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Friday, 8 June 1906

Mr REID (EAST SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But that does not interfere with my argument.

Mr Deakin - It does absolutely. Mr. REID. - I have just said that I do not consider that the petition in question was one to the King himself. I took it as a petition to the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Ireland.

Mr Deakin - I would not have sent it to the Prime Minister either.

Mr REID - Was there any secret power compelling the Prime Minister to vote for a petition to the King on the subject of Home Rule for Ireland? If the honorable and learned gentleman objected to a petition on the subject being presented to the King, was he really so irresponsible for his actions that he deliberately voted for that to which he was opposed? No explanation could put right such an action.

Mr Deakin - None, except that an Opposition trick shut the door on my amendment.

Mr REID - My point is that this Parliament should not have made any representation either to the King or the British Government on the subject of an alteration in the parliamentary system of the mother country.

Mr Deakin - So far, I quite agree with the right honorable member.

Mr REID - Then why did not the honorable and learned 'gentleman vote with me ? v.

Mr Deakin - Because the right honorable member shut out the amendment I proposed moving.

Mr REID - Do not say that I did so.

Mr Deakin - Well, the Opposition did.

Mr REID - Surely that did not deprive the honorable and learned gentleman of his right as a man not to vote for something of which he disapproved. Surely this sort of position is not going to become fashionable in Parliament. I trust that such explanations will not be accepted. What hidden power was it that "compelled the Prime Minister to vote against his convictions ?

Mr Deakin - No hidden or other power affected my vote, or even sought to affect it. I preferred the unamended motion to the amendment moved by the right honorable member, and had no choice except between the two.

Mr REID - There was no necessity for the Prime Minister to vote for that petition to the King.

Mr Deakin - I had either to vote for that or against " a just scheme."

Mr REID - Oh, oh!

Mr Deakin - The whole motion or none.

Mr REID - Now, the honorable and learned gentleman could not vote both ways, clever as he is.

Mr Deakin - The right honorable gentleman has done that often.

Mr REID - If our population, instead of having 20 per cent, of people from Ireland, or the descendants of Irishmen, had 20 per cent, of Poles and the descendants of Polish people, and only 1 in 10,000. from Ireland, I think that our friends would have put a little postscript in the petition to the King asking him to use his great influence with the Emperor of Russia to give, self-government to Poland.

Mr Mahon - Hear, hear ! Why did not the right honorable gentleman move that amendment?

Mr REID - I can. understand' Irishmen, or the descendants of Irishmen, voting for Home Rule.

Mr Wilks - Not all of them.

Mr REID - Because they look upon it as a patriotic thing to do, and they are people who have suffered, as we all know, most atrociously in the past.

Mr Mahon - Which the right honorable member tried to perpetuate.

Mr REID - No. I raised that very issue.

Mr Mahon - The right honorable gentleman did when he opposed the petition.

Mr REID - The honorable member must allow me to proceed. I implored the House not to bring this question into the arena of Australian politics. I did not wait until the House had made a. mistake and then criticise it. From my place at this table I put it strongly to the House that this was a matter concerning the local selfgovernment of the people of the Mother Country, that just as we would not allow them to interfere with our affairs, we ought not to interfere with theirs, that on the eve of a general election in the Mother Country it was particularly objectionable, and that we could trust the wisdom and justice of the people of the Mother Country to remedy every just grievance of Ireland. I asked the House to keep that burning question out of Austraiian politics, and they might have responded' to my appeal ; they might have said, " On consideration, we agree with your views, and we will not commit this mistake." But, in spite of my putting this position clearly and plainly, and moving an amendment which raised these considerations, my honorable friends brought the question within the sphere of Australian politics, because no House has the right to use the name of the Australian people without authority. There are occasions of national grief and misfortune' which call for national manifestations in which the mass of people are one. and in which the Government, in approaching the Throne, represents the feelings of the whole people. But even in Australia this is a burning question. It is a matter on which there are strong differences of opinion. The result of adopting the petition was that every man who considers that his authority was abused has the right to demand an account of the action of his representative, and it is too late to say that we are raising this question. The intrusion of such a question is by those who used the name of the people, not by those who opposed it. There is another important matter which is not mentioned in this speech. Surely the book-keeping arrangements of the Commonwealth form one of the most important matters that could engage the attention, of this Parliament.

Sir John Forrest - I think that clause 18 of the speech covers it.

Mr REID - It seems to me a very important matter.

Mr Deakin - It will be dealt with in the Budget.

Mr REID - I accept that explanation, which may be a perfectly proper one.

Sir John Forrest - Clause 18 does cover it.

Mr REID - It is a fair reply that it may be considered a matter for the Budget, but it certainly is one to which we shall have to address our serious attention. I come now to the Commerce Act and the regulations which have been issued under that measure. There is an impression that the Opposition are opposed to legislation to put down adulteration and frauds. That is an absolute injustice. There is no human being, I hope, in this Parliament who will not give the fullest powers to prevent adulteration or frauds, especially any fraud in connexion with food. There is no quarrel or difference on that subject at all ; but once you have legislation to prevent frauds and adulteration the law should stop. It should not interfere more than is absolutely necessary with the operations of trade, especially with the operations of the Australian exporters of Australian produce, because they have to fight their battle, not here, but elsewhere, in competition with the whole world. If you create two sets of difficulties for them, you do not help them : you handicap them in the stress of competition. I am quite with those who would pass measures for the prevention of adulteration and fraud; but I submit that any attempt on the part of the State to become a guide as to the quality of an article, or the shade of quality of an article of commerce, is an attempt to undertake a function which it has no right whatever to assume. It is a delicate enough question, in all conscience, between buyers, to decide the precise quality of an article, such as butter. One of these people said to me the other day, "You may grade your butter as you like, but if you had a dozen Government brands on your boxes of butter no London buyer would buy a single box without sampling it. He would not take your brands." He will personally sample the butter to satisfy himself, and the effect of creating grades is that the first grade butter will be the same as if there was no mark on it at all, and if first quality be branded by the Government by mistake as second quality, the buyer will take every care to get the benefit of that mistake. If the .first quality be branded by mistake as second quality, he will say : ' This is only second quality, and I must give you so much less." It may be just as good, however, as the) butter which is branded " first." Why should the Government involve themselves in these extraordinary complexities of relative qualities? Let us suppress adulteration and fraud; but this attempt to grade commercial articles is, I think, a hideous mistake. In my view there has been a gross abuse of the understanding in this House when the Commerce Bill was being considered. The honorable member for North Sydney asked the Attorney-General a question about grading when the Bill was going through the House, and according to a letter from the secretary of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, who refers to Hansard, but does not give the page, the honorable and learned gentleman said -

We are not taking the power to create qualities, grades, sizes, weights, and ingredients. .

I am trying to answer the honorable member's questions. We do not intend to create grades.

There is an absolute statement by the Attorney-General as to the effect of the Bill, and the Minister in charge of it said -

There is to be sufficient grading to enable us to distinguish bad goods from good goods.

I can understand that in the sense of adulteration or fraud, but I do not think that any one took the remark to set aside the deliberate statement of the Attorney-General as to the effect of the Bill. I strongly object to these stretches of authority in connexion with the trade of the Commonwealth.

Mr Page - The Government do not grade, do they?

Mr REID - There is a series of regulations which have been, sent out by the Government, and which - I have not very carefully read them - I think provide for a series of qualities, first and second. If the butter is honest and sound, not adulterated, I hold that the branding of a man's goods as first class or second class is an unwarrantable infringement of the rights of the producers of Australia. It never does any good, because a London buyer will not take the brand for No. i quality, but will give a No. 2 price for a No. 2 brand, even if the quality is really first class. That is a great pity, because, as I say, our producers are struggling under a number of difficulties in meeting the competition of all countries and all colours; and anything which impedes the success of our producers is a calamity, and only justifiable in the cases I have mentioned, namely, fraud or adulteration.

Mr Frazer - Do. the butter exporters object to having a Government brand?

Mr REID - r believe there is a great difference of opinion - that a large number are in favour, while a large number are against a Government brand. But I do not care what the exporters think - whether they are for or against. We have no right, I say, to go into shades of qualities of honest goods - goods not adulterated. We have troubles enough in carrying on the Commonwealth without entering into projects of this sort. I now wish to refer to the Anti-Trust Bill. Again, we on this side are prepared to deal with monopolies and trusts just as severely as, I think, are my friends opposite. But let me call the attention of the House to one clause in this Bill. I should like to ask the special attention of honorable members opposite, and of the Prime Minister to clause 5, which provides -

The Comptroller-General, whenever he has reason to believe that any person, either singly or in combination with any other person within or beyond the Commonwealth, is importing into Australia goods (hereinafter called " imported goods "), with the intention that they may be sold or offered for sale or otherwise disposed of within the Commonwealth in unfair competition with any Australian goods, may certify to the Minister accordingly.

I appeal to the House. Whilst honorable members are prepared to suppress trusts, and may be prepared to increase Customs duties so as to regulate the importation of goods by single importers, in the ordinary operations of trade, I ask whether the House is prepared' to apply the provisions of an Anti-Trust Bill intended to suppress trade combinations, to any individual importer of goods in Australia, whether he is or is absolutely not connected with a trust.

Mr Page - That is anti- Socialism.

Mx. REID.- But my dear friend- if I may so address the honorable member for Maranoa - wha't I desire to say is that it is wrong to adopt a protective prohibitive policy under cover of a series of departmental inquiries. Let the importers know what the position is. If we think it right to make a certain duty 30 per cent, instead of 20 per cent., then let us make ic 30 per cent., so that the importer may know what is the price of his admission to our ports. But we have no right to fix a Tariff of 20 per cent, and let an importer bring goods under that Tariff, and then allow a Minister, on a report from a Board, to find that the importation of those goods tends to prejudice Australian manufacture or the remuneration of labour in the factories. Of course, manufacturers always say they cannot pay their men at a certain rate unless they get more duties - that has always been the cry. The wrong lies in this - that a man comes prepared to pay the duty, which is the toll on entering the market, and the Department can shut out his goods and put them on the list of prohibited imports, because some manufacturer says that if thev are allowed to come in thev will interfere with him and his business. That is a way of bringing in a prohibitive Tariff by regulation, which T do not think any man ought to b9 in favour of. It is infinitely better to put the duties up than to entangle people in that way. There are one or two other matters to which I desire to refer, including that of the re-distribution of seats. I do not understand the reason why the resolutions affecting New South Wales and Victoria have been put off for a fortnight or so. There may be some reason, but what I am anxious about-

Mr Groom - The resolutions in regard to all the States are fixed for the same date.

Mr REID - Are they? I was told that was not so - that they were down for different dates. What I want to impress on the House is, first, that after two or three good seasons all the talk about towns being depopulated in New South Wales is shown to be absolute nonsense. The rolls, after good seasons on the Darling, show an increase on the previous rolls of only 2,000 electors, although those of nineteen and twenty years of age a year or two ago are now twenty-one years of age. In the case of the Riverina there are only 800 additional electors, after the good' seasons of two years before.

Mr Watson - But the rolls are in rather a bad state.

Mr REID - They have always been so; I think the state of the rolls a crying shame. All the talk which we had from the Minister, and which, I suppose, was accepted, about depopulated towns has been proved to be absolute fiction. There were, no doubt, people who left districts, but not in any numbers to warrant the arrest of a measure of justice. The difference then was 20,000 between different electorates, and that was an atrocious thing. I hope we will not act in a party sense in connexion with this matter. The redistribution lias to be passed', and let us pass it at once. If we are going to pass the scheme I hope the Department will push on with the rolls. I do not attach much weight to what information comes to one, but I have been informed that, according to some of the electoral officers, unless this matter is attended to within a very few days, the. difficulty of having everything in . order bv December will be serious. I cannot credit or believe the possibility, but such a statement has been made.

Mr Watson - I think New South Wales will require a re-collection of names, the rolls are so bad.

Mr REID - As to anything that will tend to make a better system, we are all in accord. My own view .is that we ought to imitate New Zealand1, and allow an automatic arrangement of boundaries as time goes on. With regard to the Capital Site, I am very glad that the Government are going to give a chance to settle that matter this session. I .think we ought to settle it finally one way or the other.

Mr Fisher - And early.

Mr REID - Yes.

Mr Page - Will the right honorable member for East Sydney be satisfied if we choose the same site?

Mr REID - I accepted that site because I could not get a better one ; and that is a sensible attitude to take, I suppose. But now there is a chance of getting a better site, and I am going to do all I can to get it.

Mr Fisher - That is another question.

Mr REID - It is a matter we will have to settle j but whatever we are going to do let us do it.

Mr McDonald - The sooner the better.

Mr REID - The sooner the better. I can speak for my own State ; -and it is in the interest of every honorable member who represents New South Wales, whatever be his party, to see this matter settled. There is a justifiable feeling of resentment on the question, and we have only to put another State in the same position, to realize the feeling in New South Wales.

Mr McDonald - The Government of Victoria have given notice of their intention to charge a rental of ,£3,000 a year for Government House.

Mr REID - Frankly, my surprise is that the Victorian Government did not do that long ago. I do not see why the Commonwealth should not be able to pay for such things. The State of Victoria has given us this magnificent Parliament House for years for nothing, or, at any rate, at only some small expense. I say frankly that, whilst we have no Government House of our own, and we use the State buildings, which must have cost the States large amounts, we ought to look on a demand of this sort in a friendly spirit.

Mr McDonald - Then let us occupy" only the Government House in New South Wales.

Mr REID - That is a matter we will have to consider in connexion with this question. I do not object to the Commonwealth paying for what we get. The Commonwealth is strong enough to pav, and we ought to do so. I utterly deplore the present state of things in this Parliament. I feel that we cannot get to a sound position until the people have a chance of deciding what is to be done. There will be a desire on our side to endeavour to pass any useful measures that

M-av be submitted to us during the expiring days of this Parliament ; and, so far as the Tariff is concerned, I certainly do think that, since we have appointed a Commission, and since the Commission is reporting already upon a number of things which ought to be attended to, we might all agree ro r'o what .we can in reference tq removing hardships and anomalies which do not raise questions of principle. If a question of principle is raised, every man must vote according to his convictions ; but as regards revision,, in the light of hardships and inequalities, there may well be a general feeling of desire to remove every element of dispute.

Sitting suspended from 12.50 to 2 p.m.

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