Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Tuesday, 5 August 1930

Senator HOARE (South Australia) . - The object of the Government in submitting this bill is to encourage the establishment of a new industry which, it is hoped, will give employment to a large number of Australian operatives. An enterprise for the manufacture of sewing machines in Australia, if established in Bendigo as contemplated, will be n move in the direction of the decentralization of industries and, as such, the project should commend itself to honorable senators. It has been urged by those who are opposed to the bill that, to ensure success, the industry must he conducted on mass production methods. 1 remind them that, in the United States of America, which is regarded as the home of secondary industries, mass production methods were not always possible. Many of the huge manufacturing concerns which now play such an important part in the industrial life of that country began in a small way. There is reason to believe that we shall have the same experience in this country with respect to a number of industries including possibly the manufacture of sewing machines. Senator E. B. Johnston went to considerable pains to prove that different types of household sewing machines were being retailed by a number of big business bouses at prices below the figures quoted for the Australian sewing machine when the Bendigo company was in operation. I do not challenge the figures presented by the honorable senator, but I remind him that the practice in all countries where secondary industries are protected, is to supply first the home market and then dispose of the surplus products overseas at prices, in some cases, lower than are charged in the country of origin. As we all know, our primary products command higher prices in the home market than are obtained overseas for the surplus production. I imagine,therefore, that the prices of imported sewing machines quoted by Senator Johnston bear somewhat the same relation to prices in the home markets as the prices which we receive for our primary products abroad bear to the prices obtained in Australia. As to the objection that the industry is to be established in a provincial city in Victoria, I can only say that, in matters of this kind, we should take the broader view. If I thought otherwise, 1 should advocate the claims of Adelaide as the industrial centre more likely to ensure the success of the venture. Senator Reid apparently objects to this bill on the principle that assistance in the firm of a bounty is not an economic proposition. The honorable senator was careful to avoid any reference to the Queensland sugar industry, which has developed on much the same principle. If the assistance at present given to that industry were withdrawn, the effect upon the northern State would be disastrous, and New South Wales and Victoria also would suffer, because Queensland imports manufactured goods and other commodities largely from the southern States in return for sugar sold in southern markets. If we are to remain true to the principle of protection, we must give careful consideration to all proposals for the encouragement of Australian industries. The high standard of living and the improved labour conditions observed in our industries demand efficient protection from outside competitors. The Tariff Board which inquired into this matter, in 1925, made the following comments in its report : -

Severe competition from overseas is being experienced by the local industry. The price at which the locally-made .machines are sold is £15 15s. net cash, whereas some similar imported machines are sold as low as £12 10s. Some of the imported machines are sold at higher prices than the locally-made machines. For instance the Singer machine is sold on extended terms for £24 4s., and for cash at £19 4s. Whereas imported machines can be landed in any State at the same prices, locally-made machines have of necessity to pay freight to the different States.

The present nominal capital of the Bendigo Sewing Machine Company Limited, as disclosed by its latest balance-sheet, is £50,000, divided into £5,000 shares of £10 each; of this amount about £14,000 has actually been paid up. The evidence points to the fact that the further development of the industry is hindered by lack of capital, and that this lack is attributed to the fact that, so far, owing to its failure to successfully compete with imported machines, the Bendigo Sewing Machine Company Limited has not shown any profits, but as a matter of fact, has incurred losses on its sales.

The failure of the company, it would appear, was due to the lack of sufficient capital to extend its operations so as to meet the demands of the local market. Protection in some form is more urgently needed by an industry in the early years of its development. When it reaches the stage at which mass production is possible, it should no longer depend on governmental assistance. I understand that the Bendigo company manufactured, in all, about 1,400 machines. This was not nearly sufficient to keep pace with the requirements of the home market, but owing to the lack of capital it was not possible for the company to obtain the most up-to-date machinery. If this bill is passed we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that at least we made an attempt to establish in Australia what should be an important industry.

The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (.Senator Pearce) asked why the industry was established in the first place in Bendigo. I suppose operations began there because the local business people were sufficiently enterprising to subscribe the necessary capital to form a company. As already shown it failed through lack of Government interest. If we are to manufacture sewing machines in Australia I should say that Lithgow would be a very suitable location for the industry. In the Small Arms Factory there we have up-to-date machinery, which with slight alterations could be utilized for the purpose. I should think that machines could be turned out cheaper there than in any other part of Australia. But I hold no brief for any particular part of the Commonwealth. I want industries to be established in Australia, which will absorb our own unemployed, and the manufacture of sewing machines should open up many avenues of employment, particularly for cabinet makers and moulders. The contention that heavy freightage will have to be paid on the transport of machines from Bendigo to, say, the furthest part of Western Australia, has already been disposed of by the Assistant Minister, who has shown that the machines are to be sold at a standard price in all capital cities. The Bendigo Sewing Machines Limited started making household sewing machines in 1924, on the understanding that the Government of the day would soon bring into operation the deferred duty on sewing machine heads. The Government did not do so, and the Bendigo company next year applied for a bounty of £2 10s. for sewing machine heads. The matter was referred in the usual way to .the Tariff Board for investigation, and after a thorough inquiry the Tariff Board recommended, in December, 1925, that a bounty be paid for three years at the following rates : -


The reason given by the Tariff Board for its recommendation was that the Bendigo company was then only producing machines at the rate of 40 a week, or 2,000 a year, whereas it had been the practice to expect a new industry to meet at least 40 per cent, of Australian requirements before any tariff or bounty assistance would be given. To my mind, that was just the time to give the industry the assistance it required. I do not think the Government should have " lingered over the matter all these years, in the meantime allowing sewing machine manufacturers all over the world to get a grip on the Australian market. If we had given the Australian company assistance in 1924, the manufacture of sewing machines would possibly have been on a sound basis before now, and perhaps it could have got along with the assistance only of an effective duty and not a bounty. I have heard that the machines which were made at Bendigo gave every satisfaction. I went to buy one in Adelaide, and but for the fact that there was none available, because the company had ceased to manufacture them, there would have been one in my home to-day. If there is one thing I stand for, it is the purchase of goods of Australian manufacture. From head to foot I am Australian-made so far as my wearing apparel is concerned. If we all made it a practice to buy Australian-made goods, we should help to build up Australian industry, and thus give employment to our own people and make Australia the nation we want it to be. Every industry must have its beginning. We do not know whether it will be a failure until we give it a try-out. We cannot build up industries by following the policy adopted by the Bruce-Page Government in regard to the sewing machine industry, that of casting it aside. Many other industries now flourishing would have perished if the same policy had been applied to them. Instead of that, by the assistance of bounties, they are now employing thousands of people. One of them is the iron and steel industry of Newcastle. It should be our aim to make Australia independent of other countries. We have peace to-day, but it may not last. We should be independent of the outside world; in time of war we should be able to manufacture any implement that Australia might require, and we should set about preparing to do so in time of peace. There are many things we have not tried to manuf acture in Australia. If the bounty system were employed, we might be able to give a start to the manufacture of such things as motor car engines- and aeroplane engines, though, personally, I should like to see the Government launch out in that direction itself, because then we should not be paying our money away to others. I do not think that we should adopt too pessimistic an outlook in regard to the sewing machine industry. Surely there is a bright side to it. If the people who have said that they will form a company are prepared to put thousands of pounds into the venture, the Government will be perfectly safeguarded; it can hold back the payment of any bounty until satisfactory proof is furnished that the company is a bona fide one, and will carry out its intentions. I think that honorable senators are often somewhat parochial in their attitude towards bounties. I should like them always to look at these matters from an Australian viewpoint, because, after all, we are one nation and one people, and an industry that is working satisfactorily in one.State must benefit to a greater or less degree the whole of Australia. I think that we should give this particular industry a trial to see how it pans out. There is to be a limitation to the payment of the bounty, and when that limit is reached, in all probability the manufacture of sewing machines will be on a sound footing. It is useless to say that we believe in Australian industry if we limit the support that we give to it. I think that we should be consistent and that we_should realize that if it is worth while building up one industry, it is equally worth while building up others. If the Government is defeated on this measure, it has, at least, endeavoured to do its duty as it sees it. It is regrettable that there is no report of the Tariff Board available later than that of 1925 ; but, apparently, the board was favorable to the payment of a bounty at the time. In the absence of a recent report, we must be guided by the information supplied to us by the Assistant Minister (Senator Barnes). I hope that honorable senators will give the matter careful consideration, and that they will pass this bill for the good of Australia in general.

Suggest corrections