Australia and self-containedness [4 May 1927]

[Editor: This article is a section from the “Smoke Ho” column in the The Worker. The writer advocates that Australia moves away from being a nation depending upon primary industries, and instead should develop more secondary industries — for reasons of defence, economic and industrial growth, national character building, and the maintenance of standards of living.]

Australia and self-containedness

That Australia’s particular job, as a component part of the British Empire, is to act as wood-and-water joey to the centres from which British factory lords and manufacturing interests draw their substantial dividends is an idea which the factory lords and the manufacturing interests aforesaid are never weary of urging. The latest example of this belief is shown in the report, just issued in London, of the Overseas Settlement Committee, which, Australians are told by cabled “stresses the findings of the Imperial Conference sub-committee to the effect that future official action will be based on the recognition that, whilst the bulk of the population in Britain is urban, Dominions settlement must be based on agricultural developments.” This point is emphasised further in a declaration that expediting agricultural training in British colleges devoted to this part will henceforth be attended to.

Speaking at a meeting of the Queensland Preference League in Brisbane — a report of which appears in the Press on the same day as that giving an account of the recommendations of the Overseas Settlement Committee — Minister for Mines Jones remarked:

“The expansion of their secondary industries would do more to people Australia than any policy of getting people to settle on the land and to engage in overproduction. In Australia they were underpopulated and overproduced, and in Great Britain the reverse was the position. The remedy to his mind was for all good Australians to patronise Australian-made articles.”

This, although inadvertently, is a straight-out reply to the Overseas Settlement Committee’s declaration that settlement in Australia, as one of the Dominions, “must be based on agricultural developments.” For Australia to specialise in primary production to the exclusion of secondary industries, or even to materially increase the present ratio of its rural activities, is a policy asinine from a national point of view and uneconomic from the commercial way of looking at it.

From the standpoint of development and defence, of economic and industrial growth, of national character building, and of the maintenance of its present standards of living; far short of perfection though these may be, a policy of self-containedness to the extent that such a course is reasonably possible must be the policy for the people of the Commonwealth.

Only in comic opera should the quaint absurdity be seen of a nation exporting to the other side of the earth shiploads of raw material in the form of wool, cotton, and metals, and bringing back from the other side of the world the same material fashioned into wearing apparel, implements, utensils, and ornaments. And only from the standpoint of the most crass land short sighted stupidity should the spectacle be tolerated of a relatively high wage country sending its wares afar in order to compete in the markets of the world with countries of lower standards — in some instances infinitely so.

The principle of self-containedness has, of course, its limits; trade with other countries, to a degree, is both desirable and necessary. But Australia will never achieve greatness — national, industrial, commercial, or truly intellectual — by a one-sided growth in the matter of primary production, dependent on artisans in distant lands to convert the abundant raw materials which it is able to produce, or with which nature has endowed it, into articles bearing the impress of skilled labor, and suitable to be enjoyed and consumed by its own citizens.

The Worker (Brisbane, Qld), Wednesday 4 May 1927, page 13

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