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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr WILKS (Dalley) - The honorable member for Gwydir has posed as the apologist of the Minister of Trade and Customs, and no one knows better than I do how sadly the honorable gentleman is in need of some one to play that' role for him.

Mr SPEAKER - I must ask the honorable member to address himself to the question before the Chair.

Mr WILKS - I am referring to the attitude taken up' by the Minister in regard to this Bill. The honorable member for Gwydir has said that he believes in strict adherence to principle, and that honorable members ought not to allow their decisions in regard to any matter to be swayed merely by a desire to consider the interests of a small coterie of electors. He proceeded to make an attack upon the deputy leader of the Opposition, but I would remind him that when Part VI. a of the Tariff was being considered by the first Parliament no one adhered more loyally to his principles than did the honorable member for Parramatta. Notwithstanding that a great many of his constituents are interested in the iron industry, the honorable member stood firm to his convictions in regard to freedom of trade, and thus set the honorable member for Gwydir a lesson which he might well take to heart. The honorable member for Gwydir, who speaks of consistency; has been in turn free-trader, protectionist, and labour member.

Mr SPEAKER - The question to which the honorable member is now referring has nothing whatever to do with the Bill. It is because honorable members debate each other's actions, instead of the question before the Chair, that so much, neat is raised.

Mr WILKS - I bow to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, but I feel that, as the honorable member for Gwydir has discussed the actions of the deputy leader of the Opposition, I should like to refer to his political characteristics. When the Minister was moving yesterday the second reading of this marvellous piece of legislation, I interjected that it was merely a political placard, but was emphatically informed that it was not. To-day we find that it is nothing more than a piece of make-believe. The leading protectionist journal in Australia - a newspaper which in other respects supports the Ministry - publishes to-day what certainly cannot be described as a panegyric on the Minister, and points out that it is merely a waste of time to pass such a measure as this. I admit that I am glad that the original Manufactures Encouragement Bill has been stripped in this way of the provisions to which I was opposed. I do not profess to know anything about the technical details of the iron industry, but I certainly do claim to voice the views of my constituents, who, with the exception of the State Government, are the largest consumers of iron and steel in New South Wales. The industries established in the electorate of Dalley use more iron than is used in all the rest of the Commonwealth,, when that used by the States Governments is excepted. I have, therefore, a right in speaking on behalf of those who use iron to express my satisfaction that the Government proposal for a bonus on its production has been emasculated at the direction of the Minister who proposed it, and is now nothing more than a placard. I can understand protectionists being incensed and protectionist organs calling the Minister to task for the present position of the matter, and I direct attention to the hours of our time which have been wasted by Ministers in the discussion of the proposed bonus. Honorable members will remember that there were strained relations between the present PostmasterGeneral and the present Minister of Trade and Customs, who alternately had charge of this matter. They were animated by political jealousy, and the desire to show the public who was the most earnest advocate of the introduction of the bonus system in relation to the iron industry. And now the result of their contention is a mere placard. I am reminded also of the fact that another colleague of the Minister of Trade and Customs, the honorable member for Richmond, iri speaking of that honorable gentleman, said that while out of office he was an ardent protectionist-

Mr SPEAKER - Has this anything whatever to do with the question?

Mr WILKS - I think I can connect my remarks with the question. I wish to say that the present action of the Minister of Trade and Customs induces me reluctantly to accept the statement made by his colleague that when out of office the Minister is a strong protectionist, and that when in power he omits to take advantage of his opportunity to give effect to the protectionist principles he professes. As a freetrader I am pleased that the efforts of the Government in this matter have ended in nothing. Personally I should of course be glad to see all the members of the present Parliament returned to the next, but if I am myself returned I shall continue to adopt the same attitude on this question, and will oppose the resolutions referred to if they are brought on.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member is merely a phonograph, for Mr. Franki.

Mr WILKS - I am nothing of the sort, but I know that only a little time ago Mr. Franki, who occasionally advocates protection, was highly eulogized by the Minister of Trade and Customs. I have not the pleasure of numbering amongst my acquaintances either wealthy merchants or affluent manufacturers. My walk iri life is in a more humble sphere. I am satisfied that manufacturers and importers alike will do what they can to induce Parliament to pass legislation in their interests. I am very pleased to think that the House has practically destroyed this measure. It is not likely that very much capital will be invested as the result of a promise that something may happen two years hence. I .am sure that you,, as a business man, would not put £10,000 into any venture on the strength of such a promise. It is too much to ask honorable members to believe that manufacturers and ironmasters in Australia, and capitalists like the honorable member for Kooyong, will put £500,000 into the establishment of works and the erection of smelting furnaces, in the hope that in two years' time certain resolutions will be passed by Parliament. I must say that if the article in the Age this morning is not an attack upon the Minister it is one of the most brilliant examples of unconscious irony that I have yet had an opportunity to read.

Mr SYDNEYSMITH (Macquarie).I should not have risen to speak on the third reading of this Bill were it not that the Minister of Trade and Customs accused certain members of compelling him to make alterations in the Manufactures Encouragement Bill.

Mr SPEAKER - The questionbefore the House is the third reading of the Bill. As the Minister of Trade and Customs has not spoken on that question, any reference to the honorable gentleman's remarks must be a reference to a previous debate which the honorable member for Macquarie must know cannot be made now.

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