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Friday, 1 August 1930

Senator RAE (New South Wales) . - The criticism of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce), and the remarks of other honorable senators, are deserving of careful consideration. But I cannot see why the operations of a company such as that which will be established to manufacture sewing machine heads should be exclusively confined to that particular business. It seems to me that the making of sewing machine heads might well be undertaken by a company formed to manufacture other mechanical contrivances. There is nothing so intricate or complex in sewing machines as to render it necessary to establish large works for their manufacture. I do not wish to repeat the arguments which have already been adduced, but there is something in the criticisms levelled against this project, particularly in regard to one aspect of the business. If a factory is established at Bendigo and also in Sydney, as has been suggested, and sewing machines arc produced at the price of approximately £15 when the charge for imported machines is £24, a considerable saving could be effected. That would be of advantage, particularly to those who have to earn their living by using them. An attempt must, however, be made to devise some means to considerably reduce distribution costs if purchasers are not to be exploited to an extortionate degree. Many years ago, when living at Deniliquin, I became acquainted with a man who was engaged in selling sewing machines. It was before the days of motor transport, and he had a wagonette and a pair of horses which he used in traversing the country selling machines, and also calling upon previous purchasers to effect any necessary adjustments. That man assured me that, in addition to his salary, he received a commission of £5 on each new machine he sold. There was a branch office under the control of a manager at Deniliquin who also received a good salary, and various other persons connected with the sale and distribution of machines. The costs at that time, as they are to-day, were piled up to such an extent that the ultimate price of a machine must have been five or six times its actual cost. There was such a hierarchy of beneficiaries in the handling of them that if they cost only 2s. 6d. to produce the price charged would have to be many pounds to cover the actual costs incurred. I do not know how this can be guarded against; but the existing system of handling, not only sewing, but other machines, is unnecessarily expensive. In the early days of federation the Commonwealth Government appointed a select committee or a royal commission to inquire into the cost of machinery produced by the Sunshine Harvester Company. Similar sample machines were built for the Victorian Government at the Newport Government railways workshops when it was discovered that the actual cost of production, even for single machines, was one-quarter or one-fifth of the price at which they were being sold. That is the position in connexion with sewing machines, and bread-winners depending on the ownership of such machines to make a living, are being penalized to a greater extentthan can bc met by the imposition of high duties or by the payment of bounties. Unless we can prevent these parasitic and semi-parasitic persons living on the game, the actual cost to the user will always be excessive. One way to overcome the difficulty to some extent is by using some of the machinery now largely lying idle, and capable of manufacturing anything from a gun to a telephone receiver, at the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow, Cockatoo Island Dockyard, and, perhaps, at the Munitions Factory in Victoria.

Senator Reid - There is not much machinery at Cockatoo Island Dockyard suitable for the manufacture of this product.

Senator RAE - At the Lithgow Small Arms Factory there is machinery which, with slight adaptations or adjustments, could be used for producing almost any mechanical contrivance, and for which extravagant and extortionate prices are being charged. If this Government cannot, or will not, utilize the plant in that way, we must, I suppose, depend upon the formation of companies to manufacture machines. A strong point which has been made, and which cannot truthfully be refuted, is that the passage of this measure will immediately compel importers to reduce prices, which are now unjustifiably high. That alone will justify this Parliament in making some effort to prevent the public from further exploitation by the ruinous prices at present charged for sewing machines.

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