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Tuesday, 22 November 1910


Senator ST LEDGER (QUEENSLAND) - The honorable senator could not have meant that, because he used the term " we." Evidently he was speaking for the members of his own party._ He declared that the Government were justified in refusing to enter upon a complete revision of the Tariff until they had ascertained their constitutional position. The expression " fooled " as used by him had no reference to the conduct of the previous Government or of the ex-Prime Minister. Who was " fooled " in this matter ? Nobody. Senator O'Keefe urged that the High Court had determined that the Excise Tariff (Agricultural Machinery) Act was unconstitutional. That is the " fooling " to which be referred, and I object to allowing his expression to pass unnoticed.


Senator O'Keefe - That was only a small part of my argument.


Senator ST LEDGER - At the time the Excise Tariff (Agricultural Machinery) Act was under consideration in this Parliament, many members of the Opposition pointed out that in all probability it would be declared unconstitutional. Their speeches - as will be seen by reference to Hansard - reveal that. Everybody was aware of the risk which was being incurred. In order to emphasize the fact that Senator O'Keefe, when he spoke of " fooling," was referring to the action of the High Court, I need only point out that during his speech he inquired " Who was -it assailed the constitutionality of that Act?" To his own question he replied that it was the Chambers of Manufactures and the Federated Employers Association. Does he suggest for a moment that there was anything wrong in either the manufacturers or the Employers Association testing the constitutionality of that Statute?


Senator Guthrie - When they had promised that they would not do so?


Senator ST LEDGER - Who promised that?


Senator Guthrie - The manufacturers of harvesters.


Senator ST LEDGER - I am glad of the interjection because the honorable senator is making it abundantly clear that the " fooling " which Senator O'Keefe had in mind was the action of the tribunal which I have indicated. But no Act of Parliament can bind a man to refrain from testing its- validity.


Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Not if his word cannot be regarded as his bond. .


Senator ST LEDGER - We have established the High Court for the express purpose of interpreting the provisions of the Constitution. Let me illustrate how hard driven are the Government when they urge an objection of that sort. Suppose that a landlord who has more land than he can till agrees to let a portion of it to a tenant, and that a dispute arises between them as to the terms of that agreement. Is there anything wrong in either party asking the Court to determine the exact position ? Such an argument will not hold water for a moment.


Senator O'Keefe - The expression "fooling," as used by me, had reference chiefly to the ex-Prime Minister's action in failing to redeem his promises in regard to the new Protection.


Senator ST LEDGER - The whole tenor of the honorable senator's argument was in the direction which I have indicated. For him to endeavour to place the fault upon the ex-Prime Minister is an afterthought. This Bill is intended to correct and to legalize the decisions, and it may. be the indecision, of the Customs Department - no more and no less. It is not designed to develop any fiscal policy - either Free Trade or Protection - but is intended to assist the Customs officials to interpret and administer our Customs Tariff Act. In other words, it is purely a departmental measure. When we come to consider it in Committee, we shall find that its enactment will only make confusion worse confounded. But I do not intend to pursue this aspect of the question, although a great deal might be made of the disappointment which Protectionists must experience when, they look at the provisions of the measure. There are no less than a dozen rectifications in this Bill, which, instead of being in the interests of the industries that are springing up in various parts of the country, are absolutely prejudicial to them. The Bill has been built up, not with an honest and intelligent desire to rectify anomalies and assist industries, but is from top to bottom a Bill made by officers of the Department of Trade and Customs, and put into the Minister's hands to submit to this Parliament. The Minister has become a second " rubber stamp" in this Government. Protectionists and Free Traders alike will rage at some of these amendments. What probably happened was this : The Minister said to his officers, "For a long time you have had some difficulty in administering the Tariff. For goodness sake frame a Bill to facilitate the working of it, and to legalize your decisions and your indecisions. Bring the Bill to me. 1 will put the rubber stamp upon it, and submit it to Parliament." I sympathize with the disappointment experienced by Protectionists in both Chambers of the Legislature, and throughout the country.







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