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Wednesday, 31 August 1960

Mr McEWEN (MURRAY, VICTORIA) (Minister for Trade) - The only knowledge of the incident that I have is what I have read in the newspapers and the information which the honorable member has now conveyed to me. I can say in reply to part of his question: I believe that the instrumentality for advising the Government on tariff-making in Australia, for the purpose of giving both adequate protection to Australian industry and adequate preferential treatment to British goods in terms of our trade treaty with the United Kingdom, is adequate. I know that the Local Government Act of New South Wales contains a provision which requires local government authorities to give to goods produced in Australia a measure of preference over and above the preferences provided for in the tariff, and that is done. I do not know exactly what the position is in other States. I can say, however, that it is not uncommon, in the case of government instrumentalities and local government authorities, and also in private circles, for a tender to be accepted, for a variety of reasons, at a figure higher than that for which similar goods could be procured from overseas. Sometimes there are quite good reasons for this. One arguable reason may be that the instrumentality concerned, or the private company, merely wants to make the gesture of supporting Australian industry. That opens the way to the kind of argument that was inherent in the honorable member's question.

In certain commercial circumstances a valid judgment may be made that it is in the interests of a consumer to rely upon a local source of supply, from which service is readily available, from which replacements may be obtained and where there is no doubt of continuity of supply, even though a higher price is paid for these assessed commercial advantages. On the other hand, it is not unknown for orders to be placed overseas as a gesture of disapproval of some combination of producers within Australia. Orders may also be placed locally as a gesture against a similar combination of overseas suppliers. Of course, if preference of this kind is carried too far, it must obviously react to the detriment either of ratepayers, as in the case covered by the honorable member's question, or the profit-making capacity of a private concern.

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