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Friday, 22 June 1906

Mr McWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - It must be a matter for general regret that the honorable member for Mernda does not more frequently give us the advantage of his extended commercial experience and great ability. Those who have listened to his speech must have been struck with the fact that the honorable member who has had more commercial experience than any man in this House has condemned the measure lock, stock, and barrel.

Sir William Lyne - All commercial people condemn everything that they think will interfere with them.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I have a very much higher opinion of the motives which have prompted the honorable member for Mernda than is indicated by the observation of the Minister. I believe that he has spoken, as the result of his practical experience of business matters, and that his remarks will be received in this House, and in the country with the fullest respect. I think that we should first of all consider what necessity has arisen for the introduction of this measure, and, secondly, what result will probably accrue from it. The Minister has failed to show any necessity whatever for the introduction of this Bill.

To my mind, legislation of the character that is now proposed has been the greatest means in America of creating those very trusts which it is the alleged intention of the measure to combat. When the honorable member for Bland was speaking the other evening he made a quotation from a very excellent article which appeared in the Cosmopolitan Magazine upon the treachery of the United States Senate. I suggested at the time that he should also quote the succeeding article, which appeared in the last number of that journal to hand. Had he done so honorable members would realize that the swindling which has occurred in America, has been due to three factors. In the first place, these combines and trusts have secured a monopoly of the means of transport; secondly, they have obtained a prohibition through the Customs House ; and finally, they have commanded the venal support of such members of the Legislature of the United States as could be purchased to further their objects. I was particularly struck with the speech which was delivered by the honorable member for Moira in the course of this debate, and I was exceedingly surprised to hear him, representing, as he does, an agricultural constituency, indulging in the clap-trap arguments that are so frequently heard in the Trades Halt by persons who know nothing whatever about the work of the farmer, but who, nevertheless, imagine that they are able to teach him how to conduct his own business. Whilst the honorable member was speaking, I challenged him to name one line of agricultural machinery which is being sold in any part of Australia to-day at less than a fair price. If the Minister can show that this Bill has been introduced to afford protection to the farmer, I ask him to point to one article in the way of agricultural machinery which is being sold in the Commonwealth at a price below its current value. I can quite understand that the measure has been brought forward to confer a further measure of protection upon the manufacturer. Had it been introduced simply as a Tariff Bill honorable members, would have been in a fair position to fight out the issue. But my contention is that its object is to impose still further disabilities upon the primary producer to the advantage of the city manufacturer.

Mr Frazer - Would the honorable member favour the fixing of a maximum selling price in the event of foreign goods being excluded ?

Mr McWILLIAMS - I am not prepared to accept the alternative. I am not prepared to exclude the tools of trade of the agriculturist any more than I am willing to exclude the tools of trade of any other producer.

Mr Frazer - Suppose they were excluded under this Bill, would the honorable member favour the fixing of a maximum selling price to the consumer?

Mr McWILLIAMS - If we prohibit the introduction of such articles as agricultural machinery it will be our bounden dutyto protect the consumer as well.

Mr Frazer - If that were done the honorable member would find a reversal in the attitude of the local producer towards this measure.

Mr McWILLIAMS - The origin of this Bill is to be found in the McKay harvester. If Mr. McKay had not quarrelled with others engaged in the manufacture of these machines this measure would never have been submitted for our consideration. It is unfair to ask us to deal with this question before the evidence taken by the Tariff Commission upon the subject is available. We have heard a great deal of lamentation to the effect that McKay's industry is being crushed. How it it that the McKay harvester can compete successfully with the American machine in the Argentine, where there is no duty operative, whilst it cannot compete with that implement here? Since I became a member of this Parliament, I have found that underlying every measure relating to industrialism that has been introduced, there has been a deliberate attempt to penalize the agriculturist to the advantage of the city manufacturer. What, I ask, would' be the position of the farmer to-day if it were not for the labour-saving appliances that have been adopted within the past two decades? Not only our reapers and binders, but our drills, our disc harrows, and our cream separators - indeed, everything in the shape of laboursaving appliances that has been introduced, has assisted to place the producing industry of Australia in the position it occupies to-day. If we erect a barrier around our shores for the purpose of shutting out the product of the intelligence of the rest of the world, the producer must suffer to that extent. It cannot be too often impressed upon honorable members that the cream separator, the disc plough, and the harvester are as much the tools of trade of the agriculturist as is the anvil of the blacksmith or the knife of the shoemaker. There are very few honorablemembers who are not prepared' to extend a preference to our local manufacturers. But weare not now dealing with the local market. We must recognise that if it were not for our export trade in wool, wheat, butter, fruit, &c, more than half of our producers would to-morrow have to shut down. They have to compete in the markets of the world, and consequently they must have the best tools of trade that can be secured. Personally I do not object to the local manufacturer receiving fair consideration, 'but I do say that up to the present time the whole of our legislation has been in the direction of bolstering up our cities at the expense of the primary producer.

Mr Frazer - Where has that been shown ? ,

Mr McWILLIAMS - It was shown very clearly throughout the prolonged debate which took place upon the Tariff. I maintain that any Tariff which prevents the producer from acquiring the most up-to-date machinery is a direct blow to the particular industry in which he is engaged.

Mr Page - The protectionists are not satisfied with the present Tariff.

Mr McWILLIAMS - My experience of Victorian protectionists is that nothing will satisfy them. The ordinary protectionist from the other States becomes an absolute heretic the moment that he enters Victoria. The man who is prepared to support the imposition of a duty of 15 per cent., 20 per cent., or even of 25 per cent. - which, in any other part of Australia would be regarded as a stiff protective duty - is regarded as a free-trader in Victoria. Mr.Joshua, the president of the Chamber of Manufactures, in speaking of this class of protectionist, said -

The moderate protectionist is the moderate liar.

If we were to apply that sentiment to men of the Joshua class, and substitute " extreme" for "moderate," we should just about fit the bill. I promised an honorable member who kindly gave way to me that I would not occupy the time of the House for more than a few minutes, and I propose to keep my word with him. I do sincerely hope that if the Bill gets into Committee there will be a very strenuous effort made to prevent the whole of the Tariff being placed in the hands of any Minister or any Board. Almost the whole of the political corruption in America has been brought about in that way. There such matters are referred to a Committee. Here the proposal is that they shall be referred to a 'Board, which is but the same thing under another name. I sincerely trust, therefore, that, should the Bill reach the Committee stage, it will not be further proceeded with until the report of the Tariff Commission is in the hands of honorable members.

Sir William Lyne - Some honorable members would prefer that we should do no business at all.

Mr McWILLIAMS - There is plenty of other business which we can do. I remind the honorable gentleman that the Tariff Commission was appointed to investigate the very matters we are asked to deal with in this Bill. In spite of all that may have been said of that Commission, I know of no Royal Commission ever appointed in Australia that has gone more fully into the consideration of the questions submitted to it for report. The members of the Tariff Commission have laboured for weeks and months upon their arduous task, and now, when they have almost completed their labours, and are in a position to present their report within a few days, or a few weeks at the latest, it is distinctly unfair that we should be asked to deal with the very matters which they have spent months in considering before their recommendations, and the evidence they have obtained, are placed before us. I hope that if the Bill is allowed to go into Commitee, it will only be on the distinct understanding that its further consideration will be postponed until the report of the Tariff Commission is laid before us.

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