13th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Will you, Mr. President, onbehalf of the senators of the Commonwealth of Australia, send the following cable to the chairman of the World Economic Conference: -
That the conference has now conducted a hole-and-corner existence for four weary weeks of doubt, distrust, and speculation, and the international action that seemed so certain is now the most uncertain factor in its deliberations - a factor so uncertain that it will inevitably wreck the conference. Internationalism has,once more, come up against a strong, vigorous nationalism of petty sectional jealousies, and lost its whole capacity for good in the procedure ?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is “ No.”
– In view of the facts disclosed in the financial statement presented to the Senate yesterday by the honorable the Assistant Treasurer (Senator Massy Greene) will the Minister inform the Senate of the amount by which the value of the assets of the Commonwealth has been increased as a result of the confiscation of the properties of invalid and old-age pensioners and their relatives ?
– There has been no confiscation of the nature suggested by the honorable senator.
– (3) Is it. a fact that Mr. W. A. Watt, an ex-Treasurer of a Federal Government, has been appointed to the board of directors of an aerial company known as Australian Empire Airways Limited? (2) Is it a fact’ that this company is an Australian subsidiary company of British Imperial Airways, and that a large parcel of fully paid-up shares in the above-mentioned company is held by British Imperial Airways, the owners and controllers of the air liner Astraea? (3) Is it a fact that the other directors of Australian Empire Airways Limited are Sir Thomas Rainsford Bavin, M.L.A., New South Wales, Mr. F. J. Smith, and Mr. A. E. Rudder? (4) Is Mr. Rudder identical with the Australian representative and an employee of Imperial Airways Limited?
– The honorable senator’s questions relate not to the business of any government department, but to the constitution of a private company, and it does not appear to me that the Government is called upon to make inquiry into the affairs of a private company.
– (1) What aerial routes in Australia are being worked by a company known as the Australian Empire
Airways Limited? Where are their factories and aerodromes, if any, in Australia, and is the above-mentioned company a tenderer for tho AustraliaSingapore aerial mail route? (2) When do the tenders for this service close.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.(J.) I am not aware that the company referred to is operating any air service in Australia at the present time. (2) The company could not be a tenderer for any such service, because tenders have not yet been called.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following answers tn the honorable senator’* questions: - ,
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Ministerrepresenting the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
In view of the reports of acute distress prevailing amongst Australian citrus-growers, will the Government assist the growers by a direct bounty on the exportable crop, on the basis of 2s. per export case at the ship’s side; if not, why not?
– A statement on this subject was made in the Senate last night.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
What were the administrative costs in connexion with this matter -
– The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follow: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice -
– The Minister for Repatriation has supplied the following answers to the honorable senator’s questions : -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.On the 5th July, Senator Dunn asked the following questions, upon notice -
Is it a fact that there are oil-skin coats to the value of £2,500 in store for naval purposes at the Royal Australian Naval Stores, Pyrmont, Sydney?
If so, is it not a fact that the abovementioned Government stores are useless and worthless ?
Are they shown in the yearly stocktaking lists as sound stock?
Are oil-skin coats being bought without tenders being called for?
Will the Minister call for an inquiry into the transactions with the merchant firms supplying oil-skins for Government use, resident both in England and Australia?
I am now in a position to inform the honorable senator as follows: -
No. Oil-skin coats to the value of £263 only are in store.
No; but some of these garments may have becometacky in stock and be in need of reproofing before issue.
No. Nor have any purchases of this article been effected during the past two years.
This is not considered to be necessary.
Appointment of Machinists
– On the 6th July, Senator Dunn asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General the following questions, upon notice -
The following information has been supplied by the Public Service Board of Commissioners : -
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 6th July (vide page 2930).
Group 5. - Amendments made by the present Government which are supported by Tariff Board reports.
Item 219, sub-items (a.) (b) (c) -
Tools of trade for the use of artisans and mechanics, and tools in general use - ,
Upon which Senator J. B. Hayes had moved -
That the House of Representatives be requested to make the duties, sub-items a and b, British, ad valorem, 10 per cent., general, 35 per cent.
– I have had an opportunity to examine closely the request moved by Senator J. B. Hayes, and its effect upon these sub-items. As the same principle is involved in other items still to come beforethe committee, I think it desirable to state what is being done in an attempt to afford some security to manufacturers and importers. Subitem c, which immediately follows the two sub-items in respeet of which thehonorabie senator has proposed a request, ia the operative sub-item. At present, should a manufacturer represent to the Minister that he is making tools admitted under by-law, the Minister can, of his own volition, include such tools in sub-item b, which is a drag-net provision in which tools removed from subitem c would ordinarily be included. That is not a scientific method, and it is one that it unfair to both manufacturers and importers. A case may be made out to the Minister controlling the department, or to the departmental head, that may appear so convincing that goods being admitted under by-law may be included into a dutiable class to the detriment of those immediately concerned. Having regard to the fact that the Government and the department are reviewing all the articles now admitted under by-law, I trust that the honorable senator will not press his request. The departmental officials are quite definite in their opinion that some should be admitted free; but there are others which will be dealt with in whatever way is considered best. To deal with this intricate problem in a haphazard fashion would be embarrassing to importers and to manufacturers. Although the present arrangement may appear unsatisfactory to primary pro-‘ ducers, the inquiry which the department has in hand should overcome the difficulty. At present, spades are admitted under by-law, but shovels are on the dutiable list. There must be a good reason for that.
– The users of such tools do not know whether they are, or are not, admitted under by-law.
– That is a difficulty that the department is anxious to remove. Importers and manufacturers should know exactly where they stand.
I shall have to oppose the honorable senator’s request, because the whole matter is being dealt with by the department, and because it is impracticable to deal with it as he proposes when so many interests are affected. There are many points which I would willingly concede to the honorable senator, but, if the honorable senator’s request was adopted, goods would be imported to the detriment of manufacturing industries in this country. The department proposes to suggest that tools admitted under bylaw, which are not being manufactured in Australia, should be included in the schedule, if British, free, and under the general tariff at 15 per cent. Goods not manufactured in Australia will be admitted under by-law wherever practicable. I am sure honorable senators wish the department to be conducted with as little disturbance as possible, and if my suggestion is adopted, that will be facilitated. Senator Rae referred to certain tools of trade which, if admitted free of duty, would have a very disturbing effect upon some branches of industry. In doubtful cases, the Tariff Board will examine the whole position, and decide whether the articles should be admitted free under by-law or be included in the schedule at specified duties. No fewer than 365 kinds of machines are so included in group 7, and admitted free of duty, because they are not manufactured in Australia. In view of all the circumstances, the department should determine which articles should be admitted under by-law, and which should be included in the schedule. Any doubtful cases will be referred to the Tariff Board. The present system should be altered, but the refining method, as it is termed in the department, should not be undertaken hurriedly, owing to the risk of interference with the activities of certain industries; The list of goods admitted free under by-law includes scores of different sorts of tools. A number of those tools to which the honorable senator referred are undoubtedly admitted free under by-law; but after investigation, may be embodied in the schedule. I ask the honorable senator not to press his request which, if adopted, would be embarrassing to the department, and have a disturbing influence upon trade. The honorable senator can rest assured that unless there is real evidence that they can be manufactured here they will be included in the schedule. If a prima facie case is made out that goods ‘ can be economically manufactured in Australia, an inquiry is conducted by the Tariff Board to determine the position. Any one making such a request would have to satisfy the Minister and the departmental officers that the manufacture of such goods could be economically undertaken in Australia. If any manufacturer considers that he has a good case for tariff protection he should run the gauntlet of the Tariff Board. Surely this method of dealing with these items is better than the loose method adopted in the past. This is one of many items which we shall have to consider from that aspect as we proceed with the schedule, and it. is the first that up to the present has been refined - as the term is - by the Customs Department. It is extraordinary that an honorable senator so well equipped as is Senator Rae did not know that tools of trade entered this country free. It is therefore high time that the true position should be fully set out in the tariff.
– I should not have risen to speak had it not been for the remarks of Senator J. B. Hayes. Let me point out to him that the majority of bush workers are employed by shire councils or municipalities, which supply the tools of trade.
– The councils have to pay for those tools of trade.
– The honorable senator stated previously that the employees had to pay for tools of trade, such as shovels.
– Only in certain instances.
– I made a careful note of the honorable senator’s remarks, and he stated definitely ‘that the workers have to pay for tools of trade. On the north coast of New South Wales, where Crown lands have recently been opened up, shire councils have let out the work of road-making to various contractors. Some of the contractors, who are operating in a big way, have sub-let portions of the work. In most instances, the contractors supply tools of trade to the subcontractors, but occasionally the subcontractors, consisting of from six to twelve men, have to buy their own longhandle shovels. Eut bar jumpers, crowbars, and wedges, which are forged from 3teel, and not made by mould, are manufactured by the shire councils and the municipalities in’ their workshops. The Minister has stated that tools of trade enter, this country free of duty, but I should like the manufacturers of Great Britain to receive preference over foreign manufacturers. Nearly all the tools of trade sold at the chain stores operating in every capital city, are of Gel-man origin. I have no wish to be vindictive towards the manufacturers of German or any other foreign country, but if we on this side are unable to obtain protection for the local manufacturer, we prefer to place the trade in the hands of the manufacturers of Sheffield and Birmingham.
– The German, importations of tools of trade are small.
– I have with me a statement, which reads -
Following the imposition of the rates introduced under resolution of 26th March, 1931, W. H. Plumb (Australia) Limited, decided to confine the whole of their activities to the manufacture of tools of trade. it is true that the Australian factories do not employ many artisans; but this is a subsidiary industry to the iron and steel and the coal industry, and therefore deserves every encouragement at our hands. The statement continues - lt is interesting to note that since the introduction of a higher tariff of 55 per cent. British preferential, 75 per cent. general tariff, the overseas manufacturers reduced the price of most lines, especially picks, as much as 25 per cent., thus proving that they were penalizing the Australian user when there was no internal competition. Since the introduction of this tariff the Australian manufacturers consistently improved their products, and have reduced prices of the numerous lines manufactured up to 50 per cent. Unfortunately their overseas competitors are endeavouring to retain the business by selling below the true domestic home value.
We know that vessels outward bound from Great Britain meet the British manufacturers more than half way with respect to the general charges for cargo. In addition, the British manufacturers have the advantage of lower wages and better working conditions, from their point of view, than those existing in Australia. The standard of living of the British worker is not so high as that of the Australian worker, and, therefore, the Australian manufacturer, compared with the British manufacturer, is at a disadvantage. That fact, I submit, is a strong argument in favour of protecting the Australian manufacturer. The statement to which I have already referred, continues -
There ure now some fifteen firms manufacturing tools of trade in New South Wales and Victoria, foremost amongst them being W. H. Plumb (Aus.) Limited, of Sydney, who employ CO hands to-day against eight two years ago, but to enable them to effectively secure the Australian . market, the duty on picks and mattocks, particularly, should be increased to 55 per cent. British, thus ensuring that these lines will be conserved for Australia. Another important factor in regard to tools of trades is that it is a subsidiary of the steel industry, which must be permanently established in Australia for our own protection. Efficiently equipped tool factories would be of inestimable value to Australia in time of war.
The Australian manufacturers seem to think that they are likely to strengthen their case by referring to the probability of war in the future. I do not know whether that argument carries any weight with the Tariff Board, but God forbid that we should become involved in any further wars. The statement continues -
Although the total value of picks imported in 1931-32 was £567, the imports for the first seven months of the current year are almost £1,100, representing over 17,000 pick heads (apart from mattocks), which represent a considerable amount of employment lost to Australia. Importation statistics do not yet show mattocks separately, and it is considered that the import of these tools is as great, ifnot greater, than picks.
Every precaution should bc taken to protect the primary producers’ home market, otherwise many factory employees would be forced to take the dole. While I have every desire to assist the primary producers, I hold that we should also give a fair deal to the secondary industries.
.- I thank the Minister for his clear explanation of the position with regard to tools of trade. I have no doubt as to his sincerity, and I agree with him that the matter is a most complex one. I have been studying the two items in the tariff schedule, and I have before me the Tariff Board’s report; but it is most difficult to dissect the various items. I think that the best course would be for the committee to accept my request for an amendment. We cannot draft legislation of this kind at the table; it is a matter for investigation by officers of the department after the request has been considered in another place. Senator Dunn referred to mattocks. Regarding them, the Tariff Board states -
As regards the ii-ib. mattock, which is an essential tool of trade used extensively in primary industries, more especially in the developmental stages, it was found on figures tendered to the board that in the case of a high-grade imported line the extent of protection required by the Australian manufacturer, with exchange at 30 per cent, and a primage duty of 10 per cent., was just on the horder line of the rate of 35 per cent, suggested by the board as the maximum rate.
On another line, however, the duly necessary was considerably in excess of that rate.
According to the board, it is necessary, in the case of one line, to have 75 per cent, protection, and, in another instance, to have a duty and other protection, such as primage and exchange, considerably in excess of 75 per cent. Can anybody justify such an absurd impost? The mattock is a common tool that every farmer and road man uses. There is every justification for sending duties such as this back to the other chamber.
– I have already said that mattocks, hooks, and another item have been referred again to the board.
– But the Parliament is now considering the tariff, and while the Tariff Board is a useful tribunal in giving advice, Parliament hag the responsibility of fixing the rates. When honorable senators go back to their constituents, they will not have much of an excuse for their action if they say that they have tentatively agreed to a protection of 75 per cent., made up of duty 35 per cent., primage 10 per cent., and exchange 30 per ‘ cent., because this matter is to be reconsidered by the Tariff Board, which originally came to the conclusion that that amount of duty was necessary.
– The transportation charges will amount to another 10 per cent.
– Of course. The board evidently took exchange into consideration. Its report states -
At present, the Australian manufacturer has the advantage of an exchange rate which represents an additional protection of 27* per cent, ad valorem, lt is, of course, generally hoped that the existing adverse exchange position will prove to be temporary. If, before the exchange reverts to more norma] conditions, the prices of iron and steel in Australia should full or if labour costs or other charges should be further reduced, then it should be possible for Australian manufacturers to continue the production of a considerable range of tools of trade without undue cost to the users. If, on the other hand, costs are still maintained, the board is of the opinion that the local production of those tools, which would require protection in excess of the rates suggested, namely, 35 per cent. (British preferential tariff), 40 per cent, (intermediate tariff) and 45 per cent, (general tariff), should be regarded as uneconomic.
The board is willing to recommend duties up to 40 per cent, and 50 per cent., plus exchange;, but it has said that higher rates than that would be uneconomic. In my opinion, the duties are uneconomic now, and I am afraid that I cannot withdraw my request. These tools should be admitted free in the interests of the primary producers and the workers.
– Why should not tools of trade for the use of artisans and mechanics, and tools in general use, be admitted free of duty? Instead of imposing duties of 35 per cent, and 45 per cent., subject to admissions tinder by-law, why not at least make the rates free and 20 per cent., or even 10 per cent, and 25 per cent’.? It seems to me that we see the operation of the by-law-making power at its very worst. ‘We have been shown page after page of items relating to things that have been admitted free. That harmonizes with my general view that such things should be free; but the principle on which the by-law power is operated is extremely dangerous and unsatisfactory.
– And fundamentally wrong.
– Yes. This is not even legislation by regulation. A regulation has to be laid on the table of both branches of the legislature, and may be disallowed by either House within a limited period. That means that a regulation, like a law, has to be passed by both Houses ; but these by-laws never come beforethe Parliament. We never see them, we know nothing of them, and we do not know who makes them. We do not know who is the moving power behind the persons who actually make them. They do not bear even the Minister’s signature. I quite admit that we have given this power under the customs law.
– It is almost essential to have this power, but it should be de-limited as much as possible. Every tariff in the world confers this power.
– I realize that it is necessary to grant some such powers that can be exercised in an emergency, but, in this instance, its exercise is part of the ordinary routine of the department. We have a tremendously long free list. A prospective, proposed, or alleged manufacturer goes to somebody and says, “ I am going to manufacture these goods “. He puts up a very strong ex parte case, but before whom? Neither the Minister nor the head of the department can hear it. It is referred to the officer who has a special knowledge of the matter, and he, I suppose, is the officer who makes the recommendation.
– Even the Tariff Board has no sayin the matter.
– That is correct. The matter may he referred to the board ; but, on the other hand, it may never be considered by the board. There is no legal requirement that it shall he sent to that tribunal.
– There are some doubtful items that will be sent back to the board for recommendations.
– The only legal requirement is that somebody shall recommend that an article be taken off the free list, and be placed under one of the items to which a duty applies. I do not make the slightest suggestion, innuendo, or insinuation against any officer; but, if this system does not lead sooner or later to corruption, we shall need to have administrations “ sea-green and incorruptible,” to borrow a phrase applied toRobespierre. Item 219 should be so altered that tools of trade for the use of artisans and mechanics, andtools in general use, should be admitted free, or even at the rate of 10 per cent. I attach great importance to the fact that the first per son whom this struck as being utterly incongruous, was Senator Eae. Senator Dunn has referred to W. H. Plumb Australia Limited. I do not know where they are established, but I have received communications from them. Their aspiration is to secure the whole of the Australian market; in other words, they seek a monopoly; and a monopoly is not the same as protection. There is always the natural protection which is afforded by distance. Those who seek duties ought to be compelled to furnish some proof of their bona fides before the Tariff Board is asked to investigate the matter.
– Honorable senators appear to think that the alteration desired may be made merely by a stroke of the pen. It took four months of intensive work to reach the stage at which metals and machinery items in group 7 could be taken out of the category of bylaw admissions and included in the tariff. The object of the Government is to have the tariff founded on a definite principle. During the term of office of our predecessors, Ministers felt that they were being unduly pressed by requests for the admission or exclusion of items under the by-law power. That pressure is constant in the department, and as a matter of self-defence and sound administration the Minister has approved, and the department has determined, wherever possible, to have such items placed in the tariff. Once that is done, they cannot be removed without the sanction of Parliament, and no greater security than that can be given. Proper administration necessitates an elastic provision of some sort in every customs tariff. Senator Brennan, like myself, feels that the underlying principle is wrong; but it can be eliminated onlyup to a certain point. Senator J. B. Hayes does not draw a distinction between the tools specified in sub-items a and b, notwithstanding /the fact that the Tariff Board, which examined the position quite recently, has spoken in no uncertain voice concerning those in sub-item a. At page 16 of its report, the board makes the following statement : -
The Tariff Board is satisfied thatthe tools produced by Patience and Nicholson Limited are of a high standard, and that the company, by developing on efficient lines, has now placed itself in a position to meet the general requirements of the Commonwealth in the tools under consideration.
The tools there referred to are those that come under sub-item a. The board goes on tosay -
In this connexion, evidence was given that the company is now making and stocking over 2,000 different lines.
Yet Senator J. B. Hayes would reduce from 45 per cent. to 10 per cent. the duty on such’ lines. Any tools that are not made in Australia are admitted free. The report continues -
The evidence is clear that the company has not taken advantage of the protection hitherto afforded under the customs tariff in fixing its selling prices, but that as its output has increased, and costs of production have as a result become lower, it has reduced its selling prices. In this way the local industry has rendered a service to the community.
The honorable senator proposes what I consider would be a dangerous course to take. This is not a matter that may be settled in five minutes.
– A month would elapse before the House of Representatives had to deal with it.
– Is this merely political propaganda on the part of the honorable senator ?
– It is not. I object to such a charge being levelled at me.
– Then what is the reason for the honorable senator’s action? Are we to play battledore and shuttlecock with such an item ? I am as sincere as the honorable senator in my desire to have some scientific method of dealing with these things. I realize that he has made out a case in regard to some tools. He has asked how he may justify the duties to bis constituents. I say that the only frank, fair and just way of dealing with the matter is to refer it to the Tariff Board.
– I do not intend to rely on the Tariff Board.
– The honorable senator should tell his constituents freely, frankly, and honestly, what the Tariff Board has said concerning the tools specified in sub-item a.
– I shall repeat what I told them before - that the duties are too high.
– The honorable senator is taking a course that may involve in a certain measure of distress people who, according to the Tariff Board, have rendered a service to the community. The board goes on to say -
Owing to the nature of the tools now in question, the overseas freight on them is relatively low. The local manufacturers do not, therefore, enjoy such a high measure of natural protection as is enjoyed by the manufacturers of other tools dealt with herein. While the board can see no justification for increasing the duty on stocks, dies and taps to the extent proposed in Tariff Resolutions of 19th June, 1930, and 26th March, 1931, it considers that in order to safeguard the local industry against the possibility of detrimental competition from the continental tools already referred to herein, some increase in the rates provided in the Customs Tariff,1921-1930 is justified. It is considered that, having regard to the relative quality of the locally-made and continental tools, rates of 45 per cent. British preferential tariff, 55 per cent, intermediate tariff, and 60 per cent. general tariff shouldbe sufficient. Such rates are accordingly recommended in respect of all screwing tools other than those coming within the definition of machinery.
I asked the honorable senator last night to confine his request to sub-item b, but he has declined to do so. I cannot carry the matter further than to say that my promise, that there would be a further dissection, is being fulfilled. The honorable senator’s method is a haphazard one. What chance would there be of recasting the item by the time that the House of Representatives had to deal with it, seeing that three or four months were occupied on the other task to which I have referred, which was comparatively simple ?
– On that basis, this would take twenty years.
– I would sooner it took a little time, than that any injustice should be done. The reference of the matter to the Tariff Board, where any doubt exists, is consistent with the policy that has been adopted throughout. I do not say that because an individual professes capability to manufacture a certain article, the Tariff Board should necessarily inquire into the project. Hundreds of items that are now admitted under by-law can be included in the tariff almost immediately; hut there is a number of others, some of which may fall under sub-item a or sub-item b, in respect of which such a course cannot be adopted, and it is those that we desire to safeguard. I ask honorable senators to reject the request.
– The Minister has made out a very reasonable case for the -refusal of the committee to settle this matter by what may be termed a block vote. My name has been mentioned in this debate, and I wish to make it plain that I do not desire the free admission of tools that can readily be made in this country at a reasonable price. The tools that I referred to, and which the Minister assured me last night are on the free list, can be manufactured only at considerable outlay, and by the continuous application of skill. In addition, they are tools for which the market is not sufficiently large to demand factory production in this country; that is to say, they cannot be produced economically. Only on that ground would I press for their free admission. That is in conformity with the sentiment that the reform which the Minister has foreshadowed should be effected, namely, that as far as possible, the articles now admitted under by-law should be incorporated in the tariff, so that Parliament may have control over them in the future. But I should like the Minister to make it clear that these incorporations will be continuous.
– That is the intention : to take them out of the by-law provision, and put them into the tariff. If the honorable senator will look at the end of group 7, he will find an instance where that has been done.
– It is amazing that some of the tools that have been mentioned in this debate are not made in Australia. Tools may be divided into two classes, those of a simple nature, such as mattocks or picks, and those whose manufacture requires great skill, for instance, saws. While I do not profess to be a blacksmith, I could, if given the material, make a mattock, which, while not being elegant in workmanship, would do effectively the job required of it. It should not require elaborate machinery or a great deal of organizing skill to establish a factory to manufacture simple tools such as wedges or picks. I realize that the making of cross-cut, tenon, panel, hand, or rip saws is quite a different matter, requiring a well-equipped and up-to-date factory, and a large market to enable mass production to be undertaken, otherwise the cost would be prohibitive. Though our industrial system is not yet. extensive enough to warrant the establishment of a factory to manufacture saws, simple tools such as crow-bars, wedges, and mauls, could easily be manufactured in Australia in sufficient quantities to satisfy local requirements. While I favour a reasonable duty on imported tools, I consider that every encouragement should be given to local industry to manufacture tools of a simple pattern, which are extensively used. I know that an Australian patented a shovel that was peculiarly adapted for the coal-mining industry, but long-handled shovels are not yet made in Australia, and they are expensive to purchase.
– I do not understand the need for subitem a. After all, screwing tools represent only one class of implement used by artisans and mechanics, numerous other varieties being covered by sub-item3 n and c. However, as the item .is set out, there may be some- justification for the recommendation of the Tariff Board, although the duties appear to be high.
I cannot follow the reasoning either of the Government or of the Tariff Board in connexion with sub-item b, which provides ad valorem duties, British, 35 per cent. ; and general, 55 per cent., on hand tools wholly or principally of metal, n.e.i. Who is to decide whether a tool is wholly or partly made of metal ?
– There is no trouble in deciding that.
– Perhaps not, to one so exceptionally gifted as Senator Collings, but who is .to determine whether a chisel, which frequently contains more wood than metal, is “wholly or principally of metal “ ?
– Possibly the specific gravity is the governing factor.
– Or perhaps each part is weighed; but who is .to decide the problem?
– The honorable senator has chosen an unfortunate illustration, because carpenters’ tools are admitted free.
– I have not had the opportunity to go through the thirteen pages of by-laws which deal with free admissions. I am told that there are more than’ 2,700 by-laws, and I have not the time to memorize them as Senator Collings appears to have done. If I want information I have to go to the Trade and Customs Department or some one else.
– Or listen to tie Minister.
– When I do, I obtain a great deal more information than is obtainable by listening to Senator Collings. The Minister said that once these items are put into the tariff, no alteration can be made unless it is done by Parliament. I seem to have some faint idea that I have seen schedules placed on the table of this chamber which came into operation next day, although they were not validated until two years later. Although I do not intend to support the request that has been made in regard to screwing tools, I am prepared to support that which relates to hand-tools, wholly or principally .of metal.
– The important issue that has been raised by this discussion, and has been dealt with in part by Senator Brennan and Senator J.- B Hayes, draws attention to a rather full discussion of the whole subject of by-laws which is incorporated in the report of the Tariff Board of the 14th October, 1932, dealing with machines and machinery, n.e.i. The opinions that were then expressed are largely applicable to the item that we are now discussing, and as the report qualifies several points that have been raised by Senator Brennan, perhaps I may be allowed briefly to quote from it. The following extract is taken from page 7: -
During the current year, the. board has held several inquiries into the question of duty on various classes of machinery, and a.t nearly every one of these inquiries, the matter of the administration of the by-law provisions of tariff item 174 has been the subject of criticism by witnesses. The board is impressed with the need for a serious alteration in the existing procedure; and considers that some method should be evolved which will impose the least possible burden on purchasers of equipment absolutely necessary for the economic development of Australian industries, and which will at the same time provide proper protection to local machinery manufacturers against the importation of the large and varied range of machines and appliances that are being well made in Australia and sold at reasonable prices.’
The board found that the consideration of all such requests took up a great deal of its time, and recommended that the Tariff Board Act be so amended that it would be optional with the Minister too refer such requests instead of obligatory. The act was so amended in 1029, and during the last three years, only three questions regarding the admission of goods under by-laws have been dealt with by the board, compared with an average of over 700 per annum in the three years prior to 1920.
These matters have been dealt with by the Minister, who has been guided by the recommendations of his administrative officers.
– It is a tremendous responsibility and burden on a Minister.
– I agree. I said last night that it is throwing an altogether unfair responsibility on the Minister, and a tremendous lot of work, some of it unnecessary, on his officers. One of the recommendations of the amendment moved by Senator J. B. Hayes is that, instead of putting these officers to the trouble of working for 40 years to clarify the position, the matter can be immediately adjusted by a vote in this chamber and elsewhere.
– If the honorable senator will examine page 110 of the schedule, he will see where effect has been given to the recommendations of the board.
– I am aware of that, but that does not apply to the items that we are discussing. The report to which I have referred goes on to say, and with this honorable senators must willingly agree -
There has been no suggestion that the officers of the department have reported unfairly the results of their investigations, or that the administrative officers, in making recommendations, or the Minister in arriving at decisions, have been other than fair and impartial. The same spirit of fairness has not, unfortunately, been characteristic of the applicants for by-law concessions, nor of the interests opposing the concessions. In its annual report tor the year ended 30th June, 1928, the Tariff Board, in referring to some requests, stated -
Cases not infrequently come before the board in which Australian manufacturers, without, in the opinion of the board, any justification, seek admission under bylaw at concessional rates of duty of plant or materials which other Australian manufacturers are quite capable of satisfactorily supplying on a commercial basis, and, in some instances, at a lower price than that of the imported article.
That indicates the treatmentwhich manufacturers sometimes mete out to their fellow manufacturers. I am not here to regard the matter entirely from their point of view; but that is instructive as showing the attitude of certain manufacturers when their own interests are concerned. The report proceeds -
R.D. Westmore, who tendered evidence on behalf of the Joint Committee for Tariff Revision, New South Wales, contended that the changes in the permanent list could be made tooeasily, and suggested that the items now on the permanent list be incorporated in a new tariff item with rates similar to those applicable to Tariff Item 174. In this connexion, he stated: -
Neither importer nor buyer, both of whom are Australian operating with Australian capital and employing Australian labour, know where they stand for 24 hours.
Dealing with temporary by-laws the board stated -
The position as regards machines and appliances the subject of temporary by-laws, is much more difficult, and the board has evidence that the present system is viewed with disfavour both by local machinery manufacturers and importers. It is recognized that frivolous requests for by-law exemptions have, from time to time, been made by users of machinery, and also that frivolous objections have been raised to the by-law exemption of certain machines not commercially producible in Australia. But ignoring these cases, the board has found that, in many instances, complaints from either one or both sides have been justified. . . . The board considers that the continuance of the practice of issuing temporary or “ one-day “ by-laws for the exemption of certain machines from duty is unavoidable, but that the necessity for such special by-laws will be diminished if the permanent by-law list is increased.
Naturally, if we make all the by-laws permanent, there will be no need for temporary by-laws.
– It is difficult to cover everything.
– I recognize that; but it is useful to place on record what the Tariff Board has said on this subject. The report goes on -
The exemption of such machines from full duty would involve some loss of revenue, but the need for lower costs of production in Australia is so vital to the progress of our secondary industries and the re-employment of dismissed workers that, in the opinion of the board, the revenue aspect should be disregarded when requests for admission of machines under by-laws are being considered. One serious objection to the present method of dealing with applications for by-law exemptions is that the question whether a machine of Australian manufacture is comparable with the imported article may be decided by persons who have not the necessary technical knowledge. While in many instances the decision may present little difficulty there are numerous cases to the contrary.
The board considers that cases in dispute should be referred to an independent authority for advice, and that such authority be given the power to engage the services of competent engineers when considered necessary.
This report is an authoritative statement on the subject of by-laws, and reveals some of the disadvantages of the system. I make no apology for thus bringing under notice the difficulties experienced by every one - the Minister, the department, the manufacturers, and the importers - in connexionwith the working of departmental by-laws, whether permanent or temporary.
– Having regard to what the Minister has said, I consent to withdraw my request in respect to sub-item a. The articles I had in mind are, I am assured, covered by sub-item b, and I adhere to my request that that sub-item be amended.
Request - by leave - withdrawn.
Request (by Senator J. B. Hayes) proposed -
That the House of Representatives be requested to make the duties, sub-item (b), ad valorem British, 10 per cent. ; general, 35 per cent.
SenatorREID (Queensland) [12.36]. - I know of one case in Sydney in which there seems to be no doubt that corruption was practised. When first I was informed of the occurrence, I was doubtful whether such a thing could take place, but I am now convinced that this incident actually happened. Two. merchants in Sydney were importing and selling the same articles. Some trouble was experienced in getting the goods admitted.
One merchant eventually got his consignment through the customs, while the other’s was still held up. Upon making inquiries, the second man was tolddisrinctly that, if he advanced a certain sum of money, the business would be arranged. He had always carried on his business honestly, and now he was in a quandary. He took two or three days to consider the matter, but, as his competitor was selling the goods on the market, and he himself would be ruined if he were unable to do the same, he paid the money asked, andhisconsignment was admitted. I do not know whether this was done under a by-law or not, but I know that it was done, and I have been given to understand that this was not an isolated case. In this instance, an honest trader was driven to do something he had never done before. The incident did not occur during the present administration.
– The honorable senator has made a serious charge.
SenatorRELD. - It is true. One corrupt Minister or departmental officer can lower the customs administration in the eyes of the public. I am not making a charge against the whole Customs Department of being open to accept bribes ; this incident occurred in Sydney. If anything can be done by tightening up the legislation to prevent the possibility of such occurrences, it should be done.
SenatorCOLLINGS(Queensland) [12.42]. - I purposely refrained from taking part in the debate this morning, and I did not obtrude myself overmuch yesterday. It seems to me that a tremendous amount of talking is being done without getting us anywhere. If I could make myself believe that there is a deliberate attempt to waste time, I should accept the challenge, and we on this side could hold the tariff up until Christmas.
I should not have risen now but for the very serious statement which Senator Reid has just made. I have known SenatorReid for a. great part of my life, and I feel sure that he would not make a statement of that kind in this chamber if he had the slightest doubt as to its truth. I am convinced that he himself believed it to be true. SenatorReid should go a little further. The fact that the incident did not take place during the life of the present Administration does not matter. Whatever government was in power at the time, we can, I think, take it for granted that the Government knew nothing of it. The customs administration goes on all the time, no matter what government is in power. For twenty years, in the capacity of a customs clerk, I had an intimate acquaintance with customs work. While acting on behalf of my employers, I came up against some extremely difficult and intricate problems, but never once did I see any attempt to solve them by any means other than referring them for decision to the unbiased and expert officials whose work it was to make determinations.
I was pleased to hear the Minister’s statement that, in future, the use of by-law admission would be minimized, and that articles which hitherto have been so admitted would, as far as possible, be placed on the permanent tariff.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Some observations, which I regret fell from the lips of Senator.Reid, prior to the adjournment, may be construed as a reflection upon officers of the Customs Department, who, as the honorable senator is aware, are not in a position to defend themselves. I should, therefore, like to know whether the honorable gentleman intended his remarks to be taken as reflecting on their integrity.
SenatorREID (Queensland) [2.16].- I said this morning that I did not know through whom the business was worked. Therefore, I was not casting a reflection upon any particular officer of the department. All I know is that the incident took place. I said that I was not making a general charge against customs officials, but that, if there was a black sheep among them, he might defame them all. If I knew the officer against whom the allegation might lie, I would let the Minister know, but I did not make inquiries.
– We are all pleased to have an assurance from the Minister in charge of the bill (Senator McLachlan) that the practice of permitting admission under departmental by-laws will be reduced to a minimum, and that in future, where possible, there will be specific provision in the tariff. I had considerable experience in clearing goods through the customs in my earlier years, and I know how exceedingly difficult is the work of departmental officers who, in my opinion, are highly efficient. In Brisbane, I knew the personnel of the department for about ‘twenty years, and I fully appreciated their difficulties. Although, in some cases, there were annoying delays, the fault could not wholly be attributed to departmental officers. During the whole of my dealings with the department, I never heard anything of the nature mentioned by Senator Reid this morning.
– I suggest that as the Minister has said that the statement made by Senator Reid could not be allowed to pass, and that an inquiry will be made, no good purpose will be served by further reference to the matter.
– I did not hear Senator Reid’s statement; but I understand that his allegation of irregular practices, amounting to a charge of bribery, related to the regime of the previous Administration.
– I understood the statement to refer to some other administration.
– If that is so, on behalf of my colleagues in the Scullin Administration, I hasten to say that we shall welcome an investigation.
– The statement made by Senator Reid was clearly a definite charge of bribery and corruption, and should be investigated.
– Is this the proper time to discuss the matter? There will be ample opportunity on another occasion. I feel it my duty to bring the remarks of Senator Reid under the notice of the Minister for Trade and Customs so that he may take action proper in the circumstances.
SenatorCOLLINGS (Queensland) [2.22]. - I am entirely in agreement with the Minister with reference to the request submitted by Senator J. B. Hayes, and suggest that the honorable gentleman would be doing the right thing if he withdrew his proposal until such time as further arrangements have been made, as indicated by the
Minister. The whole trouble is one of classification. At present we hardly know what we are debating. If the request is withdrawn, and the discussion allowed to stand over until the arrangements of the department have been completed, we are likely to arrive at a more satisfactory conclusion. If we vote on this sub-item now it is possible, as the Minister has pointed out, that we may do serious harm to an Australian industry that is making a genuine effort to manufacture all these tools of trade.
– I understood Senator J. B. Hayes to say, in an interjection, that no matter what arguments the Minister might advance, he and those who are supporting his requested amendment are determined to bring about a reduction of the duties. Personally, I do not think that is quite fair. We should decide all these matters on principles of right and justice. In the earlier part of my life I worked as an engineer’s pattern-maker using tools of every description, and whenever we applied for an award we always took into account the cost of our tools of trade. I understand that, in the various States, members of the carpenters union or other industrial organizationswho use tools, always include in their claims before the court the cost of the tools used by them with a view to getting a slightly higher award to offset the cost of tools. There has been a certain amount of sentimental talk during this tariff discussion about the interests of farmers. Senator J. B. Hayes has urged that fern hooks, mattocks, grubbers and other similar implements, being the farmers’ tools of trade, should be admitted duty free. He might, with equal force, argue that tractors and heavy farm machinery are also primary producers’ tools of trade, and should also be admitted free. Then, carrying the argument a little further, he might plead for the free admission of raw materials required in secondary industries that manufacture farm implements. The honorable senator’s contention reminds me of the reasoning employed by a man who, as the result of several matrimonial adventures in which he failed to observe the law of consanguinity, was able to prove that he was his own grandfather. We on this side support protection, not because of our regard for manufacturers, but because we believe it is essential, and in the best interests of the Commonwealth, to encourage the extension of Australian industries which give employment to Australian workmen. Therefore, we contend that, if tools of trade are being manufactured in Australia at a reasonable cost, the industry engaged in making them should have adequate protection. Personally, in order to encourage Australian industries, I have always been prepared to pay a little more, not only for tools of trade, but for . any other requirement that is made in Australia. Only by a general observance of this rule can we hope to become independent of overseas sources and unaffected by those periodical crises which work great havoc in other countries. With regard to the statement made by SenatorReid, 1 am glad to know that the Minister has said that an inquiry will be made. The statement was grossly unfair to officials of the Trade and Customs Department.
Question - That the request (Senator j. B. Hayes’) be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Senator the Hon. Herbert Hays.)
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Sub-items agreed to.
Item 220, sub-item (b) -
Traps, viz.: -
– I move -
That the House of Representatives be requested to make the duties, ad valorem, British, free; general, 25 per cent.
Rabbit traps were inquired into by the Tariff Board in December last. Three firms operating in the neighbourhood of Sydney applied for an increase of duties, and the application was opposed by, amongst others, a representative of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, the Graziers Association of New South Wales, the Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, the Producers Advisory Council, the Fruit-growers Federation of New South Wales, and theRetail Traders . Association of New South Wales. The board recommended an increase of duties. Although two of the three applicant firms commenced manufacturing only since 1929, the board made no reference to the number of persons employed in the industry;, therefore, one may assume that the number is not large. These duties have increased with the years. Up to 1921, the rates were - British free, general 10 , per cent. ; from 1921 onwards, 20 per cent., 25 per cent., and 30 per cent. ; and from. 1929 onwards, 45 per cent. 55 per cent., and 60 per cent., or 10s., 15s., 15s. a dozen. The Tariff Board in its last report recommended duties of 45 per cent. and 65 per cent., but particularly emphasized that there was no need to continue the alternative specific duties. I ask the Minister to explain why, despite that recommendation, an alternative fixed rate of 5s. is imposed in the schedule. The evidence showed that the bulk of the English traps being manually forged instead of machine-made are heavier than the Australian, and therefore more substantial. The representative of one of the English manufacturers mentioned that the firm’s only markets were
Australia and New Zealand. To deprive the firm of one, of its two markets, as these proposed duties undoubtedly will, would be harsh treatment. In regard to the cost of rabbit traps, one of the witnesses in opposition to an increase of duties stated -
Under existing conditions the cost of importation of English traps ranges from120½ per cent. to 169 per cent. on a product essential to the primary producer.
The Tariff Board reported -
The selling price to the trade of the Australianmade trap exceeds the landed cost duty free par exchange of the cheapest heavier type British trap by only 44 per cent., but it exceeds the corresponding landed cost of the “Star and Crescent” (light British trap) by 53 per cent.
One witness pointed out that the “Star and Crescent “ trap, being particularly light, is little used for rabbits, but is used for the trapping of opossums. The representative of one Australian manufacturer said -
The present selling price is 10s. below the company’s cost ofproduction when it commenced to manufacture. . . .
Owing to improved methods of manufacture the cost per dozen for labour is almost as low as that in the associated English company’s factory. …
If that be so, where is the need for this outrageously high protection? The Tariff Board clearly realized that there were two sides to the question, for it said -
The demand for rabbit traps is a varying one, depending on a number of factors, the more important of which are -
The amount of unemployment in other industries, as rabbit-trapping is a means by which unemployed seek to obtain a livelihood.
The board fully realizes the importance of cheap and efficient rabbit traps, particularly in view of the existing menace of rabbit plagues and the large amount of unemployment at present.
Further, the board said “local manufacturers are efficient; consumers are not penalized by reason of local manufacture.” How it came to that conclusion in the light of the evidence is beyond my comprehension.
It is. generally known that, owing to the general lack of employment, an increasing number of men have sought to earn a living by catching rabbits. On this sub ject, the Canberra Times of the 13th June said -
Rush to Buy Traps. many stores sell out.
The recent rise in the price of rabbit skins has resulted in a large number of unemployed turning to trapping, and as a result, according to the Department of Labour and Industry, stores in some country districts have sold out of their stocks of traps and a request has been made to manufacturers to speed up production.
The Department states that the price of rabbit carcases has risen from 4d. to 6d. per pound and skins from ls.6d. to 2s. per pound, and in many smaller centres, the number of dole recipients has fallen below 10.
So popular has the trapping become, that about 50 men have left Sydney daily during the past week for the country districts. Each man received assistance from the Department and carries with him 50 traps. A batch of 50 men left again to-day.
A sum of £50,000 has been made available to the Department for the purpose of rabbit destruction.
The Department states that the freezing works at Forbes has placed an order for 1,000,000 carcases.
I quote also from the Sunday Sun of the 25th June a reference to the Stevens Government re-employment scheme -
A feature of the New South Wales Government’s re-employment scheme in the past year has been its efforts to assist men out of jobs to turn a pest - the rabbits - to profit.
Up to May 31 last, 12,000,000 rabbit carcases, estimated to be worth more than £300,000, and 5,000,000 lb. of rabbit-skins, valued at £218,000 were exported from the State.
The Government assisted trappers to purchase equipment and now in many country centres, owing to the trapping, there are no unemployed, while in others numbers have been materially reduced.
A large number’ of men who have been out of work and in receipt of the dole have been able to obtain temporary employment trapping rabbits. In many districts of Australia the same thing is going on. I myself have lent rabbit traps to men who had not sufficient traps of their own. Notwithstanding the shortage of rabbit traps, there is this ridiculously high tariff, which prevents unemployed men, in receipt of the dole, from obtaining healthy employment, and, at the same time, from assisting to keep down a pest which has caused agriculturists and pastoralists severe losses. On those two scores alone, there is ample justification for a substantial reduction of the duties. One witness before the Tariff Board said that his company carried sufficient stocks to meet . a sudden demand. It would appear that witnesses are in the habit of saying such things. If ample supplies of rabbit traps were available, why were the manufacturers asked to speed up production? Another Australian witness suggested that the British preferential duty should be 45 per cent., with a general tariff ‘rate in accordance with the Ottawa agreement. Apparently, that witness would interpret the Ottawa agreement by making the duty on British goods as high as possible, with a still higher duty on foreign goods. If we are to apply the principle underlying the Ottawa agreement in one case, we should apply it to all the items in the schedule. The following statement in the Tariff Board’s report, which was issued after the termination of the Ottawa Conference, appears to be a breach of the agreement made at Ottawa. v
The fact that Australian manufacturers secured only 40 per cent, to 50 per cent, of the market prior to 1929 indicates that the rates of duty provided under the Customs Tariff 1921-30, viz., 20 per cent. British preferential tariff, and 30 per cent, general tariff, were not adequate to enable them to take full advantage of the market open to them.
I direct attention to article 10 of the Ottawa agreement which provides, inter alia, that -
Protective duties shall not exceed such a level as will give United Kingdom producers full opportunity of reasonable competition on the basis of the relative cost of economical and efficient production.
The machinery for putting that undertaking into operation is referred to in article 11. According to the Tariff Board, the old rates of duty were sufficient to secure to Australian manufacturers only from 40 per cent, to 50 per cent, of the market, and, therefore, it recommended practically a prohibitive measure of protection.
– The honorable senator has exhausted his time.
– All honorable senators will agree regarding the importance of maintaining sufficient supplies of rabbit traps to meet all requirements. The reason for the retention of the fixed rate of 55 in the general column is that, under the Ottawa agreement, the then existing margin of preference was to be maintained, even on items on which the duties were already substantial.
– Do the present duties provide for reasonable competition by producers in the United Kingdom ?
– We must adhere to the bargain made at Ottawa. Notwithstanding that the Tariff Board, in its- report, recommended the removal of the specific rates, the Government could not do that now, because of its undertaking to maintain the existing margin of preference in respect of fixed duties. The Government had to adopt, as a basis, the rates of duty in operation when the Ottawa agreement was negotiated.
– In order to maintain the margin, the ad valorem rata of duty under the general tariff has been increased.
– That is so; but ‘the agreement also provided that we should maintain the relative preference on fixed rates of duty.
– Could not the British preferential rate have been reduced ?
– It was impossible to do that in the case of rabbit traps where there is no alternative fixed rate in the British column. Just as we had to add the margin in the case of the ad valorem duties, so we had to maintain the old margin of 5s. on the fixed rates. There is, therefore, an alternative flat rate of 5s. in the general column, but no fixed rate in the British column. The proposed rates represent an increase of British, 25 per cent., and general, 35 per cent., or 5s. a dozen, on the 1921-30 tariff rates. Compared with the Scullin duties, they are lower by 10s. a dozen in the case of the specific rate under the British preferential tariff, but are 5 per cent, higher in the ad valorem rate under the general tariff. The ad valorem rates new proposed are based on the recommendation of the Tariff Board; but the fixed rate margin of 5s. a dozen, which was in existence at the time that the
Ottawa agreement was signed, has been maintained. This industry is one peculiarly suited to Australia. Evidence given before the Tariff Board shows that Australia, and New Zealand are practically the only markets in the world for rabbit traps. Local manufacturers are manufacturing efficiently, both wire spring and flat spring traps, and are capable of supplying the whole requirements of trappers. The raw material used is mainly Australian, and, consequently, the manufacture of rabbit traps in Australia provides indirect employment in other industries. For the year 192S-29, which was the year immediately preceding the imposition of the increased duties, 60 per cent. of the importations were purchased from the United States of America. , The principal American trap was the “ Victor,” which was then landing at 19s. 6d. per dozen. These traps are now being manufactured in Australia under licence, and the Australian manufacturers’ net price to-day is 15s. 7½d. c.i.f. main Australian ports, which is only 5d. per dozen more than the landed cost of the American trap to-day without duty, primage or exchange.
– It is not proposed to reduce the duty against the United States of America?
– The trade has developed with the United States of America rather than with the United Kingdom, which is not surprising, because the class of trap manufactured in the United Kingdom is too light for Australian conditions.
It will, therefore, be seen that, not only is the farmer or trapper able to purchase his traps to-day at a much lower price than he could prior to the imposition of the higher duties, but under present exchange conditions he is also benefited considerably by reason of local manufacture. The British manufacturers supply light and heavy traps. The light trap is sold at a much lower price than the heavier trap, and the duty necessary to bring this in line with the Australian price under normal exchange would be approximately 53 per cent. However, this trap represented only from 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. of the British traps imported. The other British traps are high-priced, and, when considering the Tariff Board’s report, the Government was notquite satisfied that the duties recommended by the board gave British manufacturers an opportunity of reasonable competition in accordance with article 10 of the United Kingdom and Australia trade agreement. The Tariff Board was accordingly requested to state its views on this aspect, and has replied that any lower duty would have the effect of increasing importations of the lighter trap to the detriment of the local industry. The whole of the facts placed before the Tariff Board, particularly in respect to reductions of prices, efficiency of local manufacturers, and ability of local manufacturers to supply all requirements with traps equal to any imported, shows that this industry is one which deserves every encouragement. I understand that prices are being maintained at a low level. The Tariff Board summarizes the position as follows : -
Theboard fully realizes the importance of cheap and efficient rabbit traps, particularly in view of the existing menace of rabbit plague and the large amount of unemployment at present. It considers, however, that the locally-produced traps are selling at very reasonable prices and that, for the following reasons, it will be in the best interests of the Commonwealth to grant it adequate protection, viz. : -
In this, as in other instances, the old argument is used: - “Why impose any duties ? The industry has been developed under lower duties than are in operation to-day”. Without prejudicing buyers, the board has endeavoured to reduce their costs, and at the same time to provide a means of using Australian material and of making employment available.
– If the industry was built up under a lower duty of 20 per cent., why was not that duty retained?
– Under a duty of 35 per cent. the United States of America exported to Australia practically double the quantity of traps that were imported from the United Kingdom. When I first read the report of the Tariff Board, I felt that, in recommending these duties, effect had not been given to the Ottawa agreement. This report was made before the board had any statutory reference with respect to the Ottawa agreement submitted to it, but, when the report was returned for further consideration, the board said that it gave effect to the decisions reached at Ottawa. This the Government also says.
– The Government, and not the Tariff Board, should decide whether that agreement is being observed.
– The appointment of a Tariff Board was supported by all political parties, and, although there may be doubt in the minds of some as to whether these duties imposed are in keeping with the Ottawa agreement, the board submits that they are.
– As rabbit traps are used almost entirely by those engaged in pastoral and agricultural pursuits, they should be admitted free of duty. There are three classes of vermin traps listed in the tariff schedule, namely, dog traps, rabbit traps, and vermin traps of other kinds, which include mouse and rat traps. The duties on dog traps are British, free; general, 10 per cent. ; and on rabbit traps, British 45 per cent., and general, 65 per cent., or 5s. a dozen. Other vermin traps, such as rat and mouse traps, are admitted free. As usual the city-dweller has preference under the tariff; he can obtain a rat or a mouse trap free of duty, but the men in the country who use rabbit traps imported from Great Britain have to pay a duty of 45 per cent.
– Rabbit traps are not sufficiently strong to be used for trapping dogs.
– Of course not. If mouse traps can be admitted free, why should not rabbit traps be admitted free instead of being dutiable at British, 45 per cent. and general, 65 per cent.
-Hughes. - Which is the greater pest, rabbits or mice?
– The greatest pest in Australia to-day is the rabbit. Dog traps and rabbit traps are used solely by those engaged in the pastoral and agricultural industries to rid their properties of vermin.
– The demand for dog traps would be insufficient to warrant the establishment of an industry.
– Yes. But the employment of a few dozen men making rabbit traps does not warrant the Government placing an unnecessary burden upon those engaged in pastoral and agricultural industries, as proposed under this sub-item. It should be the endeavour of the Government to assist in ridding Australia of these pests rather than to keep a few men employed in an industry making traps which are sold at a price rabbit-catchers cannot afford to pay. I am advised that English rabbit traps can be bought in England at, 7s. 6d. a dozen. Those engaged in rabbit-trapping, and in the pastoral industry, are entitled to obtain rabbit traps at the cheapest rate. I object to the preference that, in this instance, is being shoiwn to the city interests. If a duty is justified on rabbit traps, it should be justified on mouse, and rat traps which are used largely in the city, but under this tariff the city interests will gain an advantage at the expense of the country interests, particularly the grazing industry which is in urgent need of rabbit traps.
Senator Sir WALTER KINGSMILL (Western Australia) [3.6]. - I shall certainly support the request of Senator Duncan-Hughes for a variety of reasons, the principal one being that this duty of 45 per cent. is not in accordance with either the letter or the spirit of the Ottawa agreement. If the method which has been adopted is to bring about symmetry I do not think the Ottawa principle should be sacrificed for that.
– What principle is being sacrificed?
– The Minister alluded to the relative heights of the two rates of duty which he said it was necessary to maintain, but I have in mind an important article in the Ottawa agreement which states that no tariff shall be so high as to deny to
Great Britain an opportunity of reasonable competition. If this duty can be said to offer to Great Britain an opportunity of reasonable competition what must we think of the efficiency of our industries? In view of the many charges on British importations, and the great distance of Great Britain from Australia, it is a direct reflection upon our industries if we cannot make the duty on rabbit traps lower than 45 per cent. Furthermore, is not the preponderence of American imports an indication to both Australia and Great Britain that they should make better traps? As every rabbiter knows, there is a tremendous variation in the quality of traps. The aim of Australia should be to manufacture the best article, and that, I understand, is not being done at present.
– The Tariff Board states that the Australian article is better than the imported article.
Senator Sir WALTER KINGSMILL. - Then why the necessity for this tariff? The Australian article, if of the best quality, should find a ready sale. There must be a mistake somewhere, because the position is incompatible in every respect. At all events, we are engaged in a battle with the direst opponent that the pastoral and wheat-growing industries has ever encountered, and we should not sacrifice the interests of the country people in the interests of a few men employed in the manufacture of rabbit traps. That would not be fair either to Australia or to the United Kingdom. For those reasons, and because of the incompatibility of the arguments used in support of this high duty, I shall certainly vote for the request of Senator Duncan-Hughes.
– If the request that has been moved is carried this industry will be left in a hopeless plight, because when the foreign duty was 30 per cent. during the’ regime of the Bruce-Page Government, the United States of America swamped the Australian market. With a foreign duty of 25 per cent., as is now proposed by Senator Duncan-Hughes, the British manufacturer would be unable to compete with the manufacturer pf the United States of America. At first sight these duties do appear to be a violation of the Ottawa agreement. It was recognized that the duty of 45per cent. was a higher protection than was necessary against the heavier traps from Great Britain, but there is a lighter and cheaper trap being manufactured in the United Kingdom, and the Tariff Board’s report indicates that the selling price to the trade of the Australian-made trap exceeds the landed cost, duty free, par exchange, of the light-weight ‘trap by 53 per cent. This trap, although not equal in quality to the Australian-made trap, would be able to compete with it even after the imposition of the rates of duty recommended by the board. If the duty were made lower than that recommended by that body, competition would be unduly in favour of the imported article. Its report states -
The selling price to the trade of the Australianmade trap exceeds the landed cost, duty free, par exchange of the cheapest heaviest type British trap by only41/8 per cent., but it exceeds the corresponding landed cost of the “Star and Crescent” (light British trap) by 53 per cent.
The “Star and Crescent” is a light British trap, which does not compare in quality with the Australian-made trap. The board continued -
While most of the demand in Australia is for the light type of trap, there still exists a certain though decreasing demand for the heaviertype manufactured in the United Kingdom, and in some cases a demand for the lighter United Kingdom type. The importation of such traps is rendered unduly costly by. the imposition of the proposed fixed-rate duties, which are equivalent to 73 per cent. on the f.o.b. cost of a heavy British trap previously in considerable demand, and as high as 117 per cent. on the British light-weight trap. In the opinion of the Tariff Board, the manufacture of rabbit traps in Australia would be adequately protected by ad valorem rates of 45 per cent. (British preferential tariff) and65 per cent. (general tariff) without the provision of alternative specific duties.
The board, earlier in its report, showed how the change-over, as it were, from one class of trap to another would affect the local manufacturers. I must stand by the report of the Tariff Board. Its recommendations were made in the light of the Ottawa agreement, and it gave definite reasons, which I have placed before honorable senators, for its attitude. In view of the fact that this duty will place no burden upon the pastoral industry, will invite competition, and will not alter the price of rabbit traps at. the main Australian ports, I cannot accept th request of Senator Duncan-Hughes.
– Although I fully realize that rabbit traps are of vital necessity to this country, I have no desire to reduce the duty against traps from the United States of America, where, as the Minister has informed us, a great many of the traps in use in this country were manufactured. The Minister has said that the Bruce-Page tariff of 1921-30 provided for a duty of 20 per cent. British preferential and 30 per cent, general. If this industry was established under that tariff, why on earth is it necessary to increase the duty to 45 per cent. British preferential and 65 per cent, general, or 5s. per dozen, whichever rate returns the higher duty?
– Plus exchange.
– I am leaving out exchange, because that is not a fixed quantity, and we do not know what the rate is likely to be in the future. What we do know is that rabbit traps should enter this country duty free from Great Britain. Australia is now experiencing the worst rabbit plague ever known in this country.
– Would rabbit traps check the pest?
– Their use would check the progress of the rabbits towards the settled districts, and would enable thousands of unemployed to make a living. This menace has been increasing for many years. For the two years prior to the present drought, the seasons, even in the interior, were good, and the rabbits multiplied rapidly. As the drought set in, the rabbits naturally, as in all past plagues, followed the feed and the rainfall towards the coastal districts. Formerly, the pastoralists were able to combat this menace by using wire netting and employing many men ; but, owing to the fact that the federal land tax is a first charge on anything they have, they have not been able to maintain the staffs previously employed by them, and their wire netting fences have fallen into disrepair. This netting is very dear. I have inspected hundreds of miles of rabbit.netting fences’ in inland parts of Aus tralia, and they are now in a shocking state of disrepair. The rabbits are coming through, not in hundreds of thousands, but in millions. This year, the drought is terribly severe in the interior, and it will have a most detrimental effect upon production. Australia is, to a certain extent, suffering from what is known as a rabbit drought, because, in some districts, the pest has completely eaten out, not thousands, but probably millions of acres of feed, and has left the country as bare as a road. It has even devoured the salt bush.
– The honorable senator must direct his remarks to the item under consideration.
– I am emphasizing the severity of the rabbit plague, because the people generally do not realize how great a contributing factor it is to the decrease of primary production this year. I want rabbit traps to be admitted from Great Britain free, so that they can be purchased as cheaply as possible in Australia. A trapper requires from eight to ten dozen traps. The price of the Australianmade traps is 15s. 7-Jd. a dozen, c.i.f., main Australian ports; but the trapper probably has to pay twice as much as that, so it costs him a considerable sum for this equipment alone.
I anticipate that the decrease in this year’s Australian wool crop will not be less than 300,000 bales, and it may be 400,000 bales. This drop is attributable very largely to the rabbit plague. The wheat crops in the Wimmera and in the Victorian Mallee last year showed a falling off, owing to the high cost of wire netting and rabbit traps, which prevented the man on the land from equipping himself with the means of resisting this awful plague. Rabbit traps would be made cheaper by removing the British duty, and the Minister has said that there is a growing demand for British traps. The trapping of large numbers of rabbits would prevent the waste of wholesome human food and valuable fur. I have always regretted to see, as I frequently have, 50,000 or 100,000 rabbits slaughtered in a night by the poisoning of waterholes. Not even the skins of those rabbits were used. I know, that trapping is not the most efficient way of fighting this pest, but it is a very useful method to adopt in country townships.
Throughout Australia, at the present time, every town, large or small, unfortunately, has its unemployed, who might will be occupied in trapping rabbits. This would enable them to obtain a living, and, at the same time, they would be helping Australia to get rid of a serious menace. I should like to see traps given away to the unemployed.
– How much cheaper would these traps be if they were placed on the free list?
– They would certainly be somewhat cheaper than they now are. If we imposed a high foreign tariff, and encouraged the purchase of British traps, a large trade could be built up with the Old Country. With the present price of rabbits, and, particularly, of rabbit skins, a trapper could make a reasonable living. It is better to give the unemployed a chance to engage in useful work than to have them loafing about the country townships, and, perhaps, living on the dole. I have enough respect for the majority of my fellow- Australians to believe that they would rather trap rabbits than live on charity. I regret that Senator Duncan-Hughes asks for a duty of only 25 per cent, against traps made in the United States of America.
– The Government suggests a margin of only 20 per cent.
– That is not enough. I give notice that I intend to ‘ propose that the rates be free British, and 40 per cent, general. It may be regarded as an exaggeration to say that thousands of men could make a good living by trapping rabbiits, but many thousands could do that.
– They are doing it now.
– Thousands are,, but I wish to give many thousands more a chance to earn a living in this way. At present, however, they have to spend too much on their outfit. Those who have been lucky enough to raise the necessary money are now earning a living, but many cannot obtain the capital they require. The Tariff Board suggests a prohibitive duty of 45 per cent, against Britain.
– A competitive duty.
– The Minister said that the Government is merely carrying out the Ottawa, agreement in raising the foreign duty; but why not reduce the British rate? Under the 1921-30 tariff, the British rate was only 20 per cent. Why has it been increased to 45 per cent.? That is not the way to implement the Ottawa agreement. The intention was to provide the margin by decreasing the duties against British goods. It is admitted by all that thousands of men are making, and thousands more could make, a decent living by the trapping of rabbits. “What is there to show on the other side of the ledger? There are three firms in Australia which make rabbit traps. We . are not told how many persons they employ; probably the number is very few. Preference is to be given to these three firms, which possibly are established in Newcastle or some other spoon-fed district, to the detriment of the pastoral and agricultural industries, and the thousands of unemployed who could render a national service by destroying these rodents, and in the process make a living for themselves. I hope that the committee will agree to make the rate free British, and 40 per cent, general.
– This is another raid upon Australian industry. Senator Guthrie has said that he would like to make it possible for more rabbit-trappers to be employed. I have had considerable experience in the trapping of rabbits, and know what is the best trap. If the inferior foreign traps, including the British traps, were dumped into this country, they would be a hindrance instead of a blessing to the trapper, because he might be induced to spend his last few shillings in purchasing them on account of their comparative cheapness, and subsequently have to scrap them.
– What brands were found to be unsatisfactory?
– The traps of which I have knowledge are, “Sidebottom’s,” “ Bellamy’s,” “ Griffith’s,” and “Star and Crescent.” The “Star and Crescent “ is a good trap, and so was the “ Griffith’s “ in my day. Honorable senators must agree tha-t, if there is any country in which good traps can be made, it is one in which rabbits are plentiful, because the trapper knows what he requires. The factories which make these traps in Australia are up to date, and the price to-day is right compared with that which ruled under. free- trade conditions. The price of rabbit traps twenty years ago was as high as 18s. a dozen. Rabbits are trapped only when they are plentiful, and when the price received for them is regarded as favorable. There have been times when rabbits have disappeared, and there has been no use for the traps, which in many cases have found their way into second-hand shops, or have been returned to storekeepers from whom they were being bought on terms, to be released when the rabbits again became plentiful, and the price was sufficiently high to enable the trapper to make a living. If foreign manufacturers were allowed to dump 200,000 dozen or 300,000 dozen traps in Australia, it would be the “ stone end “ of the local industry. That is what we have to be careful to guard against. The normal requirements in the season are from 30,000 dozen to 40,000 dozen traps. 1 trust that the committee will reject the proposal to reduce the tariff. This is an Australian industry which has made good, and is capable of meeting the requirements of the trappers at a reasonable price. Irrespective of what the Ottawa agreement may provide, we should at all hazards protect the industries of this country.
– The question to be decided by the committee is, not what is best for a few manufacturers or a few individuals, but what is best for Australia. I am not a novice in this matter, because I have had many years’ experience in rabbit-infested districts. I have sold many gross of rabbit traps, and have helped to pack for export thousands of bales of skins. I know what the effect was on Tasmania when the price of traps was increased by 100 per cent. This matter was fully discussed in 1921, when this branch of the legislature, by a majority of 1, rejected the proposal to place a duty on British traps. At one time, the trapper could buy, for from 10s. 9d. to 13s. 6d. a dozen, the best British traps. “When the price went up to 24s. and 33s. a dozen, the rabbit pest immediately began to increase in Tasmania, because the trappers were men of small means. One portion of Tasmania which suffers severely from the rabbit pest is comprised of beautiful country, but being rough and rugged it is impossible to trap the rabbits in a wholesale way, as can be done in the mainland States. Recently, because those who are suited to this avocation found it impossible to buy traps, the municipal councils in this district were approached with the request that they provide the necessary capital to finance the purchase of a large quantity, which could be rented out or used by the unemployed, rent free, so that they might help to combat the pest. I. honestly believe that we are justified in doing anything to combat it. It is incorrect for honorable senators to say that the price of traps to-day is not prohibitive. It must not be forgotten that the expenditure of the trappers does not end when they have purchased their traps, because the loss of a certain number of traps is common. Many men must be shut out from this occupation because of the high, price of traps. I believe that if we carried the request, an immediate effect would be the reduction of the price of Australian traps. A trap of reasonably good quality could be made for much less than is being charged. I shall vote for the removal of the duty on British traps. I believe that if British rabbit traps are admitted free, the natural protection, plus exchange, primage and other charges, which amount to at least 45 per cent, ad valorem, is adequate to give our industry all the protection that it needs.
.- If this higher rate of duty will not make Australianmade rabbit traps any cheaper, that affords a very good reason why there should be a reduction of the duty. As to quality, it has been claimed that the Australian traps are the best that are made. Senator Collings, interjecting, said that he would guarantee them against any others, while the Minister submitted that they are of high quality. All that the Tariff Board could bring itself to say on the subject was that -
Both wire spring and flat spring types of traps now being manufactured in Australia are of satisfactory quality.
The report also says that traps manufactured in the United Kingdom and the United States of America are of a heavier material than those manufactured locally, being manually forged instead of machine made. All the evidence is to the effect that the heavier article is more suitable for rabbit-trapping, and that the “ Star and Crescent” trap referred to by the Minister is used mainly for catching opossums. Until 1921, the rates of duty were, free British; and 10 per cent, foreign. If that was adequate protection, why is it suggested that the rates should now be British, 45 per cent., and foreign 65 per cent. ?
The principal point is that of validating the Ottawa agreement, which is not being done by this proposal, as it should be. The second point is that of unemployment. Members of the Labour party are always expressing their eagerness to assist the unemployed, even to the extent of spending millions of pounds in doing so. Hera is an opportunity to give practical help to the unemployed all over Australia, thousands of whom are prepared to go out and. trap rabbits.
– There is no scarcity of traps.
– When speaking previously on this subject I quoted from a newspaper showing that there is, and, from my personal knowledge, I know of men who have tried to borrow rabbit traps. The assistance that was sought in connexion with the item which deals with tools of trade was for men who were in work. That now asked is for men who are temporarily out of employment, who would prefer to do something rather than draw a dole from the Government. Surely this committee will not insist on granting such inordinately high protection merely to assist an indeterminate number of men who’ are. employed by three firms in Sydney, in preference to giving work to a great number of unemployed, who would assist to exterminate one of our most pestiferous nuisances. I am agreeable to accept Senator Guthrie’s suggestion that the duty should be 40 per cent, general, and ask leave to withdraw my request.
Bequest - by leave - withdrawn.
Bequest, by Senator Duncan-Hughes proposed -
That the House of Representatives be requested to make the duties, sub-item (it) ad valorem, British, free.
– I support the request that has been moved by Senator Duncan-Hughes, and again impress upon honorable senators that, up to 1921, rabbit traps were admitted free from Great Britain. Under the Bruce-Page tariff the duty was 10 per cent, against Great Britain. It is beyond my comprehension that the Government should want to increase that duty to 45 per cent., the rate that was approved by the Scullin Government, particularly when rabbits are such a serious menace to the country, and thousands of men who are out of work would be only too pleased to earn a crust by catching these pests. If the excuse for this high duty is a desire to implement the Ottawa agreement, I am surprised that the Government should shelter behind such a flimsy subterfuge.
– It has nothing to do with the desires of the Government. The Ottawa agreement provides that the Tariff Board shall do this job, and that arrangement is being honoured.
– The Government is doing its job very poorly indeed. It has not even indicated how many persons are employed by these, three firms, and it is neglecting an opportunity to give work to thousands of unemployed throughout Australia.
Question - That the request (Senator Duncan-Hughes’) be agreed to - put. The committee divided. (Chairman- -SENATOR THE hon.
Majority . . 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
Request (by Senator Guthrie) proposed -
That the House of Representatives be re quested to make the duties, sub-item (b), ad vol., British, 20 per cent.
Question put. The committee divided. (Chairman - Senator the Hon. Herbert Hays.)
Majority . . 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
Request (by Senator Sampson) agreed to -
That the House of Representatives be requested to make theduties, sub-item (b), ad valorem, British, 30 per cent.; general, 50 per cent.
Sub-item agreed to, subject to a request. Progress reported.
The following papers were pre lected : -
Seat of Government Acceptance Act and Seat of Government (Administration) Act - Ordinance No. 13 of 1933 - Nurses Registration (No.2).
Dentists Registration Ordinance - Regulations amended.
Customs Act and Commerce (Trade Descriptions) Act - Regulations amended - Statutory Rules 1933, No. 79.
Motion (by Senator SirGeorge Pearce) proposed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– In the Melbourne Sun Pictorial of the 30th June, I am credited, with having said that Australian-made pipes were horrible to smoke. That statement is quite misleading. What I said, by way of interjection, when Senator. Brown was expatiating on the virtues of pipes made from Australian wood, was that, from my experience, they were horrible to smoke. I have tried pipes made of pretty well every variety of Australian wood, and, in my opinion, they are all horrible to smoke. But Australian-made pipes made from French bruyere wood are excellent to smoke. I know it, because I have tried them.I condemned, not Australianmade pipes as such, but Australian-made pipes made from Australian woods, which are not suitable for the making of pipes for smoking.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 3.58 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 7 July 1933, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1933/19330707_senate_13_140/>.