8th Parliament · 1st Session
ThePresident (Senator the Hon.T. Givens) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers. washington disarmament conference:
Senator BAKHAP. - I ask the Minister representing the Prime Minister if, as perhaps may be expected in thecircumstances, the United States of America does not accord separate representation at the’ Conference or Conferences to be held in Washington to all the individual Dominions of the British Empire,will the Government make a timely request to the Imperial authorities for the inclusion of a representative or representatives of the Common wealth of Australia in the per- sonnel of the British Empire Delegation?
Senator E, D. MILLEN. - The honorablesenator will recognise that the question be puts to me without notice is one which can onlybe answered by a Cabinet pronouncement. If, by putting his question on the notice-paper he will give me an opportunity of consulting my colleagues, I hope later during the week to be able to supply him with an answer.
The following papers were presented : -
DefenceAct.-Regulations amended. - Statu tory Rules 1921, No. 125.
New Guinea. - Ordinance No. 7 of 1921. - Navigation Act Suspension.
– I have here acopy of a cablegram from the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) in reference to certain matters that are being discussed elsewhere in connexion with his mission to the Old Country. I do not know whether it is proper for me to lay the paper on the table of the Senate, put I may overcome any difficulty if I am. given permission to read it.(Leave granted.) The cablegram is as follows: -
Australia has been given all the information which could be given at this juncture. It is well to remind those who ask for information relating to foreign and Imperial policy that useful discussion upon relationswith foreign countries, or upon matters of vital importance to Empire - such as defence -would be impossible if conducted on lines suggested. The representatives of various parts of the Empire gathered round the Council table are charged with the grave and responsible duties of nonserving the interests and securing the security of the Empire as a whole, and of every one of the nations that compose it. They cannot hope to succeed if premature disclosure is made to the whole world - and disclosures to the Parliament must mean this-not only of the policy recommended by the Conference after that has been agreed upon, but of the views of the various members and the arguments advanced for or against any suggested policy.
When the Conference has finishedits labours, its recommendations - which are all subject to approval by the respective Governments and ratification by Parliament - will be made available to Parliament. But if the Conference is to give to the various Parliaments of Empire wise and prudent counsel, there must becom- plete frankness of speech at meetings of the conference. All the facts must be made available and carefully considered.
It is inevitable that reference must be made to foreign countries. We live in a world of realities. We are the dulychosen counsellors of a very great Empire. Every man represents a great Dominion, which has special interests to protect, a great heritage to develop, particular problems to solve. Every part of the Empire - except, perhaps, Britain herself- depends for its very existence as a free nation upon the power of a united Empire. It would be idle to deny that the Empire has its critics, and its very greatness is in itself sufficient explanation of this,
I need not point out that a great and rich continent like Australia, with only 5,600,000 of people, must walk warily and not shout its secrets from the housetops. Other nations do not. At this very moment Lloyd George and De Valera are discussing matter of great moment in secret, and Sir James Craig says that it is right that only the official communique should be published.
There is, too, another reason why we cannot and ought not to act as our critics desire . We are members of a Conference, and must be governed’ by tile procedure which that body decides to adopt. ‘ It has been decided -that information upon certain important matters shall come through one channel, vis., the Secretariat of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The official communique is the only information permitted, except where the Conference otherwise decides. Wherever it has so decided I have made public the very fullest information. Further, I have kept my colleagues supplied with the very fullest confidential reports. What the Conference has done, and is endeavouring to do- everything that has taken definite shape or is in a fair way of doing sole, in your hands.
I stated in most definite and unambiguous terms in Parliament that the Commonwealth would not be committed to any scheme of naval or foreign policy, or involved in any expenditure, by any act of mine, but that all (after explanation by me and fall discussion by the Legislature) should be subject to ratification by Parliament. For my attitude in regard to the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese . Treaty and American connexion therewith, I refer to my speech dealing with these matters. I hold myself bound by the declarations contained therein.
I was sent here to represent Australia. My views Were plainly stated. My instructions from the Legislature perfectly clear. I am trying to uphold the interests of Australia and do my duty to her and the Empire.
Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear!
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
Judging from statements made in the Senate yesterday, it is probable that there may be differences of opinion about this matter. Let me say. that in most public Departments to-day there are matters which do not receive the attention which their importance deserves, merely because it is impossible for a Minister to work continuously without sleeping. There are many matters ‘ of administration to which less importance is attached thanis their due. But if I have learned anything from my experi- ente of Ministerial work, it is the necessity for the division of duties, and some delegation of administrative powers, in order that Ministers, who should be giving their best service to the country, should not be overwhelmed by details that are not of sufficient importance to occupy the time of members of the Cabinet. A few years ago the Trade and Customs Department was a comparatively small Department, but to-day it is too big for one human being to attempt to administer, unless he is given assistance in the delegation of duties of a purely administrative character. I do not suggest that any deputy should have the power to deal with matters of policy, but that he should deal with only purely administrative work in order that the Minister in charge of a Department can give his time to the consideration of matters of importance to the State. We propose an oversight of the Tariff. What has been the experience of members of this Chamber and of another place in regard to Tariffs? Nothing affects a country so much as its Customs Tariff, and yet I know of nothing that receives less consideration on the floor of Parliament. I do not suggest, of course, that members do not give of their best to such matters, but it is hardly possible for any individual member of this Parliament to know all the details in connexion with the 600 or 700 items comprised in our Tariff schedule. The Tariff requires to be studied in close detail by some authority specially charged with this duty, which will report to Parliament from time to time through the Minister. It should not be necessary, in a progressive community, to hold up any amendment of a Tariff for an indefinite period. At present, if any amendment is required to any particular item, the whole of the Customs Tariff schedule has to be thrown on the table, and thus a wide field for discussion is opened up. I well remember what happened in connexion with a matter in which I was interested some years ago. We wanted a duty on strawboard, which we can very well manufacture in Australia, but the question of competency to bring that matter before Parliament was raised. The Chairman of Committees ruled in my favour. I mention this because it seems advisable that it should be possible to secure ari amendment, of any half-dozen items in a Tariff without bringing the whole of the Act before Parliament for review.
– But correlated items are affected by any alteration of duty.
– That may be so. The point I wish to emphasize is that as the law stands it is impossible for Parliament to deal promptly with minor altera-_ tions.
Through my association with the Board of Trade, I have had some experience of Boards. I know that members of Boards devote a great deal of attention to’ the matters which come under review by” them. A great deal of detailed work is required in connexion with Tariff administration. It will be impossible for the Minister for Trade and Customs to’ carry out all this work, and therefore the proposal in the Bill is to appoint a Board’ with well-defined powers to relieve and advise the Minister. The Board will, consist of three members, one of whom - who will be its Chairman - will be an administrative officer of the Customs De,partment. That will be a distinct advantage, because in the Department we’ have very many excellent officers, menwho have had a lifelong experience in Customs administration and are well qualified for the position.
– Why not appoint’ three members of the Board from the Department ?
– Because, in the opinion of the Government, it is advisable to have a blending of departmental ‘ and outside business experience.
– Will the chairman of the Board continue in the employ of the Customs Department?
– Yes. He will. probably have leave of absence for the time during which he may be associated with the Board.
– Will not the outside business men also become public servants ?
– Not if they are drawing £5 5s. per sitting 1
– A sitting fee of . £5 5s. will not be necessarily an attraction. I do not believe that every man is actuated merely by the amount of money that can be extracted from any particu- lar position. I could get 200 men in
Melbourne to do this work for nothing, and I may point out that members of the Board, of Trade, who have given a couple of years’ service to this country, frequently go to Sydney and other capital cities, and do not even receive their train fares.
– Would these 200 men referred to by the Minister enjoy the confidence of the people of Australia ?
– I think they would. I have a high opinion of public- spirited citizens of this country. I do not think that, speaking generally, their motives would be governed by a sitting fee of £5 5s. The duties of the Board will be largely advisory.’ At present the Minister is the final court of appeal in matters which, following the appointment of this Board, will be decided by that body. The Board, therefore, will occupy a semi-judicial position, and will be substituted for the Minister in the determination of cases involving the interpretation, of the Customs Act in relation to any particular industry. The remuneration of the chairman will be the difference between the amount of his salary at present and £1,400 per annum during, hisoccupancy of the position. If we remember that millions of pounds in Customs duties will be dealt with by the Board, nobody will say that £1,400 is too large a salary for such a responsible position. The other members of the Board, as I have already said,will receive a sitting fee of £5 5s. The Board is not likely to meet more than once a week at the outset. Probably the Board will not need to meet so frequently later on.
– Then its members will not know their game.
– Its members will be required practically to determine questions of high administrative policy.
– Why abrogate the authority of the Minister?
– Because the Minister is only a human being, and cannot possibly attend to all these matters. How would the honorable senator like to be immersed all day in Customs disputes ?
– There are officers in the Department to attend to them.
– But the Minister is the final arbiter in such matters. The members of the proposed Board will really do the “ digging “ for him, but the decision will still remain with the Minister. Instead of having to conduct the inquiry himself, the Board will conduct it for him. Thus the authority of the Minister will not be abrogated in any way.
– Does the VicePresident of the Executive Council hold that the Department is not competent to deal with these matters now ?
– I do not. As a fact, it does deal with them. But, under existing conditions, the Minister is required to go into the details of cases himself, with the result that to-day he is absent on account of illness, I have no hesitation in saying that Mr. Massy Greene has been doing the work of three or four men. He has been tied to his office practically from daylight till dark. This fact alone evidences the need for extending and decentralizingour present organization.
– What will the Minister do when he gets the report of the Board ? The Bill provides that he “ shall act according to law.” But that does not mean very much.
– Upon the receipt of any report, by the Board, the Minister will take any action that may be necessary to correct the breaking, of the law. We do not want the Minister to make laws - that is the function of Parliament - but. we do desire that he shall administer those laws. Some of our administrative officers have very big responsibilities. Fortunately, most of them are very capable men. The chairman of the proposed Board, with the assistance of a couple of outside business men, would, I think, effect a wonderful improvement in our Customs’ administration.
Every member of the Board will be required to take an oath or affirmation of allegiance, and will be sworn to secrecy. Another clause of the Bill provides that, no witness shall be compelled to disclose in evidence any trade secret. That provision indicates the desire of the Government to protect those who have obtained patent rights.
– There is no virtue in that clause.
– It shows that we are attempting to protect the interests of everybody. The Bill further provides that a member of the Board, may be suspended in the ordinary way. In cases where men occupy high and independent positions, the Governor-General has power to suspend an officer for misbehaviour or incapacity, but the Minister has to report the matter to Parliament, which is thus afforded’ an opportunity of deciding whether that officer’s appointment should be cancelled. The meetings of the Board will be convened as required by the chairman. That provision effectually disposes of the idea that, because two of the members of the Board are to receive fees at the rate of £5 5s. per’ sitting, meetings will be held with unnecessary frequency.For the purpose of transacting business, the Bill provides that two members of the Board shall form a quorum, and that the chairman shall possess a casting as well as a deliberative vote. That is necessary, because we must have finality in these matters.
– Then, if the chairman and a member of the Board have a row the chairman must win?
– The chairman will be the “ boss “ of the Board.
– Then, if a difficulty arises between the chairman and the other members of the Board, the former need not call any meeting of the Board.
– Does the honorable senator think that a chairman would act in that way?
– I have been upon Boards where that course has been adopted.
– I have been upon Government Boards for a number of years, and I have never known of such an occurrence.
– I suppose that it is not likely to happen in the case of a Board two of whose members will receive fees at the rate of five guineas per meeting.
– The payment is much too small.
– In my opinion, it is. I am quite satisfied that the men whom we can get to fill these positions would be perfectly willing to undertake the duties for nothing. I have a good opinion of the honesty of the people of Australia.
Clause 15 of the Bill provides that -
The Minister shall refer to the Board for inquiry and report the following matters : - (a) The’ classification of goods under all Tariff items which provide for classification under by-laws;
The determination of the value ‘ of goods for duty under section 160 of the Customs Act 1901-20;
Any dispute arising out of the interpretation of any. Customs Tariff or Excise Tariff, or the classification of articles in any . Tariff, in whichan appeal is made to the Minister for the decision of the’ ComptrollerGeneral.
That is to say, all the ordinary Customs business will be administered by the Comptroller-General. Under existing circumstances, if any dispute arises in connexion with his decision, he has the right to refer it to the Minister. That has been found to impose too heavy a tax upon the latter. The proposed Board will have the power to relieve the Minister of this burden, and the Minister will act upon their reports.
– Will this clause take away the right of the appellant tot go before the High Court?
– Certainly, not.
– I think that it will.
– There is nothing in the clause which will deprive any person of his right of appeal.
– At present the civil community have a right to appeal to the High Court. Will that right be in any way abrogated by this Bill ?
– I fear that it will.,
– I do not think that such a right could be abrogated by a Bill of this character, because the right to approach the Courts of the country is a constitutional one. The clause also provides that the Minister shall refer to the Board for inquiry and report “the necessity for granting bounties for the encouragement of any primary or secondary industry in Australia”, also “the effect of existing bounties or of bounties subsequently granted.” We have given a! few bounties in Australia, and it is time that we had some inquiry into whether they have been effective in their operation, and whether we can assist the development of other industries by the payment of bounties. This would be a very suitable body to inquire into any special cases of that sort.
The Board may also inquire into and report on “ any proposal for the application of the British preferential Tariff of the intermediate Tariff to any part of the British Dominions.” Under the Customs Tariff Bill we shall have power to establish reciprocal relations, not only under the intermediate column, but under the British preferential column, with other Dominions within the Empire, but no such reciprocal arrangement will be entered into until it is laid before and indorsed by both Houses of Parliament. There will, therefore, be no interference in that regard with the privileges of the Parliament. I feel that it is a privilege to any man to be permitted, as a member of this or another place, to join in making such agreements, which, I believe, will have the effect of consolidating the British Empire in matters of trade and commerce.
The Board may inquire also ‘ into any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the projection afforded him by the Tariff, and in particular in regard to hia charging unnecessarily high prices for his goods.” I assume that the taking of unnecessary profits means- the operations of the profiteer, whom every one of us has denounced from time to time. I consider that men whose capital is engaged in industries are entitled to a fair return, but where a number of manufacturers com”bine, not for the good of the community but for the sake of their own pockets, it is the sacred duty of the Parliament and the country to control them. *
– Will this Bill prevent that?
– No; but if the Tariff is helping a man to profiteer it can be reduced under this Bill to a level which will place him in active competition with foreign competitors. That, I think, is the right course to take.
– Do you think it will be done with the assistance of this Bill? Senator RUSSELL. - I would not be standing here advocating it if I did not think- it would be done. Senator Thomas. - You have a lot of faith.
– I have no more ‘ faith than most other men. I know the difficulty of stopping profiteering, but any honest member of the community should try to do his best to help to abolish the profiteer, who has been a curse, not only in this but in every other country, for the last six or seven years. It is all very well to say that the remedy proposed by the Government will not be effective, but we are at least trying to do something, and the only alternative to “doing something is to allow the profiteer to run riot. If any honorable senator can suggest an improved method of dealing with the matter, it will be helpful, but merely to sneer at every effort that is made to stop unfair practices, which affect every man, woman, and child in the community, is not helping the Government or helping Australia. We shall welcome original suggestions to achieve what we desire.
The Board can inquire further “ into any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded him by the Tariff in regard to. his acting in restraint of trade to the detriment of the public.” The whole country may be prepared to give protection to a manufacturer, and when he has been built up into a strong position by the backing of the community, he should not be allowed, as some suggest, to do absolutely what he likes, unless he keeps on the straight and honest path. The moment he uses the assistance which has been given to him by Parliament and the community, not to help in the development of Australia but to fill his own pockets, irrespective of the morality of his action, it becomes time for the people to exercise some control over the power which they have given him in building up his industry.
It is provided by the Bill that “upon receipt of a report from the Board in pursuance of the provisions of clause 15, the Minister may; if he thinks fit, take action according to law in respect of any of the matters dealt with by the Board in its report.” That means that in any action which the Minister takes against any person who has been trying to defeat the object of the Customs Tariff Act, he must act within the ‘law. He is not there to make laws himself. His duty is to administer the laws created by the Parliament. There is, therefore, no likelihood of these powers being abused. Some people may differ from the Minister’s interpretation of the law, but I think we ought to give him credit for acting according to good conscience in the administration cf his office. It is provided that’” the Board shall, in the month of June in each year, report to the Minister generally as to the operation of the Tariff and the development of industries, and shall in such report set out the recommendations made by the Board during the preceding twelve months, other than any recommendations whose inclusion the
Minister and the Board agree is not in the public interest.” That is to say, an investigation may be going on into some secret processes which we do not want to make public.
Clause 19 provides -
For the purposes of this Act any member of the Board may, by writing under his hand, summon any person to attend the Board nt a time and place named in the summons and then and there to give evidence and to produce any books, documents, or writings in his custody or control which he is required by the summons to produce.
Under that provision the Board has the right to call any one as a witness, and he has no right to refuse to attend.
– Will the Board’s reports be presented to Parliament?
– Yes, through the Minister. Under the Bill, “any member of the Board may administer an oath to any person appearing as awitness before the Board, . whether the witness has been summoned or appears without being summoned, and may examine the witness upon oath.” It is of no use for men to be gathered together to consider these matters unless there is some reasonable guarantee of accuracy in regard to the facts. Heavy penalties are provided for disobeying a summons or refusing to give information. These run up to £500. If this country is good enough to put its full weight behind a manufacturer to help him to develop his industry, I think the people should have full power to control him, in the interests both of himself and of Australia, if he attempts to do anything mean or despicable. According to clause 26, “Nothing in this Act shall make it compulsory for any witness before the Board to disclose to the Board any secret process of manufacture.” The Board may inspect any documents, books, or writings, and retain them for such reasonable period as it thinks fit, and may make copies of such matter as is relevant to the inquiry, or take extracts from them. A heavy penalty is provided for any person who, knowing that any book, document, or writing is or may be required in evidence before the Board, wilfully destroys it or renders it illegible. Any person who “uses, causes, inflicts, or procures, any violence, punishment, damage, loss, or disadvantage to any person for, or on account of his having appeared as a witness before the Board, or for or on account of any evidence given by him before the Board,” shall be guilty of an indictable offence, punishable by a fine of £500 or imprisonment for one year. The Bill insures that any duress put upon an employee who is called as a witness, or any threat used by any body to cause him to give false evidence, shall be regarded as a very serious offence. The concluding clause provides, in the usual form, that “the Governor-General may make regulations, not inconsistent with this Act, prescribing all matters which, by this Act, are required or permitted to be prescribed, or are necessary or convenient to be prescribed, for giving effect to this Act.” I do not think anybody could draft a perfect Customs Act without regulations, as so many matters crop up from time to time.
I hope honorable senators will give serious attention to this Bill. I believe it is essential that the principles embodied in it should be adopted in a Protectionist country like Australia. All we ask for is a fair deal for the people of Australia, and that the power of government shall be exercised for the benefit of the whole of the people of Australia, and not of any particular individuals. I ask honorable senators to give close attention to the various provisions in the Bill, and if some of them do not meet with their approval I ask them to submit reasonable suggestions for carrying out the work of developing the country under a Protective policy, which has been from time to time accepted by the people of the Commonwealth.
– I have listened with keen interest to the second-reading speech of the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) upon this most important Bill. I have also read something concerning the rather stormy proceedings in another place on the Bill, where it appears to have been looked upon with a good deal of disfavour. It has apparently been sent to this Chamber in the spirit of the mule that has no pride in its ancestry and no hope of posterity. It has had some kicks, and it is for us to review the matter in a way that does not appear to have been open by another place.
– That justifies the existence of the Senate.
– It does. It shows the responsibility of the Senate, in connexion with this Bill. It demonstrates that we have individual responsibility, and whatever we do, rightly or wrongly, will affect the whole of the trade and commerce of the Commonwealth. It should not be f orgotten by honorable senators that there is an absence of party opposition in the Senate that with one exception we were elected as loyal Nationalists; but at the same time, we are representatives of the whole of Australia, and we shall have to consider the provisions of this measure from different angles. In a way, the Bill is like the ugly mug which often covers a kind heart. I would like to look at it witha kind heart, although, to me, it is, in parts, almost anathema. I am going to fully and frankly say that some of its provisions are necessary in connexion with departmental administration, because I freely admit that if there is restraint of trade under some of the high duties which we are imposing, there should be some power and authority todeal with delinquents. ButI would like to submit to the Senate some of the results of an analysis I have made regarding the incidence of the Bill, and the position in which we are placed in connexion with the trade and commerce of Australia.
It appears that the proposed Board will have to inquire into and settle the administrative duties which arc the responsibility of the Minister for Trade and Customs, and will further have to inquire generally into the incidence of duties and bounties new and old. It will also have to investigate questions concerning monopolies operating to the detriment of the public, which may result from the imposition of high duties, and we shall have to see thatthe consuming public is not taken advantage of in connexion with these duties. . I must freely admit ‘ that something of that nature is necessary, and must be introduced sooner or later, in connexion with the Tariff; but the proposed Board, in addition to its functions - some of which are purely Ministerial - can dive into and report upon anything else relating to the primary and. secondary industries of Australia. I believe that the measure was framed with a good intention, and I can quite understand that an overworked Minister for Trade and Customs,, particularly after the stress of the last twelve months, desires to be relieved of some of his responsible administrative functions. But that cad and should be done in the Department by the capable officers, who also have been hard at work in compiling a fair Tariff for the development of Australian industries. As a representative of the people in this Parliament, I am not prepared to sanction any abrogation of Ministerial responsibility by removing any power to a Board which is not responsible to Parliament.
– It is not moving the responsibility, because the final decision rests with the Minister.
– In several directions- the responsibility is being moved from the Minister to the Board, and as a representative of the people I desire full control to be retained in the hands of the responsible Minister. One would almost think that our present somewhat defective system of imposing Tariff duties is of a happy-go-lucky nature, and full of discrepancies which may lead to logrolling; but in view of what has occurred during the last five years I am not able to accept that view.
Let us examine somewhat approximately how Tariff duties are finally arrived at. I believe it is practically twelve years since an exhaustive Tariff debate was conducted in this Parliament. I could not follow the Minister in connexion with his assertion that, in order to alter one or two duties in the Tariff, it is necessary to go through the whole gamut of the schedule.
– It would open it up for discussion.
– I cannot agree with that interjection, because, during the last Parliament, I well remember that a short Tariff Bill was presented, and no general discussion of items other than those referred to in the Bill was permitted.
– That only shows how generous we were to the . Government. We did not take advantage of our opportunity.
– I am putting before the Senate facts within my knowledge. I say that, during the” last Parliament, a Tariff Bill was placed before us, and in its consideration there was no discussion of any item of the Tariff other than the particular items affected by that Bill.
Let us examine what occurs in connexion -with the imposition of any Tariff. I will take, as an illustration, what has occurred in connexion with the Tariff we are now about to consider. For years and years most of the secondary industries of Australia have been crying out for .increased duties. The matter has been before various Chambers of Manufactures, to my” own knowledge, for ‘the last five or six years. In response, the -Government of the day referred the whole Tariff question to the Inter-State Commission for inquiry and report to Parliament. Simultaneously certain representations were made by the primary producers, and by every on© else who would be affected by the Tariff, and officers of the Trade and Customs- Department were also examining the position. Then it was announced by the Prime Minister (Mr. ‘Hughes), in his policy speech before the last election, that the policy of the Government and of .the National party would be a policy of Protection for home industries. Chambers of Commerce, Chambers of Manufactures, primary producers’ unions, and various associations representing the man on the land, again began to sift the items of the Tariff, and consider them from their own stand-point. I know that the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) and his Department sent out requests for information on this, that, and the other item. Later, as the result practically of five years’ consideration, the Prime Minister’s promise materialized in the Minister for Trade and Customs placing on the table, in another place, the present Tariff. This was done in March of last year, twelve months before Parliament attempted to deal with the Tariff. Meanwhile, again representations, pro and con, were being made to the Trade and Customs Department by all the various interests concerned, and when the Tariff at last came under discussion, in another place, honorable members were “snowed under” with applications in connexion with practically every item in the Tariff. After a most exhaustive discussion of all the items and all the interests being represented in another place, we have the Bill before us for consideration.
– All the interests bub those of the consumer. “”
– We are here to - represent the consumer. My honorable - colleagues from New South Wales with myself are here to represent, fortunately, or unfortunately, some 1,200,000 elector* of New South Wales, and we shall certainly hear of it if we do not try to keep the scales of justice evenly balanced s© far as the consumers are concerned..
I have been illustrating the .method adopted to impose a Tariff upon the people of Australia, and have arrived at its emergence from another place. In the Senate we have a House of review, and, as the Senate is now constitued, we. cau certainly look at this matter from a nonparty stand-point. Our review- need nob be complicated by considerations as to whether a vote shall be for of. against tie Government, or for or against the. Opposition in any shape or form. We are absolutely free and unrestricted in our view of the Tariff, and, so far as party is concerned, it is quite immaterial what the Senate does in this matter. Now that the Bill has come to us we, .also, are “ snowed under “ with applications in connexion with Tariff principles and anomalies. We all, I suppose, desire -to do our job fairly and equitably as between every section of the community.
– And we are paid £1,000 a year.
– Yes, and we earn that salary if we do our duty. I hope that we are going to .discuss, reasonably, equitably, and at not too great length, every item in the Tariff. When all this occurs before a Tariff Bill is placed on the statute-book, I am not prepared to say that our methods are happy-go-lucky. I do not say that we can ever place an absolutely scientific Tariff upon the statute-book, but I am prepared to say that we will do our be3t to deal equitably with all tho interests concerned. I hope it will not be inferred^ in connexion with a Bill such as that now before us, that Parliament cannot do its duty, and requires, in addition to all the deliberations which I have mentioned, to refer to a Board of three to be able to d<) it.
So much for the present Tariff. So* far. as I can sec, there is no outside Board that we could constitute that will fulfil all the requirements which the Government say must be met, in the supply of necessary information, better than could a Board consisting of inter-departmental experts. I am not prepared to vote for the formation of another Board. In view of the urgent necessity for economy and of the experience we have had, I am not prepared to vote for the creation of another Department. I received through the post the other day a red-covered book, the Index to Departmental Activities and Commonwealth Publications. I have been receiving this publication for three or four years as a member of this Parliament. Every number is added to, until to-day the publication consists of over sixty pages, and, so far as the control of many things in the Commonwealth in connexion with trade and industry are concerned, is a perfect maze. I read in this book that, with and without parliamentary authority, we have such things as a Central Coal Board, State Coal Boards, a Commonwealth Board of Trade, a Bureau of Commerce and Industry, an. Institute of Science and Industry
– The honorable senator is wrong in saying that the Coal Board is without legislative authority. It i3 established under the Commercial Activities Act passed by this Parliament.
– I said, “ with and without parliamentary authority.”
– The honorable senator is wrong if he says that the Coal Board is without authority.
– I am absolutely correct in the statement I have made. Some, of these Boards have been established with, and some without, parliamentary authority. One, at all events, which is without parliamentary authority is the Bureau of Commerce and Industry. There is no Act in existence giving authority for the establishment of that organization. Then we have the Commonwealth Produce Pool Committee, the Commonwealth Flax Industry Committee
– A Bureau of Science and Industry Bill was passed hy this Chamber nml by another place.
– I am surprised at the lack of political information displayed by the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce). I have referred to the Bureau of Commerce and Industry, not to the Institute of Science and Industry. The Bureau of Commerce and Industry exists without parliamentary authority. I am aware that we have passed a specific measure establishing the Institute of Science and Industry. But there are really so many of these Boards that I am not surprised that my honorable friend should become mixed about them now and again. . In addition to the Commonwealth Flax Industry Committee, we have a Department of Public Health.
– What has the honorable senator against the ..Flax Committee? It has done very good work.
– I am not criticising what that Committee has done; but I want to ask honorable senators where we are in connexion with all these Boards, and whether they think we are justified in creating another.
– Good or bad, the honorable senator is against it.
– I want to say just a word or two about the Department of Public Health. There is no parliamentary authority for its creation. I am sorry that I have not the figures with me at the moment, and will give them at some more convenient opportunity; but, as an illustration of what we are committing ourselves to by consenting to the establishment of new Departments, let me say that honorable senators would be astounded to know the growth of the number of employees, and the amount of public expenditure involved, in connexion with the Department of Public Health, which is a branch of the Trade and Customs Department. I refer to it as an illustration of what the establishment of a new Board means. This new Board was established without parliamentary authority.
– What new Board?
– The Department of Public Health.
– It has not been established. You have found a mare’s nest there.
– Then why has it been set out in this publication as a new Department? Fortunately two or three proposed new Boards have been stillborn. I have before me the draft memorandum of the Commonwealth Court of Commerce Bill, which I am glad to say was stillborn. . The Senate has not seen it. Last Parliament we had a Customs Bill designed to interfere very drastically with trade and commerce, but I am glad to say it was dropped. Very shortly we may have before us a Bill for the preservation of industries and dealing with all sorts of complicated matters iu connexion with exchange. This will have to be very carefully considered by honorable senators.
I have said that most of the things which it is proposed shall be done by this Tariff Board, this new Department, can as well be done by inter-departmental officers. As a matter of fact this work is being done by them to-day, and I shall not be one to abrogate in the slightest degree the high and responsible position of the Minister for Trade and Customs in this Parliament. If assistance is needed for him, it can better be provided by the appointment of an Assistant Minister rather than by the appointment of a Board to abrogate his responsibilities in this Parliament.
– Where in the Bill is it proposed to do that ? The honorable senator has repeated the statement four times already, and I denied each assertion .
– I do not think I have made ‘ the statement more than twice, and the second time was merely to impress my attitude upon the Minister.
– I have heard it at least three or four times, and I want you to tell me where it is to be found in the Bill.
– In clause 15, line 1, “ The Minister shall refer to the Board for inquiry and report” various matters that are mentioned.
– But finish the clause.
– That clause does not abrogate the power of the Minister.
– All right. I repeat that departmental officers are at present doing the most vital things contemplated to be done by the proposed Board, and that the appointment of an extra officer, or an Assistant Minister, would meet the situation. There is no necessity to create a new Department.
There are two vital matters in the Bill. I agree that it is necessary to prevent the exploitation of the consumer, and to avoid inflicting any handicaps upon our primary producers. It is for this Senate, to determine how beet this may be done. I do not think it at all necessary, for the reasons already set out, to call in outside men.
One objection I have to the Bill is that in certain circumstances it may be used as an instrument to harass the whole trade and industry of Australia, possibly, for political purposes. One would think that our people were being perpetually exploited .by local manufacturers. So far as my experience goes, the reason largely for the high cost of commodities in recent years may be found in the high cost of imported articles. As Australia is at present constituted, no Tariff Board’s recommendations could have any effect
Upon, for instance, the cost of newspaper, the cost of oils, cotton goods, freights, and many other matters. Because of the extortionate rates that have been charged overseas for these commodities, the cry has gone up that this country is being exploited and that the profiteers should be hanged from the nearest lamp-posts. I agree with, that expression, but my .experience is that profiteering has largely been done abroad, and I contend that the character of our commercial community should not be besmirched altogether for the sins of people over whom this Parliament has no control. The collection of revenue under the War-time Profits Tax Act has shown us that there has been nothing like the same exploitation of consumers in Australia as in other parts of the world, and we must allow figures to guide us in our search for facts. The estimate of the Department in connexion with this tax was not reached. I think, if we want any illuminating example of general fair play on the part of the commercial community, it may be found in the results of the- War-time Profits Tax Act. I should also like to draw the attention of honorable senators to the many State and Federal regulations thathave been promulgated for the protection of consumers in this community. We have set up Federal and State Arbitration and Industrial Courts. Last session- we placed upon our statute-book an Act to further help industrial peace in the Commonwealth. We have -both Federal and State probate duties and income taxation. In New South Wales we have , a Board of Trade in connexion with the establishment of .the minimum wage. We have also anti-profiteering Courts, which nobody will admit .has had any effect upon prices. We have Wages Boards, and, in connexion with company profits, there is a flat rate of Federal and State taxation of 5s. in the £1 -before profits are distributed amongst the shareholders. I use these illustrations to point to the fallacy of believing that by the appointment of a Tariff Board we shall be able to deal with all the matters, mentioned in this Bill, and that we are exploiting ‘some new avenue to insure the protection of the consumer. I do not think that any business man is a criminal because he seeks to get 10 per cent, or 12 per cent, profit as a fair return for the investment of his capital and a return for his personal exertion. I may also point out that the man who secures a higher return .pays more by way of taxation to the Treasury, and profits, I remind the Senate, are absolutely necessary if we are to have enough revenue to carry on the business of the country.
If this Bill passes its second reading I shall on every occasion in this measure, and in the Customs Tariff Bill also, require from the Minister in charge an explicit assurance that there shall be no abrogation of parliamentary authority, directly or indirectly. I was rather interested in the Minister’s statement that the proposed Board was designed for the main purpose of picking up information for the Minister. In other words, that it. would occupy the position of the “devil” to the printer. In view qf this statement, I see no reason for the creation of another Department. I shall not object to see any machinery established whereby we can be assured that there will be no exploitation by those who are heavily protected, either of the public or of the producer. This is the only portion of the Bill, which, in my opinion, is of any value. Seeing that we have established a Bureau of Commerce, a Commonwealth Board of Trade, an Institute of Science and Industry, and a Flax Committee, I do most earnestly ask the Government to consider - in view of the urgent need which exists for economy - whether the time has not arrived when all these activities should be amalgamated1 under this Bill, or we should, be given an assurance that, if the measure be passed in, approximately, its present form, some of these activities shall automatically disappear. If we can be assured that we are not going to create a new Department and a further expensive excrescence upon the body politic, we shall, I am sure, consider the Bill in a better frame of mind. If such an assurance be forthcoming I shall reconsider my attitude towards the measure’; otherwise, as a representative of the taxpayers of New South Wales, and to some extent of the trade- and commerce of that State, it will have my opposition.
– The chief argument advanced by the Vice-President of the Executive’ Council (Senator Russell), in moving the second reading of this Bill, was that,under existing conditions, Ministers are overworked, and I. think that we can help them by offering them some advice upon this particular measure.. But the first question which presents itself to my mind is, ‘ ‘ What is the cause of the extraordinary amount of work which has now to be performed by Ministers?” I think that it is to be found in the continual increase in the number of Departments. Senator Pratten has enumerated a large number of Departments which have been created during the , life-time of the. present Parliament. Yet I recollect that, prior to the last election, the strong point made by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes), in his policy speech at Bendigo, was that the Government intended, as far as possible, to amalgamate Departments. That desire was echoed by Ministerial supporters in both branches of the Legislature. But what Departments have been amalgamated 1 Within the next eighteen months we shall have again to face the electors, and I doubt not that we shall be asked, “*What about your promises to amalgamate Departments ?”
– The reply to that question is that the Commonwealth has opened the door, and some of the States have fallen into line with it, whilst others, including Victoria, have refused to do ‘so.
– I. do not think that that reply will hold good. “If the Government had devoted as much time to closing Departments as they have to opening them, the result would have been very different.
– What Departments would the honorable senator amalgamate ?
– The Taxation Departments, Federal and State.
– Every effort has been made in that direction.
– I will guaran-tee that, if the honorable senator were interested in a private concern, he would insist upon its directors meeting every’ week, in order to insure that something should be done. About a year ago- 1 suggested that this matter should be referred to the Public Accounts Committee, and that that body, should keep on badgering the States until an amalgamation of . -certain Departments was effected. A meeting of State Premiers once in twelve months will not accomplish anything. A great deal more energy ought to have been infused into this matter. Instead of that, a meeting was called of Premiers, who indulged in a lot of junketing, and then an epidemic of influenza came along, with the result that a special train had to be hastily requisitioned to convey the Premier of New South Wales back to his own State.
– We have been continually bombarding the States in regard to the amalgamation, not only of the Taxation Departments, but also the Electoral Departments.
– I dread to think what will happen to us all when we meet the electors- at the end of next year.
– Why cannot the honorable senator move his own State Government ?
– Senator de Largie represents a distant State, otherwise he would know that one of the first measures upon the programme of the Victorian Government is a Bill to amalgamate some of these Departments. I repeat that it is the creation of new Departments which is causing Ministers such an extraordinary amount of additional work. I fail to see why the administrative work of the Customs Department cannot be carried on as it has been carried on by the Department itself. I know that the Minister in charge of that Department (Mr.
Greene) has been overworked; but, under this Bill, instead of being relieved, his position will be rendered still more intolerable. I admire the heads of our Departments very much indeed. . Every one of them is so enthusiastic about his own Department that he could expend the whole of the Commonwealth revenue upon it with the greatest possible ease. Instead of the Minister finding relief from the creation of the proposed Tariff Board, he will be pushed by an enthusiastic officer into doing this thing and that, with the result that, in the’ very near future we shall be faced, with? an additional expenditure of thousands of pounds annually. To my mind, it would be far better if officers in the Customs Department itself were appointed to carefully’ watch the various matters which are dealt with in this Bill. When I was a new member of the Commonwealth Parliament, and the first Tariff was submitted for its consideration, I was of opinion- that there should have been an inquiry into the matter beforehand. To-day I know that that inquiry has been made, and that very few amendments are ordinarily made in the Tariff proposals of any Government. How many changes were effected in the present Tariff by another place? Very few indeed.
– The Tariff- is full ‘ of anomalies.
– Doubtless, w» shall hear of them as we proceed to conaider its various items ; and the honorable senator will be surprised to discover how few of those anomalies he will be able to remedy. We shall not rectify 5 per cent, of them.
– The honorable senator may be interested to know that in 429 items of the Tariff 129 changes were effected in another place.
– That is not a very great compliment to the Minister for Trade and Customs and his staff.
– I am afraid that the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) has fallen out of the frying-pan into the fire. Many of the alterations that were made in the Tariff by another place were of the most, trivial character. Tho Tariff, I repeat, had been thoroughly inquired into by the Customs Department before it was presented to Parliament. Early in the Federation, a Royal Commission, of which Sir John Quick was the chairman, submitted the first Tariff to the most careful scrutiny- Since then the Inter-State Commission has exhaustively examined it. But how much attention has been, given to the recommendations of that body? Very few honorable senators have ever read those recommendations.
– The industrial situation has undergone a complete change since then.
– The honorable senator, I am sure, shares, my opinion that when the Government bring down a Tariff they usually carry nearly the whole of their proposals. A few small anomalies are adjusted, but generally there is very little difference. The idea that the new Board, which will be the third body of inquiry, is going to solve the unsolvable, and do away with all difficulties, is absurd. We are told that it is going to bring the most splendid information before members, but this will be put in such a voluminous form that it will be impossible for any member to read it. In practice, reports of this sort do not affect any member’s opinion. Members form their own opinions, mostly on party lines, and vote accordingly. I do not think the country is going to get any help at all, in the direction of having a scientific Tariff, from the appointment of a Board of this sort. In any case a. Board could act perfectly well in the Department itself. The duties to be performed by the Tariff Board are set out, but I cannot see what relief the Minister is likely to get from its appointment. He will have another head of a Department to deal with, with his spending capacity, and will really have far more work to do. I cannot see how the reference by him to the Board of any of the matters enumerated here is going to relieve him of any responsibility. He will still be responsible for acting or not acting, and the matter will have to be brought before Parliament. The Minister in charge of the Bill (Senator Russell) said that he once tried to have an anomaly rectified, and that it took three days to settle whether or not the Standing
Orders ^permitted of one item being brought forward. Like Senator Pratten, I do not thoroughly understand whether it is possible to bring forward one item without opening the whole Tariff. If an anomaly was reported to the Minister by the Board, the Minister, might well bring it before Parliament as a single item. I do not see why that could not be done.
– If that is the position, this Bill does not seem to alter it.
– It does not seem to alter it in any way. So far as I can read the Bill, there is no alteration in the responsibility of the Minister and Parliament to have the final say. It only shifts the responsibility of the Department on to the new Board, and with my experience of Boards I do not think we are going, to gain anything by that. All we shall do is to. increase the expediture and swell the number of public servants. I should like to put the matter from the point of view of the public servants themselves. In my opinion, we are getting very nearly top-heavy so far as the Government of this country is concerned. We are getting so many Boards and so many public servants that in the interests of the public servants themselves it will be the greatest cruelty to appoint many more of them. I have seen two debacles in that direction, and do not want to see any more. I notice that there is one going on in Queensland now. That is what happens when we continuously appoint fresh public servants to fill positions. We have to get rid of the old ones, who have given their lives to the service of their country. We have to penalize them by suddenly telling them that there is no money to employ them further. Then they are “shot” out into the cold world to seek for a living. No man over the age of forty, as many of them would be, is competent to make a fresh start in life. It is therefore in the interests of the public servants themselves that I always take up the attitude of opposition to increasing the number of Boards and increasing the amount of employment in the Government Service. In my opinion, we have bitten off as much as we can chew in that direction. All the matters dealt with in this- Bill can be managed perfectly well by such a Board, as I suggest, in the Department itself. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, asked for suggestions, and I make that honest recommendation to the Government for their adoption, instead of creating a fresh Department, with all its paraphernalia, with fresh offices to be rented, and messengers, typewriters, and goodness knows what else to be paid fox.
– Do you think that the Customs Department has any one capable of dealing with many of the business questions that will arise?
– I should think so. There must be many men of very great experience in the Customs Department. I have met some of them, and look upon them as quite competent to do any work in connexion with their Department. I think they are excellent officers, who, on the whole, are doing their duty very well. They are always perfectly reasonable when I go to see them. They treat me courteously, and explain the Department’s point of view. I cannot see why the Minister for Trade and Customs could not let it be known that to Mr. So-and-so had been assigned the special” duties of dealing with these various points, and that people must not bring such details before the Minister. I believe that already a good deal of business is taken direct to the departmental heads. The Minister in charge of the Bill said that some mistakes had been made in the Department. All human beings are liable to err. Is the new Board going to make no mistakes? I think it is liable to make even more than the Department. It is wonderful how few mistakes are made in many of our Government Departments - except the Income Tax Department, which is always making mistakes so far as I am concerned.
Another reason why I object to the Bill is that it perpetuates price-fixing.
– Is not the object to stop profiteering?
– That is the object, and it is a very fine one, but the Board will have to do something. They will probably say, “This man is reported to be making an undue profit. Let us have a look into his business.” Then they will call evidence and conduct an inquiry. Cannot that be done perfectly well by the Department? Is the work being done by
Mr. Beeby, in New South Wales, so satisfactory to the Nationalists? It seems to suit the Labour party; but I noticed lately that his decison on one matter deprived Sydney of milk altogether. He held that the dairymen, who conduct one of the primary industries, were making too big profits, and directed them to charge less, whereupon the dairymen said, “Very well, we will send our milk to the butter factories,” with the result that Sydney had to go without milk for a time.
– Then he lowered the price of butter.
– Not being personally interested, I did not quite follow what the end of it was, but . there was a terrible turmoil, and I do not think anybody get milk cheaper in the end. We had a Price-fixing Commission iu Victoria, with Sir James McCay at the head of it. It looked into a great many industries, and then the Government, thinking that it “had gone far enough to placate the public, and that the public were tired of it, dropped it. Here we are going to have a fresh Board placed over every industry. I think it will meet with exactly the same fate as the other price-fixing ventures.- It will be always there to harass people. There is hardly a single man in trade who is not called a profiteer, and accused of making far more than a fair profit.
Another reason why I am very much afraid of this Bill is that it will be a continual restraint on trade. -People are having quite enough to do now to carry on and pay wages, and if they are continually harassed, and their attention taken off their everyday business and switched on to having to appear before the new Tariff Board, they will not be able to give to their businesses the time and attention which they ought to give, and employment will decrease. We ought to do everything we can at present to increase employment. The Board will be continually, harassing people, looking into their affairs, and finding, as the Victorian Price Fixing Commission found, nothing but mares’ nests. The total amount of money which the Government obtained from the war-time profits tax was only £2,000,000. Therefore, only £2,000,000 more was made by people during the war than had been made before, which shows that there was not a great deal of profiteering going on.
– The receipts from the tax wore £2,000,000; but that sum does not represent the extra profits made.
– It represented 75 per cent, of them, so that the total extra profits would not be £3,000,000.
– That was made with nearly 400,000 of our men at the Front
– Yes. When we compare those figures with Great Britain, where enormous profits were made, and something like £300,000,000 was received by the Government in the shape of excess profits taxation, I do not think we had very much to complain of in that direction during the war.
– Most of that was made out of two lines of business.
– Yes, particularly shipping, and the people of Australia had to pay a good deal of it. There was not much profiteering done by local people, but a great deal was done by outside people who shipped goods to, us, as Senator Pratten has already pointed out
This Bill was dealt with in another place by a tired House; but we are fresh and well, and able to look into it properly. Honorable senators, I am sure, have a fellow-feeling for other members of Parliament, and. I - am dreading what is going to happen - to members when they go before their constituents at the end of next year. The average elector, Who is fairly intelligent, when you get before him, will ask very pertinent, and possibly impertinent, questions. He will want to know what members have done to curtail expenditure. Members will reply, “ We have appointed numbers of Boards, and have carried on with a free sail, and done splendidly. Look how our expenditure has gone up.” But I am afraid that sort of answer will not satisfy the electors. Without doubt, people are absolutely alarmed at the way expenditure has risen, and ^continues to rise. Our responsibility is to the electors, and we must consider how we are going to face them. We must have something better to put before them than what we have done. ‘We shall have to show the electors, if we desire to be returned, that we have made an honest attempt to curtail expenditure. I am afraid the continual increasing of Departments and the appointment of additional Boards will do the Public Service a great harm, because at present it is becoming top heavy, and the appointment of additional public servants will eventually be. to their detriment. I have lodged my protest, and I feel sure that nothing could undermine the position of the Government more than following the practice of appointing Boards to do the work which should be performed in Government Departments.
.- 1 welcome the introduction of this measure, because I believe it is an earnest attempt on. the part of the Government to make Protection thoroughly effective. I believe I suggested in a previous speech on a similar subject that the difference between Free Trade and Protection that does not protect the people was as great as the difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. At present there is no control over the prices charged for goods after they have left the manufacturer, and, consequently, consumers have to pay exorbitant prices, particularly when there is absence of competition from the outside world. Although under a Protective policy some people may handle more money, the purchasing power has become so depreciated that they would be just as well off under a policy of F«ree Trade. I agree with Senator Fairbairn in his desire to see economy exercised in connexion with governmental functions, but at the same time it is false economy to neglect the interests, of the people of Australia in an endeavour to reduce expenditure. I admit that a great deal might be done to reduce expenditure by amalgamating certain Commonwealth and State activities; but the honorable senator must not lose sight of the fact that up to the present efforts to bring about that amalgamation have failed. In Tasmania the Federal and State Electoral Departments ‘have amalgamated, and the Commonwealth electoral roll is now used for State elections, thereby ‘ effecting economy and increasing the efficiency of the Department. Senator Pratten delivered a characteristic speech; and if one were to take up Hansard and read his utterances, it would appear that the honorable senator is in favour of everything under the blue sky, because -he applauded the statement that the profiteer should be hanged to the nearest- lamp-post, and then criticised this Bill - which is the first effort of the Government to prevent profiteering - by saying that it was absolutely anathema, to him. The Government have made an earnest effort to prevent profiteering, and I feel sure that any suggestions submitted will be carefully considered by the Minister (SenatorRus- sell).
It has been contended that the Customs Department already possesses the power necessary to carry out the functions to be exercised by the proposed Board; but I am not of that opinion. The Board, when constituted, will possess, all the powers of a Royal Commission, and may investigate the questions specified in the measure in connexion with overcharges on manufactured goods, matters relating to errors in invoices, and questions generally affecting our industrial and commercial activities. The Board will have power to summon and fully protect witnesses, and do everything necessary to secure the fullest information to place before the Minister for Trade and Customs in order that he may invoke the intervention of Parliament. That is very important, and 1 say most emphatically that unless we do something to prevent the consumer being exploited by those who are benefiting by the imposition of high Customs duties, our Protective policy will be valueless. If it protects only a few while the great multitude have to pay, it will fail.
– It has failed.
– If we are not going to protect the consumer, the honorable senator’s theory is correct. If we are to have unrestricted Protection, without any qualifying effort to guard the interests of the consumer, we may as well operate under a policy of Free Trade. ‘
– When an inquiry is made, who can take action, and what action?
– It will be the duty of the Government to take the necessary action by invoking Parliament.
– To do what?
– To rescind duties. If that can be done, manufacturers charging excessive . prices will know that the time in which they can exploit the people is limited.
I do not wish to speak at length upon this measure, but desire to direct attention to one or two amendments which I shall move when the Bill is in Committee. Clause 8 provides that the chairman of the Board shall be an officer of the Cus toms Department, and shall receivea salary, inclusive of his present salary, hot exceeding £1,400. I think that provision islikely to retard the selection, and it would be better to fix the sum to be payable to the chairman. There may be a highly-paid officer in. the Department who may not have the judicial knowledge to enable himto prosecute these inquiries. A suitable officer may not be receiving more than £600 a year, and it would be necessary- to increase his salary to £1,400.
– The Bill provides for a salary not exceeding £1,400.
– As the Bill provides for a maximum of £1,400, it is more than likely that that will be the salary the chairman will receive. Although an officer in that Department may be receiving a fairly highsalary, he may not, possess the judicial knowledge necessary for obtaining and sifting the evidence which will be presented to the Board.
I shall also move that the casting vote of the. chairman be dispensed with, as I consider it unnecessary.
– What would be the position if only two members are present ?
– Nothing ‘ could be accomplished unless we give the chairman two votes, and if we did that, there would be no necessity for the second member to be present. When three members are present, there would not be a dead-lock, and the casting vote of the chairman would not be required. In the event of two members failing to agree, the question should be resolved in the negative; because if we were to give the chairman two votes when only two were present, it would be ridiculous for the chairman to sit with another member. When the clause is under consideration, I shall move that certain words after “ vote “ be left out.
I shall also move to insert in paragraph h of clause 15 the words “ failing to prevent unnecessarily high prices being charged to the consumer for goods manufactured by him or”.
– That will have the effect of increasing manufacturer’s costs.
– It will not. At present the manufacturer’s direct interest ends with the departure of goods from his factory, and although he may be willing to dispose of his product at a reasonable price, he has no control over the retailer. I intend to move an amendment which will compel him to see that his distributers also charge reasonable prices, as it would be unreasonable to allow an unscrupulous retailer to defeat the objects of the Bill. I want to make it incumbent on the manufacturer in selecting his distributers to see that the goods are retailed at a reasonable price.
– Does the honorable senator not think that sub-paragraph i of paragraph h meets that difficulty?
– The sub-paragraph to which the Minister refers reads -
Charging unnecessarily high prices for his goods.
But I remind the honorable senator that that applies to the manufacturer and not to Flinders-lane distributers of his goods.
– We have no general industrial power. The power embodied in this Bill is contained in our Customs power, but, outside that power, I do not think we have authority to deal with these matters.
– I am open to conviction, but it appears to me that it is as easy, under our Constitution, to insist upon a condition being entered into by a manufacturer that his agent, the distributer of his goods, shall sell the goods at a reasonable price, as it is to provide that the manufacturer must himself sell his goods at a reasonable price under penalty of a withdrawal of the protection afforded him by the Tariff. I mention these proposed amendments in order that the Minister and honorable senators may give them some consideration before they are submitted. Unless we include in this Bill some such provision as that to which I have last referred, I feel convinced that, although we compel the manufacturer to sell his goods at a reasonable price, our effort to protect the consumer will be frustrated by some distributer of the manufactured goods charging exorbitant prices for them. I do not think that the constitutional difficulty arises, because it is not a question of a direct penalty being inflicted. The penalty proposed is the withdrawal of protection which the manufacturer is given under the Tariff.
– The retailer has nothing to do with the Protective Tariff.
– I “am referring not to the retailer, but to the Flinders-lane merchant, who obtains the goods from the manufacturer at a reasonable price and then charges an exorbitant price for them. If the manufacturer charges the Flinders-lane merchant a reasonable price for his goods, then, so far as this Bill is concerned, that ends the matter. The difficulty is that the Flinders-lane merchant may charge the persons to whom he sells the goods 100 per cent, more than he has been charged by the manufacturer.
– The honorable senator must follow up the matter to the retailer of the goods.
– We can be practical, and it is not necessary, in my opinion, to follow woollen goods, for instance, to the extent of considering the prices charged by the tailor for making them into garments. There will be sufficient competition among the little men to insure to the consumer a fair deal. But, where it is a question of the handling of goods in bulk by two or three Flinders-lane merchants, there might easily be an honorable understanding between them to avoid competition with each other, and to charge extortionate prices for the goods of the manufacturer which they distribute.
I am whole-heartedly in favour of this effort on the part of the Government. I hope that no attempt to make it more effective will be rejected on the plea of novelty, or that amendements proposed are not wholly relevant to the principles of the measure. I hope that the Government will be prepared to do all that is necessary to convince the people of Australia that this Parliament, while assisting local industries in order to make Australia a self-contained and manufacturing country, will, at the same time, take effective means to prevent- the exploitation of the people.
– There are four leading features in this Bill. 1. We are to have a new Board. 2. It is going to be a very expensive Board. 3. It is to be quite powerless, except to inquire into and report upon certain matters. 4. After it has gone to the expense and trouble of inquiring and reporting, the Minister may, if he thinks fit, throw its report into the waste-paper basket. Those are the leading features of this measure. I do not object to the appointment of a Tariff Board. I think that a Board should be appointed to feel the pulse of industry and to regulate the protective incidence of the Tariff.
– If the Minister agrees with a report of the Board, why should it be sent on to Parliament?
– So far as we unfortunate members of Parliament are concerned, a report from the Board under this Bill may be laid on the table, but we shall have no chance to deal with it. If the Minister prefers to ignore a report of the Board, he may lay it on the table, but honorable senators will have no opportunity to consider it.
– If John Brown appeals against his classification, and the Minister agrees with the report of the Board upon his appeal, why should that be brought before the notice of Parliament?
– I do not say that it should, but if the Minister does not agree with a report of the proposed Board, he will put it in thewaste-paper basket, and that will be the end of it. It might lie on the table of the Senate for a month of Sundays, and we should have no opportunity to deal with it.
I think that we should have a Tariff Board of some kind, and I suggest that as members of this Parliament are paid £1,000 per year, and as the operation of the Tariff is a matter which should comeunder the purview of Parliament, just as we have already a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, and a Public Accounts Committee, so we might have a Customs Tariff Committee formed of members of both Houses of this Parliament.
I see that the chairman of the proposed Board is to be paid £1,400 per year, and that each member of the Board is to receive £5 5s. per sitting.
– That might mean more than £1,400 a year.
– It might mean a great deal more. I find that clause 17 provides that -
The Board may, on its own initiative, inquire into and report on any of the matters referred to in sub-section 2 of section 15 of this Act.
The Board may sit day and night. If the members are to earn £5 5s. per sitting, it may hold continuous sittings, and it is difficult to estimate what the expenditure involved would be.
I object to the Bill because I think that members of this Parliament should form the Tariff Board. The Board proposed by the Government will be power less, except to inquire and report. Under clause 15 the Minister is empoweredto refer to the Board for inquiry and report a number of very important matters. Senator Russell. - There was a proposal in another place for the appointment of a Committee of members of both Houses of the Parliament to deal with reports from the proposed Board.
– Why, then, should this Board be appointed at all? Why should we duplicate the work? Why should not the proposed Joint Parliamentary Committee do the whole of the work ?
– Because of the immense scope of the inquiries. We need experts to do the “ digging.” No Parliamentary Committee would do it.
– It will not be contended that the members of the proposed Board will be competent of themselves to decide the incidence of the Tariff in respect of every particular item. What they would do would be to collect evidence. Having satisfied themselves as to the weight of the evidence given to them upon a certain matter, they would come to a conclusion, and make a report. A Joint Committee of members of both Houses of this Parliament could do the same. It could examine the same witnesses, and, I hope, exercise equal sagacity and intelligence in arriving at a conclusion upon the evidence, and it could make a report.
The vital defect of the Bill is that, after the proposed Board has made a report, the Minister may, if he thinks fit, take no notice of it. I hope that the Vice-President of the Executive Council (‘Senator Russell) will consider the objections I have urged against the Government proposal, and will see if he cannot devise some means by which members of both Houses of this Parliament may form a Tariff Board, make inquiries, and report. We should then make it compulsory upon the Minister to take a little more notice of the report than is provided for in this Bill.
. -I shall address myself very briefly to this Bill. I think that most of the objects it is intended to achieve are very praiseworthy. We should, however, have learned by this time the urgent need of economy. I frankly confess that I dread any further public expenditure. I am very strongly in favour of economy, and I am, therefore, very diffident about the creation of any more Boards. At the same time, I think it right to remind honorable senators that when we went before the electors we promised to stop profiteering, and I fear that, up to the present, we have not done very much in that regard.
The Tariff will give extraordinary protection to manufacturers, many of whom have been long established in Australia under a high Protective Tariff, and are millionaires, or on the way to be millionaires. The Tariff we have now under consideration proposes to spoon-feed them, but it starves producers and consumers. Weare proposing a tremendous amount of protection for manufacturers, and are thus encouraging further centralization of population, whilst we are giving no protection to consumers. Under paragraph h of clause 15, the Bill provides that the Minister can refer to the Board for inquiry and report -
Any complaint that a manufacturer is taking undue advantage of the protection afforded by the Tariff, and in particular in regard to his -
Whatever proposal is submitted, there can be no question that provision to deal with these matters is absolutely necessary for the protection of the public of Australia. We have, seen lately that, under a high Protective Tariff, the prices charged to the people for clothinghave been unnecessarily high.
– Let me put this to the honorable senator: Take the Bawra Committee, which is probably one of the brainiest Boards in Australia, would the honorable senator advocate that its responsibility should be carried by one man ? That would lead to a riot amongst those concerned.
– I wish to support the formation of some Tariff Board. It may be that the Government proposal is the best for the purpose. One honor able senator mentioned that the Tariff Board might be formed of members of both Houses of this Parliament. I cannot think that that would he efficacious, because however good a member of this Parliament mightbe, and however honest in his convictions, he might bebiased by his Tariff views, and, to some extent, by the trades carried on in his own con- stituency.
Nothing has been said about the high prices charged for woollen goods in this country. Tweed, which cost 5s. and 6s. per yard, has been sold to the public at 27s. 6d. and 35s. per yard. Manufacturers, of course, do not get the whole of this profit. They sell their stuff to the “ Lane “ firms at 12s. 6d. per yard, and the “Lane” charge the retailers from 27s. 6d. to 35s. Is that fair trading?
– This Bill will not touch that class of trading.
– Perhaps not; but it contains provision to prevent manufacturers from making undue profits. I admit that it ought to go further, but so far as it goes it will do good. A penalty is provided for amanufacturer who refuses to sell any retailer goods to the value of £50. I can give honorable senators a concrete instance of present-day methods. In my own town, Geelong, which is a very large wool manufacturing centre, the manufacturers produce some, of the best tweeds in the world, at a cost of only 4s. 6d. per yard; but retail shops within half-a-mile of . the mills are unable to obtain the material. They must make application to Flinders-lane. The stuff is carted past their doors every day of the. week, is shipped by steamer to Flinderslane firms, and is then sent back to Geelong by another steamer before it can get into the retail shops for sale to the general public at 27s. 6d. per yard. The shopkeepers are not altogether to blame. The big profits on Australian-made goods are being made by Flinders-lane firms. I am well aware that the “Lane” people are not having a very good run at present. As a matter of fact, they are losing very heavily. They deserve to lose, too, because of their absolute lack of business foresight. They ordered stuff from the Old Country, and, because, during the war period they could never get the full supply of orders, it became the custom of firms here to order three times the quantity required. Their contracts contained a clause enabling the Britishmanufacturers to deliver when they liked. It now suits the British manufacturers to deliver, and they are completing orders, with the result that these firms now have to pay for stuff which, as it happens, was bought at the very worst time. What is more, they are getting three times the quantity they actually require. To use a colloquialism, they are now getting it “ in the neck,” because they were over-greedy. The retailers in this country have good cause for complaint against the woollen manufacturing concerns. I was interested in the case of a returned soldier who was anxious to start in business as a draper in Geelong. I advanced him £200, and said to him, “ Go down to the manufacturers and buy what stuff you want.” He went, down, and tendered the £200, but the manufacturers would not sell to him stuff which was costing them only 4s. 6d. per yard to produce. This man had to go to Flinders-lane and pay 27s. 6d. a- yard for it. For the reason that it will compel the manufacturers to sell direct to the retailers, the Bill, in my opinion, is worthy ofsupport.
I do not think the payment of £5 5s. per day as a sitting fee is sufficient for the business men who may be appointed to the Board. I agree with Senator Russell’s view-point, that many honorable and loyal citizens would give their services for nothing, as they did during the war. But I do not think we can expect to get the best brains of the business community to assist the chairman of the Board for £5 5s. per sitting. I doubt very much whether that is sufficient, and I deprecate the suggestion made by some honorable senators that business men of that calibre required for such a post would sit every day merely for the purpose of getting their fees, which, after all, would be a paltry salary compared with what such men could earn in their businesses. Although urging the necessity for economy, I support the Bill, because I see in it so much that is good and because I realize that at last the consumers of this country are’ going to get some measure of protection which hitherto has been given almost entirely to the manufacturing interests.
– I intend to vote against the Bill for two reasons. I shall oppose it, first, for reasons of economy; and, secondly, because the scheme has been already tried under the Inter-State Commission. I believe that if this new Department is created it will be a hopeless failure. In sub-clause 2 of clause 15 the Bill provides that the Minister may ref er to the Board for inquiry and report the following, among other matters: -
If honorable senators will turn to the Inter-State Commission Act of 1912, section 16, they will find that the Inter-State Commission was also charged with the duty of inquiring into and reporting upon, among other matters -
The effect and operation of any Tariff Act or other legislation of the Commonwealth in regard to revenue, Australian manufactures and industry, and trade generally.
In the Bill there is provision for the Board to inquire into -
The incidence between the rates of duty on. raw materials and on finished or partly finished products.
The same authority was delegated to the Inter-State Commission in the InterState Commission Act, in paragraph e, Prices of commodities,” of section 16, already referred to. The Bill further provides that the Board may inquire into -
Any other matter in any way affecting the encouragement of primary or secondary industries in relation to the Tariff.
This range of inquiry, I find, was covered in paragraph b of section 16 of the InterState Commission Act in these words -
The encouragement, improvement, and extension of Australian industries and manufactures.
Is not this the position? Will not Parliament, by creating these Boards, abrogate the rights of Parliament? Let me give honorable senators an instance. We appointed a Basic Wage Commission, which’ actually forced Parliament to take certain action. I say that Parliament is the proper authority to do this. We are sent here to deal with certain specific matters, including those mentioned in clause 15 of this Bill. We have created so many Boards that the people are utterly sick of them, and there is a strong demand for economy which should be respected by this Parliament. This proposed Board, in my opinion, will cost the country £10,000 a year. It is utterly impossible to expect two or three people to come together as a Board without creating a new Department in the very near future. The Inter-State Commission was actively inquiring into all these matters for many years, and it proved a great failure. I have never been able to see what value the country got from the deliberations of that body, which cost us a tremendous sum of money, and, if we create this Board, I do not know where it will end.
– We know where our end will be.
– Of course, we do. I say definitely that we should, wherever possible, cut out unnecessary Departments. We have the example of Great Britain, where it is proposed . to make stringent reductions in the expenditure in all Departments. Here we are only a handful of people occupying this great continent, loaded with debt, and still proposing to create a new Board and increase expenditure. If the Tariff is not effective we ought to make it effective.
– It is not very scientific or the Board would not be necessary.
– It is, apparently, neither scientific, effective, nor satisfactory. If we have to proceed in this way to insure its successful administration, I am satisfied that the proposed Tariff Board will be of no value whatever. I, therefore, intend to oppose the’ Bill absolutely.
– It will be remembered that I took an active part in persuading the Government to bring this Bill on to-day instead of waiting until we had dealt with the Tariff schedule. The wisdom of this course has been pretty clearly indicated by the expressions of opinion this afternoon. I shall be surprised, after what we have heard, if the Bill survives the second-reading stage. It certainly will not survive if my vote can assist to reject it, because it is my intention to vote against the Bill in its present form. I entirely agree with Senator John D. Millen that we shall simply be recreating the old, useless, and expensive Inter-State Commission. The Tariff Board will be that body under another name. It may be very desirable to make inquiries concerning the effect of the various Tariff items on trade and commerce generally, but I am satisfied that if some small amendments were made to the Customs Act all that we desire could be accomplished. There is no need whatever to create a new Department and incur additional expenditure. If this unfortunate Bill ever gets into Committee - I trust it will not - it will be the duty of honorable senators to make it a more effective instrument than it is in its present form. It is proposed to create a Board, endow it with certain authority, but at the same time to leave it perfectly powerless. All that the Board can do is to report to the Minister, who, in his discretion, may send the report on to Parliament. In the original draft of the Bill it was proposed to delegate entirely to the Board powers in relation to the Tariff which should be exercised only by Parliament, but it did not get through another place in that form. It now comes to us useless and emasculated, and is not worth the paper it is printed on. ‘ All it effects is additional expenditure. We cannot ignore the fact that the people of Australia are insistent in their demand for economy. Are we going to ignore that demand by incurring this stupid and wasteful expenditure? I strongly appeal to honorable senators to reject the Bill. If the Government still think it is necessary to have some sort of authority to inquire into the operation of the Tariff, and, perhaps, it is necessary, departmental officials should be able to do all that is necessary.
– What about Senator Benny’s idea? Does that appeal to the honorable senator?
– I am not prepared to give it my blessing without further thought. At the first blush it appears to have something to recommend it. But I would like to consider it a good deal more before pledging my support to it. In the meantime, I am strongly opposed to the creation of the proposed Board, and indeed to the entire Bill.
– What small amendment in the Tariff schedule does the honorable senator suggest, in lieu of this Bill?
– The insertion of about three clauses would be necessary, not in the Customs Tariff Bill, but in the Customs Act 1901-20, which governs the Customs Department and under which that Department was brought into existence. The Bill which is now before us states that the Minister, upon receipt, of the reports and recommendations of the proposed Board, may take action “according to law.” When I first read those words I wondered where their sting was to be found. I searched for it, and discovered that under the Customs Act 1901-20, the Minister possesses a very wide power of interpretation in Tariff matters - a power which can be used for almost any purpose. Then I turned to the last clause of this Bill, and found that it contains provision for the making of regulations. I was then satisfied that I had discovered the sting which is contained in those few simple words. I dislike government by regulation, and in view of my wholesale condemnation of the Bill, I have not thought it necessary to touch upon those smaller matters which can be better dealt with in Committee should the measure ever reach that stage. But as Senator Pratten has put a question to me, my reply is that if it be necessary to create a Board for the purpose of conducting inquiries into Customs matters, the Board can be very easily constituted by an amendment of the Customs Act. “Und,er that Act, the machinery already exists whereby the Minister or persons to whom he may delegate power, may summon witnesses, call evidence, defray expenses, and practically discharge all the functions of a Court of law in certain cases. That machinery needs only to be extended a little, to enable the Minister to delegate that power to the head of the Customs Department, or say to throe of his officers who are capable of dealing with the matters mentioned in this Bill and whom he can trust. Thus the position can be overcome by a simple amendment of the existing law.
– What would the Minister do then ?
– He would receive expert advice, and he would also have the power to make an inquiry where inquiry was necessary just as is contemplated under this, Bill.
– With power to reduce a duty?
– No. He would have power to come to Parliament’ and ask it to reduce a duty.
– Does the honorable senator think that any Minister would be strong enough to do that?
– Yes. The Government have submitted to Parliament the existing Tariff schedule, and Heaven knows they had to be pretty game to bring down some of the duties contained in it. I admire the courage of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) in that connexion. ‘Seeing that he has been courageous enough to bring down the present Tariff schedule, he is certainly courageous enough to bring down a proposal to amend the existing law - a proposal backed up by sworn information, if necessary, as to the undue burden which has been imposed upon any portion of the community. I do not like the proposed Board, and shall certainly vote against the Bill.
’.- I desire to add a few words to this debate, and in doing so I wish to reiterate the opinion which I expressed here last week that any Tariff, to be effective, must be effective in the interests not only of our industries but also of the people who use the products of those industries. I recognise that something more is necessary than the passing of a Tariff schedule. The Government have submitted this Bill presumably to meet the need which exists for protecting the great masses of-, the people from the .exploitation which may be possible under a high Protective Tariff. That is a very laudable object indeed. But what we have to consider is how it can be attained with -the least possible expenditure to the people of Australia. There is a very great deal to be said concerning the necessity for abstaining from any big expenditure in addition to that to which we are already committed. The inauguration of a new Department vested with the powers proposed to be conferred upon it by clause 15 of this Bill may lead to an enormous additional annual expenditure which it would be very difficult to justify to the taxpayers of the community. Surely there is a simpler method by which the desired end may be attained. With an ordinary Tariff there is very little elasticity. But that remark does not apply to the industries in which we are engaged. Industries which require a duty of 20 per cent, or 30 per cent, in the initial stages of their existence may, within a year or two, develop satisfactorily with only half that measure of protection. Therefore, the creation of some body to review industrial conditions from time to time seems to be essential. We all recognise that something should be done to prevent inordinate profits being demanded by those who are engaged in our industries.
– Has the honorable senator ever known the people in a protected industry to say that they did not need quite as much protection?
– Yes. The manager of a very large establishment in Australia told me that when the new Tariff was brought into existence last year, both he and others who are engaged in that particular industry were surprised to find that an additional protection had been granted to it, notwithstanding that they, had never asked for it.
– What particular industry is that?
– It is connected with the rubber industry. To-day the condition of our industries is not normal. Consequently there is likely to be more elasticity in them in the future than there has been. It is essential, therefore, that some body should be created to review the position of these industries from time to time in their relation to the Tariff. I believe that as a Parliament we can be posted with full information -in that connexion by the Customs Department.
– We ought to have a Tariff debate every month?
– There is no need for that. I am prepared to support the second reading of the Bill if I am quite satisfied that some effort will be made to eliminate that portion of it which provides for the creation of an expensive new Department.
– The honorable senator cannot have the Bill without the expense.
– I am not prepared to vote for the creation of an expensive new Department or sub-Department. In view of the fact that a considerably increased measure of protection has been extended to our industries under the present Tariff it is certain that the work of the Customs Department will in future be very much reduced. We have been frequently told that it should be our aim to make Australia as self-contained a community as possible, and the carrying out of such a policy must inevitably reduce the work of the Customs Department. Consequently no difficulty should be experienced in securing the services of the officers necessary to achieve the objects of this Bill.
– The services of every one of those officers will be utilized.
– Under this measure it is proposed to appoint a Board of three persons. The chairman will receive a salary of £1,400 per annum, and the other members of the Board will be paid fees at the rate of £5 5s.each per sitting. I suggest that certain of the officers of the Customs Department should have allocated to them the duties outlined in this Bill, as a Tariff Committee.
SenatorRussell. - You would not ask them to take on the added responsibilities for the same salaries as they are getting now?
– Probably not; they would have to be given reasonable remuneration for their services. I was rather impressed by Senator DrakeBrockman’s suggestion that an amendment of the Customs Act might gain the end desired, and I should like to hear something further, from the Minister (Senator Russell) on that point.
– I had no intention of speaking on the Bill, as I thought I would probably be the only senator to vote against it; and I have been rather surprised to hearsenator after senator denouncing it. I understood that the Senate was strongly Protectionist, but it appears to me that most of the arguments which I have heard against the Bill constitute an impeachment of the great principles of Protection. I have always been told by Protectionists that Protection makes things cheaper. We have been assured that agricultural machinery is much cheaper here than in Free Trade New Zealand, or in Free Trade Argentine. Iam against the Bill because if, under Protection, we can have things cheaper than under Free Trade, that is all that we can reasonably ask for. If Australia were absolutely Free Trade, I assume, from the arguments of Protectionists, that articles would be dearer here than they will be under this Protective Tariff. If things are made cheaper under Protection on account of internal competition, surely that is all we can reasonably expect. If Protection does make things cheaper, I do not see why we require a Board to go round to make them cheaper still. I am opposed to the creation of a Board because of its utter uselessness. I understand that it is to bc appointed to ascertain whether any one is taking undue advantage of the duties imposed by Parliament. If the Board discovers that any one is making higher profits than he ought to make, it has to report to Parliament ; and the natural consequence will be that the Minister will bring before Parliament a proposal to lower the duty, or, if necessary, to remove it. I take it that that is one of the main principles of the Bill. I asked Senator DrakeBrockman whether he ever heard of a Minister being courageous enough to come down to Parliament with a proposal to remove any specific item from a Tariff. I have never heard of such a case in the history of any nation since Protection was introduced.
– I have done it in connexion with a bounty in this Chamber.-
– That, is rather a different thing, because all the people pay bounties. I was a member of a Parliament that granted a bounty on peanuts, and it is quite possible that some Minister had the- courage, after a certain lapse of time, to propose its removal.
– Were you not one of a party that took the duties off kerosene and tea?
– In the first Federal Parliament no duties were imposed on kerosene and tea, although the Government of the day proposed them. It could hardly be said that tea was being produced in Australia at the time. I am referring more to duties which are put on to develop manufacturing industries. Even Protectionists will go so far as to say that if we do, not produce an article in the country we should put no duty on it. I have* heard of Parliament negativing a duty proposed by a Minister, but I have nover known of a Minister asking Parliament to remove a duty after it has been operating for the establishment of a local industry. I was a member of the New South Wales Parliament when a Free Trade Government practically removed every duty except those on sugar, narcotics, and spirits. The British Parliament, in the time of Cobden, Bright, and Peel, removed a tremendous number of duties.
– Yon are telling us of dozens of cases where it has been done.
– The Minister cannot tell me of any case where a duty imposed from a Protectionist stand-point to develop an industry has afterwards been lowered or removed on the motion of the Government.
– Take as an instance the Corn Laws, of England.
– In that case again a Free Trade Government came into power. I hesitate to believe that when once an industry is being supported by a duty, any Parliament will have the pluck to remove it. I was”, a member of another place when Parliament imposed a duty on harvesters, on the distinct understanding that only certain prices were to be charged by the manufacturers. Every promise made by those people was broken, yet not a particle of that duty was ever removed. In fact, as subsequent Tariffs were introduced, the duties on harvesters were raised, and not lowered.
– Did not the cost of labour and material increase?
– They increased very quickly. Immediately the duty was passed, a dozen reasons were found for’ breaking the promises that had been given to Parliament. Parliament fulfilled its part of the contract, but every promise given by the manufacturers was deliberately broken. That was the end of it, and the farmer had to pay. No matter who the Minister is, he will find it very difficult to remove a duty after an industry has got going. I presume that every honorable senator has received a number of letters during the last few days from Footscray.’
– It is outrageous that any firm should do a thing of that kind.
– Whether the re-, presentations have been inspired by the firm or by anybody else, I have a great deal of sympathy with those who have written the letters., I believe a certain duty has been removed in another place. Naturally, the manufacturers and those employed in the factory are anxious that it should be restored, so that the industry may be kept going.
– I ask the honorable senator not to anticipate the discussion on the Tariff.
– We are told that one of the things to be done under this Bill by the Board is to remove a duty, if it is discovered that those who are benefited by it are asking too much.
– The Board has only the duty of recommending. Parliament will do whatever is necessary.
– Parliament will be asked to remove the duty. I do not say it is absolutely impossible, but it will be practically impossible, with the tremendous pressure that will be brought to bear on us, to remove a duty. Not only the employer, but the employees, will be affected.
In my opinion, the proposed Board will do very little good. I do not object merely on the ground of economy, because if the Board could demonstrate that’ the people were being charged too much, and so bring prices down, it would be cheap even at £10,000 per year. How is the Board to decide ? It is to be asked to report whether a manufacturer’ is charging unnecessarily high prices for his goods. Some of us may think that certain prices are unnecessarily high, but others may think they are not. The report of the Board will depend a great deal on the temperament of ite members.
– They will have facts and figures before them.
– I may think a profit of 15 per cent, is too great for a business, but Senator Pratten may think that 50 per cent, is not too much, or vice versa.
– What a man makes out of a business is often due to the attention and brains and capacity that he puts into it.
– Certainly, but all these things have to be decided by the Board. The Board may also be asked to decide whether a manufacturer is “acting in restraint of trade to the detriment of the public.” It is very possible that members of this Chamber may differ widely in their opinions of what constitutes restraint of trade to the detriment of the public. For instance, if explosives were being sold at an unreasonable price, mining development would be considerably hampered, and there would be some justification for an investigation.
– The price at which explosives were sold would not be so likely to retard the mining industry as some other manifestations of which we are aware.
– To what is the honorable senator referring ?
– - Five hours a day.
– The number of hours which the nien in the mining or any other industry may desire to work cannot be discussed at this juncture.
Included in the matters which the Minister shall refer to the Board for inquiry and report is the question of a manufacturer acting in a manner which results in unnecesssarily high prices being charged to the consumer for his goods. It may be somewhat easier to institute inquiries in that direction than in others. Subparagraph iv of paragraph h which reads : - ‘ ‘ refusing to sell to any person goods to the value of Fifty pounds at current market rates “ is certainly clear and definite, and, I presume, means that a manufacturer can be compelled to sell goods to the value of £50 at the same rate at which he would sell them to a. wholesale firm. I think that is desirable. When Senator Fairbairn and I were members in another place a Tariff Commission, consisting of Sir John Quick, who was the Chairman, Sir George Fuller, ex-Senator Higgs, and others, was appointed to make certain investigations in connexion with Tariff matters. That Commission made exhaustive inquiries, and submitted a valuable report to Parliament; but I do not think its recommendations had the slightest effect.
– I do not agree with the honorable senator, as the report of that Commission was frequently quoted. ,
– I am speaking pf the attitude adopted by honorable members in another place. The report did not have the slightest affect, because honorable members voted in accordance with the requirements of the constituencies which they represented.
– The Victorians were on one side and the New South Wales members on the other.
– Yes, it was quite simple. We found the Victorians advocating Free Trade principles when they had no Victorian industries to protect, and in favour of high protective duties when some insignificant Victorian industry was involved. They were not so keen on protecting the sugar industry as they were the nail industry.
– Is the honorable senator of the opinion that nails cannot be made in Australia?
– At that time there were a few men and three or four boys engaged in the nail industry in Victoria, and some Victorian members were more eager to impose a duty on nails than they were on sugar.
– Nail works are now established at Newcastle under the control of the Austral Nail Company, and their plant covers two acres.
– No doubt the people have had to pay, as they have had to do in connexion with sugar during the last twenty years.
If this Bill is passed by the Senate - I do not think it will be - I trust it will be amended so that the two business men to be appointed shall not receive £5 5s. per sitting, because I believe there are able and patriotic men in this country prepared to serve upon this or any other Board without any fee. It does not necessarily follow that a man who is paida fee is more capable than one prepared to give his services free in the interests of his country. We must have the best men, and if the Board can carry out the important work outlined by the Minister, we should be prepared to pay handsome salaries, because the expenditure would be justified.
After hearing some of the Protectionists in this Chamber express their opinions, I was almost convinced that there was. something in a policy of Protection; but after hearing the speeches of some of them supporting this Bill, there does not appear to have been much in the arguments previously adduced, because, after all, it is necessary to amend our legislation to prevent the people being exploited. I shall oppose the second reading of the Bill.
Senator ELLIOTT (Victoria) [6.14].- When the introduction of this measure was first mentioned, I was under the impression that a means had been devised whereby the Minister for Trade and
Customs and Parliament would be informed of anomalies and hardships arising out of the Tariff. But this measure goes a great deal too far. I do not desire to repeat the arguments which have already been submitted, but wish to elaborate some of those adduced by Senator Thomas in regard to paragraph h of sub-clause 1 of clause 15. At present the need exists for the development of our Australian industries in which we shouldencourage people to invest their capital, but it appears that in this measure we are doing our . utmost to discourage local manufacture. So far as I can see, there is no provision in the Bill to authorize inquiries to be made by the proposed Board into profiteering by importers. The poor unfortunate manufacturers in this country are to be brought before a Court, examined on oath, and their books investigated, but the importer is to go absolutely free. It is only the manufacturer who will be penalized, and the distributers and importers are to be exempt. Senator Guthrie’s diatribe was directed against the distributer, but this measure will not give relief.
– If there has been profiteering we do not need more protection?
– Tnat is what we desire to ascertain.
– Courts, Commissions, Boards, and Committees have inquired into the question of profiteering, and up to the present the number punished has been infinitesimal.
– It is only the small men who have been penalized.
– That is sc. If the Flinders-lane merchants produce balance-sheets showing a deficit, are they to be charged with profiteering?
– No. with bad business by purchasing more than they require.
– They must create a reserve to provide for unforeseen contingencies.
– They made 100 per cent, on Australian manufactured goods. Senator ELLIOTT.- And lost 100 per cent, on imported goods. To carry on business successfully and ona proper basis the losses and profits have to be averaged overa period of years. There are hundreds of law cases recorded in our
Law Reports in which efforts have been made tot prove that firms have acted in restraint of trade, and although in great numbers of them this has not been demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Court, thus showing the difficulties which arise in such cases-, the responsibility of proving it is, under this Bill, to rest with a body of persons who will be possibly inexperienced in the law. My principal objection in regard to clause 15 is to sub-paragraph iv, paragraph h, of subclause 1, which reads: “Refusing to sell to any person goods to the value of £50 at current market rates.” I do not know anything more likely to disorganize business than such a provision.
– That alone should have put this Bill under the table.
– It is an unreasonable provision, because a manufacturer may be approached by persons who wish to purchase £50 worth of goods, and he may not have them in stock, or he may be unable to supply because his output has been sold under contract.
– That would exempt him.
– The Bill does not so provide.
– But we are to amend it slightly, I believe.
– Under this provision an unfortunate manufacturer might be compelled to obtain the goods, elsewhere in order to meet the demands of a customer. Again, whilst the Board may summon witnesses to. give evidence to convict a manufacturer who is brought before them, he does, not seem to be given any reciprocal power under this Bill to call witnesses to rebut the case against, him.
– He has a right to give his own evidence.
– That may be so, if he is called; but, apparently, he has no right to call evidence in corroboration of his statement.
– The members of the Tariff Board will surely give him a chance to have his case heard.
– They will not necessarily be men having any judicial knowledge, or any knowledge of the rulesof evidence.. It is our duty to see that no injustice is . done to the citizens of Australia, and I think we should do what we can to relieve Australian manufacturers of unnecessary restrictions and: harassing conditions, of. this kind.
– This unfortunate political fledgling seems to be having a very rough passage. The hawks, have ripped and torn it until it has been left hardly a feather to fly with.
– To whom does the honorable senator refer as “ hawks “ %
– Even its political friend, and I refer now to Senator Earle, who holds up his hands in holy horror whenever any honorable senator appears to be inclined to oppose the Government, could not refrain from throwing a stone or two at it as the fledgling passed him. This is not to be wondered at, in view of the debate which took place on the measure in another place. Honorable senators are justified in being a little doubtful whether5 this Bill is going to fulfil the wonderful promises made for it by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell). To listen to the honorable senator, in moving the second reading of the measure, one might imagine that it would serve to overcome all the great difficulties which since the inception of Federation we have hitherto attempted in vain to surmount.
– I did at least make a suggestion, but no honorable senator opposed to the Bill has done so. I do not now know on which side Senator Duncan is.
– I shall tell the Minister on which side I am, but at present I am trying to explain how and why this little bantling has had such a rough spin.
– I do not think so. It has not been amended so far.
– There has been no opportunity so far to amend it in the Senate. Since 1 have been a member of the Senate I know of no measure previously introduced which had such a rough handling from honorable senators as this Bill has had. This is not to be wondered at, in view of the very doubtful things said about it in another place, and even by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr: Greene), in introducing the measure. He had no very high hope that it would fulfil what was expected of it. He did not believe that the difficulties it is designed to overcome would be met by it;’ and, indeed, he put the, measure forward as in the nature of a political experiment.. I direct attention to one or two- sentences which fell from the honorable gentleman in introducing the measure. He said -
I hope that neither members of this House nor tlie public generally will expect too much from the Tariff Board.
– That remark might be made of almost any Bill introduced.
– “ Blessed is he that expecteth nothing.” The Minister for Trade and Customs also said -
It is inevitable that many of the benefits which are popularly expected to flow from a Tariff Board are likely to prove illusory.
– Hear, hear! Again we agree with the Minister for Trade and Customs.
– Well, then, pass this Bill.
– Here we have a Minister in charge of a great Department introducing a measure intended to in some way regulate the business of that Department, and when he refers to it in such a Doubting Thomas kind of way it is not to be wondered at if some honorable senators find themselves entertaining just the same doubts about the measure as the Minister who introduced it had.
I feel that there is a very great necessity to in some way protect the interests of the consumer. Since the inception of Federation we have been endeavouring in Australia to produce a system of Protection that would satisfy all sections of the community. We tried the policy of New Protection.’ We felt that it was a fair thing if we gave protection to the manufacturer that we should give protection also to the employees in protected industries. We attempted to do that by adopting the policy of New Protection’. That policy was defeated by a decision of the High Court. We are now making an attempt, and not for the first time, to give some kind of protection to the consumer. We are trying to evolve an all-round system of Protection which will protect every one and under which every one will be happy.
I have some doubts whether this Bill will fulfil the purpose for which it has been designed. I have explained that those doubts are shared by the Minister responsible for its introduction in another place. Senator Russell, who is in charge of the measure here, takes the view that it is all right. He seems to think that it will do all that it is designed to do. I wish to refer to one or two clauses of the Bill which have already been mentioned by the honorable senator, because I want to point out why I differ from the conclusion at which he has arrived concerning them. The new Department which is to be created, and to which so many honorable senators have taken exception because of the cost of running it, has been urged upon the acceptance of honorable senators by the Minister because, in his opinion, some of the Departments are too big for Ministers to administer, and he considers that they should be relieved of minor duties in connexion with them.
Sitting suspended from, 6.30 to 8 p.m.
-The Minister suggested that the outside business members of the Board would be prepared to give their services for nothing, and said that the amount fixed for their remuneration would really be no inducement to them. I cannot conceive of any big business man in this or any other city, having the affairs of his own business to attend to, being prepared to give any small portion of his time to the affairs of this proposed new Department. The big business men of the Commonwealth have quite enough to do in looking after their own concerns without, being involved in an inquiry such as would be entailed by accepting one of these positions.
– I admit that is one of our difficulties.
– It is so great a difficulty that I cannot see how the Government are going to overcome it. - I fear they will have to be content with the services of some fairly successful business man, or accept the services of some business man who has not been successful in his own buiness. or else fall back on some dead-beat professional man to nil the position. The Minister stated also that the Board would not need to meet more frequently than once a week or once a fortnight.
– Not after the first rush of work is over.
– I am of opinion that they will need to meet very frequently indeed. But let me use the Minister’s own . argument. In justifying the payment of a salary of £1,400 to the chairman, he pointed out that the proposed Board would deal with Customs duties amounting to millions of pounds per annum, and yet he expects two outside business members of the Board to handle all these” problems in a few hours per month, or a few days per year.
– Yes, because they will not be responsible for the administration.
– Let me refer to another argument used by the Minister. He told honorable senators that the Minister for Trade and Customs is immersed practically all day and every day in the settlement of disputes about Customs duties. Now. if the Minister, with all the advice and assistance of his officers, with all the knowledge of the Department at his command, and without any of that clashing of opinion such as might be expected amongst members of this proposed Board, is immersed practically all day and every day in settling Customs disputes, how can we expect the proposed Board, with all the disadvantages attaching to a probable clashing of personal opinions, to settle these disputes in so short a time? Then, later in his speech, the Minister assured’ us that the Bill would make no difference whatever to the responsibility of the Minister; that in spite of the appointment of the Board the Minister would still be the determining factor in administration, and that the Board would merely collect and tabulate evidence for the Minister’s information and make suggestions.
– The other day the Minister was asked to sign a paper authorizing payment of the sum of 4s. Rubbish ‘
– Of course it is. I can assure the Minister that I am endeavouring to assist the Government as far as possible in connexion with this Bill. I am only pointing out the difficulties in administration as I see them.
Although it contains some provisions which I do not like, I intend to vote for- the Bill, and in Committee to move for the repeal or amendment of certain clauses. For instance, I cannot accept sub-paragraph iv. of paragraph h, which imposes a penalty upon any manufacturer who refuses to sell to any person goods to the value of £50 at current market rates. What a pretty position would be created if some blackmailer, desiring to wreak his vengeance upon a manufacturer, made a complaint to the Board that he had been refused goods to the value of £50 at cur rent market rates. It is quite possible that some unscrupulous person might do serious injury to a manufacturer in this way ; for there is nothing in the. clause to indicate that the person demanding goods to the value of £50 should have credit to that amount, or pay cash.
– That is implied, though.
– There is altogether too much in the Bill that is implied. I am aware that this paragraph was not in the Bill originally, and that it was accepted by the Government in another place. In my opinion, they made a mistake in accepting it.
– Even if a manufacturer has reasonable grounds for refusing to sell, he could still be prosecuted.
– -Of course he could.
– The Government did not accept the proposal in .another place. It was forced upon them. You will have your chance in Committee.
– I know I will; but I am quite in order at this stage in pointing cut that this clause, with other clauses, is most obnoxious to me, as I feel sure it is to the majority of honorable senators, so we shall alter it, I can assure the Minister.
– It is obnoxious to the Government, too.
– I shall vote for the second reading in the hope that when we get the Bill into Committee we shall be able to knock it into something like reasonable shape. If we are unable to do that, I shall vote against the third reading.
– Some opponents of the Bill have suggested what they consider is a way out of the difficulty with regard to the proposed Board, by urging the appointment of departmental officers, while other honorable senators are .totally opposed to the proposal in any shape or form. I should like to know how the Department is going to get the information concerning the operation of the Tariff unless Parliament authorizes the appointment of some persons either inside or outside the Deparment to make the necessary inquiries.
– What have we done in the past?
– We have’ had very, little knowledge, so far as I am aware; as to how the Customs Tariff has been operating in relation to our industries. I do not know that there is any particular place where satisfactory information can be obtained as to the effect of the Tariff in building up industries ; whether it is necessary that certain industries should’ have protective duties still; whether duties are too: high as against the general public; or whether manufacturers are charging too much for their products. In my opinion, the appointment of the Board is absolutely necessary for the proper working of this Tariff.
– The honorable senator must realize how difficult it will be to get evidence from the public.
– The Board will have authority to summon manufacturers to give evidence.
– Only the unfortunate manufacturers. What about the middlemen?
– The manufacturer will be required to state what are his profits, and to give all other necessary information, except, of course, any trade secrets, which it is not desirable should be disclosed. The Minister has not power to order these inquiries at present. If he has, this Bill is not required, because the Minister could direct the Board to make the necessary investigations. I take it that the Bill represents an extension of authority in this direction. If we reject the Bill, as suggested by some honorable senators, what will be substituted for it, and how are we to obtain information as to the working of the Tariff?
– The Inter-State Commission had the same authority to inquire.
– That body made extensive investigations, and still the public did not know anything about the matter.
– But this proposed Board will be authorized by Parliament to make inquiries for a specific purpose.
– So was the Inter-State Commission.
– I do not think so. The Board is to be appointed to inquire into certain specific matters. These would not be so numerous, as many honorable senators seem to think. But the creation of a Board is absolutely necessary for the purpose of gaining information as to the cost of production of cer tain articles and the prices at which those articles are being sold to the public. The Board should be empowered to deal, not merely with the remission of duties from a manufacturer’s stand-point, but also with the prices that are charged by the distributer.
– What constitutional power have we to do that?
– We have not the constitutional power.
– The States tried to do it, and they failed.
– Even if we possess the power to deal with the manufacturer, our power stops short there, and it is necessary that the proposed Board should be clothed with authority to deal with the distributer. It should be empowered to inquire into the cost of production, with a view to ascertaining whether the manufacturer or the distributer is to blame in cases where exorbitant prices are being charged to the consumer.
During this debate reference has been made to the establishments’ in Flinderslane. Senator Guthrie mentioned that those establishments are charging too much for Australian woollen goods. I quite agree with him. But the honorable senator omitted to mention that the warehouses in Flinders-lane have to carry certain stocks, and that their customers can obtain supplies from them in allsorts of quantities. Those supplies are sold to shopkeepers either uponbills or upon monthly terms. Consequently, the Flinderslane warehouses fulfil a very useful purpose as between the public and the mills. We must not forget the large number of small shopkeepers who are kept going by these Flinders-lane establishments. But for them, thousands of small shopkeepers would not be able to carry on operations.
– Some years ago those shops used to get their supplies direct from the mills.
– No manufacturer would care to be troubled with the small accounts which are dealt with . by the establishments in Flinders-lane. I agree with Senator Guthrie that the prices charged for woollen goods by these warehouses during the war were far too high. The mills were selling to them at from 5s. 6d. to 10s. 6d, per yard, and the same. quality of cloth, was -being retailed to the public at from 17s. 6d. to 37s. 6d. per yard.
– But we have no constitutional power to deal with the distributer.
– We have the same power to deal with the distributer that we have to deal with the manufacturer.
– The proposed Tariff Board would be able to supply the public with information . as to who is making Australian goods so dear. At the present time the people do not know who is robbing them. The power to inquire into this matter, and to obtain the desired information, would be of some value to Parliament.
– It would not help us in dealing with the Tariff.
– At any rate, we should then know how the Tariff was working.
I come now to the proposed composition of the Board. To my mind, the creation of such a body is a necessity.
– The honorable senator has a very poor opinion of Protection.
– Perhaps that is so. But Protection does not make human nature either good or bad. Upon the other hand, when by means of Protective duties we give practically a monopoly to manufacturers in any particular line, Parliament has a right to step in and say that that power shall not be abused.
– Does not the Bill say that the Minister “ may “ do certain things ?
– But “ may “ means “ shall.” Consequently, it will be incumbent upon the Minister to bring down reports from the Board - reports for which he must accept responsibility. Parliament will then either indorse his action or censure him. If the proposed Board is to be constituted of ‘a Customs officer and two outside business men, the Government will be wise to appoint business men who possess some knowledge of industries, and who are not concerned with the way in which the Tariff operates.
– An outside business man could thus learn all about his rival’s business.
– Under the Bill the members of the Board will not be at liberty to divulge information which they gain in the performance of their duties.
I do not know that any business man would reap an advantage from inquiring into another man’s business methods. But if we can find officers within the Customs Department who are qualified to fill these positions we should amend the Bill so as to permit of that course being followed.
– Would the honorable senator be in favour of the amalgamation of two or three of the Boards already in existence, whose duties will overlap those of the proposed Board?
– I am not in favour of creating more Boards.
– The population will not stand it..
– - We have not reached that stage yet. If we can amalgamate any of the existing Boards with the proposed Board, we ought certainly to do it. But if we do nob pass the Bill I fail to see how we can get the information that we desire in respect of certain matters.
– Does the honorable senator read all the information that is . supplied to him at the present time?
– During the past few weeks a good deal of correspondence has come to honorable senators in regard to the Tariff, and I am sure that none of us has attempted to get through the whole of it.
– Has the honorable senator received any letters from young ladies-?
– Yes. I have received correspondence from the girls who are employed in the Explosives Factory. Every honorable senator, I presume, including Senator Wilson, has been the recipient of similar letters. If the proposed Board be appointed, I think that it should be vested with power to inquire into the cost of production to the manufacturer, and also into the question of whether some of the awards of our Arbitration Courts accord with the services which particular industries are rendering to the community.
– How could the Board gauge that?
– By ascertaining the cost of production and also theprices at which articles are being sold to the consumer. In many industries all charges are passed on.
– Have we not already sufficient Courts to do that sort of work without double banking them ?
– We should not be double banking them.
– Why- are inquiries conducted into the minimum wage question, and for what purpose are Industrial Courts constituted ?
– Presumably they are created to avoid industrial disputes. But an Arbitration Court is not concerned with the charges which an industry passes on to the public. It is concerned only in effecting a compromise between a particular union and the employers who are engaged in some industry. , .We have never been able to ascertain whether what the manufacturer and the employees’ receive in a particular industry is given back to the public in value. The proposed Board might well be authorized to inquire into that phase of the question.
– Then the honorable senator wants an inquiry as to whether the workers as well as other people are profiteering ?
– Of course the public have never had a- chance of finding that out. Both manufacturers and workers may be profiteers in their own way, and may not be returning the public sufficient value.
– What about the Basic Wage Commission?
– I regard the Basic Wage Commission as a huge farce. They did not set about their inquiry in any definite way; but this Board would obtain the information in the usual course of inquiry into businesses. All that the Basic Wage Commission found was along one line - that is,” upon evidence given by people who said they could not live for less. This Board would inquire into the profits of manufacturers, and could also inquire into the wages of the employees.
– The manufacturers cannot have any profits, or they would not want the Tariff raised.
– I did not know the Tariff was fixed by profits.
– Things are’ too cheap already. If they were not too cheap the manufacturers would not want to raise the Tariff. Senator Guthrie says it is the importers who are making the profits.
– All that . Senator Guthrie contended was that we must devise some means to protect the consumers. That is the main thing. The Beard would find out the amount of profits being made out of an industry, and the amount of wages being paid out of it, and ascertain how the industry served the public. That information will be most essential in the future in connexion with the building up of industries under the Tariff, so that we may be able to see that neither one nor the other is profiteering on the public necessities. Along these lines I am willing to support the Bill, and I hope that in Committee the Minister will accept an amendment, because I do not wish to create any more Boards outside if we can find within the Public Service officers who can take on the responsibilities laid down in the Bill.
– The honorable senator will admit that the word “ lossiteering “ ought to be mentioned now of’tener ‘than “ profiteering.”
– In order to get the information that the Board can gather, I am in favour- of the Bill going through the second reading, and of making an attempt to improve it in Committee.
– As this, like the Customs Tariff Bill, is not a party measure, I may be pardoned for contributing a few brief remarks to the discussion of it. I gather that it is the result of an idea that, in consequence of our Protectionist policy, manufacturers who will succeed in establishing industries in Australia in consequence of the anticipated effects of the new Tariff, may do something so desperate or inimical to the public interest that they will have to be very carefully watched.
– So they have to. be.
– I am prepared to give a sort of general absolution to Australian manufacturers, for if they could do at the present time those things which it is anticipated they will do in the future, we should not have any need of a Protectionist Tariff. If the industries were well established and working with satisfactory profits to the manufacturers, and with satisfactory wages rates to their employees, what would- be the need of a Protectionist Tariff, seeing that the objective which we all seek to attain would have been gained ?
– Some of them are millionaires.
– I am glad to hear that they are not in the Bankruptcy Court. A great many people seem to think that if a man embarks upon an enterprise, starts a mine, or establishes a business, and makes profits, he is a criminal. I desire to see him succeed. I do not wish to see him in the Bankruptcy Court. I should like to see the doors of the Bankruptcy Court closed, like the doors of the temple of Janus in times of peace. I want to hear of everybody making profits in all the industries and employments of the Australian people. I gather from Senator Guthrie’s remarks, although I may have misconstrued what he said, that the people who are brandishing a loaded revolver, so to speak, at ihe head of the public, dwell in Flinders-lane. I always understood that Flinders-lane was associated with the importing rather than with the manufacturing interests. It seems to me that the Protectionist says “ You will bc exploited by the importer,” while the. Free Trade advocate says “ There is a very grave danger of Australia being exploited by the manufacturer.” I prefer to see Australia exploited, if there is going to be any exploitation, by the local manufacturer rather than by the importer of foreign goods.
– But need there be any exploitation at all ?
– I do not concede that there has been at any time any undue exploitation of the Australian people, and it is for that reason that I have always consistently opposed the proposals for constitutional amendment which had for their expressed object the punishment of the alleged profiteer, who - was very often Enid to be the Australian manufacturer. If Australian products were not too cheap at the present time, speaking in a general and all-round sense, we should not want a Protectionist Tariff. I ask chose people who are always shouting out about the very great and high prices of Australian commodities to reconcile their statements and opinions with the fact that we are about to enact a Protectionist Tariff. If .manufacturers could establish all their industries, and sell all their products at prices remunerative to themselves and to their employees as regards the rates of wages paid, what would we want a Protectionist Tariff for? That is a logical proposition, and, although I know there are defects in logic, I submit it to honorable senators as such. If articles were not too cheap in
Australia, what would we want a Protectionist Tariff for?
– Too cheap for whom?
– Too cheap for the manufacturers and the consumers also, for I remind the honorable senator that we cannot divorce the consumer from the manufacturer. The interests of all are identical.
Speaking on the first reading < f the Customs Tariff Bill, I said that we could not separate the people’s interests into watertight compartments. In legislating for Australia in regard to the Tariff, we must consider the people as a whole. This measure savours a little too much to me of the attempt to regulate prices, and to interfere with the manufacturer and with business. Let us see what position this great Australian people has got itself into with regard to certain lines of thought and legislative action. I wished recently to send a parrot in a cage over to my daughters, in Tasmania, by the hands of a little boy who was going across the Strait on the Tasmanian ferry boat. They would not take the bird on the boat, despite the fact that a swift-flying Australian bird can have its breakfast in the environs of Melbourne, and be hunting for its lunch within the shores of Tasmania on the same day. I was informed that I would have to give two days’ notice to the inspector of stock before the bird could.be taken on a boat, and that I would have to take the responsibility in other circumstances of having it on the boat, and taking it to Tasmania. That is one of the vexatious restriction’s which legislators allow to be imposed by regulation upon themselves and the people of Australia. I venture to say that no legislator, either State or Commonwealth, ever anticipated such a contingency as that a man would be pre vented from taking an ordinary Australian parrot in a cage across to Tasmania because he had not apprised the inspector of stock that he intended .to do so. This measure contemplates too much of the. same sort of restriction. I have always opposed the attempted regulation of prices.
There is on the table of the Senate a whole pile of reports by the Inter-State Commission on Tariff matters. I do not think it is necessary for any honorable senator to cry “peccavi.” I, too, have sinned, if it is a sin not to have read all the reports of that Commission., Life is too short and too full of incidents for me to have read all tho reports of the Inter-State Commission on Tariff matters. There is a series of reports compiled by three gentlemen, one of whom was, I understand, the Victorian Collector of Customs. I refer to Mr. Lockyer. Nobody, and certainly not myself, ventures to insinuate that he was not a capable man in his Department. All parliamentarians must remember that if they hit at a man outside Parliament he is not in a position to hit back, and it would be very improper for me to . suggest that Mr. Lockyer was an incompetent man at any time in regard to the Department which he helped to administer. There was also Mr. Piddington. I believe he is a man of- considerable attainments in an academic way, but his Basic Wage Commission got us parliamentarians into a hole from which we have not yet found a way out. Mr. Swinburne was the only politician on that body, and he was not at the time a politician responsible to the people, for, being a member of the InterState Commission, he was not a member of any Australian Parliament. If .the Inter-State Commission compiled a whole series of reports on Tariff matters, which members of the Federal Parliament have not read - I hope I am not doing them an injustice in saying so - or if members have read only a few of them, as is the case with mc, what is going to be the value of the Tariff Board ? I think the furthest I could go would be to support Senator Benny’s scheme. I made a certain resolution, after the report of the Basic Wage Commission was presented. I am not reflecting upon the individual ability of the members who composed that Commission. University professors are very proper men in University chairs, but a University professor is the only man to whom I ever used bad language in the precincts of Parliament, for he was an absolutely unpractical and impracticable man. Men of this class are excellent in their own spheres, but I promised myself after the report of the Basic Wage Commission was presented, that I would not be a party by my vote or support to the establishment of any Com mission that was not composed of members of the Legislature, who would bc directly responsible to their fellows for their reports.
Although I am prepared to support the Bill, I decry the principle of continually interfering . with manufacturers to find out what their profits are. Do we regret that their profits are big? I hope we shall ‘ establish industries in Australia that will enable millionaires to be present by the dozen. That is the sort of prosperity that I want to see here. I should like to see companies declare dividends, not of 5, 6, or 1 per cent., but of 50 and 60 per cent. Then we shall have a lively time. There will then be no talk of depression or reluctance on. the part of capitalists to invest money in industries. There will be no reference to unemployment, and companies will forget that there is such a thing as going into liquidation, because they will be declaring profits of 30 per cent, and 40 per cent. There will be no lack of prosperity then. I shall, to allay those fears concerning the consumer being exploited, vote for this Bill going into Committee if the Government will be prepared to adopt Senator Benny’s eminently satisfactory suggestion and appoint a Committee such as the Public Accounts and the Public Works Committees, which comprise members of both Houses of this Parliament. I think it will be generally admitted that these are two very effective and excellent bodies doing a great work for Australia, and work that has been carried on unapplauded. These two Committees have fully justified their appointment in every way, and if the Parliament is satisfied that there is a necessity to appoint an overlooking or advisory body in connexion with the Tariff, and that body is composed of parliamentarians, I shall support the Bill. But if it is intended to create another Board, of outside men who may possess excellent qualifications, but who are academic and unpractical men, I do not want any more of them. I do not desire a Board such as the Basic Wage Commission, comprised of men such as Mr. Piddington, who, we know, is capable of writing articles on Spanish literature and has given us a new version of Don Quixote, because the Australian Parliament has never been placed in a more uncomfortable position than it lias in connexion with the findings of the Basic Wage. Commission. I do not wish any similar investigations to be under- : taken in connexion with the duties imposed under this Tariff, because we do not know what the result will be. I trust this Tariff will enable Australian indus* tries to be so established that they will declare dividends of 30 or even 40 per cent., because in such circumstances we shall have no unemployment, and there will be sufficient internal competition. amongst manufacturers to regulate many of the evils which, have been mentioned.
I shall, in deference to the unbased fear that the prosperous manufacturers of Australia may do something inimical to the best interests of Australia, vote for a Board, but it must consist of members of Parliament responsible to the Australian people. I am absolutely sick of the creation of academic Boards.
– What of the InterState Commission?
– What does the honorable senator suggest?
– Would not the same personnel be satisfactory?
– It would not suit me.
– That is what will happen.
– Not at all. If the Government selected two or three honorable members from another place, and make up the number from this august Chamber, I would be satisfied with the result of their deliberations. Despite the opprobrium which some people cast upon members of Parliament, apart from the exercising of judicial functions which is the duty of members of the legal profession, I know of bo men. in any class in this community more capable of giving an unbiased judgment in regard to any matter than the parliamentarians of Australia. I will trust in, and read the reports of, my brother parliamentarians, but I will not vouchsafe that courtesy to the reports, submitted by all sorts of Boards that may be thrust upon me by the bucketful. I am absolutely tired of them. I have been besieged by men of all degrees of attainment in connexion with the development of our Australian industries, but I have never- found any one more useless than a certain university professor who indulged. in “ lobbying “ in seeking support for the principle of proportional representation. On the occasion when that assistance was sought, I told this gentleman that the measure would be defeated in Parliament, although it would have the support of the Tasmanian senators. I said that we would get six affirmative votesit was a mere guess, but it proved to be correct,-and that was all the support secured. Notwithstanding the fact that this gentleman was in the gallery and heard the debate, he requested me, as well as other honorable senators, to introduce the principle when the Bill was in Committee. I said to him, “ Do you believe that parliamentarians are such fools as to advocate proportional representation after hearing the question debated and seeing the opposition which was offered?” He really believed that . the principle could be introduced, and thathonorable senators could be hoodwinked into supporting it. On that occasion I indulged in rather free language. If university professors, and business and scientific men, are such wonderful fellows, why do not people elect them to Parliament. There are 11*1 men in this National Parliament, and out of that number we can select men who can navigate a ship and draw up a will if one is> at death’s door. There are also physicians, blacksmiths!, carpenters, miners, and men capable of doing everything: necessary in .regard to the economic and industrial interests of Australian life. Notwithstanding this, we are asked to. appoint bodies outside these 111 men, in whom the Australian people have confidence, to do the work that we are capable of doing ourselves. If I vote for the second reading of this Bill, the Government must understand that it is on the sole condition that they will appoint a discriminatory Committee composed wholly of parliamentarians.
– I think it can be said that this Bill has been fully criticised by honorable senators, the majority of whom have come to the conclusion that it is beyond repair, even in Committee. Most of us are pledged to the principle of political economy, and in this connexion- we havethe opportunity of preventing the creation of another huge Department. Honorable senators must realize that we have ai duty to- perform’ to the consumers- as well1 as- to the manufacturers.
– And to the electors.
– They are included in the consumers, and we have to do what is right in the interests of the whole community. On the score of economy, I cannot support the appointment of the proposed Board, because we have officers in the Department who are capable of advising the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) on questions which should be submitted in Parliament. It appeared to me that the Minister for Trade and Customs adopted a very gentle attitude when introducing the measure in another place, and after listening to the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) this afternoon, I came to the conclusion that he was not overenthusiastic.
– It makes one wonder if they really wish the measure to be passed.
– I .do not’ think they are too sincere. Already the people are unnecessarily burdened in consequence ;of the number of Boards which are in, operation, and whose investigations considerably hamper those who are employing labour. A man in .a mixed business nas to contend with ;no less than six or seven inspectors, who have the right to enter his premises and occupy his time in connexion with different sections -of -his trade. A man in such a -business has to interview inspectors representing the following trades and callings: grocery, bakery, small goods, bread carters, shop assistants, and stablemen.
– And .what of the -income tax inspector?
– He comes once a year, and that is too often, but the others -are always on the doorstep. In nine cases out of ten they are making investigations to justify their job, and that is what makes the work of a business man exceedingly difficult. We are now asked to appoint another Board that will request the attendance of business men, who will be examined as to the profits they are making.
I .have been astonished at the reference which has been made to the alleged profiteers in Flinders-lane and elsewhere. It is almost alarming to men engaged in business to see the number of firms who are finding it difficult to keep afloat. There are firms even in this city who two or three years ago were considered to be .financially strong who are now finding it difficult to carry on. These are the men who are called .profiteers. It is easy for us to come into this chamber and charge men who are successfully conducting industries with being profiteers, but we cannot base our allegations on the profits made during one year. Probably the most abused man in Australia in this connexion is Mr. Hugh V. McKay, who through his thrift and industry has built up one of the finest industries in Australia. During the last five or six years the farmers of this country would not have been able to purchase agricultural implements if men such as Mr. McKay had not been operating in our midst. Cheap money and plenty of it was available to defeat such men, and honorable senators are well aware of what the taxpayers, of Western Australia lost - it was a “huge sum - an this direction. Now they are reconstructing and endeavouring to get another start. The failure. of Western Australia resulted from the ‘fact that brains and thrift were not at the head of the undertaking. I ‘ask you, gentlemen, to realize-
-(Senator the Hon. T. Givens). - Order! I ask the honorable senator to address the Chair.
– No honorable senator should shirk his duty in this matter. We are imposing a Tariff, and it is our duty to see that no one makes use of it unjustly.
Senator Benny has suggested the appointment of a joint Committee of this Parliament to advise the Minister for Trade -and Customs in connexion with these matters. I believe that there are men in the Trade and Customs Department who could carry out this job. Under clause 7 it is proposed that the chairman of the proposed Tariff Board shall be selected from officers of the Trade and Customs Department. If there is a man in the Department eligible for the chairmanship of this Board, there is no reason why we .should not be able to secure the other two members of the Board from the officers of the same Department. Surely, there is more than- one “ plum “ in the* Department on whom the Minister can lay his hands. It looks as if we ‘are to have another :huge Department of the Public Service built up. Honorable senators are aware that once a Department is started it is impossible to .say where it will end, and for this reason I am opposed to the creation of a new Department to deal with these matters arising out of the Tariff. The Trade and Customs Department is well represented in every one of the States, and in it we have all the machinery necessary to secure the information which the Minister for Trade and Customs requires to see that no undue advantage is taken of the Tariff.
There is nothing like envy, to create abuse. If a man is successfully carrying on any business in this country it is not difficult to find men ready and willing to abuse him. If a man carrying on an industry in Western Australia is suggested as a person whose business needs inquiry, we shall have the chairman and the other two members of the Board, I presume, a secretary, and also a typewriter, going across to Western Australia to inquire into this man’s business.
– The whole entourage.
– Yes, out for a jaunt. They will go to Western Australia, make their inquiries there, and return to Melbourne to report. I say that we have in each of the States branches of the Trade and Customs Department which could carry out local inquiries of this kind in all the States. I have no objection to a man occupying so responsible a position as chairman of the proposed Board getting a salary of £1,400 a year.
– Personally I do not think it is enough.
– I am disposed to. agree with the honorable senator. I, however, disagree with the Vice-President of the Executive Council when he said that he could find 200 men ready and willing to do the work of this Board for nothing.
– I already have 111 of my 200, because Senator Bakhap has said that all the members of this Parliament are willing to act on the Board.
– My answer to the Minister is to ask him why men draw fees as members of Royal Commissions?
– As the honorable senator was a member of the Cockatoo Dockyard Royal Commission he might be able to tell us.
– I happen to be a member of the Joint House Committee, and I do not propose to draw any fees, even .if they are available.
– Perhaps the honorable senator does not deserve any.
– I regard that as a very ungenerous remark. I think some very useful work is done by the Joint House Committee in a quiet way.
– That is not a proper subject of discussion on the second reading of the Bill before the Senate.
– I quite agree with you, sir.
If the second reading of this Bill is passed it is my intention when it is under consideration in Committee to move that the -two members of -the proposed Board other than the chairman, who, perhaps, will not be required to sit more than once a week, shall be allowed £650 a year for sundry expenses, and I shall move the addition of a new subclause to clause 8 of the Bill limiting the amount which may be spent on the Board in any one year to £3,000.
– The honorable senator wants to hamstring it- at once.
– I want to curtail expenditure upon it. It is idle of public men to talk of economy unless they are prepared to practise it.
– I thought the honoi able senator went in for economy. The departmental estimate of the expenses of the Board is £1,000 a year. The honorable senator is prepared to offer £3,000 a year. I accept his offer.
– I did not offer £3,000 a year, but I said that I would limit the expenditure upon the Board to that amount. Judging from my experience of departmental estimates, I am inclined to say that if the departmental estimate in - this case is £1,000 a year, before the proposed new Department is long in existence it will be a satisfaction to the country if the expenditure upon it is limited as I suggest to £3,000 a year.
Some honorable senators are evidently anxious to be guided by the reports of Boards and amongst them particularly’ my honorable friends from Queensland who are supporting this Bill.. I take the. liberty of quoting something from a report by a Commission comprised of Mr. Swinburne, Mr. Piddington, and Mr. Lockyer, three men of unquestioned ability. Amongst their recommendations I find the following: -
The Commission is of opinion that the Tariff exercises little, if any, influence on the cultivation and marketing of bananas, and that any increase in the Tariff would merely increase the’ price of a wholesome food without any compensating advantages.
– What do those gentlemen say about currants?
– What do they say about prunes?
– One step is enough for me, thank you.
– Anything against Queensland industries suits the honorable senator’s book.
– Not at all. I have not said that I agree with the quotation I have made. My point is that we are being asked to create another Board to call evidence and make report. Senator Reid is of opinion that these Boards do excellent work, and I ask him whether what I have quoted is the sort of finding that the honorable senator is prepared to accept ?
– I disagree with that finding. The honorable senator did not find it, anyhow. Some one put him up to it.
– Having had six or seven weeks’ experience of Senator Reid recently in connexion with a Commission, and knowing how little he does that he is not put up to, I can quite understand him charging me with failing on my own account to discover a little thing like this report, when it is left on my seat.
– As a matter of fact, the honorable senator has been stealing my thunder. The pile of reports on the table belong to me.
– I put it to the Government that they must realize how difficult it would be to secure two men from outside the Trade and Customs Department to act as members of this Board who will not be directly or indirectly interested in the Tariff. Any man who is capable of considering questions of profit and loss in a trading concern must have had some experience of business, and the Government will find themselves landed in considerable difficulties if members of the’ Board are found to be interested in any shape or form in the Tariff. I am at a loss to understand how the Government are to secure men outside the Trade and Customs Department as members of the Board who will not be interested in some way or other with the commercial life of the country. When the proposed Board has conducted an inquiry under clause 15, the only thing it can do is to report.
– That is something.
– I do not know that it will be anything in return for the money that will have to be spent oh the Board. Then it is provided that the Minister “may” - and not “shall” - refer the report to Parliament.
– It is provided that all reports shall be referred to Parliament.
– When the Minister receives the report from the Board he can decide whether it shall come before Parliament or not. That being so, we shall have achieved nothing by the appointment of a Board. I am not going to consent to further public expenditure in order that members of this Parliament may be supplied with more reports than they. now. receive. I am one of those who believe that there is a great deal of public money wasted in connexion with the re-ports that are already furnished to us. They might be put on the table of the club-room instead of separate copies being sent to every member of this Parliament. I think I am justified in saying that 75 per cent, of the reports sent to members of this Parliament are not opened, but are thrown at once into the waste-paper ‘ basket.
– Under clause 16 it is provided that a copy of every report shall be tabled.
– Then I pass on to clause 17, which takes these inquiries entirely out of the hands of the Minister. It provides that -
The Board may, on its own initiative, inquire into and report on any of the matters referred to in sub-section (2) of section 15 of this Act.
What does that mean? I agree with other honorable senators that members of the Board are not likely to sit merely for the purpose of earning their fee of £5 5s. per sitting. I think the- powers of the Board should be curtailed. Unless there is a reasonable suspicion in the mind of the Minister, inquiries by the Board should not be authorized, and full power should be retained in the hands of the Minister. If the Board is to have authority to travel north, south, east,and west, at its own sweet will, honorable senators may ask the Minister question after question without getting any satisfaction, because he will have no authority to prevent the Board touring Australia in the course of its inquiries.
– And very likely on a fishing expedition.
– I should not say that, because the .Minister has assured us that the ‘personnel of the Board will be such that that body will not be subject to the temptations which he and I enjoy. I trust that when the Bill gets into Committee amendments will be made retaining full power to the Minister, who, of course, will be answerable to Parliament.
The penalties- for which the Bill provides, are, in my opinion, extreme. Where else do we read of a fine of £500 or imprisonment for one.- year as a penalty for a person refusing to come along to give evidence before a Board?
– And, perhaps, imprisonment without the option of a fine.
– I can assure honorable senators that if I were ever in that position, I should feel obliged to take twelve months instead of paying the £500 cash. The thing is ridiculous in every respect.
– In some cases the imprisonment may be for a term of five years.
– That only makes the Bill so much the worse. I am totally opposed to penalties of that sort.
I notice that in clause 34 an employer who dismisses an employee for having appeared as a witness before the Board will be guilty of an offence, and liable to the fine mentioned. I say unhesitatingly that the usual procedure is to throw the onus on the employees to show proof, and not to allow the employer to be placed, possibly, in a false position.
I acknowledge that the Government have made an attempt in the Bill to do something for the consumers of- this country. If we want to build up the industries of the Commonwealth we must have a Tariff wall sufficiently high to keep out imported com.modities that are likely to enter into competition with our own products, but at the same time we should see that Australian manufacturers are prepared to produce on reasonable lines, and sell at reasonable prices. In a country like Australia there are very few industries that can stand up in competition with- the pro- ducts of cheaper labour in foreign countries: As an Australian standing for Australia at all times,. I believe in the policy of doing everything possible to facilitate and encourage the development of our secondary industries, but it is my intention to oppose the creation of any new Board, because I consider that course will involve unnecessary expenditure at the present juncture.
Senator E. D. MILLEN (New South
Wales - Minister for Repatriation) [9.22]. - I have listened with very considerable interest and, may I say, with some amusement, to the debate upon this measure. My interest, I may add, has been tinged with this one regret : that, familiar as we are with the very forceful eloquence of Senator Bakhap, he did not inform honorable senators of the language he employed towards the university professor he referred to. Some honorable senators have expressed surprise at the introduction of the Bill. Mav I remind them that it is usual for a Government to attempt to redeem its pledges. This Bill is presented as a redemption of a very definite pledge which the Government gave to the Federal electors on the last appeal to the country, and I submit that those honorable gentlemen who won their seats in this Chamber as supporters of the Government, unless they specially exempted themselves from that pledge, are under some obligation to support the measure, which, as I have shown, is a redemption of the promise- then given. No criticism which has been made during this debate can in- my judgment be regarded as a sufficient reason for the rejection of the Bill on the plea that it does not redeem that pledge.
– The Minister has not been here all the time.
– I have been here quite long enough.
– The Minister need not be too severe on those honorable senators he had to listen to.
– I am not severe at all. I do- not consider that I was being treated with severity in having had to listen to the speeches to which I have referred. However, this Bill is an attempt to redeem a pledge that was given to the electors of the Commonwealth. The Government pledged itself to bring in a Protectionist Tariff, and at the same time to accompany it with legislation to secure some measure of security for the consumers.
– When was that pledge given?
– At Bendigo, by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) .
– That pledge can be redeemed by appointing a Parliamentary Board.
– I admit that it may. But this Bill is the Government’s attempt to redeem the pledge. If, in the opinion of honorable senators, it is faulty, then there is an obligation upon them to substitute for it some workable proposition which will . have the same effect. Having redeemed the pledge with regard to theTariff, are honorable senators going to ignore the supplementary portion of the . pledge? Some exception was taken by Senator Bakhap and other honorable senators to the assumption that manufacturers are an extremely lawless section of the community, whose one desire is to ravage the purses of consumers of the Commonwealth. There is no need to assume that at all; but I never yet met any body of men amongst whom was not some one ready to serve his own personal advantage, regardless of the rights of the rest of the community.
– Even among . the elect of the people.
– Even among the elect of the people, as ‘the honorable senator suggests. There is always one black sheep in every flock, and it is- a very small flock in which there is not more than one. I may add that the Senate is a small flock, and will leave it at that.
It is no’ new theory that is being preached in this Bill. Almost from the inception of Federation the principle has been accepted by Protectionists that there is always a liability of Combines being so organized as to take unfair advantage of the consumers. But we should recognise that 99 per cent, of the manufacturers are always prepared to do the decent thing.
– And we are going to penalize 99 per cent, of the manufacturers for the sins of one.
– Only in the same sense that we penalize every honest man by appointing the policeman, because there is one man in ninety -nine who requires watching.
– And 99 per cent, of the manufacturers are to be obliged to sell at higher prices because one man desires to do so?
– The purpose is to make one man who may not be prepared to do the fair thing by theconsumers come into line with the ninety-nine.
– If he sells at a higher price than the minety-nine manufacturers, may we not assume that the ninety-nine can very well look after themselves ?
– If they were in the same trade, yes. There can be no doubt about the possibility ofCombines being created. It savours almost of hypocrisy to deny the existence of this evil. I had been associated with my Department only a few months before I was aware of it, and ‘ I dare say that if I were a manufacturer myself I. would declare that the circumstances of the business compelled me to do as others did. But we should be failing in our duty to the community if we neglected to take the -necessary precautions to protect the consumers. If no offence is being committed then this Bill, in its operation, will not interfere in any way with trade.
– Theoretically, the Minister is right-; experience teaches us he is wrong.
– The Protectionists themselves have intimated to the Minister for Trade and Customs that they welcome this legislation.
– They will say anything when they want a higher Tariff.
– Now, that is Senator Fairbairn’s verdict of the manufacturers ! He declares that they will say anything when they want a higher Tariff. If they are of that type, then we are quite justified in passing this Bill. The Protectionists,I repeat, approve of this measure as an evidence of some guarantee that the public interest is being protected. They realize that if, here and there, a combination of manufacturers is allowed to exploit the public, the cause of Protection will stink in the nostrils of the people. This Bill is an assurance that, while Australia with generous hand has taken all possible steps to give the manufacturers ample opportunities to develop their industries, it is at the same time a precautionary measure against the exploitation of the consumers. If honorable senators who are objecting to the method adopted by the Government can suggest a better, the Government will welcome any suggestion that may be made. The Government feels that it ought to redeem its pledges, and that there should be some provision in the laws of this country to safeguard the consumers. I base this view upon the remarks made by honorable senators to-day. I think that there has been a very fair balance of opinion. Many honorable senators have spoken upon this measure, but one-half of them have answered the other half. Hardly two objections to the Bill have been addressed to the same point. The majority of those objections were not aimed at the principle of the measure itself, but were such as might properly be dealt with in Committee. .
– Will the Minister touch upon the question of the duplication of the activities of various Boards?
– I was coming to that. It was too tempting an opportunity for mc to pass. Perhaps I may be permitted to deal with it at once. It lias been said here - and the statement has been repeated apparently with great satisfaction - that this Bill seeks to create a new Department, and the most awful pictures have been drawn of the tremendous addition which will be made to our public expenditure. At the very moment that utterance was made, it was suggested that, instead of a Board of three members being created as is proposed in the Bill, wo should appoint to. t hese “positions officers of the Customs Department; and the gentlemen who expressed that view seemed to think that they were economists. But, if we are going to withdraw senior and responsible officers from the Customs Department to undertake this work, who will take their places ?
– The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) said that there would be a meeting of the Board only about once a week.
– I quite re- . cognised that when I put a definite question to the Senate, Senator Wilson would seek to avoid a definite answer being given to it.
– That question was answered by Senator Payne, who pointed out that, on account of the heavier duties which have been imposed under the
Tariff, we shall not in future collect so much revenue, and consequently will not need so many officers.
– If increased duties mean a reduction of staff, my argument will still hold good. Whether we have a staff or 100 or 1,000 officers, if a Board be appointed consisting of three of those officers, we shall still require to fill their places.
– Why not have members of Parliament upon the Board?
– The objection to the Board seems to be an objection merely to a name. “ A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” but to-day anything that is called a Board seems to be thoroughly objectionable. If the work of the proposed Board were intrusted to three officers, and if, in deference to the susceptibilities of honorable senators, we called those officers a Committee, would it make any real difference? We should still have three men the bulk of whose time would be devoted to this work.
– Then the Minister admits that they are going to do a lot of work?
– I anticipate that they will have their hands full.
– That is a different statement from that which was made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council.
– The VicePresident of the Executive Council and I belong to a party in which a broach is not created merely because we hold different views. Senator Russell is a much better authority than I am upon Customs matters, but for some time to come I- think that the proposed Board will have quite as much work to do as is healthy for any ordinary human beings. That disposes of the contention that the appointment of departmental officers would mean economy. In my opinion, one system would cost as much as would the other. I wish now to point out why the creation of a Board appears to be necessary. It is not proposed by this Bill to confer any additional power upon the Minister. As a matter of fact, every power that the Board will possess could be exercised by the Minister to-day.
-Then why do we require this Bill?
– I will tell the honorable senator if he will restrain his impatience. To-day many matters are dealt with by the Minister by means of departmental by-laws and under administrative authority. One of the principal complaints which have been voiced during recent years has been the growing disposition on the part of Ministers to grab power and to act autocratically. I have heard Ministers of Customs denounced because in some arbitrary way, behind closed doors, they have done something which affected the trade and industry of this country. “I must convey to the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) how great a compliment has been paid to him to-day, and I shall have pleasure in informing him of the infinite and touching faith which honorable senators have in his judgment and industry. The compliment was well deserved, I think, even if it was not intended. There are many important matters which the Minister has now to determine, if I may be permitted to use the phrase, “ off his own bat.” But that fact does not relieve him of responsibility. The Bill before us provides that before the Minister can take important action he must obtain the advice of the proposed Board. The things which he can do to-day without any advice he will not be entitled to do, if this measure becomes law, until he has secured the advice of this expert body! The reports of the Board must be laid before Parliament itself.
– Has the Minister the power to obtain information, which the Board will possess ?
– No. In order to enable the Board to work satisfactorily, it is necessary that it should have access to information. It is a matter upon which Australia may congratulate herself that, whilst the Customs Department does open the door to’ the suggestion of fraud, that Department has come through the ordeal without any suspicion of the kind. That is something of which we have reason to be proud. But with increased Customs duties, and -with our trade becoming a little more complex in consequence, it does seem to me somewhat unfair to call upon the Minister to decide all these matters himself. Under the Bill, whilst the responsibility for a,cting will be his, it will bc an assurance to the people generally to know that before he can act he must at least have the report of the Board. If he takes the responsibility of running counter to its recommendations, Parliament will at once have ite attention drawn to the matter, and that very circumstance will cause Parliament to scrutinize his action very carefully. When we consider the wide ramifications, of the Tariff, and the multiplicity of trade interests which are involved in it, honorable senators will see that the Minister is entitled to the advice which such a Board can give to him.
Reference has been made to the creation of a new Department. There seem to be times when certain terms become . bugbears. How will a new Department be created by the appointment of three men as a Tariff BoaTd any more than by pushing three officials into the positions? I recognise the tendency of Departments to grow; but the Minister for Trade and Customs could, if he chose, to-day appoint three officers to do this particular work. The Bill will give the Board a statutory place, and a statutory authority; and it will place upon the Minister the obligation to act, not upon his own volition, or his own prejudice, or upon ill-considered information which may be supplied to him, but upon the advice of three men who have been specially appointed to deal with certain matters, and who in a short time will become experts in regard to them.
– And the passing of the Bill will also cause us to incur extra statutory expenditure.
– I am surprised at Senator Pratten taking up such an attitude, because he is known all over Australia as one of the high-water-mark Protectionists.
– That is only the Minister’s description of me.
– If the honorable senator will allow me a minute or two, probably I shall be able to think of a more picturesque description of him. At any rate, I have never heard him accused of being a low Tariffist.
– The honorable gentleman will see exactly what I am when we come to deal with the Tariff schedule item by item, and I shall be judged by my votes.
– Of course we are all judged by our votes, but we are also judged by our speeches. I thought that the honorable senator rather prided himself upon being a thorough-going Protectionist.
– I like that phrase better than I do the other one,
-If the honorable senator objects to being called a Protectionist, I shall willingly withdraw the imputation. . But of all people who have anything to gain from this Bill, the manufacturers themselves have most. Time and again they have declared that, because of the Tariff, their prices would not be raised. How then can they reasonably object to showing their bona fides by supporting this Bill ?
– The honorable gentleman said that they were supporting it.
– So they axe.
– Then why set up an Aunt Sally?
– Because I thought that the honorable senator was their spokesman.
– I am a representative, of New South Wales in the Senate.
– The honorable’ senator keeps New South Wales very well informed of the fact. It has been stated that this Bill will interfere with business. But every law interferes with somebody’s business. Yet we have not torn up the statute-book upon that account. The question we have to consider is whether it is advisable to appoint this advisory body. Unless honorable senators desire the Government to break the pledge upon which they secured election
– We would not like the Government to break a pledge.
– I know that. Senator Thomas, though not a candidate at the last election, was one of these who went round the country, and urged the people of the respective States to return this Government to power. He impressed upon them, that the Government would redeem their pledges, ob viously urging for acceptance the platform to which they were committed. Consequently he should either help us to pass the Bill into law, or put up some other practicable proposition to enable us to redeem our pledge.
– Did he promise to give our manufacturers protection ?
– I cannot say that I heard him promise that in specific terms.
-I wish the Government would fulfil their . promises about Canberra.
– No doubt,’ at the proper time and place, I shall be able to show that the Government are endeavouring to do their best in that direction; But I always hesitate to incur your displeasure, sir, by indulging in irrelevancies, and therefore I must allow the honorable senator’s interjection to pass.’ I ask honorable senators to agree to the second reading of the Bill, and in Committee to bring forward their proposals for improving it. I assure them that to all such proposals the Government will give their best attention.
Question - That the Bill be now read a second time - put. The Senate divided.
Majority . . 8
Question so resolved in the affirmative..
Bill read a second time.
Clause 1 agreed to.
Senate adjourned at 9.53 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 20 July 1921, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1921/19210720_senate_8_96/>.