13th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr. Speaker (Hon. G. H. Mackay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. BEASLEY presented a petition from 1,835 residents of Lithgow and district praying that the law relating to invalid and old-age pensionsbe reconsidered with a view to improving the standard of living of pensioners.
Petition received aud read.
– Has the Minister for External Affairs any information as to the dute on which theproposed world conference will be held? Can the right honorable gentleman make available to honorable members a copy of the agenda for the conference?
– The original intention was to hold the conference in June, but the Government was subsequently notified that an earlier date was probable. Although the problems of reparations payments and war debts are foreign to the subjects to be dealt with at the world economic conference, arrangements had been made for a preliminary discussion of those problems in Washington this month, but events in the United States prevented it from taking place, and the Commonwealth Government has not yet been advised of the date upon which the world conference is likely to assemble. No agenda paper has yet been drawn up, but recommendations regarding the subjects that should be dealt with have been made by a preparatory committee. A copy of those recommendations has been placed in the Library for the information of honorable members.
– Can the Minister for External Affairs inform the House whence the authority for the Japanese mandate over certain islands to the north of Australia is derived?
– By articles 118 and 119 of the Treaty of Peace, Germany renounced in favour of the Allied and Associated Powers its title to the countries which are now held under various mandates. That act was regarded as having vested territorial sovereignty over those territories in the Allied and Associated Powers, who determined among themselves the allocation of the mandates. Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations provided that the administration of mandated territories should be under the supervision of the League. The Nauru Island agreement, which was approved by an act of this Parliament in 1919, recites-
Whereas a mandate for the administration of the Island of Nauru has been conferred by the Allied and Associated Powers upon the British Empire. . . .
The view accepted by this Parliament when it passed that act was that the mandate had been conferred by the Allied and Associated Powers. That is repeated in more detail in the recital of the New Guinea Act of 1920-
And whereas, by the Treaty of Peace with Germany signed at Versailles on the twentyeighth day of June, 1919, Germany renounced in favour of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers all her rights and titles over the said territories and islands:
And whereas the said territories and islands are now occupied by the Commonwealth:
And whereas it has been agreed by the representatives of the principal allied and associated powers that a mandate for the government of the said territories and islands should be conferred on the Commonwealth of Australia :
Forfurther information on this subject I refer the honorable member to page 25 of the report of Senator E. D. Millen, the Australian delegate to theFirst Assembly of the League of Nations.
– In view of the enormous expense entailed in appeals to the High Court of Australia, which will be made necessary by the fact that the judge of the Northern Territorywill, in future, adjudicate as magistrate in full and limited jurisdiction, and also as a judge of the Supreme Court, which ordinarily would be the court of appeal from the courts of lower jurisdiction, will the Attorney-General direct that Darwin be a place of sitting of the High Court, when necessary?
– The honorable member’s suggestion will be considered, but having regard to the fact that in order to effect economy the sittings of the High Court during the last two or three years have been confined to Sydney and Melbourne, it is unlikely that a sitting at Darwin will be found practicable.
– On the 15th September last, I moved, in this chamber, that Western Australia should be granted autonomy in relation to the imposition of customs duties. On the adjournment of the debate the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons’) definitely promised that no undue delay would take place in affording the House an opportunity to express its opinion of the proposal. I ask the Acting Leader of the House why that promise is not being honoured?
– The honorable member must be aware that the course of business in this House last year made it impracticable for the Government to afford time for the discussion of the matter to which he refers, and I. am not prepared to renew the undertaking, or to give any assurance as to the discussion of the subject in view of what is now taking place in Western Australia. After the referendum on secession has been held in that State, there will be an opportunity to consider the position generally of Western Australia in relation to the Commonwealth.
Reception of Prime Minister
– Has the attention of the Acting Leader of the House been directed to the hostile reception that has been given to the Prime Minister in Western Australia? As reinforcements are on their way to the western front, will the right honorable gentleman take steps to ensure that the machine guns which were recently used against other unwelcome visitors in that territory, are not employed against visiting antisecessionists ?
Question not answered.
– I ask the Minister for Commerce if it will be necessary for South Australia to hold a referendum on secession in order to obtain justice for its pear and apple growers in the allotting of refrigerated fruit freight space, to enable them to export their products and to defend themselves from the greedy graspers of Victoria?
– The answer to the honorable member’s specific question is an emphatic No. With the assistance of my officers, I am endeavouring to rectify a position which was created by the ineptitude of those representing the industry.
– As the shortage of refrigerated fruit freight space for transport to the United Kingdom and Europe is a serious matter to the pear and apple growers of South Australia, will the Minister explain in what way South Australia has fallen down on its job, as indicated in his reply to the honorable member for Angas?
– It is not the Government or the fruit-growers of South Australia who have fallen down on their jobs, but those who were responsible for arranging for refrigerated space for the export of South Australian pears and apples. Those persons failed to avail themselves of the opportunity offered to them to secure increased space. It may be possible to arrange for a transfer of some of the space allotted to other States in order that undue injury to South Australian growers may be averted.
Minister’s RETURN - Potatoes.
– In view of the solemn silence, and the air of mystery which surrounds the visit of Senator Greene to New Zealand, as the representative of this Government, has the Acting Leader of the House (Mr. Latham) anything to tell honorable members regarding the activities of the Assistant Minister, and the success or otherwise of his mission? Further, when is Senator Greene expected to return to Australia? Again, is it a fact that the Government contemplates lifting the quarantine prohibition or embargo which has been imposed against New Zealand potatoes ?
– No solemn mystery or silence surrounds the visit of Senator Greene to New Zealand. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) must be perfectly well aware that the negotiation of a trade treaty is essentially a matter for private discussion between the representatives of the countries concerned, and that nothing would be more likely to defeat the objective in view than to conduct such negotiations in public or to make public reports thereon at a stage when various proposals from both sides are under consideration. The Government is in receipt of messages from Senator Greene on the subject daily, and even more frequently. The Assistant Minister intends to leave New Zealand for Australia on the 6th April; the honorable member may work out for himself the date of his arrival in Australia.
The quarantine embargo or prohibition on potatoes from New Zealand is engaging the attention of the Government as one element in the negotiations. Requests have been received from various organizations, including the Tasmanian Potato Marketing Board, for the removal of that embargo in the interests of Australian trade with the sister dominion, but no decision has yet been arrived at in the matter.
– Did I correctly understand the right honorable gentleman to say that the Tasmanian Marketing Board has indicated that, in the interests of the Tasmanian potato industry, the embargo against New Zealand potatoes entering Australia should be removed ?
– The communication to which I referred came from a body named the Tasmanian Potato Marketing Board. It was addressed to the Prime Minister, and states that no danger to the Australian potato industry is to be apprehended on account of powdery scab, which is the ground for the imposition of the quarantine embargo, and that Tasmania is losing probably £20,000 worth of trade with New Zealand on account of this embargo. It indicates that the removal of the embargo would be desirable, and urges that the Government should increase the duty from the present rate of, I think, 50s. per cwt. to £3 per cwt.
– As it is estimated that approximately £5,000 will be collected in duty on Fijian bananas, and as the Government proposes to set aside a sum of money to assist the banana-growing industry, will the Minister for Trade and Customs ensure that a portion of chat amount will be set aside to assist the ban ana-growers in the Gascoigne district of Western Australia, who are making great efforts to establish the industry in (hat State?
– The question would have been more correctly addressed to the Treasurer. I am given to understand that the subject of the honorable member’s request has already received attention, and that the result will be satisfactory to him.
Concessions to Charitable Institutions - Country Telephone Subscribers
– Will the PostmasterGeneral state what telephone concessions, if any, have been withdrawn from charitable institutions?
– For some time past it has been the practice of the Postmaster-General’s Department to make concessions to hospitals and to various other benevolent and charitable societies and organizations by charging them only half the cost of the installation of their telephones and half rates for calls. Those concession.?, which are, in effect, a financial contribution by the Federal Government, have cost the Commonwealth considerable sums of money, and, in many cases, have assisted State organizations which otherwise would be wholly maintained by State finances. So far-reaching were they, and so numerous were the applications from bodies desiring to come within the specified category, that it was found necessary to limit the concessions. Now these organizations are assisted by the Postmaster-General’s Department to this extent, that they are charged only half rates for calls incurred in connexion with their benevolent activities.
– Are concessions to charitable institutions now allowed only in respect of calls, and not in respect of the installation of telephones ?
– That is so.
– Will the PostmasterGeneral inform me whether the replies which are being sent out to the letters received by his department recently from various shires and municipal councils asking for the reduction in telephone rentals and charges is the last word on the subject so far as country subscribers are concerned? If so, will the honorable gentleman take into consideration the fact that more generous terms and concessions are allowed to city people than to country people who fall behind in their payments, with the object of persuading them to retain their connexion with the system ? Will the honorable gentleman ascertain whether concessions can be extended to country people suffering hardships similar to those offered to city people?
– The replies being sent, as rapidly as possible, to numerous letters addressed to the department at the instance originally of a municipal council in the Parramatta electorate, give the present mind of the Government on the subject. Naturally, the position is being carefully watched, and will be reviewed at the earliest convenient time, and particularly when the Estimates for the next financial year are being considered by the Government. I assure honorable members, however, that preferential treatment is not being given to city as against country subscribers. The same concessions are offered to all subscribers in the country and in the cities who are backward in their payments. If any preference at all is being shown, it is to the country subscribers in regard to the . rates they are called upon to pay.
– Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, ascertain when the ordinance relating to workmen’s compensation in the Federal Capital Territory will be gazetted?
– I shall do as the honorable member asks, and advise him accordingly.
– While visiting the northern end of my electorate recently, I was informed that certain work being carried out there for the Postmaster-General’s Department from unemployment relief funds, was being given to unemployed persons from Melbourne, to the detriment of the local unemployed. I ask the PostmasterGeneral to direct that the local unemployed shall be engaged in such work if suitable men are available.
– Without question, the correct policy is to give the employment to the local unemployed. It is news to me that that policy is not being pursued. There would be substantial grounds for any departure from it.
– There may not be skilled men on the spot.
– If the honorable member for Indi (Mr. Hutchinson) will submit specific cases to me, I shall have them investigated.
– In view of the possibility of delay and cost to the Commonwealth if the constitutional power of the Commonwealth to inquire into the petrol industry is challenged, will the AttorneyGeneral, at the outset, seek the cooperation of one or more of the States to ensure that the royal commission appointed to inquire into the operations of the oil companies shall have adequate power to make its investigations?
– Considerationhas already been given to that aspect of the subject. It was thought that time would probably be saved if action were taken, in the first instance, under our federal powers. If one or more of the State governments were consulted, considerable delay would be inevitable in determining the personnel and precise terms of reference to the royal commission, more particularly in view of the fact that, while the Commonwealth Parliament is sitting, Ministers have only a few hours available at a time to devote to business in other cities of the Commonwealth. The Government will, however, give consideration to the suggestion of the right honorable member.
Influence of Ottawa Agreement
– Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inquire whether there is any foundation whatsoever for the statements which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) is alleged to have made with regard to the effects on the woollen and textile industry of Australia in consequence of the implementing of the Ottawa agreement?
– I have read statements attributed to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and also press statements in which it has been alleged that dismissals have been made from various mills in consequence of the ratification of the Ottawa agreement. As it seems to me that some of the statements are gross exaggerations, I shall have investigations made into such of them as are brought under my notice. Any dismissals that have occurred may have been due to other factors than the Ottawa agreement.
Relay Station for Bendigo and Castlemaine
– Will the Postmaster-General consider whether a relay station can be established in order that the wireless listeners in the Bendigo and Castlemaine districts may have the advantage of hearing A-class stations?
– The provision of relay stations in various parts of the Commonwealth is governed by the funds available. Such stations are being established as rapidly as funds will permit. I realize the importance of the district which the honorable member represents, and I shall give consideration to the request that he has made.
– I direct the attention of the Attorney-General to the fact that on the 24th instant a notice was sent to one of my constituents residing atWeston informing him that £44 17s. 6d. wasthe highest pension that he was legally entitled to receive in view of the fact that he was receiving interest on a banking account. As that banking account consists of money which the pensioner has set aside for his burial and the amount of interest received on it is only 12s. 6d. a year, or 2¾d. a week, does the AttorneyGeneral think that the Administration is being sympathetic with this pensioner when it is deducting 2¾d. a week from his pension?
– The question relates not to sympathy, but to the application of the law as it has always stood in relation to pensioners who receive interest from banking deposits. Sometimes the amount deducted by the department is 3d. a week, and sometimes it is much move than that. I am unaware that it has ever been proposed that the income provisions of the act should be ignored. If I have misunderstood the honorable member’s question I shall be glad to have the case inquired into, if he will submit it to me.
– In view of the opportunities offered to Australian fruit producers by the Ottawa agreement, can the Minister for Commerce say whether arrangements have been made to extend the season for the shipment of fruit from Australian ports, with the object of relieving the local market and of lengthening the season for marketing in Europe?
– Undoubtedly, one of the potential benefits under the Ottawa agreement is that indicated by the honorable member; but I am unable to say to what extent it can be realized. However, I shall have inquiries made, and shall inform the honorable member of the result.
– Unless honorable members desire to ask questions of a really urgent nature, I ask them to postpone further questions until to-morrow, or to place them on the notice-paper. Half an hour has elapsed since we assembled to-day, and there is much important business awaiting consideration.
– In view of the sentence of fourteen days air and water inflicted by the State authorities on unemployed citizens of Kurri Kurri, and in view of the fact that a considerable amount of sickness prevails in that locality, and that the State Government-
– The honorable member must not continue to give information. The object of a question is to elicit information.
– As the State Government claims that it has sufficient to do to feed its people, will the Minister for Health make a sum of money available to the local doctors, many of whom have “ gone broke “ in trying to cater for the wants of those who are sick because of unemployment and malnutrition ?
– This matter comes wholly under the control of the State authorities. The Commonwealth Health Department cannot take the action suggested, in the district to which the honorable member has referred.
Mr. WHITE laid on the table reports and recommendations of the Tariff Board on the following subjects: -
Mortice locks; mortice lock sets; rim locks.
Matches and vestas of all kinds.
Ordered to be printed.
The following papers were presented : -
Arbitration (Public Service) Act - Determination by the Arbitrator, &c. - No. 1 of 1933 - Commonwealth Public Service Clerical Association.
Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 41.
Postmaster-General’s Department - Twentysecond Annual Report, 1931-32.
Customs Tariff (1932) : Special Duties (No. 4) : PRIMAGE Duties (No. 2) : Customs Duties (Canadian Preference, No. 2) : Customs Tariff Amendment (No. 1) : Special Customs Duty (No. 5) : Excise Tariff Amendment (No. 3).
In Committee of Ways and Means: Consideration, resumed from the 28th March (vide page 629), on motion by Sir Henry Gullett (vide page 1167) (Volume 135)-
That on and after the fourteenth day of October, One thousand nine hundred and thirty-two, at nine o’clock in the forenoon, reckoned according to standard time in the Territory for the Seat of Government, Duties of Customs at the rates respectively specified in the column of the schedule hereto headed “British Preferential Tariff “ he imposed on goods the produce or manufacture of the United Kingdom. . . .
And on motion by Mr. White (vide page 29)-
That the Schedule to the Customs Tariff Proposals introduced into the House of Representatives on the thirteenth day of October, One thousand nine hundred and thirty-two, be amended as hereunder set out.
Group 3. - Items which were passed by the House of Representatives during 1932.
Item 179, sub-item (a) (Electrical machines and appliances).
.- This item covers such goods as electric heating and cooking appliances, including stoves, radiators, toasters, and kettles, and elements for radiators, toasters and kettles. These articles are manufactured by an industry that was enabled to capture the Australian market under the prohibition against imports which was applied by me as Minister for Trade and Customs on the 4th April, 1930. The prohibition against imports under this heading lasted until the 24th February, 1932, when my successor in office, the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry. Gullett) brought down a tariff schedule which made certain increases in the duties in accordance with the Tariff Board’s recommendations. As the prohibition against imports of these goods was strongly criticized at the time when it was imposed, I wish to deal briefly with the progress that took place in the local industry under that prohibition. I em phasize the fact that if adequate protection to this industry is maintained, about 225 persons will continue to receive employment in it; but any one who wishes to see that policy maintained cannot fail to entertain fear as to what the Government may do in the future. The last investigation by the Tariff Board of the conditions in this industry occurred, on the 22nd April, 1931. A communication has been sent to the board since then, bringing under its notice the provisions of articles 9 to 14 of the Ottawa agreement, and asking it to bear in mind that reasonable opportunities must be afforded to British manufacturers to compete in the Australian market with local manufacturers. Is this item to be referred back to the Tariff Board, and is the whole subject of protection to be considered in the light of articles 9 to 14? If so, what effect will that have on this great labouremploying industry in Australia, which has, beyond doubt, proved its efficiency?
– How many men are employed in it?
– I cannot state the exact number offhand, but there are seven manufacturers of these electrical appliances in this country, and they are meeting practically the whole of our requirements, which are estimated to be worth between £250,000 and £300,000 per annum. In 192S-29, the imports amounted in value to £100,000. Of the raw materials used in the industry, 95 per cent, are of Australian origin, being principally cast iron, brass, copper, mica, wood, bakelite, and porcelain. Following on the prohibition imposed by the Scullin Government, there was a marked tendency for the prices of these appliances to fall, despite the contention of freetraders that when a prohibition is imposed, or when adequate protection is given to an Australian industry, an increase of the prices of the locally-made article invariably ‘ results. Specific examples, which serve to disprove that contention, are afforded by the following figures: -
Manufacturers of the lines covered by this item gave a definite assurance to the previous Government, and to the Tariff Board, that they would not take advantage of the prohibition or of the increased duties, and also undertook to reduce their prices if the volume of trade increased. As Minister for Trade and Customs, it gave me pleasure to find that these manufacturers carried out their undertaking; they produced an efficient article, reduced their prices to the Australian public, and gave employment to Australian workmen, with the result that we had not to continue to import these goods from the United States of America, Great Britain, Europe, Japan, and other countries.
– -Is this industry being interfered with by these proposals?
– I have already pointed out that I have grave fears of this being one of the items that the Minister will slash as soon as the Tariff Board has had another opportunity of considering the matter; because the outlook of the board has evidently been altered by the definite instructions given to it as the result of the passing of the Ottawa agreement. Prior to the prohibition being imposed, up to 85 per cent, of our electric stove requirements were imported, mainly from Canada and the United States of America. The embargo resulted in the manufacture in Australia of popular American and Canadian models, and it is desirable that their manufacture here should be continued, .because they have given every satisfaction. The Sunshine Porcelain Potteries, of Victoria, are supplying the porcelain parts that are needed in the manufacture of these stoves. The industry is also a considerable user of Australian iron and steel, and is steadily building up a demand for the products of the Newcastle Iron and Steel Works, thus helping to reduce the prices charged for steel bars for galvanized iron, steel rods for wire, and the raw material for numerous other Australian industries. The manufacture is not confined to the ordinary types of electric stoves, but embraces also the larger ranges, such as are used in hotels and restaurants, and the heavy duty bake ovens. Before the embargo was imposed, the State Electricity Commission of Victoria imported from Canada “Moffat” electric stoves for dis tribution in Victoria and Tasmania, and in towns on the border of New South Wales .and Victoria. There was an outcry against the embargo, the contention being that it was absolutely necessary to import these stoves. The State ‘ Electricity Commission of Victoria, however, arranged with the overseas suppliers of “ Moffat “ stoves to have them manufactured in Australia, and Metters K.F.B. Proprietary Limited secured the contract for their manufacture. Under this contract, about 2,000 stoves were made, of a total value of £30,000. Similarly, arrangements were made to supply “Moffat” stoves to Tylers, Australia. Limited, who had the sole selling rights of the Canadian product in New South Wales and Queensland. Metters K.F.B. Proprietary Limited secured the sole selling rights for Western Australia and South Australia. The company spent a considerable sum in installing die? and jigs for the manufacture of this new product, and the public have been able to procure it at a lower price. Australian workmen have been employed in its manufacture, money that otherwise would have gone out of Australia has remained here, and assistance has been rendered to the Commonwealth in its endeavours to rectify its adverse trade balance. As a result of the additional work provided at. the company’s factory, 90 hands who had previously been working half time obtained full-time employment, and an additional twenty men were engaged. When the prohibition was imposed, the outcry against it was similar to that which is always heard when importers find that the lines in which they trade are kept out of Australia. Mr. L. T. Courtenay, managing director of Tylers Australia Limited, Sydney, expressed the following opinion : -
Local manufacturers have not given sufficient study to electrical cooking appliances, and have been unable to produce a satisfactory article.
The same story was told when steam engines, batteries, farming implements, worsteds, woollens, felt hats, hosiery, and other lines were first manufactured in Australia. These manufacturers have proved that the article which they produce is superior to that which previously was imported.
– Mr. Courtenay is of the same opinion to-day as he was when he made the statement quoted by the honorable member.
– Perhaps he is; but he is an interested party, because his is an importing company. Although he realizes that he must abide by the protectionist policy of Australia, he hopes to have that policy weakened now that the party to which he owes allegiance is in power in the Commonwealth. He stood as a candidate for this Parliament in the interests of that party. Commenting on the embargo, the Tariff Board said -
Although the embargo is only a temporary measure, it has brought about a marked development in the Australian industry, lt is obvious that the amount of Australian labour included in the Australian-made materials is considerable.
I wish to emphasize the importance of this industry. I hope that the Minister will not hastily send this item back to the Tariff Board for further investigation and report in compliance with the instructions given to the board since the passing of the Ottawa agreement.
Take the case of electric radiators. Extensive manufacture is carried on in Victoria and New South Wales, and practically the whole of the market is now in the hands of the Australian manufacturers. In New South Wales, the Electrical Apparatus Safety Board keeps a vigilant watch on the local product to ensure the safety of the public, and the retailers are co-operating in this important matter. The Tariff Board expressed the opinion that additional protection to this section of the industry was desirable against low-priced articles, particularly of Continental origin, that were previously prominent on the Australian market.
In connexion with electric toasters, the capacity of the Australian works to supply the entire requirements of the Commonwealth is undoubted. There are three efficiently equipped factories in New South Wales and Victoria, and the increased protection, aided by the embargo, definitely enabled the manufacturers to place on the local market a first-class and reasonably-priced article, the cost being lower than it was when, importing agents, who employed only a clerk and typists, set out to obtain phenomenal profits for themselves.
The ad valorem rates in connexion with electric kettles under the 1921-30 .tarin” proved ineffective against the relatively low f.o.b. prices quoted by overseas competitors. I arn glad that this item was considered by the Tariff Board while the Scullin Government was in office, and that it recommended an increased duty. I trust that no pressure will be brought to bear on the board to induce it to vary its decision, because the industry is quite capable of supplying the whole of the Australian requirements in all grades.
I come now to elements for electric radiators, toasters, and kettles. The 1921-28 ad valorem duties did not afford effective protection against elements imported at the unduly low prices ruling at the time. German elements, prior to the introduction of the present duties, were landed in Australia at a price which did not represent the material and labour costs of tile Australian manufacturer. To-day the Australian manufacturer can supply all the heating elements required locally. There are two factories in Victoria. In addition, the Sunshine Porcelain Potteries Proprietary Limited of Victoria supplies some of the articles that are used by the manufacturers. The Tariff Board, commenting on these articles, said that they were quite satisfactory from the stand-point of quality and efficiency. In one of the large works in New South Wales, the elements used in their extensive range of electric heating and cooking appliances are of their own manufacture. This is one of the electrical industries that should be developed in Australia, because electricity will play an increasing part in the future development of this country. We have the Yallourn electricity scheme in Victoria and the Burrinjuck scheme in New South Wales. There are hydro-electric schemes in Tasmania and Queensland. Electricity is being brought within the reach of all sections of the community, and electric appliances are being installed in homes to-day that could not have afforded them .five or six years ago. The lower the cost of electricity becomes the more extensive will be the use of these appliances. The local manufacturers are putting on the Australian market, at a reasonable price, an article superior in quality to the foreign article that previously was imported here. The electrical trade offers to our growing boys good opportunities for employment in an interesting occupation. Every year many bachelors of engineering graduate from our universities, and what are we to do with them ? They will not obtain employment if our great engineering works are hindered in any “way by the removal of the effective protection given to them by the Scullin Government under the total prohibition against importations of electrical goods. With the position as it is to-day, the local manufacturers will probably be able to carry on for the time being, but the grave danger is that, in view of the altered outlook of the Tariff Board since the ratification of the Ottawa agreement, and the instruction that it has received from this Government to take into consideration, in its recommendations, articles 9 to 14 of that agreement, so as to give equal opportunity to overseas and local manufacturers to exploit the small Australian market, the board may review this “item so drastically as to throw out of employment hundreds of people who are now engaged in the industry. I urge the Minister not to refer this item back to the Tariff Board with the instruction to take cognizance of articles 9 to 14 of the Ottawa agreement. We were told by the previous Minister (Sir Henry Gullett) that on one occasion he issued instructions to the Tariff Board to take certain things into consideration, and afterwards wrote informing it to keep in mind articles 9 to 14 of the Ottawa agreement when reviewing the protection given to any particular industry. If the Tariff Board follows those instructions in regard to this item, we shall probably find that overnight this Government has dealt a deadly blow at the industry.
.- The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) has spoken like a bagman in the street trying to sell electrical appliances. He has mentioned the names of certain manufacturers, and if his speech were published, it would give them the best advertisement obtainable. I do not know what is his complaint regarding this item. Under the tariff of the Scullin Government, the British rate was 27 £ per cent, and the general rate 40 per cent. . Under this item, the British rate has been increased to 32-J per cent, and the general rate to 52£ per cent. Those are substantial increases, and the importance of the increase of the general rate lies in the fact that previously the greater quantity of these goods came, not from Great Britain, but from foreign countries, so that we are now giving to the local industry a real and effective increase of protection. The only complaint that can really be made in respect of these duties, is that they are unnecessarily high. The British rate is 32^ per cent., and that in conjunction with other charges represents more than 80 per cent, of actual protection. The general rate of 52^ per cent, on foreign goods represents an actual -protection of about 100 per cent. That is unnecessary protection, and especially so in view of the reduction that has taken place in wages throughout this country. Those high percentages of protection should not be necessary since the industry, in consequence of the embargo, has enjoyed, for some considerable period, the sole right to exploit the Australian market. Are our industries never to grow up ? Surely when an industry has the sole entry to a market it should soon be able to get into full working stride, and -to carry on with a comparatively small measure of protection. The only fear’ expressed by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) is that, because of the removal of the prohibition, the local industry may not be able to withstand foreign competition. There is plenty of scope in Australia for a reduction of the price of these articles. Let me quote to honorable members some of the evidence placed before the Tariff Board by the applicants for increases of duty. The Sunshine Porcelain Potteries Proprietary Limited, giving evidence regarding radiators, said -
German radiator cones wired ready for use are landed in Melbourne at ls. 3d. each. The Australian manufacturers’ cost of the completed cone is 2s. 10½d
The people who use these articles are paying for ‘ the exorbitant local cost. What is the value of the industry, when, after we have given it the sole control of the Australian market, it employs only 250 workmen? We hear about the persons employed in these industries, but the actual number in this instance is 250. The business it not worth what it costs. Here is what one of the applicants for increased duty, a member of the firm of Jinks and Morgan Proprietary Limited, stated in evidence before the Tariff Board -
The retail price of the company’s toaster is 30s., as against 17s. 6d. for the American article.
– When was that report issued ?
– In April, 1931. The witness was Mr. W. A. Jinks, managing director of the concern. This shows that the public is paying through the nose for electrical appliances. It is the same old story all through the tariff schedule. It is easy to make great progress in the development of local industry when all outside competition, is excluded. When an embargo is Placed on the importation of an article, if that article is to be procured at all, it must be made locally, and the local industry must develop. But what about the cost? We have to ask ourselves whether the industry is worth it. This is one of those small industries, regarding which it is doubtful whether the cost is worth while. If I thought that there was any prospect of success, I should move for a reduction of the duty, but as that is not probable, I can only hope that the matter will be referred back to the Tariff Board, which should require the industry to carry on with something less than 75 per cent, protection.
– From my personal knowledge I can state definitely that the reduction of the price of imported electrical equipment has been due to the development of the local industry in Australia. About six years ago the authorities concerned with the supply and distribution of electric current began to consider means for extending the use of electricity. The Sydney Municipal Council had spent a large sum of money in the erection of power houses and reticulation services. They found, however, that the consumption of electricity was not increasing as it should, and, upon investigation, it was learned that the high cost of electrical appliances was militating against its more general use, particularly among the workers. It was also found that the imported appliances were being distributed in Australia by what are known as “ tied houses “. These places enjoyed a monopoly of the trade, and prices were fixed in consultation with one another. As things stood it was humanly impossible to get beyond them. Even if a local manufacturer were able to produce a satisfactory article, he could not get any one to distribute it. If he were able to induce a retail store to exhibit his commodity for sale, the retailer would not be supplied with the imported equipment handled by the tied houses. At this time many local manufacturers who could have made quite satisfactory electric kettles, toasters and irons, &c, were debarred from doing so because they were not able to get them on the market. The municipal councils in Sydney broke through this distributing ring by setting up a sales organization of their own. All equipment had to pass a rigorous test for efficiency and safety, an important matter when appliances are to be used by housewives inexperienced in the use of electrical goods. In this way, a good deal of the prejudice which had formerly existed against electricity was overcome. In Victoria, similar work was done by the Electricity Commission, though I understand that only this month the present Victorian Government has decided to restrict the commission’s activities in this respect. The setting up of these sales organizations provided a market for the Australian product, which otherwise would never have had a chance.
Honora’ble members have compared the prices of imported articles with those of the locally manufactured ones, but in order to make a fair comparison we must take quality into consideration also. I have seen toasters, irons, and radiators of foreign make offered for sale in Sydney that were a positive menace to the community. Owing to defective construction and wiring, they are liable “ to go to frame,” as it is called, after a short period of use, and if the person handling them happens to be standing on a concrete floor, or to be touching a water tap, there is grave danger of his being electrocuted. Now, when much of our electrical equipment is manufactured in Australia, it is possible to supervise its construction in a way that would be impossible in the case of imported goods.
Australian manufacturers of electrical appliances must be given credit for some important inventions, including the immersion system for heating water for electric jugs, bath heaters, &c. This development has been made possible because of the encouragement given to the local manufacturers. I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) when he says that it is necessary, by the establishment of industries such as this, to furnish suitable employment for the thousands of young men leaving our schools and universities. Honorable members opposite accuse the Deputy Leader of the Opposition of having a single-track mind, of always making the same sort of speeches, but they have been guilty of the very same fault themselves. They seem always ready to cast ridicule upon every small Australian industry, holding the view, doubtless, that it is not worth while. This argument could be applied ‘to almost every industry dealt with under the various tariff items, with the result that, in the opinion of the ardent freetraders, no industry in Australia would be worth while. This industry is providing safe electrical appliances which thousands of householders are using in everyday life. Electric kettles and irons are now being manufactured at Newcastle, and the domestic market has widened to such an extent that the manufacturers have been able to reduce their prices. Australian electric heating and cooking appliances are equal to, if not better than, the imported articles. If this industry had not risen to the occasion, we should, perhaps, have been justified in holding that it was not deserving of protection; but it is progressive and highly efficient, and is producing appliances of a modern type that are absolutely safe for users. This, too, in spite of the fact that overseas manufacturers have a much wider field for research work in this regard. Although, under this item, it is not permissible to discuss the electrical industry in all its phases, the short debate that has taken place has directed attention to certain factors relating to the development of the industry in Australia. Possibly, the Minister is in agreement with all that has been said. Nevertheless, I offer these few comments arising out of my personal knowledge of the industry. It is providing an avenue for the employment of a considerable number of young men, and I believe it is deserving of all the help which this Parliament can give to it.
.- For the first time within my recollection, I find myself in agreement with the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley), or, at all events, with his opening remarks dealing with the evils of monopolies. The honorable member pointed out that certain importing interests handling electrical appliances, having the market to themselves, charged what prices they liked for the articles in question until the Sydney City Council, by the adoption of a sales organization of its own, destroyed the monopoly. That is what a few of us in this Parliament are trying to do in this tariff debate. We are endeavouring to break down the monopolies that have been created owing to excessively high tariffs and embargoes imposed by past governments. Therefore it is refreshing to hear the honorable member for West Sydney express his abhorrence of anything in the nature of a monopoly.
The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) has shown that the duties on electrical heating and cooking appliances represent about 100 per cent. But the honorable member dealt only with the ad valorem duties; he offered no comment upon the fixed duties, and as the department imposes whichever rate returns the higher revenue, it would not be wide of the truth to say that, in some instances, the duties on these electrical appliances will amount to over 300 per cent. Certainly they will be very much above the 100 per cent, mentioned by the honorable member for Perth. I have repeatedly stated my objection to these alternative rates of duty. Surely it should be sufficient to impose an ad valorem rate. If this were done, honorable members would know exactly where they stand. It is possible that some of the articles imported under this item will pay a duty of 9s. each, whereas the factory costs may not be more than ls. 6d. or 2s. each. We should do our utmost to facilitate the use of electric appliances in all households. In Victoria the Electricity Commission is supplying power to practically every part of that State. If by the imposition of high duties, the cost of electrical cooking utensils becomes too high for the average householder, the objective of the commission, namely, making current available to people in widely scattered areas, will not have been achieved. However, I suppose the Minister has made up his mind, so no good purpose will be served by submitting an amendment.
Sub-item agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. White) agreed to -
That the consideration of the remaining items other than those specified in group 4 in the Customs Tariff memorandum (showing the rates of duty under the tariff proposals ) circulated by the Minister for Trade and Customs, be postponed until after the consideration of the items specified in group 4.
Group 4. - Revenue items not included under any other heading.
– The number of sets of duties covered by this group is 93. It includes only those items under which increased duties have been imposed for revenue purposes, but does not include revenue items which it has been deemed necessary to include in other groups. Revenue items included in other groups are principally included in groups 1 and 2 for the reason that the rates under the 1921-30 tariff have either not been altered by the present Government or the previous Government, or have been altered by the present Government for the purpose of giving effect to the Ottawa agreement. Should any honorable members require specific information on any of these items, I shall be pleased to furnish it to him, but as the duties operating under these items are essential to the maintenance of budget equilibrium, the committee may possibly be disposed to pass the group as a whole.
Division 1. - Ale, Spirits and Beverages.
Item 1, sub-items (a) (b) agreed to.
Item3, sub-items (a) to (e) (g) (h) (i) (Spirits and spirituous liquors, n.e.i.) -
Rum, pure, distilled wholly from sugar, sugar syrup, molasses, or the refuse of sugar cane, by a potstill or similar process at a strength not exceeding 45 per cent. over proof and certified in the prescribed form by the competent Government official in the country of production to be pure Rum distilled wholly from sugar, sugar syrup, molasses, or the refuse of sugar cane, under the conditions specified -
.- I should like to know from the Minister if the additional charge of 5s. per proof gallon imposed on whisky bottled out of bond has been remitted, or whether the additional impost is included in these duties ?
– It is not included in this schedule.
.- Some time ago, when a discussion took place in this chamber in relation to whisky, which is dealt with in sub-item b, an undertaking was given that the matter would be referred to the Tariff Board. I am concerned with this sub-item, only because I understand that the consumers of whisky are contributing more to the Commonwealth revenue than can fairly be demanded of them. Since 1902 the duties on this commodity have continued to rise. I have no desire to injure any Australian industry, but as there is labour involved in the distillation of whisky, whether it be carried out in Scotland or in Australia, I feel that consideration should be given to the Scottish product, as most of it comes here in bulk, and provides the same amount of labour in the manufacture of bottles and straw envelopes. Australian drinkers of whisky have a liking for whisky distilled in Scotland. Their tastes should be considered. According to figures which have been supplied to me, the consumption of spirits last year was . 18 gallons per head of the population, compared with 85 gallons in 1913. The falling off in the consumption of spirits has meant a corresponding drop in the revenue from customs duty. If this matter has not already been referred to the Tariff Board, I suggest that it be referred, with a view to ascertaining how the revenue would be affected by the reduction of the import duty on whisky.
– Items on which revenue duties have been imposed are not generally referred to the Tariff Board. A duty on whisky was imposed originally for revenue purposes, and from time to time successive governments have varied the rate of duty. The Government has under consideration a proposal whereby Australian and Scotch whisky may be blended in Australia without loss of revenue.
– Throughout Queensland there is a feeling that, inthe fixing of duties of excise, the Queensland rum industry has been unfairly treated, the excise on this spirit being 2s. a gallon higher than on any other spirit manufactured in this country. As a result of the depression, the Normanby distillery alone has in store 360,000 liquid gallons of rum - approximately 500,000 proof gallons - varying in age from one and a half to five years. Two of the three distilleries in Queensland have ceased the manufacture of rum, owing, first, to the lessened demand due to the depression, and, secondly, to the high cost of rum due to the heavy excise duty. The third distillery is manufacturing rum only because it has to use its molasses. It is difficult to understand why rum is treated differently from other spirits. Australian brandy enjoys a marginal difference of 18s. a gallon over imported brandy, and gin and whisky a difference of 17s. a gallon. Rum, however, has a marginal difference of only 6s. a gallon. That small margin places this commodity at a disadvantage. In 1906 a royal commission which inquired into customs and excise duties furnished a report in which it stated that the consumption of cheapand inferior spirit - meaning rum - should not be encouraged at the expense and sacrifice of spirits of higher grade and price, such as whisky. Since that time the quality of the rum produced in Australia has improved, until to-day it is equal , to the best rum that the world can produce. Queensland is the only country in the world which manufactures rum solely by white labour. The rum distilled in New South Wales is made from molasses imported free of duty from Fiji. Against that product of black labour the Queensland rum industry hasto compete. The excise duty on rum is exorbitant. I move -
That the sub-items be postponed.
This will enable the Minister to consider these duties in conjunction with the excise duties. The two are so related that they should be dealt with together. The amendment is reasonable in view of the facts that rum is the poor man’s spirit, and that the distilleries are idle, and have large quantities of rum in store. I know that representations have been made to the Minister by the Queensland distillers, who have been penalized by the Ottawa agreement, which narrowed the difference between the duties charged on rum produced in blacklabour countries and those on the Australian spirit. The lowering of the excise duty on local rum would permit a reduction of the selling price, and by enabling people to buy a pure spirit produced in their own country, would stimulate the distilling industry.
.- The amendment is reasonable, and should be sympathetically considered by the Minister. Rum is produced from molasses, a by-product of the sugar industry, and its distillation has assumed large dimensions in Queensland. There is no need to import rum from black-labour countries. I endorse the statements of the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) regarding the injustices which the distillers have suffered, not only through the recent decisions at the Ottawa Conference, but ever since 1906. Prior to the Ottawa Conference, Australian rum enjoyed a protective margin of11s. a proof gallon over foreign rum; that is to say,whilst the excise duty on Australian rum was 30s., the import duty on foreign rum was 41s. The recent decision at Ottawa, however, was to reduce the import duty on foreign rum, embracing West Indian rum, to 36s., and in the short time that has elapsed since the decision became effective, there is distinct evidence of an increase in the quantity of imported spirit. All this foreign rum is the produce of molasses produced entirely by black labour. Whilst we are sympathetic with the people of British colonies, we have a first obligation to our own citizens. There may be honorable members who are opposed to the drinking of alcohol in any form, but the fact remains that rum is consumed in large quantities, and while the demand for it exists, the Australian producer should be adequately protected in the home market.
– The imports are diminishing.
– Steps should be taken to decrease them further. As the Ottawa decision seems to be irrevocable, the only other method by which the distillers may obtain some relief is by a reduction of the excise duty of 30s. a proof gallon on Australian rum. This spirit is produced in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, but at least 75 per cent, of it is the product of the three Queensland distilleries. That at Bundaberg, in my own electorate, is one of the largest in Australia. The excise duty on Australian whisky i3 28s. a proof gallon as against 30s. on Australian rum. What is the reason for this differentiation ? In 1906 a royal commission on the customs and excise tariff recommended -
The consumption of cheap and inferior spirit, e.g., rum, should not be encouraged at the expense and sacrifice of spirits of higher grade, quality, and price, such as whisky.
In the light of present day knowledge, that conclusion is entirely erroneous. Bum is now universally acknowledged to be as least as pure and wholesome a drink as whisky. This report is apparently the only reason why a margin of 2s. a gallon was imposed in favour of Australian whisky. Australian gin is dutiable at 30s. a gallon, the same rate as applies to rum, yet the latter must be matured in wood for two years before it can go into consumption, while gin is sold freshly distilled, and need not be matured at all. Storage during maturation is costly, for interest has to be paid on the capital involved. In order to stimulate sales of Australian rum, the excise duty should be reduced ‘below the present figure of 30s.; at the least, it should be reduced to the same rate as applies to Australian whisky, namely, 28s. No valid reason can be advanced for the difference of 2s. in favour of whisky. If this reduction were made, it would offset, to some extent, the concession which the Australian delegates at Ottawa saw fit to .grant to a product of black labour. As the committee has already been told, the distillery at
Bundaberg has stored in bond at the present time, 360,000 liquid gallons of rum, which is equivalent to nearly 500,000 proof gallons, varying in age from li years to 5 years. Partly on account of the high excise duty, and partly because of the depressing economic conditions, this accumulated stock is ‘being disposed of at a very slow rate. In fact, notwithstanding the enormous storage capacity of that distillery, it has not distilled any rum for over twelve months. The discontinuance of. distilling operations throws many people out of employment. The following table will help the committee better to understand the incidence of the various duties: -
These figures show the following margins for Australian as against imported spirits - brandy, 18s.; gin, 17s. ; whisky, 17s.; rum, 6s. only. There are ‘two anomalies in these figures which react to the detriment of the rum distiller : First, gin enjoys a protective margin of 17s., and has not to be matured in wood for two years as has rum; and secondly, whisky has a protective margin of 17s., against imported spirit, and a further advantage of 2s. over Australian rum. The distillation of rum is one of the Queensland industries which has been injured by the Ottawa agreement, which, we were told by its champions, would bring prosperity to the primary industries without doing any detriment to the secondary industries. It is evident that this prediction is not being fulfilled; one by one, the Australian secondary industries are being hit, and no . advantage is being given to the primary producers, the representatives of whom, admit that the agreement has been a failure. I ask the Minister to remove the unfair handicap placed upon the rum industry, which, even before the Ottawa agreement, was already suffering severely as a result of the economic depression.
– There is no need for this amendment. There are sound reasons for not delaying the passage of the item, and I assure the honorable member forWide Bay (Mr. Corser) that the duties on rum have been very carefully considered by the Government, which had before it the views of the distillers in Queensland. If they desire an inquiry into the duty on Fijian molasses, which they allege to be competitive, the matter can be referred to the Tariff Board. If the excise duty is in dispute, we can deal with that when the excise portion of the schedule is reached. The honorable member for Wide Bay has stated that rum is the poor man’s spirit, and I suggest that the decrease in consumption is due not to competition from overseas, but to the general economic depression.
– I said that the decrease in consumption was due to the increased cost of rum.
– Under the 1921-28 tariff, pure rum was subject to customs duties of 30s. and 31s., and blended rum to duties of 31s. and 32s. On the 22nd November, 1929, the duties were increased by 10s. a gallon. At the Ottawa Conference, the Commonwealth agreed to grant the United Kingdom and British non-self-governing colonies and protectorates a preference of 5s. a gallon on rum. The amendment now before the committee gives effect tothe terms of the agreement by reducing the rate of duty under the British preferential tariff by 5s.a gallon. At the same time as the customs duties were increased, the excise duties on the Australian spirit were advanced from 28s. to 30s. in respect of pure rum, and from 29s. to 31s. in respect of blended rum. Before the Ottawa agreement was entered into, rum from the British colonies was not admissible under the British preferential tariff. Australian producers, therefore, enjoyed a tariff protection of 3s. a gallon until November, 1929, when the margin was widened to11s. a gallon. That margin is still maintained in the case of foreign rum, but has been reduced to 6s. in respect of imported rum from British colonies subscribing to the Ottawa agreement, such as British Guiana and the West Indies. Under the 3s. margin Australian producers supply the local market with almost 90 per cent. of its requirements, and it is only reasonable to expect that it will continue to supply an even greater proportion under a protective margin of 6s. a gallon, to which must be added the protection afforded by a primage duty of 10 per cent., which is payable on imports of rum.
A comparison between the quantities of imported and Australian rum withdrawn from bond shows that, while there has been a marked decline in the withdrawals of local rum, the proportionate decline in the withdrawals of the imported article has been very much greater. The actual figures are as follow : -
– That was prior to the Ottawa agreement.
– The table shows that there has been a steady diminution in withdrawals from bond, and it may be safely concluded that that has continued since those figures were compiled. Complaints have been received regarding the depressed condition of the industry, but an examination reveals that the decline in the consumption of rum is no greater proportionately than the decline in the consumption of other spirituous liquors. Taking the 1928-29 figures as a basis, the consumption of rum in 1931-32, based on exports and import clearances, showed a decline of 48.3 per cent. For the same period the decline in whisky was 57.2, brandy 49.6, and gin 48.1 per cent. A comparison between the clearances of Australian rum and imported rum for the three months, December, 1932, to February, 1933, shows that the clearances of Australian rum amounted to 44,000 gallons, as against only 1,376 gallons of imported rum. For the same period last year the clearances were 46,000 gallons and 723 gallons respectively. Despite the fact that the Australian rum-producing industry is protected to the extent of 3s. a gallon more than it was under the 1921-30 tariff, complaints are still made that the present arrangement of duties is harmful to the industry, and that it will not be able to survive the competition of the West Indies, in this regard I have informed representatives of the industry that if they can establish a prima facie case showing that existing rates are not sufficiently protective, the whole matter will be referred to the Tariff Board for report. Up to the present no case has been presented by any representative of the industry. The following letter was written to a Queensland distillery on the subject : -
I refer to your letter of 1st March with reference to the excise duty on rum. I have further examined the position, but am unable to agree that the amendments recently made in the Customs Tariff to give effect to the terms of the Ottawa agreement have resulted in injury to the rum distilling industry in Australia.
Prior to August, 1929, the rates of duty were as follows: -
Excise duty on Australian rum - 28s.
Customs duty on imported rum - 30s. (British preferential tariff).
Customs duty on imported rum - 31s. (general tariff).
Under this narrow margin of 2s. and. 3s. respectively the Australian industry enjoyed practically the whole of the trade in rum, as the following figures will show . . .
And then follow the figures I have already quoted. The letter continues -
Since 1929 the tariff margin has been substantially widened, and now stands at 6s. in the case of rum admissible under the British preferential tariff, and11s. in the case of rum admissible under the general tariff. The actual margin is even wider, for since July, 1930, rum from overseas has been subject to an additional impost in the form of a primage duty, which at the present time amounts to 10 per cent. ad valorem.
I have already informed various Australian distillers that I would favorably consider referring an application for increased protection to the Tariff Board if local producers establish a prima facie case indicating that the present duties were insufficient to protect them from unreasonable overseas competition. This offer still holds, although up to the present Australian producers have furnished no information which would indicate that imported rum is displacing Australian rum. In fact, it has been ascertained from the Collectors of Customs in the various States that the total clearances of imported rum for the three months ended 28th February, 1933, amounted to only 1,370 gallons, while the clearances of Australianrum for the same period were approximately 44,000 gallons.
– What is the name of that distillery?
– I have not the permission of the distillery to reveal that information in committee, but I am prepared to make it known to the honorable member if he so desires.
– What was the date of that letter?
– The 24th March.
– The company has not yet had time to reply.
– The letter merely recapitulates the facts to the distillery, which, in common with other distilleries, had the same invitation extended to it by my predecessor in office. Obviously, if the industry believes that it is labouring under an unfair disadvantage, those concerned should accept the Government’s invitation, and have the matter referred to the Tariff Board for report.
– The Minister’s offer to put the matter before the Tariff Board is reminiscent of the story of the spider and the fly.
– The Tariff Board would hear evidence on the subject, and all distillers and importers would have an opportunity to present their case. Later, the determination of the board would be submitted to the Parliament. In view of those circumstances, I suggest that the honorable member should withdraw his amendment.
– This matter has been before the Government quite a long time, representations on the subject having been made to previous Ministers for Trade and Customs. Because of the depression, and the high rates of duty and excise, the cost of rum has risen phenomenally, to the grave danger of the local industry. The Minister indicated that every opportunity had been given the distilleries to place their case before the Tariff Board. In turn, I remind him that the distilleries have communicated the facts of the case to the Government, and that honorable members representing Queensland have met previous Ministers for Trade and Customs in deputation and made them familiar with the situation. Since then, those concerned have awaited with great patience the alteration of the oppressive conditions which apply to the industry. I see grave danger in the distilleries submitting their case to the Tariff Board. Those engaged in the Queensland industry remember only too well the experience of the manufacturers of Diesel engines when they went before the Tariff Board looking for justice. The Tariff Board wiped out that industry literally with a stroke of the pen. Naturally, those engaged in the Queensland rum industry would have reason to fear a similar fate if they went before the Tariff Board hoping for some relief from existing customs taxation. The Minister claims to have made a fair offer to the distilleries. If would be fair enough if he were prepared to give way on the matter of excise. In the interests of the industry, I do not feel justified in depriving the committee of an opportunity to express its opinion on this matter in division, unless he gives an assurance that the position will be met by a reduction of excise. The Minister said that the clearances of Australian rum for last year amounted to 46,000 gallons. I remind him that one Queensland distillery alone has in stock 500,000 gallons of proof spirit awaiting consumption. On the honorable gentleman’s figures, that will meet the Australian demand for years to come. I also remind him that, unlike Victorian manufacturers of gin, rum distilleries have to mature their product for two years, and that their protection is but 6s. a gallon compared with 17s. a gallon enjoyed by the Australian gin industry. I repeat, unless the Minister is prepared to give an assurance that there will be a reduction in the rate of excise, I must press this matter to a division.
.- The Queensland rum industry enjoys a net protection of 6s. a gallon against Jamaica rum, as well as the considerable protection afforded by overseas charges. Admittedly, there has been a diminution in the sales of Queensland rum, but that cannot be attributable to the tariff. In common with all other spirits, the consumption of rum has diminished, because of its higher cost resulting from additional duties, and the fact that persons have less money with which to buy spirituous liquors. The consumption of rum per head of the population last year was less than 25 per cent, of the consumption in 1913, which is a great falling off.
– It would be a good thing if there were a greater falling off.
– I am not discussing that point. The contention that the Queensland rum industry is being injured by reason of the tariff is a fallacy. I occasionally use rum, and I am always glad when there is a little Queensland rum available, for it is a good product, although not yet quite so good as Jamaica rum. A fairly general complaint is that the Queensland rum is not quite fully matured. It would probably be in the best interests of the Queensland rum industry if conditions were such that the rum could attain a greater maturity. While the rum can be sold very easily there is no inducement to mature it. I hope that the time will come when Queensland will produce a rum of the very first class, which will not only command a local market, but also find a ready sale overseas. It would be a fine thing if Queensland could export her rum with some degree of success.
.- Queensland already exports her rum with some degree of success. I do not know what brand of Queensland rum the honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) has used ; but I recommend him to try potstill during this winter. The point at issue at the moment is, not whether Queensland rum is good, bad or indifferent, but whether other classes of spirit, such as brandy and whisky, should be treated more leniently than Queensland rum in regard to duty. I contend that the 2s. difference in excise in favour of whisky as against rum is unfair to the Queensland rum industry. The three rum distilleries operating in Queensland use molasses produced by the Queensland sugar industry. The rum distilleries of New South Wales and Victoria use molasses which is imported duty free from Fiji. The Queensland, distilleries use the products of white labour; the others that of black labour. Whether honorable members are temperance advocates or supporters of the continuance of the licensing system, they will find it difficult to justify the charging of a higher excise duty on rum than on whisky or brandy. These spirits should all be placed on the same footing in regard to duty. The three distilleries operating in Queensland produce the bulk of the rum made in Australia. They state in a letter to me that the distilleries of Victoria have produced only8,500 gallons of rum in the last three years, whereas the smallest distillery in Queensland has produced 100,000 gallons in that time, and the other two considerably more than that quantity. They also point out that any reduction of production in the rum industry means a restriction of employment, and a loss of revenue on the railways. The people engaged in this industry hold the view that their difficulties are largely contributed to by reason of the fact that they have to pay a higher excise than is charged on other spirits, and they ask that rum shall be placed on the same footing as brandy and whisky. What reason can there be for any differentiation? Is still another Queensland industry to be attacked? The whisky produced in Victoria has an advantage of 2s. a gallon in excise duty over the rum produced in Queensland. Is it not fair that industries producing the same commodities should be placed upon the same basis?
– It must be this evil Victorian influence again !
– I do not know whether that is so, but the industries of Queensland have been hit very hard during the last twelve months. This Government seems to have declared a vendetta against Queensland. If I were permitted to do so, I could show honorable members that both the cotton and tobacco industries of Queensland have been hard hit by this Government, and so has the banana industry of that State. Honorable members of both branches of the Labour party in this chamber, as well as the Queensland representatives of the two wings - or legs - of the Nationalist and Country parties which support this Government, are unanimous in urging that this duty shall be reviewed. The Queensland representatives, unlike those of Western Australia, feel that an injury to one is an injury to all. Over eight months ago, we were promised one night that if we fell in with the views of the Government in regard to a certain industry, an opportunity would be given to us to discuss that subject fully at a later date ; but that particular item of business is now at the bottom of the notice-paper. It may be said that this subject has been reported upon by the Tariff Board. That is true, and personally, I cannot understand how the Tariff Board can justify preferential treatment of the whisky and brandy producers as against the rum producers. The position will not be met by re-submitting the subject to the Tariff Board. It is not very encouraging for us to seek a vote on the subject at the moment, but one never knows. The Government whip has had a busy time this session. I hope that justice will be done to this industry. I shall support the amendment of the honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser).
.- The honorable member for Kennedy (Mr. Riordan) has taken advantage of the lack of knowledge of honorable members on this subject to say that no reason existed except perhaps Victorian prejudice, for a difference between the excise duty on rum and that on other kinds of spirit. That is not so. The difference has existed since the early days of federation. A royal commission, which inquired into the taxation of various classes of spirit as far back as 1906, recommended that heavier excise duties should be imposed upon rum than upon other spirits. It pointed out that a cheap raw material, which was only a by-product of one of our primary industries, was used in the manufacture of rum, whereas grapes and barley were used in the manufacture of brandy and whisky respectively, and these were the primary products themselves, and not the by-products of highly subsidized primary industry. The mover of the amendment said with sorrow, which I am sure was genuine, and which I share with him, that 500,000 gallons of proof spirit were lying in one distillery in his State. Considerably more than 1,000,000 gallons of spirit are lying in one distillery in my State, and many hundreds of thousands of gallons of whisky are held in bond in various distilleries throughout Australia. The abject poverty of all classes of people throughout Australia has killed the demand for these luxury goods. That poverty has been made more apparent by the heavy taxation of all luxury goods. We shall not rectify the position by reducing the taxation upon one item and leaving it as it is upon others. If we reduce the taxation on any one item of spirit, for instance, we shall simply swing the demand in the direction of that spirit to the detriment of other spirits. If taxation is reduced on rum, people will purchase rum and not whisky or brandy, and conversely, if taxation is reduced on whisky and brandy the trade in rum will be reduced. I hope that the day will soon come when the Government will be able to reduce the taxation on all luxury items as well as upon the necessaries of life; but we must recognize that the country is in desperate need of revenue. We must also recognize that when remissions of duty become possible, first things should come first. . Rawmaterials, power, essential goods, and commodities which are absolute necessities of our people and our industries, should have the preferential treatment. Although I represent a district which produces a great deal of barley and large quantities of grapes for wine, I recognize that we can most effectively reduce taxation by assisting the Government to cut down its expenditure and so increase confidence in the country, and the volume of revenue. For these reasons, I shall support the Government’s proposal in this instance.
– Would not the reduction that I have proposed result in an increase of the revenue ?
– The Customs Department and the Treasury have most carefully investigated the position with regard to whisky, rum, gin, beer and wine, to ascertain whether a reduction in the customs or excise duties would bring in more revenue as the result of an increased consumption, and all the evidence taken has pointed to the contrary. It has indicated that the purchasing power of the Australian public is so low at the present time that the increased consumption that would follow upon the cheapening of those articles would not nearly offset the loss of revenue that would be experienced through a reduction of the tax. I need only point out to the committee that in this case the criticism of the present duties has come from sections of “the committee’ which have bitterly opposed most of the Government’s economy measures. Therefore, I hope that the Government will stick to its guns. I accept the Minister’s assurance that when it can afford to do so, it will at the first opportunity give relief to these industries.
.- The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) has quoted part of a recommendation by the royal commission which investigated this matter in 1906; but much water has run under the bridge since that time. Personally, I am prepared to let the people use their own judgment as to whether or not it is good for them to drink rum; but I desire to place on record in Mansard the following statement by the royal commissionwhich appeared on page 42 of its report : -
That, in order to equalize the conditions of competition in the struggle between the better qualities of. Australian spirit and inferior imported spirit, it ia necessary that there should be a substantial difference between the customs duty on the imported article, and the excise duty on the local article; that, at the same time, there should be relative equality of opportunity and competition among Australian products, and that cheaply-produced spirits should not be allowed to supersede superior high-class spirits; that cheaplyproduced spirits should pay a higher excise duty than more expensive spirits; that spirits produced from molasses at 9d. and ls. per gallon should not be allowed to’ kill out the distillation of whisky from barley malt, which costs from 3s. 6d. to 4s. per gallon; and that the consumption of cheap and inferior spirits should not be encouraged at the expense and sacrifice of spirits of higher grade, quality, and price.
In -1906 the rum produced in Queensland was not of so high a quality as that of the spirit now manufactured. The production of rum was then in its infancy, and it is well known by those who have consumed rum over a period of years, that the quality to-day is much higher than it formerly was. The honorable member for Perth (Mr. Nairn) remarked that Queensland rum is not properly matured. The late Sir Neville Howse stated in this chamber some years ago that it was necessary for this spirit to be matured for at least two years before it went into consumption, and that whisky should be matured for five or six years. I point out that there are 500,000 gallons of rum maturing in the distillery at Bundaberg. Some of this spirit has been in storage for one and a half years, but the greater portion of it has been maturing for periods up to five years. I have a keen recollection of persons who claim to be connoisseurs stating that Australian whisky is not to be compared with imported whisky in regard to quality ; but, personally, I believe that if Australian whisky were put into a bottle labelled “ Dewar’s “, the average consumer would not notice the difference. The grievance of the Queensland rum distillers is over the variation in the rates of excise duty charged on rum, as compared with whisky. The excise duty on whisky is 2s. less than that on rum, and I am in agreement with the distillers that that differentiation should not be made. I do not know that any spirit has special virtues, but I believe that the manufacturers of Australian rum should receive as fair treatment from the Customs Department as do the manufacturers of any other spirit, Since whisky was not produced in any great quantity in Australia when the commission made its recommendations, one can only conclude that the commission did not know much about rum. Although the production of rum in this country does not give employment to much labour, its manufacture causes the consumption of a large quantity of Queensland molasses which would otherwise go to waste. One firm in Bundaberg prefers to destroy its molasses rather than send them to the distillery. The local distiller is faced with the competition of rum manufactured in a portion of the British Empire in which the whole of the work is done by black labour. I suggest that the Government should be prepared to make the excise duty on rum the same as that on other spirits.
.- I hope that the committee will not accept the amendment. The honorable member for Wide Bay (Mr. Corser) claims that the consumption of rum is beneficial to its users; but I point out that.it has been established for many years that the administration of spirits of any kind is of no value in cases of sickness. The contest that appears to be in progress between Victoria and Queensland is merely a sham light, and honorable mem bers from Queensland ought to hesitate before seriously challenging the position with regard to the rum that is imported into Australia. It would be a good thing if the molasses used in the manufacture of rum were given to cows. I am confident that no honorable member believes that the representatives of the southern States desire to injure a Queensland industry. Queensland is always able to take care of itself. It enjoys an embargo on the importation of sugar, and, so far as tobacco is concerned-
– The honorable member must confine his remarks to the item under consideration.
– The Queensland representatives want an absolute monopoly of the production of rum in Australia. Figures have been quoted showing that, in 1931-32, 2,055 gallons of rum were imported into this country, and that the quantity produced in Queensland in that year was 283,129 gallons. It is foolish for honorable members from Queensland to suggest that if a thimble-full of rum is brought in from outside, the Queensland industry will be ruined.
– Nobody has made such a statement.
– Is it logical to say that the Queensland industry is threatened with destruction because the excise duty on whisky, which is produced in the southern States, is 2s. a proof gallon lower than that imposed on rum? In my opinion, it would be agood thing if the committee let the public know that the manufacture of rum is not worth advocating. The higher we make the price of this spirit the smaller will be the quantity consumed, and on that ground alone I intend to support the present duties. I should like to see the sale of rum restricted.
– Is the honorable member in favour of an increased duty on rum from Jamacia?
– Yes; because I believe that from the moral, ethical and every other point of view, it would be wise to discourage the consumption of all spirits. Rum is consumed chiefly in and around the slums of our large cities, and Labour members ought to be the last men in the country to advocate duties which would increase the production of rum in Australia, because its use destroys the working classes physically, mentally and morally. A number of honorable members opposite personally refuse to touch rum. Most of them are afraid to use it; yet they advocate the granting of specific favours to the rum manufacturing industry.
.- Invariably, when this Government lays its vandal hands on some industry, it chooses one belonging to Queensland. Whenever members representing electorates in that State support their own industries, members of the Government party appear to be surprised and aggrieved that we- should have such temerity. Despite their pretence, however, Queensland members will continue to support the interests of their own State, and more particularly when we are defending our own industries against ‘the products of black-labour countries. We have found recently that some of our industries are suffering because of this competition from goods imported from countries employing black labour. If any State were justified in favoring secession from the Commonwealth, it would be Queensland, because this Government, during the fifteen months it has been in power, has done everything it can to affect adversely the interests of those in Queensland who are endeavouring to build up primary and secondary industries. .Seventy-five per cent, of the rum distilled in Australia is produced in Queensland. There are three distilleries in that State, the smallest of which is able to distil 100,000 gallons a year, and the largest, that at Bundaberg, a considerably larger quantity. The Government now proposes to reduce’ the’ duty on imported rum by 5s. a gallon, and various reasons have been brought forward iri defence of this action. It is stated that the reduction is in accordance with the provisions of the Ottawa agreement; that it is necessary in order, to obtain reciprocal preferences for our commodities in other British countries. However, according to a letter written by the manager of one of the rum distilleries, another reason is that the Government must safeguard its revenue. The letter contains this paragraph -
We had some correspondence with the Assistant’ Minister for Trade and Customs towards the end of last year, and he informed us that the matter of revenue .would be the main consideration.
– These are all revenue duties.
– If revenue is the main consideration, I believe that the Government could, by reducing the excise duty, so stimulate consumption that the revenue would not suffer. Even Great Britain accords better treatment to imported rum as compared with whisky than we do in this country. In Great Britain, the tariff on imported rum is only 4d. a gallon more than the excise duty on the whisky made in the country; but in Australia, the excise duty on Australian rum is 2s. a gallon more, than the excise duty on Australian whisky. Now, with this recent adjustment of the duty, rum is actually lis. a gallon worse off in comparison with- whisky. The excise duty on whisky is 28s. a gallon, and the import duty 45s., whereas on rum, the excise duty is 30s. a gallon, and the import duty is only 36s. a gallon. I urge the Minister to consider this matter of excise, and, at least, make the excise duty on rum less than that on whisky. In that way, the Government may make up, to some slight extent, for this present reduction of duty on imported rum.
.- Honorable members on the other side of the chamber have the happy knack of accusing those of us on this side of being anti-British when we defend the industries of our own country. If it is anti-British to do that, then we are admittedly anti-British. If it is against the spirit of the Commonwealth to endeavour to protect our own State industries, we must plead guilty to the charge. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) said that I had tried to mislead the House when I spoke of the duties on rum and whisky. The honorable member quoted from the report of the commission which sat in 1906 in support of his contention that the higher rate of excise on rum as compared with whisky was due to the fact that rum was a cheap and inferior spirit manufactured from the by-product of another industry. I know of no reason why Queensland rum should be classed as an inferior spirit. Moreover, in 1906, when that report was published, no whisky was being manufactured in Australia. When the honorable member for
Wakefield was speaking, I couldhear other South Australian members applauding his remarks. It is not true that Queensland rum is produced from an inferior commodity. It is made from the product of an industry worked by white labour under Australian conditions. The honorable member failed to mention that South Australia is benefiting from the assistance given to the wine industry. If duties were reduced so as to admit freely the brandies of Prance, we would hear cries of protest from the honorable member for Wakefield and those who applauded him. There is, in my opinion, every justification for our request. There is no sound reason why the excise duty should be higher on rum than on whisky, except, apparently, that the rum is produced in Queensland and the whisky in Victoria. One can only come to the conclusion that this is another direct attack on Queensland industries similar to others that have been made during the last twelve months.
.- According to the figures quoted by the Minister, this trouble has arisen, not so much through competition from overseas rum, but through competition with other spirits. The margin of preference affecting the two spirits has been upset by the reduction of 5s. a gallon in the import duty on rum. Much has been said about rum being a Queensland industry. It is; but I do not think that this reduction of duty constitutes an attack on a Queensland industry. The action has been taken unthinkingly, without realizing its effect on this spirit as compared with other forms of spirit’. Perhaps, after further thought, the Minister may see his way to reconsider this matter when we are discussing excise duties. It is not really a matter now of import duties, because this duty had to be reduced; the vital matter is the excise duty, which can be considered later. If the Minister will give an assurance that the excise duty will be reviewed so as to place rum on a better footing in comparison with other spirits - though perhaps not on the same footing as previously - I believe that the rum distillers of Queensland will be satisfied.
– I have suggested that the amendment might be withdrawn in view of the figures I quoted to show that the loss of trade has not been occasioned by the importation of rum from overseas. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) showed that the difference in the excise duty on rum and whisky was based on a recommendation dating back many years, and had been brought about because rum was the by-product of another industry. That difference existed right through the régime of the last Government. In any case, the difference of 2s. a gallon in the excise duty is unimportant. A gallon contains 160 ozs., and a reduction of 2s. a gallon could not appreciably affect the retail price. The excise duties will be discussed in a separate schedule after the Customs Tariff is disposed of, and the distillers will have an opportunity of presenting their case before the excise comes up for consideration.
Question - That the amendment (Mr. Corser’s) be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Temporary Chairman - Mr. Nairn.)
Majority . . . . 15
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sub-items agreed to.
Remainder of division, viz., items 8, 12 and 13 (a1, 2) agreed to.
Division 2. - Tobacco and Manufactures Thereof
Item 18 (Tobacco, unmanufactured n.e.i.).
Mr.FORDE (Capricornia) [5.20].- There is a rumour afloat to-day that the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Pearce) has placed before Cabinet a vital proposal dealing with the whole of the tobacco industry, and that it is along the lines of a specific motion which was moved by the right honorable gentleman in the Senate on the 4th June, 1903. It reads-
That in the opinion of the Senate it is advisable that the manufacture of tobacco, cigars and cigarettes should be a national monopoly.
I presume that the Leader of the Government in another place has played an important part in determining the present rates of duty on tobacco leaf. In the course of his speech at that time, he said -
We can lay it down as a safe axiom that where a trade becomes a monopoly it is advisable that the Government should step in and make it a national monopoly.
Another honorable senator interjected, “ What about goodwill ?”. The right honorable gentleman replied -
I am not allowing anything for goodwill andI may say that the select committee made no such allowance. Why should we give goodwill or compensation to anybody?
I have been creditably informed that the Leader of the Government in the Senate still holds strong views regarding the alleged tobacco monopoly. Will the. Minister tell us what they are?
– I remind the honorable member that the opinion of an honorable senator is irrelevant to the question whether this item should or should not be agreed to.
Mr.FORDE. - I am quoting the opinion of a responsible Minister of this Government, and I want to know from the Minister for Trade and Customs whether the whole subject of tobacco is to be referred back to the Tariff Board for investigation and report. The Leader of the Government in the Senate also stated -
Attempts have been made on various occasions to encourage the growth of tobacco, especially in Victoria, but what has been the result. A certain amount of encouragement was given to the growers bythe Government, but owing to the monopoly, the industry has been crushed.
– The honorable member is deliberately ignoring my instruction to him.
– I have no desire to do so. As the Leader of the Government in the Senate was in favour of the nationalization of the whole of the tobacco industry. I ask the Minister to ascertain if he is still of the same opinion, and what action the Government intends to take in the matter?
Item agreed to.
Items 20, 21 and 22 agreed to.
Item 24 (Cigars).
.- This item provides for a reduction of duty on imported cigars of 2s. per lb., and I understand that this reduction has been made by the Government under the Ottawa agreement. We were told by the Minister who introduced the agreement, that its object was to encourage the products of British colonies. The intention of the Government, therefore, is to give a greater measure of preference to black-labour products as against the products of White Australia. I ask the Minister whether he intends to persist in reducing the duty on imported cigars, which are inferior compared with the best class of Australian cigars. No other branch of the tobacco-growing industry gives greater employment per lb. of tobacco used than that of manufacturing cigars, and any honorable member who has no knowledge of that part of the industry should pay a visit to some of the large tobacco factories of Australia. In New South Wales and Victoria, a number of factories for the manufacture of cigars have been established. South Australia has the South Australian Tobacco Company. Western Australia, Michellides Limited, and Queensland, Hoffman and Company. These firms are manufacturing good cigars, and there is no justification at this stage for reducing by 2s. per lb. the duty on imported cigars manufactured in black-labour countries. I understand that a good deal of Australian tobacco leaf is used in the manufacture of Australianmade cigars. The price of the local article is about 40 per cent. less than that of the imported article. Unfortunately, there is a prejudice against Australian cigars, and they are classed as unsmokable by those who look only for the word “ Corona “, or some other brand which is attached to the cigars of the black labour countries; British East Indies, the Dutch East Indies, or some other place.
– What are some of those brands?
– The honorable member can easily obtain that information at the Parliamentary Refreshment Bar. The Australian cigar is good enough for anybody. During the regime of the Scullin Government, the price of Australian cigars was reduced hy from 15s. to 20s. a thousand. There should be no objection to the smoking of cigars made by our own workmen. Unfortunately, the economic depression struck a deadly blow at the tobacco industry in that some thousands of persons who previously smoked cigars, now smoke Capstan cigarettes or nothing. There is plenty of plant in Australia, so far as I am aware, to meet any increase in the trade. The cigars are practically all made by hand, and, therefore, little plant is required. During the regime of the Bruce-Page Government, the excise was increased by 2s. 5d. per lb., and the duty on imported cigars by 3s. per lb., with a preference to Empire goods of 2s. per lb. That meant that the impost on the local article was increased by 2s. 5d. per lb., and that on Empire goods by ls. per lb. I am informed that wages represent 35 per cent, of the wholesale price. I cannot see any justification for this reduction of the duty. All the protection possible is needed by this Australian industry. We should not look to islands on which black labour is employed, whether they be British colonies or not, for our cigars; we should give preference to our own working people. I shall not go so far as the Leader of the Government in the Senate, and advocate the nationalization of the whole of the tobacco industry. That is a matter which the Government might consider at another time.
.- The honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde), on a previous item, referred to opinions that were expressed in 1903. I shall not go back further than 1920. In that year, this Parliament increased the duty on cigars to 10s. per lb. At that time, I had statistics prepared which showed that, on the assumption that the number of cigars smoked did not decrease, and none were made in Australia, the nation could afford, out of the duty collected, to give a pension of £200 a year to every man and woman then engaged in the cigar-making industry in’ ‘ -this country, and still be £87,000 a year to the good. That shows the extent to which protection is indulged in at times. Since then the duty has been twice increased, on the first occasion to 15s. per lb., and later to 20s. per lb. The extraordinary feature of the business is that, from the time of the first increase in 1920, the number of cigars made by Australian manufacturers has decreased. It is strange that when they were faced with acti ve competition they were able to make a cigar that was fairly popular with the people of this country, yet when a heavy duty was imposed on British and other cigars their output declined. Figures that I quoted about twelve months ago show that the reduction has been substantial.
Another phase of this matter is that for years there was an excise of 2s. Sd. per lb. on cigars manufactured in Australia. That excise was reduced by the Scullin Government two years ago to 3d. per lb., which meant that a present of £40,000 a year was made to the Australian cigar manufacturers.
– It was not the manufacturers, but the smokers of. cigars, who benefited to the extent of £40,000 a year.
– I am somewhat astonished that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) should feel gratified at the small reduction that was made in the price of Australian cigars, seeing that the revenue suffered to the extent of £40,000 per annum, and, at the same time, his Government considered it necessary to reduce pensions and the salaries of public servants.
– The object was to provide more work for the people of this country.
– The right honorable gentleman knows that that was not the. result.
– The effect was to keep in employment 100 men who otherwise would have been sacked.
– It would be interesting to learn what is the number of employees engaged in this industry, and the rate of wages paid, compared with other industries that are of far more importance to the people of Australia. While I offer no objection to the imposition of a fairly heavy duty on any luxury item, particularly at a time like the present, I realize that this reduction is made so as to conform to the terms of the Ottawa agreement, and for that reason I hope that it will be agreed to.
– It is sometimes very difficult to find logic in the arguments of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory), and some other honorable members. I can always see logic in that honorable member’s arguments when he claims that nothing should be done which might increase the cost of tools of trade, machines, or other items that are necessary to the development of Australian industries. The only result of this proposed alteration, however, will be to put out of work the few persons who are still in the industry. I am acquainted with what is taking place in the industry from the point of view of employment. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), the Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), and practically all honorable members, have expressed the wish that everything shall be done that will increase the volume of employment; and appeals are constantly made to private enterprise to engage additional artisans wherever possible. We are now dealing with an article that possibly can be done without; therefore, if more employment is provided honorable members ought not to object to a fairly heavy duty, even though the effect of it were to increase the price of cigars. It is not suggested, however, that the price would be increased. The reduction of the duty is merely another gesture to those with whom we have entered into the Ottawa agreement; but the reduction is so small as hardly to be considered worth while by the people we are trying to placate. The cigars which are imported into Australia are not made by white labour, and a large proportion of them not even by British labour. Chinese labour is responsible for’ a substantial proportion of the cigars that are smoked in Australia. A year or two ago I went through a cigar factory with the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), who was anxious to learn whether it- was true that it was only half staffed.’ We were shown empty benches, and told the number of men who were previously employed. We examined samples of imported cigars, the outside wrapper of which was brown paper. None of the cigars that are made in Australia have brown paper wrappers; yet these cigars with fancy names, which came from Batavia, Hong Kong, and other places, had that wrapping instead of one of tobacco leaf, with the result that they could be sold a little more cheaply than the Australian cigar. Throughout its existence, the Australian industry has not been able to compete without a solid duty against cigars made from inferior material by cheap Chinese and other labour, and on that account the duty has been increased from time to time. But surely high duties are excusable on a purely luxury item, if they are the means of increasing employment. There are several hundred adult employees still in this industry, but they are gradually dropping out of it as the result of the depression and of competition. Many of the apprentices have not yet completed their time. Not long ago, when I was handling industrial disputes, I was asked to permit the employment of an additional number of juveniles in proportion to the apprentices allowed by law, because it was impossible to make a cigar that could be sold for 3d. in competition with cigars made by cheap labour outside of Australia. Naturally, the movement that I represent would not agree that the small factories should be wholly staffed with juvenile labour. It would prefer the industry to go out of existence if it could not provide decent employment, and train men in an occupation that would keep them in the future. That is the position in which the industry is placed to-day ; and this extra burden on the local manufacturer will make it impossible for him to hold his end up in competition with those manufacturing cigars with coloured labour in some of the outposts of the British Empire, as well as outside the British dominions and colonies. There is no logic in this action unless it be a “ tuppenny halfpenny “ gesture to prove that Australia is observing the terms of the Ottawa agreement to the fullest extent.
– Why has the manufacture of cigars decreased by 50 per cent. in the last six years?
– Before the depression hit Australia, the production was on the increase. I support the request of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that this matter be reconsidered. The reduction of the duty is an attack on the principal ground on which the Government was elected to office - that it would do everything possible to increase employment in this country. The figures relating to employment are worse to-day than they were last year or the year before, and I am certain that this reduction will place them in an even more unfavorable light. A return to prosperity in industry generally will not benefit this industry if the reduction is made. If the Ottawa agreement means the picking out of small items of this sort, and the strangling of industries that are already struggling, the making of it was a sad day’s work for Australia.
.- The honorable member for Melbourne Ports is always temperate in the pitch of his voice, and thus sometimes gains a reputation for moderation when he is making the most violently exaggerated statements. At the end of his speech he asserted that the reduction of the duty on this item would have the effect of strangling an industry that is already struggling. That was said in a soft voice, and sounded avery moderate and a carefully considered statement, whereas it is quite obviously a most extravagant and unconsidered exaggeration. The rate of 18s. per lb. on an article like cigars is practically a prohibitive tariff for Australia. The cigar-wrapping industry in Australia has been declining very rapidly. Before this duty was even considered, the largest manufacturers in this country were seriously thinking of shutting down the whole of their cigar-wrapping departments. I was then discussing this matter with one of the directors, who told me that the trouble was due to a change in the habits of Australian smokers. Having told the committee this much, I realize that an explanation is due as to the reason for the concession to British cigar manufacturers. The slight reduction of the duties, it is believed, will be enough to swing a certain amount of import trade in foreign cigars to the British industry, so the advantage to Empire trade will not be given at the expense of the Australian industry. The interests mainly concerned in this matter are closely allied to the great tea industry, and as Australia did not give Empire tea producers any concession in the Ottawa agreement, it was considered that, in small items like that now before the committee, and in others, including tapioca, to which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr.Forde) objected the other night, we could look for the means to give some quid pro quo for advantages which our great export industries have obtained under the Ottawa agreement. The benefits which will accrue to our export industries - benefits expressed in new employment and maintenance of employment in existing industries - will morethan offset any loss of revenue from the import trade in foreign cigars which might result from the operation of these duties. The fact that we have been able to secure those benefits without making big concessions in the most important of our Eastern trade items, such as tea, speaks volumes for the ability of the Resident Minister in London (Mr. Bruce) and the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett), who represented Australia at Ottawa. I support the item as it stands, and hope that the committee will pass it.
– The committee is indebted to the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) for the admirable statement of the position which he has just made. I would point out that the excise duty on hand-made cigars is 2s. 8d. per lb., and on machinemade cigars 3s. 8d. per lb. Importations have been progressively declining. In 1928-29 they totalled 108,692 lb., and in 1931-32 they had dropped to 3,668 lb; The change in the public demand, and not the protective duty, is responsible, because for many yearsthis industry was protected to the extent of11s. per lb. British, and 13s. per lb. foreign. During the Scullin régime the duties were raised to 20s. British and 20s. foreign, no British preference being given.We have made a change by imposing a British preferential tariff which, it is believed will be adequate. The criticism of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) is merely another attack on the Ottawa agreement. The duties in this item were imposed to encourage reciprocal trade with the BritishWest Indies. The number of cigars that will be imported will be small, and, as the price will be high, the allegation that the new duties will cause unemployment in the industry is the wildest of exaggerations.
.- The Minister said just now, in reply to an interjection, that the duties in this item were imposed to give effect to the Ottawa agreement. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) supports it on that ground, declaring that it would be of some help to British manufacturers, meaning, of course, cigar manufacturers in the West Indies. But the honorable member for Wakefield contradicted himself by declaring that the British duty was prohibitive. Clearly, if a duty is prohibitive, it cannot give British preference, so there was no consistency whatever in that honorable gentleman’s statement. He charged the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) with exaggeration ; but he himself was guilty of exaggeration as well as of inconsistency. If this duty is prohibitive, the item is not in keeping with the spirit of the Ottawa agreement. The honorable member cannot have it both ways. The Minister also asserted that my Government, in making the British and general tariff 20s. per lb., gave no preference to Britain. Neither does the item in its present form; but it certainly gives preference to the black-labour product of the West Indies.
.- I am a lover of a good cigar, and wish to give every possible encouragement to our tobacco-growers, in the belief that they will be able to produce a leaf equal in quality to the best tobacco imported for the making of cigars. The duties in this item, which, we are told, are in tended to give preference to the product of the West Indies, will certainly afford little encouragement to the local growing ofa leaf suitable for the making of good cigars. This particular branch of the tobacco industry has not yet received the attention which its importance warrants. A considerable area of the Hume division, and particularly the country in the vicinity of Wagga, which saw the birth of theRiverina movement, is suited to tobacco. Some time ago it was alleged that the quality of leaf grown in that district was not good; now the manufacturers declare that it is the finest produced in Australia. I remind the committee that tobacco growing is by no means a new thing in Australia. Tobacco was grown at Burrowa over 50 years ago, by a man who came from the Land of the Shamrock. His tobacco plantation on the river bank near the town, came to be regarded as a pleasure resort for the inhabitants of the surrounding district. The grower of the tobacco thought that he was going to make a fortune out of it. But one day, when a party of visitors descended on him to inspect his beautiful crop, they found that it had vanished. When asked for an explanation, he declared that tobacco growing in that country would never be successful. “ It might do in Orange,” he said, “but it was no good in Burrowa. For months it kept a beautiful green, and then, towards the 17th March, it turned to yellow.”
– The intention of the Ottawa agreement is to give preference where possible to the produce of the British Empire. This item give3 that preference, and it will assist the Australian industry.
Item agreed to.
Division 4. - Agricultural Products and Groceries.
Item 43 (Coffee and Chicory) - (a)Raw and kiln dried, per lb., British, 4d. ; general, 4d. (b)Roasted or ground, in liquid form; or mixed with milk or other substance, per lb., British, 7d. ; general, 7d.
.- Coffee is an ordinary household requirement. This tariff is not on a sound basis, there being a margin of 3d. per lb. between the duties on raw coffee, and the duties on roasted or ground coffee. Last year our imports of raw coffee totalled over 3,000,000 lb., and the amount paid in duties was £49,815. Importations of ground coffee last year returned a trifling revenue of £775. The higher duty on roasted or ground coffee represents practically 200 per cent. on the actual roasting and grinding cost. Such extreme protection cannot be justified. We had. similar instances of this disparity about a fortnight ago when I mentioned the duty of ½d. per lb. on maize, as against 3d. per lb. on cornflour, and the duties of½d. per lb. on flour, and 3d. per lb. on biscuits. I submit that the margin should have some reasonable relation to the cost of treatment. I move -
That the item be amended by adding the following to sub-item (b) : -
And onand after 30th March, 1933 -
Roasted, or ground; in liquid form; or mixed with milk or other substance, per lb., British, 6d. ; general, 6d.
.- The committee is entitled to some explanation from the Minister as to the effect of this amendment on the revenue, and upon employment in Australia.
.-I also anticipated that the Minister would offer some justification for the disparity between the duties on raw and roasted coffee. There is a difference of 3d. per lb., but the cost of roasting should not be more than¾d. or1d. per lb. Why should we give that additional margin of profit to the person who grinds the coffee ? It is not fair to the consumers of this commodity. The Minister should at least explain the reason for so great a difference as 3d. per lb.
– As honorable members are aware, the items in this group are all revenue items. Some agricultural products are subject to much higher duties. For instance, the duty on imported fresh fruits is 90 per cent., and on hops 137 per cent. The duty on roasted coffee has been raised by1d. per lb., although themargin between the duties on raw and on roasted coffee remains at 3d. per lb. The total revenue from the coffee imported during 1931-32 was £51,370. These duties have been in operation for many years without any strong objection having been taken to them. The increased rate of duty provided additional revenue amounting to £15,568 in 1931-32. If this amendment is accepted, that revenue will be lost to the Government. The roasting and grinding of coffee provides work for Australians, and as I consider the duty to be reasonable, I cannot accept the amendment.
.- The margin of 3d. per lb. has existed since one of the early tariffs ; it certainly goes back beyond the Bruce-Page régime.
– It was 3d. per lb. in 1921.
– The duty was then 3d. per lb. on raw coffee and 6d. per lb. on roasted or ground coffee. Those rates have now been raised to 4d. and 7d. per lb. respectively, the additional1d. per lb. having been imposed for revenue purposes. The percentage margin is really less than it was before. Coffee imported already roasted and ground is not so good as coffee freshly ground just before it is used. Those who wish to import coffee already roasted and ground should not object to contributing to the revenue in order to obtain it.
.- In the Flinders electorate, in which I live, a number of primary producers grow chicory. We are justified in imposing a higher duty on roasted and ground coffee than on the raw coffee beans. If this duty is not of direct benefit to Australian primary producers, it is, at least, of indirect benefit to them.
.- I am at a loss to understand the Minister’s statement that there would be a revenue loss of £14,000. According to the latest figures in the Statistical Record. 25,537 lb. of ground and roasted coffee entered Australia last year, representing a total revenue of £775.
– That does not include coffee in liquid form.
– Although I regard these duties as prohibitive, I do not suggest that the price of coffee has been raised in Australia because of this extreme margin. There is sufficient competition between local manufacturers to keen coffee at a reasonable price. As a matter of principle, I object to these extreme margins between the duties on the raw material and on the finished product.
.- If the honorable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) considers that the margin of 3d. per lb. between the duties on raw coffee and on ground and roasted coffee is unduly high, he should get those interested in the coffee trade to support him in submitting a case to the Tariff Board. In my opinion, no action along that line is necessary. .
Item agreed to.
.- The inclusion of this item at the same rate as under the last tariff schedule must surely be a mistake. When this matter was before Parliament on a previous occasion, the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) was most eloquent in denouncing the tax of 4d. per lb. on tea. On that occasion, the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett), in moving an amendment that the duties should be ad valorem, British 30 per cent. and general 40 per cent., said -
I should like a lower rate of duty to be imposed on the cheaper grades of tea and a higher rate on the more expensive blends.
He said that, in his opinion, there was no reason why tea should not be placed on the same footing as silk, and made subject to ad valorem duties. The present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) on that occasion said -
I realize that in increasingthe duty on tea, the Government is after revenue,but I regret that it should deem it necessary to tax so drastically this household commodity. Tea is not in any sense a luxury. I, therefore, intend to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett) to make the duty, ad valorem 15 per cent., British, 20 per cent. intermediate, and 25 per cent.
The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Lyons) felt that he ought to make his position clear, because he had been a member of the Government, which, because of the exigencies of the financial position, had imposed these duties in order to obtain revenue.
– The frequent references to speeches made by other honorable members on previous occasions are not strictly in order. The honorable member is entitled to give reasons why this item should not be agreed to, but he should not quote extensively from such speeches.
– To-day, the Minister attempts to justify this duty. Surely I am in order in pointing out that less than two years ago, when a private member, he expressed entirely different views. The honorable member for Wilmot voted for the amendment moved by the honorable member for Henty, and gave his reasons for doing so. The present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) strongly supported the amendment that the duty of 4d. per lb. should be taken off and an ad valorem duty substituted. The Government cannot claim to be greatly in need of revenue, forit has seen fit to reduce by £800,000 the taxation levied on a wealthy section of the community.
– The honorable member is distinctly out of order.
– Are we to understand that the Minister has turned a complete somersault, and that we cannot place any reliance on what he says at any time? I want him to stand by what he said when a private member.
– I am surprised that the Government has not granted preference to Great Britain and her dominions in regard to this item.
– I intend to say something on that subject when I receive the call.
– The issue at stake is so important that I am of the opinion that the committee should be tested on it. A vote would, at least, satisfy honorable members as to the Government’s sincerity regarding preference to Great Britain and the dominions. I should like to be clear, Mr. Chairman, whether you have ruled that it is not permissible for members to quote from the speeches of other honorable members.
– All references must be distinctly relevant to the subject before the Chair.
– I do not say that the Minister is inconsistent; he is the victim of exceptional political circumstances which have caused him to alter his views.
– The honorable member may not impute motives. <
– I shall quote from speeches by the present Minister to show that, two years ago, he thought that the Government should not lose the opportunity afforded by this item ta give preferential treatment to Great Britain and her dependencies.
– Why does the honorable gentleman not give his own reasons?
– The position was put so clearly .by the honorable member for Balaclava that I feel I cannot improve on his remarks. I propose to move that a preferential rate of at least Id. per lb. be granted to Great Britain and her dependencies in regard to tea.
Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.
– Upon further consideration, I have come to the conclusion that a preference of, Id. per lb. to tea grown in the British Empire would not be sufficient. If we are to make a gesture of preference, it should be a substantial one, and, therefore^ I intend to move that the preference be 2d. per lb. I have been reminded that while Mr. Pratten was administering the Department of Trade and Customs, an attempt to apply a preferential rate to Empire tea involved the Commonwealth in serious complications with the Dutch East Indies, and we had to retrace our steps. Of course, the Government will have to consider the possible effects of my amendment. We have built up with the Dutch East Indies, particularly Java, an extensive and improving trade, and we should not lightly do anything that would antagonize a valuable market for our products. But since the Pratten regime, the situation has changed; the Ottawa agreement has forced our hand and, even at the risk of antagonizing certain foreign countries, we must grant preference to British dominions or colonies wherever practicable. If we shirk that obligation, the Ottawa agreement cannot endure. We cannot play with a double-headed penny all the time. We cannot maintain our existing relations with all foreign countries, while at the same time taking trade from them and giving it to countries within the Empire, if a preferential duty on tea is bound to involve us in serious complications with other countries, the Government should immediately test our position in relation to the principle of preference. We can give a concession to British products only by diminishing our trade with foreign countries, and if w© may not do that without raising trouble for ourselves and the Empire, we should review the treaty with a view to eliminating fundamental faults. My amendment is not intended to cause any embarrassment to the Government.
– Has the honorable member worked out the probable effect on the finances ?
– That is the Government’s job. Private members have not the facilities for ascertaining the financial effect of their proposals; they can only indicate a general line of policy for the Government to follow, and depend on Ministers to inform the House of its probable repercussions. Tea is an ideal item for testing one of the , basie features of the Ottawa agreement - the practicability of our giving substantial preference to natural Empire products at the expense of foreign countries. I should prefer the duty on tea to be abolished or considerably reduced. I opposed it on other occasions, although I realized the necessity for revenue. Approximately £800,000 a. year is raised by this impost on what has become almost a necessity. Tea is drunk by all sections of the community, but it is especially the beverage of the poorer classes, who cannot afford the luxury of beer, spirits or wine. The increase in the prices of the better brands of tea has hit the poorer classes very severely, and this duty is one of the worst that this Parliament has imposed. We should have explored every other source of revenue before attacking tea. My amendment will not afford any relief in this respect; the community will have to bear the burden of this duty until some government can devise a means of raising the required revenue without taxing the necessaries of life. Australia annually imports 28,000,000 lb. of tea from foreign countries, much more than half of it coming from the Dutch East Indies. Of the 16,000,000 lb. from the British Empire the greater proportion comes from Ceylon. It is obvious that if my amendment be adopted, foreign tea, which at present produces half the customs revenue on this item, will have to yield even more. In May, 1931, the present Minister for Trade and Customs, when supporting an amendment by the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) to the Scullin schedule, said -
Furthermore, the amendment will open the door to trade agreements between tea-exporting countries within the Empire. . . Our total imports last year amounted to approximately £3,300,000. Is it not better so to frame our tariff as to make possible trade agreements between the component parts of the British Empire? The tea planters in Ceylon and Assam are living in the outposts of the British Empire on our trade routes, and have played their part as British subjects during the war. Their interests should receive consideration in the debate on this item.
– I still hold that view.
– I readily believe that the Minister has not abandoned any views he expressed in the last Parliament; only his circumstances have changed.
– The Ottawa agreement makes all the difference.
– Since the honorable gentleman made that speech the Ottawa agreement has altered the circumstances of trade within the British Empire, and I do not think that we should be deterred by the trouble that arose when we previously tried to differentiate between Empire and foreign teas. The adoption of my amendment would be merely an instruction to the Government to examine closely the possible consequences, and if a heavy loss of revenue were threatened without any commensurate gain to the Australian consumers, no doubt the committee would agree to reverse its decision. Tea is one of the natural commodities produced within the British Empire, but we have built up a large trade in it with China, Japan and the Dutch East. Indies. Sir Herbert Gepp’s report on trade in the East shows that there has been a progressive increase in the imports of tea from those three countries. In 1928 we imported from Japan 464 centals of tea valued at £2,406, and in 1931, 2,567 centals, valued at £9,850. From China we imported in the former year 8,876 centals, valued at £46,976, and in 1931, 19,049 centals, valued at £67,485. Although the quantity of tea imported from China showed a considerable increase, the advance in value was not great owing to the collapse of currencies and the operation of exchange. The imports from the Dutch East Indies also considerably increased and now more than halfof the tea imported by Australia comes from that source. One honorable member told me to-night that he had been informed by an importer that tea could be landed from Java at 9d. per lb. and that importers could afford to pay the duty without increasing the price to the consumer.
– Has not that actually happened ?
– In some respects this is satisfactory to the consumers. We do not want to increase the price of tea, and it is clear that the cheap-labour conditions of Java, and the proximity of the Dutch East Indies to Australia, give those islands an advantage over tea-growing countries within the Empire. I have no objection to continuing this trade with Java, but we should make a friendly gesture to Empire producers. We cannot buy very many of our requirements from India, Ceylon and British Malaya, but we could give them almost a monopoly of tea, and if we select this as a test item to show that we are really serious about the Ottawa agreement, we shall create a favorable impression throughout the Empire, and influence British countries against the developing policy of imposing restrictions on imports from Australia, as in the case of butter and meat. We shallthen have demonstrated that we are not merely giving lip service to the gospel of Empire preference, but are also prepared to give British countries almost a monopoly of our tea trade. I am not sure that a preference of 2d. per lb. in favour of Empire producers is sufficient; but it appears to be a reasonable beginning. This is a purely revenue taxation on what is popularly termed a luxury, but is really a necessity. We should remove every halfpenny of that duty at the first opportunity; but it is first necessary to deal with the issue of preferential trade within the Empire in a businesslike way, and no better opportunity offers than that now presented by the Government. We do not produce tea in Australia, so no injury could be done to a local industry. I therefore move -
That the item be amended by adding the following: - “And on and after 30th March, 1933- 100. Tea-
.- I do not propose to venture deeply into this teacup storm. One honorable member questioned what would be the effect of a diminution of this duty on the revenue. Unfortunately, private members do not possess the same facilities as Ministers to obtain information ; but sometimes Ministers, with all the sources for such information at their command, make mistakes amounting to a mere £4,000,000 or £5,000,000. Last year, the total imports of tea from British countries amounted to 16,000,000 lb., valued at £590,000, while the total imports of tea from non-British countries was 28,000,000 lb., valued at £774,000. Those figures disclose that the proportion of British to foreign imports is four to seven. The duty that was received from this item last year totalled just under £700,000. A subdivision of that duty makes it evident that, if the same quantity of tea were again cleared from bond this year, a reduction of 2d. per lb. on the British product would mean a loss of revenue amounting to £84,000. Of course, the Government might consider that as serious. My point is that, in connexion with all the tariff items that we have so far discussed, certain honorable members have urged that we cannot provide an adequate margin of preference to Great Britain without harming Australian industries, but in this instance no Australian industry is involved, so that we could give preference to British countries without injuring ourselves. The only harm would be a loss of customs revenue of less than £100,000. When it is considered that only a few years ago there was no duty on tea, the amendment appears to be most reasonable, and one to which the Government should agree.
– In common with most other honorable members, I realize that this is purely a revenue item. I have no doubt that that fact was taken into consideration by the Scullin Government when it levied its heavy impost on tea. That action might have been necessary at the time, as the Scullin Government had placed embargoes on many items, with a resultant loss of customs revenue. Such is not the case to-day. Many of those embargoes have been lifted, and our customs revenue is definitely improving. I suggest that there is no need to continue this particularly heavy duty on tea. I feel that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr.Forde) gave an indication as to the support which would be forthcoming from his party when he raised the question of tea, and quoted the remarks that were made by the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), when that honorable gentleman was sitting in Opposition. It appears that, at last, representatives of the Labour party realize the necessity to pay heed to the interests of those whose support they receive. After all, in Australia tea is the beverage of the multitude. In the course of my speech on the general tariff debate, I stressed the point that the Colonel’s lady and Judy O’Grady are sisters under the skin. The same applies to the Colonel and Judy’s husband, if she happens to be married. While there is a great difference in their incomes, both are human, and both like their cups of tea. At present Judy has to pay the same price for her tea as has the Colonel’s lady, who enjoys a good income. There is need for this committee to review the item. We must consider the capacity of the general public to buy tea. I suggest to the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) that he should substitute an ad valorem duty for his present amendment. I have to thank the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for having drawn attention to the fact that the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) raised this particular point when the Scullin Government was . in power. Because the majority of the poorer classes cannot afford to pay the higher prices asked for fancy beverages, they resort to tea, and if we imposed an ad valorem duty they could purchase cheaper tea, while those prepared to buy better quality tea, ranging in price from 6s. to 8s. per lb., would have to incur a burdensome duty. Some honorable members seem surprised that certain blends of tea should be so costly. Let me give an instance: Some little time ago, being tired of ordinary brands of tea, I sought a change. My attention was directed to a Darjeeling tea, of which a friend had brought samples from India. Its flavour appealed to me, but- when, on inquiry, I found that itwould cost me 6s. per . lb. landed, my interest in it vanished.
Let me direct the attention of the committee to the manner in which this duty on tea has affected imports. In 1927-28, 45,37S,000 lb. of tea was imported into Australia. In 1928-29, the quantity had increased to 50,000,000 lb., which figure was slightly increased during 1929-30. As soon as this ridiculous duty was imposed by the Scullin Government, our tea imports dropped, the figure for. 1930-31 being 46,000,000 lb., and, in 1931-32, there was a further drop to 44,000,000 lb., proving conclusively that the burdensome tax on tea has resulted in a decreased consumption. If an ad valorem duty of 10 per cent. British preferential and 20 per cent, general were imposed, the desired preference would be given to the United Kingdom, and consumers would benefit. The opportunity to effect a reduction of duty now presents itself. I feel that such a move has the sympathy of honorable members of the Labour party, who claim that they are everlastingly caring for the welfare of the workers. At the same time it should appeal to honorable members of the Country party, who have the interests of the folk outback at heart, and know that the boundary rider and others welcome their billy of tea. Again, honorable members on the Government side, being mostly tea drinkers, would be . sure to accord such an amendment their support. I again urge the honorable member for New England to substitute an ad valorem duty for his present proposal.
– I have a good deal of sympathy with some of the things said by the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. E. J. Harrison). I seriously favour the abolition of the duty on tea,; but if the honorable member for Wentworth really wishes to assist the people whom he says honorable members on this side properly represent, he should go the whole hog, and try to remove the duty on bulk tea.
– I am willing to support such an amendment if the honorable member will move it.
– I strongly object to the removal of the duty on readypacked tea. That, I am sure, is not the wish of the honorable member, as it would be an attack on an Australian industry. In Australia wo can blend and pack tea as well as can be done elsewhere, and the removal of the duty on that sub-item would displace a good deal of labour and give no compensating advantage. The duty on bulk tea has served its purpose by bringing in a substantial revenue during a period of emergency. Now, evidently, the Government considers that the emergency has largely passed, for it has remitted a considerable amount of taxation, and lifted embargoes on importations.
Another reason why we should retain the duty on tea in packets is that we should encourage an increase in the blending and packing of tea in Australia. It is generally known that the firm of Lipton has purchased a site in Australia, and is organizing its staff with a view to beginning operations in this country. By removing the duty on tea in packets we should discourage such ventures and deny opportunities for the employment in light labour of many females and juveniles. I am sure that the Government does not want to do that. I disagree with the point of view of the last speaker in relation to the figures he quoted. He suggested that the falling off of 4,000,000 lb. in our imports of tea was due to the duty. I do not think so. Any one who examines the figures of any industry in the period to which the honorable member referred, must conclude that the falling off in the amount of tea consumed was only on a par with the falling off in the consumption of other commodities, and wa,s the result of the general depression.
– The people had a reduced purchasing power, and could not afford to buy so much tea.
– That is so. The price of tea has not increased ; it is lower to-day than it was before the duty was imposed.
– Not quality for quality.
– There is logic in the argument that if we take the duty off bulk tea, we shall be able to get back to the old position, and may enable our people to get tea at a lower price than they are at present paying. We may also by that means encourage the establishment of the grading and packing industry in this country. Tea is blended and packed here now. If the amendment covers sub-items a and b we shall be interfering with this work.
I am not in agreement with most speakers’ views in relation to the teaplanters in different countries. It seems to me that there is a perfect understanding among the planters’ in different parts of the world. They map out a programme and, when necessary, restrict the acreage under tea. Information is gathered from various sources as to the quantity of tea likely to be required, and the planting is done accordingly. I have noticed that there is usually a buoyancy in the market price of shares in tea companies immediately after resolutions have been carried to restrict the acreage under tea. I do not think that there is much competition between the tea-planters of Ceylon, China, Japan and Java, because the industry is controlled by the same people to a large extent. We should do what we can to encourage the blending and packing of tea in this country. If we allow hulk tea to come into Australia free, we shall stimulate those branches of the industry, encourage big companies like Lipton’s to begin operations in this country, and also keep the price of tea at the lowest possible point.
.- I have not risen this time to take exception to anything that has been said by the speaker who has just resumed his seat, and I trust that I have not exceeded reasonable bounds in that way previously. I wish to emphasize certain facts in relation to Imperial preferences and the tea industry. The honorable member’ for New England (Mr. Thompson), and other speakers to some extent, dealt mainly with two points. One of these was that it was harsh to tax a common necessity like tea. I feel sure that every member of the Government, and every member of this committee, is in agreement with that statement. This is a tax which we should all like to see remitted; but the previous Government was not able to remit it, although anxious to do so. In that respect I have no reason to believe that the present Government will be any more backward than its predecessor in office in remitting this duty when the financial position enables it to do so.
In the abstract the sentiments expressed by the honorable member for New England on the subject of Imperial preference were admirable. Every honorable member would agree with his remarks - in the abstract; but the principle upon which concessions are to be made as between one part of the Empire and another is, that as far as possible they shall not be at the expense of our best customers, but at the expense of countries which have shown marked antipathy to trading with us in the past. Undoubtedly the big countries in the East - Japan, China, and the Netherlands East Indies - are among our best customers. In a special schedule of the Ottawa agreement appears a list of commodities. They are commodities such as silk, upon which less than the Ottawa formula may be conceded, of special importance to the countries I have named. Other items in the list are of special interest to Belgium, Italy and other overseas countries which are good customers of ours. Tea is not mentioned in this schedule; it is not affected by the general provisions of articles 8 to 14. There is no question about it that we should make concessions in respect of the commodities listed in the schedule with much less readiness than we would make concessions concerning motor cars or some other commodities which we have to import mainly from countries which have shown no friendliness whatever to Australian trade in the past. That this is not a new idea can be shown by a quotation from a speech by a colleague of the honorable member for New England. I refer to the honorable member forForrest (Mr. Prowse), who, in speaking on the tariff in this House on the 5th December, 1927, during the régime of the Bruce-Page Government said, in respect to a preferential duty upon coffee -
The imposition of a duty on this article will be a further heavy blow to Western Australia. TheDutch East Indies constitute an important natural market for the products of Western Australia. The people there are buying our flour, wheat, fruit and potatoes; they are helping our immigrants to live on the land, and are giving us free port for our products.
When the Government withdrew the preferential duty on this item, the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) said - I quote from the report of the proceedings in this House on the 23rd March, 1928-
I am very pleased that the alteration has been accepted by the Government. I draw particular attention to the fact that theDutch Government has treated Australia remarkably well, particularly in allowing us to compete in the Java market on the same footing as its own people.
That is still the case to-day
– I strongly advocated preference.
– The proposal then was one that would have given preference in the only way that it could have been given at that time. On behalf of the flour and butter industries the strongest possible representations were made to the Government at the time of the Ottawa Conference by the export section of the Melbourne Chamber of Manufactures and the Butter Board, urging it to refrain from discriminating against good customers of ours in the Netherlands East Indies. The position with butter is that the Netherlands East Indies provide the largest overseas market for Australian butter outside the United Kingdom.
– The honorable member is discussing dominion preference in a very general way. I must ask him to be more specific in connecting his remarks with the item before the Chair.
– I do not think that the subject of preferential duties on tea can be discussed properly if the repercussions upon our flour and butter are ignored. At present, Australian butter has practically ousted Dutch butter from the Dutch colonies in the East Indies. The Dutch allow it entry to their colonies on equal terms with Dutch butter, and it holds 90 per cent. of the Dutch East Indies market, while Australian flour has practically a monopoly of the same market. In these circumstances, I hope that the honorable member for New England will realize that, however strong his argument may be in the abstract, he is advocating discrimination in complete disregard of, if not in opposition to, the opinions that were very strongly laid before the Government some time ago on behalf of two of the largest of our exporting primary industries. Possibly the time will come, as he has suggested, when we shall have to consider jeopardizing even the goodwill of some of our good customers in order to improve our position in our most important market, which is the British market; but I strongly urge that we should not rush forward with proposals that would have far-reaching consequences, and would not in themselves, improve trade relations with three of our most important foreign customers - Japan, China and the Netherlands East Indies. There are very few commodities which we can take from these countries in exchange for the enormous quantities of butter, flour, wool and wheat which they take from us. China, particularly, sends very little to Australia. I appeal especially to honorable members of the Country party not to jeopardize the good feeling between China and Australia by putting an obstacle in the way of our importing the small quantity of tea that we at present buy from China. That same remark may be applied to the bigger quantities of tea which we import from the Netherlands East Indies. I am sure that the representations which have been made will receive the closest attention of the Government, and in the meantime the subject could be well left in thehands of Ministers.
.- I thank the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) for having reminded me of the wise remarks that I made on this subject on a previous occasion when the tariff -was under consideration. I do not know whether he anticipated a change of faith in me, but there has been none. There is no doubt that Australia must be very careful in regard to reciprocal trade. “Whilst I should have been very glad to see provision in the Ottawa agreement for much greater concessions to be made to the Mother Country than have been provided for, one that we cannot alford to make is that in regard to tea. Our trade with Ceylon and the Malayan States is not nearly so valuable to us as is our trade with the Far East. We have offended Java on many occasions by imposing certain embargoes and heavy duties on her goods, although she gives us a free port for our exports. Java has a population of millions, and those people are our nearest customers. In this matter we cannot afford to give any offence to the people of the Far East. As the honorable member for Wakefield has remarked, tea is one of the items on which we can reciprocate with countries that trade with us. Apart from that aspect of the matter, the suggestion made by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) is sound. We should give the best terms to Great Britain, because she is the largest buyer of Australian products, and offers us our surest market.
.- In this matter we must consider the consumers of tea. Several honorable members have remarked that they are tea drinkers. The electors of Boothby consume tea at every meal, and, therefore, I should like to see it admitted into Australia duty free; but we have first to face the fact that the duty on tea is regarded as a revenue item. When the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) submitted his amendment I inquired what effect it would have on the revenue. I understand that about £800,000 is received in tea duties, and that if the amendment were carried the revenue would suffer to the extent of about £84,000.
– It would be reduced by £133,000.
– That would be a serious matter; but as soon as it is practicable I will support any proposal for the free admission of tea into Australia. A second aspect of this matter is the effect the amendment would have on the Ottawa agreement. I agree that we should do everything possible to encourage trade within the British Empire ; but evidently there was no bargaining at Ottawa in regard to preferential treatment of Empire tea. We need not, therefore, attach any importance to that aspect of the question, and may direct our attention elsewhere. In this connexion I hold that so far as possible we should always be ready to purchase goods from countries that desire to trade with us, and it would appear that we are under an obligation to trade with the Far East. We have been reminded that the United States of America wishes to export large quantities of goods to Australia, but is not prepared to take much trade from us’ in return. The balance of trade is lopsided in favour of America. I cannot support the amendment, because, for the present, we must regard this duty as a revenue one.
.- Much difference ‘ of opinion has been expressed on this item. I listened with interest to some of the statements of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Hawker) to the effect that we should take no action that would give offence to Java and our other customers in the Far East; but what a different attitude was assumed when the Deputy. Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) presented a striking -case with regard to our imports of sago and tapioca from Java?
– In that instance the figures were very small.
– But the same principle was under consideration. In this instance we have imposed a revenue duty on tea; but the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) proposes to reduce the duty both on packet tea and on tea imported in bulk; Honorable members know that the packing of tea in Australia constitutes a considerable industry. Labels have to he printed and purchased, tins and cases have to be manufactured, and there is also the labour involved in ‘ blending and packing the tea. We should not permit- tea . to be imported in packets, and we should not hesitate to impose a duty to keep such tea out of this country. Apart from the fact that the packing of the tea in Australia provides employment for our own people, it is far better to have the tea brought here in chests, because it travels better in bulk than in small packages, and it can be blended in Australia to suit the public taste. The effect of the other proposal by the honorable member for New England would be to reduce the duty on tea imported from Ceylon. The objection naturally raised by the Government is that that would reduce our revenue. I would listen with greater interest to the Government’s argument in that respect if it were not so ready, as it has shown itself to be, to remit taxes paid by its wealthy friends. A government that can throw away £750,000 or more to wealthy land-owners, mainly in the cities, and yet balk at the granting of one-sixth of that sum to the tea-drinkers of Australia, has not much sympathy with the mass of the people.
– Order ! The right honorable member is digressing from the item under consideration.
– Having regard to the revenue aspect of the matter, I would not support a reduction of the duty until the country was in a stronger financial position, if the Government were not so reckless in its attitude to the wealthy land-owners. That aspect, I am sure, will weigh considerably with, the majority of the people. The Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons) is constantly saying that the time has arrived for the reduction of taxation, and surely the duty on tea is one of the first that should be reduced.
– The right honorable member said that the duty did not pass on to the consumers.
– I say that the price of tea did not go up as a result of this duty.
– And it may not come down.
– That may be so. I believe that a certain quantity of cheap tea came to Australia; but if we made a test of the standard packages of tea of certain grades, the quality and price would prove to have remained the same. That is the advice that I have received up to a short time ago. It is true that there was a change over from Indian tea to tea from Eastern countries, and the quality of some of that was not so high as the quality of Indian tea; but, generally speaking, I do not believe that much of the duty was passed on to the consumers. It is said that, if we now reduce the preferential duty, some of the trade will be transferred to Ceylon. I listened to the arguments advanced in this chamber when protection was being taken away from the Australian cigar manufacturers. Emphasis was laid on the point that that action was taken to give effect to the Ottawa agreement, and to show preference to a British dominion; but it gave a preference to black labour over Australian white labour. If we are to carry out the terms of . the Ottawa agreement, it will give preference to the tea planters of India, as against the tea planters of a foreign country, but not at the expense of white workers in Australia. The argument for carrying out the spirit of the Ottawa agreement is thus stronger on this item than it was in regard to cigars. I suggest that the committee should support the second part of the amendment; but not the first part, which would prejudice the industry of tea packing iii Australia.
– I support the proposal as it stands. This is not a protective, but a revenue, duty. It is associated with the Government’s financial policy, and the whole matter was carefully considered before the duties were proposed. I suggest that no government worthy of its name could afford to sacrifice a revenue of £133,000 in these difficult times. It is a reasonable proposal, and the supporters of the Government should stand behind it. I have a keen recollection that, when I first entered this chamber during the regime of the late Mr. Pratten, a similar proposal was submitted. On that occasion, while every honorable member was animated, as we all are to-day, by a desire to increase British preferences and Empire preferences generally, it was then, as it is today, necessary to consider the trade done by Australia with other countries.
I beg the. committee to remember the tremendous importance and value of the trade that we do with Java and other countries that are in competition with British tea-growing countries. By this duty the Government is conserving the interests of the Empire, and at the same time acting in a reasonable way towards those countries which do a substantial trade with us. I listened intently to the speech of the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), and was keenly interested in his mental gymnastics.
– Is that not disorderly?
– I wish that the right honorable gentleman would refrain from interrupting my speech ; he is given altogether too much licence in this chamber.
– Order !
– I was saying that I had observed with very great interest, the mental gymnastics of the Leader of the Opposition.
– Order ! Personal references to honorable members are not only irrelevant, but frequently lead to gross disorder.
– If I am not permitted to use ordinary parliamentary language, there is no use in my proceeding further.
– The honorable gentleman must deal with the item.
– I am endeavouring to do so. I was pointing out that the Leader of the Opposition went through a most extraordinary series of mental calculations, and made the most carefully thought-out statements, apparently in order to justify his intention to vote against a proposal that he, as the Leader of a previous Government, regarded as essential for the well-being of this country, and which he brought into this Parliament. His gibe about the remission of land tax by the present Government I did not think was in order.
– Order !
– The Leader of the Opposition was apparently in order when he referred to this subject.
– Order ! I called the Leader of the Opposition to order on the occasion to which the honorable gentleman refers, and I also ask the honorable gentleman not to digress.
– -All that I ask is that I be given the privilege that was accorded to the Leader of the Opposition. I consider that I am entitled to say in defence of the Government that it cannot sacrifice revenue to the extent of £133,000 by the proposed reduction of the duties on this item, but that it was justified in removing some of the burden of taxation from the backs of the people of this country.
– Order ! If the honorable gentleman persists in disregarding the ruling of the Chair, I shall ask him to resume his seat.
– I wish, to conform to your ruling, Mr. Chairman, and with your permission shall state the facts to you. The Leader of the Opposition charged the present Government, of which I am a member, with having reduced taxes in the interests of the wealthy people of this country. Shall I be in order in replying to that charge?
– When the Leader of the Opposition made that statement, I called him to order, and asked him to deal with the item. The PostmasterGeneral would not be in order in replying to what the Chair has ruled out of order.
– Out of my respect for you, sir, I leave the matter there. I resent very strongly this attack upon the Government, to which I am not permitted to reply. I affirm that the present proposal of the Government is in accord with views that have been definitely and clearly expressed on numerous occasions, not only by honorable members who sit oil this side of the chamber, but also by those who sit in the corner opposite. It is fair to the British Empire, to Great Britain, tq those countries that support Australia by trading with her, and to Australia herself in connexion with the framing of the budget, which is designed to conserve the interests of all sections of the people.
.- The Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) has to-night displayed a commendable solicitude for the revenue. The amount that would be lost as the result of the adoption of the small reduction proposed by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) would be infinitesimal compared with that which would have been involved in sacrificing what was originally proposed by the Scullin Government. The honorable gentleman then opposed the imposition of a duty on tea, and applauded every honorable member who expressed similar sentiments. He literally shed tears in declaring his sympathy with widows and children.
– Order ! I ask the honorable gentleman to refrain from making personal references.
– The reduction of the duty imposed under sub-item a would be opposed to the best interests of a large number of the workers in the tea-blending industry, and would encourage the importation of tea in packets. The right course would be to compel the importers to importtea in bulk, and to pack it here. Li pton’s are considering the establishment of the tea-packing industry in Australia. We should encourage them to do so, and thus provide employment for Australian workers. I suggest that subitem a be considered apart from sub-item n. The Minister might then recast his estimate of the probable loss of revenue if the duties were made 2d. and 4d. respectively. The solicitude that has been shown for Java to-night was absent when I advocated the removal of the duty of 15 per cent, on Javan sago and tapioca, with the object of assisting those who, hopeful of increasing the trade with Java, are sending a trade ship to that country. The Minister was amazed at that suggestion, and said that to be consistent I should not object to the free entry into Australia of Javan sugar.
– Order ! An item that has been agreed to by the committee cannot be further debated.
– The financial position to-day is vastly different from what it was when the Governments of Australia were faced with an immediate deficit of £10,000,000 and a possible deficit of £20,000,000 in the succeeding financial year. This year taxation is being remitted to the extent of £2,000,000, and there i3 an estimated surplus of £2,000,000. Honorable members opposite who support the present proposal of the Government opposed these duties when a previous government was forced by the exigencies of the financial situation to impose them. They then said that their hearts bled for the housewives of Australia. They now have an opportunity to vote for at least one section of the amendment.
That the item and proposed amendment be considered by sub-items.
– This debate is of more than passing interest. As tea cannot be produced in Australia, an import duty must he regarded as a purely revenue item. The argument advanced against the amendment is that its acceptance would have an adverse effect on the revenue. I contend, however, that as the’ customs returns are several million pounds in excess of the estimate, the importance of this aspec of the matter has been over-stressed. A reduction of the duty would probably lead to an increased consumption of tea, and thus the revenue would be benefited. I also direct attention to the bearing that this has on the cost of living. Tea is Australia’s most universal beverage; it is consumed in every home, and is regarded by many of our womenfolk as an essential to good health. I believe that the adoption of the amendment would not ultimately affect the revenue to the extent suggested. I, therefore, propose to support it.
.- A.my name has been brought into the discussion by the honorable member foi Wakefield (Mr. Hawker), it behoves me to make a few remarks on this subject. For years I have consistently advocated that some degree of preference should be given to Empire tea. During the debate on the budget about eighteen months ago, I quoted statistics dealing with the question, and pointed out thai Canada gave a preference to Empire tea. I regard this, as essentially a revenue duty, and cannot understand the honorable member for Boothby (Mr. Price) and members of the Opposition arguing against it. If tea were allowed in free, why should not the same treatment be accorded to coffee, chicory, whisky, and beer ? I consider that tea is somewhat of a luxury, and that those who drink it should make a small contribution to the revenue. I propose to support the proposal of the Government. This matter ought to have been raised at the Ottawa Conference.
– It was.
– Then I cannot understand why tea was not included in the list of items embraced by the agreement. Only a little while ago, I communicated with the Attorney-General, asking him to see whether it was not possible to give some degree of preference to Empire tea. I believe that that would be a wise step, provided that it was on a modified scale. I am convinced that the Government could not afford to forgo the enormous amount of revenue derived from this duty; and even if it could, I should prefer it to devote its attention to many other items that are hampering industry at the present time.
– It is advisable that I should make a statement regarding what happened at Ottawa, because considerable misapprehension exists as to whether the subject of tea was even raised there. If honorable members will turn to page 6 of the Ottawa agreement, they will find that Ceylon offered to Australia preferences on bacon and ham, biscuits, brandy, canned fruit, canned vegetables, cheese, fruit, milk, wines and butter. The matter was discussed at considerable length with the Secretary for the Dominions and India, with a view to ascertaining whether a reciprocal basis could be arrived at. Ultimately the items shown in scheduleg were decided upon as being the most that Australia could offer to Ceylon. That schedule covers a whole page of items in respect of which we have given preference to many colonies within the British Empire. The Legislature of Ceylon, evidently, has decided that the preferences that we were prepared to extend to that country are not acceptable. Various subsequent proposals have been made from time to time, but no arrangement has yet been come to. The amendment is quite unnecessary.
– Is the Commonwealth Government still negotiating with the Ceylon Government?
– Yes, and I think that something of mutual advantage will arise out of the negotiations. Negotiations between governments are more likely to bring about the desired result than a random shot in this chamber as to the proper rate of preferential duty. In ordinary circumstances, the amendment would be quite acceptable. The honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) quoted some of my remarks when I was sitting in Opposition. At that time, I did say that the amendment, which was moved to reduce the duty which the previous Government had placed on tea, would, if accepted, open the door to a trade agreement between the different exporting countries within the British Empire. I still believe that, and I thank the honorable member for having paid a tribute to me for my consistency in the matter. No good purpose will be served in pressing the amendment. In 1927, it was proposed that preference should be given to empiregrown coffee, and honorable- members well know that there was great opposition to that proposal on the part of the butter, flour, and other exporting industries. It was pointed out that we had an enormous export trade with the Dutch East Indies. In 1931-32, the value of our exports to that country was as follows : -
In the course of a few days, a show boat will leave these shores taking both primary and secondary products to the Dutch East Indies, and I suggest that if this amendment is carried we shall deal a blow at some of our major items, not a petty item, such as tapioca with which the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde) was previously greatly concerned. The passing of such an amendment at a time like this would only prejudice the success of that venture. Let me give honorable members figures relating to our trade with Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies. The value of our trade, both import and export, with Ceylon is under £5,000,000, whereas the value of our trade with the Dutch East Indies is nearly £17,000,000. This item is therefore of major importance. Some figures were quoted by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. McNicoll) to show how the amendment, if carried, would benefit the Empire, and he suggested that we might consider the item in a new light. Let me point out that the total value of importa- tions of tea in 1931-32 was £1,365,000, and of that sum the British imports, including tea grown in Ceylon, India, and other British possessions, represented only £519,000. The total poundage of all British teas imported into Australia was 16,027,000 lb., and a reduction of 2d. per lb. on that quantity would mean a loss of revenue of £133,000. The honorable member for Werriwa said that the value of the total British imports was £750,000, whereas it was £519,000.
– My figure was correct.
– In the honorable member’s figure there was a discrepancy of £250,000. He evidently confused the British with the foreign figures. The previous Government imposed this duty as a revenue duty during a time of extreme financial peril, and at the time I supported an amendment moved by my predecessor (Sir Henry Gullett) to the effect that a preferential duty be imposed.
– At ad valorem rates.
– Yes. That amendment was defeated. No one deplores more than I do the need to tax a commodity such as tea which is in general use, and at the earliest moment the Government will reduce the duty, because it is merely a revenue tax, as indeed are the whole of the duties in this particular group. The success of this revenue duty is shown by the fact that in 1929 the revenue from it was only £1,300, whereas in 1930-31, it was £442,000, and in 1931- 32, £696,928. It is obvious that we cannot sacrifice such a large amount of revenue.
– The Government was prepared to sacrifice £800,000 for the benefit of wealthy land-owners.
– That is mere political propaganda, because every man on the land benefited by the remissions of land tax. I urge the honorable member for New England to withdraw his amendment, and hot restrict, at a time like this, the opportunity to increase our exports of butter, cheese, flour, and other commodities to the Dutch East Indies.
.- The reference of the Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) to mental gymnastics was amusing.
– The PostmasterGeneral was called to order.
– Both the Minister and the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) have since committed the same offence. The Minister himself was at one time one of the greatest opponents of the duty which he is now so vehemently advocating. It has been extraordinary to witness the complete somersaults of a number of honorable members. The Minister has stated that this is purely a revenue duty, and is necessary in view of the present financial position. Notwithstanding that fact, millions of pounds have been remitted to the wealthy land-owners of Australia.
– I have already called other honorable members to order for referring to the land tax remissions.
– Although the Minister said that this tax was necessary to provide revenue, yet he was not so solicitous for the welfare of the country when we were discussing the item relating to rum.
– The honorable member, in criticizing an item already agreed to, is reflecting upon a decision of the committee.
– The Government has deliberately sacrificed revenue in respect of various items at the expense of Australian workers. The Government pursues its tariff policy regardless of the great masses of. the people. It has no concern for any section of the community, other than the wealthy section.
– I ask the honorable member to confine his remarks to the item before the Chair.
– The Scullin Government imposed a duty on tea at a time when this country was faced with a deficit of £22,000,000. This Government, since it has been in office, has slashed the tariff and attacked our social legislation.
– If the honorable member will not confine his remarks to the item before the Chair, I shall be compelled to ask him to resume his seat.
– The Government, on this occasion, has refused to reduce the duty on tea. The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) in a desire to ease his freetrade conscience, suggested that the Minister might make some arrangement to exchange our butter for Ceylon tea. The Minister grasped that suggestion because the attitude of the supporters of the Government was causing consternation to the Government Whip. ‘
– The action of the Government Whip has nothing to do with this item.
– The action of the Government Whip has a most significant relationship to the item under discussion.
– The honorable member for Darling must resume his seat.
– On what ground ?
– For continued irrelevancy after being called to order by the Chair.
.- I do not desire to cast a silent vote on any item which places a hurden upon the poorer section of the community. The present duty on tea, which is a revenue tax, is not justifiable. People who can ill afford luxuries should not be denied the comfort of a cup of tea, and it is an ill-considered action on the part of the Government to tax the people’s beverage. Apart from that, we have to consider our trade with the Dutch East Indies, a country from which most of our tea is imported. Our imports of Javan tea are much greater than our imports of Ceylon tea. The people of Java purchase coal from us to the value of £28,000 a year, and take a quantity of our dairy produce as well. We should show a greater disposition to engage in reciprocal trade with them. The amendment is, as a matter of fact, overdue, and this tax should be abolished.
– The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin), speaking on sub-item a, opposed the amendment on the ground that, if agreed to, it might have the effect of destroying the tea-packing industry in
Australia. I remind him that it was his Government that introduced the duty in the first place, and if it had been so anxious to protect the tea-packing industry, it could have gone about achieving its purpose by the very simple and effective process of imposing an embargo on the importation of tea in packets, thus ensuring that tea coming in hulk into the country would be packed here. I would approve of the imposition of such an embargo, and I think that the Government ought to impose it. We ought to encourage the teapacking industry in Australia, just as we encourage the manufacture of tobacco here. But the giving of a preference of 2d. per lb. on Empire tea in packets would not seriously affect the tea-packing industry of Australia. It would simply mean that a larger quantity of tea in packets would be imported from Empire countries, and a smaller quantity from foreign countries; the one would balance the other. It seems to me that honorable members are losing their sense of proportion when they say that they cannot support my amendment because it would endanger the tea-packing industry.
As for sub-item b, dealing with the importation of tea in bulk, I confess that all the arguments which have been advanced from the ministerial side of the House, and some of those from members of my own party, leave me quite cold. I am amazed at the sudden decline of enthusiasm for the .glorious doctrine of Empire preference of which we have heard so much during the last two years. In this instance, the Parliament of Australia has an opportunity to declare its faith in the policy of preference to Empire countries - not merely to Great Britain, hut to other parts of the Empire also, the inhabitants of which we are proud, when it suits us, to call our brothers, whether they bo black, brown or brindle. It seems to me that there is a certain amount of smug hypocrisy in the attitude of some honorable members.
– The word “ hypocrisy “ must be withdrawn.
– I withdraw it, and say that a certain amount of smug insincerity is in evidence. If we should be careful not to do anything to antagonize big customers like the Dutch East
Indies, Japan and China, why not go further and make every effort to take away all of our trade from our unfortunate little coloured brethren in the Empire, and give it to foreign countries? The Minister gave the whole case away by his admission that the complications anticipated with our big customers in the East are already being prepared for by the Government, because it is negotiating with Ceylon to bring about this very 2-esuli. He says that it will be very much better for the proposal to come from the Government in a quiet little back-stairs way than in a bold manner from the Australian Parliament. I think that the Dutch people, for whom we seem to entertain a great respect in this instance, would be impressed by the fact that this proposal came from the Australian Parliament, and not merely from the Government without parliamentary authority. It is interesting to have obtained from the Minister the admission that the Government is carrying on negotiations with other parts of the Empire without taking Parliament into its confidence. I do not object to that; but it confirms my opinion that Parliament should declare on this item that, whenever it is possible for us to make a gesture of preference to the dominions within the Empire, we shall do so gladly. According to the Minister’s statement, if the negotiations are successful, the Government may have to agree to the very proposal we are now putting forward.
– We can then bring it before Parliament for consideration.
– Would it not strengthen the Government’s hands if Parliament made a declaration now? Such a declaration might make it evident that it is a good thing to belong to the Empire, and that we do not wish to squeeze the last penny out of those with whom we trade. It would be better for us to approach the matter in that spirit than in the bargaining, huckstering spirit which was evident at Ottawa. Some members of the Country party are so afraid of losing our trade with Java that they are prepared to stultify themselves by opposing the principle that this party ha3 supported for years, namely, preference to British communities. The Postma ster-General (Mr. Parkhill) has said that, if we make this gesture of friendliness to Ceylon by granting its product a preference of 2d. per lb., our foreign customers, particularly the Dutch, will become so incensed against us that they will break off trade relations. Ceylon, of course, is only a small country. Its representatives attended the Ottawa Conference crying for a few crumbs from the table; but, because they represented a small community, they were pushed on one side, and told that what they had to say would be considered later when the big fellows had finished.
– That is not so.
– The Minister has admitted that Ceylon was represented at the conference for the purpose of obtaining preference on tea.
– The Secretary of .State for the Colonies negotiated on behalf of Ceylon. That country was not directly represented, but, up to the moment, is perfectly satisfied with what was done.
– I do not believe that our trade with the Dutch East Indies would be destroyed, or even affected, by the granting of 2d. per lb. preference on tea. from Ceylon. If our trade with those countries is on such an insubstantial basis, it is liable to be lost whether this concession is granted or not. Those foreign countries which would object to the granting of this preference are asking too much. They have no right to ask that we should sacrifice our trade with British countries in ‘order to promote trade with them. The amendment is in keeping with the spirit of the Ottawa agreement, and with the doctrine of Empire reciprocity. Although it might involve a small loss of revenue, it would prove satisfactory to the Australian people, who would be able to buy tea from Empire countries at 2d. per lb. cheaper than at present. The carrying of the amendment would show that the Ottawa agreement is not merely a figment of the imagination, as some are beginning to regard it, but a living reality. If we are able, even at some small loss to ourselves, thus to demonstrate the faith that is in us, we should act without delay.
.- The honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett), who prepared this tariff schedule, when discussing the duty on tea imposed by the last Government, made the following statement : -
A tax on tea is a surprising tax to be levied by a Labour government. The duty is entirely unscientific, in that it has been imposed without any regard to the ability of the people to pay it. Indeed, it falls with the greatest severity on the poorer persons of the Community, for tea is drunk as much by people with small incomes as by those with large incomes.
Since then, the honorable member’s party, which at that time was in Opposition, has got into office, with the result that its political opinions and ideas on revenue have altered somewhat.
– The honorable member at that time supported the duty on tea.
– Yes, because T was a member of a government faced with a deficit of £22,000,000. I supported the duty reluctantly, because I recognized that it was a tax on a commodity used in practically every home in Australia, and particularly in the homes of the workers. That Government would never have thought of imposing duties on tea, had it been in the happy position now occupied by this Government, with abounding revenues, and certainly it would not have continued the impost a moment longer than was necessary. When the Scullin Government imposed these duties, it was made perfectly clear that they would be removed at the earliest opportunity. When its proposals were under discussion, the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Francis), said -
The Government admits that this is a revenue duty. There would have been no need to resort to such means of raising revenue had the Government carried out the terms of the Melbourne agreement, to which the No. 1 Labour Government subscribed. The Government, however, failed .to carry out the economies adopted by that agreement, and now it is forced to raise the duty on the workers’ tea.
The honorable gentleman is now a member of this Government which has made further drastic cuts in wages and social services, and doubtless he will support the continuance of this tax upon the workers, which he so vehemently condemned only a year or two ago.
I come now to some observations made by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White), who is so enthusiastic about the retention of these duties. When the Scullin Government imposed these duties, the honorable gentleman, in the course of his opposition to the proposal, said-
I realize that in increasing the duty on tea, the Government is after revenue, but I regret that it should deem it necessary to tax so drastically this household commodity. Tea is not in any sense a luxury. I, therefore, intend to support the amendment moved by the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) to make the duty ad valorem, 15 per cent. British. . . .
Apparently the honorable gentleman, having crossed from the left to the right of the Speaker in this chamber, has changed his opinion about the taxation of this household commodity, because he now supports its retention, whereas in 1931, when the duties were imposed by a Labour government, because of the critical financial position of the country, he offered the most strenuous opposition to them.
– I supported the proposal in another form.
– The honorable gentleman condemned the imposition of those duties by the Seullin Government, and supported an amendment to reduce the revenue which, at that time, was so . urgently needed for the safety of the nation. The revenue position at the present time is entirely different, even after making allowance for- the tremendous amount of money which has been handed out by this Government to a certain section of the community. The Labour Government was reluctant to impose the duties, and I repeat that this form of taxation would never have been resorted to, but for the fact that the Government was called upon to deal with a desperate financial situation. I intend to support the latter portion ‘of the amendment’ moved by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), because I am not prepared to injure the great packing industry which has been established in Australia.
.- The discussion on this item has developed into what may be described as a storm in a teacup. Statements have been made that the effect of the duties on tea has been the reverse of what was expected. The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway) has told us that tea is cheaper to-day than before the imposition of the duties, so it cannot be contended that this revenue tax is a serious burden on the consumers. Our importation of tea from all countries is equal to about 7 lb. per head of the population. Between 15,000,000 lb. and 16,000,000 lb., or about 2½ lb. per head of the population, comes from Empire sources, so that the relief given, if the amendment were carried, would represent about 5d. per head per annum. We should, however, bear in mind the possible repercussions in our trade with the East if we adopted the amendment. It seems to me that there would be a better opportunity to make a satisfactory trade agreement with other countries if we used the 2d. rebate as a lever. We import from the Netherlands East Indies goods to the value of £2,648,000 yearly, including £1,500,000 worth of petrol and oil, and that country buys from us commodities worth £1,300,000, including butter, £418,000; flour and wheat, £529,000; preserved milk, £101,000; and leather, £34,000. Our efforts should be directed to increasing our trade relations with our good customers, and I submit thatwe are more likely to achieve this object by means of negotiation, than by carrying the amendment now before the committee.
– I am not opposed to a reduction of the duty on tea. I hope that it can be brought about, not as the amendment asks, by a gift to Ceylon, but by treaty with some country in return for benefits that may accrue to our important export industries. Tea is one of the special commodities which was not dealt with at Ottawa, and the Minister has informed us that the Government is entering into discussions with a view to trade agreements with other countries.
– That is so.
– In view of these trade negotiations we should not endanger the extension of our export trade. We have not a very wide range of commodities in respect of which we can offer trade concessions, and we should be especially careful to use them to extend our trade in butter, meat and tinned products. I view with concern the giving of this valuable concession to Ceylon, with which we have an adverse trade balance. We should, wherever possible, extend our trade in the East. China, for example, sends to Australia goods to the value of £314,778, including tea, £17,000, and in return buys from us goods to the value of £4,942,000. Ceylon buys from us commodities valued at £376,000, and our imports from Ceylon amount to £600,000. I take the stand that we should not take from countries employing black labour, commodities that can be produced iu Australia, but I urge the advantage of using for barter, and in order to increase our export trade, those tropical commodities which are not produced in Australia, and tea is one of them. It would be very gratifying if we could in that way relieve the taxpayers of Australia of 2d. per lb. duty on tea. The agreement which the Minister ter has told us he is about to negotiate, may make that possible. Tea comprises 75 per cent. of Java’s exports to Australia, and in return we export heavily in flour, practically the whole of Java’s imports coming from Australia. Java is buying our tinned and leather goods and other manufactures. I submit that it would be to Australia’s disadvantage to give this concession to Ceylon, a country with which Australia has an adverse trade balance, more particularly as Ceylon has not asked for it. At the Ottawa Conference the other parts of the British Empire asked for everything that they thought Australia might concede to them; but they did not ask for this concession. In my opinion, Australia has already conceded too much to the rest of the Empire in comparison with what she has received, and I do not see why we should make this additional gift. It would be better to leave the negotiations in regard to a preference on tea in the hands of the Government, as something with which to barter in any arrangements which may be entered into under future trade agreements. In that way we may be able to increase our trade with other countries, and, at the same time, reduce the price of tea in Australia. I fear that the amendment would have a harmful effect, and I hope, therefore, that, in the present circumstances, it will not be accepted by the committee.
– The question before the Chair is the amendment moved by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) to sub-item 100 (a).
Amendment to sub-item (a) negatived.
Sub-item (a) agreed to.
– The item now before the Chair is the amendment moved by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) to sub-item (b).
Amendment put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 18
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I move -
That sub-item (b) be amended by adding the following: - “And on and after 30th March, 1933 -
N.E.I., per lb., British, 2d.: general, 2d.”
I can understand the difficulty of certain honorable members of the Country party in regard to this sub-item. They desire a reduction of the duty on tea, but they are afraid that if we give a preference to British tea, we may offend other countries with which we want to trade. On other occasions we have listened to impassioned speeches from honorable members in this chamber in favour of the benefits of Empire trade. The Minister will say that this amendment will entail a loss of revenue. The duty of 4d. per lb. on bulk tea, and 6d. per lb. on tea in packages, never produced more than £600,000 per annum. A reduction of the duty on bulk tea to 2d. will not cost the revenue more than £300,000, which will be a small loss in comparison with the estimated surplus of £2,000,000 for the current financial year. The duty on tea was imposed at an abnormal time, when the Government of the day was facing the greatest financial crisis in the history of Australia. The deficit for the year amounted to £10,000,000, and another deficit of £20,000,000 was anticipated in the following year. Yet, for imposing this revenue duty in a time of emergency, the Government had to submit to severe criticism from members now sitting on the ministerial side. This tax on the poorer section of the community was denounced in unmeasured terms by the members then in opposition, and the Government promised that it would be the first special revenue duty to be removed as soon as the finances of the country improved. Tea was taxed in the United Kingdom from the days of Queen Elizabeth until 1931 when Mr. Winston Churchill, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, expressed his pleasure at being able to remove the import duty on this household necessity. When the Scullin Government imposed the present duty for revenue purposes, the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. White) deplored the placing of this burden on the poorer section of the community. I have no reason to doubt that he was sincere on that occasion, and I hope that he will now agree to a reduction of the duty.I have always advocated an expansion of our exports to other countries, and when the duties on sago and tobacco were under consideration recently,
I said that the duty of 15 per cent, in the general tariff against the products of Java might prejudice our valuable export trade to the Dutch East Indies. Some members of the Country party voted against the amendment of the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) this evening on the ground that, by giving a preference to British countries, it might prove detrimental to our trade relations with foreign countries. My amendment affords those honorable gentlemen an opportunity to support an all-round reduction of duties on tea, and I am sure that the .planters of Java and Ceylon will be delighted if they read in the newspapers to-morrow that this committee has reduced the impost on tea by 2d. per lb. The present Government claims to have been instrumental in reducing the prices of galvanized iron and other commodities. By conferring with the tea merchants, the Minister for Trade and Customs may be able to reduce the retail price of tea by 2d. per lb. If that happens, everybody will be pleased. I sincerely hope that Ministers who- deplored the tax on this popular beverage even during a national crisis will, in view of the estimated surplus of £2,000,000, agree to my amendment, which, by reducing the cost of living, may help to cheapen production costs generally.
– Standing Order 223 provides-
A motion, contradictory of a previous decision of tlie committee shall not be entertained in the same committee.
The committee has already negatived a proposal to reduce the British preferential duty to 2d. I realize, however, that that amendment involved the principle of preference, whereas the present amendment proposes an all-round reduction of duties to 2d. per lb. without any differentiation between the products of the Empire and those of foreign countries. A new principle is now at issue, and in order to allow the committee full opportunity to express its will, I rule that the amendment is in order.
– One cannot but admire the versatility of the honorable . member for Capricornia (Mr. Forde). A few moments ago he was appealing on behalf of the tea planters of
Ceylon, and asking the committee not to reduce the duty on tea from the Dutch East Indies. Apparently he has since remembered that an Australian show boat is being despatched to the Dutch East Indies shortly with the encouragement and assistance of the Government, and having put himself completely in the wrong, he has now moved this amendment to retrieve his position. However; we know the honorable gentleman sufficiently well not to take him seriously. The proper course is to adopt the duties proposed in the schedule, and then seek to negotiate trade agreements with the Dutch East Indies and other countries. I assure honorable members that several countries are waiting to make trade treaties with the Commonwealth as soon as effect has been given to the Ottawa agreement.
– I cannot understand why there should be such an outcry against this amendment. It i3 one of those strange moments in the life of politicians which makes one wonder what has gone wrong with the mentality of one’s fellow members.
– Order ! The honorable member is out of order in making personal references to other honorable members.
– I am not reflecting on their sanity, but I am reminded that, from time to time, it is noticeable that some honorable members who are generally capable of clear thinking suddenly seem unable to look all round a question. For a long time, honorable members have urged that there should be a reduction of the duty on tea. When the Scullin Government proposed these duties, the present* Postmaster-General (Mr. Parkhill) vociferously declaimed against them, fiercely thumping his desk, and almost causing the building to rock with his denunciations of such an imposition.
– Order ! The honorable member must realize that, references of a personal nature to other honorable members have nothing to do with the item, to which he must confine his attention.
– At that time, while admitting that it’ was perhaps necessary to increase the revenue by a duty on tea, honorable members held, that that duty should be removed so soon as the opportunity presented itself. In the circumstances, I am surprised that any honorable members should now oppose the amendment of the Deputy Leader .of the Opposition (Mr. Forde). “We have already decided the preference issue, and I accept the views of honorable members who disagree with me in that matter. The present amendment is for a straightout reduction in the duty on tea, and it involves no party considerations. For a person holding his fiscal views, the hon.orable member for Riverina (Mr. Nock) advanced a most extraordinary argument. Time and again he has stated that these constant charges are gradually breaking the back of the man on the land. Tonight he said that a saving of 2d. a lb. on tea did not matter a snap of the finger to a housewife. Every 2d. that is saved by a housewife is of importance these days. It must be remembered that tea is used almost universally throughout Australia. Here is an opportunity to reduce the cost of living, which is the political duty of all honorable members. I shall vote unhesitatingly for the proposed reduction.
– Although I supported the amendment moved by the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson), I have no intention of supporting that moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Forde). I did not agree entirely with the previous amendment, and suggested that an ad valorem duty would have been more beneficial, both to the Government and to the consumers of tea. I do not feel inclined to be dragged at the heels of honorable members opposite and endorse their every whim in connexion with this item. I make it clear that, while I was prepared to support a proposal which would have involved the Government in a loss of £84,000, I do not intend to support this amendment, which would result in a substantially greater loss to the exchequer.
– Honorable members generally have indulged in a great, deal of agitation in the House and outside concerning the high cost of living, intimating that they would embrace the first’ oppor tunity to effect a reduction. No one will deny that tea is one of the most commonly used commodities in Australian households.
– -It has no food value.
– On that point I am not prepared to argue, but I am sure that no other article is more generally used in the Commonwealth. Each country has its own popular beverage. For instance, in the United States of America it is coffee; in Australia it is tea. We must consider the position as it affects the thousands who drink tea, and particularly those who are forced to live under the food relief system, if we bring about a reduction in the price of this article.
At the last general election, many honorable members spent a good deal of time declaring that, at the first opportunity, they would remove the duty from tea. I do not wish to mention names, but will let each honorable member examine his own conscience.
Nor need I dwell upon the revenue aspect, for, according to the Government, the position in that regard is satisfactory. Yet that is the only serious argument advanced by honorable members who support the Government against a reduction of the duty on tea. It is also most interesting to sit in this chamber and listen to the ever-changing views of honorable members concerning Empire trade. They certainly do not inspire one with any confidence. One day the subject is butter, and honorable members vote- accordingly. The next day the commodity has changed; so have the views of honorable members. My opinion is that the cost of living is involved in this matter.
– Does the honorable member consider that the price of tea would he reduced if the duty were lowered?
– The Government can find means to bring about reductions of wages, so it should be able to take the necessary action in this respect”. However, that could be determined later. Here is an opportunity of which honorable members should only be too ready to avail themselves t’o carry out their election promises, if their public utterances were of any value.
.- The importations of tea into Australia have declined to some extent in recent years. The value of our tea imports is shown in the following table : -
According to a rough calculation that I have just made the carrying of this amendment would involve the Government in a loss of revenue to the extent of £331,000 per annum.
Mr.White. - My calculation gives the amount as approximately £360,000.
– If the amendment, which was defeated earlier this evening, had been carried, it would have involved a loss of revenue of £133,000 per annum. I shall not vote for this amendment, because I do not think it would be fair, in the present circumstances of the country, to subject the Government to a loss of revenue which would exceed £300,000 per annum; but I trust that the revenue will continue to be buoyant, and that before very long we shall be able to admit tea intoAustralia free of duty.
Mr.RIORDAN (Kennedy) [10.32].- We have been told often enough, recently, that prosperity has been restored, or that it is just around the corner.Whether this is so or not, times are better than they Were when the Scullin Government was faced with a deficit of £20,000,000 left by the previous Government, for it is expected that there will be a surplus of £2,000,000 this year. In these circumstances, it is reasonable to expect the Government to accept the amendment of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr.Forde). As the Government has been able to remit taxes to the extent of £750,000, or thereabouts, on the wealthy land-holders of Australia, it should be able to remit duties on tea to the extent suggested in the amendment. Unfortunately, most of the legislation introduced by this Government has reacted against the poorer class of the people. The excuse that certain honorable gentlemen have made for opposing this amendment is that it would reduce the revenue; but, when the Scullin Government was faced with a deficit of £20,000,000, the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry
Gullett) thought fit to move an amendment to reduce the duty on tea which would have depleted the revenue seriously, and he received the support of a large number of his colleagues. It appears now that the Scullin Government might just as well have allowed the revenue to fall instead of taxing the foodstuffs of the people. The following honorable members voted in favour of Sir Henry Gullett’s amendment to the Scullin Government’s proposals : -
The list of pairs on that occasion was as follows : -
Most of the honorable gentlemen whose names I have read are still with us, and to-night they are opposing a reduction of the duty on tea.Where is their consistency? In the debate on this subject, on the 19th May, 1931, the present Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Francis) said -
The Government admits that this is a revenue duty. There would have been no need to resort to such a means of raising revenue had the Government carried out the terms of the Melbourne agreement.
The honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory) stood behind the Government on that occasion, but to-night he is supporting a different government.Where is his consistency? On that occasion the honorable member for Henty (Sir Henry Gullett) said -
I should like a low rate of duty to be imposed on the cheaper grades of tea.
The present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr.White) said on that occasion -
Tea is not in any sense a luxury. I therefore intend to support the amendment of the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Gullett).
Butto-night that same gentleman is resisting an amendment to reduce the duty on tea, although, according to the Government, the country has now turned the corner towards prosperity.
– Does the honorable member admit that that is so?
– We are assured that it is so every day, although the PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Parkhill), who is usually somewhat original in his remarks, says that prosperity is just around the corner. The difficulty is to find the right corner. That honorable gentleman, while he was sitting in opposition, made some desperate fights to reduce duties on certain foodstuffs. One night when he was talking of sewing machines, we became alarmed for his sanity; he threw hishead so far back that the tears he shed fell down his back. He made the same kind of a desperate fight against the duties on tea. But to-night he is resisting an attempt to reduce these duties. The question has been asked : how many pounds of tea does an old-age pensioneruse? I assure honorable gentlemen opposite that every penny counts when the pension is only 15s. a week. In view of the fact that the Government expects a surplus of £2,000,000 this year, it should be prepared to grant this concession to the poorer section of the people. I hope that the many honorable members who supported the amendment submitted by the honorable member for Henty on the occasion to which I have referred, will vote to-night in favour of the amendment moved by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.
Question - That the amendment (Mr. Forde’s ) be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Mr. Bell.)
Majority . . . . 12
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sub-item agreed to.
Division 5. - Textiles. Pelts and Furs, and Manufactures Thereof, and Attire
Items 105 (a1a) (b) (c) (d1, 2) (e2), 106 (d1) (e1) (f1), 118 (a), 120 (c2, 3), and 130 (a) (b), agreed to
Division 6. - Metals and Machinery;
Iteni3 181 (a2) and 197 (b) agreed to.
Motion (by Mr. Parkhill) - proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I take this opportunity to comment further upon the situation that has developed in consequence of the decision of the Government to appoint a royal commission to inquire into the oil and petrol industry. Widespread interest has been caused by the announcement, and I am sure that every honorable member has been approached in one way or another in regard to this matter. Owing to the number of questions that have been asked in the House about it, we already have some indication as to what the terms of the reference to the commission are likely to be; but I feel certain that the commission will not be asked to investigate the most important aspect of the matter, namely, the sabotaging by the oil companies of the development of Australia’s natural oil resources. The powers of the oil companies appear to be unlimited in this respect, and I feel that, unless the Government seriously tackles the problem of the development of Australia’s oil resources, with a view to making this country independent of outside supplies, we shall be in much the same position as now, no matter what the finding of the royal commission may be. Two very important results would be achieved if this aspect of the matter were covered by the commission. First, employment would be provided for 10,000 miners; and, secondly, we could throw off the foreign yoke which the oil companies have placed on Australia. The indications, however, are that the inquiry will centre upon landing and distribution costs, and taxation. Already we have sufficient evidence to prove that the oil companies can hide their landing and distribution costs. Therefore, if the inquiry centres upon the question of taxation, it will prove useless, because the information thus obtained could be procured by this Parliament in a much less expensive way, and any necessary action could be taken without .the commission. Judging from the answers that have been given to questions in this House, the only result will be to whitewash the oil companies; and that, I feel sure, will give no satisfaction to the general public. Even if the companies could be persuaded to make a slight reduction of the price of petrol, under present conditions, with the control that they exercise, it would be for only a brief period. Within a few months it would be said that the influence exerted by some foreign situation necessitated the restoration of former prices. Unless the powers of the companies are curtailed, and their grip upon this country is shaken off, no practical results will be accomplished. An example of the influence that they wield has been given only this week. Last Monday night, Mr. Murray-Little, general manager of the Independent Distributors Company, which is commonly known as the Purr Pull Company, broadcast through all B class stations in New South Wales the announcement that a full-page advertisement would appear in the daily newspapers on the following day, directing the attention of the public to the methods that had been adopted by the major oil companies to prevent the distribution and sale of the product of his company. But strangely enough, according to the information that I have received, only one newspaper - the Labor Daily - published that advertisement.
I now consider that we are entitled to examine the personnel of the commission that is to inquire into this industry. Mr. Lamb, K.C., the chairman, has had a big legal practice since he arrived in Australia. During that period he has been practically permanently retained as a servant of vested interests, and has defended them in many cases. He is permanently retained by the New South Wales Nationalist Government for railway litigation, is personally associated with the Nationalist party in the federal sphere, and, as is well known, has been associated with most of the “ terrorist “ prosecutions that have engaged the attention of that party within recent years. For .example, he held the Government brief in the case in which Alderman Garden was involved, as well a3 in connexion with the deportation of two Irish envoys some few years ago, and the attempted deportation of Messrs. Walsh and Johnson, at the time president and secretary respectively of the Seamen’s Union. He is also legal adviser to the New Guard.
Another member of the commission is Mr. A. E. Barton. This gentleman appears to be well favoured by “ big business.” He has been associated with banking institutions in Australia and New Zealand, and has conducted inquiries for influential business organizations over a long period of years. Are we not entitled to inquire as to whether the ramifications of those organizations with which he has been or is associated, are not linked up in some way with those of the big oil companies? Mr. Barton has been fairly well financed by Nationalist Governments. In 1927-2S he received from the Bavi n Government fees and charges totalling £127 ls. for assisting the Budget Committee. In 192S-29 the same Government paid him fees and charges amounting to £65 2s. in connexion with the preparation of the Income Tax Management Act 1928. In the same year that Government paid him a further £1,050, representing fees and charges for services rendered to the Budget Committee. In 1929-30 his fees for services rendered totalled £904 ls. ; and in 1930-31 he collected £98 14s., making the total payment in three year £2,248 18s. Being so closely associated with “big business” and the Nationalist party, the presence of these gentlemen on the commission cannot inspire confidence. We should probably be safe in prophesying that the commission’s findings will centre upon the reduction of taxation. That will be merely a whitewashing of this great octopus, which will be allowed to continue exploiting the public.
I offer no criticism of the remaining member of the commission, Mr. Gunn; his associations have been such that he should be able to tackle the problem independently. But I cannot say the same of the other two members, because of the facts that I have given. Furthermore, I cannot understand why the Government should appoint to this commission men, who, it is well known, have been intimately associated with “ big business,” as well as with the Nationalist party in both the Federal and the State spheres. In view of these circumstances, and because of the power and influence of the oil monopoly in Australia, the Government ought to have kept clear of that atmosphere. The public “would then have had some confidence as to the result. In the light of the facts that I have related, and of the information in my possession, I cannot avoid the conviction which I repeat that the inquiry will resolve itself into a whitewashing of this octopus.
– As I have taken rather an active interest in the oil war that is being waged at the moment, I rise to add a little to what has been said by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley). His information probably refers only to New South Wale3. I have with me an advertisement that appeared in the Melbourne Argus, which arrived in Canberra to-day. In it Automotive
Products Limited, George Pethard Proprietary Limited, and H. C. Sleigh, earnestly request the support of the public on the ground of British fair play. They point out that four leading petrol companies have offered a rebate of 2d. a gallon to resellers who sell only their products throughout Victoria and tlie Riverina, and who cease to sell the products of all other importers excepting those of the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited. I had occasion on the day when this trouble first occurred
Vo get. in touch with the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham), and in a telegram which I sent him I expressly stated that’ the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited was included among the companies which were’ charging resellers this penalty of an additional 2d. a gallon. I take this opportunity to correct this statement. I am glad to say that Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited is not operating with the four major oil companies in this particular price war. The rebate which is being refused to the smaller sellers of petrol is having a much greater influence in the country districts than in the metropolitan areas. In the country districts, the garage proprietors have not the opportunity to stock one line of petrol only. They have to stock several lines to meet the requirements of their customers. I trust that the- royal commission, when making its inquiries, will pay particular attention to the country districts, so as to assist the people there who are not always able to voice their grievances.
– The people of my electorate are not satisfied with the changes that are being made in the functions of the judiciary of the Northern Territory. The position now is that in other than criminal cases the question of trial by jury is left entirely to the decision of the judge. The people of the territory contend that all functions of a court of justice should be statutory, and that there should be no interference or alteration in any shape or form with our democratic system of trial by jury. They also strongly protest against the high cost of justice which will be brought about under the new arrangement. If the Government’s action was prompted by a desire for economy, I can show where thousands of pounds could bc saved in the Northern Territory to the benefit of the residents there. Economy cannot be the cause of the Government’s action, because, so far as I can remember, the retiring judge f received, after allowing for the deduction under the financial emergency legislation, approximately £900 a year, and the new judge is to’ receive approximately £1,000 or a little more. There are also three magistrates who receive an allowance of £50 . per annum. In view of the salary of the new judge, there is not much likelihood of any saving in expenditure being effected.. No institution has more greatly conserved the rights, liberties, aud privileges of English people than has trial by jury, and we should be hesitant about altering it. We may, by whittling away the rights of-the people, revert to the methods of the dark ages. It will be remembered that in the old days an accused person had to walk on red hot plough shares, and if the feet were burnt he was deemed guilty. . Another method of meting out justice was to compel the accused to place his hands in boiling water. If they were blistered, he was adjudged guilty; if they were not, he was regarded as innocent. We do not wish to revert to that system of justice.
– It is not proposed to re-introduce it.
– No, but we are making a start. One could quote many instances of barbaric .methods,, some of which are being applied in Germany and other places to-day; but in British communities they have long since been left behind, and in their place has been substituted the basic method of trial, by jury which has stood unchanged through the centuries. Dr. Lolme, a great Swiss writer on the English Constitution, said -
The great merit of trial by jury was that it was impossible for any individual to dispose of another man’s life or liberty in that country.
Aristotle said -
An individual may be just, but a number of men are more likely to be more just than one individual.
Similarly it has been said that the House of Commons is wiser than any individual in that House. I feel that the whole structure of trial by jury may be destroyed, because of the starting point that we are now establishing. In England, in 1929, a book was published entitled The Government of the British Empire, and written by Edward Jenks. It contained the following statement: -
Wherever the accused is tried whether at quarter session, assizes, the central criminal court or at the bar he is entitled to bo tried by a jury of twelve of his fellow citizens chosen at random by the sheriff from a list of householders compiled by local authority.
That system has never been altered in England or in any of the British dominions. I know that the AttorneyGeneral, with his legal mind, will smile at the audacity of a layman in making a- statement pertaining to law, but he will admit that the minority of the people have as many rights in the community as the majority of the people. In this instance, the Government is penalizing a minority of the people. I suggest that we are now instituting a dangerous innovation. Let me quote from the work of W. S. Holdsworth, entitled A History of English Law. At page 348 of volume 1, it is stated -
That despite mistakes of juries and the criticism that could bc levelled against the jury system from many points of view men like fortescue. Coke, Hale, Blackstown and Stephens are witnesses whose evidence should bc conclusive; that the jury system as we know it to-day stands pre-eminently above all other systems in connexion with courts of justice,
In that work a legal luminary is cited as saying -
A jury, says Chalmers, is a far better tribunal than a judge for dealing with questions of facts. The more I see of juries the higher is the respect I have for their decisions. They have a marvellous facility for scenting out fraud.
The author also remarks -
Their findings create no precedent and thus can they decide hard cases without making bad Jaws.
I want the House to realize that small communities have rights as well as large communities. The Government would not dare to try out this new system in the States, because the people effected would have an opportunity to show, their resentment at election time. Evidently the Government thinks that it is on safe ground in instituting this innovation in the Northern Territory. There is a sharp division between the people of the territory. One section is official and the other unofficial. The whole of the administration of justice is confined to the official section, and in cases where an official is the litigant or the prosecutor, the people feel that justice is not being meted out. Naturally, they say that there is a touch of bias in the administration of justice by a government official. They rightly say that the law should not only be fair, but also definitely appear to be so to the public generally. The judge has now to act as magistrate in the lower courts of jurisdiction. That means that, in the case of an appeal, the action must be carried from the lower court right up at one step to the High Court of Australia. Everybody knows the enormous cost attaching to a High Court action. I have been interested in such cases, and I know that the cost of an appeal has been well over £1,000, which puts it beyond the reach of 99 per cent. of the people of the territory. It means that only the rich will be in the position to obtain justice, because the workers and small landholders will not be able to face the enormous cost of carrying an appeal to the High Court. When the cost of justice becomes prohibitive, one cannot wonder that people lose their respect for thelaw. I do not desire that that should happen, and so I appeal to the Government to consider the representations I have made.
– Is there any likelihood of the people there seceding from the Commonwealth?
– It might not be a bad thing for them if they did. They would be able to get into touch with financial interests in other parts of the world, and so develop their territory. In any case, they could not be worse off than they have been underthis and previous Governments. The old method of appointing magistrates was infinitely preferable to the present system, and should be reverted to.
.- On the 16th March, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) referred to the case of a naval rating named John Southern who had applied for his discharge from the Royal Australian Navy in order to take up a business career. The honorable member was promised that inquiries would be made and that he would be advised of the position. I find that, in order that a man may not be discharged from the Navy before the expiration of his engagement to swell the ranks of the unemployed, the naval regulations require that applications from petty officers and men for discharge from the Royal Australian Navy, whether by purchase or free, should be accompanied by the following, when applicable : -
The rating mentioned appeared before the captain, H.M.A.S. Australia, with a request for a free discharge, but did not produce any documentary evidence of having a position available on shore. His request was therefore deferred. He has since been transferred to the depot ship at Sydney, and has applied for discharge “ by purchase “, which will be approved.
– I wish to reply to the remarks of the honorable member forBendigo (Mr. E. F. Harrison) regarding petrol prices. I have received correspondence from a garage proprietor in a fairly large way of business, stating that he was informed by the Commonwealth Oil Refineries Limited that he could not obtain its products in future, except at the retail price charged to the public, unless he discontinued selling other products. In effect, the Commonwealth Oil Refineries told him that he cannot get any more of their products unless he sells on the terms they stipulate.
I desire to bring under the notice of the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) what I regard as an anomaly in the administration of invalid and old-age pensions. I have received several complaints during the last few months that pensions had been refused to invalids, although they had been certified as totally and permanently incapacitated, because they have not satisfied orders made against them for the maintenance of their wives, whom they may have deserted. How, I ask, can a totally incapacitated invalid, whose eligibility for a pension depends upon his having no earning capacity, be able to earn anything with which to satisfy a maintenance order?
– I shall examine the matter mentioned by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Holloway).
The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Beasley) concluded his speech by saying that the proposed appointment of a royal commission to inquire into the oil industry would merely be an attempt to whitewash an octopus. I assure the honorable member that the Government has no intention of attempting any such impossible task. The honorable member referred to certain propaganda that is being published by some qf the oil companies. I am sure that any honorable member who has interested himself in the matter of oil will be well aware that, in some respects, the industry is competitive in a high degree, and in no respect is this more so than in regard to propaganda. Honorable members will, I hope, reserve their judgment on propaganda from various interested sources.
It is hoped that the commission will be able to arrive at an unbiased and impartial judgment on the subjects referred to it. The honorable member said that it was not proposed to refer to the commission what he described as the sabotaging of our own oil resources in Australia. I am aware that a great deal has been said from time to time upon that subject, but the Government is dealing with it in quite a different way in the hope of reaching a positive and affirmative result.
It is well known that, so far as flow oil is concerned, prospecting is taking place in many parts of Australia. It cannot be suggested, I think, that any inquiry at the present time is going to promote the chances of discovering flow oil in this country. As for shale oil, the Government has appointed a committee of well-qualified persons for the purpose of trying out the Newnes deposit, which is a very large one. It is ordinarily said - I do not vouch for the precise figures - that over £1,000,000 has already been spent by persons wishing to make money out of the exploitation of that deposit. That money has been lost. There has been plenty of investigation into this matter, but the Government is conducting a further investigation, despite criticism from many quarters that the subject is exhausted. A committee has been appointed which, I think, has a good chance of discovering whether or not it is likely that success will he achieved in the development of the deposit. Because of the active affirmative work which is being undertaken by the Government in relation to Newnes and other deposits, such as Baerami, it is quite unnecessary to refer that subject to the royal commission.
Then the honorable gentleman referred to the personnel of that body. His criticism of two of its members consisted really in advertising their qualifications, because he emphasized that, in the past, they had been entrusted with difficult and responsible tasks. I do not regard experience and skill as a disqualification for the functions which members of the royal commission will perform, though I am aware that it might be possible to obtain individuals willing to act without any qualifications or experience whatever. If the commission had been composed of such individuals, possibly it would not have been subjected to the criticism which the honorable member has directed against the present members.
The honorable member for the Northern Territory (Mr. Nelson) has referred to the question of trial by jury in that portion of the Commonwealth. In the first place, I mention that the new rule of court to which he refers applies only to civil causes. Until this rule was made, administration of justice in this regard vas governed by some antique provisions of the South Australian law, and although I may have the highest regard for South Australia and for antiquity, I. have to confess that those provisions were quite out of step with modern procedure in the .States and elsewhere. The new rule of court to which I have alluded is only in accord with modern ideas relating to the trial of civil causes. I refer the honorable gentleman to the rules of the High Court which have been in existence, in substantially their present form, since 1903. Order xxxiii provides, in rule 2, that if a party to a suit, within the specified time after notice of trial has been given, applies for a trial by jury in a civil cause, the discretion is with the judge to determine whether the matter shall be tried by a judge or with a jury. In this respect, procedure in the Northern Territory is being brought into accord with the general rules applying to other parts of Australia. As far as civil causes are concerned, therefore, the observations of the honorable member about procedure in the Northern Territory are entirely beside the point.
The honorable gentleman mentioned, incidentally, that Darwin is a small community. I remind him that that is one of the difficulties of trial by jury. In a small community it is very difficult, indeed, to administer justice under a jury system satisfactorily in either civil or criminal causes, for the reason that individuals in the community all know one another, and have information, or believe that they have information, as to the facts of a cause that is listed for trial. With respect to the subject of appeal, to which the honorable member also referred, I would say this: At one time there was provision under which a judge sat in one jurisdiction, and there could be an appeal to the same judge in a superior jurisdiction. I remember one case in which a judge, in a superior jurisdiction, after a very careful consideration of the facts disclosed, reversed his own previous judgment.
In the Northern Territory magistrates sitting in full jurisdiction have had power to decide causes involving amounts up to £499, and there may be appeal to a judge. It is now thought, on the whole, that, balancing the advantages and disadvantages of the two systems, it is preferable to allow a judge to exercise the jurisdiction of magistrates; that the administration of justice will be more satisfactory if the judge exercises this jurisdiction subject to an appeal to the High Court either by special leave or. as of right, where the amount or interest involved is such as to entitle a party to an appeal. It is believed that the administration of justice will, on the whole, be more efficient if the judge exercises all the jurisdiction in Darwin under the new system rather than if the jurisdiction is exercised by magistrates in the first place with the right of appeal to a judge. The minds of potential litigants on this subject are generally divided. They all wish to have prompt and. cheap justice, as a general rule, with a minimum of appeal; but usually, if a man loses, he wants the right of appeal, and it is difficult to determine where the balance justly lies. On the whole, it is thought that the superior efficiency which may be expected from the utilization of a trained judge in the local court of full and limited jurisdiction at Darwin will more than outweigh disadvantages which would result from the absence of appeal in the relatively small number of instances in which an appeal would be desired.
– Has legal procedure in the Northern Territory a parallel in any other part of Australia?
– No, because there is a larger population in the States, and the judicial machinery is on a larger scale.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.28 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
s asked the Assistant Minister for Defence, upon notice -
– The information will be obtained and a replyfurnished to the honorable member as soon as possible.
Postmaster-Genera l’s Depa rtment : Reserve for Depreciation - Charges - Operating Costs.
l. - Inquires are being made, and a reply will be furnished, as soon as possible, to the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) in answer to a series of questions, upon notice, in regard to the reserve for depreciation, charges for postal facilities, and operating costs of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
y asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
am). - Information is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible to the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Blakeley) in reply to a series of questions, upon notice, in regard to the funding of expenditure and interest incurred in connexion with the development and maintenance of the Federal Capital Territory.
asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
s. - The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follow : -
e. - On the 28th March, the honorable member for New England (Mr. Thompson) asked the following questions, upon notice: -
I am now able to furnish the honorable member with the following information : -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 29 March 1933, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1933/19330329_reps_13_138/>.