House of Representatives
3 June 1902

1st Parliament · 1st Session



Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.

page 13189

SOUTH AFRICAN WARDECLARATION OF PEACE

Mr DEAKIN:
AttorneyGeneral · Ballarat · Protectionist

– I desire, with the permission of the House, and without notice, to move -

That the Commonwealth, profoundly rejoicing in the restoration of peace, most cordially congratulates the British Government and people upon its attainment, with fervent hopes for the unity and prosperity of South Africa.

A cablegram was received yesterday from . the Secretary of State for the Colonies announcing that peace had been declared and it appears to me that much of the value of the response given depends upon its. promptness. I trust, therefore, that both Houses will agree to this very simple resolution which it is proposed to cable to London immediately, so that amongst the felicitations which flow in from every part ofthe Empire, that of the Commonwealth may not be absent. It seems to me that the rejoicing here described as profound, is, indeed, of the most deep-seated character, and that without any distinction of party or of opinion, the whole of the Commonwealth may unite in congratulating our fellow countrymen upon the declaration of the peace so long hoped for. We also express a hope for unity and prosperity in South Africa, which, I believe, will he shared without reference to any past events by the wholeof the people of this country.

We are thus in a very short, simple, and direct fashion, expressing that feeling which prevails in the bosoms of thepeople of the Commonwealth of sincere gratitude to Divine Providence that the end of our long and terrible trial by combat has at last been reached.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:
Wentworth

– I was not aware until this moment that this resolution was to be moved, but I fully concur in the action that is being token by the Government. It is a matter of profound thankfulness to us all that this terrible war which has been so long continued and has been so devastating, and which has been attended in some respects with so little glory, has been ended at last. We can only hope that the same political forces which have brought together the whole ofthe States of Australia, and have made us a united community, will ultimately, in spite of all differences of race and divergence of political views, result in the creation of a South African Commonwealth as happy and loyal as our own.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

page 13190

ASSENT TO BILLS

Royal assentto the following Bills re- ported : -

Supply Bill, No.9.

Governor-General’s Establishment Bill.

page 13190

QUESTION

SUSPENSION OF FODDER DUTIES

Mr BROWN:
CANOBOLAS, NEW SOUTH WALES

– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister, without notice, whether he has received any further communications from the State Premiers in respect to concerted action in dealing with the present conditions arising from the drought, and whether the Federal Government have agreed upon any definite course ?

Mr DEAKIN:
Protectionist

– Since the Houserose last week I have received replies from the Premier of South Australia and the Premier of Queensland. The effect of the reply from the Premier of Queensland was that he joined very cordially in supporting the proposal of the New South Wales Government that the duties should be suspended. The Premier of South Australia stated that there was a drought in existence in that State, but that, whilst having every sympathy with those who were suffering, he hoped the duties would not be suspended. I have this afternoon received the following cable from Mr. Lewis, the Premier of Tasmania -

Replying to your telegram of 29th inst. re suggested suspension of duties upon imported grain and fodder, I think it would be very undesirable to. temporarily alter the Tariff for the sake of affording relief to sufferers from present drought. Tariff should not be subject to fluctuations of such description. Any alterations must seriously affect producers in States not feeling effects of drought, and might act prejudicially upon merchants, shippers, and others who have purchased or entered into contracts upon faith of existing Tariff. It seems tome that the better course to pursue would be for Federal Parliament to consider direct contribution to States chiefly affected by drought, such contribution to bebased on difference between duty free and duty paid grain and fodder.

The returns which I promised to obtain were at once asked for, but all havenot yet been received. They are expected to come to hand to-day or early to-morrow. The. States of Victoria and Western Australia have not replied to the communication sent to them. Pending the receipt ofthe returns and of replies from all the States, the Government have not arrived at a final decision as to the best course to be pursued. I may add that I have received a further telegram from the Premier of New South Wales, which reads as follows -

Re duties on grain and fodder the action proposed must be taken by your Government. Mine cannotsuspend the collection of duties. I repeat thehopeI have already expressed that you will see your way to theirsuspension without delay. On behalf of this State am willing to forego the revenue until the grave crisis has passed. If you deem it necessary, will send representative the Government to confer with you.

That came to my hands this morning, and I sent the following reply -

Your yesterday’s telegram received this morning. I quite recognise position of your Government, and its anxiety to secure relief of your stock-owners. Shall be glad to see a representative of your Ministry by to-morrow, to confer upon best means of meeting crisis.

page 13190

QUESTION

TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILWAY

Mr KIRWAN:
KALGOORLIE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister, without notice, a question with reference to the statement made by the Prime Minister when he was at Fremantle on the 12th May. Referring to the transcontinental railway, he is reported to have said - .

It had beenhis pleasing duty that day to write to Mr. Deakin who would preside at the Cabinet meetings during his absence, asking him to. expedite the appointment of a committee of the leading constructive railway engineers of the Eastern States, to consider the reports that hadalready been made, and to make further inquiries, so as to see whether the data laid down in these reports would commend their approbation as engineers.

I should like to know whether the Minister has received that letter, and whether anything has been done in connexion with the matter ?

Mr DEAKIN:
Protectionist

– The letter referred to was received. It relates to inquiries which are being made in the department for Home Affairs, and when we have disposed of one or two preliminary matters, I hope to be able to inform honorable members of the intentions of the Government.

page 13191

QUESTION

IMMIGRATION RESTRICTION ACT

Mr GLYNN:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

– I desire to ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister, without notice, a question relating to the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act.I have been informed that some of the State Executives are doubtful as to what is expected of them as regards the administration of the Act. Ship-owners in some cases do not know what to do with regard to certain intending immigrants. In one case a question was asked of the South Australian Executive as to whether a Chinaman resident in Australia could import his wife 1 As a matter of fact that question could not be answered, and some of the shipowners complain of not being able to obtain information from the State Executives, who are expected to administer the Act on behalf of the Federal Government. I desire to ask whether full and detailed information as to what is expected of them will be communicated to the State Executives.

Mr DEAKIN:
Protectionist

-The States Executives have nothing, and are never likely to have anything, whatever to do with the question of the administration of the Immigration Restriction Act. The questions that come before the States Executives arise out of their legislation anterior to the establishment of federation, upon which we do not presume to advise them. With regard to our own officers, questions arise from time to time, and are immediately answered. The officers are instructed to communicate by telegram, and they receive replies to their questions on the same date - sometimes within an hour or two. So far as I know, no delay has occurred in consequence of any time lost in the Immigration department.

Mr Glynn:

– I have spoken in consequence of representations made to me.

Mr DEAKIN:

– Quite so. There has been someuncertainty in the minds of some of the Executives as to the extent to which the laws on their statute books, prior to federation, have been superseded by the Federal Act. That is very often difficult to determine. These difficulties arise from the States legislation, and not from that over which we have control, and they are not questions in which as a rule we can be of much assistance to the States.

page 13191

QUESTION

DEFENCE RETRENCHMENT

Mr CROUCH:
CORIO, VICTORIA

– I desire to ask the Minister for Home Affairs, without notice, whether he will be able to make a statement as to the form the retrenchment in the Defence department will take, before the reductions are finally made ?

Sir WILLIAM LYNE:
Minister for Home Affairs · HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES · Protectionist

– Before any publicity is given to the scheme of retrenchment, the matter must be settled by the Cabinet, and I scarely think I can promise to make a statement to the House before the Cabinet prepares the Estimates. These will be submitted to the House by the Minister in due course, and I think I can scarcely accede to the honorable and learned member’s request.

page 13191

QUESTION

TRANSFERRED VICTORIAN PUBLIC SERVANTS

Mr HUME COOK:
BOURKE, VICTORIA · PROT

asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -

  1. If the Government is in receipt of Mr. St. John Topp’s interpretation of section 19 of Act 1721 (State of Victoria) V
  2. Will he state, for the information of the House, whether the Government accept that interpretation ?
  3. If the Government does not accept Mr. Topp’s view, will the Minister state the intentions of the Government with respect to the whole matter ?
Mr DEAKIN:
Protectionist

– I am unable to answer that question without giving rise to the danger of misconception unless I hand to the honorable member the whole opinion. The opinion which I have given in respect to Mr. Topp’s reading of the particular Act has been forwarded to the Public Service Commissioner, who will have to deal with it in a practical way. It is from the Public Service Commissioner that the officers affected, who desire to learn their position, must make inquiries. But whether the commissioner will give them the opinion which he has received must depend upon his judgment. The commissioner -will probably be able to indicate before long the course he proposes to follow, and from that it may be possible to gather what my opinion was.

Mr HUME COOK:
BOURKE, VICTORIA · PROT

– Then the Government take no action beyond forwarding the opinion to the Public Service Commissioner ?

Mr DEAKIN:

– It is not for the Government to take action. This is a Victorian Act, affecting certain public servants, and it falls to the Public Service Commissioner to administer the law.

page 13192

QUESTION

ELECTION PETITION

Whitelaw v. Hartnoll.

Motion (by Mr. Deakin) proposed -

That the report of the Elections and Qualifications Committee in reference to the return of Mr. Hartnoll for Tasmania bo adopted.

Mr McDONALD:
Kennedy

– While I have no very strong objection to the adoption of the report, I do not think it wise to allow the motion to go without a word or two. The action of the committee is one of the strongest arguments we could have for removing such questions from the sphere of this Chamber as soon as possible, and having them settled by a Supreme Court Judge.

Sir William Lyne:

– That is the proposal in the Electoral Bill.

Mr McDONALD:

– I am glad that the Government have seen fit to insert a provision of the kind in the Electoral Bill. I think there has been considerable hardship imposed on Mr. Hartnoll, the elected member, seeing that he was returned by such a large majority : and, privately, I have expressed the opinion that it was a very illadvised act on the part of Mr. Whitelaw to lodge a petition. But I understand that the committee find that, while Mr. Hartnoll did not comply with the Tasmanian law, it is not necessary on that score to upset the election. Where is this sort of thing to end? In my opinion, the step taken by the committee must be regarded as very grave and serious, and I desire to enter my protest against their action. There may not be a big issue at stake in the present instance, but if the precedent be followed, it may lead to very serious results in cases which arise before the Electoral Bill becomes law. For these reasons, I feel called upon to enter my protest against the finding of the committee.

Mr WATSON:
Bland

– There is no recommendation of the committee as to the deposit which was lodged by Mr. Whitelaw. That is somewhat strange, a recommendation as to the deposit in these cases being usually made by Elections and Qualifications Committees. The question arises, in the first place, as to whether there was sufficient ground for lodging the petition. The committee appear to practically admit that an informality did take place in regard to the nomination, and, although that informality was not, in their opinion, sufficient to justify the disturbance of the election, it was sufficient to justify the lodging of a deposit and a petition. I have no fault to find with the decision of the committee. When an overwhelming majority is cast for one candidate, an Elections and Qualifications Committee should require proof of substantial informality - of something that might have had an effect on the election - before they declare the seat vacant, and put the Government and the community to the expense of a fresh poll. But that is no justification for any attempt to absorb the money that was lodged by Mr. Whitelaw. The informal nomination was accepted by a Commonwealth officer.

Mr McDonald:

– Who ought to be discharged for neglect of duty.

Mr WATSON:

– The officer ought certainly not to be appointed again.

Mr Kingston:

– Is forfeiture of the deposit recommended ?

Mr WATSON:

– There is no recommendation : that is an omission on the part of the committee.

Mr L E GROOM:
DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND · PROT; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; IND from 1931; UAP from 1934

– Were the committee asked to deal with the question of the deposit ?

Mr WATSON:

– It goes without saying, I think, that the committee should report on the question. A deposit is asked for in order to prevent frivolous objections, and it is the function of the committee to say whether objections are frivolous. An objection may not be a frivolous one, and still may not be sufficiently serious to justify the committee disturbing the election. That ismy view ; but I go further, and say that it lies with the Government, who were responsible for the appointment of Mr. Davis, the returning officer, to see that some attempt is made to reimburse Mr. Whitelaw for the expense to which he has been put. I am not certain whether

Mr. Hartnoll should not also he considered in this connexion. In New South Wales on several occasions, when elections have been upset, because of informal proceedings on the part of returning officers, the expense of the first election to a reasonable amounthas been defrayed by the Government for both candidates. That was the case in no less than perhaps half-a-dozen elections, which I have in my mind’s eye.

Mr WATKINS:
NEWCASTLE, NEW SOUTH WALES · ALP; FLP from 1931

– Did that not apply in cases where there were second elections?

Mr WATSON:

– That is so ; but in the present instance the only reason why there is not a second election is that the number of votes polled was overwhelmingly in favour of one candidate, and the committee did not feel justified in putting the country to an expense on the ground of the informality. But that does not absolve the returning officer or the Government from some degree of responsibility. Of course, the Government were not aware beforehand that the returning officer would not do his duty : but the error having occurred, the Government are bound to make some recompense to those who have suffered. If Mr. Hartnoll has been put to expense he should be considered, and certainly Mr. Whitelaw has a fair claim against the Government. Some time ago I raised objection to the Chairman of the Committee, Sir Edward Braddon, acting in that capacity, considering the part he had taken in the election. I was accused, or the labour party generally were accused, by the Melbourne Argus of taking that action merely from a desire to see Mr. Whitelaw returned. But at no time were the labour party in Parliament interested in securing the lodging of the petition, nor were they anxious in any way to prejudice the decision the committee might arrive at. On the part of the labour party it was purely a protest against what they conceived to be a wrong act on the part of one of the members of the committee - a protest dictated by neither party motives nor prejudices. I agree with the honorable member for Kennedy that we should, at the earliest opportunity, pass the Electoral Bill, which will send such inquiries to a body outside Parliament, and away from party and political influence. In the meantime I ask the Government to consider the question whether the deposit should not be returned to Mr. Whitelaw - whether some consideration should not be extended to that gentleman in view of the expense he has been put to in consequence of an official mistake.

Mr GLYNN:
South Australia

– I can not say I agree to the adoption of the report with reluctance, but I do so with a certain amount of hesitancy. I should be sorry to see this finding used afterwards as a precedent for the guidance of the Elections and Qualifications Committee. Naturally, if I looked at the matter from the point of view of a mere party man, I should be very glad to see Mr. Hartnoll returned ; but we can adopt a line free from party bias in matters of the sort, and regard them from a point of view which is purely Commonwealth and national. I can quite understand that the committee, seeing there was such a large vote for Mr. Hartnoll, hesitated, or, in fact, declined, to decree that a second election should be held. There was such a small possibility of changing the result that a second election would merely have been putting the electorate to trouble and the Commonwealth to expense. At the same time, I do not think we should adopt this finding of the committee as a precedent. The Tasmanian Act seems fairly clear, specifying, as it does, that the nomination must be made in a certain way, namely, that the written consent of the party nominated must be received by the returning officer.

Mr Deakin:

– Unless the party nominated is out of the country.

Mr GLYNN:

– At all events, the Act prescribes that one of the most essential parts of the election, namely, the nomination, shall be evidenced by the receipt by the returning officer of a document signed by the party nominated before the nomination takes place. Let us imagine what might occur. Suppose there were only two candidates, and one was duly nominated and declared elected because there was no other nomination properly signed before the returning officer. Could any one say that because of a telegram received before the nomination by a returning officer from another candidate, the election declared, because there was only one nomination, should be disallowed, the telegram being strengthened after the election by the receipt of the written consent of the second candidate? Will any honorable member say that, supposing Mr. Whitelaw was the gentleman in the position of the first candidate nominated, he should have his election cancelled, and the second party, whose written consent was only received the morning after the time of nomination, regarded as a competitor for the position ? No member could sustain such a position ; and yet that follows from the adoption of this report. Whether there were two, three, or five nominations does not affect the question of the validity of the nomination of Mr. Hartnoll. If we accept Mr. Hartnoll’s as a valid nomination, and thereby may be placed in the absurd position of upsetting an election in which only one candidate has been properly nominated, that is a result which I affirm with some hesitancy. At the same time, I should be sorry to see the tribunal which decides these cases in England substituted for the political tribunal. There is a via media suggested by the South Australian Act of 1896, under which the Elections and Qualifications Committee have the guidance of a Judge of the Supreme Court, and in the long run I think that will be found to be the best tribunal.

Sir EDWARD BRADDON:
Tasmania

– I can answer at once, satisfactorily answer, the question which has been put by the honorable member for Bland in regard to Mr.Whitelaw’s deposit. That deposit will be returned. It is not proposed to deduct anything whatever from it, and as a matter of fact the costs in this case differ somewhat from costs in connexion with higher tribunals in that they are comparatively insignificant. In fact, I do not know that any costs were incurred. As to the report, I shall adhere to it loyally as one of the persons who signed it. At the same time I desire to say that it does not entirely embody my views regarding the position. For my own part I think that Mr. Hartnoll, in giving his consent to be nominated as he did, although not formally complying with the wording of the law, did substantially and sufficiently comply therewith to satisfy a court of equity. Of course the object of the Act is to prevent a dummy candidate, without his consent, from being put up at the last moment to split the votes for some other candidate, and thus defeat the latter.

Mr Deakin:

– I would not argue the matter too much.

Sir EDWARD BRADDON:

– I do not propose to argue it, because I have not attempted to force my opinion upon the committee. The report which I have signed is that of the committee, without any demur on my part.

Mr Deakin:

– The strength of the right honorable member’s position is to be found in the unanimity of the committee.

Sir EDWARD BRADDON:

– I was very glad that the committee were unanimous, and, therefore, I was pleased to attach my name to the report, even though it did not embody my own views of the situation.

Mr MACDONALD-PATERSON:
Brisbane

– I do not concur in the report of the committee. If I did so I should be swallowing all the common sense that I have gathered since attaining the age of manhood. I do not think the consideration that a large number of votes were cast in favour of Mr. Hartnoll should have constituted a factor in the decision of the committee. Of course, I congratulate the honorable member for Tasmania, Mr. Hartnoll, that he has not to submit himself for re-election, but I wish to give honorable members a parallel case in which I was concerned, and which happened when I was just out of my teens. Two candidates were nominated for aldermanic honours in the largest provincial town of Queensland. I chanced to be mayor at the time, and consequently acted in the capacity of returning officer. Before noon upon the nomination day I examined the nomination papers of the two candidates. I found that the paper of one entirely complied with the law. The consent of the candidate had been obtained, and the requisite number of ratepayers had signed the nomination paper, setting forth their names in full, and their occupations and places of residence within the municipality. The second nomination paper was duly signed by the candidate, and several nominators had attached their names, addresses, and occupations to it, but others had not. I think that seven names were requisite to each nomination paper. When the crowd assembled to hear the speeches of the candidates, I intimated that as one nomination paper was in perfect order, whilst the other was irregular, I had no option but to declare the person whose nomination paper was in order duly elected. Needless to add there were some cheers and a few groans. Prompt action was taken by the ratepayers, and the matter was referred to counsel for opinion. Further representations were made to the Attorney-General of the day, with the result that my action was upheld. My experience, therefore, teaches me that it is necessary to protest against the present case being regarded as a precedent in connexion with future elections of the Commonwealth .

Question resolved in the affimative.

page 13195

QUESTION

SUPPLY

In Committee

Consideration resumed from 30th May (vide page 13144).

Department of Trade and Customs

Division 26 (Minister’s Office), £3,150

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:
Wentworth

– I told my right honorable friend, the Minister for Trade and Customs, that when we came to discuss this depart’ ment of the Estimates, I should like to say a word or two with regard to some matters connected with its administration. I know very well that in dealing with questions of departmental administration one is considering a very different subject from the text of a Bill, or a question of policy arising out of the statement of a Minister. In dealing with a Bill, honorable members know exactly what they are criticising, and it is our duty as legislators to subject every Bill to the most drastic criticism possible. Similarly, when a Minister puts before the House a statement of policy, it invites the strongest and most precise criticism ; but I realize that when a legislative body comes to deal with the details of the administration of a department, every possible allowance should be made for the difficulties surrounding a Minister. Even then it is impossible for this House to know all the intricate relationships which exist between a Minister, his officers, and the public. I wish the committee to clearly understand the principal charge which I intend to make, or, at any rate, upon which I seek for information ; because I can assure the Minister for Trade and Customs that my present action is not prompted by any party spirit whatever. It is simply a question with regard to the administration of this great engine of taxation. Indeed, if I were to follow my own selfish bent, as we will have to appear before our constituents within about eighteen months - I should say that the more unpopular and the more vexatious this extreme form of taxation became, the better would it be for the ultimate result from my point of view. But I wish to read, as the text of my indictment- - if I may so term it - the following words from a police magistrate. They are not the words of a Member of Parliament, or even of a member of the Opposition, but those of a man in judicial authority. The same words, if not stronger, are reiterated by a Judge - I do not know whether he belongs to the Supreme Court or to the District Gourt - whom I shall bring into evidence a little later on. The case to which I refer was tried in Brisbane. It is one in which the difficulties arose to a large extent out of the intricacies of the Tariff, out of the mischievous and very difficult classification which we set up in that Tariff, and which the Minister and honorable members “opposite were warned by myself and others would be likely to engender a great deal of difficulty and possibly charges of fraud. I take it that the Minister himself, and every honorable member of this House, irrespective of the party to which he belongs, must hold that whatever taxation may be imposed upon the people, we ought not to do anything that is vexatiously unjust. Compatibly with the due punishment of fraud, we ought, whilst endeavouring to obtain the largest amount of revenue possible, to make its collection as easy as possible to the citizens. That is a rule the soundness of which will be acknowledged by every right-thinking man. This case of Mc Whirter, of Brisbane, arose out of the difficulty of determining between a line of goods in the piece, and practically the same class of goods under the denomination of “articles.” I will read; to the committee the exact words of the magistrate, Mr.Rankine.

Mr L E GROOM:
DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND · PROT; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; IND from 1931; UAP from 1934

– He is a very capable magistrate.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

Mr. . Rankine said -

He said that he had made up his mind to find against the defendant, but, at the same time, he wished to express the opinion that the Customsdepartment did not treat importers fairly by not giving full publicity to all charges of duty and decisions of the Comptroller. He also wished to say that in his opinion the action of the defendant was absolutely without intent to defraud the Customs of the duty, and the whole matter was purely an error. For that reason he had decided to inflict the lowest penalty he was able to do. He then fined the defendant £5, with £4 4s. professional costs, and costs of one witness, £11s., to be paid within seven days, in default, levy and distress.

What I want to know is this: When we passed the Customs Act, in which there are certain words used which I will read in a moment or two, did we intend that an absolute error was to be punished as a crime ?

I know how difficult it is to discriminate between one individual and another, but the point I wish the committee to consider iswhether, when we sanctioned certain very drastic provisions to deal trenchantly with fraudulent importers, we did not conceive that the same administrative latitude would be allowed under the administration of the present Minister for Trade and Customs, as has been allowed under previous administrations ? The Customs Act is remarkably worded, but Parliament cannot be held to be entirely free from whatever blame attaches for that fault. Section 229 deals with -

All goods in respect of which any on try, invoice, declaration, answer, statement, or representation which is false or wilfully misleading in any particular, has been delivered, made, or produced.

Then section 234 provides that- -

No person shall evade payment of any duty which is payable -

Or-

Make any entry which is false in any particular. But did Parliament, in passing that enactment, consider it impossible under any set of circumstances for a man, in dealing with customs entries, to make an error of some kind for which he should not be brought before a court of justice, and branded as a criminal? If any one were to say that the smallest and best managed business in the country could be carried on without the occurrence of errors, he would be laughed at. But the Customs Act applies to thewhole of the merchants of Australia. Furthermore, in 999 cases out of 1,000 the principal in the business - the person whosuffers - acts through an agent. It must not be forgotten that during many months the provisions of the Tariff were changed by the members of the Committee of Ways and Means like the colours of a kaleidoscope, and it was therefore very difficult for anyone to understand exactly how they applied. Surely fair consideration should be shown under such circumstances? It is curious that a Ministry which has made as many blunders as any half-dozen other Australian Ministries should refuse to consider pure errors or mistakes due to want of judgment as anything but frauds. If the same construction had been put upon their mistakes, every one of the Ministers would to-day be in gaol. The position of the merchants of Australia has for months past been one of extreme tension. It has been bad enough for them to find it almost impossible to ascertain from day to day the rate of duty upon various articles, and to ‘ discover that the classification adopted in the Tariff is in many cases imperfect, and that no satisfactory information was to be obtained from the Customs department. When the administration of the Customs was in the hands of the States authorities, it was centralized, so that those concerned could obtain definite information and uniform decisions. Now, however, the collection of customs duties throughout Australia is being administered from Melbourne, and in those States where previously the system in force wasdifferent from the Victorian system, it has been difficult, both for Customs officials and for merchants, to understand the position. I, myself, am largely interested in the importing business, and would be the last man in the world to say a word against the firm and strong administration of the Customs department. I can point with pride to the record of my firm, and I gladly recognise, as does every honest man in the business, that strong administration protects us against would-be fraudulent importers. But, surely the community expected some elasticity in the administration of the Customs Act. When mistakes are made in regard to Inter-State certificates - a very foolish arrangement which the provisions of the Constitution require the department to carry out - they are mistakes which for the most part cannot benefit those who make them. In most cases the Victorian importer has paid more under the Victorian Tariff than he will be called upon to pay under the Commonwealth Tariff.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– Still, when the sums involved are very small, and the mistakes cannot benefit the importer who makes them, it is surely ridiculous to charge him with fraud, and subject him to the unpleasant ordeal of being dragged before a court of justice and having the case blazoned in the newspapers. The Tariff contains an enormous number of items, some of the duties having a protectionist incidence, and others being merely of a revenue producing character, and the classification is not of the best. Many firms have had to increase their staff of clerks in order to satisfactorily makeout the entries required, and, while it is all very well to say that mistakes should not be made, I contend that if some of the best Customs officials were placed in the various importing warehouses they would make mistakes similar to those which have been made.

Mr Thomson:

– The Customs officials are making mistakes every day.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– The Minister’s reputation for firmness, if not for obstinacy, which we have occasionally seen confirmed by his actions in this Chamber, would prevent people from trespassing upon his leniency : but he should recollect that the strong man is most powerful when he knows how not to abuse his strength. The Government, with its practical irresponsibility in the matter of expenditure, has no right to put into operation against the private citizen the great engine of the law, unless a case of fraud is made out. In thousands of cases, citizens, although in the right, will not face the expense of fighting the Government. I believe that a very much stronger remonstrance would have been made against the provisions of the Customs Bill if it had been thought that the drastic measures which it enables the Minister to take would be taken in cases of pure error. But I have heard of no case in which an error has been condoned, and I want to know from the Minister if he takes up the position that the moment an error is committed, no matter how unintentional, the offender must be dragged into court nolens volens. I have already referred to a case in which there was an error of description, turning upon the difference between toweling in the piece and towels as separate articles - a very easy mistake to make. It must be remembered that small importers cannot exercise the same supervision in regard to the goods which they indent, or perhaps, import direct, as is exercised by the large importing warehouses. He cannot tell from the invoice whether it is exactly in order or not, but he takes it for granted that the contents are properly described, and he has no means of ascertaining the contrary tillthe cases areopened. Now, take the case of a man named Chapman, a draper in Brisbane, which seems to be a very glaring case. An entry was made out by a boy, and an error occurred, as one might expect under the very ridiculous provisions of the Tariff. Instead of placing flannelette on the free list with cottons, the Minister for Trade and Customs insisted that as it was an imitation of a certain article - although that principle did not apply -it should be subject to aduty of 15 per cent. This line of goods was invoiced under a certain name - these goods are continually changing names - and as the price was very low - something like 41/2d. per yard - the boy thought that the goods could not be anything else but cotton, and he put them in the free list. The very next morning, when the father of the boy found out the error, he sent down to the Custom-house, before the goods were even out of the ship, to amend the entry, but this was not allowed.

Mr L E GROOM:
DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND · PROT; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; IND from 1931; UAP from 1934

– Was there a conviction?

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– No, the case is coming on.

Mr L E GROOM:
DARLING DOWNS, QUEENSLAND · PROT; LP from 1910; NAT from 1917; IND from 1931; UAP from 1934

– Then anything that is sub judice should not be discussed here.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– It did not strike me in that way. I will not take that particular case, but will speak generally. I understand from this and other cases that even if there is a desire shown to amend an entry, the Customs authorities will not allow that course to be taken.

Mr Kingston:

– Not after they have been bowled out.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– No, I mean before. Attempts have been made to amend entries even before the goods were bonded.

Mr Kingston:

– They want to amend them when they know we are going to examine them.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– The position taken up by the Minister is that every man who makes a mistake is acting fraudulently, and, in fact, that all the importers are dishonest.

Mr Kingston:

– The honorable member has no right to say that.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– It is unfortunate that a Minister so entirely opposed to the freedom of our ports should nave had the administration of this Act. The Minister requires to have an intimate knowledge of commercial matters in order to satisfactorily administer the Customs department.

Mr Watson:

– There have been too many back-door settlements in the past.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– The honorable member is a protectionist, and he, like the Minister for Trade and Customs, apparently believes that every importer is dishonest.

Mr Watson:

– It is not a question of free-trade and protection.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– The whole Act has been administered against importers.

Mr Kingston:

-For the protection of the honest against the dishonest importer.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN . Honorable members who are expressing their dissent are introducing party spirit, which I refrain from doing.

Mr Kingston:

– The honorable member suggested that my fiscal faith influenced my administration.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– The Mr. Chapman to whom I have referred is a man of high character, and character has to be taken into account in the administration of the Customs.

Mr Kingston:

– High character is not to be regarded as an excuse for laxity.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– The Minister takes up the position that if he shows favour to one, he must show it to all, and he will not discriminate. In that case no administration is required. All the Minister has to do is simply to refer the slightest error to the Crown Law department, and to let them take the necessary action in the courts. That is the spirit, apparently, in which the department is being administered. Mr. Chapman is an honest trader of long standing, and he says that immediately the mistake was discovered on the morning following the day on which the entry was made he sought to amend the entry, but was told that it was too late.

Mr Kingston:

– Yes, it was too late, because the mistake had been found out.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– Now I will take the case of a man named Kirkland. I have given the Minister the benefit of the decision of a police magistrate with regard to one case; now I will give him the opinion of a J udge in the case of the Collector of Customs versus Kirkland, in Queensland. Mr. McGregor, in addressing the jury on behalf of the Collector of Customs, argued that a bona fide mistake did not relieve the defendant from the consequences of his act. In other words, even if the Customs authorities felt that a bond fide mistake, whatever that may mean, was made, they would still have a right to go on with the prosecution for the sake of justice and equity. Mr. McGregor was speaking as the mouthpiece of the Collector of Customs. The jury had to answer the following questions : - 1.Did the defendant on February 10th, 1902,. make a false entry with intent to defraud the revenue ?

The answer to that question was “ No.” The jury were not allowed to say whether the entry was made in error, but they must say whether in the words of the Act the entry was false, that is, not absolutely true. The second question was -

Did the defendant makea false entry within the meaning of sub-section (d) of section 234?

The answer to that was “ Yes.” Of course he did, because any error is false according to the Act. The other questions and answers were as follow : -

  1. Did the defendant make an untrue statement in a document, within the meaning of sub-section (e)of section 234, with intent to defraud ? - No.
  2. Did the defendant make an untrue statement in a document within the meaning of sub-section (e) of section 234 ? - Yes.

Thoseanswers were inevitable, because everything is untrue if it is not absolutely correct. His Honour said that the jury really found that there was no fraud on the part of the defendant ; yet he was obliged to inflict a fine. They found expressly that the defendant was more a victim than otherwise, and that fraud was alleged but not proved. The report proceeds as follows : -

His Honour. - I find for ?10.

Mr. McGregor. It makes it a farcical Act.

Mr. Blair. They could not deliberately wreck people’s reputations.

His Honour.- They failed.

So far as I can gather from what His Honour said, the Customs authorities knew that there was no fraud, and yet they deliberately went on with the case. He said that there was nothing but the merest breach of the Act, and that if a reasonable inquiry had been made into all the circumstances the case would have been otherwise dealt with. This Judge was not a member of the Opposition, and he had no grudge against the Government. Then the report continues -

His Honour said it was quite clear that costs were within his discretion. Therewas nothing but the merest breach of the Act, and the matter could have been adjusted in another way if reasonable inquiry had been made intoall the circumstances. It could have been adjusted by the Collector of Customs.

Mr. McGregor. He has no power.

His Honour. - He has power to recommend.

Mr. McGregor. He did that.

His Honour said it seemed that a case of the least possible gravity had been made out against the defendant, so he would allow no costs except those of four witnesses.

I cannot believe that such an extreme step was taken without fully informing the Minister for Tradeand Customs of the circumstances. But here is a case which the Judge said need never have been brought into court, and which only required a little consideration and the exercise of that elasticity of administration permissible under every Act. In the next case I come to what is no doubt a difficulty with the Minister. I am quite willing to admit that we have made difficulties ourselves, both in the Constitution and in this Act. The provision to keep on the Inter-State arrangements for two years is very ridiculous. Six months would have answered all purposes, and it might have been better from a common sense business point of view if no provision of the kind had been introduced into the Constitution. The provision was introduced for a certain ‘purpose, which I venture to say has never been carried out. It was introduced to avoid the danger of importers in free-trade States, or in States where the duties were lower than any others, importing largely and flooding the local markets. That has not been done, and there has never been any danger of the slightest interference with trade and commerce in this connexion. Some of the items in the Tariff, especially when they are manufactured articles, are so complicated with the products of the States, that it is very difficult to discriminate, and when we have discriminated, the sum involved is so small that a wise administration would practically let it go. Another complication is caused by the fact that during the bookkeeping period we have to allocate certain duties to the different States. In large matters, where goods can be traced, it is possible that a State might be injured financially, though not to a very greatextent, by even purely accidental errors in the making out of invoices or certificates.

Mr Kingston:

– Does the honorable member propose that we should overlook all small cases?

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– A wise administration would not deal in a drastic way with such cases as arose in Sydney the other day, when an article worth about 2s., and another worth only1d., were in dispute. The man with the1d. article asked the Customhouse officer to calculate the 20 per cent. on that amount, as he found it beyond his arithmetical ability. There is a business, common-sense way of dealing with such cases. We all havehigh respect for the law, but this is a law that applies to the everyday business of the people throughout Australia. There should be some consideration shown, especially in States where import duties had been levied for years past, and paid by firms who have never had cast on them the reproach of attempting to deceive or defraud the Customs. There should be an all-round business administration of the department, and not a purely technical, drastic administration, especially in this early period, when errors must arise out of absolute ignorance of the Tariff and its conditions. I will now take the case of Alcock and Co., in regard to which I have received the following : -

We beg to furnish you with particulars as under, and also enclose copies of certificates con- . cerning Customs case re goods exported per s.s. Talune to Tasmania : -

We supplied to the order of Mr. E. Emmett, of Hobart, a miniature billiard- table, which was manufactured by us at Russell-street, and when entered for export was enumerated as Victorian manufacture. Our customer, on presenting this certificate, was requested to furnish further particulars ; and we then sent him an amended certificate, specifying the slates, cloth, and rubber, which our clerk omittedin the first certificate.

I know how difficult it is for a Minister to get his officers to intelligently carry out his behests, but such a Minister ought to be a little careful that he is not unfair to other people who have also to employ agents. It is not the matter of the money, but the sting of the public prosecution, and the allegation of fraud, which these people feel very keenly.

Mr Kingston:

– No charge of fraud was levelled against them.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– I can only give the committee the information which I have. This firm is worth plenty of money, and any trader would trust them to ten times the amount of which the Customs could have been defrauded. The letter I have received proceeds : -

In consequence of this clerical error the table was seized, and we were accused of wilfully misleading the Customs authorities, which we consider a most scandalous imputation on a firm of half a century’s standing.

This firm has paid all the heavy duties in Victoria without, I presume, finding any stigma cast upon their name.

The oversight, if it may be termed as such, in no way benefited us, nor our client, and considering the complications that existed, and still exist, in connexion with these certificates, it being almost impossible at times to collect the information required by the authorities, in all fairness we think the Customs should try to facilitate trade being conducted amicably, and not raise all kinds of petty obstacles against firms with whom they come in contact. The annoyance is so great that it almost prohibits us from doing business with our Tasmanian customers.

Is that equality of trade, or free-trade throughout Australia 1 Trade is being absolutely obstructed by an unbusinesslike, drastic, and cruel administration of the Customs law. The case of Robert Reid and Co. is very much on all fours with those to which I have already referred. The newspaper report of this case contains the following : -

In one of the certificates the value of the imported goods was set down at £3 2s. Hd., and the whole of goods of Australian manufacture at t’13 ls. lcl., and in the other the imported goods were valued at £(> 18s. 7d., and the goods of Australian manufacture at .-£!) 3s. 3d.

Mr Kingston:

– One is the Inter-State certificate as rendered, and the other is the certificate as correct.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– The newspaper report proceeds -

In reply to Mr. Moir, the witness said that the declarations made no difference to the revenue of ViCki ia, or to Robert Reid and Co., but Tasmania would be entitled to Us. more in the settlement of Customs accounts between the Commonwealth and the States.

Even poor little Tasmania could well afford to let Cs. go for the sake of unrestricted trade. As showing further difficulties, I may read this further extract from the report in the Melbourne Herald : -

In cross-examination by Mr. Moir, the witness said that before the Commonwealth Tariff came into force dungaree was duty free in Victoria. The defendants had worked up dungaree into garments and then exported it. At the time of the transaction the inter-State certificates were quite new and were not well understood.

This is a highly respectable firm, and we can only conceive that what is at the bottom of the mental attitude of the Minister is the fear - “ If I do not prosecute Robert Reid and Co., what will be said by other persons whom I know to have committed fraud ? “ Whether rightly or wrongly, the Minister feels that he cannot make “ fish of one and flesh of another,” although there is overwhelming proof that there is no fraud on the part of the “fish.” The newspaper report continues -

Mr. Mann contended that a corporation could, be prosecuted, and that it was sufficient to show knowledge on the part of its officers. There was no necessity to show intent. In this instance! it was a matter of carelessness.

I do not know what became of that case.

Mr Kingston:

– There was a fine which was upheld on appeal.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

-There may be carelessness or blunders, but why cannot these cases be met by some administration in the department? If necessary, such offenders might be fined in the department, though I know that Ministers will say that a bad system has been in vogue for years past.

Mr Kingston:

– So it has.

Mr Watson:

– And in Sydney, especially, where back-stairs influence was used.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– It does not follow that because a man should be fined he should also be prosecuted ; and, I am afraid, the honorable member for Bland has a rather suspicious mind. We have had a set of circumstances in which it was impossible for any man, no matter how honest, not to occasionally err. Another case presents great difficulty because the question lies between the hard swearing of the landing surveyor and the hard swearing of the importer. But the case shows the difficulties which importers experience owing to want of knowledge, and their great liability to place themselves in a false position. The information I have in regard to this case is as follows : -

Indent agent receives invoice for wardrobe and drawer handles (copper), and, to insure entry of goods being correct, asks landing surveyor to decide whether goods are free or dutiable. Landing surveyor decides goods are free. Entry is passed accordingly, but landing waiter at wharf, in view of Tariff proposals exempting brass handles only from duty, reports matter to collector. Collector then demands explanation from importer. Full explanation is given. Landing surveyor now denies having given any decision as to copper handles being free.

Mr Kingston:

– The honorable member is suggesting falsity upon the part of the Customs officer.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– I am merely pointing out the difficulty under which the importers labour. I do not say that the landing surveyor told a lie, neither do I suggest that the other man did. Similar cases are constantly arising in the administration of this very intricate and difficult Tariff. For example, brass handles are exempt from duty, whilst copper handles are not. As the former are admitted free, what is more natural than for a man to imagine that the latter come within the same category? I will instance another case which I think proves the objectionable character of the Customs administration. The case to which I refer is that of a man in Adelaide who imports cigarettes for his own use. He says -

I have the honour to bring the following matter before you. Per Himalaya there arrived for my private use 2,000 cigarettes. The case was shipped in the ordinary way, as cargo, properly entered and reported by the captain at the Customhouse. On desiring to clear the package, to my intense surprise, our collector, Mr.Ringwood, declined to allow me to do so. I now ask that you will kindly allow me to pay the customs duty, so that delivery can be granted me. As previously mentioned, the cigarettes are solely for my own personal use. I have imported these cigarettes in same sized lots for years.

From the Customs department he received the following reply : -

Referring to your letter of the 1st instant, requesting delivery of 2,000 cigarettes imported for your personal use,Iam directedby the Minister for Trade and Customs to reply that the Act and Regulations are imperative, and without power of relaxation.

That is the whole principle involved. The Minister can do nothing, even where a palpable error occurs, or where the case calls for the administration of the Act with a certain amount of elasticity. I do not suggest that the statute should be trenched upon, but in a case of that kind I hold that there was no necessity for the Minister to exercise the full power vested in him. I would further point out that in the Customs Act particularly the most drastic provisions are embodied. Those provisions were intended to prevent smuggling, and to apply toan altogether different state of affairs from that which I have described. There is another matter in which I find a very curious decision on the part of the Minister. Mr. Butler, a member of the firm of Sargood and Co., in addressing some of his fellow merchants, says -

In the first instance, when his own firm had been affected by this altered condition of things, they wrote to the Commissioner, and even paid over a cheque as deposit for the amount in dispute to a Customs officer. An answer was afterwards received stating that no money would be accepted on deposit.

Mr Kingston:

– That was done by a mistake, and was put right as soon as it was brought under my notice.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– Section 167 of the Customs Act says -

If any. dispute shall arise as to the amount or rate of duty, or as to the liability of goods to duty, the owner may deposit with the collector, the amount ofduty demanded, and thereupon the following consequences shall ensue : -

The owner upon making proper entry shall be entitled to the delivery of the goods.

The deposit shall be deemed the proper duty; unless by action commenced by the owner against the collector within six months after making the deposit, the contrary shall be determined, &c.

Yet here is a deposit which is absolutely refused through the ignorance of the Customs officers. What I contend is that in the early stages of the operation of the Tariff, when the importers and their clerks have to become familiar with its provisions, and when the Customs officers themselves are continually making mistakes, some consideration should be extended to the former. Such a state of things as exists to-day never existed before under any Customs administration in Australia, and is it to be suggested that this is the first occasion upon which the law is being properly administered ? I claim that the Minister is simply administering it in a hard legal way, without displayingany business acumen whatever. The merchants desired to meet the Minister for Trade and Customs, but the latter is so easily induced to do anything that he feared his natural pliability would be worked upon if the gentlemen in question waited upon him. Mr. Butler says -

The latter had not always had their way, but they had invariably found the Commissioner of Customs of the day willing to listen to reason. The present occupant of that seat, however, had absolutely refused to see the merchants.

In effect a Minister says - “I administer the law ; and you can thank the law.” Mr. Butler adds -

Prior to federation a traveller going to Tasmania had to fill in two sheets of paper, containing a few entries. Subsequently, however, the forms contained 400 lines, each with six or seven divisions, making about 2,400 distinct entries, to get the traveller away.

Mr Kingston:

– Does not he say that that state of things was altered by us ?

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– Yes. But I am pointing out that the Customs officers themselves are continually committing errors. Why, therefore, should they bring other people before the Court for similar slips! It is impossible to avoid making errors under this Tariff. Continuing, the same writer sayS -

No attempt was made by the Customs department to discriminate between a glaring attempt to defraud the revenue and tlie trifling mistakes inseparable from such a great change in the administration and system.

Section 150 of the Customs Act refers to samples. It says -

Small samples of the bulk of any goods subject to the control of the Customs may, subject to the prescribed conditions, be delived free of duty.

There has always been a business-like regulation relating to samples. But in this connexion, I have in my hand a letter from a gentleman, who says -

We herewith give you particulars of the arbitrary way our Customs authorities are acting, not “by statute, but by instructions from Melbourne. We hear complaints about the harsh tyrannical action of the Customs on every hand. No one likes paying taxes at any time, and it appears to us wise and statesman -like, not to make the application of them unnecessarily harsh to honest traders. We took two days to get an Interstate certificate through, the duty in question being 2d. However, the case that riled us most was, with reference to a case of samples sent to us from Austria in the Darmstadt. On arrival, our customs clerk went down with the usual forms, and tendered original invoices and the amount of duty. The entry was refused on the ground that the Customs authorities did not recognise sample discounts.” We then asked upon what authority the Customs were imposing a duty upon us above and beyond the amount fixed by the House of Representatives ; the reply was, they simply had to obey instructions. We then sent down the draft drawn for the goods, showing the exact amount of the invoice produced, but it was also equally ineffective. We then wrote our letter of the Kith May, and received reply of 14th, and finally had to pay what was demanded, which we did under protest.

In another case the Customs department were approached by Messrs. George and George of this city in regard to some fringe or something of that kind. The following is a copy of the letter of the Customs department in connexion therewith -

In reply to your letter of the 20th ult., I beg to inform you that the fringes as per sample submitted are free of duty, as minor articles for furniture.

Then there is a footnote as follows -

On receipt of above, our agents endeavoured to get a refund, but were told that no instructions had been received from the superior officers.

On Thursday 13th, Mr. George waited on Mr. Stephens, and was told that no refund would be allowed as the Minister’s decision was not retrospective.

In other words the Customs department agreed that . Messrs. George and George should not have paid the duty upon tlie goods and yet refuse to refund it. The Minister’s ipse dixit made the goods free at one time and dutiable at another. I would further direct attention to the case of an importer who, on the 5th August, 1901, entered as free- eight cases of metal foundry used in manufacture of furniture, as specified in the Victorian Tariff then in force. The landing waiter, however, thought the goods should pay duty, and the case was reported to the collector. Numerous interviews took place between importers and collector. There were also quite a number of letters sent in by tlie importers to which no reply was’ forthcoming. In January, 1902, the importers learned that the goods, which were still on the wharf, were being pillaged ; they then notified the Customs department that they would be held liable for any loss in this respect. On 11th February last the Customs informed the importers that they had decided to fine them £10. On the 15th February the importers appealed against the fine and asked the Customs to reconsider the case. On 28th May, beyond acknowledging receipt of the above-mentioned letter dated 15th February, the Customs had done nothing, and the goods were still detained on the wharf, having been landed, in the first instance, in July, 1901. I should like to know from the Minister, when he replies, whether his attitude is that every error must be dealt with through the police court, or some other court ? Is every importer, no matter how honest he may be, to be held in absolute terror because an error has been committed, even although he can satisfy the proper officer that it is only an error? Must the officer in question proceed against the individual owing to the peculiar wording of the Customs Act, and deal with him as a fraudulent importer. I know the difficulty that arises in administration from the risk of making invidious distinctions between one man and another, and I know how difficult it is to thwart the fraudulent importer who strives .to achieve his purpose by all kinds of schemes and machinations. But is it not possible to administer this department as the Lands department, or any of the other big departments of the States are administered, so that the mercantile community will not be in arms against their prosecution for what are admitted by the Supreme Court and by the magistrates as trivial and palpable errors 1 Surely the Minister need not go from one extreme to another. He has evidently found the system in vogue in his department, in “Victoria at least, to be a loose one, but does it follow that he should therefore say - “I shall take advantage of the tremendously drastic provisions of the Act and prosecute all offenders, even where errors are trivial and unintentional “ ? Surely not. Surely where an error has been committed by a firm of undoubted reputation, which has never, in the history of its dealings with the Customs, had a black mark made against its name, and its principals make a solemn declaration upon oath, for which, if untrue, they are liable to enormous penalties, explaining the error, the Minister should exercise some discrimination ? Once a case is taken into court it is tried almost wholly upon questions of law, and decided upon technical grounds. But surely there should be some elasticity of administration in- a department whose officials, who are themselves fallible, come into contact with many thousands of clerks ? I am at one with the Minister, as every honest trader must be, in desiring that fraud shall be put down, and therefore I think that his department should be administered so as to strike terror into the hearts of those who attempt to defraud. But it is a scandal to bring before the courts some of the errors which have arisen in connexion with entries under a Tariff which is not yet settled, and which underwent kaleidoscopic changes in this Chamber day after day, and week after week, so that even the Customs officials could not always interpret it, while some of its provisions cannot be satisfactorily interpreted by any one. While the Customs were collected by the States, those who dealt with the departments were, perhaps, better known to the authorities ; there was a tradition which was to some extent observed : there was a greater regularity of judgments and a more systematic knowledge of the Acts, arrived at by long experience of their working. Those facts helped to prevent many of the scandals which have arisen under the Commonwealth Tariff. At the present time there must be great difficulty, first in obtaining thoroughly intelligent Customs officials for the administration of the Commonwealth Tariff, and, in the second place, in making those officials understand its intricacies and complexities. It is also very difficult to leave to distant officials the consideration of questions of equity. The cases which I have put before honorable members, however, demonstrate that there has been harshness of adminstration, and a desire to send every case before the courts, no matter how small and palpable the error concerned. The Minister is well known to be a man of strong character and of great resolution, and his reputation is sufficient to protect him against the attempts of fraudulent importers. Therefore, he might very well conduct his administration with more leniency, and with more consideration for the fallibility of those who have to transact business with his department. ‘ I trust that in the future he, while in no way playing into the hands of fraudulent importers, will conduct the administration of his department upon broader lines.

Mr WATSON:
Bland

– I appreciate the difficulty of importers and traders in regard to the Commonwealth Tariff, which is constantly undergoing changes, and in regard to which the authoritative interpretation of the Customs authorities is not readily procurable. With regard to the Inter-State trade in particular, there is a great deal of force in the complaints which have been made by, the acting leader of the Opposition. I have seen a number of the forms which traders are asked to fill in, and, to my mind, the Minister, in his desire to give full effect to the provisions of the Constitution, has gone further than is necessary to do justice to the interests of the States concerned. I know from practical experience, and from the information which has been put before me, that, because of the requirement of particulars which it is very difficult, and sometimes almost impossible to obtain, the merchants of the various States are in many respects worse off now in regard to Inter-State trade than they were before the Inter-State customs barriers were removed, and they had to pay duty upon the articles which they exported from State to State. I know of one case in which a firm was asked to give the bond marks of goods which they had taken out of bond two or three years previously, which every one who has been in trade must know is impossible. It seems to me that justice might be done to States like Tasmania and Queensland by merely requiring statements as to the dutiable constituents of the goods in question, and the Minister might very well reconsider the form of the certificate, with a i view to facilitate Inter-State trade, and at the same time to comply with what I think a foolish provision of the Constitution. It seemed to me, however, that the acting leader of the Opposition took up a wrong position in regard to false entries made concerning goods imparted into the Commonwealth. Although he charged me with being an extreme protectionist, and therefore liable to be prejudiced against importers, I deny that I am either an extreme protectionist or prejudiced in the way he suggests. It is, however, as much to the interest of honest traders and importers as to the interest of the community as a whole, that proper invoices and other information should be given to the Customs in regard to imports. I know of cases, and I dare say the honorable member for Wentworth can recall similar cases, in which men who should be in gaol for frauds against the revenue were let off by Ministers, and I consider it safer to have no Ministerial star-chamber investigation at all. It is better to let a court of law say whether tlie false entry which has been made is due to an error or- mistake which does not call for tlie infliction of a pi penalty.

Mr Thomson:

– But the courts have to inflict penalties.

Sir William McMillan:

– Suppose the mistake arises out of a complexity of the Tariff which very few people know of 1

Mr WATSON:

– I do not pretend to have that intimate knowledge of business which the honorable member for Wentworth has, and, therefore, I am at a disadvantage in meeting his objections ; but, as a matter of broad principle, it is better to leave these tilings to a court of law than to have them decided by the Minister. If the courts cannot discriminate between those who manifestly make errors and those who attempt to defraud, we should pass an amending Bill to- enable them to do so.

Sir William McMillan:

– -That is what is wanted. They cannot discriminate now.

Mr WATSON:

– I am willing to give them power to discriminate. But it would be a bad thing to allow the Minister to do so. Once it was known that the Minister was attempting to discriminate as to the degree of criminality in connexion with wrong invoices or entries, he would be subject to all kinds of influence, political and otherwise; and, with all Australia to provide cases for investigation, he would find his time very fully occupied. I object to the decision of these cases being left to any permanent officer. They should be brought into the open light of day, and if the court should decide that- merely an error has been made, the magistrate or Judge should have the opportunity of inflicting a nominal line, or of dispensing with the penalty altogether.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– The honorable member would haul respectable merchants before a police magistrate for every paltry offence.

Mr WATSON:

– If a mau breaks the law, let him be brought before the court.

Sir William McMillan:

– Does the honorable member think that business can be carried on without errors ?

Mr WATSON:

– No; but in Sydney merchants have fallen into the habit of employing boys of fifteen and sixteen years of age to do the very important work of filling in these entries for the Customhouse.

Sir William McMillan:

– The smaller importers cannot afford to employ men, but all the larger importers do so.

Mr WATSON:

– The man who will noi take care to insure himself against errors must expect some trouble. It is undesirable that errors should be made excuses for fraud, and that is the danger that confronts us, unless some degree of firmness is shown by the Minister. We must protect the revenue, and also the honest traders. Notwithstanding that complaints have been urged for a long time, even up to the present day, regarding tlie congestion of work in the Custom-house in Sydney, I find that only last Saturday, the Minister discharged every temporary hand who had been employed there. Further than that, he has given instructions that the permanent hands, who are already working at high pressure, shall work overtime as well.

Mr Kingston:

– That is not the case.

Mr WATSON:

– I am informed that what I state is correct, and I think it is about time that we organized a union among the Custom - house officers, and brought them out on strike. The Minister has been treating the men in the Sydney Custom-house in an absolutely outrageous fashion. In Melbourne, the Customs staff have to do only three-fifths of the amount of work performed in Sydney, and yet thenumber of hands employed in the Melbourne Customhouse is greater, and the salaries paid are higher than in Sydney. Ever since the imposition of the Tariff, the officers in the Sydney Custom-house, have had to work at high pressure, and a great deal of overtime without reward, and now all the temporary hands are discharged.

Mr Kingston:

– The honorable member is referring to the glut hands.

Mr WATSON:

– The glut continues in Sydney, and business men are still required to wait to have their business transacted. The permanent hands are required to work overtime. I should like the Minister to say whether or not the reduction of hands was decided upon the advice of his local officer 1

Mr Kingston:

– It .was not.

Mr WATSON:

– Then I say it is most improper that the business should be allowed to become more congested than it is now, owing to the direction of the Minister. It is impossible for the staff in Sydney to cope with the work, and the sooner a strike is organized amongst them the better. If they have any backbone, and are not a lot of spineless creatures, they will strike. These men have been worked continuously, some of them without being paid a fraction for overtime. They have been required to work night after night, after working during the day, and all night in some cases. Some officers go to work at eight o’clock in the morning, and work until five in the afternoon, and at five minutes to five are told that they must come back and work until eight the next morning. They work on from eight to five next day, without having one extra fraction allowed to them in consideration of their long hours. Yet this is called a liberal Government. If these officers are employed on behalf of a private firm, they are allowed ls. fid. per hour overtime, but if they are required to work on behalf of the Government they get nothing. Notwithstanding that section 84 of the Constitution provides that all accrued and accruing rights of officers shall continue, and that the outdoor officers, of whom I speak, prior to the im’position of the Federal Tariff received 15s. per night under such circumstances as I have described, they are not now allowed any overtime whatever, although they are put to the expense of finding their food for . several meals in succession, whilst they are away from their homes. Customs Regulation No. 12 provides that outdoor officers, including tide waiters, boatmen, and searchers, .shall be paid overtime at the rate of ls. 6d. per hour from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and 2s. 6d. per hour from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. This is interpreted to mean that officers shall only be allowed these rates when their services are paid for by private individuals. If outdoor officers are employed in doing exactly the same work for the Government, they do not receive one penny of overtime, even though they work for 36 or 48 hours at a stretch. It is the meanest and most contemptible thing in the world to ask men to pay for their dinner, supper, and breakfast out of their own pocket under such circumstances. I trust that the Minister will see his way to make an immediate alteration.

Mr THOMSON:
North Sydney

– Iri any criticism that I have to offer upon the administration of the Customs department, I feel a certain amount of sympathy with the Minister, who has had to perform the great task of bringing into existence a Tariff for all Australia, and to administer it equally and promptly in all parts of the Commonwealth. I also agree that the fact that the Minister was so long bound to the table of this House during the consideration of the Tariff affords some excuse for imperfections in the arrangements for administration during that period. But we ought now to see some order emerging from the chaos which has prevailed throughout Australia. We ought to have some indication from the Minister of when and how he proposes to remedy the state of affairs which has been rightly complained of. It is a mistake to suppose that these are merely difficulties in the way of merchant traders and importers. They are difficulties in the way of conducting the trade of Australia, and they impose an extra charge upon the people, making the burdens of conducting business under federation heavier instead of lighter. One of the first necessities in the Custom-house - a necessity which will always exist - is that of prompt decisions. Even if wrong, decisions ought to be prompt, so long as they apply equally to all. A wrong may be remedied later, but trade cannot go on unless decisions be made at once. This promptitude is essential in the Customs department more than in any other department of the Commonwealth. Some provision must be made by which, from one end of Australia to the other, the provisions of the Act, and the decisions under it, shall be made known to all concerned, so that not merely the man in Melbourne or Sydney, but the man in Port Darwin or Fremantle may know how to quote his goods and give accurate returns. It is useless to contend that such a means of spreading information has not been necessary in the past. Before federation a State had only two or three ports within close hail to deal with, but now the Customs department have under their control the enormous free board of all Australia. To recognise the difficulties is easy, but these difficulties must be remedied if we are to be equal to the taskwe undertook with federation. A body of officers must be established who will decide, subject to the Minister’s veto ; officers who, in the light of their experience, will be able to decide even better than can a Minister. Some plan must be found by a collection of samples at each port, with a number, code, or other means of promptly arriving at these decisions, and having these made known at

Once throughout Australia. I am not going to give examples, in addition to those furnished by the honorable member for Wentworth, showing how unnecessary have been the actions in court in connexion with errors in entries. I resisted several of the drastic clauses in the Customs Bill, but these were passed on the assurance of the Minister that discretion would be used in administration. But how can there be any discretion when officers are told that errors, however slight, are sufficient to justify law proceedings? The Government has been accused of being a lawyer’s Government, and it certainly is so in its composition.

Mr Macdonald-Paterson:

– That is not an accusation ; it is a wholesome fact.

Mr THOMSON:

– But we have yet to learn that the Government is going to administer Acts for the benefit of lawyers. If the present administration continues, cases will pour into court, though, after all, the Customs officers, in proportion to their number, are committing more errors than are all the merchants and the traders put together. I do not say that the officers are inefficient; but they are administering an entirely new Act, and naturally make as many mistakes as do employe’s of merchants. These officers are not, however, to be punished. They may take a higher duty than the law provides, but all that happens is that the Minister practically says, as illustrated in a case mentioned by the honorable member for Wentworth - “ Good man ! I shall keep the money now I have got it.” Did honorable members, when the Customs Bill was passing, think that the Minister would be so indiscreet or so unfair? The right honorable gentleman now says that he cannot distinguish between cases, and that the omission to cross a “ t “ justifies an appeal to the law court. As a matter of fact, a case of that kind did occur in Melbourne, where a firm, in connexion with two cases of kerosene, were prosecuted for putting, or omitting to put, a little stroke on the customs entry, though no one was affected by the act. The Minister says that he cannot discriminate, and in that I agree with him to some extent. A Minister is particularly exposed to political influence. However that may be, there is nothing to prevent the appointment at the principal centres of two or three leading officers to recommend whether or not prosecutions shall ensue ; and, unless for very good reasons, these constant appeals to the law courts should not be allowed. If all the departments of the State were administered as the Customs department now is, the Commonwealth would involve nothing but a series of law cases day after day I do not know whether the Minister prosecutes firms who make an error of1s. in favour of the Customs.

Mr Kingston:

– I do not ; I do not find many cases.

Mr THOMSON:

– There have been cases in which higher duties than necessary have been paid.

Mr Kingston:

– And refunds have been claimed immediately.

Mr THOMSON:

– But the Minister says he will not give refunds.

Mr Kingston:

– I do not say that.

Mr THOMSON:

– The honorable member for Wentworth cited a case in which no refund was made under such circumstances. There ought to be some reasonable common-sense distinction between cases of fraud and cases of trifling error. If a board of officers can be influenced as regards their recommendations, they have no right to be there, as they can be influenced in the daily transactions of the Customhouse to the far greater advantage of dishonest importers.

Sir William McMillan:

– The Collector of Customs in each State is a very highclass officer.

Mr THOMSON:

– Yes ; and possesses a far bigger experience than any Ministerial head of the department can possibly possess. I hope that the Minister will indicate some proposal to get rid of the centralization which at present exists. I presume that gristing in bond is being done in Melbourne. Yet in Sydney the other day, when ship’s stores were required, which it was to our advantage should be supplied by Australia, and an application was made to grist in bond for that purpose the Collector of Customs declared that he had no power to give the necessary permission. Reference had to be made to the Minister in Melbourne.

Mr Mauger:

– Gristing in bond was refused in Victoria, and we fought against it.

Mr THOMSON:

– How can Victoria export manufactured goodsthen ? The fact is that in Victoria gristing in bond was allowed.

Mr McCay:

– Only in regard to oats, I think.

Mr THOMSON:

– I know preparation and manufacture in bond were allowed upon a great many articles.

Mr Kingston:

– It has been a much vexed question in the various States.

Mr THOMSON:

– Does the Minister mean to say that packing or manufacturing is not allowed in bond in Victoria under the supervision of an officer?

Sir George Turner:

– We do not allow gristing in wheat.

Mr THOMSON:

– But manufacturing in bond is allowed.

Mr Watson:

– Why should there not be gristing in bond ?

Mr THOMSON:

– Exactly. In the case to which I refer trade was waiting which New South Wales could do, and yet it could not be touched until the Minister was referred to in Melbourne. I will venture to say that manufacturing in bond for export under the supervision of an officer is being carried on in Melbourne.

Mr Kingston:

– If there is one instruction more than another which has gone out, it is that whatever is permitted in one State is to be permitted in another.

Mr THOMSON:

-We should be mad if we did not allow our own people to do an export trade which would otherwise go to other places. I admit the Minister’s difficulty, but I do not think he recognises sufficiently that there will have to be some means for prompt decisions circulating throughout the Commonwealth.

Mr Kingston:

– If we do not have centralization under the one head, we must have want of uniformity.

Mr THOMSON:

– That is where the Minister must show his capacity. He must adopt a system which will produce uniformity. He will have to leave things to some extent to his officers. I am afraid that in the strength of his own self-confidence he does not lean sufficiently upon the large experience of his officers. Regarding the matter alluded toby the honorable member for Bland, I wish to point out a rather extraordinary piece of administration. I quite agree that it is very undesirable to permanently increase the Customs staff. As the Inter-State duties disappear, and the fearful Inter-State certificates vanish, the Minister ought to have available a staff more than sufficient to cope with the Custom-house work of Australia. . It would be unjust to permanent officers who have been a long time in the service if he were to appoint new officers permanently, and if as a result at some future date, when reductions became necessary, some of the older officers had to go. But where there is congestion and it continues, as it has continued in New South Wales, an effort should be made in the interests of the department, of the community, and of the employes of the Custom-house, to end it by the only means possible, namely, by employing temporary hands to any degree that is necessary to overtake the arrears of work, and to enable the department to deal day by day with the work of the day.. I think that the Minister ought to give his. attention to this. It is quite evident from the returns of imports and exports that a great deal more work is done in Sydney with the same staff than is done in Melbourne.

Sir George Turner:

– There are more permanent officers in Sydney.

Mr THOMSON:

– I will not persist in the statement that the Sydney staff is not larger. I was merely looking at the relative cost of the two staffs. At any rate the Sydney staff is not as expensive as is the Melbourne staff, and yet it is doing a much larger quantity of work. It will be remembered that the Minister for Trade and Customs promised that these officers should get consideration, and that they should be given leave of absence. Let us observe the way in which it is proposed to redeem that promise. Documents have been distributed setting out the manner in which leave of absence is to be given -

The Comptroller-General has directed that the Minister’s instructions regarding officers who have worked overtime, having leave of absence under certain conditions, are to be complied with. The Minister’s instructions are -

Every officer who is in ill-health, or is suffering from over-work, may have leave as approved ;

That officers who have worked overtime may also have leave, subject to the approved conditions.

The conditions mentioned in paragraph (b) are that any officer who has worked not less than 50 hours’ overtime may, subject to the approval of the Comptroller-General, be allowed one day’s leave of absence for every eight hours’ overtime, but not exceeding in any case six weeks.

That extra officers may be employed, not further than the end of May, for the purpose.

Mr Watson:

– What is the date of the circular ?

Mr THOMSON:

– The 20th May.

Mr Watson:

– And it would perhaps not reach the officers concerned until the 2 1st or the 22nd.

Mr THOMSON:

– Even if it reached them upon the day it was issued, it would not be of much service to them, because all the temporary hands had to go on the 31st.

Mr Kingston:

– My instructions in regard to leave were issued before the end of March.

Mr THOMSON:

– Then the Minister should apply to his department the rule that he applies to the mercantile community, and have the officers responsible brought before a court and fined for their mistake. I understand that in consequence of the temporary officers being removed upon the 31st May, leave of absence for overtime has not been given to any officer. If the congestion complained of continues to be as permanent as it has been in the past, relief should be given. It is becoming accepted in Sydney, though it ought not to be, that important entries, or any large number of entries in connexion with one shipment, take 24 hours to be got through. That should not be. I am not blaming the staff, because I believe that they are doing their utmost to meet the new conditions. Of course, theSydney office is put to a more severe test than is the Melbourne office, because the Commonwealth Tariff is somewhat similarto theVictorian Tariff, and the amount of business, done in Melbourne is not so great as the amount done in Sydney. I think that the Minister should provide sufficient temporary assistance to allow the leave of absence, which has been promised, to be taken, and to get the work up-to-date. It is only when it has been got up-to-date that he will be able to determine how many permanent officers are needed to keep it so.

Mr Kingston:

– I do not hesitate to say that the relief the..honorable member refers to was ordered before the end of March.

Mr THOMSON:

– The honorable pride of merchants, thatfor a quarter or half a century theyhave been dealing with the Customs withoutonce having their names on the black book, is worth maintaining by the Customs authorities; but it will be destroyed if merchants feel that, do what they will, they cannot escape being dragged before the courts for what are trifling errors.

Sir William McMillan:

– And while, formerly, merchants were willing to assist the Customs against fradulent importers, they will cease to do so if these prosecutions are continued.

Mr THOMSON:

– Yes. Much of the success of the Customs officials in collecting revenue and restricting illicit importation has been due to the active assistance given by honest importers. What I suggest is that the Minister should appoint two or. three of his leading officers to form a committee to recommend whether prosecutions should or should not take place, he, of course, overlooking their recommendations. If the feeling of pride in honorable dealing is destroyed, it will do a great deal of injury to the administration of the Customs department. Then, again, I say, do not let important Customs officials feel that because they are away from the centre of administration they can come to no decision, even in regard to the smallest matter, or after consultation with their confreres in other States, until there has been a decision by the Minister. If they feel that, the spirit of the staff is destroyed. I know that, in some of the States, officers are beginning to despair in regard to this matter. They are beginning to feel that they are not being allowed to perform the high duties of which they are capable, and for which they are paid, but must, like mere clerks,wait for the decision of the Minister, even in small matters. The Minister must know that if he keeps so many things in his own hands there must be delay, extending over months. I have drawn his attention to a case in which the goods of a firm were kept in bond for six months, awaiting a decision which those concerned did not wish to, and which they did not, dispute. There have been other cases in which delay has extended over one, two, and even three months. There was some excuse for delay at first, because the department was in a chaotic state, and the Minister was busily engagedupon the Tariff; but that time has passed, and it should now be shown that the right honorable gentleman can administer his department upon lines sufficient for the Commonwealth which must be different from those which were considered sufficient under State administration.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– I am not surprised at the difficulties which our mercantile community has had to face since the passing of the Customs Act, because honorable members will remember that while that measure was under consideration, I on several occasions called attention to the extreme severity of its provisions, and theenormous discretionary power it gave to the Minister. The reply I received was that it was necessary for the protection of the revenue to give extraordinary powers to the Minister, but that those powers would not be used unfairly, unjustly, or in such a manner as to hamper trade. I am inclined, with the last speaker, to make a large allowance for errors in administration on the part of officers in the different States, and for the fact that the department is administering a new Tariff, which during many months was being altered everyday, and a Customs Act which, while containing most of the good provisions of the Acts which were in force in the States, also containsall the out-of-date and stringent provisions of the Customs legislation of the older countries of the world. Some of these provisions were necessary, but some of them have always been regarded as a dead letter, and are now, for the first time, being put into force in such a manner asto hamper trade.

Mr Wilks:

– They are relics of barbarism.

M r. V. L. SOLOMON. - They are relics of the time when a coastguard had to be maintained upon the shores of England to prevent smugglers from landing dutiable goods, such as spirits, tobacco, and laces, upon lonely places on the coast. That these provisions should be literally administered, according to their legal and exact meaning, to the detriment of legitimate and fair trade, seems to me to be a hardship. I supplied the acting-leader of the Opposition with particulars relating to the importation of a small quantity of cigarettes. This case shows how necessary it is that provisions in the Customs Act conferring extreme powers should not be administered literally. Section 53 provides that spirits, opium, tobacco, cigarettes and cigars shall not be imported except in packages as prescribed by regulation, the penalty provided for a breach of this section being fixed at £100. Regulations have been framed prescribing certain sized packages for these articles, the object being to prevent the smuggling of small quantities of spirits, tobacco or opium, or other highly-dutiable articles, in small packages by sailors and others. It was never intended by such a provision to prevent any citizen of the Commonwealth from importing a small quantity of any of these articles in a legitimate manner under a ship’s manifest, and under seal and’ control of the Customs. It would be absurd to say that because the regulations prescribe that cigarettes shall not be imported in packages weighing less than 10 lbs., I should be precludedfrom importing 1,000 special cigarettes weighing say only 5 lbs., provided they were imported under the ship’s manifest, and a proper invoice were produced in regard to them. That would be an interference with my liberty, such as was never contemplated when the Act was passed. It was never intended that any one should be prevented from importing any quantity of goods so long as it was done legitimately. The Customs Act is intended to protect the revenue and not to hamper trade. In the case to which I have referred, a gentleman imported a small parcel of 2,000 cigarettes for his own use, in accordance with a practice which he has followed for many years. These goods were always entered on the ship’s manifest, and always paid the duty. It was never intended that the Act should be so strained as to apply to a case of that kind, but to small quantities of goods not appearing on the ship’s manifest. When the Chinese steamers arrive at Sydney the detectives assist the Customs-house officers in rummaging the ship from stem to stern, in some cases tearing down partitions and linings, in order to discover contraband goods. They often discover thousands of cigars, and it is of no use for any one to say that they intended to import these goods legitimately, because they are not on the ship’s manifest. If they were, there could be no fraud. In the case referred to, the importer applied to the Customs in the ordinary course, and presented his entry to clear his cigarettes, but he was told by the Customs authorities that they could not accept’ the duty, that the cigarettes were confiscated, and that the law must be administered to the letter. Was it ever intended* that goods should be confiscated under such circumstances? I am sure that the Minister must see that injustice has been done, and that the law was never intended to be applied in, that way. - When the Customs Bill was before this Chamber, I frequently pointed out the unfairness of providing for a minimum penalty. It was provided that, no matter how trivial an offence might be, the fine of £100 could be reduced only to o,ie-twentieth of that amount. I endeavoured to induce the committee to provide that the minimum should be reduced to £2, or one-twentieth of the maximum fine, whichever might be the lesser amount, but I was defeated. I contended that it “was a mistake to provide for any minimum, and that it was preferable to give the court full discretion, especially as many technical breaches were likely to occur in the early history of a new Tariff. It has been pointed out that sub-section (i) of section 229 provides that all goods in respect of which any entry, invoice, declaration, or representation is false or wilfully misleading in any particular, shall be forfeited ; and clause 234 provides that a penalty not exceeding£100 shall be inflicted. Therefore, for the most trivial error a respectable merchant may be hauled before the court, and subjected to a fine of not less “than £5, in addition to suffering confiscation of the goods. Merchants are brought before the courts on charges arising out of trivial errors, and their reputations suffer ; because the public do not understand that the breach of the law is of a purely technical character, in which no fraud is involved.

Sir William McMillan:

– The Act ought to be amended.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– Yes, in the direction of permitting the court which finds that only a trifling error has been made to inflict a nominal fine. I agree with the honorable member for Wentworth that it would be very much better if, for a few months, whilst the mercantile community are becoming used to the various- intricacies of the Tariff, the heads of the Customs department were to exercise the discretion which I think they undoubtedly possess, and inflict small fines, such as would make those concerned a little more careful in the future. I do not allude to cases of smuggling or to instances in which invoices are falsified with the object of defrauding the revenue, but to trivial errors, in which only a few shillings are involved, and in connexion with which no suspicion of fraud can lie upon the firm concerned. Can we imagine such a firm as that of Sargood, Butler, and Nicol, or that of Messrs. Stephenson, who pay hundreds, or perhaps thousands of pounds in every year in customs duties, being guilty of making wilful misrepresentation involving a gain of, at most, a few shillings. Every business man knows that he must be perfectly honest and straightforward in all matters connected with the Customs department, and that another policy does not pay. We hear of cases of under-valuation, and of attempts to defraud the Customs, and it is because of these that the Customs laws and regulations are made much more stringent than even the laws which protect our lives and property.

Mr Watson:

– And the administration is very strict.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– The administration of small matters is, I think, too strict. I desire to make every allowance for the difficulties of the Minister. He has the department in six States, and the officers of six States to control, and though some of the officers are smart enough, others may be stupid, and it must be found no easy matter to get the Customs Act administered in a thoroughly intelligent manner. Some system might be adopted by which the Collector of Customs should in trivial cases report, and make a recommendation, before a case is dragged into court ; and it might be found that a small fine would meet all the circumstances. I have no desire to cast any reflection upon the competency of Customs officers, who, no doubt, have had a very hard time, owing to the continual alterations in the Tariff. Merchants themselves have experienced the greatest difficulty, and I have often been appealed to in South Australia as to the meaning of certain lines in the Tariff, the officers, on one occasion, placing goods under a certain heading, and on another occasion, imposing duties on the same goods under quite another heading. No doubt merchants are patient enough to submit to the trouble which this entails, but they object to have their slightest lapse treated as a criminal offence whilst Customs-house officers go on making mistakes and giving wrong decisions day by day. A policeman is generally credited’ with a willingness to go to a great extreme in order to prove his charge, and I am much afraid that there is a good deal of the policeman in many of the Customs-house .officers, an inclination being shown to exaggerate trivial offences. There have been a great number of complaints as to the difficulties which are placed in the way of manufacturers and traders in shipping to the other States. Manufactures have been established longer in Victoria, perhaps, than in the other States, and it is here that the greatest difficulty is experienced. The Constitution provides that the duty on goods passing from one State to another during a period of five years from the establishment of a uniform Tariff are to be credited to the State in which the goods are consumed. In shipping a parcel of goods manufactured in Victoria to Tasmania or New South Wales, it is necessary to put on the Inter-State certificate sufficient information to enable the Government to keep an account of the amount of duty which shall be credited to the State of consumption. It is stipulated that the certificates must show what portions of the manufactured articles have paid duty, what the duty amounts to, and what proportion is on the free list or the product of Victoria. Great difficulty arises from the fact that the Customs departments insist upon the most ridiculous details being given. Only a few weeks ago a small parcel of furniture, valued at £11 or £12, manufactured in Victoria, was seized and detained in Hobart because a very trivial error had been made in stating the amount of the duty which had been paid on a portion of the material used in the manufacture. The difference between the Inter-State certificate and the revised certificate was something less than 3s., and yet this parcel of furniture was detained for many weeks. No one could possibly get any profit ; no one could be wronged to the extent of a penny-piece, the only question being whether Tasmania should be credited with, say, 10s. or with 13s. If the details of every item of material used in the manufacture have to be given, it will mean that in connexion with a suite of furniture valued at £3 10s., particulars must be furnished of the timber, if imported, of the glue, the varnish, the webbing, the springs, the flock, and the covering. That will be such a hamper on Inter-State business that people will decline to . ‘trade. We want common sense and ‘discretion exercised by the Customs officers, and so .long as a reasonably intelligent- record of the duties between the different States is kept, details should not be insisted upon. The people interested in this particular parcel of furniture could not even get a reply from “the Customs-house, and though there was no power to confiscate, there was detention for a long period. There was no attempt to attribute fraud, or any idea of fraud ; the error simply arose from some carelessness on the part of a clerk. If errors of this kind occur as against one State, the chances are that on the next occasion an error may occur in favour of the same State, and in the end, after years of accountkeeping, each State may safely be expected to get the amount to which it is fairly entitled.

Mr Kingston:

– There are some States to which these errors would make a serious difference : it is “ the mickle makes the muckle.” The business done with Tasmania is mostly retail.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– If I ship 100 cases of Hennessy’s brandy, which has paid duty in Victoria, to Sydney, it is an easy matter to give an accurate return to the Customs.

Mr Kingston:

– The difficulties arise mostly in the case of manufactured goods.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– If we do not want to hamper trade reasonable discretion must be exercised. Something has been said regarding delays in the Customs department. I have had one or two instances brought under my notice. For example, in July, 1901, a Chinese merchant, at Port Darwin, had a package of merchandise seized by the Customs for under- valuation. As the sub-collector of Customs there would not act upon his own authority, the case was reported, and the documents connected therewith were referred to the South Australian department. There the matter has been “ hung up “ ever since. No decision has been given, and, as far as I can learn, no legal proceedings have been taken.

Mr Kingston:

– They are coming, though.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– It is about time that they did come.

Mr Kingston:

– It was one of the biggest frauds committed for a long time.-

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– I am not discussing the merits of the case. I am merely complaining of the delay which has occurred, and which is altogether unreasonable. I am sure that the Minister for Trade and Customs desires that his department should work smoothly. But I ask him to interpret the Customs Act in a more liberal way to the mercantile community, and not to consider that every business trader and merchant is attempting to “ get at “ the department. Every business firm is likely to make errors, especially under the operation of a new Tariff. I ask for no consideration to the man who is detected doing something which has even the appearance of an attempt to defraud the Customs. But in trivial cases where there is palpably no intention to defraud, ! ask the Minister to administer the Act in such a way as not to inflict needless trouble and annoyance upon the mercantile community.

Mr MAUGER:
Melbourne Ports

– I wish to emphasize what the honorable member for Bland has said in regard to the working of overtime by Customs officials and the payment of proper allowances to them. It is a notorious fact that the department has been guilty of working its employes overtime to’ an extent which is exceedingly reprehensible, seeing that it is not being paid for. I would also urge upon the Government to abstain, as far as possible - seeing that we are at the beginning of winter - from discharging men The attractions of South Africa are very, very great, and unless we take steps to retain our workers we shall be losing, them altogether. I hope, therefore, that the Government will not unnecessarily discharge men at the present juncture. There is another matter to which I wish to direct special attention. Some eighteen months ago, in the Victorian Parliament, I moved for a return -showing the number .of Government employes who were working seven days a week. 1 have that return in my hand, and it reveals the fact that eighteen watchmen, fourteen boatmen, engine-drivers, &c, the master and crew of the steamer Lady Loch, 47 light-house keepers, two labourers, six clerks and five weighers, besides the tide inspectors and surveyors, come within this category. I recognise that it is necessary that light-house keepers should be employed for seven days a week, but I have yet to learn that they should not be relieved at certain .seasons of the year.

Mr Kingston:

– The light-house keepers are not under my control at present. As regards the other men, where they work seven days a week, it1 is a special term of their employment for which payment is made.

Mr MAUGER:

– I am quoting from a return supplied b)’ the Government of Victoria. I know that the tide inspectors and surveyors, who receive a far higher salary than is paid to the watchmen and boatmen, are compensated for working upon Sunday. I do not object to that. But in this connexion I desire to read a letter which I have received only to-day from the wife of one of the employes to whom I have alluded. She says -

My husband has to work 365 days a year without an equivalent in the way of extra pay or holidays at any time. The higher paid officers are allowed extra a payment or days off, and I appeal to you to do something to give these Customs employes the rest which is their right.

Mr Kingston:

– It is a special condition of their employment that they shall work upon Sundays, and accordingly they receive a higher rate of pay. .

Mr MAUGER:

– The argument that extra pay has been given will not meet the case. These men ‘ receive no holidays. I hold that neither this Government nor any other Government have any right , to work their employes seven days a week all the year round. Under such circumstances what home life can there be ? A Commonwealth that can establish a public service such as we have established, and pay salaries such as we are paying has no excuse whatever for employing men seven days a week. I trust that the Minister will give this matter his earnest consideration. In my capacity as secretary of the Anti-Sweating League I had occasion some time ago to issue a circular to a number of warehousemen who were employing their watchmen seven days per week. To their honour, be it said, they arranged in Some cases to allow their watchmen one day’s leave a fortnight, and in others one day a week. Surely the Government can do likewise. I quite recognise that a certain amount of work is necessary upon Sunday, but surely men can be relieved from duty upon some other day of the week. We should lay it down absolutely that

Commonwealth employes should not work more than six days weekly. How would honorable members like to discharge the duties of a watchman year after year, seven days a week, without any change whatever?

Mr Kingston:

– If there is a special payment made for Sunday–

Mr MAUGER:

– No payment will compensate a man for working seven days weekly.

Mr Kingston:

– Would the honorable member pay him for seven days and work him only six ?

Mr MAUGER:

– No.

Mr Kingston:

– Would the man consent to have his salary reduced, then?

Mr MAUGER:

– Certainly not. He is already being paid little enough. There should be relieving officers for both watchmen andboatmen, so that none of them should work more than six days a week.

Mr Kingston:

– But if I paid a seven days wage for six days’ work, I should be raising their wages, and other officers would expect to be similarlytreated.

Mr MAUGER:

– Two of the watchmen to whom I refer are being paid only £1 00 a year. Does the Minister consider that too much for six days’ work ? I contend that the Commonwealth Government should insist, as a matter of high policy, that no man in their service shall work, even as a matter of choice, and for extra remuneration, more than six days a week.

Mr WILKS:
Dalley

– The action of the members of the Opposition throughout the session has shown that, while they are opposed to the protective Tariff which the Government introduced, they are anxious that duties legally imposed shall be collected, and that the administration of the Customs Act shall be sufficiently drastic to prevent frauds upon the revenue, and to protect the honest trader. But had the Opposition desired to obstruct business, a. whole series of motions for adjournment might have been occupied in ventilating the complaints which have been put before the committee this afternoon by such admitted authorities on mercantile matters as the honorable member for Wentworth, and the honorable member for North Sydney, who has had experience in both New South Wales and Victoria. Not only has screaming been done by the merchants of New South Wales, but the merchants of

Victoria, who have been accustomed to the levying of protective duties for years past, have screamed still more loudly. It has been suggested that an Amending Bill should be introduced to give the courts discretionary power, when cases are brought before them under section 229, paragraph i, of the Customs Act dealing with goods

In respect of which any entry, invoice, declaration, answer, statement, or representation which is false or wilfully misleading in any particular has been delivered, made, or produced.

The phrase “ false or wilfully misleading “ amounts to a confusion of terms, since an error is in its nature false, although it may not be wilfully misleading. The Minister was complimented very highly upon the drafting of the original Bill, and, I suppose, Parliament must take the blame for any fault that may be found with the wording of the Act. I think, however, that it would be well to make the provision read “knowingly false.”

Mr Salmon:

– Then we should never get a conviction.

Mr WILKS:

-To meet that objection I would add the words “in the opinion of the court.” Sub-section (i) of section 229 is faulty, in so far that it does not give discretionary power either to the Minister or the courts in regard to the infliction of penalties, and I hope the Minister will attach due weight to the representations made by honorable members who have had a wide experience in commercial matters as to the necessity of introducing an amending Bill. It is not because we do not agree with the policy of the Tariff that we are adversely critizing its administration, but it is our duty, whilst fully observing the intentions of Parliament, to make it as little vexatious as possible. Appeals have been made to the Minister from not only New South Wales, but from South Australia and Victoria, to adopt a less rigorous system of administration, and to show more consideration for the trading community, and I hope that he will follow the course which has been so strongly recommended by the honorable member for Wentworth and the honorable member for North Sydney. With reference to the undermanning of the Customs department in Sydney, I hope the Minister will have an opportunity of visiting that city, and judging for himself as to the enormous proportions of the trade there, and the extent to which business is impeded by the want of a sufficient number of Customs officers to attend to the requirements of importers. As a matter of fact, the officers who have been hitherto administering a free-trade Tariff in New South Wales are now required to do all the additional work involved by a protectiveTariff, and this has proved to be beyond their capacity. Moreover, many officers, instead of being able to perform their ‘ordinary duties, have had the greater part of their time occupied in giving information and removing difficulties which have arisen owing to the introduction of a new Tariff and Customs Act and regulations. It would probably be of advantage to establish an information bureau in such a port as Sydney, so that not only traders but members of the general public could obtain all the information they desired without impeding the ordinary office routine. I can understand that the Minister for Trade and Customs might have been reluctant to increase the staff permanently for the purpose of coping with a temporary pressure of work, but now that several months have elapsed, and the pressure still continues, the Public Service Commissioner should be called upon to make the necessary appointments to enable the work of the department to be efficiently conducted. I suppose the Minister for Trade and Customs is glad now that the power of appointment has passed away from him.

Mr Kingston:

– Hear, hear. I can assure the honorable member that I have not appointed many officers..

Mr WILKS:

– In one sense that reflects credit upon the Minister, but I hope that he will now recognise the necessity for strengthening the staff. The overtime system is one winch leads to many abuses, including a criminal misappropriation of public funds, and the sooner it is done away with the better. The Minister admitted that he was pleased to see the employment of a certain number of’ men, and the establishment of industrial enterprise in connexion with manufacturing in bond in Victoria. I should like to point out to the right honorable gentleman what I term a maladministration of the department, under which this manufacturing in bond,’ while permissible in Victoria, is not permissible in New South Wales, and which has led the people of the latter State to consider that they are placed too much at the mercy of Victoria. The instance which I shall cite, to the Minister shows that under i his administration at least 600 men have been thrown out of employment in Sydney.

Mr Kingston:

– I can assure the honorable member that is not so. I heard of this months ago, and I said something which placed beyond possibility any repetition of the circumstances.

Mr WILKS:

– Under the decision of the Customs department, patent anti-corrosive paint brought in vessels from England or elsewhere for the purpose of being used on these vessels is made dutiable.

Sir William McMillan:

– That was never done before.

Mr WILKS:

– It was never done before. This paint stands in exactly the same position as life saving apparatus, being part of the ship’s equipment. To-morrow, I hope to be able to show the Minister a letter from the owners of ships trading to Port Jackson, stating that if this regulation is enforced the ships will in future be docked and painted in England, Singapore, or San Francisco. I suggest to the Minister that these paints should be treated as in bond, while the vessel is in dock, seeing that their use there is as much an encouragement of industry as is manufacturing in bond in Melbourne. If my suggestion be acted upon, Port Jackson, Port Phillip, and all the other ports which have facilities for docking ships, will be placed in a position of equality. These paints are most expensive, and even the honorable member for Melbourne Ports will not assert that they can be, or are made in Australia ; so that there can be no injury to the Commonwealth from the protectionist point of view. If the Minister sees insurmountable difficulty in the way of acting on my suggestion, I ask him to place an officer in charge to see that there is no evasion of the Customs regulation. The slight charge thus entailed would be as nothing compared with the loss of trade which will result from the imposition of a duty on these paints. If goods are imported into the Commonwealth, and re-exported, drawback is allowed, and I see no reason why thereshould not be adrawback in the case of this paint, which is brought in cans in the vessel, and goes away on the outside of the vessel. I am not urging this on the Minister for any party purposes. No doubt the duty affects to a large extent my electorate, but it also affects other portions of the Commonwealth ; and I cannot think that the Minister is prepared to add to the vexatious character of the Customs duties.

Sir William McMillan:

– I do not think that such a regulation is in force in any part of the world.

Mr WILKS:

– It is an absolute innovation. I hope the Minister will give this matter consideration, and in his reply tonight afford some indication of his intentions. Uniformity is absolutely essential, and I hope this industry in Port Jackson will not be neglected. I do not think the Minister regards the Act as a fetish, but that he is prepared to exercise a discretionary power, and not regard every error or omission as a criminal act. We are not here to plead on behalf of those who seek to evade the Customs duties, but for those who experience the difficulties to which I have drawn attention. Through no fault of their own, the Customs officials, by their administration of the law, have rendered the policy of the Minister obnoxious to the trading community, and cases have, occurred where representatives of firms have had to point out to the officers errors in administration. That, of course, may be due to the many changes there have been in the Tariff, and to the want of rapid communication. I trust that applications from heads of departments for extra assistance will now be referred to the Public Service Commissioner, and that in the future there will be no ground for dissatisfaction.

Mr KINGSTON:
South AustraliaMinister for Trade and Customs · Protectionist

– I cannot complain much, and I am not going to complain much, about the tone in which honorable members have addressed themselves to the criticism which they consider it their duty to level against the department.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– They have been long-suffering.

Mr KINGSTON:

– Par-haps the department has been long-suffering in some respects, but I do not intend to disturb the harmony of this occasion. I doubt, however, whether honorable members have given the consideration its importance deserves to the question of the prosecutions. This is a matter of false entries, and all we require of importers is that they shall tell us what their goods are and what their value is. If they do that truly, there is nothing that they need be afraid of. That entry is of the utmost importance. It is the whole foundation of Customs action. The more respected the firm the greater its value - the more importance we attach to it, and the more likely we are to be misled by any falsity. The particulars demanded are of such a character that the importer can readily state them with accuracy. He has only to tell us what goods are contained in a particular case and their value. He possesses these particulars. He ordered the goods, and if he is not satisfied that the man from whom he ordered them has sent what he ordered he has a right to pass a sight entry which compels the opening of the case, so that he can remove his doubts by examining the goods and completing the entry. I say that that is his duty. It is his duty to take every reasonable precaution to supply the Government with accurate information. The old rule was that he pledged his oath to the correctness of the entry. To-day he does practically the same thing, although for an oath we. substitute a declaration. The honour of the firm is pledged to the accuracy of that declaration, and.it ought not to be lightly pledged. The importer has no right to shield himself behind the plea “I did not know,” or “I did not inquire. I had a clerk who was careless or incompetent, and he did not do his duty. It is my clerk’s fault and not mine.” Short as my experience in Customs matters has been, I say that I have been able to compress within the past eighteen months, opportunities for learning at least, which have seldom occurred in the history of man, and to some extent I believe that I have profited by them. These oaths to which the honour and credit of firms are pledged, and which form the basis of the contracts between the Government and the importers are too lightly regarded, or are trusted to incompetent and careless people. Under such circumstances we have a right to exact from those who do not exercise necessary care the punishment provided by the Act. Of course I have been subjected to a lot of criticism, but I realise that most of it has been of a good-tempered character. At the same time, when I see it suggested, as I sometimes do, that I deal with one class of .the community on account of their fiscal faith in a different way from that in which I deal with another class–

Sir William McMillan:

– No one .has said that.

Mr KINGSTON:

– In one of the extracts which the honorable member read there was a paragraph stating that the firm in question supposed they were persecuted because they were free-traders. I know that honorable members generally will acquit me of the slightest political prejudice in this connexion., I simply desire to do my duty.

Sir William McMillan:

– There cannot be an accusation, because the Minister cannot tell who are the parties concerned.

Mr KINGSTON:

– There has been some talk about delays which have occurred. . I admit that there have been delays, and it is a wonder that there have not been more. Some honorable members may have had experience in connection with the Customs work of a State and the introduction of a Tariff. But here we are concerned with the Customs work of six States. Complaints have been made of delay owing ‘to the necessity for reference to headquarters. That is natural. In the initial stages of the operation of the Tariff it is impossible to secure uniformity without delay. I hope and believe that a good many of the difficulties which have been experienced are rapidly passing away. But I hold that if we give absolute independence of administration in each State, we cannot achieve uniformity. What is the good of a uniform Tariff, if it is not administered uniformly? Do honorable members imagine that, at my time of life, I wish to take a lot of work upon myself which I could reasonably avoid? We must have centralization and one controlling head of the department for some time. At a time like this the Minister ought to do all that be can for the purpose of ascertaining what is going on, and of regulating matters according to what he believes to be the wish of Parliament, instead of leaving everything to the heads of the different States, in which case uniformity would be absolutely impossible. If we have independent State administration unless we train the officers in the initial stages in the way they should go, we shall have a higgledy-piggledy mess, and uniformity will be impossible of achievement.

Mr Thomson:

– That cannot continue.

Mr KINGSTON:

– No, and I shall welcome the day when it need not continue. I hope that honorable members will not think that I am taking their criticisms unkindly - nothing of the sort. I venture to think that whenever I have been- brought into contact with them in connexion with these matters I have exhibited ‘ an inclination to inquire into the complaints made, and to set matters “as right as right can be.” Whether ‘it is privately offered in the way of a friendly hint or publicly offered in the way- of criticism I am only too delighted to consider any point which may be raised. The mischief of the thing does not lie in the Customs Act, but in the Constitution itself. It rests in the various provisions of the Constitution having reference to Inter-State trade. It lies especially in section 92, which requires certain payments’, to be made for a period of two years, and in section 93, which requires certain bookkeeping, and the collection, therefore, of the necessary particulars for a period of five years. I should be only too glad if these provisions were possible of abolition. I may have done something to soften their character as regards the collection upon goods when they are not for sale. But when goods are for sale we have to hold the scales very carefully between the traders of the various States. People, who are competing with each other for existence in the matter of trade have a right to the protection which the Constitution provides until provision is made to the contrary. Under section 92 of the Constitution we have to collect the federal duty less any amount previously collected, and under section 93 we are required to keep the particulars between the States so that we may return to the consuming States the duties that have been collected in other States upon the goods which they consume. Paced by this difficulty, what are we to do ? I do not think that the question, harassing, as it is, is of sufficient importance to warrant an alteration of the Constitution. At the same time the Government would hail with delight any provision by which the inconveniences arising from the administration of these sections could be obviated. We have done what we could for the purpose of devising a best way out of the difficulty. We feel that the States are entitled to be heard upon a matter of this sort. It is a quesstion of no small importance particularly to two States, namely, Queensland and Tasmania, and especially -to the latter. Within seven months the amount credited to Tasmania, consequent upon the keeping of accounts in connexion with Inter-State duties, amounted to something like £30,000, or between £4,000

I or £5,000 a month, or say £50,000 dr £60,000 a year. I do not hesitate to say that if Tasmania lost that amount, in addition to what she generally loses, it would be a very terrible blow to her. The relation between Victoria and Tasmania is such that Victorians often supply Tasmanian wants, and sometimes small orders of an almost retail character. Honorable members will notice that it is chiefly in connexion with Tasmania that the trouble has arisen. Any laxity in administration would naturally be vehemently protested against. It has been suggested that there is laxity.When we consider that strict administration means £60,000 annually to Tasmania, and the prevention of Victorian goods being landed there to the detriment of Tasmanian merchants, I do not think there is room for doubt that we ought to do all we can to administer the law strictly until we get some other arrangement to the contrary. But the sooner some other arrangement is made the better. We considered this matter very carefully, and brought it under the notice informally of some of the Premiers of the several States. We will do everything we can to facilitate an arrangement between the States, if it can be made, to avoid the necessity for these collections under section 92, with the consequent inconvenience of the keeping of books, which is troublesome, costly, and objectionable from every point of view. If we can come to an arrangement by which the Inter-State bookkeeping can be avoided, we shall not hesitate to ask Parliament to allow us to do so. It may be that the only way in which we can do it is by intimating to the House that we have the approval of the States to its abolition, and intend to act accordingly. I have no doubt that the reception of such a statement would be of the most encouraging character, and that the necessary indemnity measures would be passed to prevent injury being done to any one concerned. As regards Customs legislation and administration, we know no parties. I was indebted to various honorable members opposite for very valuable suggestions in connexion with the framing of the Customs Act, which I think we made a very fair measure, and one which is a considerable improvement upon the old State legislation. We admit, however, that there are various points which still require legislative attention. We cannot ask Parliament to deal with the matter this session, but I have already taken steps to place the Government in communication with Chambers of Commerce and of Manufacturers, and with other commercial bodies possessing information upon the subject, whose advice may be of service to us. We intend to suggest to them that they should at the earliest date - perhaps after the holding of conferences of representatives - submit for our consideration points in regard to whichthey are strongly of opinion that the Act or the regulations should be altered. So far as possible, we desire to confine these alterations to matters of general importance ; we do not wish to introduce a measure to deal with a number of matters which are hardly worth considering. The recommendations made to us will receive our most careful and courteous consideration, and it is our intention to avail ourselves of the advice proffered to us after we have sifted the wheat from the straw. I have given a lot of attention to the Act itself, but I have not been able to give quite as much attention to the regulations ; and I think that honorable gentlemen will credit us with a desire to make our legislation and administration as perfect as possible. With regard to the making of Customs entries, I contend that we should be told the truth in every case, unless the circumstances are such that errors cannot reasonably be avoided. It is the duty of the importer to have regard to what I may almost call the sanctity of his entry, because his honour and credit is at stake when he makes a declaration. No excuse of carelessness on his own part or on that of his clerk ought to be accepted.

Mr Thomson:

– An importer is often compelled to make a declaration in regard to something of which he cannot have personal knowledge. He receives an invoice which tells him that certain cases contain certain goods ; but it sometimes happens that a mistake has been made in the packing, and that the cases contain other goods.

Mr KINGSTON:

– An unusual occurrence, I think. If the merchants are not sure of the contents of their cases, why should they not look at them ?

Mr Thomson:

– They accept the statements contained in their invoices.

Mr KINGSTON:

– But does the honorable member lay down the proposition that the Customs authorities should accept those statements?

Sir William McMillan:

– To avoid error, importers would have to open every case landed on the wharfs.

Mr KINGSTON:

– Is it not better that they should open them than that the Customs officials should do so 1 I do not wish to be hard, but if we lay down the proposition that the Customs authorities must accept the importers’ invoices or declarations, what are we to rely upon for the protection of the revenue - the examination of our officers ‘( I venture to think that if an examination is necessary to make sure of the contents of a case, and the truth of an invoice, the importer should make it. Any other system would open the door to an avalanche of fraud, and dishonest importers would be assisted by shippers elsewhere to evade payment of duties. We require care, and take no excuse for carelessness. I think it is a cock-and-bull story to say that the . importers do not know the contents of their cases ; but if they are dealing with people who pack goods which they do not order, the only way of punishing such people-

Mr Thomson:

– Is to prosecute the importers here.

Mr KINGSTON:

– The only way of punishing them is to penalize their goods and so require our importers to trade with honest people who do not make those sort of mistakes. ‘

Sir William McMillan:

– It is the framing of the Tariff which has caused many of these mistakes.

Mr KINGSTON:

– When there has been, not misrepresentation as regards the nature and value of the goods, but an error of opinion, where an honest difference of opinion might fairly arise, I do not dream of prosecuting.

Mr Thomson:

– Yet nearly all the prosecutions have been in connexion with InterState matters, in regard to which the right honorable gentleman says there is room for doubt.

Mr KINGSTON:

– The honorable memfor Wentworth brought his heavy guns to bear against the department, and instanced the case of Mr. McWhirter, a most respectable man. But respectable men sometimes do very funny things. For instance, they occasionally try to evade the payment of duties, by suppressing invoices, and trying to pass through the Customs cases containing a certain quantity of dutiable goods as though they did not contain that quantity, but much less. That is what that respectable man, Mr. McWhirter, did in January last. But he was held up by the honorable member as a person incapable of doing anything of the kind in May. As a matter of fact, he pleaded guilty in January to an attempt to evade payment of duties by suppressing an invoice, and in May this dove of commerce was selected by the wicked Customs officers in Queensland as a shocking example. Were they not right in being a little suspicious of him ?

Sir Willam McMillan:

– I did not know’ of the first case, but what the Minister says in regard to it does not affect the case to which I drew attention.

Mr KINGSTON:

– What did McWhirter do in May ? He bobbed up serenely from below with a lot of towels, which were dutiable at 15 per cent., but which he had invoiced as towelling, subject to a duty of 5 per cent. The difference of 10 per cent, was too much for McWhirter, and he fell again.

Sir William McMillan:

– He did not make out the invoice himself. It was made out by the shipper.

Mr KINGSTON:

– But he knew what he had ordered. He entered towels as towelling.

Sir William McMillan:

– Such a thing might happen.

Mr KINGSTON:

– “Accept the invoice as you get it, and you may save 10 per cent., but if you are caught you will lose.” The magistrate fined him £5, and awarded us costs.

Sir William McMillan:

– He could not do otherwise.

Mr KINGSTON:

– Yes, he could, as to the costs. He also said that we ought to take better care to. have Customs decisions made known. On this point, I may say that instructions have been given that every decision given shall, as far as possible, be made public, and I am sure that the officers act in that direction. In the case to which I referred, an attempt was made to pass in towels as towelling. The magistrate found that the entry was false, and punishment was awarded accordingly.

Sir William McMillan:

– The magistrate said that there was no attempt to defraud.

Mr KINGSTON:

– That does not make a great amount of difference. The attempt was of the character to which I refer, and, in view of the previous offence, I am surprised that a higher fine was not inflicted. Now, referring to the case of Mr. Chapman, in Brisbane, which has not yet come before the courts. There is a proper distinction maintained in the Customs Act between cases where fraud is charged and proved, and where it is not. It is very difficult to prove intent to defraud, and if there were provision in the Act only as regards intent to defraud, we should hardly ever secure a conviction. The Customs revenue is just as likely to lose through false entries made in innocence as through those which are made with fraudulent intent ; and we cannot exempt from the consequences of their carelessness all those who make false entries without fraudulent intent. While it is .infinitely worse to do anything’ with intent to defraud, still, if the effect of what is done may be to defraud, even though there may be no intention to defraud, the public and the revenue have a right to be protected. Minor penalties are provided for in these instances, and it is only in grave cases that we charge intent to defraud. Those who fail to comply with the Stamp Act are liable to certain penalties, and convictions are not necessarily followed by a smirch upon a man’s honour. A man may be convicted of a variety of offences which are breaches of the law, but which involve no personal dishonour. The dishonour which attaches to a conviction for false entry depends upon the circumstances of the case. Where fraud is proved, the dishonour is enormous, but where fraud is not charged, we cannot allow the false entries. to pass without punishment. Penalties are often exacted to secure a proper observance of the law, and these do not involve any personal dishonour. I should be sorry if, while we charged the lesser offence we were to be assumed to be charging fraud without daring to allege it. In Mr. Chapman’s case, his negligence ought not to excuse him. These Customs entries are all-important matters, and should be attended to by competent and fairly experienced men, who could be thoroughly trusted. We felt it to be necessary to do our best when we were dealing with the Act, to expressly provide against the slipshod way in which Customs business has been transacted in some of the States. I am told by the Comptroller-General that it has been his misfortune to have boys in knickerbockers, who could not possibly have had any experience, come_ down to the

Custom-house, and transact important business with him. We have provided against this to some extent by enacting that no declaration shall be taken from a boy under the age of 18. Merchants who have important business to transact should place it in competent hands. Carelessness is no excuse for false entries, which may lead to loss of revenue. In some cases these mistakes are against the importer, but thelarger number are made against us.

Mr Thomson:

– Because the department only look for mistakes which are made the one way.

Mr KINGSTON:

– On the contrary, we are only too glad to give the importer the benefit of any mistake we may discover that is against him. In view of the number of cases in which we find mistakes, we ma)1 form some idea of the number of cases which never cometo light. I am not reflecting upon the commercial community of Victoria or any other State! What I have proposed is for the protection of the honest and careful majority against the minority- - I believe the very small minority - who are actuated by improper motives’ or are careless. It is in the interests of the integrity and the high moral character of our merchants that we prevent them from being subjected to cruel and unscrupulous competition. To allow the excuse of carelessness when an entry is false would be to give opportunities to those who act from dishonest motives or who profit . by carelessness. I believe that Mr. Chapman is one of those who is entitled to be held in high reputation in Queensland. What is the excuse put forward by him ? He says that he intrusted the making of the entry to Iris son, a boy of eighteen, who was guilty of gross carelessness. Mr. Chapman, ‘ therefore, stands condemned out of his own mouth, because he trusted the work to one who was unfit to perform it, and- who proved to be grossly careless. If I did not vindicate ‘the. law in such cases, gross carelessness would always be an excuse, and I could not prosecute anybody unless I had absolute proof of fraud.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– There are hundreds of boys of eighteen who are thoroughly competent customs clerks - fully as competent as are the Customs officers.

Mr KINGSTON:

- Mr. Chapman’s explanation is not an excuse, but an aggravation, because he knew the youth and was aware of his inexperience. Now with regard to a large firm -which has been mentioned, Messrs. Robert Reid and Co. Theirs is a name which I venture to believe is held in as high honour as any. What happened ? A declaration was made as regards about £16 worth of goods that -were intended to e sent to Tasmania, that they consisted of 3 worth of imported material, and that he added value given to them by the Victorian manufacturer was £13. That was not true.

Mr Thomson:

– There was only 6s. difference.

Mr KINGSTON:

– We may regard the trade between Victoria and Tasmania as of a retail character, and our attention was called to this case because it was found that Tasmanian merchants were being “ got at,” owing to their being deprived of the protection to which they were entitled under the Constitution.

Sir William McMillan:

– Does the Minister mean that Messrs. Reid and Co. deliberately did this ?

Mr KINGSTON:

– I mean to say that they did “get at” the Tasmanian merchants, whether they intended to or not.

Sir William McMillan:

– That is absurd.

Mr Thomson:

– If that is the view the Minister takes, it shows where the trouble comes from.

Mr KINGSTON:

– The view I take is that 1 ought to do my duty in this connexion. If the Constitution is being abused, or the protection which is intended to be afforded to Tasmania, is being taken away by means of false statements, I have a right to take steps for the vindication of the law. Cases of the kind were represented to us several times by the Collector of Customs in Tasmania, Mr. Barnard,, who has no interests to serve save that of doing his duty. Mr. Barnard has addressed one or two letters to me on the subject.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– How much of the additional material was subject to duty ?

Mr KINGSTON:

– All the material which went into these goods was subject to duty which had not been paid. There was cotton, which had previously been free in Victoria, but which ought to have paid a duty on entrance to Tasmania. This case was submitted to experts, who came to the conclusion that the value of the imported material had been understated by fully 50 per cent. Mr. Barnard, in his letter, said -

If the quantities and values taken out by the experts here are correct - with regard to the item ov the attached copy oE certificate - it would show that some of these certificates are totally unreliable ; and in the interests of this State, some action should bc taken against those persons who make these declarations falsely. Otherwise the revenue of this State must be seriously affected.

Sir William McMillan:

– What does he mean by “ falsely 1 “ Knowing them to be false ?

Mr KINGSTON:

– I will read what Mr. Barnard said -

In the case in point, the dutiable material from which the cotton apparel is stated to have been manufactured, is declared to on the certificate as of value £3 2s. 1 Id. , and the cost of manufacture at .-£13 lis., whereas the experts here agree that the material used cannot be of less value than £6 18s. 6d., taking the value at bare American cost, thus defrauding the revenue of the duty on £3 15s. 7d. plus 10 per cent.

Sir William McMillan:

– That would not benefit the firm.

Mr KINGSTON:

– I am glad that my attention has been called to that aspect of the matter.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– It is fair to put that aspect.

Mr KINGSTON:

– It is fair to put that aspect ; but it is not a fact that the firm would not be benefited. It is the absolute reverse of fact.

Mr Thomson:

– Does the Minister knowthat to be correct1?

Mr KINGSTON:

– I know it to be absolutely correct. What I say is that no duty had been paid in Victoria, and it was therefore payable on entrance into Tasmania.

Mr Isaacs:

– Under what law ?

Sir William McMillan:

– Who was to pay the duty ; the purchaser ?

Mr KINGSTON:

– The effect of the false declaration was to enable Reid and Company - I did not see the contract between the parties - to put those goods on the Tasmanian market free of duty.

Mr Thomson:

– All the duty was paid but 6s.

Mr KINGSTON:

– The goods were got in free of a duty which ought to have been paid - they were smuggled to all intents and purposes.

Mr Thomson:

– Does the Minister mean that?

Mr KINGSTON:

– If Reid and Company had to pay the duty themselves, and could not recover from the purchaser, the duty would have been so much loss.

Mr Thomson:

– They sold to the customer beforethey passed the entry.

Mr KINGSTON:

– On the other hand, if the purchaser had to pay, that purchaser, by reason of the declaration, would, I think, get his goods duty free to the extent I have mentioned.

Mr Thomson:

– To the extent of 6s.

Mr KINGSTON:

– But it is 6s. on £3, and the declaration would give preference to Reid and Co.’s purchasers. If false declarations of the sort were indulged in they would undoubtedly put Tasmanian merchants at a disadvantage in competing with Victorian manufacturers in the Tasmanian market. I do not believe that honorable members have realized the precise position, but have thought this to be simply a question of accounts between the States. That is not the case ; the declaration made a difference to either the firm or to the firm’s customers. I do not know whether there is any sympathy between the press and the commercial community, though of course we all sympathize with commercial men and try to protect them. But, at the very least, the reports in the press of these matters were not so good as we should have liked. The honorable member for Wentworth quoted from a newspaper for which I have the highest respect, but which the next day, or shortly afterwards, properly qualified in a very considerable degree some statements which they had published, words having been attributed to counsel for the Crown which he did not utter. I was rather astonished to see a report in a certain Queensland newspaper, and on inquiry by telegraph I had the assurance of the Collector of Customs that the statements made were not correct, and counsel took objection, and had them retracted. The first paper to which I referred was the Melbourne Herald, and the other was a Queensland paper, the name of which I forget. The excuse was made in Reid and Co.’s case that this particular error, falsity, or mistake, arose from writing down halfadozen pairs of something or other, instead of six dozen - that the firm debited themselves with the former instead of the latter number. In working the matter out the firm, in the first instance, speaking in round figures, distributed £3 as the imported material and £13 as the value of Victorian manufacture ; and in the second instance, in correcting the statement, they distributed £7 as imported material and £9 as value of manufacture. Their excuse was that they had omitted 51/2 dozen ; and yet in the corrected entry they did not alter the total. I regard the excuse as an aggravation of the original trouble.

Mr Thomson:

– It seems remarkable that this firm should attempt to make six. shillings in that way.

Mr KINGSTON:

– I do not say the firm wanted to put the money into their own pocket, but the effect is the same. These declarations have been the subject of abuse in Tasmania ; and when our attention was called to the cases we were bound to act. This may be a little matter, but some traders live on a multitude of little matters ; and when we are appealed to for protection we are bound to take up the case. This is not an isolated instance, but one of many which have become burdensome in Tasmania. When I was busy with the Tariff a charge was brought, supported by merchants of considerable eminence, about leakages in the Customs department in Queensland. The charge was, to some extent, fathered by Mr. Philp, and his Treasurer, Mr. Cribb. I sent an officer up to report, and he was informed by a gentleman that enough revenue had been lost in ten years to make up the Queensland deficit. That I think was an exaggeration; but we required that close attention should be given to the matter. We found other cases in which charges of fraud had been proved ; and under such circumstances our course was plain. The merchants of Australia have nothing to fear. On questions of honest opinion we should not dream of charging falsity ; but we do require the truth on questions of fact. There is the order and the invoice.

Mr V L SOLOMON:
SOUTH AUSTRALIA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA · FT

– Fancy a wholsale warehouseman checking an invoice of a couple of thousand lines by his order !

Mr KINGSTON:

– I think that would be a very orderly and proper precaution. They might at least check their invoice with the order book, and if they have any doubt they might solve it by a sight entry. Trouble may be avoided by care and diligence ; and we have a right to expect “ the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” in matters on which merchants pledge their word of honour, and almost their oath. Negligence and recklessness ought not to excuse, and no man should escape the penalty which attaches to falsity when it is proved, unless he can show that he took every reasonable precaution to avoid it. It is not reasonable, I hold, for an importer to refrain from making the necessary inquiry, or to employ in his service those who do not bring the skill and intelligence to bear upon it which the Government have a right to expect as a guarantee of the truth of the representations upon which they are asked to act.

Mr Wilks:

– What about ship paints?

Mr KINGSTON:

-I have had that matter very anxiously under consideration, and shall be only too glad to listen to further representations upon the subject. Something was said with regard to the packages in which cigarettes have to be introduced. In this connexion I do not see where the opportunity for relaxation comes in. It is an express provision for the protection of the revenue that all cigars and tobacco imported shall be of a certain size.

Mr Thomson:

– But the Minister has the power of making regulations.

Mr KINGSTON:

– And the honorable member has the power of dissenting from them. Power is given to any honorable member, within fifteen sitting days after regulations have been laid upon the table, to take any steps which may be deemed necessary for the purpose of modifying them. I did not notice that there was no power of relaxation. I know that these regulations did not come into force till about a month afterthe period when they were framed. The fact of the matter is that none ofus noticed that there was no power of relaxation provided. Of course that is one of the minor matters in regard to which I shall be only too glad to receive further suggestions. But I am not at all sure that individuals ought to be free from the limitations which are placed upon trade generally. In one of the cases to which reference has been made, a particular club wished to introduce its cigarettes in timely instalments, and I did not think it was entitled to do so. The right to import in all cases appears to me to be limited by the provisions to which I refer. The honorable member for Wentworth quoted something about a refusal to accept deposits, and took me to task for declining to do something which was undoubtedly provided for in the Act. The fact is that the States Customs are very often confounded with the central office, and until I read of that particular case in the newspapers I knew nothing whatever about it. Immediately I ascertained the circumstances, however, I altered the practice. Similarly, as regards the question in which Messrs. Robert Reid & Co. were interested, there was a suggestion that they were not entitled to pay their money under protest. Of course they were, and as soon as I received a communication upon the subject, what was necessary was done. I do not wish to detain honorable members any longer. The Government will be only too delighted to receive suggestions with reference to the amendment of the law, or its administration. We propose to take the course which I have already indicated for the purpose of securing the views of the commercial community. We are very sanguine that there will be a hearty cooperation with us in this respect, and that the results will be in the best interests both of the department and the community. Something has been said about the number of officers employed in New South Wales and Victoria. I think that the honorable member for Bland affirmed that there were more hands employed in Victoria than in New South Wales. I can assure him that he is wrong, although possibly his error arises from the way in which the Estimates are printed, for which, however, the Treasurer is in no way to blame. The number of officers employed in New South Wales is 323, and in Victoria 259, an excess of 64 in favour of New South Wales. I should like to say to the honorable member for North Sydney, that his views of what ought to have been done are pretty similar to my own, and I have done my best to give effect to them. I have been struggling to keep down expenses.

Mr Watson:

– At the sacrifice of efficiency.

Mr KINGSTON:

– No, but under such circumstances that we shall not be confronted with the difficulty which we might be compelled to encounter later on if we appointed permanent officers at the present time when the strain is great. I thought it would be a good plan two or three months ago to give the heads of the department carte blanche as regards the employment of glut officers to get up the arrears of work, so that we might know exactly the position we were in. That is what we did. In February and March representations were made to me regarding the great pressure to which the New South Wales officers were subjected. I thought it would be a very good thing to leave the question of the appointment of permanent officers to the Public Service Commissioner, and I have been working with that end in view. I am happy to say that I shall probably be able to get to the end of the year with a saving of about £7,000 upon the Estimates which I now propose.

Mr Watson:

– Is that through sweating in Sydney?

Mr KINGSTON:

– I do not call it sweating.

Mr Watson:

– I do ; it is absolute sweating.

Mr Mauger:

– Will the Minister give some of that £7,000 to the officers as tea money ?

Mr KINGSTON:

– Tea money has never been disallowed with ray authority.

Mr Watson:

– There is nothing given to the outdoor officers - not a cent, and sometimes they work fifteen hours a day.

Mr KINGSTON:

– As regards officers to whom overtime is something more than is usually expected from them, I say that if tea money is involved they ought to have it. I confess that I was somewhat disappointed to find that there had been some misunderstanding as regards overtime generally in one of the States. In March last I attempted to give effect to the policy of getting the work done up to the 31st May, and upon the 29th March, I gave the ComptrollerGeneral a memorandum to the following effect : -

I wish a special effort made to bring Customs work up to date in allthe States by, say, not later than end of May. To this end, glut officers may be employed as sanctioned by the ComptrollerGeneral, who will, of course, allow no more than reasonably necessary. I wish also that, as regards all permanent officers who have worked any considerable overtime, duly recorded in excess of ordinary and without payment during the special pressure of the present financial year, that they be specially credited in every case with at least a fortnight’s holiday upon full pay, and that arrangements be made for their taking this without delay. Longer leaves, up to six weeks, in more extreme cases. I insist, also, that where any officer has stated or states that he suffers, or feels that he is likely to suffer from the extra work, that arrangements shall at all hazards be made for his relief by his immediate taking of the holiday to which he is entitled. These holidays will no doubt necessitate an increased number of gluts, but no gluts to be employedafter the end of May, and to be made to clearly understand this. Of course selection of gluts to be the same principle as selection of officers. Officers retrenched through no fault to be considered next after existing officers.

It will thus be seen that. I gave the ComptrollerGeneral carte blanche as regards the number of glut hands to be taken on. When I wrote that memorandum upon the 29th March, I at first asked that the work should be got up to date by the end of April. Subsequently, at the same interview with the Comptroller-General I struck April out and substituted May. I handed “the memorandum that night to the ComptrollerGeneral. Afterwards I laid down a scale as regards overtime, and honorable members can see, the scale agreed upon was practically that a day’s holiday should be granted for every eight hours’ overtimeworked with a limitation to a total of six weeks.

Mr Thomson:

– When were these temporary officers appointed ?

Mr KINGSTON:

– I do not know, but my authority upon the 29th March was absolute and unequivocal. I naturally got tired of the complaints which were being made, and I said - “ Get what men you like, but have the work brought up to date by the end of May.”

Mr Watson:

– But there was not room, in the Sydney Customs-house to put in a sufficient number of men.

Mr KINGSTON:

– I do not think they were cramped for room. At any rate, no application was made to me for room for the new officers. I know that as regards at least three, and I think, four, of the States the work was brought up to date, and I was surprised to hear that there had been delay in regard to the other States.

Mr Thomson:

– When was that document sent out ?

Mr KINGSTON:

– I cannot tell the honorable member until I havelookedfurther into thematter, and spoken to the Comptroller. It was a shock to me to find that the notice in regard to the leave only went out on the 20th May. I intend to take further steps to have the work in the New South Wales office brought up to date, as it has been brought up to date in the other States.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN (Wentworth). - In some respects the Minister’s reply was very disappointing. He began genially enough by explaining that he had found difficulties in the way of the proper administration of his department, but that he intended to consult the members of the various Chambers of Commerce and Manufactures with a view to obtaining information which would enable him to alter any regulations or provisions which are burdensome to the commercial community; but when he came to deal with the instances which we have put before him, the whole spirit of the man came out. During his speech he did not for a moment touch upon the charge which has been brought against his administration. He tried to justify himself in regard to cases in which I think he dealt very harshly - and I use the word of the magistrates and J udges - but he did not say whether he intended in the future to deal equitably where there had been palpable error, and no attempt to defraud.

Mr Kingston:

– Does the honorable member ask if I intend to deal privately with such cases ?

SirWILLI AM McMILLAN. - The Minister need not deal with them in camera himself. He might adopt some such system as that outlined by the honorable member for North Sydney. Is it to be said that every error arising out of transactions with a department which affects the whole commerce of Australia is to be treated as carelessness, or due to an intention to defraud, and is therefore the proper subject for police court investigation. The Minister rather unworthily sheltered himself behind one or two cases in whichyoung boys have been used as Customs clerks. But it does not follow, because a boy brings down an entry, that he made it out. He may simply be a messenger. During the past twenty years, the middlemen in the importing business have been largely done without, and the small men who indent or import direct cannot afford to employ clerks at £200 a year to do their Customs work. Thereforethey often make out their own entries, and send them to the Customs officeby a boy. The Minister wanted to know why these importers do not check their invoices with their orders. Many of them order in a very general way, and are entirely at the mercy of the houses on the other side of the world who make out the invoices. As a representative of a firm which employs men of large experience to deal with these matters, I say that, if we wished to avoid the possibility of error, we should have to make sight entries in almost every case. Years ago the question whether the original invoice had been produced was one which used to arise, but now that every man shows the original invoice as the basis of the entry, the question is whether the real price of the goods is correctly totalled. Under the Commonwealth Tariff, however, there are so many difficulties in regard to classification that errors in that respect are unavoidable. It may be easy enough for large firms importing particular lines to classify their goods, but many small men have cases of general goods sent out to them which contain articles which should be classified under 50 heads. The charge I bring against the Minister is that in this initiatory period, when we have created a complex Tariff which few people can understand, and with which he himself cannot at all times deal judicially, he is treating unavoidable errors as attempts at frand. It is of no use for him to say that he will put down carelessness and the making of errors. Errors will crop up, and it is not proper administration to instruct the officers of the department to deal with them as attempts at fraud. I cannot understand how Parliament allowed section 229, which refers to entries which are “ false or wilfully misleading “ to pass as it stands. The right honorable gentleman assured the House, and assured various representative bodies in the community that a certain amount of leniency would be shown in administering these drastic provisions. But the case of Alcock & Co., in which the whole of the circumstances justified leniency, was treated with the greatest harshness. The Minister tells us thathe has to initiate many of these prosecutions to enforce the law and to prevent carelessness ; but in this case there was every opening for error, and the courts have decided against the department. Mr. Alcock had been in business for many years, and the case was a very complex one, yet the Minister treated him as an absolute rogue. I venture to say, however, that the right honorable gentleman cannot declare that he believed that Alcock & Co. wished to defraud the Customs.

Mr Kingston:

– They were not charged with attempting to defraud.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– They were charged with making false entries, and nearly every layman will consider the charge equivalent to an attempt to defraud, because no one will believe that an Act of Parliament makes a natural error equivalent to an attempt to defraud. I hope that this discussion will do good.We know the temper and character ofthe Minister, and that he is not likely to be lenient when attempts are made to defraud the Customs. I hope that, in the interests of peace in the commercial community, and for the sake of the honour of those men who have never before been looked upon as rogues, the Minister will take kindly notice of whathas beensaid to-night, and administer his department on broader lines. The honorable member for Dalley brought under notice an important matter, upon which I was glad to hear the Minister give a favorable reply. , We do not wish to appear before the world as narrow-minded or stupid people ; but at the present time the restrictions placed upon foreign vessels coming into our ports are causing a degree of trouble and annoyance beyond anything experienced in other parts of the world. A great deal of trouble has been caused by the efforts of the Customs authorities to collect duty on paint brought here for ships use, and used while in port. In another case the agents of a ship which was being fitted with a sparepropeller to replace one which she had lost at sea, were called upon to pay duty upon that part of her equipment.

Mr Kingston:

– We specially provided that spare propellers, &c, should be free.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– But the Customs authorities tried to collect the duty, and this shows the spirit which permeates the whole administration of the department. Instead of our trying to make Australia a place where the commerce of the world may freely come, by doing away with every restriction that does not affect the revenue, we seem to be creating as many difficulties as possible for those who trade here. This policy on the part of the administration has given rise to correspondence between the consuls of foreign powers and their Governments, and a feeling prevails that in our Commonwealth laws which affect shipping we have adopted the harshest regulations we could find. It is sometimes wise to suspend the law under administrative conditions. No law can be made to provide for all circumstances, and so long as we do not injure the revenue we ought to make our administration as little oppressive as possible. I would ask the Minister particularly to relax the conditions to which the honorable member for Dalley drew attention, because they are causing comment in foreign countries and in England.

Mr Wilks:

– If he does not do something he will throw 600 men out of work.

Sir WILLIAM McMILLAN:

– Many of our laws have been made more restrictive than those which formerly existed in the States, and we should do well to remove all unnecessary restrictions upon trade aud commerce. It is not desired that the Minister should stay his hand in the punishment of fraudulent importers, but we wish him to exercise a wise discrimination in dealing with those importers of high character’ who have never attempted to defraud the Customs. Any cases of this kind might be settled by some departmental machinery which would insure the protection of the revenue and at the same time obviate the necessity of dragging men up as criminals before the courts of justice.

Mr. G. B. EDWARDS (South Sydney).It was inevitable that some such discussion as this should have taken place before the close of the session. Honorable members on this side of the Chamber would have been abundantly justified, on more than one occasion, in moving the adjournment of the House in order to call attention to the administration of the Customs department ; but several honorable members, including myself, declined to take that step, on the ground that in the administration of this department, with a new federal Tariff, it was inevitable that great difficulties would arise, and that considerable friction would take place. We have, therefore, held our hands until the present occasion. In at least three of the States the administration of the Customs department has proved anything but satisfactory to the trading community In New South Wales traders have complained, not only of the delays, which have been very serious, but of their inability to obtain anything like a uniform decision, and of the general maladministration of the department right through. There is something, perhaps, in the statement that in New South Wales an effort was made to carry on the work with a staff that was manifestly insufficient, but it was the Minister’s duty to see that the department was so manned and organized that this inconvenience and difficulty did not arise. To that extent, therefore, the Minister has failed lamentably in his administration in New South Wales. The difficulties created by the imposition of the new duties have not been so great as those which have been due to want of proper management in the office.

The Minister for Customs, in answering the charges directed against him, has to a very great extent set up men of straw and knocked them down again. To the statement that there has been unnecessary delay, the Minister has replied that it was inevitable upon the introduction of a new Tariff. That has been, to some extent, admitted, but it is now contended that a sufficient time has elapsed to enable the Minister to overcome all initial difficulties, and that something should have been done by the right honorable gentleman to remedy the present unsatisfactory state of affairs. “We say, further, that the right honorable gentleman has adopted an autocratic attitude, and has been unduly severe in his interpretation of the Customs Act and the Tariff. The Minister’s reply is that it is only the dishonest people who have suffered from his administration. “Unfortunately, however, the Minister knows very little about trade and commerce, and has no sympathy with those engaged in it. His only sympathy is with tlie manufacturers, and he utterly lacks confidence in the trading community. The Minister has proceeded as though every importer is a dishonest man until the contrary is proved, and in doing that he has gi ven more trouble and caused more irritation to the trading community than have many features of the Tariff, bad as it is. The right honorable gentleman has been knocking down “ men of straw.” When we say to him that the Act is arbitrarily and oppressively administered, he picks out cases in which the Customs department was probably quite justified in prosecuting. The Minister asks, “ Shall we not prosecute a rogue?” although it has never been advocated that people who attempt to mislead and defraud shall not be prosecuted. The administration of the Customs has, in very many cases, put innocent men to the trouble and ignominy of defending themselves in respect of charges involving sums so trifling that in ordinary business circles no notice would be taken of them. The Minister’s masterful manner has not allowed him to exercise that carefulness and consideration which is required, especially in the initial stages of this department of the Commonwealth. He has not used to the best advantage the helpful assistance which he could have obtained from the skill and training of his own chief officers. Most of the errors have arisen because the Minister, whose industry we all recognise, has endeavoured to do everything himself. It is not until the Minister has decided that the public can get anything done at the Custom-house. Matter after matter has been delayed in order to get his decision, and he has so much to do that he cannot attend to everything. He contends that such a policy is necessary in order to get uniformity - that there must be a head. Nobody has ever contended to the contrary ; but there is not less a head in any great organization when advantage is taken of the assistance of those best able and prepared to give it. The Minister has not dealt with the question of manufacturing in bond ; and in many cases he has shown his utter want of sympathy with the trading and mercantile classes. The right honorable gentleman has all the sympathy in tlie world for anybody who manufactures in order to supply Australian wants ; but every one engaged in trade or commerce has to be watched with the greatest cane and vigilance. That is not a proper view foi1 the Minister to take, and it is a view which has irritated the trading community, and caused them to regard the Tariff with much more disfavour than would otherwise have been the case. On the question of manufacturing in bond, I wish to refer to a specific grievance which those engaged in the same industry as myself have against the Minister for Trade and Customs. In the early stages of the Tariff discussions, I raised the question of allowing drawback on sugar used in the manufacture of articles which were subsequently exported ; and the Minister at once said that a drawback would be allowed. But time went on, and in spite of several letters written to the department, no decision has yet been given. Nobody in the department seems to understand the matter, nor can any decision be obtained ; and an important body of traders, engaged in exporting to South Africa and the East, assisted by Government agents and experts, have received no aid at all from the Minister. On the other hand, every obstruction has been placed in their way by means of delay. I do not say that the Minister acts in this way, because of any prejudice against those traders, but only because of his innate suspicion of every one who has dealings with the department.

Mr Kingston:

– And my suspicions were justified by the result. I found that in Tasmania only 36 per cent, of sugar was used while drawback was being paid on 50 per cent.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– I am not dealin” with cases of fraud. No member of the committee will, I am sure, accuse me of falsely representing what took place between the Minister and myself. I used every effort by calling on the Minister, and writing to the department in several States, but could get no decision ; and now the Minister says he refused to help honest traders because he found there were such persons as dishonest traders. I invited the Minister to adopt any precautions he chose, telling him that we were quite content to have an inspector in the factories ; and yet, with the views of probably the great majority of those engaged in the trade before him, the right honorable gentleman did nothing. Again, I asked the question publicly whether the Minister intended to keep his promise, and he said he would if it were proved that the full amount of sugar on which the drawback was claimed had been used. Subsequently I repeated that those engaged in the trade were prepared to submit to any test, and that many firms had claims against the Government, notably one firm in Tasmania, who were entitled to £2,000; and the right honorable gentleman admitted there was trouble, and said he would push the matter to a settlement. The committee will be surprised to learn that nothing definite has been settled, in spite of those repeated promises. Yet the Minister talks about morality. Between business men, if that sort of thing happened, we should question, J. will not say the morality, but, at any rate, the tact displayed.

Mr Kingston:

– We cannot have the Commonwealth plundered as Tasmania was.

Mr G B EDWARDS:
SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES · FT

– The right honorable gentleman may say what he likes - “let the galled jade wince.” The department in these matters is not so free from wrong as the Minister chooses to think. The Minister has asked the question whether it is not curious that these mistakes are always made on the one side ; but the honorable member for North Sydney pointed out with perfect truth that mistakes are often made on the other side, though we do not hear of them. The other day I purposely made a misstatement in my incometax returns, over-valuing my plant for purposes of my own to the extent of £700. It was. a perfectly honest purpose, because I was entering into a combination with another firm, whose values were higher, and I wrote- mine up to the same standard. I had of necessity to write down the value of the property: and when the document reached the Income-tax office, the statement in favour of the department was not noticed, but as to that against the department I was called on to explain, when I pointed out that matters were equalized. That is the case frequently with the Customs authorities, who are always ready to pounce upon the trading public, but never willing to remedy mistakes against the importers. The Minister could have shown much more consideration to the trading public than he has, and it would have facilitated commerce throughout the Commonwealth if he had understood the subject a little better. As to drawbacks the Minister has been guilty of delaying the settlement of an important matter, which affects the interests of a score or so of traders on a large scale - guilty of delay which would not be tolerated in dealings between two merchants. If the Minister wishes to obtain credit as an able and just administrator, he. will give consideration to these matters. He ought to try to win back the approval of the people of the Commonwealth who viewed his appointment to his high office with much satisfaction, but who have by no means been pleased with his administration during the last seven or eight months.

Mr WATKINS:
Newcastle

– I do not think anybody will accuse me of attempting to relax the efforts of the Minister to be just on questions of Customs taxation. At the same time I join heartily with those who think there has been a desire to overreach in many directions in the collection of duties on ships’ stores. The desire of honorable members was to place ships which came from foreign ports, and which trade within the Commonwealth, on the same level as our local ships. In that I heartily concur, but I do not think it was the intention of Parliament to tax the small articles which are used by ships’ crews when visiting a port for the purpose of taking produce away. The honorable member for Dalley has to-night instanced the use of paint on ships, and I could give many similar cases. I suppose that in the port of Newcastle more ships’ painting is done than at any other port, particularly in connexion with foreign-going ships. In a number of other cases Customs officers have gone further, and attempted to collect taxation on very small items. This seems to me absolutely ridiculous, because in most instances the cost of collection is far beyond the amount of revenue obtained. I know one captain, who, like others, carried a few spare spars, and when he attempted to use one which he had brought with him, the Customs authorities demanded duty before he was allowed to take the spar to the workshop on shore. These are the trifling, irritating incidents which make people dissatisfied with our ports.While I would fight for the fiscal policy in which I believe, I do not approve of imposing taxes which must operate unfairly to the people who visit our ports for the purpose of doing business. Concerning ships, such as tramps, mailboats,&c, which compete with our own coastal steamers, it is either just that they should be prevented from trading with us or that they should pay taxation. But it is not fair that we should go to extremes, and compel foreign-going vessels to pay taxation upon every little item in the way of stores which they may consume during theirstay in port. I have heard captains deliberately state thatthey would advise the owners of their vessels against coming to Australian waters whilst the present laws exist, affirming that they had not received such harsh treatment even in Russian ports. In New South Wales the practice formerly was for a Customs officer to board the different vessels about once a fortnight, and make an allowance in the way of stores for each member of the crew, putting the balance under seal. Why cannot a similar arrangement be adopted by the Commonwealth ? The captains of ships would be amply satisfied with such a system. To my mind, the whole difficulty might be overcome by the adoption of fair regulations and by wise administration.

Mr GLYNN:
South Australia

– I think the Minister for Trade and Customs mentioned, as an apology for prosecuting in all cases, that the merchants ought to test the values of goods by their order books, and that they ought to be responsible for errors in invoices irrespective of whether or not they could easily have checked them.

Mr Kingston:

– I did not say anything of the sort.

Mr GLYNN:

– The Minister knows that the declaration required by the Act is as regards value. This is clearly set out by section 154 of the Customs Act, which says-

When any duty is imposedaccording to value, the value shall be taken to be the fair market value of the goods in the principal markets of the country whence the same were exported in the usual and ordinary commercial acceptation of the term, and free on board at the port of export in such country, and a further addition of ten per cent. on such market value.

The value is to be verified at the time of the entry by the production of the invoice and a declaration by the owner of the value at the time of the entry. If that be a correct reading of the Act it seems to me somewhat unfair that whenever a slight error occurs in the declaration of value, which the importer cannot possibly check, a prosecution should follow. How can the importer tell what is the fair market value of the goods at the place of exportation ? Yet that is what the declaration requires him to do.

Mr Kingston:

– That is a special declaration for securing accuracy as to value.

Mr GLYNN:

-Iam merely dealing with prosecutions for some error in declarations as to value. The prosecutions, of which I have read in the newspapers, relate to false declarations. I hold that no prosecution ought to follow a mistake when that mistake has reference to a matter which the importer himself cannot possibly check.

Proposed vote agreed to.

Division 27 - (Expenditure inNew South Wales) £63,023; Division 28 - (Expenditure in Victoria) £63,770; Di vision 29 - (Expenditure in Queensland) £60,922; Division 30 - (Expenditure in South Australia) £26,474; Division 31 - (Expenditure in Western Australia), £31,590; and Division 32 - (Expenditure in Tasmania) £9,941 - agreed to.

Sir William McMillan:

– I suppose that there is a certain amount of guesswork in connexion with these Estimates?

Sir George Turner:

– No, they are pretty closely calculated.

Sir William McMillan:

– The Minister should tell us how the expenditure of his department now compares with that of the State departments.

Mr Kingston:

– The total expenditure of the department at the end of the year will amount to about £252,000, which is about what the States were expending at the date of transfer ; but we are now collecting about £1,000,000 per annum more.

Division 154 - (Minister’s office) arrears, £18 ; Division 155 - (Miscellaneous) arrears, £97 ; Division 156 - (Expenditure inNew South Wales) arrears, £1,252 ; Division 157 - (Expenditure in Victoria) arrears, £730; Division 158 - (Expenditure in Queensland) arrears, £3,049 ; Division 159 - (Expenditure in South Australia) arrears, £72 ; Division 160 - (Expenditure in Tasmania) arrears, £57 ; and Division 161 - (Expenditure in Western Australia) arrears, £410 - agreed to.

Progress reported.

page 13229

ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES

Mr. SPEAKER reported the receipt of messages from His Excellency the GovernorGeneral recommending to the consideration of the House of Representatives the accompanying Additional Estimates of Expenditure for the year ending 30th June, 1902, and arrears for the period ending 30th June, 1901, and Additional Estimates for proposed new works and buildings for the same period.

Referred to Committee of Supply

House adjourned at 10.25 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 3 June 1902, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1902/19020603_reps_1_10/>.