The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 55
Encouragement of colonial industries
Encouragement of colonial industries.
We are sometimes met with the question—Are you free traders or protectionists? I will answer for myself. I leave my colleagues to answer for themselves. I am neither a protectionist nor a free trader, in the sense in which these words are understood in the mother country, contend that the doctrines of free trade depend upon conditions altogether unsuitable to a country like this. What is the true condition of happiness in such a country as this is? Is it not the condition which finds all the people happily and prosperously employed? That is the true condition of happiness, to my mind, in which there is a maximum of prosperous employment and a minimum of unemployed. Now, what do the doctrines of the free traders depend upon? They say buy in the cheapest market; it is wrong to employ men to produce anything which you can obtain cheaper abroad or in other countries. But, supposing the men employed in the production of these things within the country were not so engaged, they would remain idle. But the stern philosophers care nothing for that. That is their look-out, they reply. We must buy in the cheapest market, and if the cheapest market is abroad we must go abroad. That is the basis of the philosophy of free trade. It is not enough to say to those who hold this doctrine that the cheap foreign article may be produced by men who are fed on vegetables and water, and who labour six-teen hours a day. They reply to that, We buy in the cheapest, market, and the unemployed most look out for something to do themselves. These theorists have just as much consideration for black labour at the rate of 8s per mouth as for White labour at 8s per day. They put into competition the labour of all countries. That, I dontend, is not a condition suitable to such a country as ours. (Cheers.) Our first object is to sec that the population is employed, and that the Government is successful in blending a population industriously and prosperously employed. I will give you an instance which Illustrates my meaning. I would suppose that there are some ten thousand families representing fifty thousand people who are engaged in making a living in the manufacture say of clothes, boots, soap, and candles, Now, suppose the average earnings of each family to be £3 per week, that would represent £30,000 a week, or a sum of £1,560,000 a year which these families would be earning. I hope I am not giving you too dry an illustrative. ("Go on.") It is quite possible that by buying in the cheapest markets, or allowing importers to operate without any difficulty in page break their way, you night save 15 per cent. of these wages, or £225,000 a year. That is to say the rest of the population might save that, or ten shillings a head upon the balance of the population: I put before you a crucial base, and I say, would you be willing to see that £225,000 saved and these people placed out of employment? I would not. These families, if they could not find other work, Would leave the country or be driven by the fear of starvation to accept such a rate of wages As Mould bring down the fate of wages in all employment?; (Cheers.) Besides the saving in importing goods is to settle extent illusory. There is always a tendency in local production, as you may know, to bring about a reduction in prices. Withdraw local competition and you withdraw a great check on the profits of importers. Probably you will effect no saving. The importers will make up the difference themselves, or it will go into the pockets of the middle man. On the other hand, I do not admit I am a protectionist, or that I Would put on a tax to benefit a few. The most comical thing when has come under my notice was when the Royal Commission was sitting in Victoria to consider the question of protection. Various industries came up, and appealed to be protected. At last a gentleman presented himself, who said he was a manufacturer of gold leaf, and insisted on protection. He was asked how many manufacturers of gold leaf there were in the colony, and he replied there were five—himself and his four sons. (Laughter.) He wanted the whole colony to be put to the I expense of protecting that trade to support I that tingle family. But that is a caricature I of protection. You cannot deal with this question as a doctrinaire question. You have to look into it and deal with all points on their merits. The test of the value of an industry is whether it is qualified to stand when its first difficulties are overcome. When you have that assurance it is a question for consideration whether the initial period should not be tided over. I cannot help saying that under the free trade system of Great Britain there has been a great deal of scamped work and adulteration going on, and that buying in the cheapest market and supplying as cheaply as possible, manufacturers have been in the habit of not conscientiously supplying the best articles. It is only quite recently that by a happy accident—an iron axle falling to the ground and breaking while being unshipped—we wore saved from sending forth death and destruction on our railways by using rotten axles sent out from Great Britain. I will give you another case, which will illustrate how little dependence you can place upon manufacturers under this system, and how much more conscientiously they work under protection when they feel that their whole reputation and success depend upon their supplying good articles. I will tell you what happened recently. We sent home an order for certain locomotives after a type which we had running in the colony, and which were obtained from America. It was thought by the late Government it was un-patriotic to go to America for goods, so the plans and specifications were sent home to England, and the weights and sizes given most exactly. When these locomotives were about finished, the engineers telegraphed out that they were about to ship them, but that we had better order plant to strengthen our bridges and culverts, as it would not be safe to send the locomotives over them. Their idea was that we should make our railways to suit their engines. We telegraphed that we would do nothing of the kind, that we had limited the weight of the engines. They replied they could not be made according to the specifications we had supplied. But the answer to that was that we had them running in the colony, and we refused to take them Well, this is what happened : We sent an order by telegraph to America for these engines, and such is the confidence we feel in the character of the material which will be supplied that we are prepared to take them without inspection there, whilst we cannot take the suspected ones from Great Britain. (Hisses.) The Agent General is in no way to blame in the matter. I have given you this history to show a reason why—even should we require to pay a little more—this work should be done in the colony We have now called for tenders for the purpose of having locomotives made in the colony; and I trust it will lead to our being ultimately able to obtain all our locomotive plant on the spot. (Cheers.)