2nd Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– The following telegram appears in this morning’s Age: -
In the Assembly to-day, Mr. Rounsevell asked the Premier to arrange with the Federal authorities to facilitate the publication of the records of rain failing on Sundays in the next day’s papers. Mr. Price said he had approached the Federal Government on the subject but could get no reply.
I ask the Postmaster-General if he can throw any light on this matter?
– As the honorable member was courteous enough to intimate to me this morning that he proposed to ask this question, I am prepared with the following answer : -
It is a fact that for many years it had been the practice in South Australia to obtain special reports occasionally as to rainfalls, usually about ten times during the year, and the reports were handed to the press for publication. It was, however, considered by the Acting Deputy PostmasterGeneral that such telegrams did not come within the Act and regulations, and as the State did not undertake to pay for them they were discontinued.
A weekly report has been asked for by the State Government, and the matter is now under consideration.
– On Monday, 16th inst., Mr. Jones, the special correspondent of the Perth Daily News, lodged a telegram of importance to that newspaper in the Melbourne office at 3.33 p.m. It was despatched from Melbourne at 3.36 p.m. - an hour which corresponds with 1.46 p.m. Perth time. It did not, however, reach Perth until 7 p.m., when the newspaper had been published. In view of the expense entailed on newspapers in maintaining special correspondents in Melbourne, and the immense revenue received by the Department for the transmission of telegrams, will the Postmaster-General shake up the dry bones of fossildom in this negligent branch?
– I regret these delays, and steps are being taken to bring about an improvement. Already some change has been made. I am giving consideration to the special matter to which the honorable member refers, and those responsible for the delay will be dealt with.
– Is the Prime Minister in a position to give the House information concerning the recent conference between the Attorney-General of the Commonwealth and the Attorney-General of New South Wales, in reference to the Federal Capital Site? Has he a minute to present to the House similar to that laid before the New South Wales Legislative Assembly ? I should like to know generally what the Government propose to do in regard to this matter.
– I have no memorandum to lay before the House, but the Attorney - Genera] has prepared a letter, in which is set forth our view of the legal questions raised during the conference between him and the Attorney-General of New South Wales. It will be posted this afternoon, and will be delivered to-morrow morning. The discussion narrowed the questions at issue to such an extent that I think that this statement of our views, and the reply to it, will probably close the correspondence, preparatory to the introduction of a Bill into this Chamber.
– Does the Prime Minister think that he is treating this House fairly in connexion with the matter, seeing that all the information which we receive in regard to it appears in telegraphed reports of the communications made to the Parliament of New South Wales published in the Melbourne newspapers ?
– I think that this House has been treated as it would desire to be treated. The view which we have taken is that honorable members are entitled to know the progress of the negotiations, but that the publication of the correspondence, in controversial fashion, one letter at a time, instead of expediting business, is likely to promote misunderstanding, by presenting one instead of both sides of the case. During the whole of the negotiations, we have not communicated to the press anything which we had not communicated to the Government of New South Wales, and had not been received by them. They have thought fit to adopt a different course.
asked the Minister of
Trade and Customs, upon notice - 1 Is it a fact that on or about the 22nd September, 1905, a consignment of rush hats from the East, ex Prinz Sigismund, was entered and passed, the values on invoices presented by the consignees, Messrs. Gay lard, Greenwood, and Co., being accepted by the Department as values for duty?
– In reply to the honorable member’s questions -
asked the Postmaster- General, upon notice -
Whether he has arrived at any decision with regard to the proposal to place underground the telegraph and telephone wires in the principal streets of Adelaide?
– The answer to the honorable member’s question is as follows. -
No decision has yet been arrived at ; the matter is in abeyance pending the appointment of a Chief Electrical Engineer, as It is desired that any work of this character that is undertaken shall form a part of a well considered and’ completely designed plan for the whole of the city.
Consideration resumed from 7 th October (vide page 3215), on motion by Mr. Johnson -
That, in the opinion of this House, the importation of opium for other than medical purposes should be prohibited.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 12 th October (vide page 3518), on motion by Mr. Hig- gins -
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows.: -
May it please Your Majesty :
We, Your Majesty’s dutiful and loyal subjects, the Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, desire most earnestly in our name and on behalf of the people whom we represent, to express our unswerving loyalty and devotion to Your Majesty’s person and Government.
We have observed with feelings of profound satisfaction the evidence afforded by recent legislation and recent debates in the Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom, of a sincere desire now to deal justly with Ireland; and in particular we congratulate the people of the United Kingdom on the remarkable Act directed towards the settlement of the land question, and on the concession to the people of Ireland of a measure of Local Government for municipal purposes. But the sad history of Ireland since the Act of Union shows thatno British Parliament can understand or effectively deal with the economic and social conditions of Ireland.
Enjoying and appreciating as we do the blessings of Home Rule here, we would humbly express the hope that a just measure of Home Rule may be granted to the people of Ireland. The) ask for it through their representatives - never has request more clear, consistent, and continuous been made by any nation. As subjects of Your Majesty we are interested in the peace and con tentment of all parts of the Empire, and we desire to see this long-standing grievance at the very heart of the Empire removed. It is our desire for the solidarity and permanence of the Empire, as a Power mating for peace and civilization, that must be our excuse for submitting to Your Majesty this respectful petition.
Upon which Mr. Reid had moved, by way of amendment -
That all the words after the first word “ That,” be left out with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - “whilst in full sympathy with every movement calculated to advance the best interests of Ireland, this House declines to petition His Majesty either in favour of or against a change in the parliamentary system which at present prevails in the United Kingdom -
– I think it due to honorable members to reply to the arguments which have been advanced against my motion. I should like to begin by acknowledging the frank and straightforward character of the opposition led by the honorable member for Dalley.
– Is the honorable member replying? I understand that the honorable and learned member for Wannon wishes to speak on the motion.
– As no honorable member seemed to wish to speak, I was putting the question, when the honorable and learned member rose to commence his reply.
– If there is any honorable member present who desires to speak on the motion, I shall, of course, give way. The honorable member for Dalley met the motion on its merits, and pronounced emphatically against it, though, of course, we may have our own opinions of the value of his arguments. He assumed that we who support the motion, in saying that we are for Home Rule, mean that we are for absolute separation. No argument would convince him to the contrary, though the statement of the right honorable member for _ East Sydney directly contradicted that assumption. Then the honorable member also used the argument that a certain church would become dominant if Home Rule were conceded to Ireland. It is of no use to argue against that fanatical theory, but I hope that the growth of common sense will affect people like the honorable member and that he will eventually take the same view as did the Orangemen at the time of the union and as other Orangemen do at the present day. Now, I propose to deal with the right honorable and learned member for East Sydney in a totally different way. He did not say that he was against Home Rule He maintains inviolable secrecy upon that matter in his inviolable bosom, and wild horses will not drag from him a declaration as to whether he, an Australian politician, is in favour of or against Home Rule. Apparently the right honorable gentleman had not read any of the speeches delivered in support of the motion, and he did not appear to know that the advocates of Home Rule based their arguments not upon old grievances, but upon present grievances, and the present sufferings of the Irish people. Any one who did me the honour to read the speech in which I introduced the motion would have seen that I referred to the existing misery of the people of Ireland, to the existing and increasing depopulation of that country, to the existing over-taxation, to the absence of all popular control over the expenditure, to the miserable system of administration, and to the fact that fortyone practically irresponsible boards, all under the superintendence of an English official with no acquaintance with the wants of Ireland, governed the country. Either the right honorable gentleman had not read my speech or he saw fit to ignore the facts. My argument was that the position of Ireland to-day was similar to that in which New South Wales would be placed if its affairs were controlled by a Victorian official who was not directly responsible to the people of the former State. In fact, the position of Ireland is even worse than that. What is the amendment of the right honorable gentleman? It is divided into three parts. The first, practically, states that it is beyond our province as a House to express any opinion. The second portion of the amendment says that the question of Home Rule for Ireland will be submitted to the electors of Great Britain at the next election ; and the third section declares that the House confidently relies upon the fairness and wisdom of the British people for the removal of every Irish grievance. . So far as the method and manner of the amendment are concerned, I regard it as an example of skilful tactics devised from a narrow political point of view. I can see that it is craftily designed for the purpose of. roping in those who are against Home Rule with those who do not want to declare themselves either way. The right honorable gentleman apparently thought that, as he could not. secure a sufficient number of votes against Home Rule, he might obtain the assistance of those who did not wish to declare themselves for or against the principle. Possibly, if his amendment be viewed from the standpoint of political strategy intended to secure a temporary success, the right honorable gentleman may have acted very skilfully ; but, from the point of view of statesmanship, I cannot conceive of anything mere wretched or narrow than his proposal. So far as I can ascertain, not one of those honorable members who informed me that they were in favour of Home Rule have been shaken in the slightest degree in their determination by the amendment proposed, or the arguments used in support of it. Political strategy is not wisdom. The Prime Minister has ably exposed the fallacy of the view that, as a Parliament, we have no right to express our opinion in regard to matters of Imperial interest. I was glad to hear the Prime Minister’s speech in favour of Home Rule, although I must confess that I do not quite like the id’ea of treating the claims of the Irish people as a mere pawn in ,a vague and nebulous movement for Imperial Federation. I should prefer to base the claim for Home Rule upon the higher and nobler ground of mere justice ; but the Prime Minister may have felt that the claim of justice was sufficiently proved, and that it devolved upon him to support it by furnishing an additional motive in connexion with the movement for Imperial Federation. We are here to deliberate for the good of Australia ; and I decline to be bound by the doctrine that in considering what is for the good of Australia, we are to close our eyes to what is good for the Empire. We are a part of the Empire, and what makes for its good also operates for our benefit. The interests of the Empire are not alien to us, and Australian expediency must include considerations of Imperial expediency. The Prime Minister referred to the action taken by this Parliament in regard to the introduction of Chinese into the Transvaal - and a very good example too. I think that we proceeded to the furthest limit possible in that case. Although I think we are at liberty to deal with any subject, provided we can bring it within our view of what constitutes Australian interests, I do not think that it would be advisable for us to interfere in matters of purely domestic interest in other parts of the Empire. The resolution passed by this and the New Zealand Parliaments was addressed to the question of the interests of the Transvaal. On the 23rd March, 1904, this House passed the following resolution : -
That this House records its grave objection to the introduction of Chinese labour into the Transvaal until a referendum of the white population of the colony has been taken on the subject, or responsible government is granted.
That was adopted by 45 votes to 14. Upon that motion an amendment was proposed by the honorable member for North Sydney -
That this House views with extreme regret the proposal to import Chinese into the Transvaal, regarding such a step as prejudicial to the best interests of the colony.
That means the Colony of the Transvaal, and the amendment makes no mention of the best interests of the Empire. Therefore, the honorable member, by virtue of his amendment, recognised that this Parliament could interfere, by the expression of its opinion, in matters affecting the interests of the Transvaal Colony. The New Zealand Parliament also passed a resolution upon the subject, and the Prime Minister read the reply forwarded by Mr. Lyttelton, the then Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Prime Minister appeared to think that the reply contained the final word of the Imperial authorities ; but I arn happy to say that we have had some further communication upon the subject. The reply quoted by the Prime Minister appears in the New Zealand Hansard of 18th March, 1904, and reads as follows: -
I fully recognise the right of all the selfgoverning colonics to explain their opinion on so important a question, and especially of those who, like New Zealand, have rendered memorable service in the South African war.
During the present year a further communication has been received from the Colonial Office by Mr. Seddon to the same effect. It contains the following expression: -
His Majesty’s Government have never questioned the right of the Legislature of New Zealand to express their views with regard to the subject of the resolution.
There is an express statement that the Colonial Office recognises that the Legislature of New Zealand - not the people - has a right to express its views with regard to matters which are beyond the scope of New Zealand domestic politics. There is still stronger reason why we should be at liberty to express our opinion upon the subject of Home Rule for Ireland, in the fact that we are dealing with a question affecting the relations between one part of the Empire and other parts. We are dealing also with a nation which sends representatives to the Imperial Parliament - the body which controls all our foreign policy, which commits us to peace or war, and to alliances which bind us without our consent. I submit that it is quite expedient for us to express our opinion upon matters which affect the relations of one part of the Empire to other parts. It must be remembered that there are 1,000,000 Irishmen in Australia, 1,000,000 and more in Canada, and about 16,000,000 in the United States, and that it is not in the interests of the Empire that the feelings ‘ of these millions of people, full of vitality and political activity, should be sore and embittered and that they should be disposed to keep alive the feud of centuries. It is our business, as an Australian Parliament, to multiply the friends of the Empire throughout the world. Of course, it will be said that we should not interfere in these Imperial matters, but I should like to know where those who use that argument wish to draw the line. I might remind honorable members that about this time last year the right honorable member for East Sydney, who now says that it is not for us to interfere in these matters, proposed a motion which practically invited Great Britain to go to war in a certain event. In reference to the action of the Russian Baltic fleet in firing upon the Hull fishermen, the right honorable gentleman proposed the following motion : -
That this House feels bound in the present’ grave crisis to express its profound indignation at the cruel and wanton attack recently made by a Russian fleet upon British fishermen whilst they were engaged in their peaceful calling. That this . House fully sympathizes with the British Government and people in the demand that those who directed this outrage be punished.
That resolution breathes fire and slaughter. We all know that this invitation to the mother country to go to war with Russia was a great mistake. Lord Lansdowne and the other Ministers at the head of affairs .knew that it was a mistake, and they, did not respond to the lash of the press. In this, as in many other matters, we were misled by the press reports, and we now know that there was no intention on the part of Russia to put an affront on the British people or to injure British subjects. Then, in 1899, the Boer war broke out, and all the Colonies interfered in the way of sending contingents to South Africa, in order to assist the British Government in a matter which did not directly affect Australia. In 1902 a Commonwealth Contingent was despatched to South Africa, and two resolutions were passed by this Parliament which distinctly interfered with parties in British politics. It will be remembered that Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, as leader of the Opposition in the British House of Commons, had condemned what he called the “methods of barbarism” adopted in the conduct of the war by the establishment of concentration camps, &c He may have been right, or he may have been wrong; but the fact remains that we passed a resolution protesting, against these slanders, and affirming the readiness of Australia to give all requisite aid to the mother country, in order to bring the war to an end. I merely desire to show that it is absurd for honorable members to oppose this motion on the ground that the subject-matter of it does not concern Australia. Whenever the course of action proposed is one of which they approve they abstain from using any such argument. There have also been several minor occasions upon which Australian Houses of Parliament have given expression to their opinions. For instance, about four years ago, when the Dowager Empress of Germany died, this Parliament expressed its sympathy with the German nation. Again, when President Garfield was assassinated, in 1881, the Victorian Parliament followed a similar course. In still more recent years - when President McKinley was assassinated - this Parliament forwarded a message of condolence. Other Legislatures have expressed their sympathy and their opinions on such occasions’. We all know that the Legislature of British Columbia, after the Commonwealth Constitution had been carried by the vote of the people of Australia, forwarded its congratulations, although the expediency of adopting this Constitution was much in debate in Australia. Further, .British Ministers have actually invited the approval of this House m regard to certain matters. For in- stance, upon the question of a proposed change of the Royal titles, a few months ago, we were asked, through the Prime Minister, to express our opinion. “ But,” exclaims the right honorable member for East Sydney, “ the Imperial Parliament - the grand mother of parliaments - does not interfere in Australian affairs.” I submit that that is a most shallow and superficial view to take. The Imperial Parliament passes no resolutions affirming its opinion, because it is able to act through its executive Ministers. It does so act. It knows that, “through its Executive, it has a veto upon our Acts, which the King, acting upon their recommendation, will exercise. Why should it express an opinion when it has1 the power to prevent any of our measures from coming into operation ? It speaks only through its Ministers, and those Ministers can prevent a Bill passed by our Legislature from becoming law in any form which is objectionable to them. The proposed expenditure of ,£25,000 upon a memorial to the late Queen affords an illustration of a promise exacted from the first Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, before this House was consulted. The same remark is applicable to Australia’s increased contribution towards the maintenance of an Imperial Squadron in our territorial waters. Then we must recollect that Mr. Chamberlain actually forwarded to the New South Wales and Victorian Governments a letter, in which he asked them to make special grants ‘ to the Governor-General. What right, then, has the right honorable gentleman to say that the British Parliament, through its Ministers, does not interfere in our affairs? More important than all, they interfere with our Bills before those measures are passed. The Immigration Restriction Act affords a case in point. Apparently some honorable members are possessed of very short memories. Some time ago a Bill was passed by the Queensland Parliament, which was known as the Sugar Works Guarantee Amendment Bill ; its object being to prevent the employment of Asiatics by any company to which an advance was made. That measure was actually refused the Royal assent upon the advice of a British Minister, and his despatch upon the subject was commended to the notice of this Parliament by the same British Minister in 1901. The Royal assent was further refused to the Coloured Aliens Immigration Bill, which was passed by the South Australian Legislature. All these things affected our legislation in regard to alien immigration, and compelled us ultimately to adopt the language test in our Immigration Restriction Act. If there is one section in that measure which has rendered us obnoxious to the whole world, it is the provision which’ we adopted on the advice of Mr. Chamberlain - a provision to which we agreed with very great reluctance, because we were assured that unless the language test were adopted the Bill would be vetoed. The sooner it is recognised that that test was imposed, not by our will, but by the will of Mr. Chamberlain, the better it will be for all. Not only do British Ministers interfere with our measures and our actions, but the British Houses of Parliament adopt and pass resolutions relating to affairs in foreign countries which’ are beyond their jurisdiction. For example, they have interfered by resolution in connexion with the outrages in Armenia and Macedonia, which are within the domain of the Sublime Porte. The Times of the 4th August - the very day that I submitted this motion - contains the report of a speech which was delivered in the House of Commons by Earl Percy upon the previous evening. In that deliverance he dealt with the affairs of the Congo Free State - a State which’ is within the control of the King of the Belgians. It was the third debate upon the subject, and Earl Percy, in pursuing the subject, said that they were animated by purely philanthropic and humanitarian motives. In the same speech he dealt with the affairs of Macedonia and Crete. If upon non.-British - that is, foreign - affairs such as these, the British Parliament expresses its opinion upon humanitarian grounds, why may not the Australian Parliament voice its views upon a matter which affects the peace of the whole Empire? I hope that every honorable member will scout the theory advanced by the right honorable member for East Sydney, that we have no right to vote upon this subject until we have received a mandate from the electors to do so. I strongly object to the members of this House being treated as mere delegates. I am reminded, too, that in the case of Italy, Great Britain interfered by expressing opinions, and by rendering solid assistance in the reorganization of that country. In England, indeed, Garibaldi had one of the principal supporters of Jus great campaign. If we look at history, we shall find that time after time Great Britain interferes in matters outside her jurisdiction, where she deems it to be right to do so. Here, in Australia, we have a stronger reason for expressing our opinion, because, as free subjects, we are entitled to do so, where the interests of the Empire are concerned, those interests being bound up with the interests of Australia. With special reference to the question of Home Rule, we have the best possible precedent upon which to act. ‘ May I remind honorable members that a motion to present a similar petition was carried upon two occasions, within a period of two years, by. the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada? Of course the Legislature of the Dominion is confined in its powers to Canadian affairs just as the powers of this Parliament are confined to the affairs of Australia. In 1882 both Houses of the Dominion Legislature petitioned the British Government in favour of Home Rule. At that time the Earl of Kimberley was ‘Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Mr. Gladstone had not then taken up the cause of Home Rule. The Earl of Kimberley properly pointed out that Her Majesty would have to be guided by the advice of the Imperial Ministers. Some persons have designated his reply a “ snub.” I do not so regard it. I do not think that any statesman of standing would administer a snub to the Colonies. The Earl of Kimberley simply gave ex.pression to the truth when he stated that, whatever might be the opinion of the Canadian Parliament upon the matter, Her Majesty would have to be guided by the advice of her Ministers in England. In 1886. when Mr. Gladstone declared for Home Rule, the Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution in its favour. The late Sir John Macdonald, Sir Hector Langevin, Sir Richard Cartwright, and all the leading statesmen of Canada voted for it. A similar resolution in favour of Home Rule, and opposing coercion, was adopted on 27th April, 1887. Finally, on 31st March, 1903, the Canadian ^ House of Commons reverted to the original form of a petition in the form of an address to His Majesty ; and it is upon that petition that the present motion is modelled. This consideration brings me in natural sequence to the form of mv motion. I am asking that a petition shall be presented to the King. At first I did not like the form’ of the motion which I adopted, with certain modifications, from the proposal submitted last session by the honorable member for Southern Melbourne. But,, though at first I did not like it very much, I ani convinced that it is the decorous and constitutional course to adopt. The Prime. Minister has probably forgotten how deeply this right of petition to the King has been engraven in the history of Great Britain.. As the result of the treatment of the seven Bishops in the reign of James II., the Bill of Rights, which was passed in 1688, contained the following, provision : -
It is the right of all subjects to petition the King.
This right is unrestricted so far as the subject of the petition is concerned. If we desire to express our opinion to any person, we ought to address our communication to him; and, as we cannot address all the British electors, I propose that we should petition their ruler and head, namely, the King. That is the reason why the statesmen of Canada reverted to the form of petition in 1903. As to the danger of our being snubbed by the British Government, I would point out that that is a very unlikely contingency, in view of our recent resolutions in reference to the employ ment of Chinese labour in the Transvaal. The Colonial Office doctrine of twenty-two years ago is, I am gladto say, nearly obsolete to-day. Our relations with the mother country are. changing. We are feeling our way steadily towards more intimate relations with f herest of the Empire - towards an organic union - and in place of activity only in the separate parts, we shall have the one organic life pervading the whole. TheBritish Government could not snub us if they would. We all know that the present British Government are opposed to Home Rule. But we are not appealing to them. They will, I apprehend, act as gentlemen, and not make, themselveslaughed at by attempting a snub. We are appealing to the great heart of Great Britain - to the electors. Nosnub, therefore, from the present Ministry could touch us. For honorablemembers to abstain from expressing their opinion upon a matter of such vital interest merely because of thefear that we may be snubbed would be to exhibit moral cowardice. As British subjects, we have lost no right bv coming to Australia, except that of voting for the election of members to the British Parlia- ment. With that exception, we have the same freedom and the same privileges as the people of England enjoy. One of those privileges is the right of free speech, of free expression of opinion. That right must, of course, be exercised with discretion. It would not be wise to occupy the time of the House with abstract discussions or meddlesome motions, or with matters of purely domestic concern to England. But this motion relates to one of the nations of the Empire. When it comes to a question of making that nation satisfied with its relation1 to the rest of the Empire; when it comes to dealing with an ancient and historical nation close to the heart of the Empire, and having a voice and vote in Imperial concerns - when it comes to a question of pacifying a race of 20,000,000 people, scattered throughout the world and displaying extraordinary power and political activity in the United States and elsewhere-I venture to say that no one will substantiate the position- that we are unnecessarily interfering with matters outside our sphere. A surprising attitude has been taken up by the leader of the Opposition. I understood that it was the practice of the leader of an Opposition to stand up for the enlarged rights of the House, and not to say that it should not deliberate on this matter or that. It has been reserved, however, to the right honorable member for East Sydney to say that we must not deal with this matter, that we must bury our heads in the Australian! sand, and not allow ourselves to see anything that is going on outside. I feel sure that that view of our position will not be accepted by the House. While I have no doubt that the proper course to pursue in this matter is to proceed by way of petition - although I did not at first take that view - I am not going to lose the substance for the sake of a mere form, and I therefore intend to propose an amendment to that moved by the right honorable member for East Sydney.
– I rise to a point of order. I wish to know, sir, whether the honorable and learned member who, by his reply, is closing the debate, will be at liberty to reopen it by proposing a further amendment that must necessarily1 re-open the question. You have already ruled, informally, Mr. Speaker, that the honorable and learned member is now making a reply to the general question, and is thus closing the debate ; but it now appears that he pro poses to follow a certain course utterly regardless of the ruling of the Chair.
– I have not moved an amendment. I was simply indicating that I proposed to do so.
– On the point of order raised by the honorable and learned member for Corinella, I may say at once that it is not competent for the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne to move any amendment.
– I shall not attempt to do so. I was merely putting before the House what I proposed to do hereafter ; but inasmuch as you have pointed out, Mr. Speaker, that it would not be in order for me to move an amendment, I shall not attempt to do so. What I said was that it was my intention to move an amendment of the amendment submitted by the leader of the Opposition.
– I raised the point of order that it would not be competent for the honorable and learned member to do so.
– On the further point of order which the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne has raised, I would point out that the speech which he is making absolutely closes the debate. When he has concluded I shall proceed to put to the House the various issues that have been notified, and. no further amendment can be moved.
– I understand that the first question to be put will be “that all the words after the word ‘That,’ line 1, stand part of the question.” If that question be negatived, the word “ That “ will be all that will remain of the motion. The further amendment moved by the leader of the Opposition that certain words be added will next be put, and I contend that it will then be open to me or to some other honorable member to move a further amendment.
– The honorable and learned member does not appear to realize that the speech he was making when the point of order was raised will absolutely close the debate. Standing order 264 provides that -
In all cases, the reply of the mover of the original question closes the debate.
The reply closes the debate, not merely upon a part of the motion, but upon the whole of it. The position, therefore, is that at the close of the honorable and learned member’s speech I shall put the amendment moved by the leader of the
Opposition, “ That all the words after the word ‘That,’ line i, be left out,” and. if it be carried I shall then put the further question that the word’s proposed by the leader of the Opposition to be inserted be so inserted. If they are not inserted, all that will remain of the motion will be the word “That.” It will then be for the House either to proceed with the next business, or to take what further step it pleases. Until that point is reached nothing further is possible.
– I quite understand your ruling, Mr. Speaker; but, assuming that the amendment moved by the leader of the Opposition to insert certain words be negatived, would not an honorable member be free to move a further amendment?
– The honorable and learned member having closed the debate, and so precluded1 any further amendment being moved, we shall be left with the word “ That ‘ ‘ remaining, in the event of the amendment to omit all the succeeding words being agreed to, and the further amendment to insert certain words being negatived. Unless the honorable and learned member then moves the suspension of the Standing Orders, or takes some such course, the House will proceed to the next business.
– It is immaterial to me whether the further amendment which I have indicated be moved by myself or by any other honorable member. Do I understand you to rule, sir, that if the amendment moved by the leader of the Opposition to insert certain words be negatived, it will not be open to us to move a further amendment?
– There would have been means to move a further amendment if the honorable and learned member had not closed the debate by his reply; but as his reply will absolutely close it, it will not be competent for an honorable member to submit any further amendment unless the Standing Orders be suspended or unless he obtains the leave of the House.
– I wish to briefly explain what I and a number of others wish to do. While desiring to yield to the view of one or two honorable members that the form of the motion should be altered,- we wish to express the same idea in another way. If the view of the procedure I was taking be wrong, I shall be very glad if you will indicate any means by which we can fairly and squarely raise the issue.
– As I have already intimated, there is only one way out of the difficulty, and that is that when the word “That “ is all that remains of the motion, the honorable and learned member may move that the Standing Orders be suspended, to enable him to submit a further amendment.
– I loyally accept your ruling, Mr. Speaker, although I confess that it seems extraordinary that one is not able to substitute another amendment for that moved by the leader of the Opposition. However, it will be for us to decide whether we should not adhere to the original motion and vote upon it. The question may be asked:, “What can we do in the cause of Home Rule?” I admit that we cannot do much; but at the same time it is open to us to express our opinions. When I was in London some years ago - at a time when Home Rule was a more burning question than it is at present - I found that the opinion of the Australian Colonies upon the matter was regarded with great interest by those who had influence and voting power. It was with amazement that some prominent men in certain circles found that these Colonies were not solidly in favour of the Unionist cause. It is true that we can only express our opinion on this question, but I feel that the great bulk of the people of Australia are in favour of the motion. I do not wish to unduly occupy the time of the House, but I call upon honorable members to fall into line with” the opinion of the forty-five States of America, and” with that of Canada, New Zealand, and indeed the great mass of civilized, cultured intelligence throughout the world. It is in the interests of the Empire’s peace, unity, and progress that I ask the House to declare unequivocally in favour of Home Rule for Ireland.
– I understood that the paragraphs of the motion, would be put seriatim.
– Standing order 122 provides that, if the House so orders, any complicated motion may be’ divided. I shall, therefore, put the question that the three paragraphs of the motion be put seriatim.
– I should like to meet the honorable member in regard to this matter; but it seems to me that the motion will be unmeaning if we carry any one of the paragraphs, and leave out the other two.
Question - That the three paragraphs of the motion be put seriatim - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 19
– The step we arenow taking will not deprive honorable members of that opportunity.
– It will compel us, against our will, to vote for or against the proposed petition.
– The right honorable member for East Sydney moved to strike out all the words afterthe first word “That.” Whether we do so in one or in several votes doe’s not affect the matter.
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I am at an utter loss to understand the position, and should like your direction, Mr. Speaker, in regard to it. We have just resolved that the motion be put in three paragraphs. The amendment of the, right honorable member for East Sydney is to omit all the words after the first word “ That,” with a view to insert certain other words. The first paragraph which will now be put to the House reads -
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows : -
May it pl ease Your Majesty :
We, Your Majesty’s dutiful and loyal subjects, the members of the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled, desire most earnestly in our name and on behalf of the people whom we represent, to express our unswerving loyalty and devotion to Your Majesty’s person and Government.
– We will all support that.
– That is exactly what I am coming to. Must honorable members who wish to vote for the amendment vote against the presenting of a petition expressing our loyalty to the King?
– Of course.
– The honorable member interjects “Of course,” and laughs. Apparently honorable members opposite have played an unworthy trick.
– The honorable and learned member and those with him have tricked themselves.
– The honorable and learned member for Corinella is now going beyond a point of order in expressing an opinion about the conduct of other honorable members. He asks what those who desire the insertion of the words proposed by the right honorable member for East Sydney should do. The right honorable member moved to strike out all the words after the first word “ That,” including, of course, the words of paragraph1, Those who are of his way of thinking will be able to secure their end by voting successively against paragraph after paragraph until the word “That” alone remains. Then the question will be put that the words he proposes to insert be inserted. Under the method of procedure which has been adopted those who wish to carry the amendment of the right honorable member for East Sydney in its entirety will have to vote for it several times instead of once only, while those who are not of hisview will vote on each occasion that the words of each successive paragraph stand part of the motion.
– If the first paragraph be carried, will it be possible for us to alter it in any way ? That seems to me impossible under the present arrangement.
– I see no difficulty. The right honorable member for East Sydney moved to strike out all the words after the first word “ That.” That result will be achieved if a majority of honorable members vote in the negative each time on the question that the words of the motion stand.
– This is our difficulty. We have no wish to vote against the presentation of a petition to His Majesty affirming our loyalty, unless we may do so in connexion with the rest of the proposal of the honorable and learned member for Northern Melbourne. We have been placed in a most unfair position.
– I rise to order. The honorable member for Parramatta is. exceeding a point of order by expressing an opinion.
– He is asking a question which is distinctly a point of order.
– I understand that you, Mr. Speaker, are now about to put the first paragraph of the proposed address. That will place us in a most unfair position.
– I cannot help that. I am following the course required by the Standing Orders, and it is a course which would enable the supporters of the amendment to achieve their purpose.
– If it is decided that the first paragraph shall stand part of the question, and the second .paragraph is then put, will it be competent for the two paragraphs to be negatived, and the words proposed by the right honorable member for East Sydney inserted?
– The right honorable and learned member for East Svdney moves that certain words shall be struck out, with a view to inserting other words. If the House pleases to strike out a part of the words referred to in the amendment, the words proposed to Le inserted can then be inserted. If the House does not please to strike out the words, a position will be created in which certain other words could not be inserted.
– Assuming that the first paragraph is affirmed by the House, how can we then proceed with the amendment which proposes to insert words in place of a portion of the first paragraph? It does not seem practicable to do that.
– The honorable member will see that it is not for the Chair to determine whether a motion will read in the form in which it is passed. I have merely to follow the Standing Orders, and put the question in such a way as to enable honorable members to decide in what way the motion shall read.
– I have given notice of an amendment in the second paragraph, and I should like to know how the course you, sir, are adopting will affect my right to move the amendment?
– I shall be careful to so put the motion as to protect the honorable member for Lang, and the honorable member for Canobolas, whose notices of amendments’ appear on the businesspaper.
Question - That all the words after the first word, “ That,” to the end of paragraph i, proposed to be left out, stand part of the question - resolved in the affirmative.
– The question is - That the words in the second paragraph, “ We have observed with feelings of profound satisfaction the evidence afforded by recent legislation, and recent debates in the Houses of Parliament in the United Kingdom, of a sincere desire,” proposed to be left out, stand part of the question.
– I understand that the question is being put in that way in order that the honorable member for Lang may have an opportunity to move his amendment. I submit that, as the amendment was not moved before, because there was another amendment before the Chair at the time the honorable member addressed the House, it cannot be moved now, because the debate has been closed. If an honorable member has intimated a desire to move arc amendment, he cannot speak again on the motion, because his action would be equivalent to making a second speech, and consequently if the honorable member for Lang attempted to move his amendment now, he would commit a double breach. Firstly, he would break the rule which precludes an. honorable member from speaking twice, and secondly, he would break the rule that there can be no further debate after the debate has been formally closed. Both these rules would apply to any suggested amendment at this stage.
– Although the argument of the honorable and learned member is exceedingly ingenious, the practice of the House from the commencement of this Parliament has been to accept notices of further amendments, in order to allow honorable members to take action after the first amendment has been disposed of, and after the debate has been closed.
– There is no question whatever that the honorable member for Lang and the honorable member for Canobolas are entitled to have their propositions put from the Chair. The honorable and learned member for Corinella will need to draw a distinction between an amendment being moved and being proposed. “ Proposed “ means “put from the chair.’’ It is not competent for the Speaker or the Chairman to put an amendment from the chair before a previous amendment has been disposed of. In this case, the honorable members referted to took the only step open to them, in order to secure a decision upon their amendments, and I am obliged, not only by the practice of Parliament, but by the necessities of the case, to rule that the amendments can be put.
– Under the circumstances, I desire to withdraw my amendment.
– Is it the pleasure of the House that the amendment be withdrawn ?
– I object.
Question - That the words, “We have observed with feelings of profound satisfaction the evidence afforded by recent legislation, and recent debates in the Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom, of a sincere desire,” proposed to be left out, stand part of the question - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 45
Question so resolved in the negative.
– You, sir, put the motion in the form, “ That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question.” Therefore, I take it that the words
We have observed, with feelings of profound satisfaction, the evidence afforded by recent legislation and recent debates in the Houses of Parliament of the United Kingdom, of a sincere desire, have been deleted.
– Yes ; certainly.
Question - That the remainder of paragraph 2, proposed to be left out, stand part of the question - resolved in the negative.
Question - That paragraph 3, proposed to be left out, stand part of the motion - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question - That the motion, as amended, be agreed to - put. The House divided.
Majority … … 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
– I desire to ask if it is competent for an honorable member to move that the protest of the minority should be recorded in the address ?
– The protest of every honorable member who voted with the “ noes “ is shown on the division list.
– But the names will not appear in the address.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty as follows : -
May it please Your Majesty :
We, Your Majesty’s dutiful and loyal subjects, the Members of the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled, desire most earnestly in our name and on behalf of the people whom we represent, to express our unswerving loyalty and devotion to Your Majesty’s person and Government.
Enjoying and appreciating as we do the blessings of Home Rule here, we would humbly express the hope that a just measure of Home Rule may be granted to the people of Ireland. They ask for it through their representatives - never has request more clear, consistent, and continuous been made by any nation. As subjects of Your Majesty we are interested in the peace and contentment of all parts of, the Empire, and we desire to see this long-standing grievance at the very heart of the Empire removed. It is our desire for the solidarity and permanence of the Empire, as a Power making for peace and civilization, that must be our excuse for submitting to Your Majesty this respectful petition. .
Debate resumed from 21st September (vide page 2630), on motion by Mr. Knox -
Mr. SYDNEY SMITH (Macquarie).I think that it is probable that the question into which the proposed Select Committee is to be asked to’ inquire will eventually become a party one, and that it is, therefore, undesirable that you, Mr. Speaker, should take part in the proceedings. While I recognise that you would be able to materially assist the Committee’s deliberations, I hold that to place you in a position in which you might possibly come into conflict with a section of the House would be to create a very dangerous precedent. It is with no disrespect, sir, that I suggest that your name should be omitted from the list of members.
– But it seems to me that it would be an undesirable precedent to establish. So far as I am aware, it is the first time a proposal has been made that Mr. Speaker should be placed in a position in which he might become involved in party politics.
– That is very improbable.
– That might be the result of Mr. Speaker’s election to the Committee. I have no desire, sir, to show you any disrespect, but surely the honorable member for Bland will admit that it is possible that the question of taking over the States debts may yet become a party one.
– Everything is possible.
– Then the honorable member must recognise that my objection is a reasonable one.
– It seems practically impossible at this stage that the question can become a party one.
– I take a different view. As a member of the Committee Mr. Speaker might make suggestions that would bring him into conflict with a section of the House, and, having regard to all the circumstances, I shall vote against his appointment.
– I am not wholly satisfied that the best method of dealing with the question of the terms upon which the States debts shall be taken over is to refer it to a Select Committee. When the honorable member for Kooyong inquiredwhether I would act as a member of the proposed Committee, I told him that I should be glad to assist in its deliberations, but it seems to me that the subject of the inquiry is largely one to be dealt with by the States Treasurers and the Commonwealth Government. I admit the difficulty of arriving at a hurried decision upon a question of such’ great importance. I realize, also, the obstacles in the way of our arriving at any agreement that will be satisfactory to the States, and, above all, the difficulty of propounding a scheme in conformity with the Constitution that would allow us to economically deal with the transferred debts. In view of these facts, I think that a subject of this magnitude should be dealt with by the Cabinet, rather than by a Select Committee. It is improbable, however, that any satisfactory scheme is likely to be arranged pending an amendment of the Constitution, and, that being so, I do not feel so strongly disposed to object to the proposed procedure as I might otherwise be. As to the point raised by the honorable member for Macquarie, I consider, Mr. Speaker, that the Committee would not be complete unless you were a member of it. Any one who has paid the slightest attention to the discussion of the States debts question, must be aware that you have devoted a great deal of time to its consideration, and have made some lucid suggestions with respect to it.
– Has not Mr. Speaker done the same in regard to other important questions?
– I know of no other question in which Mr. Speaker has exhibited the same degree of interest since his election to the Chair. I therefore trust that the House, if it favours the appointment of the Select Committee, will take care that the name of Mr. Speaker is not omitted from the list of members. I see no prospect of the matter becoming a question of high party politics.
– Various Speakers in the House of Commons have taken part in debates upon party questions, including the question of Home Rule.
– Quite so; and, having regard to all the circumstances, I see no objection to the proposal.
Mr.McDONALD (Kennedy).- I regard the motion as a most important one ; but I think that it would be better to have the matter investigated by a Committee of experts. At the same time, I agree with the honorable member for Macquarie that, notwithstanding, the great knowledge of financial subjects which you, Mr. Speaker, possess, it would be unwise for you to become a member of a Select Committee, the proposed adoption of whose recommendations must be a contentious matter. I hope. , therefore, that the motion will be amended by leaving out your name. I shall vote against it, and will divide the House upon it.
– My only objection to the motion is that, as we are so near the end of the session, it will be impossible for a Select Committee to report on this matter before the prorogation.
– The Government willconvert the Select Committee into another Royal Commission.
– Why not face the question now ? I have no confidence in the suggestion that the matter should be referred to a Committee of experts, because in my view it is wholly a political matter, which must ultimately be submitted to the electors, and determined by Parliament. The investigation of this subject will require the very careful taking of evidence, and considerable time must elapse before a report can be submitted to the House. A reason why we should not appoint a Committee of experts to consider the matter is that their report would probably not be received with favour by the Treasurers of the States. No scheme is likely to be considered satisfactory unless it is indorsed by a Committee of representatives of each of the States. However much we may desire to be informed on this subject by experts, and however much we may feel that only those who are most learned in finance should be intrusted with its investigation, we must admit that any report will be valueless unless supported by a strong body of political opinion.
– That is a strong reason why Mr. Speaker should not be a member of the Committee.
- Mr. Speaker’s eminent services in this regard make it exceedingly desirable that he should be a member of the Committee, if there is no precedent which would prevent him from accepting the position. No one is more careful of the dignity of the office which he holds than he is, and if he thinks that it will in no way derogate from that dignity to accept a seat on the Committee, I shall not take exception to the inclusion of his name in the motion. The question is an urgent one, and it is desirable that it should be dealt with, but a Select Committee will do very little in regard to it during, the present session.
Mr. HIGGINS (Northern Melbourne).I have to admit that it was on my suggestion that Mr. Speaker consented to allow his name to appear in the motion. I conceived that if he were a member of the Committee, we should not only have the advantage of his eminent financial abilities in dealing with the matter in hand, but should be able to lift its consideration above party considerations. I may have been wrong in thinking so, but I do not feel that I went too far in consulting him on the matter before the honorable member for Kooyong put his name into the motion. If the leader of any party in the House objects to his acting, I feel sure that he will decline to act ; but I appeal to those who know how great are the issues involved, and how responsible the work to be done - affecting, as it does, the people of all the States - to consider whether it would not be of advantage to lift this matter above party considerations, and to make use of Mr. Speaker’s knowledge of the subject. However, if there is much discussion as to the advisability of leaving his name in the motion, I am sure that he will feel bound to take a certain course.
– It will be a great mistake if Mr. Speaker is made a member of the Committee.
– I should like the goodnatured opinion of other honorable members on the point. Nothing can be done by the proposed ‘Committee. Its work will be merely to inquire and report. Its members will represent each of the States, but all they can do will be to report on the expert evidence which is brought before them. The question involved is a complex one, embracing, as it does, both, matters affecting the money market and constitutional matters. No one need covet the task of those who undertake the work. I suggest that the motion should, be passed as it stands, and that Mr. Speaker’s name should remain in it, unless he feels absolutely obliged to decline to sit on the Committee.
– I shall support the motion, but I do not think that the action of the House, in referring this matter to a Select Committee, will in any way lessen the responsibility of the Cabinet in regard to it. Ministers have certain distinctive responsibilities in regard to questions of this kind, and they will remain, even if the proposed Committee is appointed. The Committee, however, may do an immense amount of good by obtaining the opinions of experts and others as to the best way of dealing with the debts of the States,’ and, when their report has been placed’ before the House, honorable members will be in a better position to deal with the whole question, while it will also be of service to the Cabinet in considering what action they will propose. I do not see that there is any good reason for objecting to the motion on the ground that the appointment of the Committee will lessen the responsibility of Ministers. The Committee should obtain very valuable information on the question to be considered. I do not agree with those who say that Mr. Speaker should not be a member of the Committee. V recognise that he has given financial matters very close attention, and is well qualified to deal with this subject. 1 hope, therefore, that the honorable member for Kooyong will leave the motion as it stands.
-I am not at all enamoured of the motion. T think that the Cabinet should take the responsibility of proposing to the House what it thinks the best method of dealing with this matter. When the House is asked to consider such a proposal, we shall have the advantage of the knowledge of al 1 the members of the proposed Committee with the exception of you, Mr. Speaker. The one consideration that would induce me to vote for the motion is the fact that Mr. Speaker is to be a member of the Committee. At present we have no opportunity to avail ourselves of the very long experience and great ability of Mr. Speaker in financial matters, and I trust that if the Committee be appointed he will consent to become an active member of it. I am sure that the Committee would be distinctly weakened, and the respect for its decisions would be lessened, if he declined to take any part in its deliberations. Mr. Speaker was the Chairman of the Finance Committee at the last Federal Convention, and he is thoroughly familiar with the financial complexities with which the Committee will have to deal. I shall oppose the motion, but I hope that if the Committee be appointed Mr. Speaker will consent to act upon it. I congratulate the honorable member for Kooyong upon the excellent selection he has made.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Dugald
In Committee of Supply (Consideration resumed from 18th October, vide page 3755):
Department ok Trade and Customs.
Division 33 (Central staff), £6,627.
– The provision made for the Department of Trade and Customs for the year 1904-5 was £269,797, whereas the amount now asked for is ,£269,620, or a decrease of £177.
This is very satisfactory, in view of the fact that provision is made this year for £1,991 for the payment of arrears which properly belong to last year. Exclusive of these arrears, the actual decrease is £2,168 Economy has not been practised to the prejudice of the officers, because their salaries have been provided for according to the classification rates, plus increases strongly recommended by the chief officers in the States, and approved of by the Public Service Commissioner. For officers receiving over £160 per annum- the increases amount to ,£4,357, and for officers receiving under £160 per annum the increases amount to £4,420. The States staffs have been carefully supervised, and reduced where possible. No injustice has been done to any officer, but when vacancies have occurred through retirements, transfers, deaths, &c, they have not been filled unless it has been absolutely necessary to do so. A comparison of the States staffs for the years 1903-4 and j 905-6 shows that there has been a reduction of forty-nine in the total number of officers, distributed as follows : -
At the present stage, I do not propose to enter upon matters of detail. I compiled the particulars which I have just given, after consultation with my officers, in order to indicate to honorable members the general position of the Department. In regard to the officers in the State of Victoria, where the Central Staff is, I might point out that in 1903-4 the number of officers was 272, and the expenditure £66,845. In 1904-5, the number of officers had been reduced to 258, and the expenditure to £64,501, showing a decrease of ,£2,344. For the current year, the staff has been further reduced to 248, and the estimated expenditure amounts to £62,658, showing a decrease of £1,843. Therefore, in two years, the staff has been reduced by twentyfour, and the expenditure by £4,187. Notwithstanding the net decrease shown, the following extra expenditure has been necessary. For the year, 1904-5, increases under section 19 of the Victorian Public Service Act absorbed £1,726; and it is estimated that “during the current year £500 will be required .to meet expenditure in the same direction. Adjustments, owing to increases, other than ordinary increments, granted by the Public Service Commissioner, absorb £572, and the increments for which provision -is made on the Estimates, amount to £2,000, making a total of £3,072. I mention these facts, because it would appear from the Estimates that an injustice has been done to the Victorian Collector of Customs, Mr. Smart, and to Mr. Barnard, of Tasmania, in a lesser degree. As a matter of fact. I think that they have not been quite fairly treated. I did not desire that the salaries of the officers in my Department should be increased ; but had I known that increases had been given to others, I should certainly have pressed on the Treasurer the necessity of augmenting the salaries of the officers referred to. Mr. Smart has proved himself one of the most efficient of our public servants; he does a great deal of extra work, and does it very well. I know that he feels somewhat aggrieved that no addition has been made to his salary, and I intend to ask the Treasurer to make provision in that direction upon the supplementary Estimates, or otherwise. Honorable members will see that under Mr. Smart’s management a saving of £4,187 has been effected.
– When the PublicService Classification scheme was under consideration, I directed attention to the cases of some officers in the Customs Department, whose claims had been overlooked. I brought under the notice of honorable members the necessity, for reducing the overtime worked by lockers in certain bonds, and I also mentioned the fact that three junior lockers had been promoted over the heads of a number of senior lockers. It is quite possible that, as the Public Service Commissioner states, these junior officers were exceptionally smart- >
– I think it is desirable that we should have a quorum. [Quorum formed.]
– When the Public Service classification scheme was before the House I pointed out that three junior lockers in the Customs Department had been promoted to senior positions over the heads of other officers, and that the Public Service Commissioner had stated that their promotion was entirely due to their special qualifications. A short time ago I moved for the compilation of a return showing the amount of overtime that had been worked at certain bonds in Melbourne, and, strange to say, I found that one of these men had obtained £95 us. for the overtime which he had worked, whilst another had received £42 2s., and the third £37 4s.
– Is the honorable member referring to Victorian lockers?
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Then the honorable member must see that that is a matter which should properly be brought up under division 37.
– Inasmuch as the whole of the lockers employed in the Customs Department are under the ComptrollerGeneral, I take it that any question relating to them can be discussed under cover of the first item. I do not say that the Public Service Commissioner or the ComptrollerGeneral is to blame for the promotion of the officers to whom I have referred, but I do think that some of their subordinates have favorites in the Department, whom they push forward, whilst persons whom they dislike are denied an opportunity to qualify for the better positions.
The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.If the honorable member is still referring to individual cases, he must see that his remarks are out of order. Every officer in the Customs Department is under the Comptroller-General, and therefore, according to the theory advanced by the honorable member - his position is now under review. That is not so. The object of setting out each item separately is to afford honorable members an opportunity to deal with it specifically.
– I admit that it is not competent for me to refer in detail to the positions of these officers. I merely wish to add that it is very difficult at times to ascertain whether favoritism exists in any Department. Under our Public Service Act political patronage has been abolished. I wish that official influence could also be abolished. However, I do not intend to labour this question now, because I shall have an opportunity to again raise it when the Estimates for the State of Victoria are under consideration.
– I desire to challenge the administration of the Customs Department, and I take it that I shall be in order in so doing under cover of this item. Recently we have heard a good deal in regard to the action of the Department in seizing a quantity of hats, and, as the Minister stands by his officers, he must bear the brunt of my attack. I wish to say that the answers which he gave tocertain questions to-day were not correct.
– I got them from the Department.
– I do not care where the Minister obtained his information, I say that it is inaccurate. Upon previous occasions I have declared that where the Minister endeavours to protect the revenue and to administer the law I shall be found supporting him. I will be no party to assisting any person to defraud the Customs. I am prepared to stand by the law. The law may be wrong, but whilst it remains upon our statute-book we have a right to see that it is properly administered. In connexion with this seizure of hats, I wish to point out that the law has been administered in such a way as to deprive the persons directly concerned of their just rights. All that they desire is that they shall be afforded an opportunity in a Court of law of clearing themselves from the imputation of having attempted to defraud the revenue. That should be the right of every British citizen. But we might as well be under the rule of the Czar of Russia as under the administration of the honorable member for Hume. He allows nobody any rights, and at his own sweet will does things which the law does not permit him to do. What are the facts of this particular case? The Minister has stated that the seizure of the hats was not made with the object of forfeiting them. May I say that that statement is absolutely incorrect? These hats were seized for forfeiture. The firm immediately concerned had recourse to their statutory Tights. The law allows them a month in which to give notice of their intention to initiate legal proceedings against the Department. Within three days they gave that notice. Upon the day following the Department shifted its. ground. It adopted the clan of purchasing the goods, and the Minister has told us to-day that they were never seized for forfeiture. They were so seized, and the Department’s intimation that it intended to purchase them was not given until after it had received notice of action. The Department made a mistake, and the Minister saw that by purchasing the goods he could deprive Messrs. Henty and Company of their rights to establish their bona fides in a Court of law. I say that his action was an absolutely improper one. He should have callowed that firm the right to test the action of the Department in a Court of law. The whole surroundings of the case indicate that Messrs. Henty and Company did the honest thing. I have heard honorable members all round the Chamber expressing opinions as to the value of the hats in question, although they know as much about them as I do. Unless they have been connected with the business, it is idle for them to express any opinion as to their value. The firm to which I have referred received a consignments of hats some considerable time ago. These were valued for Customs purposes at 1s.1d. each, and were sold in Melbourne at 2s. 2d. each. The sale-note, together with the amount due, was forwarded to the consignor, who expressed his satisfaction at the prices which the goods had realized. Indeed, so satisfied was he, that he announced his intention of sending out another consignment. He did so, and these were the goods which the Customs Department seized the other day.
– I think that we ought to have a quorum present whilst this matter is being discussed.[Quorum formed.]
– When the hats arrived the. invoice was not to hand, and the importers therefore put what they believed to be a fair price upon them, and passed them on a. sight entry. In other words, they opened the cases, and allowed the Customs officers to inspect the goods for themselves. A day or two later the invoice was received, and the importers found that the price at which they valued them for Customs purposes was a little higher than that atwhich they had been consigned to them. That being so, they had done no wrong to the Department. This fact in itself should be sufficient to show their bona fides. In the first instance the Department gave notice of seizure of the goods as for forfeiture, and the owners at once replied by giving notice of action. On the day following the receipt of this notice, however, the Department changed its ground, and intimated that it proposed to avail itself of the power given to it under another section of the Customs Act to buy the hats, and thus to render it impossible for an action to be brought against it for detention of the goods. The importers challenged the Department to proceed against them for fraud, but the Minister declined to give them an opportunity to show in a Court of law that the valuation which they placed upon these goods was correct. We have been told by some honorable members that the hats are worth £1 is. each, but as I am not an expert I can offer no opinion with regard to that point. I may say, however, that when I was in Sydney a few days ago, I called upon a hatter, and having told him the facts as reported in the press in regard to the Customs seizure, inquired whether he had any such goods in stock. From the description given and the price placed upon the hats, he was able to show me samples which he considered might fairly be taken to represent the class of goods that had been seized, and I must say that they appeared to be similar to those exhibited in the House. The hats shown me in Sydney are invoiced at something like the price at which those consigned to James Henty and Company were invoiced. I am satisfied that the consignees of these goods have throughout shown their bona fides. It is reported that the Department has received offers to purchase them at four times the value at which they were invoiced, but I should like to have proof of the correctness of that assertion. I am told that one gentleman who was asked to tender said he would not give more than gs. per dozen for them, while another was prepared to give £45 for the consignment.
– I “heard of a man who was prepared to give £100 for the lot.
– That may be so. I take up the position that the importers of these hats should not have been’ deprived of their statutory right by a change of front on the part of the Department. If the Minister is absolutely certain of his position, why should he object to proceedings being instituted against the Department? Had the Department stood by the position which it originally took up, the firm in question would ha,ve had an opportunity to prove their bona fides in a Court of law. The Minister of Trade and Customs has shown from the first that he is endeavouring, by means of administrative acts, to establish the policy of protection.
– It seems that in the case referred to, he endeavoured to secure the protection of the revenue.
– That is not so. The Minister is endeavouring to raise the valuation placed on imported harvesters, and so to establish increased protection without the authority of Parliament. I do not know Mr. Smart, but I do know that he is a protectionist.
– Who is Mr. Smart?
– The honorable member who interjects must know Mr. Smart; he is one of McKay Bros.’ sub-agents, and no doubt he is using his influence to have the price of imported harvesters raised as high as possible.
– I have not seen Mr. McKay twice in my life, and there is absolutely no foundation for the honorable member’s statement.
– I at once accept the honorable member’s assurance. It is absolutely clear that the valuation which the Minister has placed on imported harvesters is altogether too high. The Customs valuation of £65 plus the duty of £8 brings up the price of these machines to £73 each without any allowance for freight and other charges, and yet they are being sold today at £81 spot cash. That fact should, in itself, convince the Minister that he acted wrongly in raising the valuation. We know that the International Harvester Company has withdrawn from the combine which Mr, McKay joined, in order to keep up prices, and an attempt is now being made to “ get at “ this company because it has reduced the price of its machines to £70 each. The Customs valuation plus the duty is over £3 in excess of the amount at which these machines are now being sold.
– Who reaps the benefit of the reduction in price?
– The farmer undoubtedly does. The Minister ought to acknowledge the mistake that he made - acting, .no doubt, on the advice of his officers - and recede from the position he has taken up with regard to this company. It is said that the price of these machines is being reduced below what it costs to make them. As a matter of fact, however, there are manufacturers who are making and selling machines in Victoria at from £60 to £65 each, in small- establishments where machines of this kind cannot be made so cheaply as in large establishments like that of the McKays. Of course, the small makers are content to supply the orders they receive from farmers living within ten or twenty miles of their factories, and do not go to the expense of canvassing the Commonwealth for business. But if they can manufacture machines for £65, although working only in a small way, and paying high prices for their material, it is obvious that manufacturers who are working in a very large way, and are getting their raw material at the lowest price possible, can afford to sell their machines for very much less. I hope that the Minister will consider this matter fairly. In regard to the seizure of the alleged Panama hats which has been made, I hope that he will stand by his first decision. If the hats are what he says they are, the Commonwealth will not lose by having the matter taken into Court, because the importing firm will be mulcted in damages for having tried to pass through the Customs as hats of inferior quality hats of a superior quality. It is not in the interests of the Department that hole-and-corner methods should be adopted. There may be small matters which can be dealt with privately in the Star Chamber manner ; but when an importer is practically charged with fraud - with having entered goods at a lower valuation than their real value at the port of shipment - the Minister should prosecute him to enable him to show, if possible, that he has acted honestly. My belief is that the Minister’s object has been to practically increase duties without getting the consent of Parliament to an amendment of the Tariff. Neither protectionists nor free-traders should allow administration of that kind. If a free-trader were at the head of the Department, I would strongly object to goods being allowed to enter the Commonwealth on payment of a lower rate of duty1 than that imposed on them by the Tariff; and, similarly, I think that the Tariff rates should not be increased by Ministerial act. The Minister has been placed in office to honestly administer the law. All he should be concerned about is the protection of the revenue. He has no right to alter the law. I condemn the Minister for his action in both the cases to which I have referred.
– When the proper time comes, I feel strongly inclined to move a reduction in the salary of the Comptroller-General of Customs.
– The honorable member can do so now.
– I prefer to do so later. 1 wish first to make a few general observations in regard to the administration of the Department by the honorable member for Hume, who is acting the part of a Czar. His administration is utterly re pugnant to the feelings of a free people, is bringing the Department into disrepute, and is not increasing the confidence of the commercial community.
– Would the honorable member have him allow the Customs Department to be fleeced ?
– No. I should be the last to advocate that.
– There is not a quorum present. [Quorum formed.]
– There are so many Ministerial decisions underthe Customs Act, one overriding another, that the commercial community is almost paralyzed by the want of uniformity and consistency which exists. Another cause of complaint among merchants is the attempts of the officials of the Department, sanctioned by the Minister, to go behind the back of Parliament, and practically increase the rates of duties by increasing the valuations which are presented. Such action was never contemplated by Parliament. The Minister has no right to tamper with legislation in this way.
– Why does not the honorable member move a motion of want of confidence in him ?
– I should have much pleasure in moving such a motion if it were my place to do so; but as things are I must leave it to the discretion of my leader. I hope that honorable members will be accommodated in the matter before very long. A short while ago, we had reason to complain of the action of the Minister and his officers in increasing the valuation on a consignment of harvesters. Although all theinformation which had been obtained by the Department went to show that the values given were the true values in the country of manufacture, a respectable firm of importers has been persecuted and subjected to indignity, injury, and injustice, without being given the right to justify their action before a legal tribunal. Additional evidence has since shown conclusively that the entries contained a correct valuation. The action of which I complain was not taken by the Minister, because he personally thought that something was wrong, but because of the ex parte representations of a local manufacturer who is a business rival of the firm in question. A Minister who acts on such statements without satisfying himself as to their truth shows himself unfitted for his position.
– Why did the late Minister of Trade and Customs increase these valuations? .
– He did not do so. On the contrary, he refused to take the action which the present Minister has taken. He satisfied himself that the valuation of the harvesters was a, true one.
– That is not correct.
– I believe that there was some slight alteration in the valuation, but I cannot for the moment recollect the exact circumstances. I shall look into the matter, and probably have something to say later on. At any rate, the valuations to which I refer were accepted by the Customs until the present Minister entered upon a career of systematic persecution of importers. Apparently, it is not his desire to do justice, or to protect the revenue, but merely to harass importers by every means at his disposal.
– How does the honorable member explain- the fact that since the increased valuation for the purposes of duty, the price of the harvesters has been reduced?
– The reduction in the price has been brought about by circumstances which have been clearly explained by the honorable member for New England. If the reduced price to the consumer had been’ brought about by the increased valuation adopted by the Customs Department, then all we should have to do would be to further raise the valuation by about 200 pec cent., in order to reduce the sale price to a mere nothing. I understand that honorable members opposite do not desire that the cost of the harvesters to farmers should be reduced. On the contrary, they wish that prices shall be kept up in the interests of the local manufacturers of agricultural implements. When the honorable member for Gippsland was Minister of Customs, Mr. Smart reported, after an examination of the invoices of the Massey-Harris Company, that the Department had been consistently treated with fairness by that firm. He afterwards varied his report in such a manner as to lead to the persecution of the company. It is to be presumed that he satisfied himself as to the facts before he submitted his first report, and his conduct in changing his attitude upon the advent of a new Minister, requires explanation. Following upon the action of the Department in regard to harvesters, we have recently been made familiar with the circumstances at- . tending the seizure- of a consignment of hats, alleged by the Customs officers to be Panama hats or intended to be sold as such. Yesterday I addressed a series of questions to the Minister upon this subject, and I take exception to the replies furnished, because they are absolutely misleading. I do not suggest that the Minister has wilfully told untruths, but I contend that the officers who supplied the information embodied in the replies have made statements contrary to fact. I asked -
Have the Minister or his officers taken any steps to test the accuracy of the allegation of Messrs. Henty and Co.’s representative (as published in the- Argus of ir 7th instant) that the process of bleaching such hats as those seized results in a shrinkage to half their original, size.
The reply was -
The information supplied by experts is that such hats can be bleached, but none of this shipment has been experimented on by the Department.
I want to know why an experiment has not been made, if the officials believe that the hats can be successfully bleached, and sold as Panama hats? The hats were not imported as Panamas, and it is not contended that they are Panamas, or that there was any intention on the part of the importers to sell them as such. The goods are alleged. By Messrs. Henty and Company to be of exactly the same character as those comprised in a shipment which was landed here about twelve months ago, and passed by the Customs. Those hats were sold wholesale at 2s. each, and retailed at from 3s. to 3s. 6d. each. -The present shipment, I believe, comes from the same consignor, and I think that we should have some explanation why. it should have been considered necessary to stop this particular consignment when identical ones have been admitted without question ; and why Messrs. Henty and Company have been singled out from others. The system of over-valuation has been adopted by the Minister as a means of persecuting importers in general. Apparently he desires to paralyze trade and commerce, and I shall at every opportunity raise my “voice in protest against such administration. If the Customs authorities were so cocksure that these hats could be bleached- and. sold as Panamas at £1 is. apiece, why were no experiments made to test the truth of their assertions? We have a right to assume that the Customs authorities are afraid to submit the hats to such- a test. It is not too late for the Minister to satisfy himself as to the true character of the consignment. If the assertions of the departmental officers could be proved, I should not urge the slightest objection to the action taken, but, under present circumstances, we have a right to assume that a serious blunder, if nothing worse, has been committed. I am inclined to believe that something more than a blunder is involved. A course of systematic persecution has been entered upon, and I am afraid that it will be pursued in an exaggerated form when the actions of the Department cannot be brought under immediate review. In view of all the circumstances, we have a right to seriously question the bona fides of the Minister. I should -warmly support him in any action he might take for the protection of the revenue ; but in this case not the slightest evidence has been produced to show that there was any intention on the part of the importers to perpetrate a wrong upon the public. I should like to know why the action taken in the first instance was afterwards abandoned in favour of another course, which has had the effect of depriving the aggrieved firm of an opportunity to appeal to the law Courts. If the Minister believes that he is on firm ground he should not shirk an action at law. He has branded the importers as a fraudulent business firm, and no Minister has any right to leave the aggrieved persons without any redress by process of law. Messrs. Henty and Company have challenged’ the Minister to give them an opportunity to appeal to the law Courts. According to a statement published in yesterday’s newspapers a representative of Messrs. Henty and Company stated -
We never described the hats as Panamas. They were seized because they were deemed to be undervalued. The accusation against us is practically one of fraud. If we prove our case, it will be admitted that we have been badly treated. We had a shipment of similar hats last year. They were sold wholesale at 2s. each, and retailed by the Mutual Store at 3s. or 3s. 6d. The consignor was well satisfied with the account sales which he received, although the net return was only about 2s. per hat. The question is one which seriously affects our reputation, which ought not, we maintain, to be in the hands of any one man in the Customs Department. The Customs officials state that the hats are “ retailed for £1 is. each in the city after being bleached.” An attempt was made to bleach the hats before, and here is the result.
It is explained that -
Messrs. Henty and Company’s representative then displayed two hats, which were stated to be similar to those in the hands of the Customs Department. One of these had been bleached, the operation resulting in the article shrinking into half its original size.
If that statement be true, the Minister had an opportunity to submit these hats to the test of bleaching, in order to ascertain whethey or not they were “ bleachable.” I think that the firm of Messrs. Henty and Company have a perfect right to take exception to the action of the Customs Department. If. the authorities really believe that these goods can be bleached, why do they not put them through that process? If, on the other hand, they cannot be bleached without being reduced to half their original size, the Minister and his officers stand condemned as absolutely incapable. The question then arises : “ How much more of this sort of thing are we to tolerate?” Is the Department, by its administrative acts, to be permitted to paralyze the whole commerce of this country? ‘That seems to be its policy. The entire commercial community is now in a state of fear bordering upon paralysis. As one correspondent observes -
I am in constant dread lest some error of a clerk or importer, or even of some one on the other side of the world, should cause me to be fined. When the Department changes its classification of articles every now and then, how are we to escape the snares set for all importers? For four years “Doyleys” have been rated as table-furnishings at 20 per cent. The other day this was altered, and they are now textile articles at 25 per’ cent.
Honorable members will notice that a decrease is never made in the duties levied upon goods, but always an increase. Thus our legislation is being continually set at naught by the administrative acts of the Minister, or the officers of his Department who have usurped the functions and powers of Parliament relating to the imposition of taxation. .We have a right to protest against that sort of thing. If the statement which I have just read be true - :and there _appears to be no reason to doubt its accuracy - it evidences an attempt on the part of the Department to override the legislation of this Parliament, and to increase, by administrative acts, duties which have been imposed by statute. A moment ago I referred to a challenge which has been issued to the Minister by this particular firm. According to a report in the Argus, the representative of Messrs. Henty and Company said -
The statement of the Minister is weak and childish. We would be only’ too pleased if Sir
William Lyne would take proceedings against us. That would give us the opportunity we desire of showing the public that we are in the right.
No proposal could be fairer than that. The Minister ought to afford this firm an opportunity to prove whether they were guilty of an attempt to defraud the Customs revenue. The statement continues -
We are accused of fraud. Why doeshe not proceed against us? We are perfectly ready to take up the position of the owners of the goods, and can prove that these hats are purchasable at about1s. each at the port of shipment.
Messrs. Henty and Company have no desire to shelter themselves behind the technicality that they are merely indent agents. The report proceeds -
The Customs Act says that the value stated in an entry shall be “ fair market value at the port of shipment.” It is simply absurd for any one to place a value of 4s. each upon the hats. They would be imported in enormous quantities if they could, as alleged, be retailed in Melbourne at21s. each. Several hatters have volunteered to testify in Court that the hats are low class goods.
I take it that this statement is a bona fide one, and incidentally I may mention that the members of this firm are utter strangers to me. I have had no communication with them, either verbal or otherwise, and consequently I cannot be charged with having any personal interest in the matter. My only desire is that the Department shall be fairly administered, and I am sure that the public wish for nothing else.
– I beg to call attention to the state of the House. [Quorum formed.]
– It is not too late for the Minister to recede from the false position that he has taken up, if he has. been led. into it by acting upon the advice of his officers. If he refuses to allow Messrs. Henty and Company an opportunity to establish their bona fides in a Court of law, we have a right to consider that his action has been prompted by motives other than those which have so far been disclosed. Such a refusal will be prima facie evidence that it is the policy of the Customs Department to systematically persecute importers, with a view to paralyzing the commerce of the Commonwealth.
– When the Estimates were under consideration last year, I made certain observations regarding the position of some assistant excise officers in South Australia. Upon page 741 1 of Hansard will be found a series of questions which I put to the then Minister of Trade and Customs, the honorable member for Gippsland. I asked him -
In reply, the Minister stated -
When I received those answers I was under the impression that they were correct. The regulation referred to distinctly states that assistant, as well as permanent, officers are entitled to certain allowances when they are absent at country stations. During the late Government’s term of office I telegraphed to the Minister of Trade and Customs, informing him that I had heard that, whilst the permanent officers were receiving these allowances, they had been denied to the assistant officers, who had been discharged. I have not received a reply to that telegram, although the late Minister of Trade and Customs promised, when we were dealing with the Estimates last ses- sion, that he would look into the matter, and see that no injustice was done to these men. I have learned from a source upon which I think I can rely that the Customs Department is actually paying permanent officers an. allowance of 10s. per day for the first week, and 5s. for each succeeding day that they serve in country districts. This allowance is in addition to the fixed salaries. I contend that, if this be true, a grave injustice has been done to those who were discharged without receiving travelling allowances. I recently brought this matter under the notice of the Minister, and trust that he will be able this evening to give me a reply. If it be fair to pay members of the permanent staff an allowance of 10s. per day for the first week, and 5s. per day for every subsequent day during which they are on duty at country stations, it is equallyfair that the same allowance should be paid to temporary employes.
– I gave notice last night that I should require to be supplied with information with reference to the matter mentioned by the honorable member ; but we reached the Estimates this afternoon a little sooner than I anticipated, and the officer who can supply me with the particulars is not yet present. He will be here in a few minutes.
– I am satisfied that the regulations distinctly provide that assistants shall” be placed on an equal footing with permanent men on country stations, and my point is that if allowances are paid to permanent employes on country stations, the men I have mentioned should be reappointed and have justice meted out to them.
– I wish also to refer to the seizure of hats of which mention has already been made. Some persons may think that the Minister will have to bear most of the blame for this bungle, even if he was not directly responsible for it; but I do not desire to indict him. I wish only to briefly trace the history of the whole case, in order that the pages of Hansard may bear a true account of it, and at the conclusion of my remarks I shall ask honorable members vhether, looking at all the facts, the burden of proving the justice of its claim should rest with the Department or with the firm which has been refused an opportunity to take proceedings in a court of law As honorable members are aware, the case relates to a shipment of 1,000 hats, com monly known as Formosa hats, and made of rush. The shipment arrived in the latter part of last month. The invoice not being in the hands of the agents, Messrs. James Henty and Company, they adopted the straightforward course of talcing out a sight entry - they requested the Customs officials to open up the goods, see for themselves what they were worth, and assess them for the purposes of duty. A Customs officer opened them up, noticed that they appeared to be similar in quality to a previous shipment which had already been passed, and the Department accepted without immediate demur the same valuation as before.. One would think that the matter would have ended there; but such was not the case. The next step taken by the Department was to serve the following notice upon the agents : -
Take notice that I have this day seized as forfeited under the Customs Act 1901 the following goods, namely : -
Here follows a description of the goods -
The cause of the seizure of the said goods is that the value is not a fair market value in the country whence the goods were exported. Seized under section 161.
Now the intention of the consignees was specially directed in this notice, which bears date 20th September, 1905, to sections 205, 206, and 207 of the Customs Act, which are printed on the back of it. Section 205 provides that goods seized as forfeited shall not be sold if within one month of the seizure the owner - and under the definition section “owner” includes “agent”. - claims them; while section 207 sets forth that when a claim has been made for seized goods, the Collector is to require the claimant to enter an action, and that if such action be not entered within four months, the goods shall be condemned without further proceedings. On the very first notice of seizure which Messrs. James Henty and Company received, instructions were thus clearly given as to the course to be taken if it were desired to contest the action of the Department. The reply of the agents was very much to the point. They instructed a solicitor to act for them, and a notice of action, dated 22nd September - the day after that on which the notice of seizure was received- was served on the Department a few days later. It will thus be recognised that there was no hesitation on the part of the agents to take action. The notice sets forth that -
Here follow the names of the members of the firm - hereby in pursuance of and according to the Act of Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia intituled the Customs Act 1901, and the statute in that behalf made and provided give you notice that we shall at or soon after the expiration of one calendar month from the time of your being served with this notice, cause a Writ of Summons to be issued out of the Supreme Court of the State of Victoria against you at the suit of us. . . . and proceed thereupon according to law for the recovery of £1,000 damages for that you. … at Melbourne aforesaid did. . . . wrongfully seize and detain and do still so retain o.ur goods. … ex steamship Tsinan.
The name and address of the plaintiffs’ solicitor appear at the foot of the notice, so that the Department knew with whom it had to deal. I think that honorable members will admit that this was a straightforward and prompt reply. We come now to an instance of what even a Customs Department may do when it finds itself, owing to its own stupidity, in a tight corner. As I have already mentioned, the notice of action was dated 22nd September, and it was served on the Department on the 25th of that month. On the following day, the Customs Department changed their ground of action. They did not even acknowledge the receipt of the notice of action, but immediately after its receipt served another notice of seizure upon the firm -
To James Henty and Company, Williamstreet, Melbourne. - Take notice that, in accordance with the provisions of section 161 of the Customs Act 1 gol, the goods described in the margin hereof, have been seized, as, in my opinion, they were under-valued for duty.
W. Smart, Collector of Customs.
The purchase money under section 161, j£66 2s. 8d., being the declared value, and 10 per cent., , will be paid to you on application. - A.W.S.
– On the 28th September, three days after the Department had been served with notice of the intention of Messrs. Henty and Company to bring an action for damages, and two days after if had informed Messrs Henty and Company of its intention to purchase the hats, under section 161, the Collector of Customs acknowledged the notice of action in the following terms: -
I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your notice in reference to the above, and to inform you that the goods in question have been purchased by this Department, under section 161 of the Customs Act. Your clients havebeen notified that the purchase money fixed by the above-mentioned section, the declared value and 10 per cent, on the amount of such value, will be paid to them on application. The purchase was effected by seizure of the goods under section 161.
The answer to this letter was as straightforward and frank as all the actions of Messrs. Henty and Company have been, and, therefore, in as marked contrast with the actions of the Department. Their legal advisers wrote to the Department as follows : -
I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of 28th ult., intimating that the goods in question in this matter have been “ purchased “ by your department under section 161 of the Customs Act.
It is inconceivable and so utterly inconsistent with the position and quite ultra’ vires of the power of the department - after deliberate exercise of its statutory and quasi-judicial power - in enforcing the serious penal step (with consequent statutory rights thereby accruing to the importers) of having seized the goods “as forfeited under the Customs Act,” and as such forfeited goods thereupon removed them to the King’s Warehouse, and after I had thereupon given you written notice of action foi damages and consequent claim to their goods on behalf of my clients, that your department should1 afterwards seek to nullify such position by its assumption of the new and less offensive claim as “ a purchaser “ of the goods previously “ seized as forfeited,” and so lying under your department’s condemnation in the King’s Warehouse.
You are aware that throughout the whole of this transaction my clients acted in the most open and candid manner, and also had the goods submitted under sight entry for the examination of yourself and your officers, with the result that my clients have been without any possible justification by the conduct of your department, and by your notice (which presupposed their having committed and imputed their guilt in respect of one of the more serious offences under the Customs Act, which involved1 forfeiture), subjected to an imputation of such dishonorable conduct as would have entitled; your department to seize their goods as forfeited.
As honorable men and honest traders, my clients could not submit to any such outrageously unjust imputation and, therefore, for the protection of their reputation, and in order to. secure the judgment of a court exonerating them, and condemning the department, they felt constrained to take up the position indicated in the notice of the 22nd September ult., served upon you on the 25th idem.
In addition to the legal rights of my clients, your receipt of such notice claiming damages for the illegal “ seizure as forfeited “ of their goods - thus, as well as by this letter again, claimed by them as owners - doubtless gives you, as collector, the right (should the department for a moment consider it as any justification (or seriously doubting their bona fides in the matter), under section 207 and others, instead of taking any proceedings for their condemnation, to give notice requiring my clients, as the owners and claimants, to enter an action against the collector for the recovery of the goods, but if such action be not entered within four months after the date of such notice the goods shall “be deemed to be condemned without any further proceedings, and in this aspect of the question you will also be, of course, aware of the dictum of Dr. Wollaston, the Comptroller-General, in his very excellent and complete work upon the Customs of Australia, at page 134, “ Officers in dealing with seized goods should be careful, “before selling, to see that no notice of claim, or any document which could be deemed to be such, has been received, When the absence of a claim is relied on to cause forfeiture.”
You will, of course, realize that whatever, may be the extent of any such rights of the department, the department certainly has no right, after the exercise of its election and written decision, as notified, that the goods were “ seized as forfeited,” to afterwards shift its ground of procedure bv resorting to another, and the entirely inconsistent, step of purchasing the goods.
You must, therefore, see that in no aspect, having regard for the circumstances of the case, and the provisions of the Act, have you any legal justification for the position sought to be assumed by your notice of the 26th of September ult., endeavouring to set up a purchase of such goods, already treated and notified by the department as forfeited, and which had been as such removed by your officers to, and deposited in, the King’s Warehouse for condemnation under the Act.
Such second or attempted purchase notice Being therefore nugatory, your department cannot lawfully act thereunder,, and consequent thereon sell or otherwise dispose of such goods. The departmental notice of the 6th inst., published in the city press of this date, is therefore a false step, which the department must now realize. in defiance of the law, and a gross infringement of my clients’ rights, and therefore cannot be legally effectuated.
And as to such purported sale my clients, for your information, would direct your attention to the gross misrepresentation contained in your advertised notice of sale in improperly describing the goods as *’ Panama hats,” instead of Formosa rush hats.
I shall be glad of your intimation that the intention indicated by such notice of sale has been abandoned, and if not so, my clients, in addition to their other remedies, will apply to the court for an injunction to restrain any such contemplated illegality.
My clients invite the department, if its doubts as to any alleged offence have not been already dispelled, to at once commence proceedings against them for any breach of the Customs Act, or to consent to my clients commencing their action for damages against the department without awaiting the expiration of the statutory period afforded by the Act for the department to consider its position.
That letter is signed by the solicitor for the firm. The Herald, in commenting upon it, says -
The effect of Mr. Croker’s letter was the withdrawal, as notified in last evening’s Herald, of the public notice inviting tenders for the purchase of the consignment of hats in question.
– That is absolutely, untrue ; that was not the cause of the with - drawal, as I shall show presently.
– It is a pity that the Minister has not already done so. I shall show what the Department is capable of doing.
– I shall show the honorable member that the Department is capable of turning him out of the offices if he tries on any of his games down there.
– We have it on the authority of the Minister that if a member of this Parliament, in the exercise of his rights as a representative of the people, proceeds to the Customs Department in order to ascertain the truth’ or otherwise of allegations made against a certain firm, he will be turned out.
– The honorable member has no right to take papers from the Department and do what he likes with them.
– I have never done so. The Minister is denying, my right, as a representative of the people, to make, in the public interest, inquiries from a Department which I regard as flagrantly maladministered. He threatens to turn me out of the offices. Is that his conception of his duty ? Is that his idea of what his position demands? The statement I have read is a straightforward and candid reply to the second shifty action of the Customs Department. Tenders were invited for the purchase of these goods as “Panama hats.” We have been recently engaged in passing through this House a measure designed to protect the consumers of the Commonwealth against fraudulent trade descriptions, and I hold that the advertisement published by the Department was an infringement of the spirit of that measure. Were the goods described as “Panama hats” in order to deceive the public? If so, I think that such action on the part of officers who are intrusted also with the administration of a measure - the Commerce Bill - intended to prevent the use of fraudulent descriptions is absolutely shameful. The question at issue between the Department and the importers was whether the goods were rush or Panama hats - hats made of screw pine. The case was sub judice, and yet the Department advertised the hats for sale as Panamas. The action taken by the Minister and his subordinates reflects seriously on the administration of the Department, and I propose at a later stage to ascertain whether honorable members are prepared to indorse such flagrant actions on the part of the official representatives of the Commonwealth. The Minister said that the goods were not withdrawn from sale as the result of the letter which I have read, but it is singular that the withdrawal took place upon the day following the publication of the letter. No doubt the Department, which can so readily shift from one arbitrary position to another in order to save its own mean skin, will be able to show that the goods were not withdrawn from sale because of the publication of the letter, but I ask whether the circumstances are not very significant? I venture to think that honorable members will exercise their own good judgment in preference to accepting without examination any explanation that may come from the Department. The importers of the hats are anxious to submit their case to an impartial tribunal, as they have every right to do, but the Department are not prepared to give them the opportunity. What excuse can the Minister advance for declining to permit of a proper hearing of the importers’ claim ? He knows that a mistake has been made, and he has not the manliness to acknowledge it. When a man takes proceedings at law against another, he is presumed to be acting after due consideration, and therefore he is not permitted to withdraw at a certain stage, and thus prevent the other party from obtaining a refund of the legal expenses incurred in preparing for his defence. When private litigants proceed to Court, and the claimant withdraws, costs are always awarded against him. In this case, the Department first proceeded under a certain section of the Customs Act, and practically rendered it necessary for the importers to take preliminary steps for the defence at law of their interests. The Department then escaped from a false. position by proceeding under another section of the Act If the proceedings entered upon in the first instance were not justified, the importers should be reimbursed any legal expenses they may have been called upon to incur. In an ordinary case a claimant would have no opportunity to shift his ground, but would be called upon to prove his case or pay the costs. The Customs Department, however, are prepared to do neither one thing nor the other. They are denying the importers an opportunity to state their case before an impartial tribunal, to clear their reputation, and incidentally recover costs* When the Customs Act was passed it was never anticipated that the powers conferred by it would be so exercised. T would ask the Committee where the right probably lies in this case? The main point at issue between the Department and the importers - because fraud is not alleged - is whether the goods, after being landed, could be bleached and sold as Panama hats at £1 is. each. The Customs authorities say that the hats could be so treated and sold, and the agents hold the contrary view.
– The goods will not be offered to the public in their present condition.
– The honorable member surely knows that wholesalers do not prepare articles of this kind for sale to retail purchasers. If the Customs Department are satisfied that the hats can be bleached, why have they not made some effort to demonstrate the fact? It does not attempt to put its pretensions to the test. I may inform the Committee that I took the trouble of calling upon the agents in reference to this -matter, and subsequently I visited the Customs Department. In passing, I may mention that I had never heard of Messrs. Henty and Company before this dispute arose; and have since heard them, always spoken -of as a most reputable firm. They supplied me with two hats, which they allege are fair samples of the goods which have been seized. As a matter of fact, one of these hats formed part of the last shipment to Melbourne. Having since examined the goods that have been seized, I have no hesitation in saying that it represents a fair sample of their average quality. Accompanied by a. protectionist, in the person of the honorable member for Corangamite. I visited the Customs Department for the purpose of inspecting these goods. We were previously under the impression that they were of a much higher quality than the hats which are now in my possession.
– So they are.
– Will the Minister deny that he has been showing honorable members samples of hats from the seized shipment of a decidedly’ superior character ? He refuses to answer. I say that he has deceived some honorable members by exhibiting only the best samples that could be found in the seized shipment.
– That is not a fact.
– I have seen the goods, and 1 invite any honorable member who doubts my statement to visit the Customs Department and examine the hats for himself. If he does so, he will speedily be convinced that the Department has blundered, and that the Minister is now endeavouring to cover up that blunder by adopting unscrupulous methods. The agents inform me that it is impossible to bleach these hats, as will be clearly apparent from the sample which I hold in my hand. The whole question of whether they have been undervalued depends upon whether or not they can be bleached. I was not prepared to accept offhand the statements of either side. Accordingly, in company with the honorable member for Corangamite, I visited the Customs Department, and asked the Collector if he would allow us to at once purchase a few of these hats, of average quality. He replied that he would ask permission to do so. That permission was refused, when our request was presented to the fountain head of all candour. Why was it refused ? We were willing to pay a larger price for the goods than could be obtained for them upon the market, simply because we wished to, without delay, ascertain for ourselves whether or not they were capable of being bleached. Who is probably right in this matter - theagents, who allege that the hats cannot be bleached, and who have subjected them to a test, or the Minister, who says that they can be bleached, and refuses to allow a test to be made? The agents declare that they are made of rush, whereas Panama hats are made of screw pine. As honorable members are aware, Panama hats aremanufactured under water, and are quite a different article from that which I have here. In looking through the seized cases at the Customs Department, I noticed that the great majority of the hats were covered with moth. Do honorable members imagine that 1,000 hats, which would be worth a guinea, or two guineas each in the retail market, would be imported in such a careless way as to permit of their being covered with moth? All the evidence points to the fact that these goods are exactly what the agents represent them to be. The honorable member for Corangamite andI visited the Customs Department immediately after we had interviewed the agents, because we were anxious to test the value of their evidence. The Collector of Customs was not present at the time of our arrival. We gave our names to an officer in the Department, and stated who we were. We then asked if we could see the hats, which were advertised for sale. An officer of the Department, whose name I do not know, was thereupon deputed to show us the goods in question. We picked up several of the hats, and looked at them. In discussing the matter, and in endeavouring to ascertain their fair average quality, we occasionally turned to the officer, at first asking him direct, and afterwards leading questions, with a view to obtaining some expression, of opinion from him. The man, however, was as close as an oyster.
– Quite right, too.
– Why was it right? Must these things be done in the dark?
– We then waited for the Collector, in order that we might ascertain whether we could procure samples to test for ourselves. When the Collector arrived, the whole position was entirely changed. We were greeted with the utmost courtesy, and extended every consideration. We were again taken downstairs, and shown the seized goods. The officer who had previously been as close as an oyster, came to each of us, apologized for the way in which he had treated us, and said that his instructions were to give no information whatever in regard to the hats.
– Then he is a good officer.
– If the Department has a good case, why is it necessary for it to behave like a felon upon trial ? Is it the accused or the accuser in this matter? If it has a good case, why is it necessary to cover up its action? The honorable member for Wide Bay says that to do so is quite right.
– A subordinate officer must carry out his instructions.
– I do not quarrel with the officer in question for giving effect to his orders; it was his duty to do so. But I say that those orders were wrong. When goods are up for sale, the Customs Department should be prepared to supply the fullest information in respect of them. Why should it differentiate between the treatment which it accords to the outside public and to members of this House? Why should it be necessary to be a member of Parliament in order to acquire information concerning goods which are advertised for sale? The explanation offered was that this officer was not aware that we were members of. Parliament. Apparently he was prepared to tell us all about the hats, to agree with us as to the presence of moth in them - which he did - provided only that we were members of this Parliament.
– I expect that he thought that the honorable member’ himself and the honorable member for Corangamite were detectives.
– We told the Department that we were members of this House.
– But the honorable members tried to quiz the officer while he was in the dark.
– We did not. When we visited the Department, the honorable member for Corangamite said - “ I am Dr. Wilson, a member of the Commonwealth Parliament, and this gentlemen “ - indicating myself - “is Mr. Kelly. We wish to see the hats which have been seized, and which are advertised for sale.”
– How did the officer in question know that the honorable member and his friend were members of this Parliament?
– Because we said so.
– That statement in itself was no proof of its accuracy.
– I do not think that the average individual is accustomed to go round the country describing himself as other than he is.
– It is frequently done.
– I welcome that interjection, because it shows the absurd pleas upon which the Government rely. The honorable member for Corangamite wears on his watch-chain a little medal - his free railway pass - which many honorable members sport on their waistcoats. I do not do so, and, therefore, there might be some doubt as to my identity ; but when an honorable member wears bis pass as large as life, any one may at once tell who he is. I do not think my honorable friend, who is a free-trader, was serious’ when he suggested that we might have been mistaken for detectives. Even if we had gone as detectives to the Department, what difference would it have made? If we tell the truth, have we anything of which to be ashamed?
– There is a proper place for all things.
– Is the Customs Department the one place in Australia where a man should not give honest expression tohis opinion?
– The agents have their own remedy.
– They had under the first notice served upon them; but when they sought to avail themselves of the right- notified on that notice - to take action the Department jumped to another position and refused to allow them to seek a remedy in the law courts. That is our complaint. If the Minister will assure me that he will revert to his former position, and give the firm an opportunity to test the question in the Supreme Court of Victoria’, I shall say no more about the matter. The honorable gentleman, however, is as close as an oyster. The Department contend that other hats which, in appearance, are much like those seized, and can be bleached and sold as Panama hats, at£11s. or £2 2s. each, are being imported into Australia. That fact appearsin the correspondence between Messrs. Henty and Company and their client. I shall read the correspondence, and then ask the Committee whether the attitude of the agents, on the one hand, and that of the Department, on the other, do not lead irresistibly to the conclusion that the former have justly valued the goods, and that the Department, having made a blunder in the first instance, is now unscrupulously seeking to cover it up. Five packages of these hats were landed and sold in Melbourne nearly twelve months ago, and account sales were rendered by Messrs. James Henty and Company, as agents, to their client in the East, Mr. Woodley. These account sales show that two of the hats were sold at 3s. 6d. each, and a number of others at 2s. each. The latter price was obtained for a wholesale parcel, some, if not all of which, was sold to the Mutual Store, and retailedby that company at as.11d. each. That, I am informed, was the price at which they were retailed as ladies’ hats, after they had been improved in appearance by having ribbons placed upon them. The remaining hats were sold at 3s. each to friends of the staff, or other persons* who had been informed that they were for sale at the warehouse. They were sold in. their crude state, -yet averaged a higher price than those sold to the retailers. Mr. Woodley acknowledges the receipt of a letter from his agents, enclosing these account sales and draft, which he says - is very satisfactory, and for which please accept my best thanks. The above result prompts me to inquire if a further shipment next July would be likely to sell at a similar price -
That is, as., 2s. 6d., and 3s. each -
I have special facilities for buying these hats, and could ship any quantity with due notice. Please let me know if any difference is made between the two qualities. The commonest could be bought at 45 cents, the better quality at 65 cents, in Formosa.
This letter was written on 25th January last - nearly nine months before action was taken by the Department. It was obviously written in good faith, and it mentions that the goods were purchased at 45 cents and 65 cents each in Formosa, the value of acent being about £d. The agents, Messrs. Henty and Company, replied -
After we had disposed of the last consignment we had further inquiries, and it looks as if a shipment of five cases of the better quality, and five cases of the cheaper quality, could be sold to advantage. Please arrange shipment, so that they arrive here in October or November, when our summer starts. You might lessen the percentage of the smaller size hats in your next shipment. -
I direct special attention to the concluding sentence -
If a still better quality is made you might send us samples and prices.
They asked not for shipments, but merely for- samples of better qualities, and these have not yet come to hand. The next letter, which I shall read, was written by the client in Formosa to the agents -
I am in receipt of your ‘favour of 2ISt March, and hope to send you 500 hats of each quality in August next -
The same class of hats as had been formerly sent -
Being now on the spot, I can see after the packing and shipping -
I would direct special attention to the next paragraph -
There is a factory here that ships another style of hat, costing 14s. to 20s. each. They are made of screw. pine, and bleached, and I believe are sent in quantity to Australia. Those that I send are made of a rush, and /ould appear to sell better than the above expensive kinds. Please let me know the duty charged at per cent., and if they are blocked before being sold.
That letter was written on 30th May last - about four months prior to the action taken by the Department. “ Mr. Poynton. - What was the meaning of the reference to the hats being blocked ?
– He wished to know whether they were made up before being sold. The agents’ reply will satisfy the honorable member in regard to that point. Before passing from this letter, however, I wish to emphasize the point that long before the action taken by the Department the client, in a letter to his agents, stated that another type of hats, which cost from 14s. to 20s. each, was being shipped from Formosa to Australia. He himself described the difference between that class of hat - a hat made of screw pine, and therefore a proper “Panama” - and those made of rush, which had been seized by the Department. The reply of Messrs. James Henty and Company to that letter was as follows : -
We are in receipt of yours of the 30th May, and note you propose to send us a further shipment of hats in August. If you decide to send along any, you might include a dozen or two of the higher costing ones as a sample. The demand here for this class of hat, however, is only very small. The duty is 20 per cent, ad valorem, and we sold them unblocked -
That answers the question of the honorable member for Grey -
You may rely on our disposing of the shipment to best advantage.
This is correspondence which passed between the agents and the client. The client frankly tells his agents that hats of better quality are being shipped from Formosa to Australia, and the agents request him tosend them a few samples. Honorable members may ask at once whether those samples were enclosed in the parcel. The invoice to hand shows that they were not. They are not charged! in the invoice, as they would1 have been if included in the shipment. This correspondence shows in a way that cannot be refuted the absolute bona fides of the firm in landing the goods at the prices named. I may say, further, that an honorable member to whose judgment in such matters I shall always bow - the honorable member for Denison - has declared that, after carefully looking into the matter, he is satisfied that these goods were entered at their true value at the place of export. This is the opinion of an honorable member, who, as a merchant, has been engaged in the over-sea trade for a very long term of years. Having looked into the case, he is no doubt prepared to stake his reputation on the statement that the agents are right; All their actions and their desire to secure a public investigation support that position. The whole difficulty, as honorable members know, arose out of a sight entry having to be taken for these goods. The last shipment reached Melbourne without an invoice. The agents at once went to a Customs officer, and, in effect, said, “ We have no invoice for these goods, and should like you to examine them, so as to determine whether they are of the same quality as were the last consignment. If they are, we shall pass them as such.” The Customs officer opened the cases at the wharf, and looked at the goods, and they were valued upon the basis of the valuation of the previous shipment, which brought this shipment out at£54 13s.1d. After the sight entry was made, the agents received the invoice, in which the goods were valued at1s.101/2d. each, instead of 1s.111/4d. each, which was the valuation put on them in the sight entry, making the whole consignment worth about £5 10s. less than the first valuation. In the invoice there is no mention of samples of a higher value, and, in view of the obvious bona fides of the firm, it may be safely assumed that there are no really better class hats in the consignment. At any rate, it is not for the Customs Department to let the matter rest at Its statement on the subject ; and an opportunity should be given to test the truth of its contentions. If any other evidence of the absence of mala fides on the part of the agents in this matter were required, I think the ordinary common-sense conclusion may be added that, if the hats could be sold at £11s. or £2 2s. each in Melbourne, they would not sell them for 2s. or 3s. each. The firm is anxious to make money, and those connected with it know the value of the goods which they are handling. Why should they allow a profit of 1 8s. or more to be made by others on every hat sold, when they could make that profit themselves ? Why should they be content with the commission to be obtained by selling the hats at1s. and 2s. each, when they could get the larger commission which would be received by selling them at1s. or £2 2s. each? In conclusion, I should like to briefly contrast the attitude of the Customs Department with that of the agents in this transaction. The Customs Department took one course of action, and, when it was challenged with a view to securing the fullest investigation of the whole matter, arbitrarily changed its position, for no other object, I submit - because there was no other excuse forthcoming - than to prevent the agents from having recourse to law, and proving the truth, or otherwise, of their contentions. In the second place, the Department definitely refuses to prove its contention as to the possibility of bleaching these hats, and will not allow other persons to test that possibility. If the Minister will have halfadozen hats chosen at random from the consignment, 1 am willing, after paying for them at the market price, to bear the expense of getting an expert of recognised standing to ascertain whether they can or cannot be bleached. I am willing to submit the hats to any expert, apart from the officers of the Customs Department, whom any member of the House, with the exception of the Minister of Trade and Customs, may choose.
– Why not the Minister of Trade and Customs ?
– I do not wish to enter into my reasons for that statement. Will the Minister accept the challenge?
– Does the honorable member contend that the possibility or otherwise of bleaching the hats is the question at issue ?
– That is the main question at issue between the Department and the firm.
– Absolutely not.
– I was told by officers of the Department, and the honorable member for Corangamite also was told, that these hats could be bleached, and once bleached could be sold in Melbourne for £11s. or £2 2s.I say that they cannot be bleached and I ask that the matter may be impartially tested. If the Minister is not prepared to allow this test to be made, his attitude is no more straightforward than that of his Department.. My third point is that the officers of the Department have been directed not to give information on the subject to any member of the public.
– Star-chamber business again.
– The agents are anxious to have the fullest light thrownon the matter, but the Department wishes to prevent any investigation by a Court of law, and its officers have been instructed that on no account must they give information to their masters, the public. Surely, if a Department of State owes anything to thepublic which pays it, it owes that public honest and candid service. The country does not expect it to adopt the methods of the spieler to save its officers from reprimand.
– I wish to take a point of order. I ask if any honorable member may, without the permission of M.r. Speaker, lay on the table exhibits such as the two shapeless articles which the honorable member for Wentworth has referred to as hats? In New South Wales it was the rule that no exhibit could be laid on the table without the express permission of the Speaker, and you, Mr. Chairman, may remember that during the Tariff discussion, honorable members were prevented from placing exhibits on the table. Unless this practice is discountenanced, the table may present some day the appearance of a huckster’s counter.
– The matter is one which must be left largely to the good taste of honorable members ; but should I find the table unduly littered with exhibits, I would ask the officers of the House to remove them.
– Would I. be permitted to place a tin of -weevily biscuits on the table as an exhibit?
– I can understand the honorable member, in view of his reputation, being desirous to avoid the competition of other exhibits. I have produced these hats to support my case.
– They are not for sale?
– I do not think that the bleached hat would fetch a cent., while the other is worth very little. As I was pointing out, the Department has hitherto tried to prevent light from being thrown on its action, while the consignees of the hats have taken an absolutely opposite course. I have placed before the Committee the correspondence, showing the bona fides of the importers1. I have traced the case from its beginning, and have indicated the promptness with which Messrs. Henty and Company took up the challenge of the Department, and proceeded at once, under the first charge, to defend their reputation. I have also demonstrated that the Department is devoid of that candour, straightforwardness, or fair play, such as one would expect to characterize a Department of State. I do not ask honorable members to definitely decide whether the goods should be handed over to the importers without further demur, but I shall call upon them, before the Estimates are passed, to express their opinion as to whether Messrs. Henty and Company should not have extended to them the right which should be accorded to every citizen of the Commonwealth, to test his case before an impartial tribunal. The importers were proceeded against under a certain section of the Act, which gave them that right, but when they sought to go before the Supreme Court, the Department took another action, which debarred them from doing so. Under the notice with which the agent was served, the power was conferred upon him. to proceed in a Court of Law for recovery of the goods, and he gave notice of action in the Supreme Court of Victoria. That notice was received by the’ Department, but was not acknowledged until after the Department had sent another notice of seizure, under which the goods could be purchased.
– There was nothing illegal in that. ‘
– But does the honorable member think that it was fair to make a seizure under one section, which practically calls upon the importer to take legal advice and prepare to establish his claim to the goods, and to immediately afterwards take refuge under another section of the Act, which denies to the consignee an appeal to law ? The Department, by adopting this course, evaded their responsibility for the legal expenses incurred by Messrs. Henty and Company.
Mr. - Page. - That shows that the Minister is a good man.
– It shows that he is a cunning one. The .Department practically invited Messrs. Henty and Company to take a certain course ; the firm accepted the challenge j and then the Department sought to evade its responsibility. I do not know whether their action was legal - that question is to be tested - but it was distinctly unfair. I would ask the Committee, before the Estimates are disposed of, to convey some instruction to the Minister-
– I will not take any instruction.
– I have never known the Minister to refuse to accept an instruction from the majority of honorable members. He would shed all his remaining principles in order to comply with the will .of the majority. I would ask honorable members to give some direction that this matter shall be threshed out in the open light of day before an impartial tribunal.
– The honorable member for Wentworth has been at- immense pains to prepare his case, and no doubt he has placed it very thoroughly before the Committee. From the acquaintance with the subject displayed by the honorable member, one would imagine that he was a merchant prince from Flinderslane. If his interpretation of the facts is right, the Customs Department has undoubtedly committed a serious blunder, and a reputable firm has been put to much inconvenience, and has suffered grave injury to its reputation. I can -hardly conceive, however, of the Minister sitting quietly tinder the accusations hurled at him if they were well founded. I think that Ave have heard enough about hats for the present, and I desire to’ direct attention to a matter of national importance, namely, the sugar bounty. The sugar bounty system was supported by a number of free-traders; who abandoned their fiscal principles for the time being in order to secure a white Australia. It was urged that if we provided for bounties for white-grown sugar, black labour would disappear from the plantations of Queensland like mist before the rising sun.
– The bounty system is working very well indeed.
– It was represented that it would be necessary to pay the bounties for only a few years, in order to insure the employment of nothing but white labour in the cane-fields.
– I say that so long as sugar is produced by coloured labour the bounty should be paid upon all sugar that is produced exclusively by white labour.
– That is a new position which the honorable member is taking up.
– I have always said the same thing.
– When the Sugar Bounty Bill was introduced, we were assured that after the policy which it embodied had been operative for a few years it could be discontinued. I am credibly informed that the Cabinet discussed this- very question to-day. If that be so, the Minister of Trade and Customs, in his reply, might very well give the country information as to their decision. Queensland, through- its representatives, has asked for a continuance of the sugar bounty, which will expire next year. Naturally, the planters desire to obtain some indication of the intentions of this Parliament at least twelve months prior to the expiration of the bounty period. If we except the northern portion of New South Wales, none of the people of that State, or of Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, or Tasmania participate in the bounty.
– New South Wales receives as much benefit from the bounty as does Queensland.
– The honorable member had better be careful as to the statements which he makes, because I am well equipped to meet them. I hold in my hand very formidable documents in the form of the last Budget papers. These contain a tabulated statement regarding the production of sugar in the Commonwealth. I repeat that if we except the northern portion of New South Wales, the consumers of that State, as well as those of Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and Tasmania are non-participators in the sugar bounty. They have no interest in the production of sugar, but in the payment of the bounty itself they have an overwhelming interest. In order to preserve a White Australia they were quite prepared to incur this expenditure. I find that, as the result of the adoption of the bounty system, Victoria loses, by way. of revenue and otherwise, £340,000 per annum. Yet, despite the fact that that policy has been in operation for nearly five years, the production of sugar by black labour has not appreciably decreased. The problem is almost as acute to-day as’ it ever was. Upon page 7 of the Budget .papers I find a table which sets out the number of white and black sugar-cane farmers that there are in Queensland and New South Wales, and also the acreage which is under cultivation. I will spare the feelings of honorable members by quoting the figures in reference to the last two years only. In this connexion, I wish it to be distinctly understood that I do not retreat in the slightest degree from the position which I previously took up. I desire to maintain a White Australia, but I say that the operation of the sugar bounty system has not removed the black-labour evil to any appreciable extent. Upon the basis of what has been accomplished already, I say that that evil will not disappear in another five years, or in even fifty-five years. From the official figures I learn that in 1904 the number of sugar-cane farmers in Queensland who employ white labour was 2,400, whilst in 1.905 it was 2,600. In 1904. the number of sugar-cane farmers in Queensland who employed black labour was 990, and the following year it ‘had increased to 1,100. What I wish to emphasize is that whilst the, number of cane farmers employing white labour had increased by 200, the number of those employing black labour had increased by no.
– Is the honorable member putting the matter quite fairly by quoting the figures for the last two years only ?
– I have already stated that I intended limiting the comparison to those years, because I wish to facilitate the discussion of this matter, and to avoid the imputation of “stone-walling.” If the honorable member desires me to do so I am quite prepared to supply the figures for 1902, which was the year subsequent to the introduction of the bounty system.
– Does the honorable member think that the excise duty has had the effect of increasing the ‘ price of sugar to the consumer?
– I am not now dealing with the question of the sugar excise. I find that, in 1904, the number of sugar-cane farmers in New South Wales who employed white labour was 1,300, and that the following year it had increased to 1,327, whereas in 1904 the number of farmers who employed black labour was 220, as against 203 in 1905. In other words, there was a decrease of seventeen. At the present time, New South Wales receives out of tha sugar bounty a round sum of £40,000 per annum, whilst Queensland obtains a much larger sum - £106,000. or thereabouts. It is idle for the representatives of Queensland to urge that New South Wales is benefited by the present system. The area under sugar cane in that State is comparatively small, and, as the result of the duties, the consumers of sugar there are required to pay a greatly enhanced price. I wish now to point out the serious effect which the sugar duties have had upon various industries, whose ramifications extend all over the Commonwealth. I refer more particularly to the jam and biscuit making trades. The Protectionist Party supported the granting of the bounty, with a view to encourage the cultivation of sugar-cane by white labour, but the fact remains that, while it has not had the desired effect,- it has dealt a heavy blow at other industries. This illustrates the fallacy of the bounty system. The manufacturers of jam and biscuits complain that their trade is seriously affected by the fact that they receive a drawback of only five-sixths of the duty paid on sugar used in the goods which they export, and they contend that they should be allowed a drawback in respect of the full amount. I think it will be well at this juncture to read an extract from a speech made last session by the honorable member for Kennedy. At page 6723 of Hansard we find that he is reported as follows: -
Sugar cultivation affords an opportunity for the employment of thousands and thousands of white labourers. We have not yet overtaken the local consumption of sugar. We shall have to produce 50,000 to 60,000 tons in excess of our present output before we shall overtake the Australasian consumption, so that there is yet much room for expansion. We have given sugargrowers the protection of an import duty of £6 per ton on cane sugar. Some of them argue that they are not assisted to that extent, inasmuch as we levy an excise duty of £3 per ton ; but thev are certainly protected to the full extent of £6 per ton, in the sense that importers of the foreigngrown article have to pay that sum by way of duty before thev can introduce it into Australia. Haying regard to the constitution of the House, it is astonishing that a proposal to give such assistance was passed. But there was an earnest desire on the part of honorable member* generally to make sugar-growing a white man’s industry, and i am sure that the people of Queensland appreciate the loyalty to principle shown by the southern States in cheerfully paying a duty of £6 per ton on imported sugar in order that this may become a white man’s industry. i only regret that those actually interested in the industry are not making an earnest attempt to preserve it for the white man.
No one would imagine that the honorable member is blessed with prevision, but it will be recognised that the statements which he made last session have been amply borne out by the statistics placed before us a few weeks ago by the Treasurer. The honorable member expressed his regret that those actually engaged in the industry were not making an earnest attempt to preserve it for the white man.
– I can repeat the same statement to-day.
– I should like the honorable member to do so, because it might lead the Minister to give us an outline of the policy Intended to be pursued by his. Department. I am anxious to obtain from the Minister a definite statement with regard to a national question. There are many honorable members who have had a wide commercial and trading experience. Among these is the honorable member for South Sydney, and great attention is always given to his utterances. Although connected with the largest jam manufactory in Australia, the honorable member voted for the sugar bounty, and he admits that his firm in the first year suffered a loss of . £2,400 in respect of. the increased duties which they had to pay on sugar used in jam for export purposes. In dealing with this question last year the honorable member said - and his remarks will be found reported at page 6735 of Hansard -
The price at which imported sugar can be landed in Sydney, plus the amount of the duty upon it, is the price which the Colonial Sugar Refining Company ask for their sugar. That must be so until we produce more sugar than is consumed in Australia. I believe that we shall reach that period very shortly. What will be the result then? Let us assume that we have even so small a balance as 5,000 tons of sugar in excess of our requirements. Then we shall be compelled to export 10,000 tons, and to import 5,000 tons, because, in order to obtain the full amount of the drawback, the local manufacturer must use the imported article. That imported sugar, less the duty, is cheaper than the Commonwealth sugar, and will always be so until Australia becomes such a large producer thatit can make itself felt in the markets of the world.
This statement emphasizes my assertion that the sugar bounty and the sugar duties are pressing heavily on various industries, and I wish to know whether the Ministry have fully considered that phase of the question. We have been told that New South Wales participates in the bounty. I admit that two representatives of that State voted for the granting of the bounty, and are now asking that it shall be extended for a further period of five years, simply because there happens to be a small area under sugar-cane in the northern districts of that State.. That area, however, is a diminishing, quantity.In order to test whether the sugar bounty is having the desired effect, let us turn to the statistics relating to the area under sugar cane in Queensland. In 1904 45,424 acres in that State were being cultivated by white labour, whilst in 1905 the area so cultivated advanced to 47,500 acres. - an increase of about 2,000 acres. As against that, however, we find that the area cultivated by black labour in Queensland in 1 904 was 74,300 acres, and that for the present year it has increased to 78,000- acres. In the very home of the sugar industry in Australia we find that, notwithstanding the granting of the sugar bounty, the area cultivated by white labour has only increased by 2,000acres in one year, as against an increase of practically4. 000 acres in the area cultivated by black labour.
– So that coloured labour is reaping the advantage.
– That is so.
– What about the production of sugar?
– I shall deal with that point. I wish to put the facts clearly and unmistakably before the Committee.
– I explained last session that farmers registered the whole of their holdings, although they were not fully utilized for the cultivation of sugar cane.
– The honorable member for Bass seems amused at my statement ; but surely he, like the other representatives of Tasmania, has the deepest interest in this matter, because of the manner in which it affects the industries of that State. I will now deal further with the effect of the bounty upon the acreage under cultivation.
– We will take it as read.
– The Government Whip would, no doubt, be glad to take the Estimates without discussion ; but it is the duty of His Majesty’s Opposition–
– To waste time.
– To discuss thoroughly matters of national importance.
– We used to do a bit of it.
– I hope, sir, that you did not hear that remark. The present Opposition are too conscious of what is due to their position, and too careful of the best interests of Australia, to waste time.
– What does the honorable member think about the bounty? He has not told us yet.
– I think that the Minister of Trade and Customs should be here to listen to this.
– Do I understand the honorable member to be drawing attention to the fact that there is not a quorum present? [Quorum formed.] I wonder that the Attorney-General, who is such a stalwart protectionist, shows so little interest in this subject, notwithstanding the fact that important protected industries of Victoria, such as jam-making and biscuitmaking, have been seriously injured by the arrangements which the Commonwealth has made in regard to the taxation of sugar. If he were in Opposition, instead of a, Minister, he would be loud in his denunciation of the bounty system. In the year 1904, the area under cane tilled by white labour in New South Wales was 19,100 acres; and in 1905 it had increased to 19,300 acres - an increase of only 200 acres. The area tilled by black labour in 1904 was 2,400 acres, and in 1905, 2,140 acres - a falling off of less than ‘300 acres.
– If it bad not been for the bounty, probably more sugar would have been produced by black labour in New South Wales.
– I do not think so. We free-traders departed from one of the principles of our policy because of our sympathy with Queensland, and, to create a White Australia, we agreed to the imposition upon the Commonwealth of a very heavy burden. The people would gladly bear that burden, if they knew that the results which we wish to secure were being obtained ; but they are not being obtained. We were told that the bounty was needed for five years only, but now we are asked for an extension of another five years.
– The honorable member is now discussing a question of policy.
– No, sir. This question was discussed on these Estimates last year by nine or ten honorable members, though I am the first to deal with it this year. I am informed that Ministers this morning considered this question in Cabinet, and the people of Queensland, and, indeed, the people of the whole Commonwealth, are anxiously awaiting their decision in regard to it. The Minister of Trade and Customs must have been informed by his officers that the ends which’ we have in view are not being accomplished. I took care to refer to the business-paper to see if my remarks on this subject might be considered as anticipating a motion of which notice had been given ; but the only business which even distantly relates to sugar is the Manufactures Encouragement Bill, in regard to which a good deal of sugar will pass when the measure has been dealt with.
– What does the honorable member mean ?
– Pounds, shillings, and pence sugar.
– The honorable member promised to state the production of sugar.
– Yes, I am coming to that. It has been suggested by some honorable members that the bounty might be got rid of gradually, on a sliding scale, 20 per cent. disappearing every year, until, at the end of five years, thewhole would disappear. I think the Minister should in form the country what he thinks of that course. With regard to the production, in 1904-
– Commence with the year 1902.
– - I wish to save time, and, therefore, will commence with the year 1904, as I have done in regard to the number of farmers engaged in this industry, and the acreage under cultivation. The production of white-grown sugar in Queensland amounted in 1904 to 39,400 tons, and in 1905 to 52,600 tons. The blackgrown sugar produced in 1904 amounted to 105,000 tons, and in 1905 to 107,000 tons. Thus, there was an increase of 13,200 tons of white-grown, and of 2,000 tons of black-grown sugar. I ask whether the progress which has been made in the substitution of white for black labour is sufficient to justify the payment of the bounty.
– That is a magnificent accomplishment.
– It must not be supposed that no sugar was grown by white labour before the payment of the bounty.
– Very little white labour was employed.
– Whilst I am in favour of the White Australia policy, and of encouraging the substitution of white for black labour1, I do not see how I would be justified in voting for the continuance of the bounty, unless it becomes a tapering one. In New South Wales the production of white-grown sugar in 1904 amounted to 17,800 tons, whilst in 1905 it amounted to 20,000 tons. The production of blackgrown sugar in 1904 amounted to 1,800 tons, and in 1905 to 2,400 tons. There was a small increase in both cases. The figures I have quoted show that the sugar bounty has not accomplished what was expected of it, and I would impress upon the Minister the necessity of devising some other means of achieving the object which was held in view when the bounty system was adopted. I shall now turn my attention to a matter which concerns the jam-making industry. This is a matter of great interest to the representatives of Victoria and Tasmania. Under the present system manufacturers of jam for export are allowed a drawback equivalent to only five-sixths of the duty paid upon the sugar contents of the jam, and they are asking for an increased allowance which will cover the whole amount. I desire in this connexion to quote from the report of the Departmental Committee appointed by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in Great Britain to inquire into the fruit industry. I now propose to lay before the Minister information which may prove useful to him in the near future.
– Order. I have been thinking over this discussion for some time, and I really think that the Committee i9 proceeding beyond the scope of the business before it. I would point out that upon the Treasurer’s Financial Statement, a general debate takes place regarding the policy, as well as the administration of the Government, but when we devote our attention to the Departmental Estimates, surely questions of administration alone should be discussed. 1 have been looking up some of the authorities, and I find that under the practice in the House of Commons members are confined within very narrow limits indeed. In fact; except when the Navy and Army estimates are under discussion they are restricted to the discussion of the item before the Chair. The practice has grown up in this Parliament of allowing a general discussion upon the first item of each Department, but I would strongly urge honorable members that that discussion should be limited to matters of administration.
– I would remind you, sir, that in the House of Commons it is the practice to discuss the Indian policy of’ the Government in connexion with the Indian Estimates. That is done every year. Similarly, it is the rule to initiate a discussion upon the Colonial policy of the Ministry upon the first item of the Estimates of the Colonial Office. These debates relate, not only to matters of administration, but to the whole policv and purposes of the Ministry in relation to the respective Departments.
– I “will read an extract from page 585 of the last edition of May, wherein it is stated -
No method has been established for obtaining in the Committee a general discussion upon the administration of the expenditure sanctioned by the civil service estimates ; and debate must be kept to the specific object of the grant which is placed before the Committee. Eoi instance, the grant for the salary of the Chief Secretary for Ireland does not justify a review of his conduct regarding prosecutions - a subject which is relevant to the grant for public prosecutions. Criticism made on the grant for prisons upon the enforcement by the officials of the prison rules, was permitted, but nor of the conditions imposed by. those rules from a legislative point of view -
That, of course, refers to a question of policy - nor can the circumstances attending the trial which resulted in sending a prisoner to gaol, bediscussed on the prisons vote.
I am very loth to intervene, and I mav ‘ say that I have done so entirely upon my own responsibility, and from a desire that the proceedings of the Committee shall be perfectly in order. I do suggest to the honorable member that the proper time to discuss a question of policy is when the Budget is before us, and not when we are dealing with the Estimates of the separate Departments.
– I am very pleased to obtain something in ‘ the nature of a definite ruling in regard to this matter; but I would point out to you, sir, that the custom has been to allow a general discussion to take place upon the first item of the Estimates of each Department. Our right in that respect has never been questioned. Now, however, in the middle of this debate, an entirely new departure is to be made. Had I known that such a surprise was to be sprung upon us, is it likely that I should have foregone 111 right to criticise the Budget statement? Certainly not. I do not know whether it is proposed that we should follow the practice of the House of Commons ; but it does not agree with our own practice. Personally,’ I shall take the very first opportunity of putting this matter before Mr. Speaker, with a view to ascertaining whether recognised practice in this House is to be lightly set aside. In the meantime, I trust that you, sir, will not give a definite ruling upon the matter.
– Upon the point of order which_has . been raised, I desire to submit for your consideration a case of this kind : It may ‘happen that at the conclusion of a Budget debate the administrative acts of a Minister mav be called into question.
– I have not objected to that.
– Then your ruling does not prevent honorable members referring to the administrative acts of a Minister?
– If honorable members will permit me, I should like to say that the only objection which I raised was to the discussion of questions of policv. Questions of administration will, under the first item of every Department, be open to the fullest and freest debate.
– As your ruling, sir, if adopted, will have general application, I think it is of some importance that this question should be definitely settled. As has already been pointed out, it was decided, at an early period in the history of the first Commonwealth Parliament, that an opportunity should be afforded upon the first item of the Estimates of each Department for a general discussion. That discussion has extended to questions of administration, and also of policy. So far as I am aware, that practice has never been departed from. You, sir, have quoted May as the authority for your present decision. But I would point out that May says -
No method has been established for obtaining in the Committee a general discussion upon the administration of the expenditure sanctioned by the civil service estimates ; and debate must be kept to the specific object of the grant which is placed before the Committee.
Thus, May lays it down that in the British House of Commons the administration of the expenditure sanctioned by the Civil Service Estimates cannot be debated, whereas you, sir, propose to allow a debate upon the question of administration, and to exclude discussion upon questions of policy to which the extract quoted from May makes no reference. Then, again, May acknowledges that in the case of some Estimates an exception has been made in the British Parliament, and that, by established usage, the Minister in charge of the Army or Navy Estimates may make a general statement concerning the services for the year upon the first votes that are proposed to theCommittee, and a general discussion upon the Army and Navy services is taken thereon. Thus exception has been made in connexion with these services. In this Parliament the exception has been made in connexion with each of the Departments. It would be a serious departure from the procedure which has been established here if effect were given to your ruling, which is not in accordance with the practice laid down in May, inasmuch as you, sir, are prepared to allow a discussion to take place upon administration - a discussion which is not allowed in the British Parliament. I think that the House, which has adopted a certain practice, should at least have a deliberative voice in its abrogation.
– I sincerely trust that you, sir, will suspend your judgment upon this matter until we have obtained a decision from Mr. Speaker. I have almost concluded my remarks in regard to the question of the sugar bounty. The ComptrollerGeneral of Customs is the chief adviser of the Minister, and as that officer has recently returned from a visit to Queensland, I presume that he has advised the Minister upon this subject. What I desire to point out is that some industries are at present suffering owing to the fact that a sufficient drawback is not allowed upon certain articles which are exported. I refer particularly to the jam industry, and in this connexion I should like to quote the following extract from the report of the Imperial Committee to which I have referred : -
The importance of the jam industry to the fruit-growers cannot be over-estimated. The jam-maker, as one witness put it, is the fruitgrower’s best customer. Immense quantities of fruit are grown for the express purpose of being made into jams; and all growers, including those who produce the highest and choicest class of fruit, send a large part of their crops to the jam factories every year. As Mr. Berry stated, they depend on their best fruit to pay their expenses, and the “second size” and “common varieties” are sold to the jam manufacturer, and give to the growers their profit. The jam industry has enormously increased in recent years, the public taste for jam having steadily grown, and a considerable export trade having sprung up. One cause of this development has, certainly, been the cheapness of sugar.
During the earlier sittings of the Committee, several witnesses expressed a fear that the price of sugar might rise, in consequence of the imposition of the sugar duty, and the abolition of the bounties. But, although some of these witnesses alleged that there had been a slight increase, none of them could say that the jam industry had been seriously affected at that time; in fact, both Mr. Blackwell and Mr. Chivers, the two jam makers then examined, emphatically stated that little, if any, damage had been done to the fruit growing industry.
Since then, however, there occurred the remarkable rise in the price of sugar in the last months of 1904, and the Committee, therefore, summoned another witness, Sir Thomas Pink, in order to ascertain what had been the effect of this rise in the jam trade. His view was that the effect so far had not been great, since the rise had taken place after the fruit crop of 1904. At the same time, he attributed this rise principally to the partial failure of the beet crop on the Continent, and was confident that, if there were a good crop next season, the price would fall again. He pointed out that sugar was then being sold by speculators for delivery next December at 4s. a cwt. less than its present price. While not denying that the abolition of the bounties had contributed to some extent to the rise in price, he stated that a large increase in the production of cane sugar was likely to take place in consequence of their abolition, and said that already large quantities of the latest and best machinery were being sent to the principal cane-growing countries ; thus ultimately there would probably be an increase in the total amount of sugar produced in the world. With regard to the duty, he objected to it, both on the ground that it was a tax on one of the raw materials of the manufacture of jam, and also because it was too high, amounting to about1/2d. a lb. on sugar, and £d. a lb. on jam - jam consisting roughly of 50 per cent. of sugar, and 50 per cent. of fruit.
– I may inform the honorable member that the matter of the drawback was discussed to-day at a meeting of the Cabinet, and that the Government have decided to take it into consideration. The other matter has also been discussed.
– I am very pleased to have that statement from the Minister, and trust that honorable members will recognise that I have been led to discuss this matter at some length solely because of my belief that it is one of national importance, deserving the serious consideration of honorable members.
Mr. JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta).My complaint is that we cannot induce the honorable gentleman to make a statement. Notwithstanding the serious allegations made to-night concerning his administration, we have not had a reply from him. If he will make a statement in regard to the seizure of the shipment of Formosa hats, I shall be glad to listen to him. In view of the assertions made by the honorable member for Wentworth, who has carefully investigated the matter–
– And has made a mistake right through.
– The honorable member was led to make an inquiry in the interests of the public as well as of the Department. He visited the Department in company with the honorable member for Corangamite, who is a well-known protectionist, and the result of their investigations has been placed before the Committee this evening. A case has been made out, which certainly merits an answer.
– The hats are going to be sold, and will bring three or four times the value put upon them.
– I have no doubt that they are tobe sold. The honorable gentleman has power to do anything. He can ruin a man’s business without the slightest compunction; he can besmirch a firm’s reputation, and there is no redress. That is the burden of our complaint - that the honorable gentleman may do all these things which he says he is going to do, and that there is no appeal. Apart from any question of policy, we ought to have from the Minister a statement in justification of the drastic steps that he now informs the Committee he is going to take.
– I should be glad to make a statement ifI did not feel satisfied that advantage would be taken of it to prolong the debate hour after hour.
– I shall not ask the honorable gentleman to make a statement ; he will confer no favour upon me by doing so. If he does not think that the public are entitled to an explanation, he may remain silent as long as he pleases. Ever since he has been administering the Department he has been indulging in heroics. There is nothing easier ; any wooden-head may indulge in such practices. All that the Minister has to do is to stick up a man’s business, knowing that there can be no appeal from his decision. The person aggrieved cannot even call upon the Department to prove in a Court of law the insinuations and allegations made against him.
– I have made no insinuations against Messrs. James Henty and Company.
– But the Minister’s officers have clone so. The whole course of action is an implied reflection upon the honesty of the firm:
– Absolutely, no. I was extremely careful to state positively that there was no evidence of fraud. I have repeated that statement over and over again. Had there been evidence of fraud I should have prosecuted the firm.
– The honorable gentleman has made that declaration only after consulting the Attorney-General. Hisfirst statement was that he had referred the matter to the Attorney-General, and that it was either a mistake on the part of the Department or a case of fraud on the part of Messrs. James Henty and Company.
– After consulting the Attorney-General, and placing all the papers before him, I came to the conclusion, that there was no fraud, and I said so.
– The honorable gentleman was very anxious to accuse the firm of fraud, and it was the AttorneyGeneral who prevented him, in spite of himself, from making that charge. I wish to offer one or two remarks of a general character in regard to the Department.
It seems to me that Mr. Smart is either a particularly smart man-
– He is a very, smart man.
– Apparently, he is the smartest officer ever known.
– He is a very good officer.
– If he is not the smartest ever known, it is, obvious that some of the officers in other branches of the Department require attention, because it is only in Victoria that cases of fraud against the Customs are being uncovered.
– We heard of some cases in Queensland.
– And also in New South Wales.
– Honorable members are referring to ancient history, whilst I am talking of recent happenings. Either Mr. Smart is a smarter man by far thani is any other officer in Australia, or he is just a little too smart for his business. I take leave to believe that the latter is the case. I care not who stands up to defend him, but I am inclined to think that he is a little too ‘smart in regard to some of these transactions.
– He is a good officer.
– Of course he is ; but it is strange that it is only the protectionists who make that assertion.
– I think the honorable member will find that a great many free-traders - and, in fact, the whole of the commercial community - share the view that he is a capable officer.
– That is the assertion made by honorable members who do not know him.
– He is a good officer.
– I know that he is - my complaint is that he is a little too good. He is unearthing troubles that officers in other branches of the Department never discover. It is the easiest thing in the world for the Department to bring a man’s business to a stand-still. It requires, not ability, but only that sleuthhoundlike propensity that some persons display, and the exercise of the arbitrary power which the Department possesses: The fact that an officer so frequently takes action of the kind under discussion is no indication of his ability. No complaint can be made against him for doing so, particularly if he is under a Minister who likes to make the importers “sit up.”
– When they do wrong I take action.
– The honorable gentleman is not very particular whether they do wrong or not. He delights in nothing more than making an importer “ sit up.”
– The honorable member does not believe that.
– I do. I think that the honorable gentleman does not need much prodding to do this kind of thing. The Minister and his officers - and this should be the predominant feature of the Department - ought to take the greatest care when it is sought to interfere with the business of trusted ‘firms.
– I do so ; and I did in the case under notice.
– Then how comes it that the firm was singled out in this way ? Why were Henty and Company not bailed up twelve months ago for doing what they are now being punished for doing? Other firms have been allowed to get these goods through since Henty and Company have been stuck up. Why should there be this differential treatment?
– The honorable member is making a base insinuation.
– I am stating an actual fact.
– I have a document here, which shows that the honorable member is not.
– The honorable member, in replying to questions on the subject, said that hats had been passed since, but that they had been passed by a subordinate officer.
– Yes; and I have since received a report from the Collector to say that they were not the same kind of hats.
– The officers of the Department can say anything they like, and there is no appeal from their decisions. Whenever straight, matter-of-fact questions like those asked by the honorable and learned member for Parkes yesterday are put to the Minister, the invariable answer of the Department is, “It is not admitted,” an answer which reminds one of the statement of that budding lawyer, the honorable member for Kalgoorlie, the other day, when he said, “I will not admit it.” The officers of the Department do not say straight out that a thing is or is not so ; they say that it is not admitted. How is the public to determine the truth of these statements ? The Department will not give an opportunity for them to be proved.
– Surely the honorable member does not suppose that the Collector would lie to me. He has reported that they were not the same sort of hats.
– I do not suppose that the Collector has ever seen the hat*.
– I believe that he has.
– Who furnished the answers to the questions1 that were asked ?
– The ComptrollerGeneral; but he said at the time that he had not had an opportunity to investigate the matter. Since then I have received the statement that the hats were not the same, and were not as good.
– Does not the Minister see that there is a direct conflict of opinion between his officers and reputable business firms? His officers assume to know all about everything, and their word must always be taken before that of a reputable firm. Whenever the reputation of a firm is affected, the Minister ought to give every opportunity for disproving the charge in a Court of law. That would be merely elementary British justice. If, in private life, one man makes an aspersion on the reputation pf another, he is immediately taken to the law Court, and compelled to prove his statement; but the moment that this firm attempted to rehabilitate its reputation, and to prove that it had not been guilty of fraudulent action, the Minister deliberately shifted his ground, to prevent it from doing so.
– That is absolutely incorrect, and I said so before.
– It is correct. The Minister shifted his ground after the Department had received notice of action.
– I suppose that it is only a coincidence that the moment this firm took action to challenge the decision of the Department, the Minister shifted his ground.
– What is taking place to-night is an endeavour to destroy the value of the hats. I have a statement from the Collector which shows that what has been said in regard to the hats being moth-eaten is not correct.
– Does the honorable member think that- the honorable members for Wentworth and Corangamite would deliberately tell the House -an untruth? If it is a matter of credibility, I would as soon believe them as twenty of his collectors.
– The Collector says that not one hat in all the cases is injured.
– Then it is charitable to hope that he knows nothing about it.
– Every hat cannot have been inspected.
– The Collector must know.
– Does the honorable member suppose that the honorable members for Wentworth and ‘Corangamite have made false statements to the House? They would be unworthy of the positions which they hold if they would do such a thing. I would rather believe that the Collector has. been misled in regard to this matter than think that those honorable gentlemen would, after seeing the goods, make a deliberate misstatement to the House. This bandying of statements backwards and forwards shows that the matter should be placed before a competent tribunal, so that a proper decision might be come to. The Minister, when he takes action against a reputable firm, should give it every opportunity to obtain British justice; but this is apparently denied only to those who have dealings with the Customs Department.
– And. only since the present Minister has been in office.
– I repeat that it is a very curious thing that these occurrences always take place under Mr. Smart’s direction. I know the officers of the Department in some of the other States, and the Minister will not deny that they are exceedingly able men ; but they must be either very lax in the performance of their duties, or Mr. Smart’ must be particularly vigilant in the performance of his. Henty and Company did nothing on this occasion that they had not been doing for years past - because I am informed that they have been importing Panama hats for many years. It is therefore worth while to inquire why thousands of hats have been admitted without trouble, and now, in this year of grace 1905, a seizure has been made. Henty and Company want a chance to prove their honesty.
– They can apply for an injunction if ‘they like to go to the
Court. We have been threatened by their solicitor, and I say let them make the application.
– The Minister has changed his ground. Let him go back to his old ground.
– That has nothing to do with this matter.
– I understand that Henty and Company have no redress. If the Minister will furnish them with an opportunity to put their case before a competent and impartial tribunal I shall noi have another word to say.
– I am not going to move in any way.
– The Minister sits on the Department, and on Henty and Company too.
– I am told that they can. apply for an injunction, and they have threatened to do so.
– What good would that do ? It would afford them no guarantee that their case would be heard by an impartial tribunal. That is all we are asking for, and this is the place in which such a request should be preferred. I do not know Henty and Company, and I have never seen any representative of that firm. If they had been trying to perpetrate a fraud in connexion with the importation of Panama hats, they ought to go to gaol ; but, at least, the whole matter should be investigated by an impartial judge. There is no approach to justice in the action of the Minister in holding up a man’s goods and selling them over his head, leaving the public to infer that he has been trying to perpetrate a fraud. When a respectable, firm is held up in this manner, it is time that some one made his voice heard in the interests of fair play and British justice. The Minister told us that the ComptrollerGeneral had declared that the hats were not moth-eaten.
– I did not say that. I stated that the. Collector of Customs had informed me that not one of the hats was injured by moths.
– Did he say that there were no moths on the hats?
– I did not question him upon that point.
– The Minister is indulging in a mere quibble. It is impossible to obtain an accurate statement from him. I contend that this Chamber is the place in which Tariffs should be made.
The officers of the Customs Department should have no fiscal bias. They have no right to make inquiries as to the effect of any action of theirs upon any industry in Australia. All they are called upon to do is to impartially administer the law as they find it. I am afraid that some of the officials of the Customs Department in Victoria have become inoculated with the protectionist virus, and that that fact accounts for some of their actions.
– I have not heard of any Panama hat industry in Australia.
– No; but I suppose the honorable member has heard of the bleaching and blocking of hats being done here. If the Minister has nothing to fear in connexion with this matter, why does he object to the hats being submitted to the test of bleaching.
– I am not going to do anything.
– That is an intelligent remark. I congratulate the Minister upon having a servile crowd behind him, who will allow him to make such statements in this House.
– I should like to know whether the honorable member is in order in characterizing any section of honorable members as a servile crowd.
– I did not imagine for a moment that the remarks of the honorable member were intended to be applied to any honorable members of this House. If his remarks have any such application, I hope he will withdraw them.
– In a political sense, my remarks were applied to a section of honorable members.
– I must ask the honorable member to withdraw them.
– If my remarks are out of order, of course I shall withdraw them. I congratulate the Minister on the splendid loyalty of his followers when they will permit him to use language such as he has employed in reply to a plain demand for British justice. I ask that these hats shall be ‘subjected to the bleaching test, and that Messrs. Henty and Company shall be afforded an opportunity to say something in their own defence when they are charged with fraud and manipula-tion.
– They are not charged with fraud.
– The Minister says he will not do or say anything.
– The hats are going to be subjected to the test of competition - that is the test.
– That is not the test. The tenders may be the subject of manipulation on the part of some traders outside. The only test which can be applied is that of bleaching, and the Minister declines to have anything to do with any such experiment. Two honorable members went to great trouble in their efforts to penetrate to the point of justice, but they received a snub for their pains. Although the Customs Department are willing to sell a thousand hats in one line, they would not permit two honorable members to purchase a couple, which they required for the purposes of fair investigation.
– They would assist to defraud the revenue;
– That is an infamous statement for the Minister to make.
– I rise to order. The Minister has accused me and the honorable member for Corangamite of going to the Customs Department with the object of helping to defraud the revenue. I ‘demand, not only a withdrawal of that statement, but an instant apology.
– I ask the Minister to withdraw that statement^
– He ought to be impeached for making it.
– I ask for an apology.
– The honorable member will not get it.
– It is very easy for a man who has no reputation to impugn the reputation of other people.
– Is the honorable member for Wentworth in order in saying that?
– It is Quite true.
– The Minister of Trade and Customs having withdrawn the remark objected to by the honorable member for Wentworth, I trust that the honorable member will at once withdraw the remark objected to by the Minister.
– I said that a man who has no reputation easily impugns the reputation of other people. If that_ remark is considered to apply to the Minister - as I intend1 it to do - in obedience to parliamentary practice I withdraw the imputation - for the present, at any rate.
– I say that such actions as these on the part of the De partment ought not to be tolerated for a moment. There is only one way in which Customs duties can be properly imposed on the community, and that is by the deliberate vote of Parliament. It should not be done at the will and whim of a Minister.
– The honorable member connived at Customs duties being imposed by a Minister.
– Did I, really?
– Yes, the honorable member did, really. If he wants the truth I will give it to him.
– I shall be very glad to hear the truth from the honorable member.. It will be a novelty indeed. It will be something that we have not heard from him for a long time.
– Would the honorable member recognise it if he heard it?
– Not from the honorable member, I am afraid.
– I appeal to honorable members on both sides of the Chamber not to make interjections while the honorable member for Parramatta is addressing the Committee ; and I trust that the honorable member will carry on the debate in an orderly fashion.
– It will be much better, if the Department wishes to keep out these goods, to proceed, as has been suggested by the Prime Minister, by means of an anti-dumping law. We could under stand that. That would be honest, but tei treat honest traders in this way, unless prepared to give them the means of redress to which they would be entitled in any law court in the land in connexion with any private prosecution, is monstrous. I distinctly say that the action of this Department should not be tolerated. When the reputation of a firm is attacked, it ought to be put on precisely the same footing as private individuals would be in the case of ordinary prosecutions. I am simply contending for even-handed justice to the firm from the Government. But there is no possibility of redress an this case. The Department will not allow the firm to go into a law court. It must submit for all time to the allegation standing over it of having tried to cheat the Department of its fair revenue. Leaving this matter, and coming to a cognate subject, I should like to know what the Prime Minister had in his mind when he spoke, in the unreasonable way in which he did the other day, about an interference with the investigation into the present Tariff. But I think we may as well have a quorum present. [Quorum formed.] I am in no hurry ; we have a Minister in charge of the Estimates who has told us that he will not say a word1. Perhaps he has not a word to say, or has not sufficient intelligence to say it. He is acting the part described by his eoi-, league, the Vice-President of the Executive Council - it requires a block and tackle to move him.
– -The personal condition of the Minister has nothing to do with the question.
– I think it has. The Minister has told us that he has not a word to say. It does not require much intelligence to make a statement like that. A donkey could lie down and bray, and 3o the same. When statements such as have been made to-night are put forward on behalf of a reputable firm, the least the Minister can do is to pay the .Committee the compliment of making a statement concerning his actions and intentions. But I suppose we shall know in the morning from the Age what is intended. The Government frequently decline to make a statement to Parliament which it is prepared to make to the Age. In all probability we shall wake up tomorrow to find that the Government has made a statement to the Age concerning the Capital Sites question. We are constantly receiving information from other parts of Australia which we are denied in this House. This is contemptuous treatment on the part of the Government. I suppose they are afraid to make statements to Parliament. We have an evidence of such conduct to-night. The Minister sits at the table, and all that we can get out of him is, “I am not going to say anything.” All that we can do is to make a protest against that sort of conduct, and abandon our effort. We can only leave a Minister of that description to tha goodwill and company of those who find it a pleasure to support him. Rather than “stick up” trade in this fashion - a fashion which certainly denies British “justice to those carrying on business operations - it would be better for the Minister to bring in an antidumping Bill, and to shut ut) our ports entirely. That would be preferable to ruining the reputation of honest traders. It seems to me that the name “ importer “ stinks in the nostrils of many honorable members of this House. One has merely to mention the name of importer here to raise an incredulous snigger, the assumption being that it is impossible for an importer to fulfil any honest function.
– The names of some importers stank in the Law Courts.
– But not all of them. I hope that there are still some honest importers left. T know that there are not many, in the opinion of some honorable membe’rs.
– Do not look so worn.
– I am standing here to do work which the honorable member ought to do. There is no man in the House who prides himself more upon his adherence to principle than does the honorable member; but he sometimes throws principle to the four winds of Heaven for the sake of political expediency.
– I am following the example of the honorable member upon the black labour question.
– The honorable member is doing nothing of the kind. I should like to know the reason for the interference of the Prime Minister with the inquiry which is now proceeding in regard to the Tariff. A little while ago the honorable and learned ‘member for Bendigo, who is the Chairman of the Tariff Commission, clearly set out the intentions of that body in an interview which he gave to a press representative; at Kalgoorlie. Upon that occasion he made a most explicit statement concerning its future proceedings. For instance, he said that the Tariff question was opening up in a way that he could not possibly prevent; that he had had to extend the scope of the inquiry in Western Australia; and that he could not close the investigation of the Commission a minute quicker than he was endeavouring to do, having regard to the interests involved. That statement appeared in the newspapers of 5th October, and the Prime Minister must have” Had it in his mind when he forwarded to the Commission the proposal of the Chamber of Manufactures, together with certain comments of his own and of the Government. I say that the honorable and learned gentleman did neither more nor less than an indecent thing when he endeavoured to influence that Commission, and attempted to hurry it to conclusions before it was ready to report. Had I been the Chairman of that body, or a member of it, I should have retired the very moment his suggestion reached me. I would have tolerated none of the Prime Minister’s impertinent interference. He had no right to make any suggestions whatever as to when the Commission should report, or as to what it should consider. If the Chairman had had any spunk in him, he would have instantly retired. The Prime Minister went out of his way to establish an unworthy precedent in Australia by seeking to interfere with the purposes and functions of a Royal Commission. Why was that Commission appointed? Clearly to do work which the Ministry of the day could not undertake, and which this House, in the absence of necessary information, could not itself perform. An inquiry into the operation of the Tariff, with a view to ascertaining how certain industries were affected,’ was seen to be necessary by the Government of the day. Perhaps I should not say that it was “ seen to be necessary,” but rather that the gentle pressure which was brought to bear so astutely and persistently by the present AttorneyGeneral and some of the other bridge-builders, who were acting with him, induced the Ministry, as I thought, very weakly, to consent to the appointment of this Commission. However, it was appointed, its purpose being to inquire whether the statement that certain industries were being ruined by the operation of the Tariff, had any foundationin fact so far as Australia was concerned. Now, before the Commission has made a circuit of Australia, so as to be in a position to supply a complete answer to that question, the Prime Minister seeks to interfere with it, and he does so in such a way as to make it impossible for any selfrespecting Commissioner to continue to hold office. There is another feature connected with this matter which is worthy of notice. The Commission is supposed to be an impartial tribunal. Its members are sworn to inquire impartially into the varied industries which come within their purview. Therefore, I hold that its Chairman had no right to make the remarks which he did the other day, full as they were, of a certain fiscal complexion.
– I rise to a point of order. I fail to see any provision upon these Estimates for any payment to cover the cost of Royal Commissions for the current year. Under the circumstances, is the honorable member in order in discussing the Tariff Commission ?
– It is true that no specific grant is asked for upon these Estimates; but, as the honorable member is aware, provision for Royal Commissions is included in them in order that the departmentalaccounts may be properly balanced. I presume that the expenditure incurred hitherto has been paid out of the Treasurer’s Advance.
– I will not pursue the matter further. As usual, these labour barrackers are rushing to the defence of the Department.
– I hardly think, Mr. Chairman, that that is a parliamentary expression.
– I ask the honorable member to withdraw it.
– I shall do so, and say that the leader of the Labour Party is pursuing his usual avocation as chief defender of the Minister. He is supporting a Minister who says that he will not give a certain firm a chance to secure justice.
– I deny it.
– The Minister says that he will do nothing to assist this firm to secure justice. If the honorable member for Bland wishes to do anything, let him attend to the elementary duty of every Parliament - the duty of meting out justice to all.
– I require no prompting in that regard from the honorable member.
– I am aware of that, but fear that I am appealing to the honorable member without much hope of success. Like many others, he believes that an importer deserves no consideration.
– I have no such belief.
– Then I should like the honorable member to join with me in appealing for simple justice to persons outside who, apparently, are denied the justice they seek.
– If the honorable member could prove that, I should back him up.
– What further proof is required? We have the statement of a disinterested person - for instance, the honorable member; for Denison - that he has seen these hats, and is satisfied that the Department has made a mistake. That is the conclusion at which he has arrived, after a careful investigation, and I would rather accept his opinion upon this matter than that of the Minister or the experts of the
Department. The honorable member speaks with a knowledge of the trade extending over fifty years. Then again, we have the results,, of the investigation by the honorable member for Wentworth, and the honorable member for Corangamite. It seems utterly useless, however, to address any appeal for justice or fair play to the Ministry, who have a solid party at their back, conniving, as I think, at a gross injustice.
– Is the honorable member in order, Mr. Chairman, in asserting that honorable members on this side .are conniving at an act of injustice?
– He is not, and I ask him to withdraw the remark.
– I withdraw it. The reputation of a firm of merchants has been besmirched by the Minister, and they ask for the aright to vindicate their character.
– There is no allegation of fraud.
– Does the honorable member shelter himself behind such a technicality? The Minister has seized these hats in the exercise of his legal powers - powers which he should be chary to exercise.
– When the Government increased the valuation of imported harvesters for Customs purposes the honorable member said that they should seize the machines.
– I said nothing of the kind. The Minister made a deliberate promise to the House that he would look further into the matter affecting the valuation of harvesters, and give the persons concerned a chance to prove their contention. He has never carried out that promise. All that I am asking is that the statement made by Messrs. James Henty and Company shall be investigated. If they have been guilty of sharp practice, they should be imprisoned, and kept there. They deserve nothing better if that be the case ; but before we destroy a firm’s reputation in this way we ought to give them a chance to be heard, and to show in a British Court of justice that they have not done the things imputed to them. I protest against the arbitrary methods adopted by the Minister, who has not the intelligence or the courtesy to make a statement to the Committee in reply to the allegations concerning his administration’. He is prepared to apply the methods of a Czar to the Parliament of Australia, and I congratulate him upon his solid backing of men1 who ought at least to have some respect for the elementary principles of justice. /
– That sounds verv well.
– Nothing comes amiss to the honorable member ; he parted with his sense of justice long ago. The Labour Party will ride rough-shod over justice, or anything else, so long as they can act solidly and unitedly. That makes iti the more obligatory upon the Opposition to see if we can reach somewhere the point of justice. I ask honorable members of that party to look into this matter, and see if the Minister cannot be brought to reason, and if he cannot, to shift him from his position and choose a man who will administer the Department with some degree of intelligence, and wi.th a desire to do justice.
Mr. KELLY (Wentworth). - I understand that the Minister of Trade and Customs made an interjection, during the last speech, to the effect that there was no moth in the consignment of hats to Henty and Company.
– I did not say anything of the kind; I said there were no hats injured by moth.
– I was informed in the Opposition room that the Minister had denied the accuracy of my statement that there was moth in the consignment of hats. I reiterate the statement that the honorable member for Corangamite and myself, in the presence of the Victorian Collector of Customs and another officer whose name I do not know, saw the hats, and found moth, or some insect which was called moth at the time, through the consignment.
– Some insect.
– We found an insect which this officer of the Department called moth at the time, and he spoke as if he were the expert in the mattei.
– Were the hats injured ?
– Not being an expert, I cannot tell the honorable member. I will say, however, that my discovery of the presence of moth in the consignment would have militated against my buying the consignment.
– The honorable member is attempting to depreciate the consignment.
– I am not. I hope the Committee will see that the inquiry which the Minister has put to the Collector of Customs is not as to the , statement I made here. In reference to the inquiry whether the goods were damaged, I said that moth was in the goods, and that any goods which were of so valuable a nature as these articles were alleged to be by the Department would not have been packed and forwarded here in so careless a way. I stand by that statement.
– I am not here to defend a wrong, and if this firm have done a wrong they ought to be punished. All we ask the Minister to do is to put the Department back in its original position, so as to give the firm the right to enter ah action for the seizure and forfeiture of the goods. Within about three days of that event, and without waiting for the expiration of a month, as they were entitled to do, the firm gave the Department notice of action. Immediately that notice was received, the Department changed its ground and purchased the hats, according to law. If the Minister is so satisfied that the Department is right in its act, an appeal to the Court cannot put it in a false position; and if it is shown, that, the hats were rightly seized, it, will become known to the whole world that the firm was treated properly. Surely the Minister cannot say that we are making an unfair request.. He says that the Department did not shift from its position because of the receipt of the notice of action. It may be a pure coincidence that before the second step was taken the Department received a notice of action, but any disinterested person must come to the conclusion that that step was taken to prevent the firm from exercising a statutory right. I appeal to the leader” of the Labour Party, who says he wishes to see justice done, to support our contention. I recognise that if he gave the slightest sign that the Labour Party are in favour of this firm being allowed to go into the Court for the purpose of proving their case, the Minister would at once gracefully yield. We have no chance of inducing the honorable gentleman to yield, unless we can successfully appeal to his strong sense of justice to do the right thing. If there is any place in which the principles of justice should prevail, it is here. Every honorable member should be actuated by a desire to do justice to the citizens of Australia. We are not responsible for any delay which has taken place to-night. We have been fighting for what. we believe to be a citizen’s right. A few words from the Minister, to the effect that he will allow an appeal to bc made to the Court, would put an end to this discussion. What we have been pleading for is a simple act of justice to this firm.
– Is it a Victorian firm?
– Cannot the Victorian members speak for the firm?
– It does, not matter to me Whether the members of the firm are Victorians or South Australians. We are all members of the one Commonwealth, and no one citizen of Australia should be treated unjustly. We do not wish to place the Department in an unfair position, and do not ask it to admit that the seizure was wrongful. All we wish is that these gentlemen shall have an opportunity to bring the action of law of which they have given notice, to prove that they have not committed fraud. Some one objected just now to the term “ British justice,” but if it is Australian justice that the Department has meted out in this case, I say, save me from it. We desire that British justice shall be done. There are other matters to which I might refer in connexion with these Estimates, But I do not wish to do so. One cannot study the history of this case without being satisfied as to the bona fides of the consignees. They are prepared to take the risk of going to law, and of having an adverse verdict returned against them. Thai shows that they are satisfied that they are in the right. I hope that that section of the House which publicly stands by the Minister will, in the interests of justice, approach him privately, and get him to do what is fair. The Minister may say what he pleases about not having been influenced bv the notice of action which was served on the Department, but it is extraordinary that he. did not change his ground until after it was received. I appeal to the Prime Minister, who is now present, and who has a knowledge of the law, to see if something cannot be done to give justice to these people. We are not engaged in a “ stonewall.” All we ask for is justice. If the Minister had promised to allow the consignees to bring an action at law the discussion would have ceased long ago. Some twelve months ago a consignment of ha$s was sent to Messrs. Henty and Company from the East.
They were passed through the Customs at a valuation of1s.1d. each, and sold wholesale at the average price of. 2s. fid. each. The consignor was so pleased with the price obtained that he wrote to say that he would send another consignment in August, which is the consignment which has been seized by the Department. We believe that this seizure is wrongful, and I ask the Prime Minister to use his influence to gain an opportunity for the consignees to test the action of the Department in a court of law. However, as I understand that I can speak on this matter in the morning, I shall not refer to it further now.
– I wish to draw the attention of the Minister to a matter of considerable importance. I have seen the statement in the newspapers that the Minister has ‘declared that it is his intention, in order to discourage the smuggling of opium’, to destroy any smuggled opium which may be confiscated by the Customs Department. Opium, however, is an exceedingly valuable drug, which has very useful medicinal offices, and I see no reason why confiscated importations should not be banded over to the hospitals, or disposed of in some way, so that the drug may be of service to those who require it. For many years it was the practice in England to destroy all smuggled tobacco by burning it in what was known as the “ Queen’s pipe,” and in that way a large quantity of valuable material was wasted. I ask the Minister to see that opium which is being smuggled into the country is not similarly wasted.
Proposed vote agreed to.
– It does not matter what other honorable members may have agreed to, I shall not allow myself to be prevented from appealing to the Prime Minister for justice in the case of Messrs. Henty and Company. Apparently I have been tricked. I understood that progress was to be reported. I should not have agreed to finish my speech under other circumstances. Personally, I am prepared to stop here all night, and to-morrow as well, to prevent an injustice from being done. The Minister knows that his action was unjust. When I said that I would speak in the morning the Prime Minister nodded his head, showing that I have been tricked.
– The honorable member can say what he has to say on the Appropriation Bill.
– It will be too late then. However-, I shall not be caught in this way again.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 35 (Statistics), £1,525; division 36 (New South Wales), £70,204, agreed to.
– I should like to know whether the Minister intends to reply to the representations which have been made to him to-night.
– I propose to make a short statement when we reach the last division.
Proposed vote agreed to.
Division 38 (Queensland), £51,668 ; division 39 (South Australia), £25,661 ; division 40 (Western Australia), £32,653, agreed to.
– I wish to make a short statement in reference to the assertions
– I rise to a point of order. I ask you, sir, to rule that the Minister cannot make any explanation at this juncture, except such as may directly relate to the vote before the Chair.
– I waived my right to criti cize a number of the proposed votes, on the distinct understanding that the Minister would make a short statement at this stage. I do not know whether the Minister has been in collusion with the honorable member for Parramatta–
-I must ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the vote before the Chair.
– Most honorable members desired to hear my reply to the unfounded representations to-night, but some are evidently afraid of what I may have to say. I shall make a short statement on the motion for the adjournment of the House.
Proposed vote agreed to.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
The honorable member for New England appeared to suppose that there was some understanding with regard to the matter to which he was calling my attention. I listened to him very carefully, and understood him to be asking for my personal consideration of the case to which he was referring, and was giving my attention to the matter when the honorable member discontinued his observations. The fact that the honorable member did so, however, does not in any way relieve me of the responsibility of looking into the question, and I intend to do so. I shall refer to Hansard, or hold myself prepared to listen to the representations of the honorable member privately. It is proposed -to resume the consideration of the Estimates tomorrow.
– I had intended to refer to the’ matter mentioned by the honorable member for Grey, but I shall have to select another opportunity for doing so. However, I shall deal with the matter as soon as possible, and shall probably refer to it in the House at an early date. Regarding the question of the seizure of a consignment of Panama hats, I wish to point out that action was taken by the Department in the first instance without my knowledge. The Collector is empowered under section 161 of the Customs Act to take certain action without reference to the Minister. Regulations were framed not by me, but by my predecessor, the right honorable and learned member for Adelaide ; and regulation 122 gives power to the Collector to deal with’ a question of this kind without reference to the Minister. I had been away for a few days, and the first intimation I had of the case was from a report in the press. I at once made inquiries as to what had been done, and that information was supplied to me by the officers. While I say that the officers were perfectly within their rights in the action they took, I conceived that a matter of such magnitude should be decided by the Minister, and I expressed that opinion. However, on looking through the papers, I thought they disclosed a case of fraud, and for that reason - and that reason alone - I, for the time being, stopped the sale. I did not then know that James Henty and Company were connected with the case, and I stopped the sale with the intention, if it could legally be done, to enter a prosecution, and that was the sole consideration which guided me in the action I took.
– I think that this being such an important statement, there should be a quorum. [Quorum formed ..]
– I shall not detain honorable members by reading documents ; but when I consulted the AttorneyGeneral, I found, what I did not know before, that Henty arid Company were not the owners, but that the goods were consigned to them. That, in my mind, made a great deal of difference.
– But Henty and Company have undertaken to assume the position of owners.
– I could make the firm take that position if I liked. I never have desired in my administration of the Customs Department, to force reputable firms into the Police Court or the Supreme Court, unless there were indications of fraud.
– The “ boot is on the other foot “ - the firm want to force the Minister into ‘the. Court.
– The opinion of the Attorney-General, on a perusal of the documents, was that there was no evidence of fraud ; and I made that fact public on the first opportunity. I was not going to institute proceedings for fraud, when informed by the Attorney-General that there were no signs of fraud ; and, therefore, I instructed the officers of the Department to proceed in the manner they had previously observed. The first notice, about which so much has been said, was served on a form, which is thus described by the Crown Solicitor, who was appealed to in the matter -
It appears that the prescribed notice of seizure was not, in the first instance, given, but some obsolete form was used.
There is no doubt that in using that first form, which I think, is called Form 41, there was an error in the Department; and it was in consequence of instructions from the Crown Solicitor that the second form was used, and not because of any letter from - Mr. Croker, the solicitor who was acting for Henty and Company.
– Then the dates are merely a coincidence.
– Absolutely, I believe. I am sure the Crown Solicitor will not be accused of taking, part in any con:spiracy. The letter is dated 4/10/05.
– Does the Crown Solicitor say that the discovery was made before the receipt of the letter?
– The Crown Solicitor does not say anything of the kind. I do not want to detain honorable members by giving details. But the true case was disclosed by the papers put before the Crown Solicitor, who informed the Collector that an obsolete form had been used. That is the explanation of the issue of the second form by the Department. Then I have to say that the Department consulted the best experts that could be found in Melbourne. I am not at liberty, seeing that the matter is strictly confidential, to state who were the experts, but they represented five of the leading firms in Melbourne.
– Do any of them live in Bourke-street ?
– I am not going to say anything about that. I have the papers here, and they disclose that the lowest valuation at the port of export in the East is about 3s. 6d., and the highest 4s.
– Is that the information obtained from the experts?
– Yes. Something has been said about the action of the Comptroller-General, who is, of course, the mouthpiece of the Department to me. When I was asked a question by an honorable member to-day in regard to this matter, I placed it in the hands of the ComptrollerGeneral, from whom I obtained the answer which I read to-night. Almost immediately after I had communicated certain information to the House, I received the following memorandum from the ComptrollerGeneral : -
Since preparing answers to Mr. Kelly’s questions re Gaylard’s shipment, have now got hold of samples and invoice. These strengthen our position as regard Henty’s lot, because we find that the best description of Gaylard’s lot is not equal to the worst description of Henty’s, and consequently Gaylard’s lot supports the view that Henty’s is under-valued. In Gaylard’s invoices the hats are described as grass “unbleached,” showing, I. think, they are capable of bleaching.
The Comptroller-General, therefore, has himself seen the samples and the invoice.
– He does not say so.
– The facts I have laid before honorable members show that the Department were absolutely right in their action. I do not wish to say anything hard in respect to what has. taken place to-night, but it does seem to me that there is a combined attempt to depreciate these hats before the expiration of the time allowed for the submission of tenders. As to the hats being moth-eaten, I have consulted the Collector, who states that though there may be some signs of moths, not one hat has been injured in the slightest degree. I wish that to go forward to the public. I have referred to the officer since I interjected a statement a little while since.
– The fact that the hats were affected by moths will go forward to the public also.
– They have not been affected in the slightest degree. I cannot help feeling that the statement has been made with a view to injure the sale of these hats. I wish to tell honorable members that I am not going to permit any combination - and there is a combination at work now–
– I know nothing about it
– I have been told something about it. And I am not going to permit these hats to be sacrificed, if, in consequence of any combination, the tendersdo not come up to the amount I think they ought to reach. I have already been offered much more than the invoice value of these hats. I have now dealt sufficiently with the whole question. I had nothing to do with the matter until I saw the references to it in the press, and I then took no action against James Henty and Company. I knew old Mr. Henty many years ago, and I believe James Henty and Company are a most reputable firm. If there is an intention to evade the Customs by means of a low valuation - and the valuation has been absolutely proved to be too low - I do not wish to associate James Henty and Company with fraud. I should have proceeded against them for fraud if I thought so. My action proves that I had not the intention which hasbeen attributed to me to-night to do that firm any injury. On the contrary, I went out of my way rather to be fair.
– The Collector admits that the consignment had moths in it.
– The honorable member for Lang is still trying to injure the sale of these hats. The Collectorsaid that there were signs of moths, but that not a single hat had been injured. Now, with respect to the bleaching cif the hats, i may say, that they are to be sold unbleached. It was not my duty to take any action with reference to the bleaching of the hats. The experts who examined them should know better than I or any officer of the Department whether they can be bleached or not; but, even supposing that they cannot be bleached, they are worth four times as much as the invoice value. The honorable member who accompanied the honorable member for Wentworth when he came to me last night, wanted me to sell him three hats. He said he hud marked them. 1 told the honorable member that 1 would keep them for hum until the tenders came in, and that he could have them then at the tendered price, i have had the hats marked, and tile honorable member will be able to get them. Honorable members have taken certain action to-night for a certain purpose, and though I have no desire to attribute motives, l shall not allow the sale of the hats to be injured if I pan avoid it. I am satisfied that we shall obtain more for them than some honorable members imagine.
– If the Minister makes £5 on the business, .so far as I am concerned, he will have justified his attitude.
– There will be much more made. It is ‘not necessary that 1 should say any more. I should have made this explanation earlier in the sitting, but honorable members are aware that, when a Minister desires to get his Estimates through, it is not wise for him to say too much, lest he should invite undue criticism. Out of deference to honorable members, opposite, and to show that I have had no desire to flout them in any way, I have made this explanation.
– In the course of his remarks, the Minister has said that honorable members who referred to the presence of moths in the consignment did so with the express object of damaging the sale of the hats. That statement is absolutely incorrect. Until this evening, I do not think that any honorable member, or any member of the outside public, knew I would say this evening that there were signs of moths in the consignment. I think it due to the honorable member for
Corangamite to make this statement. The matter has not been brought forward with the object of prejudicing the sale of -the hats, and I have not referred to it in order to benefit a firm of whom I knew nothing. I have taken up the matter solely in the public interest, and I consider it extremely unworthy of the Minister to attribute such motives as he has just attributed to honorable members on this side.
– I wish to know if Ministers are prepared to give any information with regard to a question which I put to the Treasurer of the late Administration. I desired to know whether it was the intention of the Government to pay the officials, and particularly the minor officials of the Post Office, fortnightly instead of monthly. The question is one in which a very great many officials in the Commonwealth service are vitally interested, and it is one to which the Government should give some consideration.
– I notice an order of the day on the paper for the 16th November, dealing with the matter to which the honorable member refers.
– I asked a question of the Treasurer of the last Administration, to which I received a reply tantamount to an intimation that I should have a further reply later on. I am now asking whether the present Government are in a position to give me the further reply which was promised prior to the motion to which Mr. Speaker has referred being put’ on the notice-paper. I do not think that my question infringes the standing order, because it preceded the motion, and I ami merely asking for the reply which was. delayed. I am not one of those who wish, to occupy the time of the House uselessly, but, as we have been detained here so long, I thought. I might get the information for which I have asked.
– I cannot give the information, but I shall direct the attention of my right honorable colleague to the honorable member’s question.
– I think that at this stage of the proceedings it is advisable that there should be a quorum.
There not being a quorum present,
Mr. Speaker adjourned the House at 12.14 a-m. (Friday).
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 19 October 1905, viewed 6 July 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1905/19051019_reps_2_28/>.