12th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Eon. Norman Makin) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and offered prayers.
Attack Upon Government Official - Rights of Members
– Upon the noticepaper for to-day the honorable member for Martin (Mr. Eldridge) has a question addressed to the Postmaster-General, the first portion of which reads -
Has he seen an article in Smiths’ Weekly of the 23rd May, entitled “ Government Monopoly gets in the rood of radio wavesPoohBah Brown butts in again.”
I ask you Mr. Speaker whether in your opinion the notice-paper should be the medium of grossly offensive references to a distinguished servant of the Commonwealth? I recognize that the offensive words are quoted from a newspaper, but I do not think that that justifies their appearance on the notice-paper.
– I certainly shall noi permit any question that is deliberately offensive to appear on the notice-paper. Some distinction must, of course, be drawn between a quotation from a newspaper and a statement by an honorable member, but I would not have allowed this question to appear on the noticepaper in its present form had it been referred to me. In future I shall require questions of doubtful propriety to be submitted to me so that I may ensure the observance of decorum and correct procedure in connexion with this portion of the business of the House.
– On a point of order I suggest that a member has absolute liberty of speech in regard to a person who is not a member of Parliament: That is one of the cherished privileges of honorable members. They may not make remarks that are personally offensive to other honorable members, -but except for that limitation and compliance with the Standing Orders their right of speech is unrestricted ; they may indulge in any criticism, however severe, scurrilous, or unjustified of any person outside this Parliament. Questions upon notice are not exempt from the ordinary rights of honorable members. If an honorable member could ask this question without notice surely he could do so upon notice. I could refer to cases in the House of Commons, and indeed decisions by yourself, Mr. Speaker, ‘which prove that free criticism is part of the recognized rights and privileges of honorable members. The extent to which we exercise that right must be governed by our own sense of decency, propriety, and self-respect.
– The honorable member may rest assured that I shall not attempt to deprive honorable members of their rights. Nevertheless members of this chamber and officers of the Commonwealth arc entitled to protection, and the Chair must exercise its authority to prevent liberty of speech degenerating into licence. If questions of doubtful character are to be asked it would be preferable to ask them without notice and so permit the Chair and the House to express immediate judgment as to their propriety.
– The report submitted to the House on Wednesday by the Minister for Trade and Customs in reply to questions asked by the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Yates) and myself, regarding the censorship of films, indicated a considerable divergence of opinion between the Censorship Board and the
Censorship Appeal Board. Having regard to the strong criticism of the censorship by the Chief Justice of Victoria, a judge of the New South Wales Supreme Court, the British press, and representatives of the British Film Industry, I ask the Minister whether he will consider the advisability of asking the two boards to confer with a view to placing the censor ship on the basis recommended by a royal commission of which the Minister was a valuable member?
– I did notice the pronounced divergence of opinion between the views expressed by the Chief Censor and Acting Chief Censor, and those of the Censorship Appeal Board; but I was not surprised at that. At times there are equally marked divergences of opinion amongst judges of the High Court and the Supreme Courts; indeed the extent to which judges differ on points of law is amazing to the layman. However, the suggestion of the honorable member Wl receive sympathetic consideration.
– Owing to the fact thai the Government has taken no action against owners of industries who have committed numerous offences against the Crimes Act 1928, I ask the AttorneyGeneral whether the Government intends to repeal that statute in order to safeguard the workers against the possibility of a future government applying it to their detriment?
– I am not aware of any crimes, over which the Crown Law Department has jurisdiction, in respect of which no action has been taken. But if the honorable member will place a question upon the notice-paper I shall let him have a considered reply.
Re-Broadcasting of British Programmes
asked the Postmaster-General, upon notice -
Is it a fact that this regulation was never intended to apply in such a case, and that the British Broadcasting Corporation was always glad for any dominion station to relay its programme?
– As the answer is long, I lay it on the table, and ask that it be incorporated in Hansard.
– On a point of order. You, Mr. Speaker, stated that bad this question been submitted to you, you would not have allowed it to appear on the notice-paper. In those circumstances, is the Minister in order in replying to it ?
-As the question appears on the notice-paper I cannot now prevent it from being answered, but I shall take precautions against any future abuse of the privilege of asking questions upon notice. Is leave granted to the Postmaster-General to incorporate his reply in Hansard without reading it?
Opposition Members. - No
– The answer to the question of the honorable member for Martin is:
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
District System : Holiday Deliveries
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
To lessen inconvenience to business houses generally, and seed and nursery businesses in particular, will he arrange to have all postal matter delivered into private boxes on holidays on the same lines as previously?
– There are only four holidays on which the delivery of mail matter through private boxes is affected by the recent changes. At capital cities where night staffs are employed all correspondence available up till the time that staff ceases duty is sorted into the private boxes, and, in consequence, the amount of mail matter likely to suffer delay is comparatively negligible. I am satisfied that no serious inconvenience is suffered, and that the adoption of the arrangement desired would not bo justified under present conditions.
asked the Trea- surer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
Leave and Furlough:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of the desirableness of reducing the strength of the Public Service, and of the natural reluctance of officers to take the extreme step of resigning to accept positions in civil life until they are sure they are fitted to hold them, will the Government allow officers who are entitled to furlough, or who can be granted leave without pay, to take such furlough or leave, and engage in private employment, thereby encouraging and assisting such officers to establish themselves in professional or commercial positions?
– The suggestion of the honorable member will receive consideration.
asked the Minister for Defence, upon notice -
In view of the fact that the Western Junction aerodrome has proved to be unsuitable during the winter months, at least, for the taking off and landing of the Australian National Airways’ monoplanes, and in order to obviate the necessity for intending airway passengers from Launceston and surrounding districts travelling about 50 miles in order to board the ‘planes, will he take whatever action is necessary to have the aerodrome made suitable for the purpose mentioned?
– This landing ground was graded, ploughed, harrowed, and planted with grass only last year, and there has not been sufficient time for proper consolidation, and for the desired growth of grass on the area. It was anticipated that the ground might become soft during this winter. Consideration is being given to the possibility of compacting the surface by rolling, and the use of fertilizer to encourage the matting of grass on the landing ground.
Prime Minister, upon notice -
Has he received information regarding the sailing of tenders by the China Board of
Trustees, or any other authority under the amended China Indemnity Bill, under which £3,000,000 awaits expenditure on railway material within the British Empire, and a further £8,000,000 was to be made available, half of which was allocated for expenditure on railway material within the British Empire, in which Australia is entitled to participate in the £4,000,000 and £3,000,000 by supplying hardwood sleepers; if not, when can information be anticipated and what notice will intending tenderers receive?
– The Government has asked His British Majesty’s Commercial Counsellor at Shanghai to bring under the notice of the authorities in China the ability and desire of Australia to supply railway sleepers to China. The Commercial Counsellor has been asked also to furnish full information in connexion with any tenders which may be called for supplies of railway materials. Everything will be done to ensure that Australia participates to the greatest possible extent, in any orders arising out of the disposal of the Boxer Indemnity Fund.
asked the Attorney-
General, upon notice -
– It is not the practice to answer questions which necessitate the expression of opinion on questions of law.
– On the 13th May the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Guy) asked the following questions, upon notice -
What were the classes of securities held on the 30th April, 1931, by the Commonwealth Bank against -
The note issue, and
Advances by the trading department of the bank to the various Governments, stating the information, in each case, under the following headings: -
Commonwealth Government securities -
Short-dated treasury-bills, specifying amounts,
Other Commonwealth securities, specifying amounts ;
State securities, specifying values of the securities of each particular State; and
Other securities, specifying types and value of each type, and arranging same according to States, specifying value for each State.
The following replies have now been received fromthe Commonwealth Bank : -
The Commonwealth Bank is not prepared to furnish the further details sought, as the disclosure of such confidential information relative to the position of its customers, the governments concerned, is quite contrary to banking practice, and it is considered would be prejudicial to the bank’s interests.
Motion (by Mr. Brennan) agreed to -
That the House at its rising adjourn until Wednesday next at 3 p.m.
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration resumed from the 4th June (vide page 2549), on motion by Mr. Forde -
That the schedule to the customs tariff be amended -
Division V. - Textiles, Felts and Furs and Manufactures Thereof, and Attire
By omitting the whole item and inserting in its stead the following item: - “115. (a) Socks* for human attire -
*The word ‘ socks ‘ means any hose for human wear which when worn does not cover the knee.
Cotton, per dozen pairs - British , 20s. ; intermediate, 25s. ; general, 30s., or ad val. - British, 50 per cent.; intermediate, 60 per cent.; general, 65 per cent, whichever rate returns the higher duty.
– The duties on socks and stockings might reasonably be reviewed by the Minister and the party supporting him. The present duty of 1s. 8d. per pair on British cotton socks amounts to well over 300 per cent, on the present f.o.b. price, and the duty of 2s. 6d. per pair on foreign socks is equal to a duty of over 500 per cent, on the f.o.b. price. Everybody will admit that cotton socks are not the luxurious articles usually purchased by the wealthier section of the community, but they are generally worn by the working and middle classes.
– If they can afford to buy even cotton socks.
– That is so. If they indulge in the luxury of wearing silk socks, they must pay more.
– I have seen woollen socks marked in shops at 2s. l1d. per pair.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.These duties are ridiculously in excess of the requirements of the industry. Children’s socks, for example, invoiced in Great Britain at 4s. 9d. per dozen, are subject to a duty of 20s. per dozen, or over 400 per cent., while cotton stockings invoiced in Britain at 5s. 9d. per dozen pay a duty of 30s., or over 500 per cent. These are only a few items taken at random to show the absurdity of the duties that have been imposed. There is no need for duties amounting to 500 per cent., seeing that the raw material for the manufacture of these goods is produced in Australia, and our factories are claimed to be more efficient than those elsewhere, and our workmen are said to be as capable asthose in any other part of the world. Where is the “ nigger in the woodpile ?” Is it that the wages paid in this industry are so excessive that a toll must be levied on every working man, to make him assist, by paying increased prices for socks, in keeping the industry going? I can conceive of no other reason. The Minister has not extended to the committee the courtesy of explaining the reason for these duties. He knows, of course, that the Government has a sufficient number of supporters to pass the tariff. I submit that this item has not been considered on its merits. These excessive duties are not justified by the facts, or by any statement of the Minister, and they inflict a distinct hardship upon the great middle and working classes.
.- The duties on these important articles of clothing have been increased by multiplying the old figures, not by two, but, apparently, by more than three. The British duty on the first sub-item, cotton socks, has been raised from 6s. to 20s. per dozen pairs; in the case of woolen socks, or socks containing wool, the rate has been increased from 8s. to 17s. 6d. per dozen; and on silk socks the increase is from 7s. to fi per dozen. These duties have been deliberately fixed to prohibit importations.
– To what extent has that object been achieved? What imports have come in?
– I cannot give the figures, but I think that the duties have almost put an end to the importation of the cheaper lines of socks, arid even socks of the higher class. The present position of the hosiery industry in Australia has become interesting as the result of these increased imports. The industry is extraordinarily efficient; it has turned out socks and stockings of high quality which are disposed of at reasonable prices. I admit that so far, these duties have conferred a substantial benefit to the wearers of socks and stockings, and that to that extent they have assisted to reduce the cost of living. There is, however, one dangerous aspect which must not be overlooked. The capital invested and the machinery employed in the industry are capable of producing socks and stockings greatly in excess of the Australian demand for many years to come.
– Already the manufacture of these goods in Australia has been overdone.
– We are arriving al a position in which another monopoly, with all its attendant dangers, is being created. It may be that the present very keen competition between the various manufacturers of hosiery will continue until some of them are forced out of business. Although that would mean a substantial loss to the shareholders in those companies, I am not greatly concerned about that aspect of the matter, for that is a risk which must be taken by all who engage in competitive enterprises. The other alternative is that the fight will be continued until some of the companies disappear, and that the remaining companies will then come to an agreement, if not to merge into one big company, at least to fix prices which would give a reasonable return on all the capital invested in the industry. I do not say that that will eventually come to pass; I suggest it as a grave possibility. If what I have suggested does take place, we shall be forced to pay for the hosiery we wear a price sufficient to maintain both capital and plant greatly in excess of that which should be employed to meet requirements. While I pay the highest tribute to the efficiency of these various establishments, I am strongly opposed to these prohibitive duties.
– Did the manufacturers ask for them?
– They were asked for.
– I challenge the Minister to produce written evidence from a majority of the important hosiery manufacturers in Australia to show that they asked for these excessive duties. I go further, and challenge him to make out a substantial case in favour of such duties.
– And to support it by requests from various manufacturing firms for them.
– In my opinion, these duties are destined either to cause ruin to a number of these enterprises, or to increase the price of socks and stockings.
– Is not the honorable member capable of regarding this duty from the point of view of the necessity for restoring the balance of trade?
– The Acting-Leader of the Government (Mr. Brennan) now introduces a new argument, which is entirely different from that put forward by the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– The two things go together.
– I have used the same argument on many occasions.
– When the ministers at the table reach an agreement as to the reason for the imposition of these high duties, we may continue the consideration of the item. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) says that he has evidence that these duties were asked for by manufacturers, the inference being that that is the reason for their imposition.
– That is one of the reasons.
– The Acting Leader of the Government declares, by inference, that the duties have been imposed in order to adjust the balance of trade.
– There are dual reasons for the duties.
– I submit that the Government is proceeding towards two objectives in this and the subsidiary tariff before the committee. There is, first, the tariff of a protective and revenueproducing nature, which appears in the schedule. That is a true tariff. But, in addition, the Government took emergency measures outside the tariff altogether, to adjust the balance of trade. Honorable members are aware of the existence of a long list of prohibitions against imports, and also of a list of 50 per cent, surcharge duties. We must consider the item before us as a protective duty, and on that basis I submit that the protective policy has been carried to excess. In the long run, it will not benefit the manufacturers, excepting at heavy cost to the consumers, as a result of the existence of a combine to fix prices.
.- I find it impossible to understand the reason for the imposition of these heavy duties on cotton socks and stockings. The one commendable feature of these goods is their cheapness. I call the attention of honorable members to the fact that subitemI does not cover expensive silk, or even good woollen goods ; it refers only to common cotton hosiery. These goods, which are worn only by the poorer persons in the community, have to pay a duty of 20s. a dozen pairs before they are allowed to enter this country. That is1s. 8d. a pair. Such duties are ridiculously in excess of the requirements of the industry. Under this item children’s cotton socks invoiced at 4s. 9d. per dozen pairs, are subject to a duty of 20s. per dozen pairs, or over 400 per cent. I wonder whether honorable members opposite really understand what they are asked to agree to. I ask those who support this item whether they consider that such high duties are essential to the building up of Australian industries. The Attorney-General says that we must adjust the balance of trade. That may be so; but surely that does not require us to place in the hands of manufacturers the power to rob the community. It is useless for Labour members to think that Parliament can impose prohibitive duties and then pass legislation to fix wages in correspondence with the price charged for the goods. I point out, moreover, that wages are coming down. Parliament has no constitutional authority to pass legislation aimed at the fixing of wages. That is a matter for arbitration tribunals. No matter how wain crease the duties on imported goods, we cannot give effect to the desire of Labour members that the workers in industry shall participate in the advantages derived by those who charge high prices for the goods manufactured by them. The Minister for Trade and Customs should tell the committee what led the Government to impose these excessive duties. One wonders whether the duties on this item are in any way connected with any Queensland industry. It may be that Queensland cotton yarn will be used in the manufacture in Australia of cotton socks and stockings, and that, therefore, no such goods are to be allowed to enter this country. The Minister may be attempting to force the use of locallyproduced cotton in order to build up a Queensland industry. I move -
That the item be amended by adding after sub-item (a) (1) the following: - “And on and after the 6th June, 1931 -
Cotton - per dozen pairs, British, 6s.; intermediate, 8s. ; general, 10s., or ad val., British, 30 per cent,; intermediate, 40 per cent., general, 45 per cent., whichever rate returns the higher duty.”
That would bring the duties back to what they were under the 1928 tariff. Even that tariff gave a wonderful protection to Australian manufacturers. When it was introduced it was regarded by many as preposterous. I remind the Minister that at one time cotton socks from Britain were admitted duty free. I know that a number of travellers, particularly in the United States of America, rarely, if ever, buy expensive socks. They prefer to buy cheap cotton socks and to destroy them when soiled, rather than incur the expense of having more expensive socks laundered. When we reflect that goods valued at 4s. 9d. have to bear a duty of 20s. if imported from Great Britain, or up to 30s. if imported from foreign countries, we can only conclude that the policy of protection has been carried to a degree of madness. The whole item is wickedly preposterous.
– I hope that in a few brief remarks I shall be able to clear away a little of the misunderstanding that appears to exist in the minds of honorable members regarding the duties on this item.
– Evidently, the Minister realizes that an explanation is necessary.
– I realize that it is necessary to switch on the light in order that honorable gentlemen may see these duties in their true perspective. I know that honorable members who oppose these duties have now reached paragraph No. 120 on the document which has been sent to them by importers, setting out that these duties are detrimental to the people of Australia. The fact is that they are detrimental chiefly to importers, who, previously, imported large quantities of endofseason goods from other countries, to the detriment of Australian enterprises. Especially at a time like this, when Australia is faced with an adverse trade balance, there is no justification for the importation of hosiery.
– I understand that the adverse trade balance has been rectified.
– It has been only partially rectified. I remind the honorable member that not only must we balance our imports and exports, but we must have an excess of exports over imports to the extent of £36,000,000 per annum, because Australia, being a debtor nation, must have that amount to meet its overseas commitments. These duties will assist in the rectification of the adverse balance of trade.
– Does the Minister suggest that, because of these duties, Australian manufacturers will be able to export hosiery to England, and thus assist to rectify the adverse trade balance ?
– At present the Australian manufacturers are not exporting hosiery to Great Britain; in the present circumstances that is unpracticable, but there is a very big market in Australia, the requirements of which are being met by the local manufacturers. It is interesting to note that, contrary to the contention of some honorable members opposite, there has been a substantial reduction in the prices of Australian hosiery, particulars of which I shall supply later. For the ten months ended 30th April, 1931, our imports were valued at £54,287,000, and our exports during the same period in corresponding British currency values, at £74,200,000. Those figures show that, the tables have now been turned, and that, we have not now an adverse trade balance. It is, however, necessary to provide more than an excess of £21,000,000 of exports over imports as we have to find at least £36,000,000 in order to meet our interest commitments overseas. The duties under this sub-item have been submitted for the dual purpose of protecting an Australian industry, and of retaining a favorable trade balance. In Australia we have all the necessary plant to manufacture our hosiery requirements.
– Can the Minister give the committee some information with respect to prices charged?
– Yes; I shall deal first with New South Wales, a State naturally dear to the heart of the right honorable member for North Sydney. In that State wholesale prices have been reduced to the extent shown in the following table : -
Can any one object to those prices?
– Where can they be obtained at those prices ?
– The honorable member for Warringah said in the first place that there had been no reduction in prices. When I quote authentic figures he doubts their accuracy. He also asked me to explain the reasons for increased duties; when I do he says that I should not. When I refrain from explaining the position he says that I am not giving the committee the information it should have. In these circumstances 1 consider him a valuable member of the Opposition, and I sincerely trust that he will remain in his present position for a long time. The total importations under this item have been very considerable. In 1924-25 they’ were valued at £1,701,032, but in 1929-30 they had dropped to £792,456. The Australian production of the articles covered by this sub-item is considerable. In 1925-26 it was valued at £4,579,734, and in 1928-29 it had increased to £6,511,541. A firm endeavour has been made to place the industry on a particularly solid footing, and during recent years considerable sums have been spent in increasing plant and general equipment. Some individual manufacturers have failed, but that will always happen in the manufacturing or any other industry. Those who adopt modern methods by installing the latest type of machinery and perfecting their organization will always win through. At present, there is very keen competition amongst the manufacturers, and, as I have stated, the production of Australian hosiery has increased and the value of imports has dropped from £1,701,032 in 1924-25 to £792,456 in 1929-30.
– Why impose such high duties?
– It has been estimated by the trade that importations for the year 1928-29 represented approximately 1,000,000 dozen pairs of hose. The importations of silk and artificial silk stockings from the United States of America has increased considerably since 1924-25. The figures are: - In 1924-25, importations were valued at £199,000; in 1927- 28, £496,000; and in 1929-30, £339,022. During this period, importations from the United Kingdom steadily declined, but’ the Australian factories are now meeting our requirements in these lines. If the whole of Australia’s requirements were supplied by Australian manufacturers, and there is ho reason why they should not be, the extra business would provide direct employment for an additional 2,400 persons.
– The principal employees in these industries are girls.
– That may be so, but girls are as much entitled to earn a living as is the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill). . If Australia manufactured the whole of her requirements in this respect, it would mean an additional wages bill of £500,000 annually, while, indirectly, there would be increased employment in the yarnspinning and box-making industries. When the duties on crepe de chine were under consideration a few days ago, the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) said that that material could not be manufactured in Australia. But yesterday the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) read a telegram from the representatives of a woollen mill in Albany to the effect that the information given by the honorable member for Moreton was quite wrong as crepe de chine was being manufactured at that mill. In these circumstances, I ask honorable members to disregard many of the wild statements made by the Opposition, because those making them are not in possession of the facts. Although the importsin 1924-25 were valued at £1,701,032, they have now dropped to £792,456, and as a result of the protection afforded, the value of Australian production has increased from £4,579,734 in 1925-26 to £6,511,541 in 1928-29.
– Can the Minister say why it is necessary to increase the duties ?
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) asked me to name one manufacturer who had asked for these duties. I have a letter from the Victorian “ Hosiery and Underwear Manufacturers Association asking for duties substantially the same as those contained in the schedule.
– What is the date of that communication?
– It is dated the 6th of November, 1929, and the duties were imposed on the 22nd November of that year. As an indication of the immediate effect of the increased duties imposed by the present Government, I may point out that Messrs. Bond and Company, of Sydney, had decided to close their hosiery mills in December, 1929, and thereby throw 930 persons out of employment. After the schedule was tabled, the company decided to continue its operations, consequently 1,000 persons who would otherwise have lost their employment remained at work. This factory was closed down because of the drop in wage price levels which enabled importers to land cheap hosiery in Australia from the Continent and Great Britain.
– Why did not price levels drop in Australia?
– If the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) had his way, wages would be slashed, but interest would not be interfered with. After the imposition of these duties, Australian manufacturers commenced to extend their buildings and plant. The Holeproof Hosiery Company and the Julius Kayser Company decided to manufacture within our tariff wall. The Kayser product has a worldwide reputation. In Victoria alone, the additional capital expended in the construction of buildings and in the installation of machinery since the imposition of these duties amounts to £369,000. In construction work alone, hundreds of persons have been provided with employment. The figures show that in Vic toria, despite the existing trade depression, the number of employees engaged in this industry has been increased by 532.
– I have listened to the Minister; will he now listen to me?
– I shall be glad to listen to the melodious voice of the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) when he gets up to speak. Now, for the benefit of the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes), I point out that 300 additional employees have been taken on by the manufacturing firms in New South Wales since the new duties were imposed, making a total increase of employment of 832 in Victoria and New South Wales. This increase has been brought about notwithstanding unemployment and depression in other industries. What tremendous development would have taken place if the price of wool and wheat had kept up, and our national income had been unimpaired! Notwithstanding the increased duty, the price of hosiery has been substantially reduced. A feature of the development of the industry in Australia has been the manufacture in this country of fullfashioned silk hosiery. This type is now being produced in considerable quantities, and of a quality equal to that made in any other part of the world. The varieties being manufactured have led to a demand for silk yarn, and these are now being manufactured in Victoria. The Australian company engaged in the manufacture of silk yarn imports the raw silk from Japan, and makes it up here. It employs no fewer than 150 persons. The reduction in price of silk hosiery since the imposition of increased duties gives the lie direct to the statement that increased prices are a natural corollary of increased duties. Let us consider what has been done by the Prestige Hosiery Company of Victoria. The product of this company has a great name throughout Australia. The company employs 1,000 persons in, its factory, which I visited a few weeks ago. It has reduced the price of full-fashioned silk hosiery by 35 per cent., and that of circular hosiery by 25 per cent, since the new duties have been in operation. Statements have been made by the honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) and others which show that they do not know what they are talking about. If they took the trouble to inspect the factories, and learn something of the industry as I have done, they would be ashamed to make freetrade speeches such as they have recently been delivering here.
.- The Minister finished his speech with a eulogy of the Prestige Hosiery Company. It will be interesting, therefore, to mention the profits which this company has been making, assisted, no doubt, by the duties which the Minister has imposed.
– Since the duties were imposed the company has been more busily engaged than ever.
– Yes, in making profits, and the action of the Minister has put those profits into the pockets of the company’s shareholders. At this time, when the leaders of the Government are making an arrangement to cut down pensions, the Minister for Customs is asking Parliament to sanction duties which will enable a company to keep its dividends up to 10 per cent., and the Minister is actually bragging about it.
– The Taxation Commissioner will get his share of the profits.
– The following is a report of the affairs of the company: -
Profits earned by Prestige Limited, manufacturers of hosiery, in the year ended March 31, 1931, amounted to £21,300, a reduction of £15,550 in. comparison with profits in the previous year. . . . With £1,525 brought forward, £22,825 was available for distribution, out of which preference dividend of 8 per cent, required £4,580. Transfer of £4,000 to general reserve was made, and £6,250 was allotted to taxation reserve. An interim dividend of 24 per cent, for the half-year was paid on ordinary shares in November, and a final dividend of 5 per cent., with bonus of 24 per cent., is recommended, making a distribution for the year of 10 per cent, on ordinary shares, compared with dividends amounting to 15 per cent., paid in the previous year. Gross trading profit earned in the year, was £107,286.
I do not object to an efficient company making profits if the Minister puts the means of making them into its hands, but I do object to the Minister bestowing his favours upon certain industries while there are hundreds of thousands of persons unemployed, and while the farmers in the Mallee are receiving no return from their properties, and are sheltering themselves and their families in bag huts.
– This factory is employing 1,000 persons, and is it not better that work should be provided for these people here than that we should be buying what we need from Germany?
– The majority of those employees would in any case have found employment elsewhere.
– Doing what?
– In order to bolster up the prosperity of these favoured industries, undue hardship has been placed upon those engaged in other occupations, with the result that they are, in many cases, denied even a decent standard of living. The Minister said that employment had been provided for 832 additional employees in Victoria and New South Wales as a result of the increased duties. If he had said in the cities of .Sydney and Melbourne he would have been more accurate. He did not say how many men had been put out of work in other parts of Australia, or how many farmers had been forced into bankruptcy as a result of this Government’s policy. It is estimated that the area under wheat this year will be less by 4,500,000 acres than last year, and it is inevitable that not so much employment will be provided in harvesting and transporting the crop as was the case iD previous years. These duties show the partiality of the Government, and demonstrate how it is prepared to bow the knee to the manufacturers who are in league with the organized unions in the city. For the workers in other parts of the country, the Government can spare nothing but an economic tear. The Minister is quite prepared to give the manufacturers any degree of protection up to 100 per cent, and more, and the fact that the manufacturers do not always take full advantage of this protection to exploit the public merely shows that some of them have a conscience even if the Minister has not. I trust that the amendment of the “honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) will be carried, but I should really prefer that the whole item be rejected. So one with a particle of human feeling could wish otherwise.
.- I am sure that all honorable members are most interested in this item. I do not think that there can be any honorable member of this House who does not take a very real interest in the stockings worn by his womenfolk, and indeed, in those worn by women generally. The right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) described the Government’s action as bare-faced. According io one section of the item, however, the duty refers to stockings which do not cover the knee, but whether it is barefaced or bare-kneed, the fact remains that the Minister resolutely declined to furnish the information for which the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) persistently asked him. The honorable member for Fawkner inquired of the Minister what duty the manufacturers had asked the Minister for, seeing that the Minister had actually granted increased protection to the extent of 300 per cent., and 400 per cent. I do not want honorable members to think that I am not in favour of granting protection to this industry. When I was in Chicago, I inspected the hosiery factories there, which are among the largest in the world, and at that time most of the money which the Australian public spent on hosiery found its way to the American manufacturers. I have here a letter from the Lustre Hosiery Company, which bears out what the Minister said in regard to the reduction in prices since the higher duties were imposed. It says that the price of certain grades of hosiery has been reduced from 24s. a dozen to 18s. a dozen. I agree, however, with the right honorable member for North Sydney (Mr. Hughes) to this extent, that it is extremely difficult to find these socks which are on sale at ls. 6d. a pair. One has always’ to pay at least 3s. 6d. or 4s. a pair in the shops. There is no doubt that the Australian factories arc efficiently run, and are turning out a satisfactory article. I want to know, however, whether they were satisfied with the duties hitherto in operation?
– No, they definitely were not.
– The Minister said that he received an application from some company for increased duties, but he has not said just what the request was.
– In some instances the request was for higher duties than have since been imposed.
– My vote on this item will depend upon the Minister’s reply to my inquiry. There is no doubt that we can manufacture the articles here, and we have some excellent companies engaged in the work, but I want to know whether they were satisfied with the duties previously in operation.
– They asked for a fixed duty or, as an alternative, for an ad valorem duty.
– Who asked for it?
– The Victorian Hosiery Manufacturers Association, in a letter dated the 6th November, 1929.
– Did they ask for more than was recommended by the Tariff Board ?
– In some cases, yes.
– It would be of no use, for instance, imposing a duty of 300 per cent, if the manufacturers were satisfied with a duty of 100 per cent.
– A few of the manufacturers with an established goodwill might have been satisfied with a lower duty, but the majority of them wanted duties at least as high as those now imposed, and, in some instances, they asked for even higher duties.
– The Minister has just told us that the manufacturers asked for duties, in some cases higher than those imposed by the Government. If effcient industries cannot carry on without this higher protection, I am prepared to give it to them. Honorable members on this side of the committee have declared that the manufacturers have not asked for these high duties. This statement was made by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett), in reply to an interjection which I made. The industry gives employment to thousands of persons manufacturing articles which we can make well in Australia, and at a time like this, when thousands of men and women throughout Australia are out of work, we should do all that we can to enable existing industries to carry on. The difference of a few pence in the cost of articles of wear should not stand in the way. The manufacturers, as stated in the letter which I have just read, have been reducing their prices since 1929. If they cannot exist under the old rate of duty, they should be given this additional protection.
– The Victorian Hosiery and Underwear Manufacturers Association asked for the fixed rates which appear in the schedule. Other manufacturers asked for higher duties.
.- The argument of the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) in support of these higher duties is as weak as that advanced by the Minister himself. The latter told us that this added protection will serve a dual purpose - it will mean additional revenue to the customs, and help to adjust our trade balance. I regard these duties as serving a dual evil purpose - they will increase the cost of socks and stockings to purchasers in Australia, and will help to swell the deficit. Our Customs revenue is down £11,000,000. The Minister has admitted that, prior to the imposition of this tariff, a certain amount of revenue was received from duties on imported socks and stockings. That revenue will certainly be lost if this item is agreed to. This will mean additional unemployment. Since this Government assumed office higher and still higher duties have been imposed on a considerable number of items. On nearly every occasion when new duties were imposed we were assured by the Minister that these higher imposts would mean the establishment of new, or the extension of existing, industries, and give employment to a large number of Australian operatives. The facts are against the Minister. Unemployment has more than quadrupled since he brought down his first tariff schedule. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker), quoting figures from the last balance-sheet of Prestige Limited, showed that that company, notwithstanding the depression, was still able to make big profits largely owing to the higher duties imposed by this Government. It is unfair that any industry should occupy a sheltered position at a time like this. The higher prices charged for the products of our secondary industries will make it increasingly difficult for hundreds of thousands of Australian men and women to obtain decent clothing. The higher duties imposed under this item will accentuate the difficulties. Possibly many thousands of good Australians will be compelled to go sockless
– There has been a 30 per cent, reduction in prices recently.
– The figures quoted a few moments ago by the honorable member for Wakefield show clearly that this inefficient industry, with the aid of high protection., is still able to make substantial profits. It should be required to bear some share of the burden that is imposed on our primary producers. It is almost a criminal act on the part of the Government to place this additional tariff poultice upon the people of Australia. The Minister, just now, to serve his own purpose, endeavoured to twist a statement made by me with regard to the Albany Woollen Mills in reply to the assertion by the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) that woollen crepe de chine was not being made in Australia, into an admission that these duties were not too high. The manager of the Albany Woollen Mills has assured me that the tariff is too high, and as he has had long experience at Bradford, in England, and knows his business from “ A to Z “, he should be in a position to judge. He stated that these duties will eventually seriously injure the Australian industry, because we shall never be able to build up an export trade. A representative of a big English manufacturing firm, who travelled with me recently as far as Ballarat, admitted that British manufacturers, having been shut out of the Australian market by the tariff, would establish branches of their industry in Australia, and would be able to crush our smaller and less efficient manufacturing concerns. This high tariff will certainly make it possible for one big efficient industry to make huge profits, but the Australian market is not large enough to enable more than one to carry on efficiently. I intend to support th, amendment.
– I do not intend to give a silent vote upon this item. Recently I was impressed by a statement in one of the newspapers to the effect that a large manufacturer of socks and stockings in America had on hand 60,000,000 pairs of socks and stockings, for which he could not secure a market. I do not know whether the honorable member for Forrest (Mr. Prowse) is in touch with the manufacturer in question.
– It would be an advantage if we bad some of those socks now for our unemployed.
– The honorable member for Forrest is imaginative enough to believe that the import duty on a shipment of surplus American socks and stockings would yield sufficient revenue to balance the budget. I have no doubt that the American manufacturers would like to unload their surplus socks and stockings on the Commonwealth, then, probably, they would bribe the Paris fashion “ fixers “ to declare those made here to be obsolete in pattern so that there would be no sale for them in Australia. That is how the people of Australia would be imposed upon if the honorable member for Forrest had his way. We should have some regard for the interests of employees in our various factories, and impose protective duties, sufficiently high to safeguard adequately all Australian industries. The -home market is the best market. Persons employed in Australian factories will not look to America, France or other foreign countries for their bread, meat, or other necessary commodities. Naturally, they will purchase all that they require from producers in Australia. In that way we shall build up the nation. I see nothing in the arguments of honorable members opposite to persuade me to vote against the item. We can make all the socks and stockings we require in Australia. If we insist upon adequate protection for Australian industries we shall widen the market for the sale of our own raw materials. What could be more desirable than to have the people of Australia going through life and enjoying themselves in a good pair of Australian made socks?
.- In my opinion a clear case has been made out for a thorough investigation into the industry affected by this item. The Minister has assured us that manufacturers cannot carry on without extremely high duties. There must be something wrong with the industry if it cannot continue with duties that have been increased to well over 100 per cent. I believe that many manufacturers are in difficulties. This is one reason why there should be a. thorough inquiry to ascertain the real cause. The articles of wear affected by this item - socks, stockings, singlets, &c, are used by everybody in Australia. There is an immense market for their sale, and it should be possible, by mass production methods, to manufacture them as cheaply as they are being produced in any other’ country. I agree that this industry should have absolutely full protection, and have the whole of the Australian market, if it can produce the required articles at the right price. We have been told that substantial reductions have been made by all manufacturers recently. Therefore, these goods should be made available to the people at reduced prices. Quite recently I inquired if there had been any reduction in retail prices in Sydney, and having been assured that prices had been marked down, I asked manufacturers why business was not thriving. I was informed that business with them was bad, because certain of their competitors were cutting prices. Consequently, astute storekeepers, if they look around, can pick up attractive bargains. This is one explanation why prices, particularly in country districts, are now somewhat lower; but I should not think of purchasing these lower-priced socks, because, in my opinion, they are not worth buying. Actually, they are what we would term kanaka socks - the class of goods that used to be on sale in the kanaka shops in the sugar districts many years ago. Even to-day, it is not possible to buy, in any of our better class retail shops in Sydney or elsewhere, good socks for less than 4s. 6d. a pair.
– They are cheap socks.
– They may be cheap in quality; but they cost me 4s. 6d. a pair. Another defect in these low-priced socks is that they will not stay up on a person’s leg without the aid of garters; when they have been worn once or twice they lose their elasticity around the calf. With the exception of one particular article, everything that I am wearing to-day is Australian made ; but that is not the point that I wish to make. We have the whole of the Australian market. We need not worry about patterns, but can adopt mass production methods and keep our machines working night and day. Therefore we should be able to produce not only for the local market, but also for export purposes. We have all the raw materials necessary, and the most up-to-date machinery. Then, too, any man who employs labour, or who has had experience of the labour available in other countries, knows that our workers are superior to the average type anywhere else. These conditions being present, why can we not produce more cheaply ? It is urgently necessary for the Government to institute an inquiry that will get right down to bedrock and ascertain why this industry cannot carry on without duties of well over 100 per cent.
.- In the past one of the reasons for increasing duties has been to induce the investment of overseas capital in Australia. The industry that we are discussing this morning is one in which a large amount of fresh capital has been introduced. The Minister has stated that no less a sum than £369,000 has been spent by two companies. What has been the effect of the establishment of those companies in Australia? Their efficiency has been so high that companies which operated prior to their establishment have found it increasingly difficult to obtain adequate returns on their capital. Now these more or less inefficient concerns are asking for increased duties, to enable them to overcome the difficulties with which they are confronted. The Minister went so far as to say that the smaller companies had pointed out that only an increased duty would save them from bankruptcy. We shall defeat the principal object of the tariff if we hearken to their plea. We stand for efficiency in industry. Every Minister for Trade and Customs has put that forward as the only means whereby production costs can be brought down. If the inefficient are bolstered up there can be only one effect; that is, to keep up the cost of hosiery in this country. Thu Minister quoted figures to show that prices had fallen, one line having dropped from 29s. to 13s. 9d. a dozen. I make bold to say that the socks which are being placed on the market at 13s. 9d. a dozen are being sold under cost. The firms responsible are compelled by financial pressure to realize on stocks that they otherwise would not be able to sell at the price; consequently the market has been flooded. That, however, does not represent the real price to the community. I am in agreement with the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), and shall support the amendment that has been submitted by him. [Quorum formed.’]
.- This is one of many items in the schedule that tend to disgust legitimate supporters of protection to Australian industries. During the discussion on the tariff, I have given very generous support to the Minister on many occasions, and have justified my action on two grounds: First, to raise revenue badly required; and secondly, to give legitimate protection to efficient Australian industries. The Minister has made the surprising statement this morning that this duty has a dual purpose; that it is partly to raise revenue, and partly to protect this industry. Yet, he said, prices have been enormously reduced! The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) has pertinently asked why increased duties are necessary when prices are being reduced. The Minister absolutely baulked that question, and did not attempt to answer it.
– Prices were reduced because world price levels were falling, and overseas companies were dumping their goods in Australia.
– That may be so. But if the reductions made by Australian manufacturers were genuine, increased protection was not necessary, because they were in a position to compete with imported hosiery.-
– Active competition within Australia causes a fall in price levels within Australia. But there has also been a fall in world price levels, and that has made it possible for foreign manufacturers to sell more cheaply within Australia. That has necessitated higher duties.
– If prices throughout the world are falling, why do local manufacturers need increased duties ? It appears to me that these duties are altogether extravagant, and that they cannot be justified from any point of view. Under the first sub-item, there will be a tax of ls. 8d. a pair on all socks imported into Australia. No attempt is made to differentiate between expensive socks worn by adults and the trifling article that is worn by a child. By acting in this way, we are making a farce of the tariff. The committee has been extremely generous towards the Minister, who, with the aid of Government supporters, has succeeded in carrying every item except one in the schedule that has so far been discussed. We, who sit on this side, know quite well that it is useless to protest against any item, because he has the necessary support to enforce his will. He is making a farce of the matter when he declines to agree to its being considered on a non-party basis, which would ensure that the opinions of the majority of the representatives of the people would decide the amount of the duties to be imposed through the customs.
– I have felt for a considerable time that it is useless for honorable members on this side to endeavour to have the tariff amended, because the Minister is able to carry every proposal that he places before the committee. In the long statement that he made on this item, he placed before the committee his own point of view, but did not answer a number of relevant questions. He has asked the committee to agree to duties of 20s., 25s., and 30s. a dozen on cotton socks. How can he justify such an extraordinary impost in the light of the following expression of opinion by the Tariff Board ? : -
The Tariff Board considers that the position should be amply provided for by fixed rates of duty, as under, to operate alternatively with the existing ad valorem rates: - Per dozen pairs. British, 6s. ; intermediate, 8s. ; and general, 10s.
I am under the impression that the honorable gentleman has hearkened to the plea of the small and inefficient manufacturers, who are of no value to Australia. This action will not have the effect of placing a cheaper article in the hands of the people, but on the contrary will penalize that section of the community for which Labour supporters should have the greatest consideration, namely, those who have to wear the lowest grade of socks and stockings. At one time, bush workers, who had to camp long distances from their homes, were able to take with them a bundle of cheap socks which, having worn for a time, they threw away. It is impossible under present conditions to purchase such an article. I protest against the item, and shall support the amendment.
Question - That the amendment (Mr. Gregory’s) be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. McGeath.)
Majority . . . . 13
Question so resolved in the negative.
Item agreed to.
Item 117 agreed to.
Item 118 (Linoleums, &c)
– The only criticismI desire to offer on this item - not that I expect that it will have any effect - is that inlaid linoleums are not being manufactured in Australia. This being the case, the only effect of imposing a heavy duty upon the imported article is to increase the price to the public. If the Government does not desire to increase the price I ask it to remove the duty.
.- The honorable member for Warringah (Mr. Parkhill) cannot be aware that the firm of Michael Nairn Proprietary Limited has established a big linoleum factory in New SouthWales, and has invested £500,000 in the enterprise. It is, therefore, entitled to every possible encouragement. No one will question the efficiency of this establishment, for it is a branch factory of the international organization known as Michael Nairn Proprietary Limited, the head-quarters of which are in Scotland. To protest against duties of British, 20 per cent. ; intermediate, 25 per cent.; and general, 35 per cent, is, to my mind, the limit of freetrade bigotry. This enterprise has had a most severe struggle during the last few years; in fact, ever since it began operations in Australia, and it is only now beginning to make some progress. This item is one of the most worthy of support in the whole schedule.
. -Will the Minister inform me why the Government has seen fit to depart from the Tariff Board recommendations in regard to sub-items a and b of item 118? In respect of sub-item a the board recommended duties of British, 10 per cent. ; intermediate, 15 per cent. ; general, 20 per cent. ; but the Government has imposed 15 per cent., 20 per cent, and 30 per cent, respectively. In respect to sub-item b the Tariff Board recommended duties of 30 per cent., 35 per cent., and 40 per cent., but the Government has imposed duties of 45 per cent., 50 per cent., and 55 per cent, respectively. Possibly the Government had some obscure reason for doing this; if so, I should like to know what it was, particularly in view of the fact that the recommendations of the board have been adhered to in respect of sub-item c.
Item agreed to.
By omitting the whole item and inserting in its stead the following item : - “119. Articles of Coir, viz.: -
British, 20 per cent. ; intermediate, 30 per cent.; general. 35 per cent.
.- The duties provided in respect of this item indicate quite clearly that the Government is determined that all the manufactured articles required in this country shall be made here, for it has increased the duty on coir matting to per square yard, British 6d., intermediate 9d., and general1s. To my mind, that is “ outfordeing Forde “.
– If the honorable member will resume his seat, I shall move an amendment with which he will doubtless agree.
– I should like to hear what the amendment is.
– I move -
That the item be amended by adding the following: - “ And on and after the6th June, 1931 - 119. Articles of coir, viz.: - Fenders, mats and matting, including cricket matting, ad val. British, 20 per cent.; intermediate, 30 per cent.; , general, 35 per cent.”
This amendment, if agreed to, will bring the duties back to what they were in the 1921-28schedule. This course was suggested by the Tariff Board, and on this occasion the Government has seen fit to approve of the board’s recommendation. As I have said on other occasions, the Tariff Board is an advisory body, which has the duty of submitting reports to the Minister. I, like my predecessors in office, including Mr. Pratten, and other Customs Ministers in Nationalist Governments, sometimes adopt the recommendations of the board, sometimes vary them, and sometimes reject them. My action on this occasion shows that I do not, as some honorable members opposite have suggested, reject every recommendation that the board makes. The applicant for this increased duty was consulted, and agreed to withdraw the request for the additional duty, so far as cricket-matting is concerned. The reason for the imposition of the increased rate of duty on coirmatting was that a good deal of this matting was being made in colouredlabour countries, where much lower wages are paid than those which prevail in
Australia. The New South Wales Matting Company could “not compete under those conditions. However, the matter will be referred to the Tariff Board for public inquiry and report. In the meantime the rates of duty will revert to those which prevailed prior to the tabling of the present schedule. It is felt that for the time being at least they will give sufficient protection to the local industry.
Mr. GrABB (Angas) [12.26].- Does the amendment mean that the fixed rates of duty mentioned in the schedule will be removed, and the ad valorem rates operate ?
– That is so.
– In the circumstances, I shall not make the speech which I had intended to make. It was ridiculous to provide such heavy duties for the benefit of ten operatives and a plant valued at £1,000.
.- The abandonment by the Government of the present rates of duty and the adoption by it of the recommendation of the Tariff Board in respect of this item show clearly that the preparation of this schedule was hasty, and that the duties in it should be given very careful consideration by the committee. Even the Minister has now come forward reluctantly, at the last moment,, and admitted the wisdom of adopting the Tariff Board’s recommendation. The honorable gentleman has said that in varying or rejecting the recommendations of the Tariff Board he was only following the usual procedure of his predecessors in office; but I cannot recollect a single instance of a Nationalist Government imposing a duty in excess of that recommended by the board, although in certain cases lower duties were imposed than those recommended. This Governmen and this Minister have in very many instances grossly exceeded the board’s recommendation.
Amendment agreed to.
Item, as amended, agreed to.
Item 120 -
By omitting the whole item and inserting in its stead the following item: - “120. (a) Articles, textile, as under, not being piece goods, viz.: -
Articles of furnishing drapery and napery, including quilts n.e.i., table-covers, doyleys, tray cloths, sheets, pillow-cases and covers, bolster cases, counterpanes, bed spreads, table mats, splashers, tablecloths n.e.i., runners, mantel borders, toilet sets, bags for linen, brush and comb . bags, nightdress cases, handkerchief sachets, and the like, cosies and cushions in part” or wholly made up -
1 ) When not containing wool, ad val, British, 30 per cent.; intermediate, 35 per cent.; general, 45 per cent.
When containing wool, ad val. British, 45 per cent. ; ‘ intermediate, 50 per cent.; general, CO per cent.
Tablecloths, not hemmed or hem stitched and not being piece-goods, but not including tablecloths which do not require hemming or hemstitching, ad val., British, 5 per cent.; intermediate, 15 per cent.; general, 25 per cent.
.- J move -
That the item be amended by adding the following: - “And on and after the 0th June, 1931 - 120. (a) Articles, textile, as under, not being piece goods, viz.: -
Articles of furnishing drapery and napery, including quilte n.e.i., table-covers, doyleys, tray cloths, sheets, pillow-cases and covers, bolster cases, counterpanes, bed spreads, table mats, splashers, tablecloths, runners, mantel borders, toilet sets, bags for linen, brush and comb bags, nightdress cases, handkerchief sachets, and the like, cosies and cushions in part or wholly made up -
1 ) When not containing wool, ad val. British, 30 per cent.; intermediate, 35 per cent.; general, 45 per cent.
When containing wool, ad val. British 45 per cent.; intermediate, 50 per cent.; general, 60 per cent.
The purpose of this amendment is to remove sub-item d from the tariff and consequently to delete “ N.e.i.” after “ Tablecloths “ in sub-item a. Under item 105 b rates of duty of British 5 per cent, and general 25 per cent, are provided on cotton and linen piece-goods defned for cutting up as tablecloths, &c. A departmental decision provides that the minimum number of tablecloths in the piece admissible under this item is six. Lord Craigavon, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, during his recent visit to Australia, drew the attention of the Government to the disability under which Irish linen manufacturers were placed by reason of this decision, and requested that action be taken to provide for the admission of cut, but unhemmed, piece goods at the rates provided for under 105
Amendment agreed to.
Item, as amended, agreed to.
Item 122 agreed to.
Item 123 -
By omitting the whole of sub-item (a) and inserting in its stead the following sub-item : - “(a) Waddings and Cotton Wool -
Waddings, Cotton Wool (not medicated) n.e.i., per lb., British, 3d; intermediate, 3½d.; general, 4d., or ad val., British, 20 per cent.; intermediate, 25 per cent.; general, 30 per cent, whichever rate returns the higher duty.
Absorbent Cotton Wool (not medicated), ad val., British, free; intermediate, 10 per cent.; general, 20 per cent. and on and after the 1st October, 1931 -
Absorbent Cotton Wool (not medicated), per lb., British, 4d. ; intermediate, 5d. ; general,6d., or ad val. British, 20 per cent., intermediate, 25 per cent.; general, 30 per cent. whichever rate returns the higher duty.”
.- Subitem a 2 relates to absorbent cotton wool, the duty on which is at present - free British preferential, 10 per cent, intermediate, and 20 per cent, general; but on and after the 1st October, 1931, the duty is to be - per lb, 4d., 5d. and 6d., or ad valorem 20 per cent., 25 per cent, and 30 per cent., whichever rate returns the higher duty. The committee is at least entitled to some explanation from the Minister as to why it is necessary to impose this extremely heavy duty.
– It benefits the Capricornian cotton.
– I suspect that thatis the motive behind this duty. Absorbent cotton wool is used largely in hospitals ; in fact, these institutions use enormous quantities of this commodity annually. It is extremely important that this cotton wool should be not only of good quality, but also obtainable at a moderate price. Hospitals, generally, are in the nature of charitable institutions, and find it extremely difficult to obtain finance. I. therefore, question the wisdom of imposing this heavy duty. So that the duty on absorbent cotton wool may remain as at present, I move -
That the item be amended by omitting the following: - “And on and after 1st October, 1931 -
Absorbent Cotton Wool (not medicated), per lb., British, 4d. ; intermediate, 5d. ; general,6d., or ad val., British, 20 per cent.; intermediate, 25 per cent.; general, 30 per cent.; whichever rate returns the higher duty.”
.- This duty is deferred and will not operate until on and after the 1st October, 1931.
– That is not far distant.
– Before it is put into operation the Tariff Board will inquire into the industry to ascertain whether absorbent cotton wool is being manufactured in sufficient quantity to satisfy local requirements.
– The Minister has stated chat the Tariff Board is already six months behind in its work.
– Deferred duties are naturally treated as urgent, and, therefore, the Tariff Board makes an immediate investigation when required. I have not on any occasion disregarded the recommendation of the Tariff Board as to when a deferred duty should become operative.
– The Minister should use that pedal softly, because deferred duties have been operated on the Minister’s own responsibility.
– :Only in respect of new schedules which have been placed on the table of this House. Absorbent cotton wool is not at present being manufactured in Australia. The Tariff Board has already inquired into the industry arid has recommended the duty that is DOW proposed. Its report of the 6th March, 1929, dealt with cotton-growing and allied industries, and on page 28 of that report appears the board’s recommendation with respect to waddings and cotton wool. The board recommended the duties as contained in sub-item a 2 - per lb., 4d., 5d. and 6d. or ad valorem Z0 per cent., 25 per cent, and 30 per cent., whichever rate returns the higher duty. This increased duty is to operate on and after the 1st October, 1931, but only if the Tariff Board’s recommendation is favorable.
– Will the Minister accept the Tariff Board’s decision?
– I have previously adopted the Tariff Board’s recommendations with regard to deferred duties, and 1 have no reason to believe that the Board’s recommendation respecting this industry will be unacceptable to the Government. Of course, the Tariff Board is not above Parliament, because Parliament reigns supreme. The first amendment proposed in this item is the insertion of an alternative fixed rate of, per lb.. 3d. British preferential; 3-Jd. intermediate and 4d. general. In evidence before the Tariff Board, it was stated that the cost of manufacturing cotton wadding in Australia was ls. Sd. per lb., while imported cotton wadding was selling at from ls. to ls. 6d. per lb. This item covers: (a) Cotton wadding made from linters used mainly in upholstering motor-car bodies; (6) cotton wadding made from cotton other than linters, used by dressmakers, tailors and upholsterers; (c) cotton wool nonabsorbent made from cotton other than linters for use with bandages, &c.
– I understand that that is not made in Australia at present.
– That is so, and the duty is not operative until the Government is satisfied that the Australian manufacturer is producing the required article. The Australian industry has developed mainly in the manufacture of linters wadding for the upholstering of motor bodies, and the Commonwealth requirements of this line are manufactured in Australia. With a view to the expansion of the Australian cotton-growing industry, the Government took action by resolution of the 21st November, 1929, to impose duties of, per lb., Id. British preferential; 1-Jd. intermediate; and ltd general on linters, and 3d. per lb. on other raw cotton from all countries. At the same time, to ensure that certain manufacturers would not be penalized, provision was made for the admission, free of duty, under departmental by-law, of raw cotton for manufacturing purposes. The purpose so far prescribed is the manufacture of felt, and in instances where the Queensland cotton industry cannot supply, raw cotton is admitted free of duty for spinning purposes. In the production of cotton yarn, there is always a percentage of raw cotton, the staple of which is not sufficiently long enough for spinning, and the manufacture in Australia of the whole of our requirements of wadding and cotton wool will provide a market for the utilization of short staple cotton. The action taken under this item is part of a plan to encourage cotton production in the Commonwealth.
– In Capricornia only.
– That is not true. Cotton is grown in at least three electorates of Queensland. The value of -the importations of cotton wool, absorbent, and nol medicated, and surgical dressings, was £62,960 in 1929-30.
The second amendment relates to absorbent, but not medicated, cotton wool. A request was made by two manufacturers for a duty on this class of cotton wool, and the Tariff Board recommended the rates as now proposed to be deferred until such time as the local manufacturers could show that they were in a position to supply reasonable requirements within Australia. The import figures indicate that there is an opportunity for local manufacturers to capture a substantial market. One local manufacturer advises that he has definitely made plans for proceeding with the manufacture of this commodity, but is awaiting the ratification of this proposed amendment prior to ordering the necessary machinery from abroad. 1 am informed that this manufacturer estimates that within three months he will be producing this article. I therefore urge the committee to accept these amendments.
Sitting suspended from 1245 to 2.15 p.m.
– I strongly support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn), and I hope that, on further reflection, the Minister will accept it. This is an occasion when we should set aside our protectionist propensities, if we have any. We should realize that, if accepted, these duties would be an impost upon our hospitals, which use large quantities of absorbent cotton wool. At present, that article comes in free under the British tariff, and carries a small duty when imported from foreign sources. Paragraph 2 of the item provides for a deferred duty of 4d., 5d., and 6d. a lb., as from the 1st October next. I am informed that the Victorian public hospitals use approximately 50 tons of absorbent cotton annually, so that if the duties are agreed to they will involve the hospitals of Victoria in an increased annual cost amounting to nearly £2,000.
– There will be no increase in price if the duties are passed.
– I submit that the interjection of the honorable member is absurd, in view of the fact that the manufacturer concerned has said, in effect, “ I cannot meet open competition, but I am prepared to put in machinery and produce this material if the Government will grant me a protective duty. Without that duty I cannot begin to manufacture “. There are also many private hospitals in Victoria, so that the aggregate amount of absorbent wool used in that State annually would be much greater than 50 tons. It is fair to assume that, on a population basis, about 166 tons of absorbent wool is used by the public hospitals of Australia, which means that the duties would represent an increased cost to those institutions in all States of about £7,000, to which figure must be added the extra cost to private hospitals.
Absorbent cotton wool is not at present being made in Australia, and the appeal of the prospective manufacturer is an admission that it cannot be made in open, competition with the overseas manufacturers. The Minister has stated that the plant will not be installed until the duty is passed by this committee and by another place. The manufacturer says, in effect, “ Give me this duty to raise the level of British competition, and I can then successfully sponge upon the hospitals of Australia. Give me this charter to extract legally a trade subsidy from each and every one of our hospitals, and then I can launch out on this new industry “. 1 . and many other honorable members, are prepared to pay a little more in order to have certain commodities that we require made in Australia. But that does not apply to the essential requirements of our hospitals. The Minister stated that if this industry were established in Australia, and was able to supply the whole of our needs, the duty would not be passed on to the consumer. It may be that the manufacturer would be able successfully to carry on his industry at a point somewhere between existing prices and the level to which the duty would raise them. But the very fact that he has asked for a duty on the ground that he cannot compete without it indicates that some part of this impost must, be passed on to the consumer otherwise the duty would be unnecessary.
How much is this impost going to be? Looking casually at the schedule honorable members might say, “ Ob, the ad valorem rates are British, 20 per cent.; intermediate, 25 per cent., and general, 30 per cent.”, and conclude that 20 per cent, was not a great impost. However, there is to be a fixed rate of 4d. per lb.
British, and 6d. per lb. foreign as an alternative to the ad valorem rate - whichever rate returns the higher duty - and as this material costs 9d. per lb., and the British rate to be imposed is 4d. a lb., it is obvious that the 4d. will apply, as the ad valorem rate of 20 per cent, would represent something less than 2d. per lb.
– That is what the Tariff Board recommended.
– I do not dispute it. It is quite possible that the Tariff Board may have regarded this subject purely from the point of view of the particular industry concerned, without taking fully into consideration the effect that the duties will have upon our hospitals. Honorable members must not allow themselves to be misled by a. lot of platitudes as to the supposed advantages of local manufacture on all occasions. We must face the facts. The position is really that the manufacturer says, in effect, “ Give me this charter to extract a subsidy from the hospitals, and I can produce the goods. If you do not give me that charter it is no use my beginning to manufacture.” The profits of this industry are to come out of the voluntary contributions that are given to the hospitals of Australia by charitably disposed persons. That is the whole position in a nutshell. I should like to ask how many nurses may have to be dispensed with in our hospitals in order to balance the loss due to that impost upon the funds of the hospitals. Most honorable members in this chamber have been asked to speak at various places on Hospital Sundays from time to time. They have been urged to try to stir up the people to a realization of the necessity of being generous towards the hospitals, and they are aware of the tremendous difficulties under which the hospitals labour in trying to balance their ledgers. I do not know whether honorable members opposite who appear to be in favour of this duty would welcome questions from their constituents as to why they agreed to this impost. I ask those who favour the duty whether they can advance a reason for it which can be regarded as satisfactory, even to themselves.
I feel that there are only two alternatives in this matter. We have to choose between the interests of the hospitals and those of one parasitical industry. I think that the adjective is justified for the simple reason that if this industry began operations, it could do so only by obtaining a subsidy from our hospitals. I appeal to the Minister to make this entirely a non-party issue, and to forget for a moment his protectionist propensities. Let honorable members show their good sense by putting things in their proper perspective. Surely they regard the welfare of the hospitals of Australia as being of more importance than the enriching of one firm, whose prosperity would be obtained simply by taking from our hospitals money for which they have great need. I appeal to honorable members to show their good sense by carrying this amendment on the voices, without dissent.
, - I am interested in this matter. There are seven hospitals in the Corangamite electorate, five of which have sent me circulars regarding this item.
– All of which were inspired by the importers.
– The circulars were inspired by the Import Committee of the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce, which is not greatly interested in the establishment of Australian industries. In consequence of these representations, I addressed some questions to the Minister on Wednesday last. I asked -
Is the duty on cotton wool used in hospitals 4d. per lb.; and is the landed cost 9d. per lb?
Do the Victorian hospitals use approximately 50 tons of this wool per annum, equal to an extra charge on their funds of £2,000 per annum for this item?
Is it a fact that the Colac Hospital and other hospitals are greatly affected in their finances by these excessive charges?
Can he arrange that all chemical supplies to public and government hospitals in the Commonwealth shall be admitted duty free under departmental by-laws, or make some other provision so that the funds of such hospitals may not be unduly depleted?
The replies were as follow: -
No. Absorbent cotton wool (not medicated) of United Kingdom origin is now free of all duty except 4 per cent, primage. On the 1st October, 1931, a deferred duty of 4d. per lb., or 20 per cent, ad valorem (whichever rate returns the higher duty) may come, into operation, but if Australian supplies are not available the duty will be further deferred. The landed cost at present ranges from ls. to ls. 4d. per lb.
The estimated consumption of cotton wool by Victorian hospitals is 54 tons per annum, and at present primage of 4 per cent, is the only duty payable. If after the new duty becomes operative the hospitals refrained from using Australian cotton wool, and imported their supplies, the amount of duty payable would be approximately £2,000.
Protective duties are imposed to protect Australian industries. If the hospitals use imported goods of these classes they necessarily pay the duty.
In regard to manufactures imported solely for use of public hospitals and which are of a class or kind not commercially manufactured in Australia, provision already exists for the admission of such goods at concessional rates under tariff item 415, as prescribed by departmental by-laws.
Surely there is some provision by which those departmental by-laws could be applied to all hospital imports. I should imagine that there is not the slightest need to make any individual in this community wealthy at the expense of every other person.
– Hear, hear ! I have been saying that for the past three weeks.
– Perhaps if the honorable member bad not said it so often his remarks might have had more effect. Tedious repetition is never of very great value when used to persuade a government to take certain action. I think that the Minister might frame a regulation prescribing conditions which would enable public hospitals to obtain this absorbent wool free of duty. It can easily be done by an officer of the Trade and Customs Department.
– The honorable member’s reasonable requests will always receive sympathetic consideration,
– I hope that my representations in this case will have greater potentialities than some of my other suggestions have had, and that the condition I now suggest will be inserted in the item.
– “Why not wipe out the duty?
– No. I am sufficiently a protectionist to think that if fair protection is afforded to the cotton-growing industry in Australia it will become a natural industry and before long, as has happened in other cases, Australian output and price will be such as to render importations unnecessary. The duty will then be inoperative. But until that time arrives I think it is inadvisable to put the hospitals of Australia in a disadvantageous position. If the additional cost to the Victorian hospitals is likely to be £2,000, on the basis of population, it will mean over £6,000 to all the hospitals of Australia. I think that this article should be admitted free for use in government or public hospitals and I shall ask that the item be amended in that direction. I do not think that the surgeon who charges heavy fees should be allowed to import the little cotton lint he uses free of duty. But when we know that our public hospitals are at the end of their resources, and that this duty will mean adding thousands of pounds to their expenditure during a time of depression - already I understand the Melbourne General Hospital, although it has beds available, has been obliged to refuse patients - I think the Minister might amend the sub-item by inserting the words “ cotton wool required for public hospital purposes, under departmental regulations, free.” If the Minister will agree to -do that, I shall have nothing more to say. The Minister nods his read, so I will resume my seat.
– I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) which is clearly in the interests of the great public hospitals of Australia. It is quite unnecessary to enlarge on the fact that these institutions are to-day having a difficult time. Almost daily they are obliged to restrict their activities, and hundreds of unfortunate people are compelled to wait for months before they can gain admission to these institutions for treatment. Following upon representations made to me by the Hospital Board of Brisbane, I have recently been in communication with the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) in connexion with this matter, and I read the following from the reply forwarded to me by the Minister on the 22nd May, 1931 :-
I may state that absorbent cotton wool (not medicated), which is the type mainly used by hospitals, is dutiable under Tariff Item 123 (a) (2), free (British preferential tariff); 20 per cent, (general tariff), plus primage, with deferred rates of per lb. 4d. or 20 per cent. (British preferential tariff) Gd., or 30 per cent, (general tariff), whichever is the higher, and it is unlikely that the deferred duties will be brought into force until such time as the commodity is being manufactured commercially in Australia.
The Minister has repeated that assurance to-day, but honorable members know from their experience what is likely to occur in connexion with this deferred duty. If the Minister will not accept the amendment moved by the honorable member for Perth, will he, if that amendment is withdrawn, agree to the insertion of the words “ other than for use in hospitals”?
– I understood the Minister to nod his agreement when I made a similar suggestion.
– I am agreeable to the suggestion made by the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), and ask leave to withdraw my amendment with a view to submitting another.
Amendment - by leave - withdrawn.
Amendment (by Mr. Nairn) proposed -
That the item be amended by inserting after the words “ (not medicated) “ in sub-item Ja), paragraph (2) (second occurring), the words “other than for use in hospitals “. ‘
.- It is true that the duty under discussion is a deferred one which, under normal conditions, will not come into effect until the Tariff Board has willed that it should ; but when the Minister was asked to-day if he would accept the finding of the Tariff Board, he refused to give a definite answer. He really said that if the Tariff Board’s decision was a wise one, no doubt it would be acceptable to the Government, meaning that on the 31st October, no matter what the Tariff Board might say on the matter, he intends to impose this “duty.
– At any rate, we all know that he will do so.
– It is therefore, in effect, a duty already before us.
– The recommendation of the Tariff Board in regard to deferred duties is never disregarded, and there is no reason why it should be. in respect of this item. The Minister must refer it to the Tariff Board, and invariably carries out the board’s recommendations.
– Will the Minister give me a definite assurance that he will do so in this case?
– Well, that is something gained. The Minister quoted exhaustively to-day from a Tariff Board’s report dealing with the cotton industry which is two years’ old. When within the past fortnight I invited the Minister to table another report on the cotton industry presented by the Tariff Board about three months ago, he gave the committee the assurance that he would do so when the cotton items were under discussion. I ask him for it now. It is scandalous for him to have in his possession a report bearing definitely on many phases of the cotton-growing and cotton-spinning industries and to refuse point blank to disclose it when honorable members are dealing with various duties bearing on those industries.
– When the honorable member was Minister he withheld a report on the cotton industry for eight months.
– At the time there was nothing before the House dealing with the cotton industry. Why is the Minister suppressing this particular report when he is imposing additional duties? I leave it to honorable members’ imaginations to furnish the reply. But there is an even worse feature about these duties. The other day I said that the cotton-growing industry was confined almost exclusively to the Minister’s own electorate. To-day’ the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) has made a most eloquent appeal on behalf of our over-taxed hospitals, which would move most Ministers and most honorable members in normal circumstances. But for the Minister to resist it in favour of his own cotton-growers is an exceedingly serious matter. All of these cotton duties are an attempt to bolster up in every possible way an industry located in the Minister’s own electorate. I should like to contrast the situation of the cotton-growers with those of the unfortunate poor, who are dependent on public hospitals for relief in time of sickness. I have previously said in this chamber that the cotton -farmers in Queensland are the most favoured section of pioneer farmers in Australia. I doubt if one could find a group of pioneer farmers more fortunately situated anywhere else in the world. They are not in the same position as the sugar-cane growers in the tropical coastal areas, because cotton is grown on a high, beautiful tableland with a bracing climate. It is singularly rich country. Enormous areas of it are alluvial, lucerne- growing flats. There is nothing better at Mudgee, or Tamworth, or in the Hunter Valley. The fanners in the Upper Burnett district, which I have traversed in detail on two occasions, are singularly blessed. They would bo well off if they were never engaged in cotton-growing. They have a wellestablished butter industry, with a large butter factory in the heart of the district, and other factories at each end. But with cotton-growing they are also in receipt of a big bounty, and already they are on the way to becoming extraordinarily prosperous. They are in possession of singularly cheap land. If it is still on the leasehold system, their rental is a peppercorn one. They can convert it into freehold for a few pounds per acre. I know of no similar conditions in any other rural district of Australia. Yet the Minister proposes further to enrich these cotton-growers at the expense of the inmates of our great public hospitals. Itis positively a public scandal. That a Minister of the Crown should ever attempt to do such a thing for the benefit of his own constituents is a grave reflection upon the office he holds. As the honorable member for Gippsland has said, our great public hospitals are in a state of distress; yet a straight-out tax of several thousand pounds a year is to be imposed upon them. Because of the depression the applications for hospital treatment to-day are abnormal. Hospital treasuries are depleted and to replenish them public lotteries and other devices are being resorted to. Yet the Minister proposes this additional tax exclusively in aid of the growers in his own electorate.
.- I resent the mean, dirty, and despicable suggestions of the Acting Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
– “We should deal plainly with a scandal of this sort.
– Honorable members of the Opposition seem unable to consider these items in a national spirit. They take a petty, paltry, parochial view. The present Minister for Trade and Customs has displayed greater ability and industry in the administration of his department than any of his predecessors ; yet he cannot bring forward an item without the suggestion being made that he is forwarding his own interests as representative of the constituency of Capricornia. Any action taken by the Minister in respect of the items appearing in this schedule has been taken without regard to the particular interests of any electorate or State. I, as a representative of New South Wales, welcome the proposed deferred duty on absorbent cotton wool. The cottongrowing industry has progressed considerably during the last few years, the area under cultivation having increased by 50 per cent. In Queensland it provides seasonal occupation for about 4,000 workers, and having regard to the extension of the cotton-fields it is only reasonable that the Government should do everything possible to advance the secondary stages of the industry.
– It should not be allowed to sponge on the hospitals.
– I resent that suggestion. If the contentions of honorable members opposite are right that the proposed duty on absorbent cotton wool should not be imposed on the cotton wool used by hospitals they might, with equal justification, urge that the towels, blankets and. other requisites used by public hospitals should be admitted free of duty. If such a concession be given to public hospitals, why should it not be extended to private institutions? Indeed, why should housewives l*1 penalized and patients in hospitals be allowed to escape? The financial worries of public hospitals are largely due to the short-sighted policy of honorable members opposite who, while they occupied the treasury bench, admitted shiploads of manufactures from cheap-labour countries. As a result of that deliberate policy many of our industries are languishing and hundreds of thousands of workers art unemployed. When, through illness they are obliged to enter hospitals, they are not able to make any contribution towards the cost of their treatment and maintenance. For that I place the whole blame on honorable members opposite. I hope, however, that through the far-sighted policy of the present Government the hospital patients will shortly be able to pay for their treatment, and then the financial difficulties of these institutions will disappear. It is very desirable thai we should take early steps to discontinue the importations of absorbent cotton wool which are valued at between £60,000 and £70,000 per annum. By the encouragement of the manufacture of this commodity we shall provide an outlet for the linters from the Queensland mills.
– What quantity will be used?
– I cannot state the exact quantity, but I understand that the manufacturers will be able to absorb the whole of the linters produced in Queensland. I trust that the committee will help the Government to further its policy of assisting existing industries and establishing new ones. The Minister is not actuated by a desire to put money into the pockets of any set of individuals; he is merely seeking to provide an outlet for one of our important primary products. The members of the Country party should approach this item in the same spirit as they exhibited when supporting earlier items which, like this, were designed to help the man on the land.
– I do not agree with the statement of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) that the cotton industry is pampered or is imposing upon the Australian people a load disproportionate to the benefits they will derive. The cottongrowers are blazing the track of a big and useful industry. Whilst the tract of country they are planting with cotton has all the good qualities stated by the honorable member for Henty, no one can rightly claim that in asking for the protection of the various phases of their industry they are seeking more than their due. In the initial stages of this primary industry, many difficulties have to be overcome by the settlers. If they are in such a happy position, as the honorable member for Henty suggests, I am surprised that more people have not rushed to Queensland to participate in the benefits; there is room for thousands more growers, because the production of raw cotton is still considerably below the requirements of the Australian market. I can say that all the initial difficulties are not yet overcome, and we must stand by the industry.
– they not being assisted by a bounty?
– Yes; a bounty was granted by the late Government; but the present bounty is low and disappears gradually. In the first place, they were assisted by the Queensland Government and the Commonwealth Government. The cotton-growers of Queensland do not wish to make themselves a burden on the community, nor do they desire to do anything that would be detrimental to the inmates of hospitals. In considering medicated cotton wool, it should be realized that a long time must elapse before the cotton industry can supply all the raw material for the commodities, the manufacture of which has been rendered possible in Australia by the tariff. Protection has been granted in many avenues of industry in “which there is scope for the use of Australian cotton, but it will take years to produce sufficient for all such requirements. Though linters will be available, there are other protected avenues in which linters could be used. I have always been a keen, advocate of the cotton industry, and, perhaps, have been more closely associated with it than any member of any Parliament in Australia. The districts in which, cotton is produced were represented by me when I was the member for Burnett in the Queensland Legislative Assembly. The full requirements of the industry in every detail received my personal attention in its pioneering stages, and I am glad to know that the prejudices of those who would have killed it in its infancy have been overcome. I have the fullest hope of the ultimate success of the industry, and it would be nothing short of a catastrophe if this committee took any action detrimental to its best interests. Many families have invested all their savings in cotton lands, and have borrowed money on the security of their holdings. At the present time, the industry does not desire to supply the material required for the manufacture of cotton wool, if it would be detrimental to any section of the community, and if the Minister, in his wisdom, would accept the suggestion of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron), as adopted by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) to exempt the cotton wools required for hospital purposes, until such time as it is possible for the local growers to meet, at least, some of the requirements, he would be following a wise course. If a mill were established for the production of cotton wool, it would merely reduce the supply of the raw material available to those factories already established which have guaranteed a price for Australian cotton until 1936, and have ‘ installed machinery suitable for the manufacture of other cotton goods. Surely, it would be reasonable to exempt from duty the cotton wool used in hospitals, and I feel sure that the cottongrowers are quite agreeable to the granting of such a concession, since they will not need this outlet for their product for a number of years.
.- I hope sincerely that the Minister will exempt from duty cotton wool used in hospitals and dispensaries. Probably, the Minister has not had the experience of being covered with cotton wool from the hips to the neck. If he had, he would readily appreciate the large quantity of this article that is used in hospitals. To the credit of the management of our public hospitals, let it be said that the patients who have to undergo major operations are treated as well in those institutions as they are in private hospitals. Cotton wool is used so extensively that I am surprised that any honorable member should suggest increasing its cost. I believe that the cottongrowers of Queensland are big enough Australians not to desire to advance their own interests by forcing an increased duty upon the hospitals. I am quite prepared to vote for the granting of a bounty on the production of cotton wool when the local industry can meet the requirements of the whole of Australia. I have yet to learn that a sufficient quantity of cotton wool is now manufactured to satisfy the needs of all the hospitals in this country.
– It is not being manufactured here at the present time, and that is the reason why a deferred duty is proposed.
– Prom a long experience of political life, I am convinced that it would be wise for honorable members to insist on plain language being used, and, therefore, I suggest that the committee should not agree to a deferred duty. The word “may” in
Parliamentary usage, is generally recognized as meaning “ shall “. I hope that members generally will support the amendment, and that the Minister will allow the promptings of his heart to guide him in this matter - for I know that he is generous - by exempting from duty the cotton wool used by hospitals and dispensaries. There is a dispensary in my electorate that has about 5,000 members, all of whom are members of friendly societies.
– And they are all workers.
– Yes. That one dispensary alone will be hit very hard by the duties on bismuth and ethyl chloride.
– Only to the extent that they will be hit by the duty on blankets.
– “We are manufacturing blankets in Australia. Every generous-hearted man in the community who helps a hospital is assisting the blanket-making industry. I have no doubt that blankets could be reduced in price if they were admitted free of duty, but I am not in favour of the duties on them being removed. Although both blankets and cotton wool are used in hospitals, their uses are entirely different. A blanket could not be used to bind a raw wound, whereas cotton wool is ideal for the purpose. Indeed, so useful is cotton wool that I always carry some of it in my pocket in case of emergency. If the Minister would introduce a proposal for a bounty for the production of cotton wool it would have my hearty support.
The Government would do well to grant to hospitals and dispensaries a rebate equal to the duty charged upon all articles used by such institutions and not manufactured in Australia. It may be said that in these times of stress those rebates would amount to a sum more than the country can afford. I should be prepared to see the people rationed in regard to their food supplies, in the same way that they were rationed in England during the war, if that were necessary to bring the country out of its present difficulties. In the majority of the hospitals in the big centres of population, the surgeons and physicians give their services without fee or reward, and the Government would do well to follow their noble and generous example. I, therefore, hope that the amendment will be carried, if, indeed, the Minister does not generously accept it. Otherwise, I hope that he will agree to hospitals and dispensaries being granted a rebate of the duty paid by them on this article.
– One could not listen to the eloquent speech of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) without feeling that he was speaking from his heart. Honorable members know the deep interest taken by him in the hospitals throughout Australia. Probably there is no man in this country who knows more about hospitals, or has a deeper concern for the poor and needy than he has. Knowing his concern for the sick and suffering, I find an appeal by him on their behalf almost irresistible. It was because I realized that this was a subject upon which the full light of day should be thrown that I referred it to the Tariff Board. During the course of the tariff debates I have been subjected to a good deal of criticism for not having followed the recommendations of the Tariff Board. In this case I have accepted the board’s advice; and yet, apparently, I have done wrong.
– There is no doubt, about that.
– On page 26 of the Tariff Board’s report of the 26th March. 1929, the board stated -
While of the opinion that the imposition of increased duties is not justifiable under existing circumstances-
That statement was made when there was no factory in Australia for the manufacture of absorbent cotton wool. The board went on to say - the board is satisfied that there should be provided some inducement to Australian manufacturers to undertake the manufacture of the waddings and cotton wool which are at present being imported.
The Tariff Board recommended that on and after 1st January, 1930 - over a year ago - this deferred duty should become operative. The Government, however, stayed its hand until a further investigation had been made. The result of thar investigation was that the Government decided that the deferred duty should operate from the 1st October of this year. The honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Keane) knows that when a deferred duty is put on, as, for instance, in the case of sewing machines, it does not become operative until the matter has been referred to the Tariff Board for report as to whether the article in question is being manufactured in Australia in sufficient quantities to satisfy the Australian demand. Just as the Tariff Board recommended that the deferred duties on sewing machines should not become operative, so, in the case of cotton wool, should it recommend that the deferred duty should not become operative, its recommendation will be given effect to.
A special plea has been made for a reduction of the duties on absorbent cotton wool on the ground that it is of such importance for surgical purposes that it should enter free, irrespective of the country of origin. All honorable members have a great admiration for our hospitals, both public and private. They compare favorably with hospitals in any part of the world, and are, indeed, performing a wonderful service to mankind. But the same argument that applies in the case of cotton wool could, with equal force, apply to other articles used in hospitals. A good case could be made out for allowing blankets, soap, drugs, and other hospital requisites to enter this country free. . Honorable members are aware, however, that Messrs. Elliott Brothers, and other makers of drugs, as well as the manufacturers of many other hospital requisites, are granted the protection of the tariff notwithstanding that they sell their wares to the hospitals of Australia. If we were to allow freetrade principles to operate in regard to all those articles-
– And other things as well.
– We should be reversing our fiscal policy.
– That would be a good thing.
– Cotton wool is not the only article manufactured in Australia and used by hospitals on which there is an import duty. Soap, for instance, is used by hospitals in large quantities, yet the manufacturers of soap are given protection. It is only reasonable that the makers of absorbent cotton wool should enjoy sufficient protection to enable them to withstand the competition of imported cotton wool. There is a mistaken idea that the manufacture of cotton wool in Australia will necessarily increase the price of that commodity. Although I have been informed that there will be no increase in the price of cotton wool because of the imposition of these duties, I suggest that, as the manufacturer has not yet started to manufacture that commodity it would be somewhat premature for him to give a guarantee that the price will not be increased. I understand that over £20,000 is to be spent on machinery for the manufacture of absorbent cotton wool.
– What is the annual consumption of cotton wool in Australia?
– Between 700,000 lb. and 800,000 lb., valued at £63,000. I remind honorable members that if the raw cotton or the lint used in the manufacture of absorbent cotton wool cannot be made in Australia, the Minister is empowered to allow the raw product required for its manufacture to enter free from any country in the world. While I have the greatest sympathy with the hospitals of Australia, and appreciate the advantage they would gain from the striking out of these duties, I suggest that an even better case could be made out than has been advanced. Were a complete freetrade policy to be put into operation, the hospitals would benefit more than they would by the reduction of these duties. Cotton wool is only one of the many requisites of a modern hospital, yet honorable members have shut their eyes to the duties which have been imposed on those other articles. Why should we exempt this commodity and at the same time afford protection . to those producing other commodities used extensively in our hospitals? In this instance I trust that the committee will be consistent and agree to the deferred duties proposed under this sub-item which are in accordance with the recommendations of the Tariff Board.
.- The Minister (Mr. Forde) has informed the committee that the duties imposed under this sub-item have been adopted on the recommendation of the Tariff Board ; but I remind him that representatives of our public hospitals did not appear before that body and express the views that have been expressed here this afternoon. Had they done so, I. feel sure that the board would have made a different recommendation.
– The aspect of the matter debated here this afternoon is not one for the Tariff Board to consider. It considers only the imposition of duties from an economic stand-point.
– Exactly. The board does not consider duties from a humanitarian view-point.
– It took that aspect of the matter into consideration.
– The Tariff Board considers the imposition of duties from an industrial and economic and not from a humanitarian stand-point. It is the responsibility of this committee to decide to what extent the recommendations of the Tariff Board shall be departed from. I believe that a majority of members of the committee strongly favour consideration being extended to public hospitals. The total quantity of absorbent cotton wool required annually in Australia is between 600,000 and 700,000 lb., and that used by hospitals is valued at only £7,000. If an attempt were being made to protect an established industry, I could understand the attitude of the Minister, but this commodity is not at present being manufactured in Australia.
– And the deferred duty is not yet operative.
– Any person or persons investing capital in a new industry should understand from the ouset that hospitals are to receive preferential treatment. How long would it take a modern factory to produce the 600,000 or 700,000 lb. of cotton wool required annually in Australia? I am at a loss to understand why the Minister has permitted the debate to continue so long when it could be terminated at once by adopting the suggestion of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) as incorporated in the amendment moved by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn).
.- At the outset I join with the honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) in resenting the action of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) in imputing unworthy motives to the Minister (Mr. Forde) in opposing the amendment.
Such action is unworthy of any honorable member. I support the amendment of the honorable member for Brisbane (Mr. D. Cameron) because every possible assistance should be given to our public hospitals and similar institutions. The Minister said that if cotton wool required for use in hospitals is to be exempt from customs duties other hospital requisites should also be exempt. If that is the contention of the Minister we might say, with equal justification, that as surgeons and physicians give their services to these institutions without fee or reward, they should treat a’ll patients, wherever they may be accommodated, without payment. I have attended many hospital functions in my electorate and have first-hand knowledge of the manner in which these institutions are conducted. Most of them find it exceedingly difficult to render effective service with the funds available. The costs are on the increase, and the figures given in the last annual report of the Charities Board, disclose the difficulties under which they are operating. The honorable member for Cook (Mr. C. Riley) said that if supplies of cotton wool for public hospitals were to be admitted free, supplies for private hospitals should be admitted on the same basis. I cannot agree with that contention, because patients in private hospitals are able to pay for treatment, whereas those in public hospitals are not able to do so. When the timber duties were under consideration some time ago, we were informed that Oregon timber used for mining purposes was to be admitted free under departmental by-laws. That decision was reached, although we have forests of suitable timber, ready for felling, which could be used for mining purposes. If Oregon timber for mining purposes can be admitted free of duty when we have ample supplies of suitable timber available, there is every reason why absorbent cotton wool for use in public hospitals, the manufacture of which has not even been commenced here, should be admitted free of duty. As we have already passed many items under which effective protection has been afforded to the cotton industry, I trust that a majority of the committee will support the amendment of the honorable member for Brisbane. In speaking at Hospital
Sunday functions, I have found that the people generally, irrespective of class, colour or creed, are always willing to subscribe to the best of their ability to meet the expenditure of our public hospitals. If the cotton industry in Australia should experience any trifling disadvantage as a result of the free admission of absorbent wool for the purpose mentioned, it will be more than compensated for by the benefits which will accrue to our public hospitals.
.- I support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn). Apparently, the Minister has allowed his enthusiasm for the cotton industry to run away with him. Some pertinacious manufacturers have realized that with such a versatile Minister for Trade and Customs, they have only to ask for the imposition of high duties and they will be granted. The Minister is aware that our public hospitals are carrying on their important work with the assistance of a generous public and a large body of surgeons and physicians, who are rendering valuable voluntary work. Many hospitals are working on a big overdraft, and, owing to lack of funds and space, find it impossible to accommodate all the patients requiring attention. What is the use of the Minister saying that he is filled with admiration and sympathy for the hospitals ? Let him show it by deeds, not words. We cannot be satisfied with the Minister’s assurance that the duty is a deferred one, and will not operate until the 1st October. Some of us know what happened in the past in connexion with deferred duties. They were supposed to operate at a certain time, but the Minister blithely altered the date to suit himself, and they came into operation considerably earlier. This has happened in regard to certain machinery items on which I shall have more to say when we come to them. Just before the return of the ex-Minister for Customs from England, the present Minister altered the date, and made the duty operate from the time which suited him. We can have no faith in the Minister’s assurances after an occurrence of that kind. I sup- port the amendment, and I believe that, in this instance, the Minister’s proposal will be defeated.
– It is a shocking thing that the Government should be a party to a proposal to prohibit the importation of absorbent wool and cotton merely because a manufacturer in Australia notices that a great deal of this material is being used in our hospitals, and proposes to begin making it here. It would not be so bad if the industry had previously been in existence ; but it is shameful that the hospitals, which exist for the benefit of the sick and needy, should be exploited in this fashion. This is far worse than the ordinary exploitation against which honorable members on this side have been objecting for weeks. I am sure that the Minister would not have countenanced the proposal for a minute were it not for the fact that cotton enters into the manufacture of this material.
– That consideration did not weigh with me one iota.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.Then I have been mistaken. It will be interesting for the Minister’s constituents to know that the cotton industry is of no importance to him.
– These applications are judged on their merits.
– The Minister has not yet answered the objections which have been raised regarding the Tariff Board’s report which he will not produce.
– I have a copy of the report before me, and it is available to honorable members. The board recommended that a duty be placed’ on this article.
– The Minister made a great play about the fact that the duty is deferred, and that it will not be collected unless the board makes a recommendation to that effect.
– The Minister said that the duty would not be collected if the board recommended that it should not be.
Mr. ARCHDALE PARKHILL.But there is no guarantee that the board will ever be asked to consider the matter Again.
– I give my definite assurance that it will be.
– The Minister does not always accept the recommendations of the Tariff Board.
– In this matter, I am following the board’s recommendations, and will continue to follow them.
– In regard to cased petrol a deferred duty was imposed, which was not to be collected until the 1st June. In spite of this provision, however, the Minister altered the date, and the duty became operative on the 1st May.
– The Tariff Board had recommended that the duty come into operation months previously. I deferred it until the 1st May.
– We have no guarantee that the Minister may not alter the date in respect of the duty we are now considering. We have it on the authority of the superintendent of the Brisbane and South Coast Hospital that the Customs Department has created a precedent by permitting public hospitals to purchase free of duty rectified spirit for the manufacture of drugs. The Minister is not prepared, however, to permit hospitals to obtain without payment of duty supplies of absorbent cotton wool. It will be impossible to convince any one in Australia that the Minister’s opposition to our proposal is unconnected with his association with the cotton industry in his own electorate.
.- I am surprised that the Minister is not prepared to accept this amendment. I understand that when the honorable member for Corangamite (Mr. Crouch) was speaking, he nodded his head to the honorable member, intimating that he would accept the proposal. Now he refuses to accept it. Are we to understand that the Minister at that time intimated his readiness to accept the proposal, or that he simply nodded his head because a nod is not recorded in Hansard? If he had said “Tes” or “ No “ it would have been recorded, but he can nod now and say what he likes afterwards.
– The honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Hunter) does not usually say offensive things, but I regard as offensive his statement that I nodded my head in response to the request of the honorable member for Corangamite because I did not desire my reply to be recorded in Hansard.
– If my statement is offensive to the Minister, I withdraw it. However, we have the assurance of the honorable member for Corangamite that the Minister did agree to the proposal, and intimated his agreement by nodding his head. At any rate, the Minister did not at that time say “ No “, although he says it now. I cannot agree that this duty has been imposed for the benefit of the cotton-growers. There are plenty of other uses for which Australian-grown cotton can be put besides making absorbent wool and cotton. In fact, linters, the bi-product employed in making this article, was so little valued that the late Queensland Labour Government - which was supported by the present Minister for Trade and Customs - made an agreement with the British and Australian Cotton Association allowing it the free use of this commodity. It is only the fluff or rubbish which is left after the cotton has been used for other purposes. When really good grades of cotton wool are required it is necessary to use pure lint itself. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) pointed out that if Queensland cotton is used for the manufacture of cotton wool, that much less cotton will be available for the manufacture of other articles, which will necessitate the importation of cotton. Why, then, prevent the importation of cotton wool? One of the arguments used in favour of this duty was that the Queensland Cotton Board was in favour of it. I have not heard that. Perhaps the secretary of the Cotton Board was in favour of the proposal, but anything of which the secretary is in favour is suspect to me, because he is a twicedefeated Labour candidate for a Queensland constituency. I would regard his opinion upon this matter as biased. I support the amendment of the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn).
– Probably it will suit the convenience of honorable members if I intimate that I am prepared to give further consideration to the representations that have been made. I, therefore, suggest that consideration of the item be postponed until next week. This will give me an opportunity to look into the matter before the House resumes on Wednesday.
Item 126 (Saddlers’ webs, collar check, &c).
.- I protest very strongly against the fixed duty on saddlers’ collar cloth, saddlers’ kersey and saddlers’ serge. The increased duty is equivalent to 92J per cent, on the cheaper class of checks which is largely used for the manufacture of horse collars and repair work and, as such, it represents an additional charge upon the farming community. I shall not occupy the time of the committee by enlarging upon this matter. I content myself with expressing astonishment that such a high rate of duty should be imposed. I intend to vote against the item.
.- I also protest against this increase in the duty on material required for the lining of horse collars and other equipment required by our farmers. These increased duties of 10 per cent, are ill-timed, because our primary producers are passing through a period of great distress.
– They cannot afford to pay these increased charges.
– I agree with the honorable member. A few days ago I received a communication from the Secretary of the Australian Wheat-growers Federation, from which I extract the following statement : -
Distressing eases of impoverishment are prevalent. Numerous cases of forced sales have been reported as well as countless farmers being forced to assign their estates. Such a state of affairs should not be tolerated for one moment by any competent legislature. Any person who holds a seat in that House should not rest’ until some measure of assistance has been made effective by Parliament.
It is extraordinary that at a time like this .the Minister should continue piling these burdens upon our’ primary producers. Professor Perkins, a well-known and recognized authority on farming costs, when giving evidence before the Public Accounts Committee some time ago, stated that in 1913, the average cost to the farmer for the harness necessary for his working teams was £21 16s. 9d., and in 1930, £31 ls. 8d. - an increase of 42.3 per cent. I am aware that protests from this side will not influence the vote if the item goes to a division. Nevertheless, I hope that those government supporters who represent farming communities, will not sanction this increased duty. I trust that they will not , act like dumb driven cattle, but that, on the contrary, they will make an effective protest against this additional burden being placed upon our farmers.
.- With regard to sub-item 126 a saddlers’ webs, upholsterers’ webs, &c, no alteration is proposed in the rates of duty, but saddlers’ felt and felt for lining horse and cattle rugs, have been deleted from the item and will now be dutiable under sub-items 105 f 4 and 5. Since saddlers’ felt and felt for horse and cattle rugs are made in the Commonwealth, it would be anomalous to have these goods dutiable at a rate lower than that for felt, piece goods. They will now come under the sub-item mentioned. With regard to sub-item 126 b the action taken in increasing the rates of duty forms : part of the Government’s plan to conserve the Australian market for local woollen piece goods manufacturers, and also has the object of creating an increased local demand for our wool. Details of the Government’s policy were more fully explained under sub-item 105 f. I remind certain honorable gentlemen in the corner, who sometimes say, I believe unintentionally, that they alone in this House watch the interests of the primary producers of Australia, that I represent a very large primary producing constituency, in which there is a considerable demand for horse and cattle rugs. I think we all agree that the best market for our primary producers is the Australian market. The Paterson butter scheme and the sugar industry would have failed but for the Australian market. Under other tariff items we give protection to primary producers whose business it is to grow potatoes, onions, bananas, peanuts, &c. Why, then, should honorable members of the Country party oppose the duties under this item? It is to the advantage of our primary producers that our secondary industries should be encouraged in order that employees in them may be in a position to purchase more largely of our primary products.
.- The duties under this item affect, chiefly our primary producers, and will increase their costs, though, possibly, to & minor degree. Nevertheless, the accumulated effect of these tariff increases is such as to make the position of our farmers more and more difficult. This tariff increase is inopportune. It comes at a time when our primary producers, and particularly our wheat-growers, are straining every nerve to cut their costs, and it follows an appeal from the Government to them to grow more wheat. Many promises have been made by this Government to assist our farmers, but to the present time those promises have not materialized. . Our wheat-growers have not received one penny as a result of legislation passed by this Government. This is one of the minor items that has the effect of increasing costs. Being a wheat-grower, I know the difficulties that those primary producers have to face on account of the increases in prices that have occurred since pre-war days. There was a time when a farm-hor3e collar could be stuffed and check lined for 6s. To-day the price is nearer 16s.. This and similar items have been responsible for the increase of 42.3 per cent, which Professor Perkins calculates has taken place in the cost of farm harness between 1913 and 1930.
– Has that been due to a protectionist tariff?
– It has been largely due to a protectionist policy. One contention that no honorable member opposite can combat is that the effect of passing this particular item will be to in. crease farm costs, and at a time when the farmers are straining every nerve to cut down their costs. They realize that that is their only hope of surviving. They are doing everything in their power, by improved farm methods and by manurial and other experimental work, to make themselves more efficient and to increase the yield per acre, to make two bushels grow where previously only one grew; and nothing is more heart-breaking than for them to find this National Parliament piling up costs against them. It is a scandal. The Government ought to have the decency, even at this late stage, in view of the parlouscondition of the wheat industry, and of its inability to help that industry in any other way, to withdraw this and similar items from the tariff schedule, so that the wheat-growers will have a fair chance to market their produce.
.- The Minister for Customs should seriously consider the withdrawal of this duty, which affects very harshly those who are struggling to maintain an industry, but who are receiving no protection or any other form of assistance. Many of the items upon which the duties have been increased will have to be used extensively if these men are to carry on. In a number of cases those who have previously used tractors and other farm implements will be compelled to abandon their use, because of the high capital cost, and the lack of the necessary funds to purchase even kerosene for them. Thus they will be more and more obliged to use horses while wheat remains at its present price. By increasing these duties we shall compel those men to pay. a great deal more than they otherwise would be called upon to pay. Their position is a desperate one. Many of them, even though they have prepared their land, have had to abandon their operations, simply because they cannot raise the money to procure the seed and the fertilizers that they require. It is of no use for those honorable members whose electorates are purely industrial to view this matter only from the point of view of their constituents. With the extinction of our primary industries, those centres of population would not be able to exist for 24 hours. This matter should be regarded from a national standpoint. I appeal to the Minister not to impose duties that will increase costs to the men who are trying to grow wheat and to those who are engaged in the dairying and grazing industries. A committee of experts should be appointed to bring to bear upon these questions some practical knowledge. This and similar items embody a principle against whichI emphatically protest, and if we give our approval to it we shall prove that we have no regard for the predicament of those who are struggling against overwhelming odds to maintain a primary industry and tor uphold the credit of our country. At the present time the cost of dressing a horse is practically 50 per cent, more than it was five years ago. Any proposal that will still further increase costs to men who even now have not sufficient to purchase what is necessary to continue their operations, is nothing short of ridiculous, and should not receive serious consideration. I say quite definitely that no vote will be given by me to increase the duties on those items which affect the costs of the men who are trying to grow wheat.
– I hope that the Minister will not insist in bludgeoning this item through to-day. It is of great importance, and the committee ought not to be asked to vote upon it without more mature consideration.
Mr.Forde. - This duty has been operating for the last eighteen months.
Question - That item 126 be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. McGrath.)
Majority . . . . 2
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Item agreed to.
Items 129 and 130 agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Brennan) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.- I wish to refer briefly to the correspondence that passed between the members of the Government and the Commonwealth Bank on the subject of the proposed guarantee of 4s. a bushel for wheat at country railway sidings, which correspondence was tabled yesterday by the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney).
– Why not postpone this discussion until next Wednesday when the Minister for Markets will be present in the chamber?
– I propose to discuss this correspondence now.
Mr.Forde. - The discussion should be postponed in fairness to the Minister for Markets.
– I do not propose to make an attack upon the Minister. I merely wish to make clear a few facts as I see them. Considerable controversy took place in this House as to the nature and the firmness of the guarantee. The undertaking of the Commonwealth Bank in regard to that guarantee was, as far as I can discover, mentioned in this House by the Minister for Markets on the 8th of April last year in his second-reading speech upon the Marketing Bill, and the reference is to be found on page 918 of Hansard. The Minister then said -
Before I called the conference together at Canberra, I had the definite assurance of both the Governor and the Deputy Governor of the Commonwealth Bank that there would be no difficulty in financing the scheme.
The Minister’s statement that he had that assurance was challenged at that time, and on numerous occasions afterwards. The Minister yesterday, when tabling these papers, said -
The memorandum in effect shows, inter alia, that the Commonwealth Bank offered to advance 4s. per bushel for f.a.q. wheat of the 1930-31 season, delivered at the railway station, plus transport charges, &c, the latter not to exceed an average of 8d. per bushel f.o.b.
The Minister definitely stated that the bank offered to advance 4s. a bushel. I have to-day read carefully the memorandum, and the other correspondence, and I disagree entirely with the Minister that there ever was a firm and tangible offer from the bank in connexion with this guarantee. In support of my contention that the bank gave no real undertaking, and that the money to finance the scheme would never have been found, I shall quote a few extracts from the memorandum forwarded with the letter of the 1st of April, 1930, from Sir Robert Gibson, the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board, to the Prime Minister. Paragraph 4 of the memorandum reads -
That in the event of any deficit accruing through the operation of the pool, such deficit has to be made good by the Government; the amount payable in such connexion shall be ascertained from month to month, and the Government shall undertake to pay the Commonwealth Bank such deficit from time to time as required by the bank.
Although, in the first place, the bank, in a sense, gave an undertaking subject to other conditions which I shall enumerate, but which were not mentioned by the Minister at the time - although the bank gave the Minister strong reason to believe that the money might be found - all losses were to be refunded by the Commonwealth to the bank. I contend that the Government could not possibly have made good any deficit, that that fact would have become apparent to the bank very early in the transaction, and that the bank even had it begun to finance the scheme, would soon have ceased to do so.
– Is the honorable member suggesting that the bank would have gone back on its word ?
– Yes, because this advance was conditional, and the bank had the right to withdraw from the scheme at any time. That can be ascertained from the memorandum. The Commonwealth Government is faced today with a deficit of some £20,000,000. In the face of that deficit, how can any honorable member suggest that the bani would have gone on making advances when it knew very well that it would be impossible for the Commonwealth to make up the losses.
Paragraph 6 of the memorandum reads as follows: -
That it is to be clearly understood that the bank cannot undertake to be responsible for financing the Government and/or any State Government concerned in respect of any loss it may have to make good, but the bank will consider any application for finance for this purpose in the light of such total obligations as any Government may be under to the bank at any given time.
The closing words of that paragraph are of first class significance. The bank would have considered making advances as the harvest progressed, but only “in the light of such total obligations as any Government may be under to the bank at any given time “. That paragraph makes it perfectly clear to any impartial reader of the memorandum that the time would inevitably have come long before the completion of the harvest when the bank would have ceased making advances, because of the inability of the Commonwealth Government and State Governments to meet their obligations.
This is also made clear by other occurrences. “Well before the harvest was garnered, the Commonwealth Government applied, on a number of occasions, to the Commonwealth Bank for financial assistance to provide for the relief of unemployment and for the payment of a guaranteed price of 3s. per bushel f.o.b. for wheat. But the bank absolutely refused to find the money to pay this price. In these circumstances was there ever a ghost of a chance that the bank would have continued to find the money throughout the harvest for the payment of 4s. per bushel for wheat?
Then there was a condition which I mentioned yesterday when speaking on this subject, namely, that any undertaking given by the Commonwealth Bank was subject to the co-operation of the trading banks.
Paragraph 11 of the memorandum reads as follows : -
That should the trading banks not be prepared to join in with the Commonwealth Bank upon the proposed finance, the Government will issue such treasury-bills as may be required by the bank from time to time to such extent as may be necessary to supplement the funds of the bank.
It is apparent, therefore, that if the trading t banks had not come into the scheme the Commonwealth Government was to issue treasury-bills which the Commonwealth Bank would accept, only at its discretion, in order to make up any loss that might be suffered.
It is not a fact that some months ago all the Australian banks, including the Commonwealth Bank, intimated to the State Treasurers that any future issue of treasury-bills must be approved by both the Loan Council and the Commonwealth Bank at the time of issue, otherwise they would not be accepted by the banks? This provision puts right out of the bounds of possibility any chance that the Commonwealth Government might have had of being able to finance the proposed 4s. guarantee by means of treasury-bills.
I shall now read paragraph 5 of the letter written by Sir Robert Gibson in forwarding this memorandum to the Government. It is as follows : -
One other matter requires reference in passing. The board holds the view that whilst it may be accepted as sound practice to temporarily expand the note issue for the purpose of meeting seasonal requirements in connexion with financing the marketing of primary products - which expansion can be controlled and consequential contraction effected at the close of these operations - it would view as unsound the use of the note issue for the financing of any loss which might be incurred under a price guaranteed pool. This has particular reference to Clause 0 of the memorandum submitted herewith, and is offered as further explanation of the board’s attitude to this aspect of finance.
That statement effectively closed the door against the use of the note issue in order to meet any losses that might have beer sustained.
I shall now quote a paragraph from the statement made by Sir Robert Gibson when he was examined in another place recently. Senator E. B. Johnston referred to - the sum of about £20,000,000, which the bank agreed to find under its alleged un con ditional promise to pay 4s. per bushel at sidings for wheat under the Wheat Marketing Bill.
In the course of bis reply, Sir Robert Gibson said -
I am glad that the honorable senator referred to an “ alleged unconditional promise.” I am not aware of it myself. So far as I arn aware, no unconditional promise or arrangement was ever suggested by the Commonwealth Bank in regard to rinding £20,000,000.
– No one ever said that an unconditional promise was made.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has actually admitted that no unconditional promise was made. That is my whole point, and it is the point at issue between those who support the views that I hold on this subject and those who support the contention of the Government. There was no tangible, unconditional promise made by the bank that it would provide the money to pay 4s. per bushel for the wheat. In conclusion, I assert, first, that the bank never gave an unconditional guarantee to find the money necessary to pay 4s. per bushel for wheat at railway sidings; secondly, that the conditions imposed could not have been fulfilled by the Commonwealth and State Governments, or by the Commonwealth Government alone; and, finally, that on the evidence available it is abundantly apparent that the necessary finance was not available, and that the Minister for Markets has, wittingly or unwittingly, misled the country on this subject.
.- The Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney), in speaking on this subject, made it clear that the Commonwealth Bank was prepared, prior to the beginning of the wheat harvest, to find the money to pay a guaranteed price of 4s. per bushel for wheat. Any one who reads the memorandum of the Commonwealth Bank on this subject, which I have done, must admit that there is abundant evidence to justify the making of that statement. The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) has said that no promise was given by the Commonwealth Bank to finance the proposed wheat pool up to 4s. per bushel.
– I said that no tangible, unconditional promise had been given.
– A very definite promise was given, as the honorable member will see if he will read the memorandum carefully. He has suggested that the Minister for Markets has, from the very commencement of the negotiations, misled the House and the public. The vital parts of the memorandum are paragraphs 8 to 12.
– “Why not quote paragraph 6 ?
– The honorable member may quote it if he so desires. The vital paragraphs of the memorandum, which prove beyond a doubt that the Commonwealth Bank did undertake to provide the money to pay 4s. a bushel for the wheat, are paragraphs 8 to 12. They read as follows : -
I repeat^ there is no doubt whatever about the Commonwealth Bank having given an undertaking to finance that bill. It is all very well for the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) to shake his head. If he has read the memorandum from end to end, and also the correspondence that passed between the Minister and the Governor of the Commonwealth Bank after the scheme was outlined, he must admit that * definite undertaking was given by the Commonwealth Bank to finance the Wheat Marketing Bill to the extent of 4s. a bushel.
– I suggest that the honorable member overlooked the conditions right through.
– The conditions are laid down very clearly, and the clauses chat I have read are the most important in the memorandum.
– It would be entirely misleading to say that they amounted to an undertaking on the part of the Commonwealth Bank to finance the scheme.
– That may be the honorable member’s interpretation of the document, but it is not mine, or that of the majority of honorable members in this chamber. Had that bill been agreed to by another place, the farmers and Australia generally would be in a much better position than they now are.
– They would not have received the money.
– They would have had the money. Had that measure passed through another chamber, the Government would have instituted a price-fixing scheme to cover wheat used for home consumption, and wheat for exportation could have been held until such time as prices were satisfactory.
– One of the conditions of the bill was that the wheat should be sold, evenly throughout the year, month by month.
– I am aware of that. It has been stated that had the bill passed through another place the Commonwealth Government would have been mulcted iri a loss of many millions of pounds. I believe that any loss incurred by having to sell our wheat at a low price in the first three months or so would not have been more than the amount that is necessary to recoup the farmers for their losses because of the low price of wheat, and that needed for advances to enable them to sow their crops for the coming year.
– The Government was unable to finance a scheme to provide that money.
– Only because of certain opposition to its plans, and because the financial institutions of Australia were becoming somewhat frightened on account of the world-wide depression.
– The money was not there. .
– It should have been there. This Government introduced the Fiduciary Notes Bill, which would have given those people the relief that they seek. The statements of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) that the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney) misled the House, and that the Commonwealth Bank did not guarantee 4s. a bushel for the wheat are not in accordance with fact and the conditions laid down in that memorandum. It is obvious that the bank could, and would, have paid the 4s. guarantee.
.- I regret having to debate a matter of such importance at this hour of the day, on the motion for the adjournment of the House, when most honorable members are anxious to get away, and also in the absence of the Minister for Markets.
– The honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) brought up the subject knowing that the Minister for Markets was absent from the House, because one of the members of his family was ill.
– I rise to a point of order. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) insinuated that I knew the Minister for Markets was absent because of sickness in his family, and that I have taken advantage of that fact.
– Order ! The honorable member for Henty knows that this is not the time for him to raise such an issue, which is not a point of order. If the honorable member desires to make a personal explanation subsequent to the speech of the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart), he may do so. The interjection of the Minister for Trade and Customs was disorderly, and the honorable member for Henty should not have taken any notice of it at this juncture.
– I rose to a point of order. I did not desire to make a personal explanation. I took exception to the insinuation of the Minister for Trade and Customs, which I regarded as offensive.
– Order ! I do not regard the remark of the Minister for Trade and Customs as offensive.
– A very controversial point has been raised by the honorable member for Henty, and it is well that it should be cleared up. It has been repeatedly alleged that the Government was not sincere when it introduced the Wheat Marketing Bill; that the money was not available to implement the measure. I read the document which has been placed on. the table of the Library, and I concluded from the evidence contained in it that that was the last that we should hear on this subject. It is, therefore, with considerable surprise that I heard the honorable member for Henty have the temerity to endeavour, this afternoon, to justify the impossible position that he and other honorable members of his party have adopted with regard to this matter.
Primarily, the honorable member missed the whole point of the charge against the Government, which was that the statement of the Minister for Markets, that arrangements had been made by the Commonwealth Bank to finance the bill, was not in accordance with fact. Proceeding along wrong premises, the honorable member contended that it would have been impossible for the Commonwealth Bank to carry out such an undertaking.
– The point is that there was no unconditional promise made by the bank.
– I challenge the honorable member to point to one instance where a member of the Government, or any other honorable member who supported the bill, alleged that the Government gave an unconditional promise in the matter. It was specifically laid down in the bill, and also stated repeatedly by honorable members, that the undertaking was conditional, and that the Government had accepted the conditions. Obviously, no honorable member in his senses would think for a moment that the Government could call upon the Commonwealth Bank to provide £20,000,000 without any conditions being applied to the transaction. Such a supposition would be absurd.
The honorable member for Henty dilated upon the impossibility of carrying out the guarantee, if the bill had passed through both Houses. The honorable member claims that, even admitting that the Commonwealth Bank had agreed to do this thing, the subsequent fall in the price of wheat would have prevented the Commonwealth Bank from carrying out its undertaking fully.
– The Commonwealth Bank reserved the right to refuse accommodation at any time.
– The honorable member fails to see the ludicrous position in which he is putting himself.
– We all know that it was the honorable member’s scheme.
– It was not mine alone. In common with honorable members on both sides of theHouse, I was an enthusiastic supporter of a compulsory pool and guarantee, but the honorable member for’ Henty (Mr. Gullett) must recollect that his then leader (Mr. Latham) moved a vital amendment, under which the 4a. guarantee was to be retained, but the bill was to be stripped of its compulsory provisions. The then Leader of the Opposition was backed up by his then deputy.
– I do hot think that I was in the House at the time.
– Will the honorable member deny it?
– I do not wish to evade it, but, unfortunately, I am not sure upon the point.
– I am also not sure about it, but the point I wish to make is that any argument that could be applied to the Government’s proposal, in respect to the impossibility of financing it, could be applied with* equal,, if not greater, force to the proposal of the then Leader of the Opposition. For one thing there would have been a greater loss upon the guarantee. There would have been a loss, not only on the wheat exported overseas, but also on the 33,000,000 bushels consumed in Australia, whereas under the provisions of the Wheat Marketing Bill there would have been no loss on that portion of last year’s crop which was sold in Australia. If the Government’s proposal was a fantastic one, that of the honorable member who opposed the bill was even more fantastic.
I take this opportunity to say that the failure of the Wheat Marketing Bill has brought in its train a most disastrous state of affairs in the rural districts- of the Commonwealth. Thousands of the best citizens of this country - men and women who have spent all their lives striving to pioneer the wheat-growing industry - are to-day ruined because of the confidence they reposed in the legislation submitted to this Parliament for their relief. With them they have brought down hundreds of traders who financed them to put in extra wheat in response to the appeal made by the Government to them to grow more wheat. This, in turn, has accentuated unemployment in the rural districts. I believe it can be said with truth that, had the bill been passed, the loss incurred by the “Commonwealth would not have been as great as the direct and indirect loss occasioned by the collapse of business conditions and the failures of farmers throughout Australia.
– Does the honorable member suggest that the 4s. - guarantee could possibly have been paid?
– If this Parliament and the State Parliaments, had passed the necessary legislation providing for the payment of 4s. a bushel, the onus of finding the money to keep the wheatgrowing industry on a sound footing would have ‘been thrown on the governments of the day instead of on the people engaged in the industry.
– Already this Government has a deficit of about £20,000,000 for this year.
– One of the causes of that deficit is the impoverishment of the wheat-growers of Australia owing to the collapse of the wheat-growing industry. The honorable member seems tq think that the full amount of the guarantee would have been added to the £20,000,000. His reasoning is “somewhat loose. As a matter of fact, the honorable member finds it difficult to justify the attitude he and his party have taken up. Ever since, the. defeat of the Wheat
Marketing Bill they have been apologizing. The honorable member is delaying the House this evening debating this matter, because he feels it necessary to justify the attitude he and his party have taken up. I do not mind honorable members in season and out of season supporting the interests, and voicing the views of wheat merchants and other opponents of organized marketing, but I object when they endeavour to pose as friends of the farmers, and of the wheat merchants and speculators at One and the same time. They want to run a doubleheader. It would be better if they would get off the fence, and say exactly where they stand. The wheat-growers know that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) stands for vested interests in the wheat trade.
– That remark is unworthy of .the honorable member.
– If my statement is not correct it is a remarkable coincidence that every argument the honorable member uses is one that the wheat merchants used with me in justifying their opposition to the legislation brought forward by the Government.
I also take this opportunity to call the attention of the Government to the fact that, although its legislation has failed, the position in the wheat areas to-day is such that something must be done for the farmers. The Government should not say, “We introduced the necessary legislation; it has failed. Blame the Opposition “.
– The farmers’ position is being discussed at the Melbourne conference.
– I trust that the Attorney-General, who is in charge of the House, will impress on Cabinet that the pledge given to the primary producers cannot lie ignored, and that there is a moral obligation upon Ministers to do something for the wheat-growers. The fact that previous efforts on the part of the Government have failed does not necessarily mean that all its efforts should cease. The Melbourne conference can pass whatever resolutions or make whatever arrangements it likes, but prosperity will not be restored to Australia while the great exporting industries are in a state of impoverishment. Until they are placed once more on the road to prosperity the rest of the community will not get there. I hope that the Government will persist in an endeavour to do something for the. wheat-growers. I hope that it will hasten its legislation, even if it does not entail a price guarantee, to provide machinery for the creation of a compulsory wheat marketing scheme on a Commonwealth basis.
– The honorable member’s time has expired.
– As Acting Minister for Markets for six months I had a good deal to do with the proposals of the Government for a system of orderly marketing of wheat.
– The Minister made a lot of promises.
– It is not my fault that the growers did not get everything that was promised to them. I did my utmost for them, and had it not been for the action of Senator Johnston and certain’ Nationalists in another place, the Wheat Marketing Bill would have been passed. Now those gentlemen are retreating from trench to trench in an endeavour to defend themselves from the wrath of the wheat-growers, whom they deserted for the sake of the merchants. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) who, when I was in charge of the Department of Markets, was most helpful with advice in regard to the adoption of an orderly marketing scheme, said in the course of a very fair speech this afternoon that the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) moved an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Wheat Marketing Bill, and that the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) supported it. The latter denied that statement and said he was not in the chamber when the amendment was moved.
– I said I was not sure.
– Hansard shows that in one of the monumental speeches which are characteristic of him, he supported his leader in unmeasured terms. The amendment by the Leader of the Opposition was -
This House is of opinion that, while present circumstances justify a guarantee by the Governments of the Commonwealth and the States of a minimum price of 4s. per bushel for f.a,q. wheat, season 193U-31, delivered at railway sidings, legislation providing for such a guarantee should be introduced separately from any legislation providing for the establishment of a monopoly in the marketing of Australian wheat by means of a compulsory pool.
The honorable member for Henty after dealing with the proposal of the Government, said -
Then there is the proposal of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that 4s. be guaranteed without any condition with respect to a compulsory pool. It is hardly necessary for me to say that I whole-heartedly support the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition.
– I knew that I had made a speech on the second reading, but I was not sure that it was on the amendment; I still think that I was absent from the chamber when the amendment was moved.
– The honorable member as a good party man, loyally supported his Leader. He said -
I marvel that the Government should persevere with this bill, and persist in its preposal to have a compulsory pool; because it must be perfectly obvious to every honorablemember that the Government must pay the guarantee for the coming harvest, whether the wheat-growers enter or remain out of the compulsory pool. The members of all parties, and of all State Governments who have been participating in the urge to “ Grow more wheat “, are committed up to the hilt to the guarantee of 4s. a bushel.
Now he is trying to belittle the members of the Government because we stood behind the 4s. guarantee. He asks how we could have paid it, although he had stated that the members of all parties were committed to it up to the hilt.
– Now he says that it was financially impossible.
– That has since been proved.
– The honorable member is quibbling in order to try to get the Nationalist senators out of the awkward position in which they placed themselves by their votes on the Wheat Marketing Bill.
– Go to the people and test their feeling.
– When those Nationalist senators go before the wheat-growers, they will be . tested. No member of the
Government ever said that the Commonwealth Bank had made an unconditional promise to provide the money for . the guarantee. Would any bank be stupid enough to make an unconditional promise of that kind? The Minister for Markets said in effect that there was a promise to provide a 4s. guarantee subject to the adoption of a scheme of orderly marketing. Such a scheme was provided for in the bill that was rejected by the Senate.
– Was that the only condition ?
– There were others. The Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank Board in a memorandum to the Government on this matter said -
That finance is undertaken on the understanding that the realization of the wheat shall be a continuous operation and to such an extent as is necessary to meet the approximate requirements of the bank as set out in the formula contained herein . . .
That formula provided for certain sales <to be made in each month from December, 1930, to September, 1931, and for the payments to the growers to be spread over the months November to February. The orderly marketing scheme had to be approved by both Houses of this Parliament. Another condition was -
That should the trading banks not be prepared to join in with the Commonwealth Bank on the proposed finance, the Government will issue such treasury-bills as may be required by the bank from time to time, to such extent as may be necessary to supplement the funds of the bank.
Provision for. the issue of these treasurybills was made in clause 8 of the bill as follows : - (1.) The Treasurer may, from time to time, under the provisions of the Commonwealth Inscribed Stock Act 1911-1927, or under the provisions of any Act authorizing the issue of Treasury Bills, borrow such moneys as are necessary for supplementing the funds of the Commonwealth Bank for the purposes of making payments by the Bank in pursuance oi the agreements executed by or on behalf of the Commonwealth in pursuance of this Act. (2.) The amounts borrowed shall be issued and applied only for the expenses of borrowing and for supplementing the funds of the Commonwealth Bank for the purposes of making payments by the Bank in pursuance of the agreement so executed. (3.) Payments made to the Bank under the last preceding sub-section shall be at such rate of interest and be subject to such terms and conditions as to repayment as are agreed upon between the Treasurer and the Bank.
That clause was inserted to meet the requirements of the bank. The schedule made the following provision for the State Governments to participate in the guarantee : -
No member of the Government ever suggested that the .promise of the bank was unconditional. The honorable member for Henty has admitted that all parties were committed to the guarantee up to the hilt. The Commonwealth Bank was committed subject to certain conditions, and had the Senate passed the Wheat Marketing Bill, the bank would have honoured its promise, and the whole of the people would have been asked to bear a fair share of the burden, instead of the whole of it being placed on the wheatgrowers, thousands of whom are now being driven off the land.
.- The Minister for Trade and Customs and others who quoted extracts from the memorandum submitted to the Government by the Chairman of the Commonwealth Bank, omitted reference to one of the most material clauses, and I consider it my duty to place it on record. I do not for a moment suggest the least lack of sincerity on the part of the Minister for Health (Mr. McNeill) or the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) when they say that, having read the correspondence, they consider that the bank had guaranteed to find the money. I believe they have overlooked the conditions in paragraph 6 of the memorandum. I am not sure, however, that I can say the same of the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney). Paragraph 6 practically amounts to a condition in the undertaking of the bank that it would find the money, provided there was no loss, or provided the loss was such that the Government could make good forthwith. That clause states -
That it is to be clearly understood that the bank cannot undertake to be responsible for financing the Government and/or any State Government concerned in respect of any loss it may have to make good, but the bank will consider any. application for finance for this purpose in the light of such total obligations as any government may be under to the bank at any given time.
That makes it quite clear that the bank was prepared to find the necessary finance to pay out the whole cheque for the wheat during the first few weeks of the season, but was not prepared to unconditionally finance the Commonwealth or any State Government to make up any loss.
– But the hank agreed to accept treasury-bills.
– No, But the bank required the further safeguard of treasury-bills under certain eventualities. I certainly make no apology for having supported the amendment submitted by the then Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham) that the question of the guarantee should be treated separately from, that of the compulsory pool. The Opposition made a mistake when the bill was going through, and accepted the assurance of the Minister for Markets, and other members of the Government, that matters in connexion with the financing of the scheme were satisfactory. We considered then that, if the necessary finance was available, the farmers should have the benefit of it, without being forced into a compulsory pool, which was odious to a great many of them. Honorable members on this side, and a great many fanners, have been taken in over this matter.
– Does the honorable member say that the Commonwealth Bank would not have found the money if the bill had been passed? .
– The bank did not undertake to finance any government in making up losses. The agreement provided that the losses were to he computed monthly, and the Government had to pay the money on demand. If that did not impose a condition that the Government should undertake the responsibility for making up any loss, I cannot imagine a clearer provision for doing so. I find it almost painful to differ from the’ Minister for Health in his interpretation of the memorandum, because I am absolutely satisfied that he is 100 per cent, sincere in what he has said concerning it. Yet I feel sure that he overlooked paragraph 6, which is framed in very tactful language, so as not to offend the susceptibilities of members of the Government. It is clear that the Opposition was fully justified in raising this question, and honorable members in this House, as well as those in another place, who expressed doubt as to whether the farmers ever would receive the 4s., were fully justified in those doubts. I hope that, without recriminations regarding what has happened in the past, all honorable members will work together in this matter henceforth, so that next year the best interests of the wheat-growers will bc conserved
.- The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) gave certain honorable members credit for sincerity in regard to the wheat guarantee, but declined to admit honesty of purpose on the part of the Minister for Markets (Mr. Parker Moloney), though no member of this Parliament has shown greater sincerity than he has in connexion with the wheat problem. It would appear to me that members of the Opposition, who have always opposed the Wheat Marketing Bill, are grasping at a straw in their effort to find an excuse for their attitude in the past to the proposals of the Government. This afternoon the Acting Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Gullett) has declared that the Government could not find the 4s. a bushel, and that, therefore, the Opposition voted against the measure. That statement has been ably disposed of by the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart). Honorable members opposite _ are now trying to justify their attitude by an allegation of insincerity regarding this measure on the part of the Minister for Markets. If those honorable members, and their fellow members of another place, had been as sincere in this matter as the Minister has been, the farmers would have had the 4s. guarantee, and the people generally would have been saved a great deal of the hardship under which they are now labouring. Although, if that guarantee had been given, the people as a whole . would have been deprived of a certain amount of credit, I feel surethat nobody who has the welfare of Australia at heart would have regretted the granting of the advance to the’ farmers, because it would have resulted in reproductive expenditure. [Quorum formed.] If the Opposition depends for justification of its present attitude upon its allegation of insincerity on the part of the Minister for Markets, it is advancing a very feeble argument.
.- I fully agree with the definition of the agreement regarding the alleged promise of the Commonwealth Bank to finance the compulsory wheat pool given by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker). Nobody with the slightest knowledge of the position could come to any other conclusion. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Stewart) made an appeal to the Government to overcome the difficult situation that has arisen. Too much has been said about insincerity. If there has been any insincerity, it has been shown by honorable members opposite. An attempt to pass a bill providing for a compulsory wheat pool failed. Then, in December, the Government introduced a measure providing for a guarantee of 3s. a bushel f.o.b., or 2s. 3d. a bushel at sidings. That bill passed through both Houses. If the Government was sincere in its desire to help the farmers, why did it not have that legislation proclaimed? If some portion of it was found to be not constitutional, it could have been amended later. And even if the farmers could not have been paid 3s. per bushel in cash, they could have been given something in the nature of a voucher to the effect that they would bo paid later. Traders would have been prepared to accept such vouchers. Honorable members did not know for some time after the House rose for the Christmas vacation that the measure bad not been proclaimed.
– It is never too late to mend.
– Then proclaim it; and should it he found that it needs amending in order to make it constitutional, that could be done later. In the meantime, the farmers could be given a guarantee that the pledge given by both Houses of Parliament would be honoured.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.54 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 5 June 1931, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1931/19310605_reps_12_130/>.