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Thursday, 22 October 1931

Mr BELL (Darwin) . - I support the amendment of the honorable member for Swan (Mr. Gregory). It ia evident that this power has been exer- cised by the present Minister for Customs (Mr. Forde) in such a manner as to bring home to honorable members the danger of allowing this section to remain in the act. I do not think that any honorable member will argue that the power was originally intended to be used as a means of affording protection to industry; yet, when we find that the Government has imposed embargoes on as many as seventeen items in one day, it becomes evident how the provision is now being used. In refusing to accept the amendment, the Minister could only plead that there was justification for the imposition of embargoes as a measure of protection. That, however, is not the point. It might be a good thing to prohibit the importation of dried fruits in the interests of those engaged in the production of such fruits in Australia. It might be a good thing to place an embargo upon the importation of peanuts, so as to assist those who are growing peanuts here; but, surely, if there is justification for protecting an industry, even to the point of prohibition, the matter should be decided by this Parliament, and by no one else. As the honorable member for Gippsland (Mr. Paterson) pointed out, when only a limited amount of protection is to be imposed, Parliament alone has power to grant it. For some months past this House has been considering whether the protection on various items should be 30, 40, 50 or 200 per cent., but while it has been so engaged, there have been in force a whole list of embargoes which this Government has imposed by proclamation. The position is absurd. I do not believe that, when this section was put into the act, it was ever expected that it would be used in this way. Surely the Government does not claim that it should have the right to decree, by executive action, what measure of protection should be given to Australian industries. The Labour party professes to be the most democratic of all parties, so that it should have no objection to these matters being submitted for decision by Parliament. I should have thought that the Minister's recent success in getting the tariff schedule through the House, would have convinced him that he might trust his party to support him in anything he might bring forward. For the sake of appearances, if for nothing else, he should be prepared to submit embargo proposals to Parliament for consideration. It is not a matter of whether governments have abused this power in the past or not; it is a matter of the supremacy of Parliament, and I shall be surprised if a majority of honorable members does not support the amendment.

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