The Industrial Problem

With federation it became possible to adopt a nation-wide policy of encouraging the development of manufacturing industries and soon high tariffs became the accepted creed of the chief political parties. National pride favored the policy. “Australia for the Australians!” meant little if Australians could not buy their own products. What good was it to be politically free and independent if they were still hewers of wood and drawers of water for others? “Shall Australia be a sheep-run or a nation?” asked the highly nationalistic Sydney Bulletin, and continued: “To live on the back of a merino sheep is comparatively easy, but it is not inspiring.” To live in the shadow of a factory smokestack evidently was.

During the first World War self-sufficiency was justified on the grounds of defense. At most times Labor was ready to support a high tariff on the ground that it made possible the preservation of a high standard of living. The products of the “sweatshops” of Europe or of Asiatics who lived on the proverbial “handful of rice” must be excluded. This argument could not very well be applied against the high-wage products of North America; at that point therefore the plea might be shifted to the folly of letting the products of mighty American trusts come in, to the madness of “sending money” out of the country to furnish employment for people in other lands, or even to the silliness of buying anything abroad which could be made in Australia, irrespective of price.

From EM 44: Australia: Our Neighbor Down Under (1944)