. In 1958-59, a new peak was reached, with almost £30,000,000 worth of Japanese imports, of which amount more than half, £18,400,000, was for textiles and apparel.

Is it any wonder that the textile industry in Australia is alarmed? Import restrictions are the only means of safeguarding Australian industry from the competition of low-wage countries. Quantitative restriction, which is the only safe and reliable way of safeguarding Australian industry from low-wage countries, has been discarded by this Government which now declares that tariff protection must in future take its place. I have quoted these figures in order to demonstrate the apparent contempt held by this Government for a highly efficient industry in which there is fierce internal competition, and in which the inefficient cannot survive. It can hold its own against almost that of any country in the world, but not against low-wage countries like Japan.

The United States of America, the United Kingdom and Canada found it necessary to impose quantitative restrictions upon the entry of goods from lowwage countries, but our Government is throwing the workers and manufacturers to the wolves. Will anybody but the importers derive any benefit from the Government's policy? I doubt it. The pattern has been made all too familiar since this Government came to office with the blessing of the importers, who will mark up imported goods just sufficiently to keep the price below the Australian price and, at the same time, make an exorbitant profit. The ordinary people will derive no benefit from it. The grazier may for a little while sell more wool to Japan, but only for so long as it suits Japan. Japan buys our wool now because it suits that country to do so, but to-morrow, if a cheaper and satisfactory substitute is found, it will not buy another ounce of our wool. Then the sacrifices made by the Australian industry may well have been in vain. But we will still be able to sell our wool to the United Kingdom and European countries.

In the meantime great harm will have been done to Australian industry. The Government is playing this trick once too often, and it will be remembered by those who are about to suffer economic injury. What a mockery the Government makes of our arbitration system. Our workers are obliged to accept the dicta of our courts. Their hours are fixed and their wages are pegged; and .then the Government loosens this onslaught on their jobs. Goods from slave-labour countries are permitted entry at prices far below the cost of the Australian article. There can be no safety in tariffs for Australians against competition from low-wage countries. Our safety lies in quantitative restrictions, and nothing else will do.

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