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Friday, 13 July 1906

Mr KNOX (Kooyong) .- I move -

That the amendment be amended by the insertion, after the word " Minister," of the following words : - " who shall - " (a) lay the determination before both Houses of the Parliament within seven days after its receipt, if the Parliament is then sitting, or, if the Parliament is not then sitting, within seven days of the next meeting of the Parliament ; and " (i) cause to be submitted to both Houses of the Parliament a resolution approving of the determination. " If the resolution is passed by both Houses of the Parliament, the GovernorGeneral may, under the powers of the Customs Act 1901, prohibit the importation of the imported goods, either absolutely or under such conditions and restrictions as he deems just, and in that case the provisions of that Act shall apply to goods so prohibited."

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2 -p.m.

Mr KNOX - The objects of the amendment are, I think, sufficiently clear to honorable members, without calling for much explanation on my part. The sub-clause, as it stands, reads -

The Justice shall forward his determination to the Minister, who shall, &c.

Since I gave notice of my intention to move this amendment, there has been a very important alteration made, and that is the substitution df a Justice of the High Court for the Board. But I still believe that the object and purpose of the measure would have been much more effectively and fairly secured if the course I am now suggesting had been adopted, even without the intervention of the Justice. As soon as the receipt of the certificate of the Comptroller-General had been acknowledged' by .the Minister it should have placed an obligation upon the latter to at once consult Parliament if sitting. But if it be not sitting, I venture to suggest that the procedure proposed under a Justice will occupy a considerable time. No inspector can be at the beck and call of the ComptrollerGeneral or Minister; he mav be in another part of the Commonwealth ; and consequently there may be a long interval before a decision can be obtained.

I hold that a similar objection will apply to the employment of a Justice. I do not think that there should be any opposition offered to the amendment on that ground. I would remind the Minister that the Bill is intended to deal with extraordinary conditions. The AttorneyGeneral has stated that he regards the Tariff as dealing with ordinary importations, bub this Bill as dealing with extraordinary importations. I may be told that the Minister would always be responsible to Parliament, and that it would always be open to it to dissent from his action. But that argument, I submit, does not properly apply here, inasmuch as there may reasonably be a diversity of opinion on a subject of this magnitude. I earnestly hope that this fair and just proposal may receive serious consideration, from the Minister. He perhaps still adheres to his view that, after representations have been made and justified before a Justice of the High Court, importations which may be of great magnitude may be justly prohibited, and that there is no justification for the position I have taken up. But I earnestly submit that there is a' serious responsibility placed upon the Minister as to the manner in which the Bill shall be applied, and that any suggestion is worthy of consideration. I understand that a distinct promise has been given by the Opposition to push the Bill through its Committee stage today. Therefore, I do not propose to deal exhaustively with the subject-matter of the amendment, or to show to what extent restraint of trade may be involved. It is a tremendous power which is being given to the Minister. I think that even with the reference to the Justice, it will be found to be rather complicated and expensive machinery; and to entail enormous hardship upon certain importers. I submit-that inasmuch as the Ministry has substantially affirmed that the object of the Bill is to deal with extraordinary conditions, we are justified in asking that Parliament should be afforded an opportunity of considering extraordinary determinations of the. Minister. Every item of the Tariff had to be approved bv both Houses, and surely when drastic action is taken by the Minister in regard to certain imports his determination ought to be subject to review by the same tribunal. I sincerely believe that if the amendment is adopted, it is likely to improve the condition of things. It is not submitted out of any feeling of hostility to the principle underlying the measure. If the Bill is seriously applied, even with the numerous alterations which have been made, and the concessions which have been secured, I fear that serious consequences may result. Parliament is the expression of the will of the people, and it should, I think, be called in as arbitrator in a matter of this importance.

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