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Tuesday, 2 October 1906

Senator TRENWITH - And which Ave have legislated against.

Senator CLEMONS - We are legislating to do a thing which no Act passed by the Federal Parliament this session will affect, or impeach in any way whatever This Bill legislates to this effect - that no matter what the cost of manufacture maybe, the price of the article, so long as certain conditions as to wages are observed, shall remain at £70.

Senator Playford - That is the maximum price.

Senator Trenwith - It will not be more.

Senator CLEMONS - How is it going to be made less? By' the grace of the manufacturers ?

Senator Trenwith - By the same process by which it has been made less year by year since harvesters were made.

Senator CLEMONS - That process has not been brought about owing to the action of the local manufacturers, but by competition from outside.

Senator Trenwith - No.

Senator CLEMONS - I say yes. There has always been, even in protectionist Victoria, a certain amount of competition in this matter.

Senator Trenwith - Not from abroad.

Senator CLEMONS - Certainly from abroad.

Senator Trenwith - How long?

Senator CLEMONS - How long have stripper-harvesters been made? How long have they been produced in Victoria? The earliest date of which we can take notice is 1897. I admit that a few were made before that, but 1897 is the first year which we can recognise. In 1900 they were commenced to be made in Canada and the United States, and it is due to that competition that the price has been, as low as it has been.

Senator Trenwith - They have been made here for the last twenty-five years.

Senator CLEMONS - I maintain that what I have urged is a fair objection to make 'to this clause. With regard to the provisions of the Bill relating to Excise, which, to a certain extent, govern this Bill, I have to say that while I cordially indorse the spirit of them, and while I shall join heartily in trying to divert to the pocket of the consumer some of the immense profits that have been made out of the industry, I have grave doubts as to whether, even if we pass the Bill, we have the constitutional power to enact the provisions to which I refer. But in Committee I am not going to raise that point. The good intent of the provision is quite sufficient to insure silence on my part, so far as the constitutional question is concerned. The Bill deals not only with stripper-harvesters, but with a vast multiplicity of agricultural machines ; but I feel it to be quite impossible - and it would be wholly without justification at the present time - to deal with more than the harvester question. Therefore, I shall say nothing in regard to general agricultural implements as dealt with by the Bill. Without wishing to thrust my view upon any other member of. the Senate, it seems to me that those items are so diversified and numerous that they can be better treated in Committee. I do not propose, therefore, to allude to them in my second-reading speech, but when we get into Committee, I shall have something to say. I have to say in conclusion that the profits made in the stripper-harvester industry at the present time are enormous, and that the wages paid by the chief man in the trade, Hugh Victor McKay, are at any rate under grave suspicion.

Senator Col Neild - How can they be under suspicion ?

Senator CLEMONS - The suspicion under which they rest is this : that they are unfair, and that they bear no justifiable proportion to the profits made in the industry. We had a considerable amount of evidence which is quite sufficient to show that Mr. McKay has, at any rate, been not less active in his desire to get wages as low as possible as in his desire to get increased profits.

Senator Col Neild - He is a good old protectionist !

Senator CLEMONS - I should be very sorry if every protectionist had made as strong efforts as Mr. McKay has done to evade Wages Boards in Victoria, and to secure working men in Australia at an unfair rate of wage. I do not think that in making these comments upon this aspect of the question, which is very important, I shall be met with dissent from the protectionist members of the Commission. If they express their views, I am perfectly certain that they are bound to admit entertaining the same suspicion as to whether Mr. McKay's treatment of his workmen has been such as to enable him with any fairness to ask for considerate treatment bv this Parliament.

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