8th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. Sir Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether the Commonwealth Government was officially informed of the intention to hold the Conference now meeting in London to discuss the question of reparations. In view of the serious results that may ensue from that Conference, I desire to know whether the Dominions have any direct representation, or whether they were invited to be directly represented upon it?
– I am aware that a Conference is being held to discuss the matter to which the honorable member has referred. A communication has been received from the British Government in regard to Earl Balfour’s note. It is not considered to be necessary, in the interests of the Commonwealth, that we should have direct representation on the Conference. The Commonwealth reserves to itself the right to accept any decision arrived at by the Conference, and, if it thinks fit, to stand by the Treaty of Versailles in regard to the reparations, I should like to add that, considering the magnitude of the amounts which are the subject of discussion at the Conference, the assent or dissent of the Dominions is not material. It would not be so regarded by France or Germany. If the Conference arrives at a decision which modifies the terms of the Treaty in such a way as to reduce the amount due by wayof reparation to the Empire, opportunity will be given to this Parliament to express an opinion as to whether or not it should assent to that decision.
Statements by Mr. Jolly - Office OrdersOverassesmentofIncome.
– Has the Treasurer noticed the remarks made by Mr. Jolly, a member of the Taxation Commission, in reference to the overcharging of taxpayers, and the withholding from’ the public of Office Orders relating to the assessment of incomes? If so, will he see that instructions are given that the Office Orders shall be made available to the public, so that taxpayers may know upon what basis they are actually assessed 1
– -Yes; I have seen the report by Mr. Jolly, and the matter is now receiving consideration. Instructions have already been given that all Office Orders available shall be issued. That instruction has already been carried into effect, and Office Orders can now be purchased .
– I desire to ask the Treasurer -whether it is correct, as seems to be suggested by an article in to-day’s issue of the Age, that where taxpayers inadvertently overstate their income for taxation purposes it is the custom of the Department to allow such persons to pay on the full amount, or whether the officials of the Department check all such statements of income and assess taxpayers on the amount correctly liable to taxation?
– I have not seen the report to which the honorable member refers, but I have discussed this question with the Commissioner, and it is laid down that where a taxpayer has overassessed his income a refund shall be made.
The following papers were presented : -
Immigration - Possibilities of Settling Immigrants on Lands in Western Australia - Report by Senator P. J. Lynch and the Honorable H. Gregory, M.P.
Ordered to be printed.
New Guinea Act - Ordinances of 1922 - No. 23 - Currency Coinage and Tokens.
No. 24 - Natives’ Contracts Protection.
– Will the Minister for Defence layon the table of the House the report of the deputation that waited on Senator Pearce on 11th June, 1920, with respect to the Commonwealth Clothing Factory’s tenders?
– I shall be very glad to lay the report on the Library table.
Report by Senator Bakhap.
– Is the Prime Minister yet in possession of Senator Bakhap ‘s report on trade relations with the East? If so when may the House expect to receive it?
– I shall make inquiries, and give an answer to the honorable member’s question to-morrow.
– Will the Treasurer state whether Mr. J. J. Garvan, managing director of the Citizens and Mutual Life Assurance Company, and one of the financial advisers of the Cabinet, has received from the Government any commission in connexion with his trip to the United States of America ? If so, what is the subject of the commission, and what remuneration is Mr. Garvan to receive?
– Mr. Garvan is travelling in his private capacity, and has no commission of any sort from the Commonwealth Government.
– Has the Minister for Defence received a petition from the localauthorities in regard to the danger to which the closely settled areas at Sandy Bay are exposed by the continuance of the rifle range there? Will he lay on the table of the House any papers he has received on the subject?
– I have not received a petition, but certain representations in respect of the Sandy Bay Rifle Range have been made. The matter is now being investigated by the Department in an endeavour to find some means of complying with the request of the residents, but there are difficulties in the way.
– I desire to make a personal explanation. The week before last I was in South Australia as a member of the Standing Committee on Public Works, inquiring into the north-south railway construction proposal, which involves an expenditure of something like £14,000,000. During my absence I was paired with another member of the
Committee, the honorable member for Bass (Mr. Jackson), who was also in South Australia. I have to complain that, on the question of the redistribution of Victoria into Federal divisions, my pair was not honoured by the Government Whip. On the “broad, national question” relating to proposed expenditure at Canberra my pair was honoured, but when the issue was whether Victoria should or should not have an aditional representative inthis House the Government Whip dishonoured it. I think I have cause to complain. I have been a member of this House for sixteen years, and have always honoured every pair I have given.
Reported Suspension of Chief Electrical Engineer
-I desire to ask the Postmaster-General whether it is true that Mr. F. Golding, Chief Electrical Engineer, has been suspended, and if so, what is the reason for his suspension ?
– I decline to make any statement upon the matter at this stage.
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the Conference of Returned Soldier Leagues now sitting in Sydney has requested that the name of the Taaman Sea should be altered to Anzac Sea, and is he favorable to making representations to the proper authorities to have this done?
– I was not aware that the Conference referred to by the honorable member had submitted this request, but it was put to me recently by the editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph. I now understand why. However, I expressed no opinion whatever on the matter. No doubt the desire to change the name is prompted by the highest patriotic motives, but the question is to what authority the proposal could be submitted. It is a serious matter to change the name of a highway so familiar to the whole of the shipmasters of the world. One might as well propose to change the name of the femur, to the upsetting of the medical profession. J hope that the honorable member will tell the Returned
Soldier Leagues that I have no objection, whatever to the proposal to change the name, but that I do not know who has authority in the matter. Certainly I have none, nor has this Parliament, so far as I am aware.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
If it is decided to build lightships, will the Government give all shipbuilding firms an opportunity of tendering upon equal terms with Williamstown and Cockatoo Island Dockyards ?
– Should it be decided to build lightships, the matter will receive consideration.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Mr.RODGERS.- The answers to the honorable member’s questions areas follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Home and Territories, upon notice -
– This matter is now receiving the consideration of the Government; but a decision on it has not yet been reached.
Dr.MALONEY asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
In view of Earl Balfour’s note re the renunciation of, and forgiveness of, war debts and reparations of the various nations, has the British Cabinet communicated with the Federal Cabinet regarding Australia’s portion in the indemnity scheme?
– Yes. The text of the note issued to the Allied Powers by the British Government has been communicated to the Commonwealth Government, as intimated in the press on 3rd August.
asked the PostmasterGeneral, upon notice -
– Mr. Elliott, being a temporary employee, could not be paid more than is allowed by the Workmen’s Compensation Act without the approval of the Public Service Commissioner, and was paid that rate pending the submission of the matter to the latter, who approved of the Department’s recommendation for full pay. In addition to full pay while Elliott was absent, the Department has paid hospital and doctor’s fees.
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions areas follow : -
– On Friday last the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) asked the following question: -
Will the Prime Minister furnish the House with the quotations from Sir Henry Barwell’s speeches, press interviews, and press letters, to which he, the Prime Minister, referred yesterday, and in reference to which Sir Henry Barwell affirms he has been misrepresented?
A number of press quotations were then furnished, and, in accordance with my intimation, I now beg to supply the following additional press interviews, &c, dealing with the question of arbitration : -
Mr. Hughes referred today to the statement of Sir Newman Barwell, in which he alleged the Prime Minister had misquoted and misrepresented him in regard to his attitude on arbitration. Mr. Hughes said he had not done so. “If” said the Prime Minister, “ Sir Newman Barwell will do me the honour of perusing my speech to which he refers, ho will see that the. only statements I made as to his attitude, both on the White Australia policy and on arbitration, were actual quotations from his speeches or his contributions to the press. I notice Sir Newman is silent as to coloured labour. Why docs he now say nothing on a subject on which he was so eloquent overseas? Does he say I have misrepresented his views on the White Australia policy?
Let me quote his own words in connexion with arbitration. On the 18th January Sir Newman Barwell said, in speaking of the class hatred which existed between Capital and Labour -
Another contributing factor to that mutual antagonism is, in my opinion, the existence of compulsory arbitration in Australia. While you ‘have an arbitration system as at present,these two great forces will act with bitterness toward each other, and will be arrayed against each other as enemies. The doors of the Arbitration Court are everlastingly open, inviting Labour to come again and again in a never-ending struggle to wrest from Capital something more than it had enjoyed before. While Arbitration Courts exist in Australia Capital and Labour will maintain that spirit of antagonism; and while Capital and Labour maintain that spirit of antagonism Australia can never rise to the full height of her possibilities. The logical conclusion from these premises then is, that if Arbitration Courts continue to ‘exist, Australia can never realize her great possibilities. These Courts stand in the way of adjustments which otherwise would come about automatically.’ “ “When I retorted,” continued Mr. Hughes, “that if Sir Newman Barwell was convinced that the arbitration system was such a menace he should begin his widely-trumpeted reform by abolishing his own State Courts, Sir Newman Barwell replied -
Mr. Hughes wants to know why, if I am in favour of wiping out Arbitration Courts, I have not done so in South Australia. Well, for a very simple reason. If the South Australian Parliament abolished the Arbitration Courts in South Australia while the Commonwealth Arbitration Court still remained in existence, our last condition would be worse than the first.
The only compulsory system of arbitration in Australia would then be the Commonwealth system, and the only Court the Commonwealth Court, which would exercise jurisdiction over the whole field of industry. Thus the plight of employee and employer in South Australia would be worse than ever. . . . The first thing to do, in my opinion, is to abolish the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I will undertake to see that we follow suit in South Australia by putting an end to the State Court.’” “Again, when during the course of our controversy I stated that Sir Newman Barwell’s attitude at a recent Premiers’ Conference was quite different, and that he was then not so outspoken, Sir Newman Barwell replied -
At the Premiers’ Conference I knew - as a matter of fact, I knew before the debate began - that I could not get support for a proposal to abolish the Arbitration Court altogether. Consequently, I fell back on the alternative of trying to bring about such a delimitation of the powers of the Commonwealth Court as would prevent overlapping jurisdictions, great expense, endless friction, discontent, and industrial inefficiency, the inevitable accompaniment of the present system.’ “ “It is abundantly clear,” continued Mr. Hughes, “ from the above statements, that if Sir Newman Barwell had his way he would abolish not only the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, but all other legal machinery for the compulsory settlement of industrial disputes. If he has changed his opinion, why does he not say so? For the sentiments he expressed some months ago on coloured labour and arbitration he was loudly applauded by certain people. Does he now wish to forego those plaudits by deliberately denying his confession of faith? He has over and over again declared himself opposed to ‘ the White Australia policy ‘ and arbitration, and in doing so he was voicing the aspirations of a small conservative section who regard national interests as subordinate to their own, and who are ready to scrap the industrial system of this country if they can obtain an abundant supply of coloured labour.
Sir Newman Barwell’s protestations do not affect the facts. He stood openly against the arbitration system, by which employers and employees seek to redress their grievances, and loudly advocated the importation of coloured labour. For these sentiments he was vigorously lauded by reactionaries in London and Australiaas a brave and fearless champion of a desperate cause. Whether he has now come to realize that these people are, after all, greatly in the minority, or whether he has actually become a disciple of the true faith, I shall welcome a clear, definite, and final pronouncement from him on these matters.”
– On the 2nd August the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr) asked the following question: -
I desire to ask the Minister for Defence whether he has seen in the press a report to the effect that the French people were conferring decorations upon some of the British units, who participated in actions in France during the Great War, and were desirous of conferring the Croix de Guerre on two Australian units - the 13th and 15th Brigades - but that the authorities in Australia had prevented them from doing so? Can the honorable gentleman state why the Australian units have been precluded from having these honours conferred on them?
I have made inquiries, and find that the “Defence Department has no knowledge of any such proposal ever being made.
Sugar: Commonwealth Government Control : Balance-sheet.
Debate resumed from 4th August (vide page 1189), on motion by Mr. Rodgers -
That the paper - “Commonwealth Government Sugar Control Balance-sheet, as at 30th June, 1022 ; profit aud loss account for the period from 19th July, 1915, to 30th June, 1922; trading and profit and loss account for the period from 19th July, 1915, to 30th June, 1922 - operating and trading accounts “ - be printed.
Upon which Mr. Prowse had moved by way of amendment -
That the following words be added to the motion : - “ and (a) That consideration of the question of the price of sugar be postponed until Wednesday next, and/or the tabling of full details of the sugar position as promised by the Minister for Trade and Customs.
That a Select Committee of the House be appointed to inquire into the question of the Government transactions in sugar, and to report to this House.”
Upon which amendment Mr. Anstey had moved the following further amendment: -
That the amendment be amended by adding the following words to paragraph (a) : - ‘ and the retail price of sugar be reduced to 4§d. per lb. from the 21st August, 1922.”
– All honorable members are agreed that the question of the price of sugar is the most important matter that has been discussed during the term of this Parliament. Realizing this, I listened with the greatest attention to the speeches delivered by honorable members, in order to ascertain whether it was the intention of those who seemed to be so much interested in this important question to seek means to cheapen the price of the commodity, but I arrived a,t the conclusion that, so far as the honorable members opposite were concerned, this was a secondary consideration, and that their main purpose was to oust the Government. On the other hand, the majority of honorable members sitting on the Government side of the House seek a reduction in the price of sugar because so many industries and so many people would benefit. Naturally, “ cheap sugar “ will be an excellent cry at the forthcoming election, but the real effort of honorable members opposite is not to suggest- a method by which the price can be reduced. Their object is to put the Government out of office. In confirmation of my view, let me quote from the Melbourne Age, which has such a great influence on honorable members, particularly those who represent Victorian constituencies. This journal, commenting in its issue of the 7th August last, on the division upon the sugar question in this House last week, says -
The striking feature of the division was the fact that the Government was saved by members of the Country Party, whose Leader (Mt. Page) has been breathing out threatenings and slaughter against Mr. Hughes and . all his works.
– Is the ‘honorable member in order in quoting a report from a newspaper ?
– ‘It is a common practice for honorable members to refer to newspaper reports of current debates, but it is not in order to quote newspaper reports relating to other, debates in. the same session.
– I am quoting from a newspaper to show that this matter has become purely a party question. . This journal, from which I have already drawn a. few sentences, is, in my view, the best authority which I could quote for the purpose, because it points out, just as various other journals have done throughout Australia, that the question of dear or cheap sugar has been practically submerged in party interests. You will realize in a moment, Mr. Speaker, when I quote further from the Age, why the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley) does not like the idea of my being permitted to make the quotation. The article in question proceeds-
– The honorable member is continuing to quote, Mr. Speaker!
– Order ! The honorable member for Denison will not be out of order in referring to, or quoting from, newspaper reports of the present debate; but he, or any other honorable member would be out of order if he proposed to make quotations from reports of other debates of the current session.
– The Age “ leader “ continues -
These tests of party strength on matters of keen public interest are remarkable for variations that have the same result.
– I again rise to order. You have ruled on many occasions, Mr. Speaker, that no honorable member may road from a newspaper, or read anything, in fact, when addressing the House. The honorable member is reading something now, and I take it that he is out of order. I call your attention to the fact.
-The honorable member is under some misapprehension. I have given no such ruling. The standing order dealing with the matter reads as follows : -
No member shall read extracts from newspapers or other documents referring to debates in the House during the same session.
That is the exact phraseology of the standing order. Rut the point cropped up during the first session of the first Parliament. The House was sitting in Committee at the time, and the sense of the Committee was in favour of newspaper and other reports of the same debate being permitted to be read. It has been the practice ever since for the Speaker to allow quotations to be made from reports and comments, whether of newspapers or of other documents, referring to the same debate, but not to other debates in the same session. The honorable member for Denison, therefore, is in order as he is following a practice which (has the force of a standing order through established usage. v
– I repeat that I am merely quoting from the article to prove that I have not based my remarks on mere supposition, but to show that it is the general belief that this matter of the sugar) agreement is a party one, while the cheapening of sugar is merely a secondary consideration.
– I now desire to raise another point, sir, namely, that the honorable member, in quoting from the newspaper, is not dealing with this debate. The article has reference to the debate which took place on the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton). There have been two debates.
– Order ! Tt is quite evident that the debate is the same as’ that now occupying the attention of the
House. There have not been two distinct and separate debates; but various developments in the same debate.
– They both have to do with sugar, I admit.
– While on my feet I take this opportunity to remind the House of the necessity for permitting an honorable member who is addressing the Chair to be heard in silence, or., at least, to be given a. fair hearing without frequent and loud interruption. I dp not desire to be constantly calling (honorable members to order for interjecting or for indulging in running comments. But I shall be compelled to take. a very severe view of the practice if it is not now abated .
– I thank you for your ruling, sir, which permits me to continue with my newspaper extracts. They should be particularly edifying and educational for the honorable member for South Sydney, as he himself, of course, never reads anything.
– Order ! Will the honorable member please proceed with his speech ?
– I desire to emphasize the comment of the Age -
These tests of party strength on matters of keen public interest are remarkable for variations that have the same result.
Another newspaper, in its comments upon the sugar agreement, makes reference to the question of the removal of the Prime Minister from office. The article essays, apparently, to show members of Parliament the way they should’ go. It says -
The removal of Mr. Hughes would not mean a Labour Government. It would mean the much-desired coalition between the Country party and the Nationalists, and an end to the present corrupting three-party system.
This reference is drawn from the Herald of the 8th August, and the newspaper extracts together demonstrate that the subject under debate is a purely party one. Had I voted for the amendment of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), and were I to vote for that of the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), the outcome would not be to cheapen sugar. The effect would be to embarrass the Government. They would be called upon to vacate the Treasury bench, and the Leaden of the Opposition would be called to power. But would he be able to cheapen sugar at once-? No; he would have to call together from all over Australia the members of the Grand Council of his party. After they had met and deliberated at the Trades Hall in Melbourne -
– Order !
– How would a Labour Government, when eventually selected, bring about an immediate reduction in the cost of sugar ? I prefer to wait and see what the Government intend to do, because I have the assurance of the Prime Minister-
– Did the honorable member say he had the assurance of the Prime Minister ?
– Order !
Honorable members interjecting,
– I rise to a point of order. It is essential, at least for myself, that this debate should be heard; but there is a continual chorus - I do not know what to call it. The noise sounds more like that from a farm-yard. I have endeavoured to listen very carefully, but this disorder must cease if one is to hear. I cannot hear one word of the debate. It is worse than bedlam.
– Only a few minutes ago I called attention to the necessity for permitting the debate to proceed in silence, or without interruption. Since then, however, there have been repeated interjections. Indeed, disorder has punctuated the whole of the speech of the honorable member for Denison. I cannot permit such a state of affairs to continue. I was on the point of taking definite action against a certain honorable member when the Prime Minister rose to a point of order. I hope that I shall have the support of the House in any course of action I may deem it my duty to take. I warn the honorable member for Barrier particularly that he has offended on two or three occasions during the last few minutes. If he continues I shall certainly name him.
– On a point of order, I desire to know whether the honorable member for Denison is in order in asserting that he has more assurance than the Prime Minister.
– Will the honorable member please resume his seat? His point is a frivolous one, and I warn him that he must not proceed in that manner.
I supplement my admonitions by pointing out the very great difficulty which the members of the Hansard staff must have in following and recording the debate. It is a marvel to me, indeed, how they are able to do their work as well as they do, in the extraordinary conditions under which, at times, it has to be performed.
– I think the long-haired member for Barrier has his ears blocked by his hair.
– I again rise to order. I wish to know if the honorable member for Denison is in order in reflecting upon myself, and whether he will be permitted to continue to do so without your calling upon him to withdraw.
– What is the nature of the personal reflection to which the honorable member objects?
– I mean the reflection which you, sir, asked him to withdraw.
– I did not ask the honorable member to withdraw anything.
– The honorable member made certain offensive references to myself, which I ask you to call upon him to withdraw in accordance with the usual custom.
– Will the honorable member for Barrier state what the personal references were?
– They were a belated repetition of the reference the other evening by the honorable member for Capricoraia (Mr. Higgs) to my long hair, which is non-existent.
– If the honorable member for Denison made any reference of an offensive personal character to the honorable member, the honorable member will realize that it is necessary to withdraw them.
Mr.LAIRD SMITH.- If any remarks I made are regarded as offensive, I certainly withdraw them. What I did say was that I had the assurance of the Prime Minister given to me on the floor of the House that the Government intended to cheapen sugar as early as possible. I asked the right honorable gentleman on that occasion if the Government could see its way clear to do something to reduce the present price of sugar to the consumer, and the Prime Minister replied that the matter was now receiving the closest attention of the Government, andevery effort would be made to secure a reduction of the price. Subsequently I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) a question on the same subject, and, in effect, that gentleman replied that the Government had taken the matter into consideration, and had announced the reduction that was to be made, adding that if any further reduction was possible it would be made at the earliest date. What more can honorable members require than this assurance from those high in power, who are ready to reduce the price as soon as that can be don© with safety to the finances of the Commonwealth ? I, at any rate, am prepared to leave the matter in the hands of the Government.
We are indebted to the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) for the very able speech that he made, but” I am sorry to say that he was not able to base his remarks on fact. The position he took was that if so and so were true,’ then he arrived at certain conclusions; he had no official data at his command, and hence his conclusions were founded purely on supposition, as he himself admitted. This is rio reflection on the honorable member, but, at the same time, it very’ much discounts his speech. Of course, if the honorable member’s premises were correct, we should be able to draw certain deductions therefrom - deductions most valuable to this House. But we are not able to do this with certainty; and consequently we await the statement that we hope the Minister for Trade and Customs will give us at an early date. What we require is a complete return spread over the full period of six years.
That reminds me of a statement that was made by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton)’ when the main question was under debate. That honorable member criticised most bitterly the statement made to the< House by the Minister, and questioned the authenticity of what the honorable gentleman had said; indeed, the honorable member for Maribyrnong not only questioned whether the Government desired to give the facte, but whether the facts were there to give. The Sugar Board is composed of the most able public servants we have ; these men have nothing to hide, yet for” purely party purposes the honorable member made statements which were a reflection, not only on them, but on the whole Public Service: I know the- ability of those’ men, and feel sure that any task they axe set will be performed honestly and well.
– Who are they?
– There was Mr. McQuire, who worked under me at thu Defence Department for some time, and did excellent work, as I am sure he will do in the future.
– Who are the others?
– At election time the honorable member will find out who are the others, for I can assure him, were I a civil servant, this subject would be referred to at every meeting he may hold. I repeat that his remarks were a most unfair and unjust reflection on the Public Service.
We ought to be very careful in dealing with this question, because involved in it is the prosperity of the great fruit industry, which is being carried on in Western Australia, Tasmania, and,, indeed, throughout the Commonwealth. Closely allied with this is the jam industry, and, finally, of course, the sugar industry itself . All -those industries are so interwoven that it behoves us to drop this party business; we ought not for party purposes to try to place this great industry in such a position as to affect detrimentally the people, and also the finances at this critical time. Surely honorable members realize the state of the financial world. Australia seems to be more stable than any other country, excepting, perhaps America.; but we have only to cast our eyes upon Europe to see quite a different picture. Again, I say, for purely party purposes, an attempt is being made to harass the Government, which is doing its best to deal with one of the great industries of Australia. The sugar industry together with the jam and fruit industries were saved by the Government during the great war. If the manufacturers during the war had not been ableto get cheap sugar, our fruit would have rotted on the trees, and the valuable jam which we exported would have been nonexistent. After this great war, we find that, in 1919-20, we produced the greatest amount of jam in lb: weight that had been produced up to that time, namely, 79,272,560 lbs. This result was obtained because the Government rose to the occasion early in the day, and settled the sugarquestion. Manufacturers found’ it possible to get cheap sugar, and to send their products away with great profit to this community. Shortly, we shall have the Treasurer (Mr. Bruce) showing, I hope, that there is a surplus instead of a deficit, as in other countries throughout the world, largely owing to the advance of our trade and commerce. The sugar industry developed enormously during the period of the war. The honorable member for Parramatta was good enough to furnish us with authentic figures showing that, in 1915-16, the value of the sugar produced was £2,873,520, which, in 1921-22, had increased to £7,583,333. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs), in the course of his recent speech, told us that labour’s share of this production amounted to £6,000,000. Who reaped the benefit? For the most part that money went into the pockets of many of the workers of Australia.
– Including the pockets of a lot of workers in Victoria.
– Quite so. I am speaking, . however, of the workers of not only Victoria, but the whole Commonwealth. The representatives of this State are influenced largely by a newspaper published in this city, which an honorable member opposite is in the habit of referring to as “ that great organ, the Aye.”
– Does the honorable member object to that term ?
– No; but as some time has elapsed since I heard the honorable member give his meed of praise in “ that great organ, the Age,” I thought it well to remind him of one of his favorite phrases.
– Still, the Age is a great newspaper.
– Yes, and it has a great influence on the representatives of Victoria in this House. Honorable members opposite claim that if the amendment were amended as proposed by them the immediate result would be a reduction in the price of sugar. I hold that it would probably have the effect of at once reducing the wages of a very large body of workers in Queensland. The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) on Friday last delivered an able speech on this question, which I hope will be read by the workers generally. In it he showed most effectively what disastrous results would attend the carrying of the proposal of the Labour party. He showed that to give effect to it would be to paralyze a great Commonwealth industry, and to throw thousands of men out of work. I repeat that the object which the Opposition have in view is not to cheapen the price of the commodity, but rather to defeat the Government, so that they may come into office.
Our import duty on sugar is lower than that imposed by any other country. In the United Kingdom there is a general duty of £25 13s. 4d. per ton; the Canadian duty is £11 3s. per ton ; the United States of America has a duty of £9 19s. per ton; and South Africa a duty of £6 14s. per ton. In Australia the duty is £6 per ton, and throughout the war we had cheaper sugar than had any other country. While the people of Great Britain were paying something like £80 per ton for it we were obtaining it at less than half that price, with the result that the important industries to which I have already referred were able to carry on. The high price of sugar in Great Britain has had a most marked effect upon its consumption there. In 1920 the consumption per head of the population was 76 lbs., but in 1921 it fell away to 54 lbs. The people of the Old Country have not been rationed by the Government, but have been compelled, owing to the high price of sugar, to ration themselves. Throughout the trying period of the war, the Commonwealth Government exercised a control that enabled us to obtain sufficient for our wants at a price far below that prevailing in other countries. Although I have made the most careful inquiries I have not heard that any one in Australia, by reason of this agreement, has run short of supplies or has had to ration himself.
During the debate much has been said as to the work of the representatives of Queensland in this Parliament in connexion with this agreement. They undoubtedly have done excellent work in the interests of their own State, and no one can blame them for it, since the sugar industry is one of the biggest enterprises in Queensland. I am pleased to acknowledge the valuable and reliable information that I have received from them in regard to the whole position It cannot be said that they have attempted to mislead any honorable member who is concerned as to the position of industries in which sugar is largely used. Their sole object has been to obtain a fair deal for the great sugar industry of the northern State.
– We did our level best to secure adequate protection for the fruit and jam industries of Australia.
– I believe that i3 so. I am surprised that any Queenslander visiting this State should have indulged in adverse criticism of the actions of representatives of Queensland in this Parliament. As a matter of fact, they have supplied the House with literature and personal advice that will be invaluable to us when we come later on to deal with the general question of control. Under the rules of the House I cannot now discuss the future control of the industry, but 1 hope to have an opportunity to do so later on.
I think that we may rest assured that the Government will give us cheaper sugar as early as possible, and that the Labour party, in proposing now to reduce the price, are influenced, not so much by a desire to obtain cheaper sugar for the people as to gain possession of the Treasury bench. I have nothing to fear from my constituents because of the attitude 1 am adopting on this question. The people of Australia read and think for themselves, and one is not afraid of their judgment of one’s actions whore an honest attempt is being made to bring about a better state of affairs in the interest of the whole Commonwealth. I think it is wise that we should refrain from coming to a r’1 vision on the question of the price of sugar until we have before us the full and definite facts which the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) alone oan supply. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten), on the facts available to him, did remarkably well in the speech which he delivered in this House last Thursday. He gave us the
Authority for all the figures quoted by hint, and said that, assuming that those figures were correct, be considered certain deductions could be drawn from them. His was a fair criticism, and I think he is to be commended for it.
T am not going to address myself further to this question, since I know that there awaits- our consideration a very im? porta nt measure relating to the compensation to Ve paud to military men who are to be retired from the Defence Depart ment. There is a large body of men affected by that Bill. They are anxious to know what they are to receive by way of compensation, so that they may lose no time in setting up business for themselves and so providing for their wives and families. The Leader of the Labour party (Mr. Charlton), when the Minister referred to the importance of that measure, said that the question of cheaper sugar was still more important; but he must admit that the Bill, relating to the compensation to be paid to those who are being retired from the Department of Defence should receive our early attention.
– I may be permitted to deal briefly with this question, in regard to which probably more loose and inaccurate statements have been made than on any other. I entirely agree with the view expressed by the honorable member who has just resumed his seat (Mr. Laird Smith) as to the attitude which certain honorable members have adopted towards it. For the reasons he has advanced, it is unnecessary to traverse the whole of the facts, or to deal with all the arguments that have been used; but one or two observations seem to me to be appropriate. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) has submitted an amendment of the amendment, in which he proposes that the price of sugar shall be reduced to 4fd. per lb. The honorable member knows perfectly well what the position is. He knows that even if every honorable member, with the exception of myself, were to vote for his proposition, the price of sugar would not be reduced to 4d. per lb., because it cannot be retailed at that price. We have to deal with facts. Resolutions do not alter facts; they certainly cannot alter prices where these are determined by the cost of production. I must remind honorable members of what the position is in regard to sugar.
A great deal has been said about the price of sugar. May I remind honorable members of one or two facts? The first is that the price of sugar is determined by the sugar agreement of 1920. The other is that for this agreement this House must take the responsibility. Honorable members seem to have forgotten this fact, but I have not. I very well remember - declining any longer to be the football of circumstances, and being adjured over and over again by the House to take it into my confidence, and to submit measures while yet there was time for them to be moulded by the composite wisdom of the Parliament - I followed that most excellent advice, and submitted the draft agreement to Parliament. Parliament approved of it. There were differences of opinion, but even those who differed from us qualified their objections in such a way as to stop far short of recording a vote against the agreement.
For the agreement this House and this Parliament must take full responsibility.
If there is anything in the agreement to which honorable members take exception they must censure themselves and not the Government. The Government were merely the instruments that carried into effect the decision of this Parliament. The agreement fixes the price of raw sugar, and bo determines the price at which refined sugar can be retailed. If it be said that the price of sugar is too high, we have only to look at the agreement to see if the price of sugar is to bo justified by it, and the circumstances that have arisen out of it, or whether the present price of sugar is due to something not in the agreement or the circumstances that have arisen out of it. Let me remind honorable members that before Parliament ratified the agreement it had all the facts presented to it. This House knew that the retail price of sugar could not be less than 6d. a lb. for a very long time. It knew that it might be more. It knew how this retail cost was made up: where every fractional part went to. It knew that the Government would have to purchase foreign sugar on which it must make a loss if it were sold at 6d. a lb. Knowing all these things, the House approved the agreement. The price of sugar has been, and is, determined by the agreement, and by the circumstances that have arisen out of it. There is not an item that goes to make up the present price of sugar that was not submitted to this House. It was not a question submitted at large. Each branch of the industry was scrutinized in detail. It is one of the features of the agreement that it lays down what each branch of the industry is to receive. For the first time in the history of this industry the people who buy the finished article know exactly what part of the price they pay goes to the workman, to the grower, to the miller, to the refiner, to the carrier, to the wholesale dealer, and to the retailer. Every fractional part of a penny is accounted for. In order that there shall be no misunderstanding of the position as it will be with sugar at 5d. a lb., I will give a detailed statement of the distribution amongst the various parties : -
I have set out in detail the cost, of producing sugar at each stage, and shown how the price of 5d. a lb. is made up. I ask honorable members to tell me to what items they take exception : where a reduction can be effected. They must not forget that we are under an agreement, which has yet some months to run. We- must discharge our obligation under the agreement. We must give to the canegrowers and the millers a price that will enable them to pay the wages agreed upon with the cane-cutters and other field hands, and the workers in the mills, the sailor on the ships, the workers in the refineries. We are under obligation to pay certain charges to the refiner and to the shipper, and to pay the wholesaler and the retailer certain definite amounts for the work they do, which is just as much a part of producing sugar as is any other of the processes necessary to make the finished article available to the householder. Every item has been fixed by agreement, and all are conditioned by the terms of the sugar agreement, which fixes the price for raw sugar. The figures speak for themselves, and there is no reduction possible unless there is to be an assault upon some particular section of the industry and its rights under the agreement.
The amendment submitted by the honorable member for Bourke seeks to bring about a reduction in the price to 4;5/8d. per lb., but if the honorable member gets the support of every honorable member of the House, it will not make the slightest difference to the price of sugar. Any reduction below 5d. can be effected only in one way. One course is open to the honorable member - to charge the whole body of taxpayers with the difference between 45/8d. and 5d. per lb., in which case sugar could be sold at 45/8d. per lb. But since every taxpayer is a consumer of sugar, there would be little gained, even if that course commended itself as a business-like proposal. Therefore, the honorable member’s amendment must go.
I do not propose to repeat what has been said by the honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith) to the effect that honorable members are not concerned with the price of sugar. If it were thought for one moment by the unions in Queensland that the assault upon this industry would be successful, there would be a change of tune within twenty-four hours. It is an attack on the Government, and is recognised as such. It is a tour de force which is not expected to have any result. However, so that the people outside may know where their money is going, I have set out the position quite clearly.
I have only one or two remarks to add. For this agreement, the House, and not myself, must take the responsibility. Two years ago, I put it before honorable members, and said that, unless the House accepted it, I would not take the responsibility on my shoulders. The House accepted the agreement, and it is not fair that I should be asked to take the responsibility, or to say that the Government must bear all these responsibilities that arise out of a shortage of sugar brought about through no fault on the part of the Government, but by one of those cataclysms which now and then overtake the sugar industry, such as cyclones, and one cause or another from which no industry is immune. At the time the agreement was approved by this Parliament, it was thought to be, by many, quite a. good agreement. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten), who made a speech the other evening, was of opinion, when the agreement was before the Senate, that it was a very excellent one. He said -
I am going to say freely and frankly that the sugar-growers of Queensland have repaid their moral debt to the Government and the Australian consumers for preserving their industry through times of stress and difficulty.
I do not think Senator Crawford and others interested will hear much more in regard to the hand icap that fruit-growers have experienced as the result of sugar prices prevailing in the Commonwealth, although he may be pessimistic as regards the future price of the world’s sugar.
I believe we have made a good deal for the consumers in the Commonwealth. The producers have been placed in a reasonably good position, the Government have safeguarded all interests, and have effected a fair compromise.
When the agreement comes before the Senate I shall support it, and as this measure is an integral part of that document I shall support its passage also.
I am hopeful that during the third, if not the second year of the agreement, the consumers of the Commonwealth, instead of paying a retail price of6d., will be paying only 5d. in consequence of the automatic drop I have mentioned. The Queensland producers and the Commonwealth Government are no worse off. and this elastic and clever agreement will bring about that state of affairs as soon as the world’s price justifies it.
What more could any man say in favour of the agreement? It was perfectly well known in this House that the price was to be fixed at 6d. per lb. I stated it, and the House accepted it. It is also perfectly well known that the possibilities were that it might even be higher than 6d. lb. But we expressed the hope and belief that it would gradually fall. The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) stated that, in the third year he hoped the price would fall to 5d. per lb. It is about to do so. The honorable member said that the agreement was a perfectly good one for the fruit-grower. The agreement, such as it is, is the handiwork of this Parliament. Parliament went into it with its eyes open. It knew that the retail price would be 6d. per lb. It knew how much the grower was about to get, and how much the cane-cutter was to be paid. There has been a lot of talk about the high wages of the cane-cutter, and of this “ spoon-fed “ industry. But all the facts were well known when the agreement was in the hands of Parliament. Parliament deliberately accepted it. No honorable member who waa at that time in Parliament can now evade his responsibility. If we have erred - and I contend that we have not - we have done so in good company. If we have any differences of opinion on the matter we can discuss them on their merits. There is room enough, goodness knows, for difference of opinion; but the question ought not to be made a party one. At any rate, I propose to place the responsibility for the agreement where it belongs, namely, upon the shoulders of Parliament. I take the responsibility for having brought it before Parliament; Parliament must take the responsibility’ for accepting it, well knowing, as it did, that the retail cost would be 6d. per lb. and that the price would fall to 5d. before the end of the third year. It has fallen to 5d.. and it cannot fall any lower.
– Hear, hear!
– Honorable members must be seised of the fundamental fact that the retail price cannot be reduced any lower, unless they propose to break the agreement; and I am sure honorable members do not suggest that.
When the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) spoke, he did not attempt to deal with the charge that the high price of sugar was due to the exorbitant wages of the cane-workers or exorbitant profits of the growers ; but other honorable members did not hesitate to attribute the high price of sugar to this cause. It is quite true- that the wages of the workers have materially increased since 1914; but, of course, that fact was perfectly well known to honorable members in 1920, the award increasing the rates being then in force. In 1914 cane-cutters received 12s. a day; in 1922 they received 21s. 4d. per day - an increase of 78 per cent. But wages in the sugar industry have not increased more than those in other industries. In the same period the wages of coalminers increased from 54s. per shift to 99s. per shift - an increase of 83 per cent., and the wages of labourers increased from 48s. per shift to 99s. per shift - an approximate increase of 107 per cent. As for shearers, their pay increased from 24s. per 100 sheep in 1914, to 35s. in 1922, and, in Queensland, to 40s. - an increase of 46 per cent. Weekly wages in that industry were £3 6s. in 1914; in 1922 they were £4 16s. in all the States except Queensland - an increase of 45 per cent. ; and they were £5 9s. 6d. in Queensland - an increase of 65 per cent. The wages of shed hands in 1914 were £2 12s. 6d., and, in 1922, £3 12s. - an increase of 37£ per cent. Slaughtermen in Melbourne received, eight years ago, 80s. a week; in 1922 they received 120s. - an increase of 50J per cent. Slaughtermen in Sydney were paid 85s. a week in 1914, and 145s. a week in 1922, which represents an increase of 70 per cent. In Brisbane the slaughtermen were paid 70s. in 1914, and 105s. in 1922 - an increase of 50 per cent. With respect to meat-work employees, labourers in Sydney were paid 60s. in 1914; at the 31st December, 1921, they were being paid 105s. per week - an increase of 75 per cent. In Melbourne the pay was 48s. in 1914, and 92s. at the end of last year - an increase of 92 per cent.; while in Brisbane, meat work labourers were paid 42s. 6d. in 1914 and 85s. a week at the end of 1921 - representing an increase of 100 per cent. Agricultural labourers in 1914-15 were being paid from 20s. to 25s. a week, while, in 1920, their wages had risen to 40s. weekly, representing an increase of about 60 per cent.
So much for high wages as an element in the price of sugar. Now as to prices of raw materials and the refined article. Although the price of sugar has risen, it has not done so proportionately more nhan the price of many other commodities.
There has been such an outcry in these latter days about the retail cost of sugar that it is well for honorable members to be reminded of certain correlated facts. The following table should prove of especial interest to them: -
The cost of living, as applied to these staple articles of diet, reveals an increase which is comparable with, and, in some oases, in excess of, the price of sugar. I emphasize the percentages of increase in respect of butter, bread, and jam. I have every respect for the jam maker. I represent an electorate- which, produces no sugar but which provides the Australian table with the very finest jam manufactured in the Commonwealth. Mine is a great fruit-growing electorate - the finest _ in Australia, it embraces the most magnificent country and the most beautiful city in all Australia. It has most historic interests. It has a salubrious climate and an energetic and most intelligent people. But it does not produce sugar. ! Yet I go about the whole country defending the sugar agreement!
There is nothing in the agreement which the House can usefully discuss at this stage. It has come to an impasse. It is face to face with its own handiwork. Parliament accepted the agreement with ite eyes open. If (honorable members do not accept my assurance, the records will show that I clearly pointed out that the price would be 6d. per lb. At that time, indeed, some honorable members were apprehensive that it might be even more; while the present honorable member for Parramatta - as I have already mentioned - saw through the darkness of the oncoming yea.rs the rosy tints of a brighter day, and he ventured the opinion that the price would be 5d. in the third year of the agreement. So it is to be.
The House, while engaged in discussing its own agreement, will not be able to re- duce the price of sugar. That cannot be brought below, tho price to which it is presently to bo reduced. I emphasize that the retail charge cannot be reduced below 5d., and that it cannot be reduced to 5d. until tho Government’s overdraft has been wiped off. The Minister for Trade and* Customs (Mr. Rodgers) has fixed 1st November as the date on which the reduced price shall come into force; but if the overdraft can be cleared off before that day, the price of sugar will fall as from that very moment.
The position may be set out in this manner : Do the figures which have been submitted by the Minister for Trade and Customs faithfully reflect the actual facts? The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) has submitted an amendment. He suggests that the whole subjectmatter shall be referred to a Select Committee. I can scarcely agree with the honorable member upon that point. In my view, the proper Committee to undertake the task of settling the points in dispute is the Public Accounts Committee. The Government will welcome the reference of the whole question to that body. The Public Accounts Committee may have access to all the documents, which it can. analyze, and may have at its disposal such professional assistance as it thinks proper. The Committee may then present its .report to the House, when we shall then be dealing with the question in a proper manner. That is so because this is an agreement which sprang from the House, and for which the House must take full responsibility. The Government have presented accounts as they were handed to us. Honorable members can hardly expect that we ourselves have gone into .them,; they were handed to us by our professional advisers. Let the accounts be checked, and the matter reviewed by the Public Accounts Committee, and no useful purpose can be served in discussing the matter until such a report is presented. On behalf of the Government, I say that it is our earnest desire to reduce sugar to the lowest price that ia possible under the agreement, and to do it at the earliest possible moment. If the Public Accounts Committee think that can be done a day sooner than suggested toy the Minister for Trade and Customs, the Government will be only too pleased to take action. The position- having been put on behalf of the Government, I submit we may well turn our attention to other and more pressing business. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) is not present, and I do not know who is acting for him., but if the amendment is modified by substituting “ Public Accounts Committee “ for “ Select Committee “ we shall accept it.
– The right honorable gentleman misunderstands the object of the amendment, which is an examination into the Government’s transactions - it is not to settle the price of sugar. The amendment is divided into two distinct portions, and the proposed Select Committee is to deal with the Government’s transactions and not with the price of sugar. Mr. Speaker has already said he will put the two portions of the amendment separately.
– These are the only two points that can be dealt with. The price of sugar is determined by the agreement, and it cannot be reduced except as provided for in the agreement.
– The only item dealt with in the agreement is the £30 6s. 8d. for raw sugar. The retail price is not fixed in the agreement.
– I do not say that it is.1 When we are construing or interpreting a written document regard must be had .to the surrounding circumstances, and in this case we must have regard to what was said in the debate here. During that debate, the price of 6d. was mentioned and accepted.
– And protested against by the then Leader of the Opposition, the late Mr. Tudor.
– Yes, it was protested against; but what have I to do with that? If I endeavoured to steer my course clear from all protests, .the position would become impossible - honorable members opposite protest against my very existence. I am not talking of the minority now, but of this House and Parliament, and surely unanimity is not expected on any question. The House deliberately accepted this price. Will honorable members show me what item- is to be cut down ? The price to the miller ? The price to the grower? What? I leave the matter there. We are prepared to accept the amendment, and the House can return to the question whenever further information is before us.
– Which amendment does the Prime Minister say the Government accepts ?
– We accept the amendment of the honorable member for Swan.
– What part of it?
– The Government accepts both, with the substitution of the “ Public Accounts Committee “ for the “ Select Committee.”
– Wednesday was fixed because the Minister said details would be available to-day.
– I wish to make the position perfectly clear. Is the honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) submitting this motion to-day, or is it proposed to withdraw it ?
– It was moved on Friday.
– You do not desire to withdraw it?
– No. The first part of it-
– The Government accepts the amendment as a whole. I did not frame this amendment, for which the honorable member for Swan must take the whole responsibility. Is the honorable member for Cowper standing by the amendment ?
.- It is unfortunate for- the House that, after waiting from the middle of last week, we have not now a statement which clears the atmosphere in regard to this question. We were under the impression that to-day certain further information and details would be forthcoming; but we have only this statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes). I point out that we have not even been supplied with copies of that statement, although we are expected, as a deliberative assembly, to debate it now. I wish to show in a few brief sentences how the position is even more unfair. If we compare the present statement with the previous statement made bv the Prime Minister we find that the two conflict. In the former, the deficit on 1st March, 1921, was estimated at £220,802, and at that time he said the additional charge to the public of Australia was lid. per lb. Now we get a statement that the price cannot be reduced beyond a Id. per lb. Why these conflicting statements? I made reference to this matter on two previous occasions, and received no explanation, and no explanation is forthcoming to-day.
– How do you connect your remarks with the amendment?
– I know the honorable member would like me to be ruled out of order because I am now able to show the position as it is. If the price cannot be reduced by l£d. per lb., or, as now proposed, a little over, I contend I am perfectly justified in endeavouring to make the position clear. It is not for me, but for the Government, to show what can or cannot be done, and to submit statements that do not conflict. We ask tor a clear statement so that we may know exactly where we stand.
– You have been given the figures.
-But we have the full figures, and we have been given a statement that conflicts with the previous statement. If we had a deficit of only £220,802 at that time, and we have been selling for 6d. since, where has the money gone? This is an important point, for the amount involved is very considerable. Some part of it may have been expended on the importation of sugar. I cannot say whether that is so or not, but we ought to be advised as to what is the exact position. The Prime Minister to-day submitted to us a statement which leads us nowhere. The object of it was to show that sugar could not be sold at less than 5d. per lb. That, however, is in conflict with a previous statement made by the right honorable gentleman.
– I rise to a point of order. The amendment provides for the appointment of a Select Committee, and I submit that the Leader of the Opposition, instead of confining himself to it, is dealing with the general question. If he is permitted to do that I should like to have the same privilege.
– Honorable members are aware that when there is an amendment before the Chair an honorable member who has already spoken to the general question must confine himself to that amendment. I have been following the Leader of the Opposition, and it seems to me that he has not, so far, transgressed that rule. His speech, so far, has a direct relation to the amendment of the amendment submitted by ihe honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey) advocating a reduction, in the price of sugar.
– I submit that I am perfectly in order in showing from a previous statement made by the Prime Minister that there should be in hand a considerable sum in excess of the amount required to wipe out the estimated deficit. Speaking in this House on 30th March, 1920, the right honorable gentleman stated, as reported in Hansard, volume XCL, page “948, that it was estimated that on 1st’ March, 1921, there would be a deficit of £220,802. Take the whole position from that date to 1st July, 1922, a period of about fifteen months. The approximate consumption during that period would be 337,000 tons. The Prime Minister said that l£d. per lb. out of the total of 6d. per lb. was an increase necessary to meet the extra cost involved in the purchase of foreign sugar. On 337,000 tons that additional Hd. per lb. would yield £4,718,000. What then has become of the balance after the wiping off of the deficit of £220,802. We ought to know why it should be necessary to continue to sell sugar at 6d. per lb., when the total deficit, on the date I have mentioned, was only £220,802. We have had no explanation from the Prime Minister. The right honorable gentleman has merely given us a bald statement m which there is no reference to this additional amount of money which has been collected. T have been endeavouring to ascertain the facts for myself by probing into such figures as are available. I find that during the year 1920-21, 116,274 tons, of sugar were purchased from abroad. No reference to that fact has been made by the Government. The cost of that sugar, so far as I can ascertain, was> £6,560,375. I do not know whether these figures are substantially correct; but the Government should be in a position to give us definite information on the point. If sold at £30 6s. 8d. per ton that sugar would yield the Government £3,526,978, so that presumably on the transaction there was a loss of £3,033,397 in addition to the deficit already existing. The Prime Minister has told us nothing about that transaction. It would seem, however, from the figures quoted by him on 30th March, 1920, and to which I referred a few moments ago, that the price of sugar should have been reduced to 5d. per ib. long’ before the- present time. Surely, the Government who control the whole business should be able to tell the people what is the exact position. It ought not to be necessary for honorable members to have to seek information from various sources to clear up the position for themselves. I thought that we would have had from the Prime Minister to-day a statement justifying the maintenance of the price of sugar at 5d. per lb. until 1st November next as proposed by bini. I thought that he would have supplied full information so that we might know what justification there was for that contention; but he has not done so
The Prime Minister has invited the House to. reject the proposal made by the honorable member for Bourke, and has intimated that if that is done the Government will accept that part of the amendment which provides for an inquiry. I have nothing to say against the Joint Committee on Public Accounts undertaking such an inquiry, but I would remind the House that such an investigation could not be completed before the end of the session.
– Nor would it be. essential to the material question of price.
– I agree with the honorable gentleman. The question of price should be at once determined. We contend that the price should be at once reduced to 4§d. per lb. There is yet another matter to which I would draw attention. I think the Prime Minister stated to-day that the retailer got a profit of id. per lb. I find-
– I rise to a point of order. The amendment before the Chair provides for the appointment of a Committee of inquiry. I submit, Mr. Speaker, that the Leader of the Opposition is not speaking to that amendment, but is replying to a speech made by the Prime Minister on the general question.
– The Leader of the Opposition is speaking, not to the amendment moved by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse), but to the amendment of the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Anstey), who proposes to add certain words fixing the retail price of sugar at 4fd. per lb. The references he has mad? to figures given by the Prime Minister seem to. me to be quite germane to that issue.
– When interrupted, I was pointing out that the Prime Minister, in justifying his opposition to1 our proposal, stated that the retail profit on sugar was ½d. per lb. On a former occasion, however, he said that the retail grocers made a profit of £8 9s. 5d. per ton. That is equal to nine-tenths of a penny per lb. With the price of sugar atea, per lb., that profit would be equal to about 22 per cent.
– I have not at hand the list that I quoted, but I spoke of a further retail profit of id. per lb. that had to be added.
– I can only say that the profit, according to a former statement made by the Prime Minister, works out at nine-tenths of a penny per lb. I am not finding fault with the agreement itself. My sole concern is as to what under the agreement should be the price of sugar to the people. It has been claimed by Mr. Theodore, Mr. Gillies, and also by Mr. Walker, subject to certain conditions, that the price should be l£d. per lb. less than it is. The Government, up to the present, have not put before us any facts to justify the continuance of the price at 6d. per lb. until 1st November next, as now proposed by them. According to the Prime Minister’s ora figures, allowing for an additional quantity of sugar that was imported to make good the local shortage, and of which no mention has been made by the Government, there should be in hand a sum considerably in excess of £1,000,000 out of which to make good the deficit of £200,000. That being so, I want to know why the price of sugar was not reduced to 5d. per lb. at least two mouths ago. Our contention is that it should be sold at 4$d. per lb. Our amendment in favour of such a reduction having been defeated, we are now proposing that the price be reduced to 4fd. per lb.
So far as (ho agreement is concerned, nothing can be gained by appointing a Committee of inquiry. The conditions of the agreement must be carried out irrespective of what the Committee may report.
– I have already pointed that out.
– Quite so. The Committee might make some recommendations for the guidance of the Government in respect of any future agreement, but this agreement cannot be broken.
– The advantage of appointing a Committee of inquiry -would be that we should then ascertain all the facts.
– I agree that we ought to have all the f acts, but my point is that we are not justified, pending the ascertainment of those facts, in charging the consuming public a .price that they should not be asked to pay.
– Who has the facts?
– The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) promised at the outset that if the matter were allowed to stand over he would supply us with detailed information in regard to the sugar agreement and everything relating to it. That promise has not been carried out.
– No; but the information is being prepared as fast as it is possible for the staff to compile it. I have given the House to-day the actual amount that makes up the allocation ofthe different parts of the 5d.
– The position taken up by the Prime Minister to-day is in conflict with the facts as set out by him in March, 1920.
– Does the honorable member say that the retailer’s profit is nine-tenths of a penny per lb.?
– The Prime Minister, speaking in this House in March, 1920, said that the retailer’s profit was £8 9s. 5d.per ton. That works out at nine-tenths of a penny per lb. The House has been invited to vote against our proposal on the ground that it is impossible for the Government to reduce the price of sugar below 5d. per lb. We have no documentary evidence to support that contention. Allowing for a purchase of 116,274 tons at £56 per ton we should still be £1,000,000 tothe good. In the circumstances, honorable members are not justified in voting for the motion submitted by the Government.
– The honorable member does not suggest that the Auditor-General would pass such a thing as that.
– The AuditorGeneral is concerned in the balance-sheet only, and in givinginglobo the whole of the transactions for the seven years. He has not gone into details. Evidently they were not presented to him.
– He is now going into the details of each year.
– The Auditor-General checks the details day by day.
– The details have arrived and are being assembled.
– I have put the position before the House. It is useless attempting to side-track it. What the Prime Minister is accepting from the Country party can be accepted without any danger, but it will not relieve the consumers, who will still (have to pay the present price of sugar until the Government feel disposed to reduce it to 5d.
– It does not touch the question at issue.
– No. What concerns the Chamber is the price of sugar - whether it should be45/8d. per lb. We have shown that it can be fixed at that price.
– At a loss of £750,000.
– Honorable members can vote against the Government’s proposal, but their doing so will make no difference.
– We shall vote against it, but I do. not want honorable members to run away with the idea that the table read by the Prime Minister puts everything right. It certainly conflicts with his statements made on a previous occasion. Since those in authority have led us to believe that, in order that the Government might be recouped the additional expenditure of buying sugar overseas, 11/2d. per lb. was charged overand above the price required to enable the terms of the sugar agreement to be carried out, it is onlyright that the price should now be reduced by that 11/2d. and fixed at 41/2d. However, the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Austey) proposes to allow an extra1/8d. to cover unforeseen contingencies. His proposal is perfectly sound, and I hope that the House will support it.
Motion (by Mr. Greene) put -
That the debate bo now adjourned.
The House divided.
Ma jority . . 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
In Committee of Ways and Means : Debate resumed from 28th July (vide page 950), on motion by Mr. Rodgers -
That in lieu of the duties of Customs imposed by the Customs Tariff 1921 on goods the produce or manufacture of the Dominion of New Zealand imported direct from that Dominion, there be imposed, on and after a time and date to be proclaimed, duties of Customs, as hereinafter set out, on the undermentioned goodsthe produce or manufacture of the Dominion of New Zealand imported direct from the said Dominion, namely : - (a.) on all goods described in the Schedule to this Resolution in the column headed “ Item against which rates of duty are set out in the column headed “ Proposed Duties against New Zealand “, at the rates of duty so set out;
on all goods other than those provided for in sub-paragraph (a.) of paragraph (1) of this Resolution, at the rates of duty for the time being applicable to goods to which the British Preferential Tariff in the Customs Tariff 1921 applies :
Provided that nothing in this Resolution shall affect the right of the Commonwealth to impose or collect any duties chargeable under the Customs Tariff (Industries Preservation) Act 1931.
That on and after the first day of May, One thousand nine hundred and twenty-two, duties of Customs, at the rates set forth in the column headed “ British Preferential Tariff-‘’ in the Schedule to the Customs Tariff 1921, be imposed on the following goods, namely : -
Goods (not the produce or manufacture of the Dominion of New Zealand) -
whichare imported into the Commonwealth from that Dominion; and
upon which, if they hud been imported into the Commonwealth direct from the country of origin, there would have been payable duties of Customs at the rates set forth in the column headed “British Preferential Tariff” in the Schedule to the Customs Tariff 1921 . [For Schedulesee pages 933-946.]
.- We all realize that it may be beneficial to the Commonwealth and New Zealand to have a reciprocal Tariff, but the question is whether the Tariff as drawn up is equitable as between the two countries. For some time past efforts have been made between the Governments of the Commonwealth and the Dominion to come to some understanding on this matter. For a considerable period nothing was accomplished, but we are told that quite recently at a Conference the Ministers of Customs of the two negotiating countries came to an understanding that a reciprocal Tariff as drawn up by them should be submitted in their respective Parliaments) simultaneously. I do not know that it is necessary for us to accept all the items in the schedule in, globo.
– There is no other way in which the agreement can be ratified.
– If this agreement is not ratified as submitted to us the negotiations go no further.
– We jeopardize the whole scheme. New Zealand has already ratified the agreementin globo.
– If any item in the schedule is rejected, the whole arrangement will fall to the ground. Parliament should not be faced with such a contretemps. Was it not avoidable? Could not the Minister for Trade and Customs have taken the precaution to insure that, in the event of any one item being rejected either by this Parliament or that of the sister Dominion, it could be dealt with separately at some future stage rather than that the whole schedule should be jeopardized ? There are certainly some items aboutwhichI am in doubt. There may be good reasons for their acceptance; there may be equally good reasons for their deletion from the list. The point is that the Minister has not provided sufficient information concerning details. With respect to iron and steel, for example,New Zealand appears to be about to reap a. considerable benefit compared with the preferential British rates and those applicable to foreign countries. I do not know whether this Parliament will be justified in indulging in such a degree of reciprocity. If Australia’s iron and steel industry is to be placed in a worse position than that under which it is suffering to-day, I am bound to say that, at the risk of breaking down the whole of these reciprocal arrangements, I shall endeavour to have the iron and steel duties recast.
– I can assure the honorable member that the Australian iron and steel industry will not suffer, but will be substantially benefited under the arrangement.
– Then I invite the Minister to explain at a later stage exactly how that will come about, and to go into specific details respecting other important features of the schedule. Honorable members cannot be expected to make themselves acquainted with the subject along similar lines of comparison on such facts and figures as have so far been put before them. From such examination as I have had an opportunity to make, there appear to be quite a number of items in regard to which we will be giving away more than we are likely to get. New Zealand seems to have got the better of the deal. I make that comment particularly in respect of timber. Upon rough sawn timber, the produce of New Zealand, in sizes of 12 inches by 6 inches, the present duties are 3s. preferential, and 4s. general, per 100 super feet. That line is now proposed to be admitted from the Dominion free. What will be the effect generally upon the’ Australian timber industry? During the Tariff debate last year, honorable members on this side pointed out that the timber duties imposed appeared to be inadequate, and that the outcome would be to render a large number of men unemployed. Their prophecy has been fulfilled. Many mills have closed, and thousands of workers have lost their jobs. Will not the effect of still further reducing the duties upon various timbers imported from New Zealand be to accentuate the present unhappy state of affairs? Timber for the manufacture of boxes is now to be imported from New Zealand free, whereas the rate fixed last year was1s. per 100 super feet. With so many thousands unemployed in Australia, their numbers being increased almost every day, Parlia ment should be exceedingly cautious. Will this new schedule aggravate the unemployment difficulty? I repeat that it will be unfair to ask this Committee to accept the schedule in globo. Every item should be considered on its merits. I do not say that the whole should be rejected merely because one or two items may be deemed to be injurious to the Commonwealth; but, although I am desirous of bringing about a reciprocal agreement with New Zealand, I want to know, first, whether the end will justify the means.
– If honorable members insist on preserving their rights in respect of every individual item, no trading arrangement with any other country will ever reach finality.
– I have just pointed out that if we are shown to be at a disadvantage in respect of only a few items, that fact should not necessarily be regarded as sufficient to warrant the rejection of the whole agreement. But, in my view, we should be careful to see that the great balance of advantage is not given to our sister Dominion. There is enough work comprised in the schedule to keep Parliament going for a month.
– If we are to give a month to it, the possibilities are that we shall not reach ah agreement with New Zealand.
– In proposing any form of agreement, both parties should be fully consulted.
– If the honorable member will consider the beneficial effects of the agreement in its aggregate, and compare them with the very disadvantageous position of Australia in relation to New Zealand to-day, he will gain some idea of what this arrangement means for us.
– That is just what I want to get at; but the Minister has not demonstrated in detail what are the great advantages, as weighed against the disadvantages.
– I have informed honorable members that, generally, Australia has been in a most disadvantageous position respecting her arrangements with New Zealand.
– I do not want to learn, after the agreement has been ratified, that it affords room for grave dissatisfaction.
– With regard to timber, Australia is in the fortunate position of possessing large supplies of hardwood, while New Zealand has its great output of softwood. Our reciprocal arrangements will fit in splendidly without materially disturbing the business arrangements of either country.
– Nevertheless, there have been complaints with respect to the proposed duties on New Zealand timbers. I quote the following letter, which, I understand, has been circulated among honorable members generally. It is from Pearsons Proprietary Limited, 468 Collinsstreet, Melbourne : -
As owners of three mills (and another in course of construction) in Tasmania, we view with much concern the proposal to admit New Zealand timber into the Commonwealth free of all duty, and the day that this takes effect we shall bo forced to close down our mills for the following reasons: -
We produce mostly Huon pine, and our greatest and practically only competition is with New Zealand white pine for house and office furniture, shelving,, and anywhere where white timber is required. It is fallacy to state or think that all New Zealand pine is used for boxes; such is not tho case as, from the writer’s experience as one of the largest importers of New Zealand timbers, quite 40 per cent, of New Zealand timbers is used for other purposes than boxes.
We have £38,000 invested in mills, chiefly on the west coast of Tasmania; and now, while mining is so dead, our mills, together with Dunkley Brothers Limited, of Zeehan, constitute practically the only live industry on the Tasmanian west coast. Our mills at present practically keep tho township of Strahan, and hundreds of people are dependent on our keeping going. Our operations cover the area down the coast towards Port Davey, from Strahan to Queenstown, and Strahan to Zeehan - a vast area of difficult country, only understood by bushmen who have practically lived all their lives in that part of the country, and who, in nine cases out of ten, own their own homes and are tied to the district.
The proposal to admit New Zealand timber free, while we pay the Tasmanian Government a royalty of 2s. 6d. per 100 feet - at present ls. 6d., working under a temporary rebate - is too big a handicap for us to live under, and we would be forced to immediately cease all our operations and close up. We consider the following a far more workable proposition: -
New Zealand white pine is practically the only white timber imported into the Commonwealth and has no competition, except for boxes and cases, other than Tasmanian Huon pine and Queensland hoop pine; and it oan easily pay a 5s. duty on all that is used for any other purposes hut boxes and oases, which latter is chiefly the second quality portion of the log. Admit New Zealand white pine for the use of boxes and cases only Free; but, for any other purpose, let it pay a 5a. duty. Admit New Zealand rimu for the ase of boxes’ and cases only, Free; but, for any other purpose, let it pay a 3S. 6d. duty. Let there be no restrictions as to what class of boxes and cases are made from New Zealand timbers, and that will absorb all their second quality, which is what they want a market for.
I do not know whether the statements made in the letter are correct or not, but this combination of saw-millers claim that the reciprocal Tariff will have injurious effects to the extent of closing some of the mills. Those mills are in Tasmania, and I should like to hear from some of the representatives of that State exactly what is the position. We ought to know the full effect of the alterations in the Tariff in regard to the different items.
– I may say that Australia sent £418,000 worth of hardwood free to New Zealand. The latter represents only a small part of the saw-milling industry of Australia. The arrangement as to timber is a splendid exchange, with very little dislocation.
– I have merely placed before the Committee the views of the saw-millers in Tasmania, suggesting that each of these items in the list should be considered on its merits. Only in that way can we get such information as has now been drawn from the Minister, who tells us that this item is of benefit to Australia.
– Any arrangement of the kind is sure, in detail, to cause dislocation somewhere.
– I quite realize that fact.
– The agreement must be based on the aggregate benefit to Australia, with the minimum of dislocation.
– The question is whether Australia does get the aggregate benefit out of this schedule, and I must say that, after a casual glance, I am rather doubtful. I notice quite a number of changes which appear to be in favour of New Zealand, and my view is that there ought to be proper give and take.
– That is the basis of the whole of the negotiations.
– I venture to doubt whether there has been that give and take, because I think New Zealand has got the best of the bargain. At any. rate, I do not wish any item to go through which might afterwards prove to be detrimental to the best interests of our own industries, which we must do what we oan to protect; we cannot allow them to “ slide,” even for the sake of a reciprocal Tariff. I do not think that we ought to consider this schedule in globo. We require some information from New Zealand as to how these reciprocal duties affect the industries there. Without such information we may get into a difficult position, such as we have been in on many occasions during the last few years, because we have not been fully seized of all the facts and circumstances before consenting to some proposition. I have nothing to say against a reciprocal arrangement, but we ought to see’ that it is on the lines of equity. If it is going to be one-sided, or favour one country-
– That is not so.
– I do not know that it is not.
– I suppose, it is fair to assume that this agreement has been examined by the Tariff Board ?
– First, the whole matter was referred to the Tariff Board, under the terms of the Act. and there was complete examination, followed by conferences, at which the Chairman of the Tariff Board and myself were present as representing Australia, and the New Zealand Minister and the New Zealand Controller of Customs as representing the Dominion. The whole schedule lias been analyzed and examined.
– So the proposals before us have behind them the. recommendations of the Tariff Board.
– That is important.
– It is, for it lends weight to the agreement, and. affords us some assurance.
– The Chairman of the Tariff Board is the officer who, from a departmental point of view, was, with the then Minister for Trade and Customs, mainly responsible for the compilation of the general Tariff.
– At the same time, it is possible for some anomalies to escape even the Tariff Board, and we are in duty bound to give most careful consideration, to all such proposals as this. For some time past, we have been taking too much for granted; during and ever since the war that has obtained.
– The honorable gentleman cannot apply those remarks to the present occasion. There was the Minister’s statement, .and the complete schedule has been before honorable members for a fortnight.
– That may be so: but, at the same time, we ought not to take this schedule in globo, but examine it, and discuss it. in. order to see how it will work out in application. If it can be shown that the balance of advantage is against Australia, I shall not be prepared to accept the arrangement, because I do not wish to give a vote which may, in a year or two, prove to have been a mistake.
– I say frankly that we did not get all we hoped to get, and were sometimes disappointed, but we got the best that was possible, and. secured very substantial benefits for Australia in the aggregate.
– Does the Minister not think that, in negotiations of this kind, it would be possible, as in other cases’ of negotiation between employers and employees, public companies, and so forth, to leave certain disputed matters in abeyance for a time in order to afford further opportunities for consideration and conference? In such matters finality is never got at the first meeting, and sometimes not at a number of meetings.
– We had conferences extending over three weeks, if not longer. May I say that the practice of the Tariff Board and the Minister was to consult interested industries, and obtain as much information as possible in. order to refresh the Ministerial mind?
– And it is a proper course. All I contend at present is that we are not justified in accepting the schedule in globo.
.- I have gone pretty carefully through this schedule of the proposed Australian-New Zealand reciprocal Tariff agreement, and I think great care has been taken by the Tariff Board and the Minister in charge to come to an equitable agreement by which Australia will, at any rate, benefit as largely as New Zealand. I find that in the case of many items the advantages are distinctly in favour of the Commonwealth, and I think a few instances may be interesting. The New Zealand duty on locomotives, which are largely constructed in the Commonwealth, has been reduced from 35 per cent, to 20 per cent., the lowest duty against any part of the world; on doors and sashes, from 35 per cent, to 20 per cent,, again the lowest; leather, from 5d. to 3d., or from 25 per cent, to 15 per cent.; milk, preserved and condensed, from 40 per cent, to 25 per cent., again the lowest; hams and bacon, 4d. to 2d. per lb., again the lowest ; and wo arc large producers of these commodities for export.
– Does not New Zealand produce her own bacon and ham?
– Yes, to some extent; (but there is a possibility for us, with our larger and cheaper production, to compote. The New Zealand duty on frozen meat has been reduced from 35 per cent, to 10 per cent., which is lower than the lowest duty imposed against any other country; and sugar, formerly £d. per lb., is made free, and it is hoped that as the industry expands we may be able to export to the Dominion of New Zealand.
– Wo cannot grow enough sugar for ourselves.
– We are npt going to sit down and do nothing for all time. If wo have sufficient encouragement, we hope to produce all tho sugar we require, and to have a surplus which will, under this arrangement, have a free market. Jams, jellies, marmalades, and preserves are reduced from 3d. to 2£cl. - a fact which should appeal to the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) - and the duty on citrus fruit pulp has been reduced from 35 pea- cent, to 20 per cent., which is the best that .is given to any country. In the tropical parts of the Commonwealth, as well as on the River Murra)’, also in South Queensland and New South Wales, citrus fruits are grown to a very large extent,’ and such a concession as this is a matter of very great importance to those engaged in the industry. Then we find that the duty on pineapples, and other preserved fruits, which is at present 40 per cent, against Australia, is to be reduced under this agreement to 35 per cent. That is not a very substantial reduction, but it will alford some relief. On oranges the present duty against Australia is Id. per lb. The item is now to be free, so far as importations from Australia are concerned. On bananas there is a duty of Id. per lb. This likewise is to be removed, making them free. We are convinced that the production of bananas in Queensland will largely exceed the requirements of the whole Commonwealth.
– But what chance shall we have of competing in New Zealand with importations of bananas from Fiji 1 How can we compete with black labour?
Mi-. CORSER.- In respect of a surplus production it becomes necessary sometimes to take a somewhat lower price than that at which we are prepared to sell generally, or that which would pay for all production. It is a good thing to have at our door a market which will take our surplus production of bananas. I would point out also- that the agreement between New Zealand and South Africa, whereby maize from South Africa was admitted into New Zealand at a low rate of duty, has been cancelled, so that Australia will how be on the same footing as South Africa in competing for the New Zealand -trade. We shall thus be able to do a trade with New Zealand, which was impossible while we had to competewith maize grown by black labour in South Africa, and admitted under a preferential duty.
Currants and raisins are at present admitted into New Zealand free of duty from all countries. Bub New Zealand has provided under the general Tariff a rate of 2d. per lb. That duty is at present suspended, but the position is to be considered after the agreement has been concluded, with a view to bringing the suspended duty into effect, and thus giving Australia a preference of 2d. per lb.
– That, to Mie, is very satisfactory.
– Yes,- it will- be of enormous benefit to both Victoria and South Australia.
– When the suspended duty, under the general Tariff, is put into operation the preference of 2d. per lb. will give us a. very substantial advantage in the New Zealand market.
– That is so. I have shown that under this agreement Australia will enjoy the best terms in respect of a large number of lines. In addition, under the agreement, we shall enjoy the best terms in respect of a number of lines that are not specially mentioned in the schedule. On a great many items we shall have an advantage of from 10 per cent, to 20 per cent. I understand that the agreement has already been passed by the New Zealand Parliament.
– That is so.
– It remains only for this Parliament to agree to it without delay, so that it may be brought into effect.
– In respect of all but the bargain items we have been transferred from the general list to the British Preferential list under the New Zealand Tariff. This arrangement covers a wide range of items.
– So far as they are concerned we have been put on the same basis as is Great Britain.
Reference was made by way of interjection a few moments ago to” the position in regard to timber. I understand that when the timber merchants of Queensland waited on the Tariff Board some little time ago their anxiety was not so much. ‘ to secure a variation of the items under this reciprocal Tariff as to obtain an amendment of the Commonwealth Customs Tariff, because they recognise that many of the soft woods which are now being imported from New Zealand are a steadily decreasing quantity. In some cases the exportation of New Zealand timber has been prohibited.
– Only white pine.
– That is the timber I had in mind. On theother hand, Australian hardwood is extensively imported by New Zealand, which does not produce hardwood. Under this agreement, we are receiving the benefit of a special duty in respect of Australian hardwood. The great objection voiced by the deputation of Queensland timber merchants which waited on the Tariff Board related to the duties on Baltic andoregon timber. It was contended that, in respect of all such imports, there should be additional protection. I think there is good ground for that contention. I have always urged that the Australian timber industry is not sufficiently protected against importations of Baltic and Oregon timbers, which are being dumped in the Commonwealth. The Tariff Board informed the deputation, and has also assured me that, having made, the fullest inquiries, they, are going into the question of making a recommendation in regard to a variation of the Commonwealth Tariff with a view to the proper protection of the timber industry. If that be done, there can be no question that, as the result of this reciprocal arrangement, we shall benefit largely. I would impress upon honorable members that the sooner we accept this agreement and so allow it to come into operation, the better. The Parliament of New Zealand, as I have said, has agreed to it, and as soon as it has passed this Legislature, it can be put into effect. I understand that there will be no further delay.
– And the agreement has not been amended by the New Zealand Parliament.
– That is so. I have mentioned only a few items, with some of which, as a representative of Queensland, I am particularly concerned; but I hope that other honorable members will not be slow in pointing out additional advantages that will be gained under this reciprocal arrangement.
– I have a few observations to offer in regard to the timber industry. I am not satisfied that this agreement, so far as that industry is concerned, will benefit Australia, but I know that it will suit New Zealand. We are, necessarily, importers of softwood timbers from New Zealand, and on the other hand, New Zealand imports all the hardwood she requires from this country. It is a question of who is to get the better bargain. While I do not ask that we shall reap the chief gain, I do nob think we should suffer material injury.
– The honorable member would like us to have the thick end of the stick?
– At all events, we ought not to have the thin end of it. I have no hard cash invested in the timber trade, but I know that in Victoria the industry has had great trouble in holding its own during the last two years. When the Customs Tariff Bill was before the House, we endeavoured to secure an increase of certain duties but were unsuccessful, and it seems to me that this reciprocal arrangement with New Zealand will tend to defeat the object of some of the timber duties under the general Tariff. The Minister should be careful in dealing with this question. Not being a timber expert, I do not know that I can go into it exhaustively, but I do know that there is danger, and that the timber-milling trade is very anxious about this matter. The Minister must be aware of the objections which the milling trade have to this scheme, and I hope that whatever is done will be in the best interests of Australia.
I wish now,to referto the position of the asbestos cement sheet and slate industry under this proposal. When we had to import such materials, we had to pay very high prices for them. The importers, as all importers do, took advantage of the situation.
– Just as the manufacturers do.
– Unfortunately for us, the importers, also have the handling and distribution of many locallymanufactured articles. Here is a statement I have received from Mr. R. Solly, jun., -
Re Reciprocal New Zealand Tariff on Asbestos Cement Sheets and Slates-.
Briefly, two considerable factories were established during the war for the manufacture of asbestos cement sheets and slates, articles: used extensively in, the building trade, that were previously imported from Great Britain, Holland, and Austria. During the last Tariff revision these articles, which appear under item 240, division 8, were dealt with, and 25 per cent. British, 30 per cent. intermediate, 35 per cent. general, were the duties. fixed. The Australian Tariff on British-made asbestos cement sheets is 25 per cent., and on similar articles made in New Zealand only 20 per cent. The New Zealand Tariff on British-made asbestos cement sheets and slates is 10 per cent., whereas on similar goods manufactured in Australia the Tariff is 20 per cent.
– I tried very hard to get British preferential rates for importations from Australia to New Zealand, but without avail.
– Is it reasonable that although we are entering into a reciprocal arrangement with New Zealand, they should impose a duty of 20 per cent. on asbestos sheets and slates from this country, while such imports from Great Britain are dutiable at only 10 per cent. ?
– That cannot be altered. New Zealand definitely declined to grantus the British preferential rates in respect of certain articles. This is one of them. It is, however, a matter of reclassifying this item and others which fall within the same category. I am specially noting the honorable member’s, remarks, with a view to such a reclassification.
– The writer of this letter continues -
This looks an anomaly, as we do not think the Government ever intended to give New Zealand a preference over British-made goods, and that New Zealand would load the Aus tralian-made, article 10 per cent. higher than on the British article. We are enclosing extracts from correspondence received from Messrs. Briscoe and Company Limited, Dunedin, Wellington, and Auckland; also from Messrs. Wingate and Company, and Spedding Limited, Auckland. You will notice from this correspondence that they all say that unless a reciprocal arrangement is arrived at between the New Zealand and AustralianGovernments they will in future be compelled to buy their requirements in England. You wall also note that they allexpect, the reciprocal Tariff will be fixed up in a way satisfactory to Australian manufacturers. It will therefore come as a surprise to our New Zealand clients toknow that the duty is 10 per cent. higheron Australian than on British-made sheets.
– One of the bones of contention between the New Zealand Minister and myself was that he could not see his way clear to put us on the same basis as the British preferential Tariff in respect to all items.
– This letter shows the effect of the agreement upon Australian trade with New Zealand in respect to asbestos sheets. It says -
From March, 1920, to February, 1921, we exported to New Zealand sheets and slates amounting to £12,85,4; and from March, 1921, to February, 1922, £10,289; but from March; 1922, to 30th June last, our exports have only been £641, or at the rate of £1,823 per annum, owing to the new Tariff.
It is evident that New Zealand is determined to block out Australian trade in this line. Perhaps the British article does not come somuch into competition with the local material as the Australian article does. We may be manufacturing something which can be produced in New Zealand, whereas England may not be doing so. However, it is peculiar that in a reciprocal arrangement the Australian manufacturer should be placed at such a disadvantage. The following are copiesof extracts from letters from Briscoe and Company Limited:- 1st July, 1922.
Our retaliation Tariff of 20 per cent., on Aus-. tralian imports, as against 10 per cent. on other British, is a further factor in increasing the landed cost of durabestos; but we expect, as previously stated, that this clausewill be revised during the coming season. 20th June, 1922.
It is quite on the cards that the Tariff adjustment will within the next few months, put Australian imports on the same footing as other British goods. This would decrease the landed cost by 10 per cent. on invoice value, but it would not be sufficient to meet competition such as we mention: Please advisewhen quoting what your usual home consumption price is. Wo may be asked to pay dumping duty if export value is lower than home consumption.
New Zealand is not only placing Australian manufacturers at 100 per cent. disadvantage as compared with British manufacturers; it is also on the look-out to ascertain that the former are not resorting to dumping methods by selling in the Dominion at a price lower than the home consumption price. Other things being equal, it is only fair for the New Zealand Government to treat the Australian manufacturer in this way; but, seeing that the latter has already to pay a higher duty than is payable on the British article, it is sought to provide that he should not endeavour to secure an advantage over his competitor by selling at a lower price than the home consumption price. Further extracts from letters from Briscoe and Company Limited are as follow : - 14th July, 1922.
In regard to durabestos, owing tothe extra cost caused through the preferential Tariff, we find the small lot we had from you very slow of sale against the cheaper sheets. We are not thereforebuyers at the present moment of asbestos sheets. 13th July, 1922.
Until the reciprocal Tariff is adjusted between your Federal Government and this Dominion,there is no chance of bringing durabestos sheets across. The preferential duty puts them out of court. We . can land British sheets at so much less.
I could quote other extracts to show how our manufacturers will be at a disadvantage. I hope that the Minister and his Department will endeavour to have this matter rectified. There may be similar anomalies in the schedule which we are now asked to adopt in globo. One can understand the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) saying that he does not care about accepting the schedule as a whole until proper time has been given for its consideration. Australian traders have-not yet had that opportunity.
– There may be a few objections to details of the schedule, bub the commercialcommunity as a whole have passed resolutions supporting it.
– Broadly speaking, the commercial community know very little about Tariffs, especially those recently submitted to Parliament, and they know less about political organization. When they approach a Government Department they are about as learned as a child in regard to the steps they should take. I am inclined to agree with the Leader of the Opposition that if there are many anomalies in the schedule similar to that to which I have just drawn attentionwe should not accept itin globo, but should consider it in detail.
.- When the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) submitted this reciprocal arrangement, he said in the course of his speech -
We are obtaining the best agreement that can be secured, on a reciprocal basis, with a sister Dominion, many of whose industries arc like our own.
I interjected, “Are we giving or taking more?” and he replied -
Every one knows that the balance of trade between the Commonwealth and New Zealand is overwhelmingly in our favour.
That was not the point I wished to elicit. I was endeavouring to ascertain whether Australia or New Zealand was obtaining more out of the reciprocal arrangement’ than either country was getting under the previous Tariff. The Minister has not told us whether Australia is likely to gain or lose by the new arrangement. I want information in regard to one or two specific items. What the Minister says about the Dominion having industries similar to our own is practically true. Take the item beeswax, which is to come into Australia from New Zealand free, and which is to pass from Australia to New Zealand free.
– What is the Value of the beeswax we could export?
– It is not very much, but the whole question is of considerable importance to those apiarists who are now struggling to establish the bee industry on a sound footing in Australia. I would like to know whether we are likely to gain by making the interchange between the two Dominions free. I can inform the Postmaster-General (Mr. Poynton), that honey sent from Australia to Great’ Britain a few years ago for exhibition purposes took the first prize in competition with the whole world. There are many people in Australia who are endeavouring to put this industry on a sound and profitable basis, but so far it has not been found a profitable undertaking, except on a small scale. It is. a well known fact that the bees themselves absorb no man’s profit. Their industryis all profit to Australia, and I do not? wish to see anything done in this agrees ment which will- damage the prospects of those who are putting up a gallant fight to establish the bee industry in this country.
– Is there not more beeswax produced in Australia than there is in New Zealand?
– That is a point on which I wish to get information from the Minister. I asked him whether the trade from New Zealand to Australia in this item waa greater or less than the trade from Australia to New Zealand, but as he did not answer I presume that he did not know.
– I do nob carry the details of every item in my head. It is easy enough for the honorable member to ling up the Department and ascertain where the balance of trade is. However, I guarantee that the balance of trade in regard to beeswax is overwhelmingly in favour of Australia, because our continent is so huge, and we have such an excellent climate, as compared with the smaller area of New Zealand and its colder climate.
– The Minister’s argument ia not necessarily sound. England, which has a cold climate, has a production of honey equal to our own.
– It is artificially produced.
– And possibly the same remark applies to New Zealand, because it is one of the great sources of successful production in colder climates. In Australia, we rely too much on natural surroundings, whereas in countries where the climatic conditions are harsh, the producers take more trouble. For instance, they see that their animals, or, in the case of apiarists, their insects, are provided for at the proper time. Our industries suffer at times because Australians are only too ready to accept the climatic conditions as they come. If the Dominion of New Zealand can produce more honey than Australia does, the free admission of beeswax from the Dominion to Australia might injure the Australian bee industry. I ask the Minister to look into the matter.
This Tariff also proposes to remove the duty on hay and chaff coming from New Zealand to the Commonwealth, and New Zealand will accept our hay and chaff free. I presume that Australia would be more likely to have the balance of trade in this respect.
– The benefit of the arrangement in respect to hay and chaff is that the Australian can supply himself in normal times, and get cheap chaff from New Zealand in times of drought.
– I agree with that object, but I am endeavouring to find out where the balance of benefit lies.. When I asked the Minister, he put mo off - though unintentionally, no doubt - t by talking about the balance of trade.’ What I am after is not merely an understanding of that factor.” I desire to see that, under this new arrangement, we shall, as nearly as possible, balance our giving and our taking. Before this reciprocal arrangement was mooted, we had established a balance of trade with NewZealand. Will that* balance be disturbed, and, if so, will it be altered unfavorably as an outcome of this preferential understanding? Wc should know whether any such change will be in the direction of unevenly benefiting New Zealand, or whether the preponderance of benefit will be in our direction.
– No one will be able to say definitely until new trade starts to flow under the benefits of the reciprocal arrangement.
– An honorable member has interjected that we cannot have reciprocity all on one side. That, of course, is perfectly obvious. But dealing with individual items shows that, whereas we are imposing no duty upon soap imported from New Zealand, that country proposes to set up a duty of 30 per cent, against our products.
– Wo had a hard fight on soap. We endeavoured to secure better conditions for Australia; but must now be prepared to put up with the best that was procurable.
– When we give away something, as we have had to do here, I want to know whether we get anything back to balance the interests of our own producers.
– We have secured quite a number of advantages, which form an excellent setoff.
– I am more keenly interested in the welfare of the men who produce the raw materials of which this and other manufactured lines are made than in seeing that the manufac.turers themselves secure any very considerable benefits. Those who have given the most should be safeguarded in getting something substantial back. I notice that tallow may be sent free between the two Dominions. What of the balance there? Possibly, New Zealand will be sending us more than we send to the Dominion. Most of our tallow to-day goes overseas. There are various items in respect to which it would appear that the producers of the basic materials are being penalized, and I should like to be shown where and how they are to be compensated.
– I intend to provide the Committee with a comparative analysis in respect of which no honorable member will say there is lack of detail.
– Another item wherein our producers are penalized is wine.
– I intend to deal with the wine industry- fully. In that respect, Australian producers will receive- a very substantial advantage. ‘
– We should be assured that Australian producers will get a fair deal. They should not be sacrificed while New Zealand producers are unduly benefited. Neither should they be penalized as against Australian manufacturers who use the raw products. It appears, however, that the manufacturers are to reap the greater advantage, against which I protest.
– I am pleased that the reciprocal Tariff with New Zealand is now on the stocks. I am a believer in reciprocal trade between the sister Dominions, because, if the bonds of sympathy are interwoven with those of trade relationships, our Empire is bound to be the stronger. I am not quite clear, however, concerning the exact position of the Committee with respect to this schedule.
– The Government do not desire amendments. If any are insisted upon there will be grave danger of the agreement coming to nought.
– I understand that this .agreement has been ratified in globo by the New Zealand Legislature; and we are now asked to do the same. We must either accept or reject it as a whole. Therefore, we must weigh the good with the bad. I have endeavoured to do that; and I believe that, generally, seeing that it is desirable to cultivate trade between the two closest of all the Dominions of the Empire; we should accept these Tariff arrangements.
– Then what is the good of bringing this schedule before Palia-ment ?
– Nothing can be done without the approval of Parliament. We are now being afforded an opportunity at least of pointing out anomalies.
– But the Minister says he will not accept one. amendment.
– Even so, if any glaring anomalies are revealed, the Minister, possibly, may be able to secure redress. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports ((Mr. Mathews) has called attention to one striking anomaly in respect of an important article of manufacture which we export to New Zealand. On the other hand, there are very many satisfactory 0 features of the schedule. One in particular concerns the export of fresh fruit. . Queenslanders will be able to send their bananas into New Zealand free of duty. The orange-growers of Parramatta will be able to do the same with their fruit, and the apple-growers of Tasmania will be . placed in a very favorable position. There are many points that are satisfactory to Australia from the stand-point of reciprocal trade in the Tariff now under discussion. But I hope the Minister will find some way out of a most unfair and anomalous position that has grown up around asbestos sheet manufacture. At present, there are two or three firms in Australia who are doing a large export business with New Zealand, an export business that in the case of one firm runs into five figures per month. As the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) pointed out, this industry was well established in Australia during the war, and those concerned ask for nothing more than that their products shall be admitted into- New Zealand at the same rate as is charged for similar goods of British manufacture.
– And they have my whole-hearted support in that.
– I wish, with the Minister, to see the matter further. They, ask no favour, but are prepared to compete on the same terms. I wish, in this matter, to refer to the visit here of Mr. Downie Stewart, New Zealand Minister of Customs, in connexion with this Tariff. He was written to by a director of the
Asbestos Sheet and Slate Manufacturing Company of Sydney on this very matter, and his reply, dated Sydney, 24th April, 1922, but written on the paper of the New Zealand Department of Customs, was as follows : -
I am in receipt of your letter of the 20th inst. concerning the duty upon asbestos sheets imported into New Zealand. As the Tariff has now passed into law, it would not be possible to alter the present ad valorem duties to fixed duties at a rate per square yard. It is, however, probable that asbestos sheets will enter upon the British Tariff of 10 per cent. ad valorem provided that the agreement - between Australia and New Zealand receives the approval of the Parliaments of both countries.
As a matter of fair play, Mr. Stewart should honour the suggestion in his letter. If it cannot be honoured by any technical alteration of this .Tariff, I think it could well be honoured by a reclassification of the goods of which I am speaking. If we cannot alter this Tariff - and we are told by the Minister that we cannot - then, in view of the facts I am about to give the Committee, and in view of the letter I have read, there should be no difficulty whatever about the reclassification of the goods under review.
– As that letter is a statement by the Minister for Custom’s of New Zealand, it is- for the New Zealand Government to make .the .’alteration if the Minister desires to honour the obligation.
– Quite so.
– I shall go so far as to say that that item could reasonably form the basis of subsequent negotiation and representation to the New Zealand Minister in view of that undertaking^ and in view of the possibility, as I indicated to the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, of reclassification. 1 would not undertake to accept any amendment nor to make it a condition of the acceptance of the agreement, that an alteration in the item should be subsequently made.
– I take >it we are having this discussion in order that anomalies may be pointed out, and Australia gets fair play, and, if anything is ‘suggested from the other side, that New Zealand may have fair play, too. These particular materials are under tie heading of “ earthenware,” and are - - Roofing-tiles, ridging, and finials, glass, and earthen; sheets, plain or corrugated, roofing slates and tiles, ridging, and finials, composed of cement and asbestos or of similar materials; plaster-pulp sheets, plain and unornamental
I am not alluding to the whole of the materials enumerated there, the articles the classification of which is complained of being “sheets, plain or corrugated,, roofing slates and tiles, ridging, and finials, composed of asbestos and cement.” There is no manufacture of the goods in New Zealand, and yet, if we pass this Tariff unaltered and allow it to go without protest, 20 per cent, will be the ad valorem duty on those made in Australia when they enter New Zealand, while similar goods of British manufacture will be charged only 10 per cent.
– You will find very many similar items, and this. point of disparity was threshed out over and over again by me.
– In tobe course of many inquiries I find a consensus of opinion that, generally speaking, there are few complaints made in regard to the proposed Tariff because Australian manufactureswill be- admitted, generally speaking again, at- the British preference rate. But I cannot see the fairness of penalizing an Australian .manufacture, especially of goods that have already obtained a market in New Zealand, and particularly when we give New Zealand, in some items, a preference over British imports.
Sitting ‘suspended from &.S0 to S p:m.
– Large quantities of these asbestos cement sheets go from Australia to New Zealand, not to compete with any New Zealand industry, but with imports from other countries there. Under this reciprocal Tariff, the duties on these goods in Australia are: - British preferential, 25 per cent. ; foreign, 35 per cent. ; New Zealand, 20 per cent. The New Zealand duties are: - British preferential, 10 per cent.; general (including Australia), 20 per cent. Here is an anomaly at once. Australia is conceding to New Zealand a 5 per cent, lower rate ‘than to Great Britain, while New Zealand is conceding to Great Britain a 10 per cent, lower Tate than to Australia. The goods I am talking about have found a very good market in New Zealand, and the industry in Australia is of considerable importance. I have not the total -export figures in mind, but, judging by the exports of individual firms, I should say that trade to the extent of about £250,000 a year is at stake. One naturally looks for the reason why there should be this variation in the reciprocal Tariff, and why Australia has not been given the British preferential rate in New Zealand on asbestos and cement sheets. It cannot be because New Zealand desires to protect a. local industry, because at present asbestos and cement sheets are not manufactured in the Dominion, and if an industry were established there, Great Britain, with only 10 per cent. duty, would be a keener competitor than Australia. She would be so, even at the same rate of duty.
– New Zealand does not admit that.
– Admit what?
– That Great Britain would be a greater rival for the New Zealand trade in asbestos and cement sheets than Australia.
– In order to clarify the position, I should like to give honorable members an example of how this duty will actually work out. The New Zealand 10 per cent. ad valorem duty on British asbestos sheets priced at1s. 7d, per square yard, naked price, f.o.b. British ports, amounts to 2.09d. per. square yard, whereas the 20 per cent. duty on Australian asbestos sheets, if this Tariff item is not altered, on the basis of price, naked, f.o.b., Sydney, 2s-. 4d. per square yard, will work out at 6.16d. per square yard.
Mr.Watt. - Are those the actual prices to-day?
– Yes. A duty of 10 per cent. ad valorem on Australian goods works out at 3.08d. per square yard as against British at the same price of 2.09d., and Belgian goods, upon which the duty will be no higher than against Australian, under this Tariff, priced, naked, f.o.b., Antwerp,1s. 51/2d. per square yard, at 3.85d.
– That means that Belgium could compete with British goods, but Australia could compete with neither, if your facts are correct.
– That is the exact position, and a fine industry that has been built up in Australia will be prejudiced. The figures which I have given show that, under this reciprocal Tariff, Australian goods will pay in Customs duty 300 per cent. more than British goods, and nearly double the amount collected in New Zealand on foreign goods. I have already quoted a letter written by Mr. Downie Stewart, the Dominion Minister for Customs, when he was here in April last, stating fairly definitely that he could see no objection to admitting Australian goods of the class I am referring to into New Zealand on the same basis as British goods. I have been advised from New Zealand that British preference has been refused to Australian asbestos sheets because they are classified as terra cotta tiles, the manufacturers of which in New Zealand require protection. Consequently, a proper request now to make to New Zealand is that there should be a special classification of asbestos cement sheets,&c., in order that they may be admitted at the same rate as British goods.
– That has been put up to New Zealand, but it has not been accepted.
– That is not so. I have already indicated the course of action I propose to take. It is of no use repeating it now.
– My honorable friend the Minister will realize that the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) and I, myself, have raised this question in order that Australian manufacturers may receive fair treatment. What I am saying will, I hope, strengthen the Minister’s hands. I am trying to place all the information at my disposal before the Minister, in order that he may be able to put up a strong case for the rectification of this matter. This seems to be one of the outstanding anomalies of this proposed reciprocal Tariff.
– Due to a grouping defect in the parent Tariff.
– Possibly that is so.
– Why not correct it then?
– I have undertaken to do that.
– I want to emphasize the fact that if the proposed rate against Australia at 20 per cent. ad valorem is confirmed, it will be very hard for Australian manufacturers of asbestos cement sheets to compete in the New Zealand market against British goods, but if Australia is put on the same rate, by giving, perhaps, quicker deliveries and having an advan- tage in the shorter transit, resulting in less breakages of the material, Australia may be able to hold a share cf the business. It is important that, at this stage, nothing should happen to jeopardize an industry of which we are justly proud.
– Does the industry command the Australian market at the present time?
– Yes. I think importations of this class of goods into Australia are negligible. I have put the case as fairly as I could. The Minister himself admits there is an anomaly in this Tariff. It will not do New Zealand any harm, and will certainly assist an important Australian industry if it is rectified and Australian goods are given the same treatment as British goods. In view of the statements contained in the letter from the New Zealand Minister of Customs last April, and the sympathetic tone of the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) to-night, there should be no objection to a reclassification of asbestos cement sheeting, &c. I x trust thatthe Minister will see that this anomaly is not permitted to stand, because, generally speaking, in other directions the reciprocal Tariff is not objected to. We know that the balance of trade, as between here and New Zealand, is in favour of Australia. We desire to ‘give our New Zealand cousins what advantage we can in our own market.
– Can the honorable member point to one of those items in respect to which we have secured an advantage 1
– Yes, apart from those items, we have the British preferential rates.
– I mentioned that before we adjourned for dinner. We have given New Zealand a very great concession in connexion with the timber duties.
– And in relation to some manufactures of iron.
– And also with regard to iron manufactures and, as mentioned by another honorable member, soap. I hope that New Zealand in turn will recognise that, although Parliaments cannot hack about a reciprocal treaty, or allow a preferential Tariff to be held over month after month, and possibly year after year, any anomaly should be adjusted. I shall vote for this reciprocal Tariff, hoping that the anomaly I have pointed out will be adjusted by New Zealand after proper representations have been made, as I think they will be, by the Commonwealth Minister to the powers that be over there.
– I can assure the honorable member that those representations will “be made.
– I thank the Minister for that assurance, because, while I am not prepared to vote against this preferential Tariff, if I thought that nothing could be done in a matter such as this, where a large export business is concerned and where, unless the anomaly be adjusted, unfair play will take place. I certainly should not be inclined to accept the Tariff as it is.
– The very fact that the honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) has been able to point to a serious anomaly in connexion with one item in this preferential Tariff, seems to me to prove that a close analysis of the schedule, by those who know something of the industries affected, by it, would reveal quite a number of defects. That is one reason why the Government should accede to the request of the. Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) that the schedule be dealt with item by item, so that the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) could give the reasons why certain concessions were made aud others refused .
– If the honorable member will mention any items concerning which he desires to have information, 1 shall be glad to supply it.
– I propose to enumerate quite a number of items in respect of which New Zealand has given Great Britain a greater preference than we are obtaining under this Tariff. On the surface, it may seem that some of the items are relatively unimportant to Australia, but an examination will show that, in many cases,- they are of much concern to us. Take, for instance, the item “ Coffee, roasted.” Under its British Preferential Tariff New Zealand imposes a duty of 3d. per lb., whereas there is a duty of 5d. per lb. on imports from Australia. Then we come to “ Coffee, essence of, and Essence of Coffee, with milk or any other food substances,” in respect of which the British preferential rate is 20 per cent.. and the duty against Australia 25 per cent. Item 17, relating to fruits preserved in juice or syrup, provides for a British preferential duty of 25 per cent., as compared with a duty of 35 per cent. against Australia.
– Is it not obvious that Britain does not manufacture enough of such things for her own requirements?
– She sends out very excellent goods of the kind.
Mr.FEN TON.- The interjection just made by the Minister reminds me of ‘a difficulty that confronts us in connexion with the consideration of all Tariff schedules. Are we always sure that goods that come from Great Britain are of British origin ? We are not. Britain may be made the medium through which goods from cheap-labour countries will be exported to New Zealand, where they will come into competition with Australian products in respect of which we have made this reciprocal agreement with the Dominion Government.
– The honorablemember knows that such goods arecovered by Consular certificates.
– As to that, if there is one thing more than another from which Australian industries are suffering to-day it is the introduction from Great Britain of materials made wholly or partly from cheap German or Belgian importations.
– If I asked the honorable member to specify items he would be in trouble.
– I need only refer incidentally to one with which the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) will deal later on. He will be able to supply instances showing that thousands of men inthe iron and steel industry have been thrown out of employment because of importations of large quantities of material coming originally from countries some of which in the great war were our enemies and some our Allies.
Here is an item which will interest the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mc Williams). On hops New Zealand has a duty of 6d. per lb. under the British preferential Tariff, whereas under this reciprocal Tariff she imposes a duty of 9d. per lb., or a difference of 3d. per lb. against hops from Tasmania and other parts of the Commonwealth.
Mr.Rodgers. - What was the duty before this agreement was made? This, at all events, is an improvement.
– The Minister, in presenting this agreement to the House, was a whale for general principles, but a mere shrimp for details. He practically asked honorable members to open their mouths and shut their eyes and swallow the lot. He said in effect, “ Accept this reciprocal Tariff schedule and you will find, when you come to analyze it, that New Zealand has practically given Australia the same Tariff that she imposes against imports from Great Britain.
– No; he said he was sorry that he could not secure such an arrangement in respect of many items.
– He said that in some instances he failed.
– In this case the honorable member would do well to open his eyes and shut his mouth. It would be well for him to examine the schedule.
– I am stating facts which are not palatable to thehonorable gentleman. I would draw the attention of the Committee to the item relating to macaroni, ‘vermicelli, spaghetti, and similar alimentary pastes, in respect of which there is a duty of 30 per cent. against imports from Australia as: compared with a duty of only 20 per cent. under the British preferential Tariff.
– I am well awareof many items inrespect of which we struggled for, but could not get, the British preferential rates.
– Quite so. Let us take the item “ Milk sugar (Lactose)” - British, 10 per cent. ; tariff against Australia, 15 per cent.
– There is only one butter factory here that makes lactose.
– The Colac Butter Factory produces it, and doubtless there are factories in the Richmond River and Byron Bay districts of New South Wales that also manufacture it.
– There are in Australia only two such factories of which I know.
– If the honorable gentleman consults the officers of his Department,he will find that, quite a number of factories in Australiaareturning out such goods.
– I am speakingby the book.
– Another item of interest is that relating to soap, in respect of which the Britishpreferential Tariff is 25 per cent., while the Tariff as against Australia is 30 per cent. Other items to which I would point are those relating to textile piece goods of wool and ‘containing wool, 20 per cent. British preference, 25 per cent. against Australia; blankets, shawls and rugs of wool, or containing wool, 20 per cent. British preference, 25 per cent. against Australia; and hats, caps or bonnets, &c, British preferential Tariff, 25 per cent., Tariff against Australia 30 per cent. There is also a difference of 5 per cent. against Australia as compared with the British preferential rates imposed by New Zealand in respect of mouldings and panels and coil pieces; while the duty on paper bags and wrapping paper is 5s. per cwt. under the British preferential Tariff as compared with 6s. per cwt. on imports from Australia. An examination of the schedule shows that the Minister, in introducing it to the House, was unduly optimistic. Under it we are giving away a lot to New Zealand. The fact that the Dominion Parliament passed the schedule in globo,without making any amendment whatever, suggests to me that it is well satisfied with the agreement that has been made; and I am inclined to think that New Zealand has got a little the better of the deal.
I was surprised to hear the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) pass so lightly over the item relating to pine. In the old days there was a very strong agitation on the part of Queensland millers against the free importation of New Zealand white pine, which is used for butter box making. In my humble judgment, this agreement will hit Tasmania and Queensland timber millers very hard. It will be especially harmful to those who are milling softwoods. Queensland pine is too good to be used for making butter boxes. New Zealand whitepine is one of the timbers best suited for that purpose.
M.r. Rodgers. - And it is used for making butter boxes on the very borders of Queensland.
– I do not doubt it. New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria use New Zealand white pine almost exclusively for butter box making. Such boxes when finished with in Great Britain, I understand, are sent in shooks to Sweden and elsewhere, where they are turned into matches, in which form they are doubtless returned to Australia to compete with the Australian product.
If we are to continue to export our butter in pine boxes, the day is not far distant when New Zealand will either prohibit the export of white pine or impose upon it an almost prohibitive duty. It is getting very scarce. The time may arrive when Australians will be obliged to look for another timber for butter boxes, or use another method of packing butter. Already those who use white pine have adopted a means of milling their timber that enables them to avoid cutting up more than half the quantity of timber they used in making their boxes ten years ago.
– If the honorable member admits that this white pine is necessary, why should he ask that a levy be made on the dairying industry so that it may come into Australia?
– The New Zealand rimu pine comes into very serious competition with our Tasmanian and Queensland pines. The millers have communicated with most honorable members on the point. In concluding their appeal they say -
Anyhow, we do not intend to fight a losing battle, and if all New Zealand timber is admitted free that day we must close our mills, and hundreds on the west coast of Tasmania must suffer. We have been one of the few groups of Tasmanian millers that have managed to keep going constantly during the past twelve months of hard times. During that period we have paid big sums monthly to the Tasmanian Government in the shape of royalties, and the men and the district generally have had the rest. The company itself has been living “ on the smell of an oil rag.”
– The answer is that the advantage which the Tasmanian hardwood millers would get is more substantial than the loss which these people will suffer.
– Are we to be bound in a cast-iron fashion to this schedule? The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) has pointed out a serious anomaly, which the Minister has promised to use his influence to remove, but it may happen that even more serious anomalies are found. Can the Minister, in such circumstances, make representations to have the schedule revised?
– Yes, after six months.
– But can the Government renounce the arrangement at any time ?
Mr.Rodgers. - I do not intend to suggest such a course.
– Six months’ notice of alteration can be given on either side.
– That is so.
– I am pleased to learn that. The Minister complains of members asking for certain particulars, but he must realize that as Australian industries may be injured, even by a reciprocal Tariff, honorable members are entitled to as much detailed information, before they give assent to it, as they were given in connexion with details of the general Tariff. I have no desire to make invidious distinctions between Ministers, but the previous Minister (Mr. Greene) was a veritable slave in supplying the Committee with details in connexion with every possible item in the general Tariff, and its effect on every industry. This Committee is entitled to the same amount of information from the present Minister.
– Every detail possible has been put before the Committee in the
– But how did the Minister arrive at the schedule ? He says, in general terms, “ We argued about this and that, and I got the best I possibly could in the circumstances “; but if honorable members had the details they might sympathize with the Minister in his struggle, and might be inclined to agree with him as to why he arrived at certain conclusions. The schedule itself contains elements of weakness. It establishes Great Britain as Australia’s most serious competitor in the trade with New Zealand. In many cases the arrangement gives a distinct preference to Great Britain, the goods from which may have originated from foreign sources.
– In nearly every item Australia has bettered its position.
– Hear, hear! That is the point.
– In some cases a 10 per cent. preference is given to Great Britain. It is said that because Australia is not more than a few thousand miles from New Zealand, it has a natural freight advantage over Great Britain, which is so much further away; but it is all a matter of competition. Goods of a certain description may be landed in New Zealand from British ports at a cheaper freight than that prevailing from Australia to the Dominion. For instance, if the Peninsular and Oriental Company could secure loading they would trade to New Zealand, and the white sailors would come into competition with lascars. The cost of running a vessel largely influences the rate of freight charged.
– The Minister might let us know some of the details.
– When we have worn ourselves to weariness, the Minister will rise and pour out a wealth of detail, which, had it been given in the initial stages, might have avoided a considerable amount of discussion. I hope that he will give us the details. He thinks that he. has made a big effort on behalf of Australia, but I believe that he could have done very much better. However, I am glad to know that if a serious injustice makes itself apparent in this schedule, redress can be obtained by giving notice.
– The honorable member does not suggest that I should have gone through all the details in my initial speech ?
– It was all very well for the Minister to introduce the schedule in a speech in which he dealt with general principles; but we must now go into . details.
– I am prepared to do so.
– I have suggested a number of matters on which explanations are required. Time would have been saved if the schedule had been taken item by item.
.- The Committee should welcome the motion submitted by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) and the policy which lies behind it. There are two ways of discussing a problem of this kind, as . the debate has already indicated. One method is to discuss the individual items of the schedule seriatim, and consider them on their merits; the other way is to discuss the broad general principle embodied in a proposal for reciprocity. The remarks of the honorable member for Maribyrnong, although he is a Tariff student, and was actively interested in the general Tariff recently passed by this Parliament, indicate clearly that he is not fully seised with what reciprocity means. It does not mean, surely, that one party to the agreement will get all that he wants. There must be plain give and take. In every walk of life reciprocity is the giving of something which one party wants for something which the other wants, and the whole question is whether, in that method of bartering, this particular country, whose custodians we are, has had a fair deal. I shall show later on where I think we could have had a better deal if the Government had followed a different procedure, but, without endeavouring to deal with details, let me mention two items to which “the honorable member for Maribyrnong has already referred. First, let me take Item 49, “ Blankets.” It is very important that Australia should get as good an arrangement for Tariff admission into New Zealand as we can obtain with regard to all our rapidly expanding woollen industries. Without the reciprocity sanctioned by both Parliaments, and proclaimed, we have to pay a 35 per cent, duty if we send our blankets into New Zealand under the general Tariff. We will get them into New Zealand at 25 per cent, under this reciprocal agreement. Our only quarrel with the situation is that it would have been better to get the British rate of 20 per cent. Then we would have been 15 per cent, better off than under existing conditions. But we aro getting a 10 per cent, improvement, and that is two-thirds, at any rate, of what we desired. The same may be said in respect of boots and numbers of other articles. At present we have to pay 45 per cent, to get Australian boots into New Zealand. If this arrangement is sanctioned we shall be able to get them in at 35 per cent. The British preferential duty is 25 per cent., so that, if we had been able to secure the British rate, we would have been still better off; but we are getting half a loaf in place of nothing but competition with the outside world.
I do not propose to dwell at length upon the individual items, for two reasons. I have not sufficient information, nor have I been afforded an opportunity to investigate the incidence, of these 129 arbitrarily fixed items in the schedule.- But those items with which I am acquainted, and on which I am able to give judgment, are, in my view, dealt with properly. In other words, we are getting something better than we have at present. I am comforted also by the second reflection that the Tariff Board, whose concern it as to advise Parliament as to the wisdom of recommendations upon Customs and Excise duties, has examined and concurs in these propositions. We have the further knowledge that, under the Act which constitutes that Board, the latter will continue to watch the incidence of the reciprocal Tariff. It will be the Board’s duty to advise the Minister or Parliament, or both, if any injury is inflicted upon Australia’s industries by the operation of these arrangements. Therefore, this Committee may feel comforted in the knowledge that the be3t bargain that could have been struck in the circumstances has been achieved - supported as it is by the expert and specialized minds which have been working on the problems for many months past, and fortified by the knowledge that they will continue their survey of the actual effects of the arrangements generally.
But the general principle of reciprocity must not be lost sight of. It stands - for a country such as this - on a perfectly sound basis; and the prospective advantage is all in favour of Australia. I say this more plainly now, when the Tariff has gone through the New . Zealand Legislature, than some -of us would have thought it discreet to do a week or so ago. New Zealand obviously realizes that she is about to get something which, at present, she has not; and she is prepared to let Australian manufacturers roam her markets, within the limits of the agreement.
– Will the honorable member indicate in respect of which items our manufacturers will be able to do any roaming?
– I have already specifically referred to two. If the honorable member thinks, he will perceive that, of the hundreds and hundreds of items upon which this Parliament recently imposed duties, we shall be getting the British preferential rates for all except 129.
– Yes, as against the general rates.
– That is so; and, in most cases,- the advantage willi amount to 10, 15, and 20 per cent. That represents an achievement of which the Minister of Trade and Customs may well be proud.
– New Zealand, on the other hand, will receive the advantage of rates which are lower than the British preferential rates, in many cases.
– Yes, for the reason that we have left this reciprocal movement rather too late in order to reap the full advantage. New Zealand recently imposed what she regards as a Protective Tariff. Some of the infant industries of that Dominion which have begun to flourish behind that protective wall are loath to accept curtailment or to contemplate destruction at the hand of Australia’s industries. Therefore, the New Zealand Legislature now proposes not to break down that guarding wall, but merely to lower it, in order to secure certain specific compensating advantages to that country.
If one goes through these 129 items, one is bound to come to the conclusion that some of our Australian industries are likely to find substantial new markets; while, in return, we shall be offering certain New Zealand industries an entrance of a more favorable and generally easier character than has hitherto been afforded. A community of 5,000,000 people will be offering advantages to another community comprising 1,000,000; and, in such circumstances, the balance would appear to be in favour of the smaller community. A market of 5,000,000 people consumes more of the products of a community of 1,000,000 than vice versâ. But our industries, in many vital respects, are much more developed than those of New Zealand. Bearing that in mind, it will be perceived that, under this reciprocal Tariff, there will be something in the nature of an invasion of the New Zealand market by Australian industries for the first time. I say, then, that the balance of advantage will be distinctly in favour of the highly developed and organized community, such as is Australia, relatively, compared with New Zealand. But the Government have left the matter, unfortunately, late, when one contemplates the opportunity which has been afforded to secure full advantage of the British rates upon all items. I asked the Minister for Trade and Customs- some little while ago if he would be prepared to lay on the table all the correspondence which has passed between the two Governments upon this subject-matter, and the Minister promised that he would do so, provided it was not deemed harmful to take that course. Later, the Minister intimated that it might be objectionable to lay all the correspondence on the table of the House ; but added that he would be glad to -°how mp the documents. T have not yet been provided with that opportunity; possibly that is due to the fact of the Minister for Trade and Customs having had his hands rather full during the past few days. I am not complaining, but I do suggest that if the papers had been made available they would have shown that New Zealand had* repeatedly asked the Commonwealth, before our Tariff was passed last year, to consider the question of reciprocity on a columnar basis. I am speculating now, of course, in the absence of those official papers;- but if they reveal a primal anxiety on the part of the Government of New Zealand to institute with the Commonwealth a British” preferential Tariff rate reciprocity, and if it is seen that we have failed to avail’ ourselves of the invitation, then we have “ missed the bus “ ; and some of our industries will correspondingly suffer. ‘ I shall . be glad if, at some stage, the Minister advises honorable members whether I am right in this respect.
If this Tariff is accepted in a large Australian spirit, and on the principle of give and take, I trust that it -will be the forerunner of other similar arrangements within the Empire. I speak particularly of our sister Dominions of Canada and South Africa.
– And India.
– Tes ; there are lines along which we may suitably negotiate with India. There is a gigantic opening for us in India, with its 300,000,000 people gradually awakening to better economic conditions; and if we neglect that vast opportunity other countries will not do so, but will reap .the advantage. I speak now, .however, chiefly of the white communities which enjoy Dominion government. Later, I hope that an attempt may be made on the part of our Empire statesmen in London to arrange real reciprocity within the Empire - not an arrangement between the Dominions, but reciprocity on the part of -the Dominions respectively with the Mother Country. Up to about -eight or nine years ago - that is to say,, just. before the war - the policy which is embodied in that -hope was spoken of in Britain .as “ preferential trade.” It- was. generally frowned upon by ‘the statesmen of the elder- countries within the Empire, and it was made to appear that the younger members of the British family were seeking concessions from the Mother Country. That is a narrow-minded, nonImperial view, no matter whether it be held here or in Great Britain.
– There is something in its favour, anyhow, if it is nonImperial.
– The word “Imperial” is a bug-bear to the honorable member. He is thinking of the Empires of ancient days, which stood for conquest and tyranny. To day, British Imperialism stands for the widest possible liberty.
– It stands for capitalism and the robbery of the masses.
– “ King Charles’ head!”
– The truth, nevertheless!
– The view respecting reciprocity has changed, both in the Home Land and in the Dominions. The ideal of the British people trading among themselves is not now called preference, but is understood as a desire to reciprocate in trade matters as we do in many other directions. I believe that if the Ministers of Customs of the whole of the Dominions, sat down with the responsible leaders and thinkers of the Mother Country it would be possible, if not to ‘ arrange complete reciprocity, at any rate, to bring about a much fuller degree thereof than has ever yet been in contemplation. The British Empire is scattered over both hemispheres. While the people of the Old Land are rioting in summer in the northern hemisphere, we are hibernating in winter; and vice versa. There are, within the confines of the Empire, all the elements of human needs and happiness; and it would be wise and well if there could be brought about a league for trade which would be mutual and commonly beneficial to all the co-operating parties. If the arrangement under review is regarded as the first step in that direction, the Minister for Trade and Customs and his colleagues must be credited with having taken an important step in Empire consolidation, which, I am sure, future. Ministers will endeavour to complete.
The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) has complained that this Committee will be called upon to take the items in globo - to swallow the lot in one gulp. I know of no other way of passing a reciprocal Tariff. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we are driven to that method. If we were to alter any of these items, and New Zealand did not concur in those alterations, the whole business would go by the. board. There must be uniformity of enactment or there cannot be any operation of the agreement. Whether we like it or not, after proper investigation we are to be called upon to decide whether the balance of advantage will warrant us in completing this agreement or in doing the reverse. I believe, and I emphasize my view, that the balance is in favour of Australia; and I intend to vote in favour of the proposition.
In signifying our acceptance, honorable members will realize that, to some extent, we are sacrificing the freedom which this Committee of Ways and Means has hitherto enjoyed on all Tariff matters. That freedom - limited as it will be in this instance - is to be safeguarded, however, as far as it is possible for any agreement so to do. We say in the agreement that we may not impose any Customs duties or increase the rates on specific items until we have given six months’ notice to our partner in the reciprocal arrangement. To that extent we are limited. New Zealand has already accepted the arrangement; but it has not yet been proclaimed; that must be done mutually and coincidentally by the two Dominions. We have certain exemptions from that limitation to which I have just referred; a certain degree of freedom as held, so to speak, in reserve. One phase is mentioned in clause 3 of the agreement, which states-
Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to affect the right of the Commonwealth or of the Dominion to impose new duties upon any articles for the protection of any new industry established or proposed to be established in the Commonwealth or the Dominion as the case may be; provided that such new duties do not exceed the duties imposed on the importation of similar articles from the United Kingdom into the Commonwealth or the Dominion as the case may be.
In other words, if we desire to establish new protective duties after this agreement is entered into, we cannot do so at higher rates than the British preferential Tariff. There is, however, one phase of the question dealt with in clause 6 which the Minister has not explained, and on which I would like his opinion. If, under this agreement, primage duties are imposed-
– Both countries have reserved the right to impose primage duties if they deem it necessary to do so in any emergency.
– And in such cases we are limited to the primage duty on similar goods imported from the United Kingdom. Is there any primage duty in New Zealand ?
– Not at present.
– This is only in case either Government should find it imperative to do so. Clause 9 says -
The provisions of the last two preceding clauses of this agreement shall operate from 1st May. 1922, notwithstanding that this agreement may not, at that date, have been ratified by the Parliament of either country.
Supposing it is not ratified by the Parliament of both countries, what happens?
– As a matter of fact, New Zealand has power, irrespective of the passage of this Bill, to do what is proposed, and is doing it, and so also is the ‘ Commonwealth, relying on an indemnity by Parliament.
– So that if this agreement should fail, another Act to indemnify the Department for collecting on this basis will be necessary?
– Will the Minister explain clause 10, which is as follows-
No special rebate or bounty shall be granted by the Commonwealth, or the Dominion, in respect of the sugar contained in any goods exported from the Commonwealth or the Dominion, as the case may be, to the Dominion or the Commonwealth.
Wo may not grant a rebate, or bounty on the sugar contents of any of our goods exported?
– The object there is purely to prevent us defeating the arrangement in regard to goods containing sugar by granting a bounty or rebate.
– What about the case’ of jam and canned goods, which are enjoying, and will continue to enjoy, the benefit of the rebated rate on sugar?
– That is a bar to the allowance of that.
– That rebate cannot operate on goods of this character manufactured by Australia, and subsequently exported to the Dominion?
– Not without a special arrangement.
– I suggest for the consideration of the Minister, as the honorable member for Parramatta, (Mr. Pratten) has wisely done in another case, that this is a matter for reconsideration. I do not mean to say that we should delay the agreement; but certainly those who are already feeling the pinch of the sugar business - I speak now of the fruitgrowers largely - will have occasion to feel sore if they do not get the New Zealand market as they are now entitled to get markets within the Empire.
– This does not affect canned fruits, which do not contain more than 9 per cent, of sugar.
– Canned fruits do not all contain the same degree of sugar.
– None contain more than 9 per cent.
– At any rate, the jam manufacturers of Tasmania have put a vast amount <?f money, brains, and organization into this business; and why should they not have the same advantage in New Zealand as they have in South Africa? By making this agreement we, in this respect, are worse off than we should be if we did not make it; and this is the only case where that argument would apply. We are better off in tho case of South Africa, without an agreement, than we shall bc in the case of New Zealand when we have an agreement. I suggest that the Minister very forcibly stress this argument to the Government of New Zealand, as will be done in the case of asbestos sheets, with the object of getting this market if we can get it in fair competition, as we are doing throughout the world.
– While the sugar agreement subsists ?
– Even if we gave up control, and permitted free trade in sugar as before, we might still, in our Customs law, give a drawback on exported sugar goods. We might decontrol sugar and impose a duty of £10.
– I see the argument, and I may say that we put this matter very definitely to the New Zealand Minister, and his answer was, “ You have your measure of protection, and we cannot let you load your goods beyond that measure.”
– What does it matter to the Minister of Customs for New Zealand?
– That is his stand.
– Supposing, apart altogether from control, we gave a rebate in the Customs duty or Excise duty, if there were such, of £5 per ton on all sugar exported in the shape of jam, surely New Zealand should have no objection to that 1
– New Zealand mightdesire to import Australian sugar and Australian fruit, and manufacture on her own account.
– That is conceivable, but She is much more likely to import the finished product. If New Zealand is notnow making jam, and has to learn the business, and import all the bulk stuff, I cannot conceive of her meeting with any success. I do not know ,what the incidence of this arrangement will be, but I do not believe it is fair to the fruit people who desire to share the benefit of the arrangement with New Zealand. 1 hope the Minister will make strong representations to the Government of the Dominion in favour of an’ early amendment-
– New Zealand has rt..duced the duty on both sugar and fruit from Australia for jam.
– I have nothing further to say except to congratulate the Minister on the introduction of this proposal, which I hope will succeed. I think that individual amendment of the items as suggested by some honorable members would inevitably ruin the agreement. We ought to give it a fair trial, knowing that its operations will be watched closely by the statutory body which we have ourselves created, and whose sole business it will be to warn Parliament of any illeffects of Tariff action.
.- I intend to support the agreement. An advantage is given to Australia, inasmuch as our hardwoods are allowed to enter the Dominion at a much more reasonable rate, while we have the benefit of cheaper timbers from the Dominion. The building trade is hampered because of the present higher duties on New Zealand timbers, and those duties under this agreement are to be reduced. Norway has nearly captured the timber market of Australia, and it is not- to the advantage of the workers of this country or of New Zealand that the control of the trade should be with that country. The new duty will prove most welcome to the building trade and also to the boxmakers Vessels which trade between here and New Zealand are manned under Commonwealth laws and observe Commonwealth conditions; moreover, they have all repairs made here. On the other hand, Norwegian vessels do not observe Australian conditions, and none of the repairs to them, are done by our workmen. Consequently, if we can transfer the. timber trade from Norway to New Zealand it will be a benefit to both Dominions. Why should we be afraid to trade with New Zealand on equal terms? They are a white race, and almost partners with us. They have the same standard of living, and, therefore, we have no reason to fear any attempt at cutting down the wages of the workers.
– We have had a long start with our industries.
– That is so, and, therefore, I say that we have no need to fear : indeed, a Protectionist ought to have no objection, to honest competition with our neighbour. New Zealand has timbers that are suitable for house building, and these are the very timbers we lack. At present the cost of house construction is increased largely because of the Tariff on New Zealand timbers.
– It is really a revenue duty.
– The additional cost of building means higher rents, and an arrangement of the kind proposed must be a benefit to both Dominions.
The honorable member for Parramatta (Mr. Pratten) has made out a strong case in regard to the item of asbestos sheets. Australian companies have spent large sums of money in erecting valuable plant in order to carry on this industry, and it is only fair that in trading with New Zealand they should be put on the same footing as British manufacturers. I take it that the representations made by the honorable member for Parramatta and the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Mathews) will, according to the promise of the Minister, be laid before the Government of New Zealand, and the matter be rectified.
– I have seen the manufacturers concerned, and have made that promise.
– In the Commonwealth there are large cement works, the product of which is equal to that .in any other part of the world. We are told that there is a, great demand in New Zealand, and it is only right, in view of what has been done in regard to. timber, that some more equitable arrangements should be made as to asbestos, sheets. If any anomalies should arise we have the assurance of the Minister that in six months’ time, the whole Tariff may be re-cast.
– Even items may be recast.
– Personally I should like to see the items now dealt with separately; but that oan scarcely be done, because to reject one would mean the rejection of the whole. I welcome a step that will bring the. peoples of these two Dominions in closer trading association.
– So far as manufactured articles are concerned, I cannot see why Australia cannot compete with New Zealand. The honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), who is an authority on these matters, has said that they observe tho .same standards of living that we do ourselves, and their wages are as high, if not a little higher, than here. Why, then, should we be afraid to trade and compete with the neighbouring Dominion? The Tariff may, perhaps, embarrass somewhat a few mills that are handling softer, timbers, such as .celery top and pine, but, taking the great bulk of the timbers, I should say that the advantage of the exchange is on our side. Upon the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Watt), I cannot see why the New Zealand Government should object- to the rebates in the duty on sugar used in the manufacture of jam for export. Some honorable members seem to think that this question of rebate dates only from the advent of Government control of sugar. As a matter of fact, it goes back very much further than that. The policy of this Parliament has always been to allow an export rebate- in the duty on raw materials for manufacturing purposes. Therefore, I can see no reason why New Zealand should object to the operation of this principle. The Dominion is in the extraordinary position that while sugar is not grown there, it is being, retailed at about 4jd. per lb., which, I think, is the very utmost that should be charged in Australia.
– What was the price there when sugar was dear everywhere?
– I think the retail price was very much the same as- in Australia. Since the peak in sugar prices, the position in New Zealand has been as good, from the consumer’s point of view, as in Australia. There appears1 to be an. impression that our jam manufacturers and fruit preservers are getting some enormous concession in the matter of luba,te on export lines. B*ib, so far as’ my own State is concerned, the figures show that 80 per cent, of jam manufactured in Tasmania is consumed in Australia, and not. more than 20 per cent, is exported. If this export rebate is not to be permitted, the manufacturers of the Commonwealth- exporting to New Zealand will be in a worse position, as the honorable member for Balaclava has pointed out, than when they are trading with other countries with which we have no such reciprocal arrangement.
– New Zealand is permitting our fruit to be imported at a cheaper rate, for the purpose of encouraging ber own manufacturers.
– i think it wm be found that, with the exception_ of perhaps oranges for marmalade, the fruit export trade to New Zealand is unimportant. But I am not going to attempt to interfere with this Tariff. I believe it is a step in the right direction. At all events, it will give us something approaching competition in those manufactured articles that are the tools of trade for the primary producers, and perhaps it will help to break down the ring that has existed in Australia’ for so many years, and which to-day is charging such monstrous prices for everything the farmer has to use. If it will have that effect,- and that effect only, we shall owe a debt of gratitude to the Minister for having concluded the agreement. Nevertheless, I urge him to point out to New Zealand that concessions in the matter of ‘ rebates in the duty on sugar for the manufacture of jam for export, should be allowed to stand, because this will not inflict any injury upon New Zealand industries.
– I am sure this reciprocal Tariff will meet with the approval of the people generally. On the whole, there has been no suggestion of serious opposition, although honorable members may have found some items that are not likely to work out so satisfactorily as is desired. I can see no reason why Australia should not be able to compete on equal terms with New Zealand. We in this country are of their kin, and those of us who had the privilege of working or fighting side by side with New Zealanders will be pleased that this reciprocal Tariff has been introduced as an indication that we are prepared to meet New Zealand on terms of equality. Nevertheless, I am concerned about the future of the timber industry, or at least that section of the industry that is engaged in the milling of softwoods in Tasmania. The trouble is that there has been no warning to the people engaged in the business that any such arrangement as has been arrived at was likely to be brought about, at least not for some time. Last session there was a general belief that we were to have something like stability in Tariff matters; but if we are now going to admit New Zealand white pine into the Commonwealth free of duty, those mills engaged in cutting huon, king-billy, and celery top will, in all probability, have to close down. Although wo may be willing to do all we can to bring about a satisfactory reciprocal arrangement with New Zealand, it seems hard that, in order to accomplish this desirable object, a considerable number of our workmen should have to suffer through unemployment, and a loss of capital should result from the closing of certain mills. I have not the least doubt that a number of mills on the west coast of Tasmania will not be able to compete with New Zealand white pine under this reciprocal Tariff. For them the position is very serious indeed, because hundreds of workmen will be without employment. I should like the Minister to consider a suggestion that the Tariff on imported foreign timber, such as Oregon, used for box-making in particular, should be increased to the normal rate; that is, a rate nearly equal to the Tariff that we impose on other soft timbers from the Baltic and America. At present the duty on Oregon and other similar American timbers considered to be suitable for boxmaking is only ls. per 100 feet. That amount of protection is practically worth- less. The industry I am concerned about would think it fair, and consider they could meet competition from New Zealand, if a Tariff of 4s. per 100 feet were imposed on Oregon in the spar or cut in larger sizes for building or other purposes. If this were done, there could be no reasonable objection to New Zealand timber coming in free for. the purposes for which it is used in Australia. The mill-owners to whom I refer claim that timber fer box-making solely should bo admitted free from New Zealand; but I feel that such an arrangement cannot be effected under this schedule, because the Minister has already told us that we must take this reciprocal Tariff in globo or reject it. I suggest, however, that the Minister should place the position of the timber industry before the Tariff Board, and ask members of that body to consider if it is not fair, in the interests of Australian timber millers, to impose the duties I have mentioned, namely, 4s.. instead of ls. per 100 feet, on certain timbers imported from America and the Baltic.
– Irrespective of the relationship of the timber duties in the schedule, I may tell the honorable member that I have definitely remitted to the Tariff Board the question of the incidence of the duties on the foreign timber to which he has referred.
– I thank the Minister for that statement. It is very satisfactory, and I have no doubt that when the Tariff Board has considered the .matter some arrangement such as I have suggested will be made. I realize that although, as the outcome of this agreement, one branch of the industry will suffer, that may be unavoidable, and that other branches of the saw-milling industry will gain. There will be large exports from these shores to New Zealand, where there are practically no hardwoods, and I expect to see a considerable trade done with New Zealand by Tasmania, Victoria, and other States. I realize also that the butter industry will benefit as the result of New Zealand pine for making butter boxes being allowed to come in free.
– That is one of the considerations.
– It is a very important consideration. When the Customs Tariff Bill was under consideration last session I claimed that where we had no timber equal for certain purposes to that which could be imported - timber such as that used for butter boxes - the item should be free. In that I was consistent. I have always claimed that where the product of another country can be introduced with advantage to an Australian industry since we have no local product that is its equal, there is no reason why we should impose upon it a heavy duty. There are other items in the schedule to this agreement in respect of which I am afraid some of our farmers - and I am a farmer - will be rather anxious. I would refer the Committee, for instance, to the reduced rates which .are to operate in respect of hay, chaff, hams and bacon from New Zealand. Hams and bacon are produced largely in Tasmania, Victoria, and New South Wales, and the industry must go side by side with the dairying industry. At the same time I ‘recognise that these industries will gain advantages in other directions; they are to reap the benefit of a lower tariff on machinery and tools used ‘ by them. On broad lines, so far as I can judge, this agreement should be acceptable to our farmers, and I think, with my limited knowledge of the manufacturing industries generally, that it will be acceptable to our manufacturers. I congratulate the Minister on having been able to come to an arrangement with the New Zealand Minister- for Trade and Customs that, on the whole, is acceptable to this Parliament, which is a reflex of the feelings of the people. Since the agreement has been passed by the New -Zealand Parliament, and evidently will be accepted within a few hours by this Parliament, it must be regarded as a step in the right direction, upon which the Minister, as well as honorable members generally, are to be congratulated.
.- Speaking generally, I am in favour of reciprocal trade treaties within the Empire, but I find it difficult, in the absence of detailed information as to items in respect of which aci valorem duties have been substituted for specific duties, to discuss with any degree of confidence the schedule to this agreement. In the Customs Tariff that we passed last year, we granted in some cases a British preference of 5 per cent., but under the general Tariff we imposed duties designed to lead to the establishment of new industries (here. We are now asked by the Minister to accept a recipro cal trade agreement with New Zealand which we are told by him is greatly in favour of Australia. On examination it will be found to cut deeply into some of the new industries that have been established in Australia of recent years and which to-day are languishing for lack of trade. The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) has dealt with the timber duties. We have, under- this agreement, given up a good many -duties relating to timbers so far as New Zealand is concerned, with the result that her softwoods will come in here to compete, not with the pine or other soft- timbers of this country, but with the ‘hardwood milling industry. Many of the hardwood mills in Tasmania and elsewhere are closing down.
– A lot of our hardwood is exported to New Zealand.
– Quite so; but what are New Zealand’s requirements compared with our own ? Under the Customs Tariff we were content to grant a British preference of 5 per cent., but under this reciprocal agreement we are granting New Zealand a preferential duty of 12^ per cent, in respect of items affecting many vital industries here.
– Tell me of one vital industry that will be so affected.
– I shall do so later on I am not a supporter of rings or combines that establish themselves ‘here, and put up prices; and it seems to me that it is far better that we should have the Massey-Harris Company or other similar manufacturing . concerns producing agricultural machinery here rather than that they , should set up big works in New Zealand and supply us, as would be possible under this agreement, from that country. In respect of agricultural machinery, under the general Customs Tariff, we have duties of 30 per cent, and 35 per cent; these, so far as imports from New Zealand are concerned, - are now to be wiped out. I know that New Zealand does not produce such machinery to any extent at the present time, but she may do so. Under this agreement ‘ we .shall encourage the establishment of factories in New Zealand to compete with our own industries.
– Why not tell the other side? Why not speak of what New Zealand is going to allow us to send in free?
– We had a duty of 30 per cent, on agricultural machinery, which applied to imports from New Zealand.
– It was not operative against New Zealand, because no such machinery was imported from the Dominion.
– But big agricultural machinery factories may be established there.
– Does the honorable member suggest that manufacturers of agricultural machinery in Australia could notcompete with New Zealand ?
– No, but I am pointing out that very big works for the manufacture of agricultural machinery may be set up in New Zealand.
During the war period quite a number of big. works were established in Australia. To-day most of them are idle, and thousands of men have been thrown out of employment. It seems to me that under this reciprocal trade agreement, instead of restoring those men to their former employment, we shall give them another kick, and perhaps, put a few more out of work. That seems, for some time, to have been the policy of some people in this country. I would draw the attention of the Committee to the item relating to boilers. Huge works for the manufacture of land and marine boilers have just commenced operations in New South Wales, and thousands of pounds have been invested in the industry.
– They have the raw material on the spot.
– While that is so, I would point out that, whereas, under the general Tariff, we have a duty of 40 per cent. on boilers, and a duty of 271/2 per cent. under the British preferential Tariff, under this agreement the duty on such imports from New Zealand will be only 25 per cent.
– But what does it mean ? It is not operative against New Zealand. There is no boiler -making industry there.
– Then why did New Zealand ask for this preferential rate?
– The New Zealand authorities went through all the items in the Tariff, and some day such an industry may spring up there. On the other hand there is a definite reduction in favour of imports of Australian-made boilers into New Zealand.
– It is all in our favour.
– I have no rooted objection to reciprocal agreements, provided that we thoroughly understand what we are. doing when framing them.
The Committee is entitled to have from the Minister a statement showing what will be the. effect of many of the items in the schedule to this agreement on industries that have been established in Australia during the last few years.
– I desire to address myself briefly to this question. In the. first place, I . have a complaint to make in regard to the timber duties. . The honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell) has pleaded for the free introduction of timber used in the manufacture of butter boxes. The day is not far distant when such timber will not be procurable from either, New Zealand or Queensland, and some substitute will have to be found for the timber now being used for that purpose. Like the honorable member for Balaclava, I am in favour of reciprocity, and I am. sure we all share the hope expressed by. him that some day. we shall have trade reciprocity throughout the Empire. In 1919-20 we exported to New, Zealand timber of the value of £178,982, but we imported from that country during the same period timber of the value of £673,943. This is a matter which requires investigation, since the trade seems to be very one-sided.
– These proportions are not normal. The importation of timber from New Zealand to Australia is now about double the exportation of timber from Australia to New Zealand, the figures being £418,902 in the one case, and £807,916 in the other.
– Those figures indicate that some adjustment might be made by the Tariff Board. While I have cause of complaint in regard to the balance of trade in timber, the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr: Watkins) has no complaint whatever in regard to metals and machinery. While we imported in one period from New Zealand agriculturalmachinery to the value of £3,006, and other machinery to the value of £9,551, or a total value of £12,557, we exported to New Zealand in the same period agricultural implements and machinery to the value of £17,311, other machinery to the value of £188,696, and other manufactured metals to the value of £364,743, or a total value of £560,750. The honorable member need not be alarmed in regard to importations of metals and machinery frost New Zealand. However, the Minister might refer the timber duties to the Tariff Board.
– He has already done that.
– If that is the case, Queensland will have no cause for complaint.
– I am thankful to the Committee for the manner in which it has received the agreement with New Zealand, with the attached schedule, and I am fortified in my belief that it has met with general satisfaction in Australia, not only from the paucity of complaints in this Chamber, but also from the small number of requests for alterations received from the general manufacturing and commercial community. That, a reciprocal arrangement covering a wide range of subjects is bound to disturb existing conditions in some details is to be expected, but, as a whole, I think this agreement arrives at a fair basis of reciprocity; that is to say, it gives mutual concessions to both countries without damaging the essential industries of either, I thought that the honorable member for Newcastle (Mr. Watkins) proposed to complain of some injustice being done to the iron and steel industry of Australia. The position is exactly the reverse. By this arrangement the industry in question has benefited to a very substantial extent.
– The honorable member was referring to agricultural machinery.
– All that the honorable member could say was that if some industry should be established in New Zealand, at a later date, and commence exporting to Australia, it would have a free market, but the answer to that contention is quite simple. The agricultural machinery manufacturing industry being firmly established in the Commonwealth, and having substantial protection over, wide agricultural belts, is in a commanding situation to serve the sister Dominion. New Zealand, on the other hand, is in a very backward position in regard to this class of machinery, because it is more a grazing and intense dairying country than an agricultural country, and as a matter of fact, barely produces sufficient wheat for its own requirements. There is little danger of an outside corporation seeking to establish a base in the Dominion. It would not have any field on which to operate. But even if such an improbable thing should take place, it would be quite open to the Commonwealth, by giving notice to the Dominion of New Zealand, to make any alteration necessary to protect Australia in this regard. The iron, and steel industry has been benefited by this agreement.
Australian steel products, viz.: Bar, angle, and tee girders; beams; railway rails; plate and sheet iron (galvanized or plain), will be admitted into New Zealand free of duty under the British preferential Tariff. On the other hand, New Zealand products of a similar kind will be classifiable under the Australian-British preferential Tariff. New Zealand does not supply steel products to Australia, but there has been a considerable trade with New Zealand in Australian steel. For example, in 1920-21 Australian steel products were exported to New Zealand to the following extent: -
If any member of the Committee could have shown that injury was likely to accrue to any of Australia’s key industries or any of its manufacturing industries already firmly established, I would have welcomed such an intimation, because it would clearly have- shown laxity on the part of myself and my advisers. On the other hand, the advantages to be gained by the agreement can be well gauged by comparison of the trade figures between Australia and New Zealand over a period of the ten years from 1911 to 1920-21. These show that the total exports from Australia to New Zealand of goods of Australian origin or manufacture during the period reached a value of £29,432,320, while the exports of goods of New Zealand origin from New Zealand to Australia were valued at £22,280,579. If we take the figures year by year we see that Australian industries have developed to a much greater extent than have those of New Zealand. In 1911, the exports of goods of Australian origin from Australia to New Zealand was valued at £1,740,788, while the export of goods of New Zealand origin to Australia was valued at £2,810,163. The figures for 1920-21 show how vastly the balance of trade has changed in- ten years. In 1920-21 our imports of goods of New Zealand origin were valued at £1,995,897, while the value of goods of Australian origin exported to New Zealand was £6,271,739. Honorable members have been so fair in their criticism that I do not propose to delay the Committee. The consensus of opinion, I take it, is that this reciprocal arrangement, if anything, has been delayed too long. I hope that the Committee will accept it in globo, with my assurance that I shall negotiate with the New Zealand Government in regard to all matters capable of rectification where it is possible to have that rectification carried out before both Parliaments rise; and that when the agreement is put into operation, and it becomes apparent that its effect is to very definitely injure Australian industry without conferring any corresponding advantage to New Zealand industry, I shall negotiate, as it will be my duty to do, under the guidance of the Tariff Board, with the New Zealand Government subject to the terms of the agreement we have already tentatively made. It is unnecessary for me to delve into the subject in detail. Answering the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton) and the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Penton), who protested that the debate should partake of a detailed character, I would remind them of my promise to the New Zealand Minister that I would invite the Commonwealth Parliament not to go through the schedule item by item - to be submitted individually and subjected, possibly, to a vote in every instance - but that I would endeavour to show that a fair bargain had been struck ; and, lastly, that if possible I would have the agreement accepted in globo. I am pleased that that is to be done, because the Government have in contemplation the establishment of reciprocal arrangements, on somewhat similar lines, with Canada and South Africa. The attitude of this Parliament in standing up to the New Zealand agreement in full will be a strong evidence of our good faith.
– But Canada and South Africa will have to be dealt with on different terms from those relating to New Zealand. I say that, particularly bearing South Africa in mind.
– I know what the honorable member is thinking of; but there, again, New Zealand has demon strated her bona fides by abrogating the agreement previously made with South Africa in respect of wine and maize, so that she might enter upon this new reciprocal basis of trade, the effect of which will be to bestow great benefits upon the Commonwealth, whereas previously South Africa had been in the favoured position. On the whole we have been able to effect substantial advantages, both for our primary and our secondary industries. I have already given statistics revealing the balance of trade as between the two countries. I have pointed out, for example, that the value of New Zealand’s exports to Australia last year was £1,995,000, whereas the value of our exports to New Zealand was £6,271,000. It would be displaying a poor spirit, therefore, if the larger and better established and more experienced manufacturing Dominion were to set up the argument that unless she got everything she sought there would be no agreement. Reciprocity has been the basis of negotiation, and we have both given and taken. Broadly, the arrangement will serve both the Commonwealth and the Dominion.
– I do not think the Commonwealth will suffer by this arrangement. Indeed, we should reap great advantages, because we have so many established industries, particularly in Victoria. I fail to see how industries which may be established in New Zealand will be able to compete with such firmly established and widely known industries as, for example, the Sunshine Works; these should profit greatly as an outcome of the treaty. In Tasmania, unfortunately, we are experiencing overproduction of fruit, both in regard to home consumption and - owing to costly shipping facilities - with respect to export. Now, however, New Zealand is about to open her markets to the Taemanian orchardists. She is ready to admit her apples free of duty ; and, notwithstanding that New Zealand will be importing our fruit and sugar free of duty, it is my view that she will be unable to compete with our strongly established Tasmanian jam-manufacturing industry. In that State there is one of the finest jam-producing works in all the world. I trust that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) will carry out the suggestion of the honorable member for Franklin (Mr. Mcwilliams) by seeing that Australian jam is despatched to New Zealand under the same conditions as it is sent to other parts of the Empire.
– I shall renew negotiations along those lines, and endeavour to secure a concession.
– Having that assurance from the Minister I shall not continue my remarks at this late hour.
Questionresolved in the affirmative.
– Before reporting the resolution I desire to intimate that there are certain minor typographical errors in the schedule which will be duly corrected before being embodied in the Bill.
Resolution reported, and (by leave) adopted.
That Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Greene do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr.. Rodgers, and (by leave) passed through all its stages without amendment or debate.
In Committee (Consideration of Gover nors-General’s message) :
– I move -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act. relating to the. retirement or discharge of certain persons from the permanent service of the Defence Department and for other purposes.
I do not propose to deal with the subject in detail at this stage. I desire that, at the first opportunity, honorable members shall be placed in possession of the proposals of the Government in the form of a Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported, and (by leave) adopted.
That Mr. Greene and Mr. Rodgers do prepare and bring in a Bill to carry cut the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Greene, and read a first time.
Mr. GREENE (Richmond- Minister
That the House do now adjourn.
The Government propose to ask the Public Accounts Committee to enter immediately upon the investigation, of matters relating to the price of sugar and the transactions of the Government relating to the purchase of sugar from time to time, as was promised by the Prime Minister this afternoon. The Government intend to ask that Committee to deal with the subject-matter forthwith. They will place in its hands all the information at their disposal, and will ask the Committee to report at the earliest possible moment to this House.-
.- On behalf of the Opposition, I enter an emphatic protest against the action of the Government. Last week honorable members were promised that further specific information upon the subject of sugar would be made available on the first day of sitting this week. No further particulars,however, havebeen given, except a tabulated statement by the Prime- Minister regarding the agreement; we have been told nothing about the transactions during the seven years. Suddenly we find the Government carrying: a motion to adjourn the debate until to-morrow. But to-morrow appears to be some day in the far and distant future, probably not within the life of this Parliament. This matter is of such magnitude that no Committee - though I dare say the Public Accounts Committee would do as well as any other - could possibly deal with it in an effective way within some months. Here is a business extending over seven years, and involving £60,000,000, and we expect a Committee to investigate it and present a report within a few weeks. This is asking the Committee to do something that is absolutely impossible. By the time the Committee could make a report we shall be well on towards the end of the session, if we have not reached it. But before then the Government will say, “ Now we are in a position to reduce the price of sugar to 5d.,” and the thing will be shelved. What we, on this side, have been contending for some time is that there should be an immediate reduction in the price of sugar. According to the information that we have, it could be sold at 41/2d. per lb.
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing that question.
– The action of the Government is a practical shelving of the matter. We, on this side, were never favorable to this matter being referred to a Committee.We made our position known on Friday, and we shall take what action we think necessary on behalf of the consumers of sugar.
.- I also wish to register my protest against the manner in which the Government have dealt with this sugar matter. This afternoon the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) said most emphatically that he accepted the proposal put forward by Mr. Prowse for the appointment of a Select Committee. It appears now, the debate having been adjourned on the assumption that it would be resumed to-morrow - the adjournment being to enable the urgent matter of the New Zealand reciprocal Tariff agreement to be discussed - that the Government, after further consideration, have taken the business away from the House. It rather looks to me like a little bit of smart business. The Prime Minister, when he was informed that the proposal to refer the matter to the Public Accounts Committee was not acceptable, frankly stated that the Government would go the whole way and accept the proposal for a Select Committee. Now, a few hours afterwards, it is announced by the Government that the matter is to go to the Public Accounts Committee. Personally, I do not think that the reference to the Public Accounts Committee meets the position. I protest against the manner in which the Government have dealt with thewhole business.
– I also protest against the ‘manner in which the Government have dealt with the question. Last Thursday the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) made a definite statement that information would be made available to-day to enable us to properly discuss the position. When the House meets, it finds itself with practically no more information than before. The action of the Government is in direct apposition to the amendment standing in the name of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse). As you, Mr. Speaker, said, the amendment was in two portions, one dealing with the price of sugar and the other with the appointment of a Select Committee to investigate the general transactions of the Government in the purchase of sugar. These are two quite different matters, and I see no reason why the question of price should be one for a Committee. It is one for the House to decide, after the information promised by the Minister for Trade and Customs has been given.
.- This action on the part of the Government has come as a surprise to me. I may be at a disadvantage in not having heard the speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) this afternoon, but when I voted for the adjournment of. the debate I understood we were to have the promised information tomorrow, or, at the latest, in a day or two. If the Minister cannot supply the requisite information to enable the House to forman opinion as to what the price ofsugar, should be, I do not see how he can supply that information to the Public Accounts Committee, nor do I see how we can have even an interim report within a reasonable time.
– You will not accept the Government’s figures.
– There are no figures; I have been waiting for days for them. I did not wish to vote the other day on an amendment by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Charlton), because I did not think it was right to take a vote in the absence of information to enable us to come to a fair decision.
– You can see where you are now?
– I do, andI can only say I am not satisfied with the action of the Government.
– I join in the general protest being made, for there appears to me to have been some pretty sharp practice on the part of the Government, but it is only in thorough accord with their attitude right through the piece. If ever there was a question of vital interest to the public it is that of sugar. It is three weeks ago since the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) made his original statement. A few days after I asked when we were likely to have the details, and the Minister replied that we should have them next week, at any rate, and covering six years. Three weeks later we are still without the information, and now the whole thing is passed over to a Committee which will probably deliberate for months. I hope, however, that the Country party have learnt a lesson. Last week when the Government were in difficulties-
– The honorable member must not discuss those matters.
– This reference of the question to the Public Accounts Committee is simply carrying out a suggestion of the Country party made in their endeavour to “ build a bridge” for. the Government. The whole circumstances suggest a “ smother-up “ - suggest that the Government do not wish to make public the information.
– On the contrary, all the “ cards are on the table.”
– Then the honorable gentleman has the “ joker “ up his sleeve. What cards are on the table!
– They will be iii the hands of the Committee.
– Why are they not in the hands of honorable members? Why are they not on this table?
– For the reason that they had not been compiled. The information has now arrived, and is being assembled as promised.
– Is the honorable member for Yarra in order in anticipating discussion of a question to come before the House ?
– No, the honorable member is not in order.
– I am registering my protest against the action of the Government in handing over -this matter to a Committee. The Minister talks about not having the details, but how could the lump sum be arrived at without the details ?
– The honorable member cannot discuss that matter, now.
– We have a perfect Tight to protest against this “ smotherup,” and I hope that the members of the Country party will realize that they have been “ tricked.”
.- I protest against the action of the Government in again postponing the consideration of the sugar question. This is a “matter of great moment to a large percentage of the population of this country, inasmuch as it is one closely connected with the cost of living.
-The only question before the House is : “ That the House do now adjourn.” Honorable members are entitled to make a protest, but” not to revive a debate that has been adjourned. Honorable members must see for them selves that they are now entering into arguments which have reference to the subject of the adjourned debate.
– I think we are in order in showing reasons why we protest against the reference of this matter to a Committee, for it is a question which has not been decided by the House. It is the general experience of honorable members that Select Committees continue their inquiries week after week and month after month.
– I submit that the remarks of the honorable member are a reflection on the decision of the House to-day.
– I do not see eye to eye with the honorable member in that regard. The honorable member has not, as far as I can see, said anything reflecting on any decision of the House.
– In the case of a Select Committee we find all sorts of side issues raised, and an inquiry may be stretched out for an interminable time. Finally a report is laid on the table, though we may have to wait for a considerable time before it is printed and put into circulation. The, real point i3 that this matter will then not come before the House, unless a definite motion is tabled by a Minister, or some private member. In the ordinary course, the report will merely be presented. Therefore I enter my protest against the action of the Minister; and I should like to know if this is a decision of Cabinet, or whether it is merely a decision communicated over the telephone from the Prime Minister to the Minister for Defence. Can the Minister (Mr. Greene) say if this is the policy of the ‘ Government? Surely the House is entitled to some information?
– I have no intention of listening further to these statements.
– No, because the honorable member wants dear sugar for the consumers. I again enter my protest against the action of the Government. They should be prepared to deal with the matter now, and give the people sugar at a reasonable price.
.- I do not know if the Standing Orders will permit me, on the motion for the adjournment of the House, to seek information I want to get; but I should like to know from the Minister (Mr. Greene) if the
Government definitely propose to refer a matter that was under discussion to-day to the Public Accounts Committee for inquiry and report. If so, I certainly protest against this course of action. I have listened with great attention to every word that has been said upon the question under review, and I am willing to trust tho Government in their endeavour to elucidate the problem, and to do the best that is possible in the interests of the taxpayers and the users of the commodity. I am prepared to wait until the Minister can give the information to the House, and let this House take the responsibility of deciding it, one way or the other.
– I am much surprised at the statement made by the Minister (Mr. Greene) that to-morrow the Government intend to refer the matter of the price of sugar under discussion by the House to the Public Accounts Committee. The Minister and honorable members will, no doubt, remember the difficulty that confronted us when we were seeking information from the Colonial Sugar Refining Company on a former occasion. No inquiry into the sugar position can be complete without an examination of the books of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company, and, as I have already stated, some years ago the company absolutely defied the Government. They declined to make any statement, and in this matter they were upheld by the High Court. Therefore, we have not power to compel tho company to disclose their profits.
– On a point of order, I ask if the honorable member is in order in discussing the sugar question ?
– I am afraid the honorable member for South Sydney is out of order.
– Very well, Mr. Speaker, I shall try to keep within the Standing Orders, but I want to protest against the action of the Government. The Public Accounts Committee will be called upon to deal with transactions extending over a period of seven years, and involving a turnover of over £60,000,000, so that it will be impossible to get all the necessary information in a few weeks.
– The information will have been compiled for the Committee by those who are now at work. The balancesheet has already been prepared.
– I have heard that statement before, but we have not yet got the information we want. If, as the Minister states, the details are nearly complete, there is no need to refer this matter to the Public Accounts Committee at all. The information ought to be tabled in the House and the matter should be finalized here.
– The decision of the Government will not prevent the statement being laid on the table of the House.
– The Minister must think that we have come down in the last shower I He knows that if this question is referred to the Public Accounts Committee we shall have .to wait for the report of that body, and that will not be available this year. The Committee have done splendid work in regard to other matters, but this will be one of the biggest questions it has ever been called upon to investigate. Therefore, I ask. the Government not to insist on remitting it .to the Public Accounts Committee.
.- I should like to know if honorable members have asked themselves what this really means. A terrible - in my opinion, quite unjustifiable - fuss is being made about it. The average consumption .of sugar per head in Australia is 112 lbs., and, taking the average family of five, that gives a total of 560 lbs.
– Order !
– At id. per lb.- the amount in dispute - that works out at fi 3s. 4d. per annum for a family of five.
– I do not intend to allow this motion to pass without entering my protest against the action of the Government in shelving the sugar question. When the Government accepted the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Prowse) the general opinion of the House was in favour of referring the matter to a Select Committee.
– The honorable member is not in order in discussing the matter that was debated and discussion thereon adjourned this afternoon.
– Well, Mr. Speaker, I shall leave it at that. It was understood this afternoon that there would be further opportunity for debating this question, but now we are told that it . is to be tied up owing to the decision of the Government to refer it to the Public Accounts Committee.
– I did not say that.
– No, but, necessarily, that must be the result. Is it necessary to refer this question to the Public Accounts Committee, seeing that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Rodgers) has stated that the whole of the information was now ready?
– I did not say it was allready, I said the details had arrived andwere being assembled.
– Yes, we have heard all that before.
– And we are getting tired of the treatment that has been meted out to us during the last two or three -weeks. We were told that we should have the information this week for certain, but now the question is to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee.
– The action taken by your party has already cost this country an immense sum of money, owing to a falling off in the consumption of sugar.
– That is absurd. With other honorable members, I enter my protest against the decision of the Government, and I hope honorable members who have been tricked in this way will take some other means to meet the situation.
.- I am surprised at the action of the Government, which, I am sure, is quite contrary to the wishes of many honorable members. When the debate was adjourned this afternoon, it was clearly understood that the matter would be on the business-paper for to-morrow.
– And it will be.
– It was also understood that it would be debated to-morrow, and that honorable members would be able to obtain from the Minister certain information. I intend to do all I can to get the price of sugar reduced.
– The honorable member is out of order.
– I protest at this extraordinary action of the Ministry in trying to shelve this matter, which is of very great importance to the people. If it is to be referred to a Committee, it should be a Select Committee of this House, and that Committee should be furnished with figures which the Minister (Mr. Rodgers) now has in his hands,and which he could have given to the House to-day had he so desired.
– That is not so.
– Well, I have the assurance of some honorable members that it is so.
– There is a deliberate attempt being made to count the Houseout-
– That will not prevent my saying what I want to say on this matter. I am going to do all I can to get cheap sugar for the people of Australia.
Motion (by Mr. Parker Moloney) proposed -
That the question be now put.
Question put, and division called for; but there being no tellers on the side of the “Noes,” Mr. Speaker declared the question to be resolved in the affirmative.
Question- That the House do now adjourn- put. The House divided.
Majority .. 9
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at -10.52 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 9 August 1922, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1922/19220809_reps_8_99/>.