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Wednesday, 11 July 1906

Mr HENRY WILLIS (ROBERTSON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I withdraw the remark; but I say that, if any person outside were to gather together a following under the banner of preferential trade, and then deceive that following when an opportunity presented itself of carrying the policy into effect, he would be called a traitor, and would never again be followed as a representative of the people. Occasionally there are exceptions to the rule of parliamentary procedure, and I am not permitted to further refer to that phase of the question. What has the British Navy done for our trade? Where would our trade be if we had not the. protection of the British Navy ? What would become of the tens of millions of pounds' worth of Colonial trade in time of war if we had not the Navy to protect it from attack. For the Auxiliary Fleet in Australia we pay £200,000 a year. That fleet cost the British taxpayer £2,500,000, which represents1s per head of our population, as against 15s. per head paid for the protection of our trade by the British workmen whose goods are not to be admitted here. Should we not be a despicable set of people if we refused to trade with our own kith and kin. and resolved to shut out the productions of the horny-handed, hard-fisted workers of that country. The 40,000,000 people in Great Britain contribute largely to our protection, and aid our development in every way possible, asking absolutely nothing in return. That is not the way in which the Continental nations treat their Colonies, which have to contribute to the home exchequers. We, however, pay to Great Britain very much less than the actual cost of the protection which we receive from the presence of her vessels of war in our waters. TheAttorney-General has told the Committee that the amendment cannot be accepted, because the British manufacturer might take advantage of the preference held out to him, and dump goods in our markets in order to cripple our industries. That seems to me a very weak argument.

Have we not a Tariff to protect our manufacturers against such importations? And are we not about to receive reports from a Royal Commission appointed to investigate the working of that Tariff? The Prime Minister, in reply to a question asked by me yesterday, stated that, upon the presentation of those reports, he will introduce a Bill to amend the present Tariff. I take it that, in some cases where there are anomalies, he will propose a reduction of duties ; but do we not know that in most cases he will propose the raising of duties ? How can there be dumping such as would cripple our industries, in the face of a high protective Tariff? No instances of dumping have been put before the Committee. The Minister has referred us to a list of imports totalling in value £7,000,000. But we know, as a matter of fact, that, taking into account the increase of population, the value of our imports varies hardly to the extent of £100,000 a year in tin plates and ironmongery. ' Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, who calls himself the missionary of Empire, has said that Great Britain expects consideration from the Colonies, which are equally concerned in the development and permanency of the Empire. He wants us to increase the production of Great Britain by taking the products of her secondary industries, while she, on her part, will take from us the products of our primary industries. Has he not defined commerce as the exchange of goods for goods? With that phase of the question I will deal later. When the AttorneyGeneral was sitting, on the cross benches, and supporting the Watson Administration, he issued a manifesto for the information of honorable members and the public at large, in one paragraph of which he announced that he favoured preferential trade, and, on one occasion when I was speaking on the subject, he interjected, " Is the honorable member against preferential trade?"

Mr Poynton - Is the honorable member in favour of it ?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I, like the honorable member, am infavour of preferential trade.

Mr Poynton - I am not.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Then the honorable member has lost the faith which he had. There was a time when he believed that there should be comparative free-trade between Great Britain and Australia. I am in favour of bringing about preferential trade by reducing the duties on British imports, leaving the Tariff as it is on foreign imports. The duties on British imports must come down.

Mr Mauger - In some cases.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - In every case. Mr. Chamberlain has declared that there can be no compact between Great Britain and her Colonies unless the mother country is given a preference. What preference can we give her, unless we reduce the duties on tin plates and iron manufactures, the chief lines upon which Mr. Chamberlain has asked for preference?

Mr Poynton - Would the honorable member give preference to the productions of India?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I include India in my system of preferential trade.

Sir William Lyne - - Oh !

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Does the Minister think that any Australian industry will be injured by the dumping into this market of Indian tea, coffee, or rice? If he had any knowledge of our trade with India, he would know how unlikely it is that any Australian industry would be crippled by the dumping in this market of Indian goods. He clutched at the interjection of the honorable member for Grey as a drowning man clutches at a straw.

Mr Hughes - I should like to ask the honorable member for Robertson a question, through you, Mr. Chairman.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable and learned member cannot speak now, except to a point of order. Do I understand that he is addressing me on a point of order?

Mr Hughes - What I wish to say may be taken as a point of order, if you, sir, like to regard it in that light. I wish to know whether I shall have an opportunity to make a speech to-night, for I have something to say on this subject, and it does not seem likely that the honorable member will soon bring his remarks to a conclusion ?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - If the honorable and learned member has something to say, I hope that he will say it. He very often speaks without saying anything. At one time preferential trade was the trump card of the Attorney-General ; and the Prime Minister, too. stumped the country in favour of that policy.

Sir William Lyne - The honorable member has said this six times.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Probably I shall say it sixty times before I have finished with the subject.

Mr Mauger - The honorable member would have made a good bishop.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports is nothing unless he is ridiculous. What has become of the advocacy of the AttorneyGeneral of preferential trade? Was he in earnest when he declared himself to be in favour of that policy, or was he following the example of the Minister of Trade and Customs, and making that declaration only for political purposes? Was what he said only so much clap-trap, like his speech to the miners in his constituency, when he went back on protection, and spoke of whipping the willing horse to death? It seems to me that he is giving merely lip service to the Empire. He is shrewd enough to know the side on which his bread is buttered ; but, now that he has got into office, he has forgotten his promises to the country.

Mr Mauger - Is the honorable member in order in saying that a Minister has broken his promises, and is acting only for political and personal ends?

The CHAIRMAN - I did not understand the honorable member for Robertson to say that any Minister has done that ; but if he did say so, I am sure that he will withdraw the words.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - Whatever may be your ruling, sir, I shall abide by it. The Attorney-General, by prohibiting the importation of goods which are necessary alike to the manufacturer and the primary producer, is retarding progress and is acting in a manner which ill befits his position. The Prime Minister, too, was returned to support preferential . trade, and I ask, why have not he and other Ministers done something for that policy ? Of what use are their professions unless something practical is done? Ministers are only playing with the people, and it seems to me that they are serving their personal ends instead of trying to benefit the country.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member must not impute motives.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I withdraw any remarks which may be considered by you, sir, unparliamentary. The AttorneyGeneral advocated preferential trade with a view to getting into office. He has broken the pledges he gave to his constituents, and has thus been guilty of political dishonesty. We had a right to expect something more from a representative of the people, who is responsible, not only to his constituents, but to every member of this House. I appeal to him to do his duty, and to cease humbugging -the public. An opportunity is now presented to those who believe in pre- ferential trad'e to insure that preference shall be given to importations from Great Britain. Mr. Chamberlain's appeal which aroused the enthusiasm of the AttorneyGeneral and the Minister of Trade and Customs, and induced the Prime Minister to stump the country in advocacy of preferential trade, had no lasting effect. After they assumed office Ministers entirely overlooked the promises to the people on the strength of which they were elected to this House, and I believe that they will verv soon be called to account for their dereliction of duty. Mr. Chamberlain pointed out that the English trade was languishing to the extent of £46,000,000 per annum.

The CHAIRMAN - I would point out to the honorable member that the question before the Committee is not whether Mr. Chamberlain made certain, statements, but whether certain words should be included in the clause.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I shall establish the connexion between my remarks and the amendment. Mr. Chamberlain succeeded in satisfying hundreds of thousands of people in Great Britain that preferential trade was necessary, and he made a strong appeal to the people of Australia to assist him in the movement.

The CHAIRMAN - The honorable member will be in order in making a passing reference to Mr. Chamberlain's statements, but will not be in order in discussing them in detail.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I have no intention to discuss the matter in detail, because that would take up too much time. After the Conference at which Sir Edmund Barton promised Mr. Chamberlain that on his return to Australia he would introduce legislation which would give preference to Great Britain, Mr. Chamberlain said -

My words to Australia arc these : Do not increase your Tariff walls against us, but put them down where that is necessary to the success of this policy to which you are committed. This is the parting of the ways. In twenty years it will be too late.

This is the first opportunity that we have had presented to us to give effect to the promise made by Sir Edmund Barton, and 1 appeal to honorable members to take advantage of it. The Bill as it stands would practically prohibit the importation of goods from Great Britain if their sale in this market would probably lead to a reduction of wages or an increase of the working hours in our factories. If goods can be produced in other parts of the world at a much less cost than they can be manufactured in Australia, their introduction here must necessarily lead to longer hours of work or reduced pay 'for our operatives if the local manufacturers expect to monopolize the trade. " It seems to me that the Bill would operate against Great Britain as well as other countries. Our exports to Great Britain are valued at £12,000,000 per annum, whilst our exports to foreign countries represent an annual value of ,£17,000,000. It is well known that commerce consists in the exchange of goods, and1 that it will be impossible for us to receive payment for our exports of primary products, unless we accept from the countries consuming them certain goods in exchange.- If we do not accept goods from those who take our products, they will soon cease to trade with us. If we place an embargo upon the manufactures of Great Britain, our export trade with that country will be affected to the extent of ,£12,000,000 per annum. If we shut out from Australia the manufactures of Great Britain and other countries that are required by our farmers and producers, how can we possibly receive payment for the products that we export? We cannot hope to establish our manufacturing industries within the next twenty years or more upon such a scale that Ave shall be able io meet all our own requirements, and if the Bill were allowed to operate in the manner that seems to be contemplated, it would reduce us to a hopeless condition. If the provisions of the measure had the effect of increasing the duties upon British imports by 20 per cent., or upon colonial manufacturers to that percentage, we should to that extent reduce the income of our primary producers.

The CHAIRMAN - Does the honorable member intend to connect His remark's with the amendment? I have been following his speech very carefully, and I cannot see any relation between his observations and the matter now before the Chair.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I am pointing out that, in order to maintain our commercial relations with GreatBritain, it is necessary for us to take goods from her in exchange for our products. That seems to me to be the very essence of the question. We must not treat goods sent to us in the ordinary course of exchange as if they were being dumped on our shores with the object of destroying our industries. It is necessary to our prosperity that we should exchange commodities with the old country, and, moreover, it behoves us to do something for the motherland. We must be loyal to the Empire, which has done so much for us. Great Britain engages from time to time in numerous little wars in order to protect her extending trade, and our commerce, in common with that of all other parts of the Empire, is carried on under the protection of the British flag. Surely we should not be indifferent to all the benefits that have been conferred upon us by Great Britain. She affords us her protection, and her manufacturers take from us our raw material and give it back to us in the form of manufactured goods. The motherland has given to us of her best. The leading men in our universities come from the motherland, and in every walk of life, and in every branch of industry, she has assisted us. We should certainly give her a preference over foreign nations. Instead of shutting out her good's, we should do all we can to foster her trade by entering into reciprocal relations. We should follow the example of New Zealand and Canada, and extend to her a real and lasting preference. We should show our appreciation of the spirit which animated the writer of the lines -

For the cause that lacks assistance,

For the wrongs that need resistance,

For the future in the distance

And the good that we can do.

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