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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2073

Mr IRWIN (Mitchell) - I have listened with interest to some of the statements that have been made this afternoon. However, I desire to speak to the estimates of the Department of Customs and Excise. In particluar I wish to refer to the Tariff Board and to a very difficult area in which a balanced judgment has to be made. Three or 4 years ago a constituent of mine commenced to manufacture garments made of a plastic material. This material was yellow in colour and was imported from Hong Kong. No doubt honourable mem bers have seen workmen working in traffic zones and children going to school wearing garments of this colour. The garments are coloured yellow so that the person wearing them can be more easily identified and seen. Consequently, the possibility of the people being involved in accidents will be reduced. This material attracted a tariff of 113½ per cent. However, garments which are manufactured from this material in Hong Kong can be imported into Australia subject to a tariff that attracts 52½ per cent.

My constituent started off with 3 people working in his small factory. By this time last year, or a little earlier, 53 people were working for him in his factory. Despite the tariff of113½ per cent which he had to pay on the material used in making this garment, be exported to Canada and could meet the competition of the export trade. However, he was put out of business because of the influx of garments manufactured and made up in Hong Kong which were allowed into Australia subject to a tariff of 52½ per cent. Of course, he could have imported a black material. However, as I said, the garments he manufactured were made from a yellow material which helped to prevent accidents. He could have imported black material at a lower cost but he would not have been able to sell competitively garments made from material of that colour.

I have with me tonight a child's apron and frock which were manufactured in Hong Kong. If these garments were manufactured in Australia today the cheapest possible price would be $1.14 each. But these garments, which are manufactured in Hong Kong or Taiwan, are being sold in Australian chain stores for $1 each. We have a very difficult problem to overcome. I have people who make these garments in my electorate, in towns such as Windsor. They employ hundreds of married women. These women are able to get their children off to school, go to work and return home in time to attend to the children after school and to prepare their husbands' meals. How will we tackle this problem so that we will be fair to all the people concerned? This is the great paradox that we have to face in tackling this problem.

The Tariff Board takes far too long to decide these matters. It is about time that the Board adopted a more efficient operation so that decisions can be made quickly. It should not take 2 to 3 years in which to determine what is the right thing to do. I know that we want to remain friendly with Taiwan. Taiwan is very friendly to us. It is trying to do the best for its people and to rehabilitate them. But I suppose that human nature being what it is, charity begins at home, and we have to remember this. The same comments apply to knitted garments, other wearing apparel and textiles. How will we tackle this problem, if we allow the present position to continue? Unfortunately we find today that because of the affluence of the society in which we live married people believe that they have to keep up with the Joneses. We find that married women, of necessity, have to go to work in order to pay for the amenities which they possess and which they desire today.

It is very difficult for experts or people who are well versed in these matters to arrive at a decision. But I think that the Government should make machinery available so that the people who have great training in the manufacture of goods are able to come to a decision which is fair to the countries that are manufacturing these goods for less than we are able to manufacture them. I know that my friend Bert Kelly would say that we should allow these garments into this country to be sold here and that we should not consider the people who are employed in manufacturing these garments in Australia.

In the short time remaining to me I want to refer to primary industry and to warn people that it is wise not to interfere too much in primary industry. From almost time immemorial the wheat industry has adapted itself to the situations that have arisen from time to time. During the depression we experienced the situation in which all the granaries in Manitoba and Winnepeg were full and there was a move to restrict the planting of wheat. Within 3 months there was a world wide shortage of wheat because of pestilence in the granaries in the cities to which I have referred. This appears always to have happened in regard to cereals.

In the dairying industry we have restricted the production of butter and milk. At the present time, if a person wants to buy a ton of powdered milk in Australia he cannot be supplied with it unless it is imported from New Zealand. I know of a man who was manufacturing pet foods. He was buying powdered milk in only 5 lb lots. He carried out his experiments and was ready to go on to the market in a big way. He ordered a ton of powdered milk. The firm with which he was dealing laughed at him and said: 'You cannot get a ton of powdered milk that has been manufactured in Australia. If you want it we will import it from New Zealand.'

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Cope) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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