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Thursday, 22 October 1931

Mr GULLETT (Henty) .- All that the amendment asks is that the word " regulation " shall be substituted for the word " proclamation," so that within a reasonable time Parliament will have an opportunity to decide on the merits or demerits of the regulation. It is notorious that the power to prohibit imports by proclamation has been grossly abused by the present Government, under the cloak of a national emergency. When the Prime Minister announced that certain prohibitions of imports had been made, and, later, when he imposed certain surtaxes, I agreed as to the necessity for action being taken along those lines, because of the national emergency and the necessity to adjust the balance of trade. I still admit the necessity for action along those lines; but I point out now, as I did then, that the act gives the Minister a power which might be dangerous in the hands of one who favours a policy of protection run mad. Honorable members on this side strongly urged, the Government to put a time limit upon prohibitions and surcharges. We expressed our complete readiness to consider them on their merits, and, if necessary, extend the period of their operation ; but this Government refused to introduce a time limit, and, therefore, its action in this matter is highly suspect. We do not ask that the power to prohibit summarily should be taken from the government of the day; that power is quite necessary. Moreover, it is conferred under every customs act throughout the world. It is desirable that a government should have power summarily to prohibit, on health grounds, the importation of various things which might spread disease.


Mr GULLETT - When I was Minister for Trade and Customs, I prohibited the importation of peanuts from China for one year, but the difference between my action and that of the present Government is that I obtained from the interested parties in Queensland, including the Peanut Control Board, on which there was a government representative, a written undertaking that at the end of the year neither the renewal of the embargo nor an increase in duty would be requested. One of the first acts of the present Minister, however, was to give that industry prohibition in perpetuity. That points to the necessity for agreeing to the amendment before the committee.

Mr Forde - Why did not the honorable member take action to amend the law in this respect when he was a Minister?

Mr GULLETT - There was then no necessity for it, because the law was not being abused. We have lately learned what a dread power this is in unscrupulous hands.

Mr Forde - I ask for the withdrawal of that expression.

Mr GULLETT - I withdraw it; but the Minister is becoming too squeamish. There is a vast difference between personal and political unscrupulousness. The Minister has said that the power contained in the bill is necessary, and he has exercised it, to use his own words, to avert national bankruptcy. Two of the prohibited commodities were snuff and canary seed, and that is how the Minister averted national bankruptcy! Much harm has been done by the indiscriminate and reckless use of prohibitions, and we have given offence to certain foreign countries that have been good customers of Australia. Naturally, we have prompted acts of retaliation on their part.

Mr Frost - Name those countries!

Mr GULLETT - France, Italy, and Germany. As a representative of primary producers, the honorable member who interjects should support, the amendment. If these prohibitions had been brought before this committee, they might have been altered here and there without in any way destroying their effect in adjusting trade in the national interest, and yet the giving of offence to foreign countries could have been avoided. In the amendment before the committee, we are merely asking for an opportunity to consider proposed prohibitions. About fifteen months ago the importation of some 71 commodities was summarily prohibited, and the elect of the people of Australia have not been given an opportunity to express an opinion on the action taken. In the course of a few hours, probably, a proclamation covering many import prohibitions is prepared by the Minister, but it is impassible to deal with great subjects of trade in such a hurry without making mistakes. I do not suppose a step of greater concern to trade than the imposition of these prohibitions and surcharges has been taken since the inauguration of federation, and yet no" honorable member had the right to say anything to prevent it.

Mr Archdale Parkhill - Honorable members opposite do riot want that right.

Mr GULLETT - Of course not. If they had it, and the party whip were cracked, the right would not be exercised. The amendment should be accepted in the national interest.

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