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Wednesday, 11 July 1906

Mr MCWILLIAMS (Franklin) . - I think that this is a subject of sufficient importance to warrant every honorable member in freely expressing his opinions.

Sir William Lyne - A promise was given last night that the debate would not be continued at any great length. Otherwise I should have gone om till a later hour.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - Honorable members will no doubt have made a special note of the speeches delivered by three honorable members who are also members of the Tariff Commission. Although those honorable members very properly refrained from disclosing the information in their possession - and which we are unfortunately precluded from sharing with them at the present time - no one could have more directly or straightforwardly told the Committee that in the light of the knowledge they possessed, the Bill should not be proceeded with.

Mr Wilks - They all spoke with the gag in their mouth.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - They spoke in the light of information of which other hon- orable members and the country have not yet been able to avail themselves - information of the most valuable kind bearing upon the objects of the Bill.

Mr Mauger - What has this to do with our loyalty to Great Britain?

Mr McWILLIAMS - The honorable member trades upon the cry of " loyalty to the Empire " when he is before the electors, and forgets all about it the moment that he is returned to this House.

Mr Mauger - The honorable member does not know what he is talking about.

Mr McWILLIAMS - No one is so prone as is the honorable member for Melbourne Ports to stigmatize as paupers the artisans of the mother country, who include in their ranks many better men than the honorable member will ever be. I support the amendment because, it seems to me, that it makes a definite step in the direction of preferential trade, of which I have always been a strong supporter. I was elected to this Chamber as a supporter of that principle.

Mr Mauger - This is a proposal for preferential dumping.

Mr McWILLIAMS - We have not had presented to us any evidence of dumping, and the honorable member would be better employed if, instead of persistently interrupting, he produced some facts which would show that the statements made regarding dumping upon our market are wellfounded. Three years ago the Preferential Trade flag, under which a good many of us were elected, was hoisted by the Prime Minister. I desire to make one or two quotations from speeches delivered by him in Sydneyjust prior to the last general elections, and I think that I shall be able to show that the principle which underlies the amendment then received his strongest advocacy. The Prime Minister went . to Sydney for the definite purpose - and he was quite entitled to do so - of inducing the electors to return him and his followers to Parliament, in order that fiscal peace might prevail, and preferential trade be brought about. He appeared, in company with the Hon. B. R. Wise, at the Town Hall, Paddington, in support of Mr. Dalley, who sought to win the seat now so ably filled by the honorable member for Went worth. He said -

He and Mr. Wise, who differed on fiscal questions, found themselves side by side upon the same national platform. In that one circumstance, they had the key to the new situation that was developing. The old shibboleths had been laid aside, and they had to fit themselves to the new circumstances by which they were confronted.

The Prime Minister then could talk of nothing but the Empire. He voiced the cry of the " Empire for the citizens of the Empire,'' and we heard nothing of the cry of "Australia for the Australians." He went on to say -

This fact had awakened those who were vigilant and who saw the Empire's necessities. They must view them not from the Australian point of view alone, and not from the British point alone, but from the view of the Empire as a whole. It was from that stand-point that they were bound to decide the issue submitted to them during the coming election. Theirs was a platform upon which protectionists and freetraders could alike join hands. Mr. Wise was as firm in his fiscal faith as he (Mr. Deakin) was, but he realized the fact that they were no longer faced by the same circumstances.

The Prime Minister then made a strong point. He remarked -

There was the plain fact that if they wanted preference to be given to the mother country they must return this (Deakin) Government to the next Parliament with a majority. If the people desired no preference to be. given to the mother country, they would put the Opposition into power. The establishment of preferential trade would give the Empire greater strength. It would mean that the people of Australia and the other dependencies of the Empire would obtain a larger share of the Empire trade ; it would mean that the component parts of the Empire would be able to trade more to their mutual advantage.

In this utterance we have presented the distinct and clear programme of the preferentialtrader. Speaking at the Town Hall, Sydney", on the same date, the Prime Minister said -

The real question at issue in regard to the proposals of the Government was the establishment of trade relations with the mother country. Free-trade and protection were the old catchwords. He would show them the difference between the old and the new. It was not a question of free-trade or protection. It was a question of freer trade within the Empire. (Cheers.) In Australia in ten years the imports of British goods had declined by£1, 000,000 a year - our foreign imports had increased by£5,000,000. The same thing had manifested itself in Canada and Canada recognised this and granted a preference tariff to the mother country. The decline ceased tinder that tariff, and in six years the trade with the mother country doubled. What reason was there why the same thing should not apply to Australia? Why should we not become larger customers for British goods.

We are now asking the Prime Minister to carry out his election pledges.

Mr McWILLIAMS - When the sitting was suspended I was completing a quotation from an eloquent speech which was delivered by the Prime Minister prior to the last general election upon the subject of preferential trade. The honorable and learned gentleman went on to say -

Why should we not send to the mother country the sum of£14,000,000 which we send abroad ? Why should we not give a preference to the mother country so as to buy more from her than from the Argentine? Whom were we called upon to consider within the Empire except citizens of the Empire?

In concluding he said -

They would not tamper with the Tariff, but would stimulate industry. The people could only achieve those objects by returning candidates who would support the Government, because the policy of the Opposition was not preference to the mother country. If the Government were returned with a majority, they would propose preferential trade. Let them make the home land a reality. Their watchword was fiscal peace and preferential trade.

It will be seen that at the last elections the Prime Minister and his party made this question a vital one, and I claim that they are now afforded an opportunity of giving effect to the very principles upon which they were elected. I have a vivid recollection - because I take a deeper interest in this question than in any other - that the Prime Minister intimated that he was prepared to grant a preference to the mother country without seeking anything whatever in return. I find that, when he was speaking upon the Address-in-Reply on 3rd March, 1904, the leader of the Opposition interjected -

The question is : Will the Minister make a substantial reduction of the duties in order to achieve the glorious results that he is picturing?

To which the honorable and learned gentleman replied -

Speaking personally, I am perfectly prepared to do so.

Mr Johnson - I wonder if he will indorse that statement now.

Mr McWILLIAMS - All that we ask is that? Ministers shall at least grant some modicum of preference to the mother country - an action which I believe the electors of the Commonwealth would readily indorse. What is the whole policy of the Commonwealth, so far as immigration is concerned? We shall very shortly be asked to sanction the appointment of a High Commissioner in London, largely in order that we may secure suitable immigrants for Australia. I am satisfied that there is nobody in this House or outside of it who wishes to see an influx of the artisan class into the Commonwealth at this precise moment The immigrants whom we desire to attract are those connected with agricultural pursuits. The general idea is that upon the seaboard of Australia especially, a much larger number of people should be settled. What is the position to-day? In connexion with every additional acre that is ploughed for the cultivation of wheat, or laid down in orchards, or sown with grasses for dairying purposes, we all recognise that the one object in view is that of export. In the majority of our primary industries our production already exceeds our local consumption. In the sugar industry within a comparatively few years the production must be largely in excess of Australian requirements1, and then the surplus must be sent abroad. Where are we to send it?

Mr Page - Send it to Tasmania, to enable the apple-growers to convert their fruit into jam.

Mr McWILLIAMS - Great as is the future of the fruit industry of Tasmania, I fear that it will not be able to absorb the surplus production of sugar within the next fewyears. If the honorable member knew asmuch about the manufacture of jam as he does about tropical fruits-

Mr Page - I know a good apple when I eat it.

Mr McWILLIAMS - If the honorable member knew as much about jam-making as he does about the cultivation of tropical fruits, he would1 know that, as a matter of fact, our apples are not converted into jam. The moment that the Australian production of sugar exceeds Australian requirements we shall have to export the surplus, just as we do in the case of our wheat, butter, wool, and fruit, and the only possible market for the whole of our primary products is that offered by the mother country. As has already been pointed out, Great Britain opens her ports to us, so as to permit of us " dumping," as the Minister of Trade and Customs would say, the whole of our primary products into that country.

Mr Page - Other countries take our products, as well as Great Britain.

Mr McWILLIAMS - I do not know of any other country which admitsour primary products without subjecting them to Tariff duties. It is true that they take our gold and our wool-

Mr Page - They do, to an enormous extent.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - But so far as our wheat, butter, and fruit are concerned, the United Kingdom is the only market which is open to us.

Mr Page - But the prices of the world rule there.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I am aware of that, and that is one of my objections to a Bill of this character, which may perhaps hamper the producer, who has to compete in the markets' of the world, and so prevent him from producing at the lowest possible price. There is a great national question involved in the consideration of this proposal. I am an Australian, and I yield to none in my desire to see the Commonwealth flourish and progress. But I do think that there is such a thing as national "sponging," just as there may be individual " sponging." Alii the talk of preferential trade and " the bonds of Empire" is sheer hypocrisy if when a proposal is brought forward in a concrete form we refuse to indorse it. I am a preferential trader under almost any circumstances. I am prepared to grant an unconditional preference to the mother country. I am prepared to increase the duties which we levy upon the productions of foreign countries proportionately as we reduce them upon British goods. If we extend to Great Britain a preference of 5 per cent, upon any article, I am prepared to add that 5 per cent, to the duty we impose upon the importations from foreign countries. I am wholly in sympathy with the declaration of the Prime Minister at the last election that we owe something to the Empire in the matter of her trade relations with, us, altogether apart from the question of the national protection which we enjoy at the hands of the British Navy. We owe a great debt to Great Britain, inasmuch as she takes the surplus of practically everything that we produce. If we give effect to the policy of the Minister cf Trade and Customs bv practically erecting a Chinese wall around Australia, so as to prevent importation, sooner or later those who have to export to the old world will be called upon to face largely increased freights. The factor which chiefly contributes to cheap freights is full bottoms. If we have to send a ship in ballast to any country, high freights must be charged, because half the journey is undertaken at a dead loss, and the whole of the profits must be obtained from the one voyage. The way to foster the export trade is to secure full bottoms to and from Australia. I hold that we ought to embody the amendment of the honorable member for North Sydney in this Bill, for the purpose of preventing a direct stigma being cast - as the deputy leader of the Opposition has pointed out' - upon the traders of the old country. So far as I have been able to gather from the newspaper reports of the proceedings of the Tariff Commission, there has not been one tittle of evidence adduced to show that there has been any dumping of goods in Australia on the part of Great Britain. The dumping of which complaint has been made, has come largely from Germany, Japan, and the United States.

Mr Kennedy - Then this Bill will not affect Great Britain.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - If the mother country is trading honestly with us, I do not think that we ought to class her amongst those whom the Minister has charged with a direct attempt to crush Australian industries, with a view subsequently to fleecing the Australian farmer by charging him an increased price for his agricultural implements. I do not blame the Minister for having made that charge, because it provides his only justification for the introduction of a Bill of this character. He has given us to understand that there has been a deliberate attempt on the part of some manufacturers to secure Australian trade for the ultimate purpose of fleecing the local consumer. But not one tittle of evidence has been forthcoming to show that anything of the kind has emanated from the old 'country in her trading relations with the Commonwealth. I have never believed in the doctrine that we should regard every man as a criminal until he has established his innocence. I hold that we should regard the traders of Great Britain as innocent of any desire to wreck Australian manufactures for the purpose of securing the whole of our trade until evidence is forthcoming of their guilt. We should not be called upon to legislate in the dark. From the evening newspaper we learn to-day that the Tariff Commission has completed the talking of evidence. The only reason I can assign for the attempt of Ministers to force the Bill through t!he House before that evidence is furnished is that they are afraid' that it will not substantiate the charges which they have made here. It is rumoured that many of those who believed that the Tariff Commission was going-

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member must not discuss that matter.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - It is not fair to ask us to proceed with the measure until that evidence, which is already in type, has been circulated. I sincerely hope that the third reading, of the 'Bill will not be agreed to until it is available. There is no reason why it should not be , in our hands in a very short time". In view of the -fact that the collection of this evidence has cost Australia many thousands of pounds, and represents the hard1 labour of some of our ablest public men for seventeen months,* it is not fair either to the Chamber or to the country that it should not be circulated before the Bill is disposed of. I hope that, in view of their protestations in favour of preferential trade, the Prime Minister and his followers will show their consistency and earnestness by agreeing to the amendment.

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