1st Parliament · 1st Session
The President took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Senator BEST presented a petition from the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures praying the Senate that the same customs duties should be imposed on all importations by the Governments of the Commonwealth, and of the States of the Commonwealth, as are imposed on the citizens of the Commonwealth.
– Can the VicePresident of the Executive Council give any information with regard to a cable message published in the press to-day to the effect that the Prime Minister has stated in London that the pastoralists of New South Wales are spreading alarmist and exaggerated reports of losses in the pastoral industry, with the view of exacting concessions from theFederal Government, regardless of the general interests of the community? Have the Government had communication, by cable or otherwise, with the Prime Minister on the subject, and are they prepared to take any steps to contradict statements which are both offensive and untrue ?
– The last part of the question is not in order.
– That is referring to the statements in the cablegram.
– According to the standing orders no opinion can be expressed in a question. The honorable senator has expressed the opinion that a certain statement is offensive and untrue, and that is not in order.
– The question will stand with the elimination of the concluding words.
– I decline to answer the question without notice. I dare say the honorable senator’s purpose is served.
– I give notice of the question for Wednesday, the 20th August.
-The honorable senator will eliminate the expression of opinion.
– There is nothing in the standing orders about expressions of opinion, but only about unbecoming expressions.
– Will the VicePresident of the Executive Council consider the advisability of restoring private members’ day when we meet again?
– That is a matter which the Government have under consideration, and if possible something will be done very early to give honorable senators an opportunity of dealing with private members’ business.
CUSTOMS TARIFF BILL,
Motion (by Senator O’Connor proposed -
That the report of the committee of the whole Senate on the Customs Tariff’ Bill, viz., “ That the committee recommend that the Custom Tariff Bill be returned to the House of Representatives, with a Message conveying the requests of the Senate to the House of Representatives to make certain amendments in the Bill, as set forth in a Schedule to the Message ; and that the committee have leave to sit againonreceipt of a Message from the House of Representatives,” be adopted.
– I desire to say a few words on a matter of some importance to the merchants not only of my own State but throughout the whole Commonwealth. I regret verymuch that the circumstances are such that I am unable at this stage of the Bill to conclude with a direct motion, and that I can only bring the matter before the Senate so that the representatives of the Government may have an opportunity of consulting with their colleagues on this very important subject. When I was in Queensland a few weeks ago I was asked by several merchants to grant an interview with a view to their placing before me certain matters relating to the collection of customs duties on various articles. In some cases the duties charged were very rauch in excess of the duties ultimately imposed in consequence of alterations in. the Tariff. There are, I must confess, some very glaring cases of hardship, cases, I might say, almost bordering on injustice. I may cite one case of very serious hardship which has been suffered by a firm of Brisbane merchants who have been engaged in trade in that city for many years. It is a most respectable firm, and I am satisfied that unless it felt that it had been very seriously aggrieved it would not refer to the matter. To show that I am not bringing before the Senate a mere trumpery matter for the purpose of self-advertising or of killing time, I must refer to the correspondence between myself and this firm, as well as from other bodies. Shortly after my arrival in Brisbane I received the following letter from Messrs. A. M. Hertzberg and Co., dated 26th June: -
I should very much like to have a few moments conversation with you about matters in connexion with the Commonwealth Parliament which are of special interest to the mercantile community here, and about which I fear the members pf the Senate have not had all the information that could be given them.
Would you kindly name a time when I could call upon you, or, if it is not asking too much, or imposing on good nature, might I suggest a visit to our office, where we could discuss the matter? Under any circumstances,I wish to suit myself entirely to your convenience, and merely suggest my office as an alternative-
Other firms in Brisbane have suffered in a similar manner, but this, I think, is the most glaring case of hardship. This firm has had some correspondence with the Department of Trade and Customs on the subject, which I must take the liberty of placing on record, not for the purpose of preventing an early rising of the Senate, but for the purpose of inducing . Ministers to confer with their colleagues, to see if something cannot be done to relieve such cases, not only in Queensland, but in other States. Writing . to the collector of Customs at Brisbane, on the 20th November, 1901, Messrs. A. M. Hertzberg and Co. say : -
With reference to the announcement which appears in this morning’s Brisbane Courier that the Federal Government does not propose to make any refunds of duty in the event of them being reduced or struck out, we beg to submit for your information certain facts and figures bearing on this subject, with the request that you will bc goodenough to transmit them to the honorable Minister for Trade and Customs for his information also.
From the attached particulars you will gather that between the 14th ultimo and the 14th of the present month we have paid duty on 193 packages of earthenware and glassware, the d uty amounting to £282 4s.1d. Under the new rates now being’ collected the duty would amount to £158 15s. 10d., showing that we have overpaid £123 8s. 3d.
These 193 packages are accounted for in the following manner : -
As regards the five packages delivered from the ship’s side, they were Bold oil the distinct understanding that any refund of duty in consequence of the alteration would be refunded to the purchaser in accordance with sub-section (c) of clause 152 of the Customs Act 1901.
Of the 53 packages opened and put into our stock, not more than at most one half has been sold, showing that fully five-sixths of the total quantity duty paid are still on hand.
The figures as regards the amount of duty paid can be verified by the entries in possession of your department, and the other figures showing now the goods have been disposed of, up tothis morning can be verified by an officer of your department inspecting the packages in bulk, and by our books.
The offer made by the firm clearly shows that, they do not wish to take advantage of the department, but feel that they are smarting under a sense of wrong in having to pay duties which previously they had not to pay, as under the practice of the State, whenever an alteration of duties took place, a refund immediately followed.
– Not in Victoria.
– I do not know what the practice has been in Victoria, but I believe that in Queensland the law hitherto has given entire satisfaction, not only to the mercantile community, but to the people at large. In April, 1 888, we passedthe largest fiscal measure that had ever been passed in that State, and it has been amended on several occasions. Upon every occasion on which duties have been reduced refunds have been made.
– Then great injustice must have been committed on many occasions.
– I do not think so. If the revenue had suffered to any appreciable extent by this practice I think that there would have been sufficient watchfulness and vitality on the part of members of our Parliament to have led to a satisfactory settlement of the question. The writer, in his letter to the collector of Customs, continues -
With these goods we now have to compete against merchants paying the reduced rate of duty only, which puts us at a very great disadvantage. It is well known to every merchant, and no doubt is known to youalso, that whenever any alteration in the Tariff takes place and the duties are raised we are unable to take advantage of it, as competition always tends to keep prices at or near former levels, so long as any old stock is in the market, and it is only gradually that prices can be raised in keeping with the new duties. But if duties are reduced we have immediately to give toour constituents thebenefit of all such reductions. So well has this fact been recognized in this State whenever any alterations in duty were made, that although the advanced duties were collected forthwith, the reduced duties did not take effect until several months later.
That bears out the statement which I have made that, whenever any reductions were made, merchants obtained a refund of the excess amount of duty collected, so that they might be placed on a fairly common level in competition. The writer continues -
A further fact which we desire to bring under your notice in connexion with this matter is that eight out of the 4.1 packages duty paid on the 1st inst., ex “ Orari” fourteen out of the eighteen packages duty paid on the 14th inst., ex “ Dukeof Portland,” and the whole of the 58 packages duty paid on the 14th inst., ex “Harbury” were still either in the ship or on the wharf on the morning of the loth, when the alteration of duty was announced.
A reduction of the duties on these articles was made on the 14th of November, and was announced in the public press on the following morning. At that time a quantity of the goods was still on board ship or on the wharves, but an application for a refund of the excess duty paid was refused. The letter continues -
Taking all the foregoing facts into consideration, we consider that we have made out a very good ouse why a refund of duty should be made to us, and we now formally beg to apply for a refund of the sum of £123 8s. 3d., as per particulars herewith.
They furnished details of every article, giving the value of each, where it came from, and other particulars ; but unfortunately their claim against the department still remains unsatisfied. The answer from the department was very brief and emphatic -
Customs and Excise Office,
Brisbane, 8th February, 1902.
Gentlemen, - In reply to your letters of the 20th November, 1901, 23rd ult, and 2nd inst., I have the honour to inform you that your claim for refund of duty paid on goods the duty on which has subsequently been reduced, was submitted to the right honorable the Minister for Trade and Customs, who states that it is not proposed to make any refund of duty paid on account of subsequent remissions.
I have the honour to be, Gentlemen, your obedient servant, (Signed) W. H. Irving.
Collector of Customs for the State of Queensland.
Messrs. A. M. Hertzbergand Co., Brisbane.
I must say that this is an unfair answer. Honorable senators representing other States could doubtless bring forward other cases if they desired, and although this may not be the only instance of hardship which has occurred, it is a very serious one. I wish to refer to one or two points in a letter which I received from the same firm, under date 26th of June last. The firm wrote to Mr. Watson, leader of the labour party in the House of Representatives, with a view to invoke his assistance, but he replied that he could not see his way clear to support the application for a refund. In their letter to me the firm stated -
Our letters to the collector and to Mr. Watson, clearly set forth the grounds on which we claim a. refund. These grounds have been further enlarged upon at our. interview the other day, and there is nothing left to urge in addition to what we have already submitted to you. But we take this opportunity of again drawing your special attention to sub-section (c) clause 152 of the Customs Act,1901. It seems to us that the intention of Parliament that refunds should be made, could not possibly have been put into clearer language, that is considering the sort of language which is used in Acts of Parliament.
They refer to section 122 of the Customs Act.
– Unfortunately it was expressed in clear language in the Act as well as in Ministerial statements, but the honorable senator would not adopt my view of the matter.
– I had not this information at that. time. The letter continues - and we maintain that it is not compatible with the dignity of Parliament to break an implied promise -
I do not think it is - more especially as that implied promise largely, influenced importers to clear goods freely instead of doing so ina hand-to-mouth way.
That is a point which I wish to bring prominently before the Vice-President of the Executive Council. If the English language means anything there is an implied promise in paragraph (c) of section 152 of the Customs Act that in the event of a reduction being made in a duty on articles upon which the original rate has been paid refunds will be allowed. In consequence of that promise merchants, not only in Brisbane, but elsewhere, cleared goods much more readily and in larger quantities than they would have done had not such a provision existed. The writer proceeds -
There is only one other point which we wish to touch upon, and that is items 89 and95 - Crockery and Glassware. As we pointed out to you at our interview, the reduced duty of 20 per cent, ad valorem has been collected since the morning of the15th of November, whereas, according to the schedule, the original duty ought to have been collected up to the 21st of February. This goes to show that duties were imposed and altered entirely at the will of the Minister -
Of course, I do not acquiesce in that statement, because I do not think the Minister would do anything of the kind. There must be some other reason for it - without parliamentary sanction, and the commercial community should not be made to suffer loss through such action.
The last paragraph in our letter to Mr. Watson refers to a shipment of crockery and glassware, ex s.s.Harbury, on which we paid duty late on Thursday afternoon, the 14th of ‘ November-an hour ormore after the Minister had already announced in the House at Melbourne that the duties would be reduced to 20 per cent.; and the whole of the shipment was still on the wharf, or in the ship, when the alteration was publicly announced the following day.
We thank you for your courtesy and attention to this matter, and hope your efforts will be successful in obtaining justice for us.
I think that the justice of making a refund must surely commend itself to the Government. Communications have been received by me, not only from this firm, but from others on this question. In common with other honorable senators from Queensland, I have received a letter from the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce, which, acting on behalf of the mercantile community generally, passed certain resolutions on the 6th May. The letter is as follows : -
Brisbane, 10th May, 1902.
Dear Sir, -
Refund of duties. - At a meeting of this Chamber held on the 6th inst., the following resolution was passed : - “ That a deputation from this Chamber, consisting of the members of the committee, wait upon the Chief Secretary, and solicit the influence of the Government of this State to make representations to the Federal Senate with the object of inducing them to consider the question of refund of duty, in order that justice might be done, and that a copy of this resolution be forwarded to the senators representing this State in the Federal Parliament. “ “The deputation met the Chief Secretary to-day, when he promised to bring the matter before the conference of Premiers to be held in Sydney. My committee desire me to express the hope that the Bepresentatives of each State will support the action of this Chamber to bring about a satisfactoy statement. - I am, dear sir, yours faithfully.
So widespread was the dissatisfaction among the merchants generally, that they actually caused a. deputation to wait on the Premier of the State to request him to bring this matter before the Federal Parliament, believing, no doubt, that representations made from such an influential source might do more than those made by an ordinary member of the Senate. I must add that when I interviewed several firms at their own request, I found that they had the one complaint - that duties had been collected at the original rates, that reductions had been made suddenly, and that demands for refunds had not been complied with. There must surely be something wrong when that is the case. It is unfair that these people should be called upon to pay the higher duties, particularly when the duties were lowered so soon after payment had been paid that some of the goods had actually not been removed from the ship’s side. I have also had communications as well as’ the petitions which I presented the other day, from the Brisbane, Maryborough, and Townsville Chambers of Commerce, all bearing on the same question. Surely, therefore, this is a matter that deserves very serious consideration, and even if the Government had previously made up their minds they might well further consider the advisability of refunding these moneys, which in many instances have been collected entirely in violation of the practice of Queensland.
– But Queensland has no customs law now.
– That is true, but there is the practice to which I have referred, and merchants are naturally smarting under a sense of injustice. Under this new arrangement the greatest wrong that can be inflicted upon any individual or company is a blow struck at the pocket. These people have been struck severely, and I bring this matter before the enate, and especially before the Vice-President of the Executive Council, in the hope that he will confer with his colleagues, and see whether moneys which - in the opinion of these merchants as well as in my own opinion - have been improperly collected cannot be returned . I do not wish to say anything in regard to Customs administration. I have too much respect for and confidence in the Minister to think that he would willingly do an act of injustice. But there may be too much anxiety to obtain money for the Treasury. If we had better returns coming in, the department might not be so eager about retaining money thus collected. But I think that the practice which previously prevailed in Queensland was a fair one. It has given satisfaction both to the merchants and the general public. As I said before, I regret that I cannot put this matter in concrete form, in order to test the feeling of the Senate, with a view of doing what I consider to be fair and just to the mercantile community of Queensland and the other States. Before I sit down, I will refer to the section of the Customs Act to which I have alluded. There is not the slightest doubt that had it not been for this section, many merchants would not have taken their goods out of bond in such large quantities as they have done, nor would they have run such risks. Section 152 of the Act says -
If after any agreement is made for the sale or delivery of goods duty paid any alteration taken place in the duty collected affecting such goods before they are entered for home consumption, then, in the absence of express written provision to the contrary, the agreement shall be altered as follows : -
In the event of the alteration being a new or increased duty the seller, after payment of the new or increased duty, may add the difference caused by the alteration to the agreed price.
In the event of the alteration being the abolition or reduction of duty, the purchaser may deduct the difference caused by the alteration from the agreed price.
Any refund or payment of increased duty resulting from the alteration, not being finally adopted, shall be allowed between the parties as the case may require.
– That has nothing to do with the question.
– Perhaps Senator Playford, who is an old Customs administrator, may view this matter in a different light, but I think that undoubtedly there was an implied promise that if any remissions were made the merchants would get the benefit of them. In consequence of that implied promise merchants cleared quantities of goods more readily than they would have done otherwise.
– Is that the section upon which the honorable senator relies as containing an implied promise ?
– It is the section which the merchants rely upon, and I think with some cause. I regret that I cannot put the matter in a more concrete form, with a view to testing the opinion of the Senate, because I certainly think that where merchants have taken goods out of bond, and paid duty upon them in the manner I have described, they are entitled to refunds on account of the extra duty paid in order to put them on a level with other merchants in the race of competition.
– The honorable senator, having read section 152 of the Customs Act, has placed the Senate in full possession of the case upon which he relies for his contention that the merchants are entitled to refunds of duty paid. If Senator Glassey will only take the trouble to read thesection overagain, he will see that it is utterly foreign to the contention he has raised. The section deals solely with cases where there has been a sale of goods upon which duty may have been imposed, after an agreement has been entered into between the seller and the purchaser. The section has nothing to do with the relative positions of merchants and the Government of the Commonwealth. The real ground of complaint which Senator Glassey has made arises from the effects of a provision which has been discussed both by the House of Representatives and by the Senate. It was a. provision- that I myself intended to allude to once more this afternoon. If the honorable senator had been present while the second- reading debate was taking place upon- the Customs Tariff Bill, and when the Senate was in committee upon that measure he would have remembered that this matter was then debated. I myself brought it forward, and cited several cases in which great hardship had occurred in consequence of the law proposed, and since acted upon by the Government. The subject was again debated in committee- when the clause was under consideration, but; beyond getting the assistance of Senators Charleston and Matheson, > I ‘ received no help. The Government pointed out that it meant a matter of something like £100,000 - a very large sum of money - which would have to be repaid, if it were decided that when a duty was lowered any amount of money that had been paid under the- higher rate of duty should be refunded-. It was also pointed out that to give refunds would lead to a great complication of accounts. The letter quoted by Senator Glassey is dated the 10th May. The subject was raised in the Senate on the 15th and 16 th May ; but in> consequence of the attitude taken up by honorable senators; I did not feel justified in submitting a proposal. The amendment which I desired to move would have gone exactly in the direction that Senator Glassey desires-. I mentioned several, cases- of hardship. I have one in mind at the present moment, where- on certain goods that were imported a duty of £5 per ton was charged bv the Government and paid by the importers. The goods were such that they could not go into a bonded store, in consequence of their dangerous- character. Duty was paid’ to the amount of something like £300 or £400. But when the House of [Representatives came to deal with the item of the Tariff affecting these commodities; they struck off the duty. In that case a refund was refused, and the Government justified the refusal under the clause of their Bill which affected the matter.
– Was there any chance of identification in that case ?
– Yes, absoluteidentification was easy. The goods were put into the merchant’s store, they were unopened, the brands and marks were untouched, and the- cases were, in fact, in. the same condition as when they were imported. The Cuutoms house officers could, therefore, have identified the goods easily.
– That is the case in the instances I have mentioned.
– The case I am referring to is even- stronger; because the goods could not have been left in bond owing, to their dangerous- character. Clause 6 of the Bill which touches the matter reads as follows : -
All duties’ of “Customs collected pursuant to any Tariff or Tariff alteration shall be deemed to have been lawfully imposed- and- collected, and no additional duty shall be payable on any goods on which duty was so collected, merely “by reason that the rate at which the duty was so collected is less than the rate of duty specified in this Act, and no duty shall be payable in respect of goods delivered for home consumption free of duty pursuant to any Tariff or Tariff alteration.
Seeing, that that clause was allowed- to stand part of the Bill,it is quite impossible - unless Senator Glassey is prepared, to move for a recommittal, and succeeds- in, making an amendment - to discuss the matter from the standpoint of asking the Treasurer to give the money back to the importers. The Government are bound by the clause I have quoted. It is true that they are responsible for that clause, but Parliament has accepted, the responsibility itself. Again, I would point out that the people of the country generally, and, in this case, the merchants in particular, have, shown themselves to be too lax altogether. The practice complained of has been in vogue for aperiod of four or five months. The people affected should have been up and doing in the earlier stages of the operation of the Tariff, and should have brought the matter directly under the notice of the representatives of the various States. Had that been done in the cases mentioned by Senator Glassey, it might have been possible to effect an alteration in the measure. At one time I. contemplated moving for a recommittal of the clause in question, when- we reached the present stage. But I found, from inquiries I made, that it would be quite futile to endeavour to carry an amendment. I found that I could not expect the assistance of the majority of honorable senators, and I did not want to take up a large amount of time in discussing a subject when it was impossible to carry an amendment securing substantial justice. As far as I am concerned, I desire to enter my protest against the practice that has been pursued. That is all I can do. Senator Glassey has pointed out that in Queensland the practice has been entirely different from that laid down in the Customs Tariff Bill.. The practice in New South Wales has also been different. There, if a merchant paid duty upon goods while Customs duties were under the consideration of Parliament, and the duty was afterwards lowered, a refund was made.
– A refund- to whom ?
– The importer.
– And. not to the man to whom the importer has sold the goods?
– My own suggestion was that the payment of refunds should be confined to the importers, provided, that they had not parted with the goods, and could satisfy the Customs to that effect.
-It would be most unfair.
– In New South Wales and Queensland the practice has. been what Senator Sargood stigmatizes as unfair. But, to my mind, it appears that it is the alternative practice that is unfair. Of course, from the expediency point of view there may be something to be said. I quite recognise that the practice to be pursued under the Customs Tariff Bill will save an immense amount of trouble, and will enable the Government to keep money which they have illegally collected, and the collection of which Parliament has refused to ratify except by a side wind such as the present clause. We must always remember that when duties are collected under a Tariff which has not been ratified by Parliament they are illegally collected, and until Parliament ratifies them the collection remains illegal. Parliament, of course, can do as it likes. But the Government have brought down a Bill which declares that duties so colleoted, though illegal, shall be retained. Under a clause like that, the position of the Government is unassailable. But the position of Parliament is assailable for ratifying such a provision. This Parliament has done so, and I recognise that the majority have a right to their opinion., Notwithstanding the strong views I entertain, it is open to other honorable senators to entertain strong views in the opposite direction. What Parliament has done has been done correctly. But I do protest against it as strongly as I canas an injustice tothe merchants of this country, though to other persons it may seem perfectly fair. I feel that I havedischarged my duty so far as this particular provision is concerned, in entering: a protest against it in the strongest terms possible, and in pointing out the way in which it has operated unjustly towards persons who have in consequence of it been compelled to pay duties which Parliament has ultimately said should never have been levied under any circumstances whatever.
– I very heartily agree with many of the earlier remarks made by Senator Gould. I emphasize the honorable and learned senator’s contention that it is now altogether too late for Senator Glassey to bring this matter before theSenate; I am in complete accord with Senator Gould in indicating to Senator Glassey that section 152 of. the Customs Act has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the case. It is a case solely as to the agreements which have been entered into between buyer and seller, and as to the variations of those agreements which shall take place by reason of any’ alteration in the Tariff. Of course the proper time to move in the matter was when the particular clause referred towas before the committee of the Senate. As a matter of fact the whole subject was then discussed, and the overwhelming voice of the committee was against the principle now contended for bySenator Glassey. With respect to the later remarks made by Senator Gould as to the illegal collections made under this and similar measures, I may remind the honorable and learned senator that it is also too late to attempt to discuss that now. While technically these collections may be illegal, the practice followed is sanctioned by precedent extending over the last 80 or 100 years in Great Britain itself, in Canada, New South Wales, and most of the States.
– Always subsequently legalized by the passing of an Act.
– That is so, and the courts, moreover, as the honorable and learned senator must know, have always endeavoured to delay attempts made to prevent the recovery of duties in the meantime.
– Not always.
– I am aware that there are two cases of the kind in Victoria, but if I remember rightly in those cases the session of Parliament had expired. The courts have always waited until the expiration of the session, and if no measure has been enacted to legalize the collections, judgment of course has gone to the plaintiff. The practice is one which has been sanctioned for many years by precedent in all the States, and it is, moreover, a practice which is in the highest and best interests of the mercantile community, as well as of the community generally, and one which has been found on the whole to secure the nearest approach to equality. I should like to point out, by reference to a concrete case, the difficulty of adopting a different course. Let us assume that the Government say - “ Cottons are now free, but we propose three months hence to impose a duty of 10 per cent, upon cottons.” Senator Gould will at once see that the result of that would be that the market would immediately be flooded with cottons, and the duty would become’ inoperative for perhaps years; It is in consequence of the exigencies of the situation that we are obliged to resort to this practice.
– No one will contend otherwise, but the difficulty arises where proposed duties are reduced, or are not approved of.
– As regards the question of refunds, I say with the most complete confidence, that the fairest course is that which has been adopted bv the Government. This is a matter to which I had to give very great consideration in connexion with the Tariff I had the honour to introduce in Victoria. I had to consider the whole matter at that time, and speaking subject to correction, I think that I probably initiated this practice in Victoria.
– At all events I am certain that I was called upon to resist the same efforts as are now being made by Senator Glassey in connexion with refunds. After the very fullest consideration we found that it would be unfair and unjust on the whole to grant any refunds. Honorable senators should know exactly how the matter stands. I venture to say that, in the majority of cases, the dealer or importer will have sold his goods, plus the duty.
– And the retailer will have sold again to the consumer.
– And it is the consumer who will have paid the duty.
– The retailer willhave sold again to the consumer, and, as Senator O’Keefe says, it is, of course, the consumer who will have paid the duty. But the whole question was discussed last night, and this is simply a repetition of the arguments then adduced. The overwhelming voice of this Senate has been expressed against entertaining for a moment the idea of a present being made by the Parliament of the Commonwealth to certain merchants, which is what a refund of duty under these circumstances would actually amount to. The merchant will have sold his goods at a price plus the duty, and a refund of the duty to himunder the circumstances would mean that he would thereby be made a present of the amount, while the consumer who paid the duty would get no refund whatever, because it would be simply impracticable to enable him to do so. I am aware that inequalities and hardships arise, but in this matter all the members of the mercantile community are placed practically upon the same footing. They are all aware of the possibilities in connexion with a Tariff, and, as a result, they keep their clearances from bond within the lowest limits, and in that way the minimum of risk is undertaken, and possibly the minimum of hardship is suffered. I admit that in a limited percentage of cases hardship does occur. I venture to say that if it were possible for the Government to relieve those cases, they would gladly do so. But I can appeal with the utmost confidence to my honorable friend, Senator Sargood, and to other honorable senators of commercial experience, to admit that it is impossible to grant complete and satisfactory relief in all cases, and, consequently, a broad general principle that there shall be no refunds is laid down, and in that way, on the whole, justice is done. I feel that the Government have really had no reasonable alternative but to act in the manner they have done. On the whole, greater justice has been done all round to consumer and to merchant than could have been secured by reverting to the practice urged by Senator Glassey. I have no doubt that there have been some cases of hardship, but in those cases, under the practice adopted, the revenue - in which we are all interested - and not individuals, has benefited, and the hardships have thereby been more or less minimised. Before I sit down, I should like to say a word or two upon a matter whichI believe to be of very great interest to the Senate. It refers to clause 2 of the Customs Tariff Bill now before us, which provides that the Customs Act of 1901, No. 6, shall be incorporated and read as one with this Act. Honorable senators will be aware that section 55 of the Constitution Act provides -
Laws imposing taxation shall deal only with the imposition of taxation, and any provision therein dealing with any other matter shall he of no effect. Laws imposing taxation, except laws imposing duties of customs or of excise, shall deal with one subject of taxation only ; but laws imposing duties of customs shall deal with duties of customs only, and laws imposing duties of excise shall deal with duties of excise only.
This is a case in which, I think, the privileges of this Chamber have been to some extent infringed. I do not suppose for a moment that this has been knowingly done, although I believe the point was raised in the House of Representatives by my honorable friend, Mr. Isaacs. Honorable senators will notice the rigid terms of section 55 of the Constitution to which I have referred, indicating clearly that laws imposing duties of customs shall deal with duties of customs only, and that a similar provision obtains with regard to laws imposing duties of excise. When we come to look at the Customs Act of 190], No. 6, which it is proposed shall be incorporated with this Act dealing with duties of Customs, we shall find that it is a very wide and comprehensive statute.
– It is a machinery Act.
– It deals with machinery provisions, I admit, but it deals with very much more than I believe is contemplated by this section of the Constitution, providing that statutes imposing duties shall deal only with the imposition of duties. When we refer to the Customs Act of 1901, No. 6, we find that itdeals with the subjects of prohibited imports, the licensing of warehouses, the exportation of goods, the coasting trade generally, drawbacks, all sort of penal provisions, questions of settlement by the Ministerand a number of cognate matters. What
I say is that this Senate, in my judgment, is not justified in attempting to introduce asa clause of this Customs Tariff Bill, which imposes duties of Customs, a provision incorporating in this measure another Act. In my judgment also, it is quite unnecessary that we should do so. The Customs Act speaks for itself. It is a machinery measure, enabling the Government to do just as well, without its being referred to in this Bill at all, everything they can do as a result of its incorporation with this Bill. In other words, I claim that if clause 2 were not inserted in this Bill, the Customs Act of 1901, No. 6, would operate in precisely the same manner.
– Then there is no harm in it.
– There, is harm in it from this standpoint, that it is against the spirit of section 55 of the” Constitution Act, and introduces matter extraneous to the imposition of Customs duties. Its insertion in the Bill is a mistake. If the other House is allowed to send up a measure of this kind, incorporating extraneous matter as it has done by clause 2, we may on a future occasion have extraneous matter introduced in a similar measure, and this case quoted as a precedent against us. Honorable senators should pause before they become parties to the introduction of extraneous matter in a Bill of this kind.
SenatorPULSFORD(New South Wales). - Senator Best has not made it clear whether he suggests a recommittal of the Bill for the purpose of eliminating the clause.
– That is the proper course.
– Does the honorable and learned senator wish to carry his objection to that point?
– No amendment has been moved.
– The point is surrounded with a little difficulty, but so far as I can see, I am inclined to agree with the opinion expressed by Senator Best. I also agree with him that as a matter of administration it would make no differenceBut as a matter of constitutional law, and the avoidance of a precedent, I think we should be justified in eliminating the clause before the Bill goes to the other House. For the purpose of testing the feeling of the Senate on the point, I move -
That the questionbe amended by the omission of all the words after the word’ “ that,” with the view to insertionlieuthereof the words ‘“the Bill be recommitted for the reconsideration of clause 2.”
– I wish to address the Senate now both on the matter-
SenatorClemons. - If the honorable and learned senator replies now, no one else can speak.
– I understand that anysenator can speak to the amendment.
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council intends to speak in reply, and if any other senator wishes to speak he must do so now.
– Speaking now in reply I wish to referin the first place, to the matters mentioned by Senator Glassey. I listened very carefully to his clear explanation of the grievances of the writers of the letters he read, and it appears to me that they all come well within the principle which has already been decidedon grounds very succinctly stated by Senator Best, who spoke not only with the confidence of one who apprehended the subject thoroughly, but with the authority derived from the actual administration of a Customs Act for a number of years. I think it was the general opinion of the Senate, with very few exceptions, when we were discussing thismatter before, that although the application of the principle might result in hardship in particular instances, there must be some hardship in the introduction of a new state of things such as this, and that the lesser of the two evils was the adoptionof thecourse which hasbeen adopted. I donot wish to repeat any of the reasons which were given for the adoption of that course at any other time or to-day. The Government do not intend to reconsider any of these cases. They have come to a decision as to the principle to be observed. It has been followed in a large number of instances, and that decision cannot be disturbed. With regard to the other matter, I would suggest to the Senate whether it is worth while to raise these questions as constitutional questions unless there is something substantial in them.
– Certainly there may be something substantial in this question hereafter.
– When I say “ something substantial in them,” I refer to possibilities as well as to anything in the future.
– . Does the honorable andlearned senator think -that a cure is better than prevention?
– No ; but I think it isa little beneath the Senate to solemnly takeexception to a Bill as being unconstitutional when the point objected to is the merest technicality,which under any circumstances can make no difference to the administration of the law.
SenatorClemons. - It might be taken as aprecedent.
– I shall point out by-and-by that it cannot. I think it is a sound principle to adopt that the Senate ought not to betoo ready or eager to find out, with a microscope almost, any little point which byan acute rendering of the -section might be deemed to be in some possible circumstances unconstitutional. I take it that we have to look at the real meaning of the objection which has been raised, and see whether there isreally any thing substantial in it. It willbe admitted ithat theCustoms Tariff Billon the face of it deads with only taxation, and it contains a clause which is a very common one in Acts of Parliament, and which I venture to sayhas been passed here in Bills before. It is a rule of interpretation laid down for the judicial authority who has to interpret themeasure, and it is nothing more. It is a ruleof interpretation expressed on theface of the statute which in its absencewould be applied almost to the same extent. It is a wellknown rule of lawthat two statutes dealing with the same subject-matter must beread together, and if any light can be thrown on one statutef rom . another statute dealing with the same subject-matter the Judge will referto thatotherstatute. Necessarily, Acts of the same Parliamentdealing with the same subject-matter are read together. All the clause does is to direct the attention of any judicialauthority to the fact that that rule of interpretation must be applied to thismeasure inconnexion with the machinery measurewithwhich it is intended to work.
-Could the Customs Act and the Customs Tariff Billcome up together tothe Senate as one measure?
SenatorO’CONNOR. - Certainly not, because the machinery measure would contain a different set of provisions from the taxing measure. What I am pointing out is that this clause does not enact the machinery provisions in any way.
– It says “incorporated.”
– That does not mean physically incorporated, but it means read in connexion with. It means that the rule of interpretation which, without the clause, would be applied, will be specially applied, with that direction to the judicial authority. It cannot mean anything else. It would be impossible to say that, because the word incorporated is used, therefore some force will be given to an enactment in the Customs Act by reason of this Bill. The enactments of the Customs Act get no force from this Bill. Any force of enactment which the Customs Act has is self-derived. This clause is merely a direction that the two Acts are to be read and interpreted together, that one may throw light on the other, and it is necessary that that should be so. What is the purpose of the Customs Act 1 It is to collect the duties which are imposed by the Customs Tariff Act.
– Hear, hear. Hence it is incorporated.
– Does the honorable and learned senator mean to say that a Judge who is interpreting both Acts could not give exactly the same effect to the first statute in connexion with the second as if this clause did not exist?
– I have already said so, and that is the reason why it should not be there.
– Then what is the use of the objection f Is it anything less than the merest technicality 1
– Yes ; it should not be there.
– I do not understand the honorable and learned senator’s reason. He has admitted that the clause does not incorporate the Customs Act.
– That absolutely follows from what the honorable and learned senator has said.
– But this clause does not introduce into the Customs Tariff Bill any section of the Customs Act any more than it could be introduced by a Judge in the interpretation, of it. It may be asked, whether, if the interpretation would be just the same, with or without the clause, there is any necessity for its insertion ? The necessity for its insertion is that it is an indication and a direction to the judicial authority identifying this Bill as one of the Acts to be administered in connexion with the other. I do not see any reason why the practice in the drawing of Acts of Parliament which has been followed in the States and in the Commonwealth should not be followed in this instance. The point has absolutely nothing of substance in it. This is not an enactment which effects substantially anything, lt carries the law no further than it would otherwise go, and it only serves the purpose of identifying this Bill as one of the Acts which are to be applied in the interpretation and working of the other Act.
– Has the word “incorporated “ no meaning 1
– It has only the meaning that it is to be interpreted with it, -and the word “ incorporated “ might just as well be struck out. If it were to read, “ the Customs Act shall be read as one with this Act,” it would have precisely the same meaning.
– That would be a “ dealing “ with it.
– I do not quite understand the application of the word.
– The word “dealing “ is used in section 55 of the Constitution.
– Does that make any difference whatever in the meaning of either of these Acts ?
– I do not think so.
– Is it worth while for the Senate to take up this solemn attitude, as if a great Constitutional question were raised, over a matter which is merely one of verbiage, and does not mean anything substantial ?
– On the point of order, Mr. President, did I understand you to rule that after Senator O’Connor had replied it would not be competent for any honorable senator to address the Senate 1
– I would refer you, Mr. President, to Standing Order No. 131, and to the exceptions therein provided -
Provided that the mover of any question not hereinbefore excepted shall be allowed the liberty of reply ; and provided also that it shall be competent to a member when he seconds a motion or amendment before the House without speaking to it to address the House on the subject of such, motion or amendment at any subsequent period of the debate.
Is it out of order, therefore, for the honorable senator who seconded this amendment, without making any speech, to address the Senate now ?
– Yes. I have lived under these standing orders for 35 years ; I have listened to decisions given under them by various speakers and presidents : and I have administered them myself for over twelve years. The universal interpretation has been that the reply of the mover concludes a debate. That has been the practice of the Senate from the first.
– It is not contained in the standing order.
– It has been the practice. It is true that at an early period of the session honorable senators expressed a desire that that practice should be altered, and the Standing Orders Committee have framed new standing orders in order to give effect to that desire. But we are carrying on business under the standing orders which are now in print, and in my opinion there is no doubt whatever that the reply of the mover concludes the debate.
– Am I to understand, Mr. President, that your ruling now is that the practice is contrary to the standing order?
– I only wish to understand your ruling. Do you rule that without any question as to the practice which has hitherto been adopted in this Chamber, it is contrary to Standing Order No. 131 that the seconder of a motion should speak at any subsequent period of the debate?
– The honorable and learned senator must not only read the particular words of any particular standing order, but he must read them with the context, and with the other standing orders. If Standing Order 131 be read with the other standing orders, it will be seen that it means that before the mover of a motion, replies, any honorable senator can speak. Perhaps I may be permitted to say that as President I looked into the question as to the Customs Act 1901 being “incorporated and read as one with this Act,” and I came to the conclusion that there was no breach of the spirit of the section of the Constitution. That section was inserted to provide against a tack. This cannot be said to be a tack. Whether the word remains in or not, it does not seem to me to make the slightest difference, either in the matter of a Bill or anything else. It seemed to me to be such a trivial matter that I did not think it desirable to bring it up.
– I move -
That the Bill be now read a third time.
Last night some question was raised as to the suspension of the standing orders, and Senator Gould, and several other honorable senators, indicated that they would probably suggest the postponement of the third reading of this measure until the Customs Tariff Bill had been returned to the Senate, and was being dealt with finally. I presume that some honorable senators will again take up that attitude, and it is just as well that I should deal at once with the objection. I hope that the Senate will pass the third reading now, so that the measure may become law at the earliest possible moment. My reason is this : We know that some of the most important provisions of this measure deal with the sugar industry. One of those provisons, which is most important, and of immediate application, gives a right to a rebate of £2 per ton to the grower of sugar by white labour. It is provided in the Bill that the rebate shall take effect from the time that the excise begins. The excise is to be -
Less, from the 1st July, 1902, a rebate to the grower of sugar-cane and beet.
That rebate is to be allowed, according to a later provision in the same paragraph -
At the time of delivery of the cane or beet on the ascertainment in manner prescribed of the sugar-giving contents, and so that it may be prescribed that the average sugar-giving contents of the cane or beet in any particular district shall be taken to bo the sugar-giving^ contents of each lot of cane or beet in such district.
It is quite clear, therefore, that this part of the settlement of the sugar question in Queensland cannot come into immediate operation, so far as the grower of sugar by white labour is concerned, until after this Bill has been passed and regulations have been framed. The position is that the cutting of the cane began a little before July. It is now in full swing, large quantities of sugar grown by white labour are coming forward, and the growers are being told day after day that as soon as the Excise Bill has been passed they will have the right to their rebate, but not before
– Does the honorable and learned senator say that the excise
Can be charged, but that no rebate can be made ?
– Yes ; the excise can be charged according to the ordinary constitutional provision by which excise duties are collected.
– Although it is accompanied with a condition?
– That is not so. The constitutional practice enables the excise to be charged, as I have said, on the lines provided in this Bill, and that will be ratified subsequently when the Bill passes. But the rebate cannot be given except in accordance with certain regulations to be prescribed under the Bill. Even if it be assumed for a moment that the rebate is something which is deducted from the excise - which it is not - and that it can be allowed without passing an Act of Parliament, we cannot fix the amount of the rebate until the Bill has been passed, because it provides -
The rebate to be allowed at the rate of £2 pelton on the sugar-giving contents of the beet.
The rebate is calculated -
On cane giving 10 percent, of sugar, and is to bc increased or reduced proportionately ‘according to any variation from this standard. . , . All rebates to be allowed at the time of delivery of the cane or beet, on tho ascertainment in manner prescribed, of the sugar-giving contents, and so that it may bo prescribed that the average sugar-giving contents of the cane or beet in any particular district shall be taken to be the sugargiving contents of each lot of cane or beet in such district.
Therefore, even if it were possible to allow a rebate out of the duty - and it is not - the amount to be given in each case depends upon the saccharine strength of the cane which can be ascertained only when the regulations are being prescribed in this way. My right honorable friend the Minister for Trade and Customs - as all will believe who know him - has been endeavouring to find some way out of the difficulty, in order to be able to make payments at once in respect of the rebate, but he has not been able to do so. He has regulations ready to be issued, and everything arranged with regard to the allowances to be made on the cane in each district, but he cannot move a step further in authorization of the payment of this money until this Bill has been passed. As a preliminary to a statement of the interests involved, I would say that perhaps honorable senators will be aware that the condition of the industry, both in Queensland and in New South Wales, is very unfortunate owing to the drought. I am informed by the officers that in one district in Queensland which it was calculated from previous experience would produce this season something like 16,000 tons of cane is not likely to yield more than l,S0O tons. I refer to the Maryborough district. I understand that in portions of New South Wales where the drought has been severely felt cane has been cut for fodder ; but notwithstanding all allowances which have been made in that way, we estimate that there will be some 20,000 tons of cane grown by white labour in Queensland, and some 12,000 tons in New South Wales, so that practically the whole of the New South Wales cane will be entitled to the rebate. All that cane, which will produce something like 20,000 tons of sugar, is waiting for this rebate. The cane is coming in and the growers are waiting for their money. The total amount to be distributed in that way is something over £60,000. When we remember the condition of the sugar industry, and of the farmer, both in Queensland and New South Wales, we ought to hesitate in the interests of the whole Commonwealth before we delay making this measure an Act of Parliament instead of a mere proposal. Under the provisions of this measure a large amount of duty is being collected in excise from breweries, distilleries, and tobacco factories. The machinery of collection is continually going on, but at present without legal sanction, under the constitutional usage according to which we have been acting all through. It is a truth that cannot be gainsaid that we ought not to continue to act under that constitutional principle, and without legal sanction, any longer than is absolutely necessary. Therefore, in regard to all those industries and as to the collection of all this excise, unless there is some good reason for delay, this Bill ought to be made law. But there is another and a more important reason still. If there is one thing more than another which we hear from the whole commercial .community of the .Commonwealth, and which is over and .above the cry -of free-trade and protection, it is “Let us have a settlement of this Tariff question.” What is wanted is certainty ; and when we can give certainty, we ought to do so in the interests of the whole Commonwealth, and that certainty ought not to be delayed simply for the purpose of holding this Bill as a lever, or im terrorem, over the other Chamber. I -do not accuse any honorable senator of wishing .to do that ; but there should be no such thing as appearing to use the .powers <>f this Senate to delay the payment of money to people who are entitled to it, and the settlement of the question for the benefit of the whole Commonwealth, merely for the purpose of holding in reserve .a weapon which may be used in conflict with the other House. This is one of the occasions on .which the consideration of the interests of the whole community should stand above any consideration of the success of one House over the other. What is the position in regard to this Excise Bill ? It has passed through .the ordeal of discussion in the Senate. Attempts have been made to amend it. Those attempts have failed. After the fullestdiscussion it has passed through committee without amendment. Is there any reason to suppose that the Senate desires to amend it? Is there any justification for suggesting that it should be. amended ? What does it deal with ? It deals -first of all with the excise on beer. An attempt was -made to alter the duty, but the motion was defeated b)’ a large majority. In the Customs Tariff Bill a suggestion has been made to decrease the duty on beer, bottled and bulk. Can any ‘honorable senator say that -the relation between .the Excise Tariff Bill and the Customs Tariff Bill is of such a nature that -whatever the decision may be in regard to beer, it will be necessary or desirable or expedient to alter the Excise Tariff Bill ? The next item, spirits, has not been touched. There are thousands of pounds being collected from spirits. As the duty has not been touched in the Customs Tariff Bill, it cannot be touched in the Excise Bill. Is it likely to be touched if we delay the passage of the measure? Coming to sugar, I have already given a strong reason why the excise rate should stand as it is. Dealing with tobacco, it will be remembered that attempts were
Senator O’Connor. made to alter the duty, but they failed. The only suggestion made in regard to tobacco in the Customs Tariff Bill was one to alter the duty from a specific plus an ad valorem rate to a specific rate of so*mething like the same amount in the case of cigars and cigarettes. The suggestion involves a very -slight difference in .the rate. Under these -circumstances, is it likely that the tobacco duties will be affected under the Excise Tariff Bill, whatever may be the effect of the Senate’s suggestion in regard to cigars and cigarettes ? When we look at the actual position of affairs I ask whether the Senate is really giving up any substantial right of dealing with the fiscal system, taken .as a whole, by sending this Bill down to the House of Representatives so that it may become law at once ? I therefore appeal - and I think I shall appeal successfully - to .the public spirit of the Senate, to pass this measure at once in order to ,give finality and settlement to all the commercial interests which are affected by it, and .especially to enable the measure of justice -which is promised to the growers of sugar by white labour to be meted out to them at the earliest possible moment.
– I have listened with a great deal of attention to the remarks of the VicePresident of the Executive Council in objecting to the retention of the Excise Tariff Bill. I fully recognise the weighty arguments that he has adduced in connexion with the matter. But I desire, also, that honorable senators should bear in mind that there are rights and privileges pertaining to the Senate, and we ought to see that they .-are safe-guarded. We can readily understand that Senator O’Connor would like to get this Bill out of hand and done with. It is only natural that he should take up that attitude. But on the face of the Bill itself there are reasons why we should’ hesitate. It has been shown to be necessary that a certain clause that has been taken exception to shall be read in conjunction with another Bill, .and that very fact shows that it is intended that the two Bills shall go handinhand. When .the measure was originally introduced, it was shown by the way in which the two were taken together that they were intended to go hand-in-hand. Let me direct attention to the position that would have occurred if we had made even one amendment in the Excise Tariff Bill. If we had made only one . amendment, however small or trifling, that Bill would have been in exactly the same position as the Customs Tariff Bill, and would have had to go through the same procedure. Senator O’Connor will reply, of ‘Course, that no amendment has been made in this Bill. But we havemade amendments in the Customs Tariff Bill affecting articles that’ are dutiable at the Customs, and which, if manufactured in the country, are subject to excise. There is consequently a close relation between the two measures, and between the dutiesthat are proposed. Take the item, beer. Under the Customs Tariff Billwe have reduced the duty on beer in one case to1s. 3d. a gallon, and in the other case to l0d. a gallon, as against the proposals of the Government, which were1s. 6d. and1s. We have passed the Excise Tariff Bill as it stood. There is a certain relativeproportion between the reduced duty proposed in the Customs Tariff Bill and the duties proposed in the Excise Tariff Bill. Suppose for the sake of argument that the other Chamber were to say - “We think you have made a mistake in your request to reduce the duty on beer from ls.6d. to1s. 3d.” The Senate would then have the right to say - “ If we assent to your duties, we are going to lower the excise rates so as to maintain the same proportion as now exists between the duty on the colonial-made article and that on the imported article.” We might say that there should bea difference of 3d. per gallon between the two. If the Houseof Representatives say - “ We but ask you to make a greater difference between the excise and the customs duties,”will honorable senators contend that we should not have a right to reconsider the Excise Bill in the light of that proposal? The Senate in its own interest, and for theprotection of its rights would be putting itself in an extraordinary position if it said - “We send back the Excise Tariff Bill as you sent it to us without alteration, but we have made certain suggestions for alterations in the Customs Tariff Bill, which we hope you will accept.” If we took up that position we should have lost the opportunity of going in for give and take, or there would be less chance of effecting a suitable compromise than there would be if we withheld the Excise Tariff Bill until we got back the Customs Tariff Bill.
– The honorable and learned senator means that we should hold one Bill in our hand, and the other up our sleeve !
- Senator O’Connor knows that the Excise Tariff Bill would not be altered, assuming that we had no difficultywith regard to our suggestions as to Customs duties. What is the whole strength of Senator O’Connors contention with regard to the rebate on sugar? He says that the rebate cannot be paid until this Bill has been passed. If we had made an alteration in the Bill, the Government would have been in exactly the same position. But the excise of £3 per ton has been demanded on sugar. How? Simply by the will of the Executive Government. And by the will of the Executive Government those who are entitled to the rebate of £2 per ton might be paid that money.
– The Government can receive money, but they cannot pay it away without parliamentary authority.
– If the Government maintain the position that they can levy taxation without the force of law, they have the same right to say “ we will pay this rebate of £2 per ton.”
– The money that is received from excise must go into the consolidated revenue, and under the Constitutionwe cannot pay anything out of the consolidated revenue, except under the warrant of an Act of Parliament.
– Assuming that that answer is perfectly correct, why could not the Government say to the sugargrowers - “ We cannot pay you this money to-day, but as soon as we get our Bill passed we shall be able to pay you that to which you are entitled.” If this Government is going to be in a hurry to pay money that is due it will be the first example of a Governnent in Australia that has done so. The Government will require returns and all sorts of particulars before they pay the rebate. I venture to say that not a penny will be paid to the people who are entitled to it if this Bill is passed now, sooner than it willbe paid if we wait until the Customs Tariff Bill is received back from the House of Representatives. Therefore, I say it is moonshine to speak to to us in this way. Another argument is that it is necessary that the regulations should be passed in order to fix the rebate, but the Bill itself provides that a rebate shall be granted under certain conditions, and that regulations are to be passed - what to do % Not to make any fresh legislation, but simply to carry into effect the legislation which has already been determined by Parliament.
– Yes ; but we cannot fix the amount without passing regulations.
– The regulations can be prepared and drafted.
– They are drafted and read)-.
– They are all prepared and ready, and they can be acted upon subject to their being confirmed at a later date. Otherwise the honorable and learned senator is simply trying to lead us into a trap, and the Government will be able to say - “Here is our Excise Tariff Bill, we have managed to get this through untouched. We have now got you in our hands, and we shall pass our regulations.” It is just as fair to the Government as to honorable senators generally, that this measure should be allowed to stand over for a certain time. It is not a fair thing to propose that our rights, and we have rights in this matter, should be set aside in the way desired by the Vice-President of the Executive Council. I say that honorable senators will not be true to themselves or to the Constitution under which they occupy seats in this Federal Parliament if they part with this Excise Tariff Bill under the present circumstances, and under the conditions indicated by Senator O’Connor. I do protest against this being done. I saythat if the suggestions we have made for alterations in the Customs duties are not agreed to by the other House, and if we are unable to come to an arrangement with regard to them, we may require to reconsider our position with regard to the excise duties. As a reasonable protection for ourselves, and the rights we are bound to vindicate and maintain if we are true to our principles and to the Constitution, I hope Senator O’Connor will not insist upon forcing the third reading of the Excise Tariff Bill through at the present time. I suggest that the debate should be adjourned until, say the 20th of August, when we shall re-assemble, and when we shall be able to see what position we are in with regard to the requests we have made to the House of Representatives. It may be that when these requests are considered, and the matter comes back from the other Chamber, the proposals made may be such as we shall be able to regard as a fair compromise between the two Houses. But if they are not, and this Bill is now passed, we shall have prejudiced our position. Honorable senators may say that the matter is not of much importance, but I remind them that in every act of legislation we are laying down the foundation of our powers, duties, and privileges in the future, and we should be careful that we do not whittle away any of them which may be of very great value to us later. If we are going to give away first one thing and then another, we shall find later on that we shall be unable to maintain the position to which we are entitled under the Constitution. We may say that legally we can do it, but we know that Members of Parliament, like every one else, regard precedent, and are prepared to construe Acts of Parliament in accordance with precedent. Having spoken to the motion, it is not competent for me to move the adjournment of the debate, but I hope that some other honorable senator will deem this matter of importance, and will move the adjournment of the debate for three weeks, so that we may have an opportunity of reconsidering the whole position. The delay involved can cause’ no injury or harm to any bod y. I see no reason why the two Houses should not come to an agreement in connexion with the suggestions we have made, and the delay should not extend, at the outside, to more than three or four weeks, when the regulations could become law.
-I confess myself in a state of some uncertainty. I am uncertain whether the remarks just made by Senator Gould indicate a new-born enthusiasm to make amendments in the Excise Tariff Bill, or display a too late repentance, because of amendments which the honorable and learned senator prevented his party from making. In any case, so far as I am personally concerned, I intend to support the Government in this matter. My efforts to make alterations in the Excise Tariff Bill have failed, and so far as I am concerned the fight is over, and I have not the slightest desire to have a single item reconsidered. This is to rae a satisfactory reason for supporting the Government in this instance, but there is another reason, and I am very glad to be in a position to mention it. It is at least a month ago since the leader of the Government in the Senate spoke to me personally upon this question, and in words almost similar to those which he has used this afternoon the honorable and learned senator pointed out to me the desirability of enabling the Government to pay this rebate. I not only privately told him that I agreed with what he said, but on the floor of this chamber I gave ray assurance that I would offer no opposition to the payment of this rebate at the earliest moment possible. However I may be bound by party considerations, I am, and shall always be, first of all bound by my word, and if I had no other reason for supporting the Government in this instance that would be ample for me.
– The excise duties are necessarily consequential upon the customs duties, and it appears to me that having dealt with them in that light and in that order, until we know the fate of our requests in connexion with the customs duties, it is desirable that we should not tie our hands absolutely in connexion with these consequential duties. For that reason, and without making any further remarks, I shall support the suggestion of Senator Gould in favour of a postponement of the third reading of the Excise Bill until the matter of the customs duties has been adjusted with the other Chamber.
– I should like to point out to honorable senators who are anxious to hold this Excise Tariff Bill up as a whip, and who desire to have something up their sleeves, that they will have everv power which any one could desire to deal with the Customs Tariff Bill. We have the power to reject the Bill, if the House of Representatives will not accept the suggestions sent down from this Chamber, and surely that is power enough. I am very anxious that this matter of the excise on sugar, and the rebate proposed, shall be settled as soon as possible in the interests of the planters in Queensland. They want to know what Parliament has decided to do with regard to those who employ white labour? We should set their minds at rest, and their minds will not be set at rest if this Excise Tariff Bill is held up. If it is hold up nobody knows what may happen. We have no reason to suppose that everything in connexion with the Customs Tariff Bill willbe settled in three weeks’ time. If this Bill is held up those matters may not be settled in three months’ time or in six months’ time.
– That cannot be, because if the Federal Tariff is not adjusted by the end of this year there will be no power to collect customs duties at all.
– The honorable senator no doubt refers to the section of the Constitution providing for the settlement of a uniform Tariff within two years; but who is to penalize’ us if we do not pass our customs laws within that time 1 Who is there to take action against us?
– The honorable senator will permit me to remind him that if we do not take action we shall not be able to fall back upon collections under the State laws.
– As honorable senators have shown a good deal of consideration for the Queensland cane farmers I hope they will carry out their sympathy in a practical way, and will relieve the anxieties of those people. There are a number of men in Queensland who are waiting until this matter is settled. Some accepted the word of the Federal Parliament and employed white labour rightaway, but there are others who are waiting, and when this Excise Tariff Bill is passed, as I hope it will be this afternoon, we shall find additions to the number of those who have decided to employ white labour.
– On the 30th of last month some little discussion took place on the subject of this Excise Tariff Bill, and the possibility of delay in the issue of, regulations providing for the rebate on sugar. From what was then said by Senator O’Connor, I think it was quite clear that it is not necessary now, that on account of the sugar rebate, the third reading of this Bill should be rushed. This is what is reported to have taken place on the 30th of June : -
Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania). - By leave, I should like to ask the Vice-President of the Executive Council if it is true, as reported in the press, that he proposes to interfere with the discussion of the Customs Tariff Bill by adverting to the Excise Tariff Bill with the view of dealing with the excise duty on sugar?
Senator O’CONNOR (New South Wales- VicePresident of the Executive Council). - A question has arisen which may render it necessary to make some alteration in the order of dealing with the Tariff. It appears that the sugar-growers in Queensland are beginning to produce a sugar crop with white labour, under circumstances which would entitle them to the rebate, if that rebate were completely authorized according to !av. The Minister for Trade and Customs finds it necessary now to prepare regulations to put the matter in such definite shape that the sugargrower producing sugar grown by white labour shall know exactly what his position is. It is thought, therefore, to be desirable, if possible, to have some indication of the view of the Senate before the regulations are completed. It is only in regard to that particular question that any difficulty has arisen. I have not yet determined what course will be taken, but I shall probably intimate it to the Senate to-morrow.
Senator CLEMONS (Tasmania).- With the permission of the Senate; I wish to ask another question. Are we to understand that the difficulty arises from the possibility that this Chamber may refuse to accept the provisions in the Excise Bill with regard to the rebate on sugar grown by white labour?
– Hear, hear.
– If that is so, I anticipate no difficulty whatever.
There is the whole matter in a nutshell. The honorable senator desired to know whether there would be any difficulty raised on the subject of the rebate. He has had assurance upon the subject a thousand fold. And I apprehend there is no necessity arising from the mere matter of this rebate on sugar for the passing of the third reading of this Bill this afternoon. I have no hesitation in saying that it is desired now to pass the third reading of this Bill in order to weaken the position of the Seriate in regard to the arrangement of the Tariff.
Motion (by Senator Macfarlane) put -
That the debate be now adjourned.
Ayes … …. … 8
Noes … … … 17
Majority … … 9
Question so-resolved in. the negative.
– I voted with the “noes” just now, because I thought that this important matter ought to be fought out on its own merits. I regret that Senator O’Connor has spoken with such earnestness.
– I feel very earnest about it.
– I am sorry that the honorable gentleman should feel so desperately in earnest, and should appeal to our political patriotism to support the motion for the third reading of the Bill, and suggest that we shall be doing something derogatory to the Senate and. unfair to another place by refusing to finally deal with the Bill now. It appears to me that there are two sides to the question. Senator Clemons feels bound to support the Government, because, as I think, in a rash moment he gave a promise, which, of course, he is perfectly right in performing.
– I do not regret it. I should have voted in the same way if I had not made it.
– I am afraid I find myself differing from my honorable and’ learned friend. I do not wish to make any charges-, but I think it might very fairly be argued that it is to some extent a breach of faith to take this Bill out of the Senate at the present moment. The Tariff Bills hang together. Before we can decide what duties ought to be imposed in one Bill, we have to look at the duties imposed in the other, and every item in one Bill has a corresponding item in the other. I can quite understand that there may be reasons why in the interest of another place the Excise Tariff Bill should remain on our table. I can quite understand that some honorable members in another place may say - “ We object to the increase of duty which the Senate suggests, but if they had increased the excise duty we should not have minded it so much.” Supposing two or three honorable members in another place do take that view, why should the hands of the Senate be tied ? Why should the area for compromise on these items be decreased? I anticipate that the members of each House will do their duty, and that there will be no trouble if we are reasonable in settling up everything. If the two Bills are in the Senate, we shall be more likely to arrive at a settlement. We shall be able to act more elastically than can be’ done if this Bill is allowed to go back. It is quite within the bounds of probabilitythat honorable members in another place may say - “ We object to the suggested increase in the customs duty, but we should not have minded so much if it had’ been accompanied with a suggestion to increase the excise duty.”
– Does the honorable and learned senator like to keep his hands on the lever?
– If my honorable and learned friend keeps talking about keeping our hands on the lever, and having a weapon; ought not the Senate, as a duty it owes to the taxpayers, to retain all its powers ? If he says that a right we have is a. weapon, let us retain it in our hands: What are we here for ? We are here to practice constitutional government, and to enforce all the rights and powers of. the Senate in a reasonable manner, and it does not at all follow that we are unreasonable if we refuse to send back this’ Bill. Senator O’Connor desires to see the Queensland planters paid at once. So far as I understand the matter, consistently the rebate cannot be paid until both Bills are assented to.
– Certainly not. The Customs Tariff Bill Kas nothing whatever to do with the Excise Tariff Bill.
– I utterly differ from my honorable and learned friend. I do not believe that the Treasurer will allow the rebate to be paid until the Customs Tariff Bill is passed.
– What authority has the honorable and learned senator for saying that?.
– I am only expressing my belief.
– It is altogether wrong.
– Supposing, there is a crisis, and the Customs Tariff Bill is not passed, what position will the Government be in if they pay away £60,000 as rebate? The Pacific Island Labourers Act and the two Tariff Bills contain one set of terms whicli we desire to give; and, although I am compelled togive them, I am not at all sure that they are not a great deal too liberal - that we are not giving away a great deal too much money.
– The honorable and learned senator ought not to discuss that question.
– I cannot see how the Treasurer can permit the money to be paid, because the three measures embody the liberal terms which we have been compelled to give to the planters. And when my honorable and learned friendsays that the money can be paid before the duty on sugar is fixed, I would point out that’ this Bill may never’ come back to the Senate, and that there may be formed a new Government who will bring down a Bill with totally different provisions in relation to the sugar-industry. If these arguments can begot over, I shall. vote with Senator O’Connor ; but until they are; it is my duty on behalf of Tasmania, to vote as I am going to do.
Senator MILLEN (New South Wales).The argument of the’ previous speaker, if I understand it aright, is that it is not possible or reasonable to ask the Senate to pass from its control the Excise Tariff Bill until it knows the final shape which the Customs Tariff Billis to take.
– Because partics in both Houses may wish to alter the Excise Tariff Bill.
– It appears to me that the difference between the excise duty and. the customs duty is the measure of protection which will be given to particular industries. That being so, there must be a starting point somewhere; and so far as the measure of protection is concerned, it does not really matter which Bil is first passed. The Senate might just as well have declined to consider the Customs Tariff Bill until.it knew finally what shape the other was to take, or vice versd. , As regards the attitude which has been taken up by many honorable senators to-day, let me point out that if the other House declines to accept our suggestions relating to the Customs Tariff Bill, and the Senate is not strong enough to insist on those suggestions being carried out, it will not be strong enough to insist on alterations being made in the Excise Tariff Bill. The position for the Senate to take up is to stand to its suggestions. The’ two Bills as they stand here represent’ the Tariff- as it has been approved of’ by the Senate. An alterationcan only take place by the rejection of our suggestions in regard to the Customs Tariff Bill’ by the other House. Let us stand to our suggestions. We have that measure of difference between tho two Bills of which the Senate has approved. Something has been said about the possibility of trouble with the other House. Speaking as a party man, the passing of this motion is absolutely the best thing we can do, although I am not supporting it on that ground. If the Excise Tariff Bill is passed into law, and there is any trouble about the Customs Tariff Bill, how are the Government to pay the rebates 1 A most awkward position will confront them. From a party point of view, it will be an excellent idea to pass the Excise Tariff Bill at once. I need hardly say that I hope that there will be no trouble between the Houses, but, so far as the Customs Tariff Bill is concerned, if we do adjust the differences between the Houses in an amicable way, there can be no objection to the . Excise Tariff Bill going through. If there is going to bc any crisis between the two Houses, there will be quite enough trouble in dealing with the question which will then arise to keep us both busy without troubling about the Excise Tariff Bill.
Original question resolved in the affirmative
Bill read a third time.
Resolved (on motion by Senator 0’CONnor) -
That the Senate at its rising adjourn until Wednesday, 20th August.
Senate adjourned at 4.46 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 24 July 1902, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1902/19020724_senate_1_11/>.