Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 29 April 1936

Senator HARDY - The opinions of the Minister in charge of the bill are as multicoloured as was Joseph's coat.

Senator Collings - The marriage of convenience had not taken place then.

Senator Hardy - It is a marriage of common-sense.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - In view of those utterances, which are of course somewhat hackneyed, hut none the less true in regard to the position occupied by Senator Hardy to-day, I expect him to vote with the Opposition against the proposal to remove the duty on British cement.

Senator Hardy - The honorable senator would be well advised not to be over optimistic.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) -! am endeavouring to show that the principal opponents of the duty on cement have somersaulted on other tariff matters. In this connexion, apparently, any change of opinion may be pardoned, whether it is made overnight or in ten seconds.

The PRESIDENT - I fail to see how the remarks of the honorable senator can be connected with the bill.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Considerable debate has taken place in regard to the manner in which honorable senators have in the past changed their views. Such great changes of opinion have occurred that apparently anything is pardonable.

The PRESIDENT - But there is no duty upon changes of opinion.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Figures have been quoted in this chamber to prove that, since the operation of the Ottawa agreement, Australia has suffered serious disadvantages. I consider that the proposal to permit the free entry of British cement into Australia is indefensible. Information supplied to honorable senators demonstrates that the original duty of ls. per cwt. on cement dated back to . the nineties; it was imposed by the State of Victoria, which led the other States of Australia in tariff matters.

Senator McLeay - What was the exchange rate then?

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The honorable senator might just as well ask me what was the value of money then. I was working in the nineties, and I am aware that the present purchasing power of money is not so great as it was in those times; the sum of 10s. would then go as far as £1 to-day. At the beginning of the present century a working man could raise a family decently on 50s. a week.

Senator McLeay - How far would it go with the 30-hour week?

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The 30-hour week has not yet been introduced in Australia; but, unless it be adopted, we shall witness a revolution. Information supplied by the Australian Industries League leads me to ask what excuse the opponents of the duty on cement have to offer for a return to the Government's proposal. They state that, the Ottawa agreement has been violated. I do not propose to quote the agreement chapter and verse, hut eminent counsel have given their opinion that the restoration of the duties on cement by the House of Representatives does not constitute a violation of the agreement.

Senator Arkins - Legal opinions on that matter differ.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - They differ on most matters. Honorable senators, who oppose the restoration of the duty on cement say that the Tariff Board reported in favor of the free entry into Australia of cement manufactured in Great Britain, and that the recommendation should be accepted as final. From my interpretation of the Constitution of the Commonwealth, this Parliament is responsible to the electors for the imposition of duties of customs and excise, and I fail to see how the Tariff Board can be made superior to Parliament. The contention of the Government in this regard is untenable. From the silence among the supporters of the Government I assume that they admit that this Parliament is the supreme authority on tariff matters.

The British Government has every right to seek trade agreements with Australia; but, unless it, can demonstrate that the action of the House of Representatives in restoring the duty on cement violates the Ottawa agreement, honorable senators are perfectly entitled to support that duty. The Minister in charge of the bill (Senator A. J. McLachlan) stated that the Government had received a protest from the British Government against the restoration of the duty. In my opinion the British Government has gone out of its way to protest. My experience of Australian politics goes back 45- years, and I have read extensively on political matters. I do not recall one instance of the British Government protesting over what Senator Foll rightly characterized " a trivial matter," such as this one. In conversation with some of the lobbyists - who, by the way, have every right to represent their claims to honorable senators - I said that I did not suppose that if the administration encountered another reverse in regard to this duty, a double dissolution would follow. I added that the matter was not so important as to warrant an appeal to the country. He replied, " No, hardly that." This item can be regarded as of minor importance in comparison with many of the matters that concern this Parliament, and the grave international factors which are claiming the attention of the British Government at the present .time. In my opinion, the protest from the British Government must have been instigated by some interest in Australia, or by some fervid low tariffist who desired to use the British Government and its unique protest to browbeat this Parliament into adopting a course of action favorable to the British manufacturers.

Senator Leckiereferred to the Labour party's policy of " new protection " as an old policy in a new dress. In point of time the ideas are old, but they are still held in the Labour movement and are embodied in the mind of the Australian masses. The Labour party has not altered its opinion in this regard. The new protection has not been put into practice before because of the opposition of influential interests in the Commonwealth. I believe that the High Court once gave a decision which, in effect, invalidated this policy. This Parliament cannot consider a tariff enactment which will protect the wages and conditions of the workers; nor can it by means of the tariff prevent exploitation. If by any statute an industrial monopoly is created, this legislature cannot pass a law to fix the price of the article to the consumer. But it can take action in another direction and I draw attention to the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) on the second reading of this measure. He explained clearly how the Labour party proposes to meet those evils which have been apparent for very many years. The Government fears that exploitation might take place in regard to cement. Senator Collings pointed out that the Government could take the necessary power to overcome these evils and prevent monopolies from exploiting the public and making excessive profits. The Government can by a special act fix the retail prices of their commodities and set a limit upon their net profits. Through the industrial courts, wages, hours of labour and working conditions of employees engaged in industries can be determined. He also reminded the Senate that the Government has power to levy taxation and that if any adequately protected industry should exploit the public, taxation upon its profits could be increased without raising any constitutional difficulties. The Labour party is well aware that much can be done by taxation. Some of our thinkers regard the taxation weapon as all-sufficient to check monopolies, prevent the exploitation of the public, and assist towards a fairer distribution of wealth. Its effectiveness in. this respect is well illustrated in Great Britain where, on certain incomes the tax burden is 15s. in the £1.

Senator Brennan - In Great Britain taxation is levied for the purposes of government, not for the purposes suggested by the honorable senator.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Nevertheless, it shows what the public will stand, and I repeat that this Government has in its hands a weapon to prevent the exploitation of the consumer by any monopolistic concerns in this country as well as to meet the expenditure on administration.

The people who have furnished us with this propaganda with reference to cement duties refer to the dumping evil. On this point I remind the Senate that Australia, which is largely an agricultural and pastoral country, also dumps many of its surplus products in overseas markets.

Senator Dein - How would you define " dumping " ?

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - As to the definition of dumping, there seems to be some difference of opinion. My interpretation of the term is the marketing of a product overseas at a price lower than that at which it is sold in the home market, and at a price which threatens the extinction of an industry in the importing country. It has been suggested that this may happen to the Australian cement industry if the recommendations of the Tariff Board are accepted. Quite naturally we seek to protect our own industries after which we are prepared to give first preference to British products. It is contended that British cement is being dumped in Australia. The figures supplied to us show that the price in Great Britain is 38s. a ton, and it isstated that large quantities have been sold in foreign countries at as low as 20s. a ton. That price suggests dumping.

Senator Arkins - What is the definition of dumping in the act?

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - I have given my definition of the term. The price on wharf, Sydney, of British cement is £3 10s. 3d. a ton, compared with 23s. f.o.b. English ports. The freight is 27s. a ton, the balance being represented by exchange, wharfage and other charges. The Australian price for British cement, compared with 20s. a tonin foreign countries, would suggest that there is some opportunity for the Australian industry to compete with it; but the people who have been responsible for the propaganda material supplied to honorable senators describe this price as dumping, and they contend, further, that unless protection is given to the Australian industry it will be seriously endangered. Queensland is not so well provided with secondary industries as to regard with' equanimity any tariff legislation which may injure the Darra Cement Company which carries on operations about twenty miles from Brisbane. I understand that Tasmanian senators are equally concerned about the position of cement companies in that State, although Tasmania, in proportion to population, has a larger number of manufacturing industries than has Queensland. Figures relating to factory employment in Queensland show that there has been practically no improvement since federation. If, on a population basis, we had our fair proportion of existing Australian manufacturing industries, there would to-day be 30,000 more factory employees in our State. Queensland cannot afford to lose any of its few secondary industries.

Senator Follspoke of the need for retaining the British market for Australian primary industries. I agree that for many years, we have enjoyed a very substantial share of the British market ; but most of us believe that for reasons of sentiment, we should have better treatment. An Australian citizen of Danish heritage reminded me a few days ago that although Denmark has its own king and sovereign Parliament, it is economically a dependency of Great Britain. The same may be said of some other foreign countries. In effect they are British colonies, although they do not fly the British flag, and their people do not speak the English language. This is a fact we should bear in mind when dealing with tariff matters.

Senator Guthrie - We do not know what views the honorable senator himself holds.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - I have still an open mind. The Governmenthas been frightened by a protest from the British Government; but the British Manufacturers Association has not said anything. Either it knows that it has a bad case, or it relies on the British Navy being sent out to protect its interests. On the other hand, the actions of the Australian manufacturers of cement have been open and above board. When the Ottawa agreement was entered into, the duty was1s. per cwt. A compromise at 6d. per cwt. is more than could reasonably be expected by the British manufacturers.

Senator Arkins - What is the British domestic price?

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The British home-consumption price is about 38s. per cwt. Both sides have had an equal opportunity to present their cases, but the British manufacturers have failed to do so effectively. I shall not be influenced by the protest received from the British Government In my opinion, it should be told to mind its own business. What would that Government think if we in Australia protested against some action taken by the House of Commons to protect the interest? of British manufacturers? When Australia has a case to present to Britain, it sends to the Old Country some of its foremost Ministers. At present, the Minister for Commerce (Dr. Earle Page) and the Premier of Queensland, Mr. Forgan Smith, are in England endeavouring, by personal interviews with British Ministers, to enter into some businesslike arrangements to the benefit of both countries. Cannot we, in this country, settle our own tariff matters without the British Government entering a protest? Were the Commonwealth vo attempt to interfere with the sovereign rights of any State, that State would not take it lying down, as we are supposed to take the protest of the British Government.

Senator Brennan - The British Government merely drew attention to certain articles of the Ottawa agreement.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The British Government is entitled to make representations to the Australian Government; but it goes too far when it enters a protest, as it has done.

Senator McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What would the honorable senator do if the British Government reduced the preference given to Australian sugar in the British market?

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The Postmaster-General (Senator A. J. McLachlan) suggests by his interjection that Queensland is the only portion of the Commonwealth to benefit from the British preference on sugar. He forgets that the money received for the Queensland sugar sold in Britain helps Australia to pay its way in London.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I merely asked whether the honorable senator would not consider himself entitled to protest if the British Government reduced the preference on sugar.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - Much depends on the tone and manner, in which negotiations are conducted. The protest of the British Government suggests that, in its opinion, Australia is a colony of Britain; but, as I have said, Britain has many other colonies, although they do not fly the Union Jack, for other countries have been given preference over Australia in the British market.

Senator Arkins - The Ottawa agreement did not give Australia any preference.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - The net result to Australia from the Ottawa agreement has been poor indeed. In say ing that, I am speaking not merely as a member of the Labour party, because in tariff matters members of all parties are more or less untrammelled. I remind the Senate that the three members of the Opposition in this chamber have not at all times been unanimous in regard to tariff items. I should not consider my position as a Labour man compromised were I to vote in favour of British manufacturers in respect of some tariff item.

Senator Dein - It is only a matter of a reasonable rate.

Senator J V MACDONALD (QUEENSLAND) - In my opinion, the House of Representatives agreed to a reasonable compromise. Englishmen are noted for their willingness to compromise and to adopt a reasonable attitude in all matters. They should accept this half measure - 6d. per cwt. instead of ls. - as a fair thing. On the figures which have been presented to us, the industry will receive a severe setback should the decision of a majority of the House of Representatives be reversed in this chamber.

Suggest corrections