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Tuesday, 17 July 1906

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) .- When it was proposed that this Bill should be read a third time to-day, I objected to it, because, in the first place, I do not believe that such legislation is so immediately necessary that the forms of the House should be suspended to permit its being passed more expeditiously. Agreeable to a promise which it appears the acting leader of the Opposition gave, I withdrew my objection to the third reading being taken to-day ; but I quite agree with the honorable member for Kooyong when he says that a plain copy of the Bill, as amended, was presented to us only this morning, and we are therefore not quite in a position to indicate all our objections to the measure as now framed. My objection to it begins with the very title, which, in my opinion, is utterly and entirely a misnomer. We call this a Bill for the preservation of Australian industries, and yet we have never once defined what an Australian industry is.

Mr Wilks - The lawyers. ,

Mr CONROY - Quite so; an industry that has to live on other people. This is certainly a Bill to preserve industries that must live on other people. My definition of an industry is any work in which people are engaged, and in which the result of their labours is a greater benefit than is caused by the expenditure of their own work. If the product of their work is not equal to the expenditure upon it, it cannot be an industry, otherwise we might as well say that the people who, in some of our pauper institutions, by growing vegetables, contribute 10 per cent. or 20 per cent. of the cost of their keep, are engaged in an industry, although the balance of 80 per cent. has to be made up by contributions taken from the pockets of other people. So far as this Bill goes, the industries with which it attempts to deal are what are called the secondary industries.It is true that the great bulk of our secondary industries do not rely upon other people. Only a. very small section of them do; but that small section seems to be unable to get along without extraneous help - that is to say, without being allowed by law to collect something from other people. The employers who are engaged in these socalled industries are chiefly the class of people whom this Bill is framed to assist. So that clearly it is entirely what I call sectional legislation. In fact, it is so entirely framed in the interests of a few persons that it might be called - I really forget what title the Government have given the Bill ; Iam sure that they do not know, and I doubt if any one else does.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - A Bill for the Preservation of Australian Industries.

Mr CONROY - That is the nominal title, but the true title is a Bill for the Creation of Trusts, because, if it is anything at all, it is a measure for the creation of trusts in certain lines.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - No; it is a Bill to milk the public for the benefit of tha workers and the manufacturers.

Mr CONROY - It is a Bill for the benefit of the manufacturers.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is a Bill to milk the consumers.

Mr CONROY - It is a Bill to milk the consumers, and for the benefit of a section of the manufacturers. When it was proposed to put in a clause for the benefit of workers only, providing for fixing the price of an article at such a rate that the manufacturer should not be able to sell above it, the members of the Ministry, even although they had the Labour Party at their backs, refused to support it. It is true that certain members of the Labour Party did come across and vote for the proposal, because they saw that if a monopoly was to be granted, at least the benefit should, as far as possible, be extended over a large section of the workmen engaged in the production of that particular line of goods. Of course, to my mind, that would only have minimized the evil. As it would have been purely sectional and in the interests of a particular class only as against the interests of the great mass of the people, I could not accord it any direct support, except on the ground mentioned, because I hold that we, as parliamentarians, if we properly understand our duties, are only in the light of trustees for beneficiaries. It ought to be our duty to take care that no one set of beneficiaries - who are the public citizens - get any rights at the expense of the other beneficiaries. But we are departing entirely from that principle, and in measures of this sort we seem to be advocating the idea that he is the beneficiary mostly to be favoured who can make his representations in the most powerful manner to the Ministerial ear. If in fact, a man is able to interview the Minister, and is of such standing in the manufacturing world that his representations are likely to be attended to, then, and then only, can the provisions of this Bill be put in force, because for him only could they be so used that benefit would accrue. Under these circumstances, it is only right and proper that those of us who take that view should oppose the Bill as we have done. Where are the industries that are threatened ? So long ago as November last, when the Bill was first introduced, we asked the Minister to name them. A period of seven or eight months has elapsed, and he now comes forward and tells us that the manufacturers of sewing machines are threatened. Of course, we know that he did not want to mention the real name, and therefore he said that the manufacturers of sewing machines are threatened. I find that in Australia there is only one man who practically holds himself out as a manufacturer of sewing machines. So that when the Minister said that a great industry was being threatened, he meant that one manufacturer was threatened with competition - a competition which I am thankful to say still exists, and whichI hope will long continue to exist. He meant further that this manufacturer might not be able to get quite the same rate of profit as he had previously been enioving, and that if the Bill were passed in its entirety he, himself, knowing that manufacturer, would be able to put an end to all competition, and to allow him to raise the price of his machines at his own sweet will.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And what proportion' of the parts does he import?

Mr CONROY - I believe that he imports the bulk of the parts.

Mr BRUCE SMITH (PARKES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He is a joiner, not a manufacturer.

Mr CONROY - -Exactly. I do not wish to deal with that aspect, but to point out that the provisions of the Bill are so framed that they would apply to that particular individual only, that while he might be able to get the whole of the benefit which would result from the Tariff being made practically prohibitive, as, of course, it would be in that case, not one atom of the benefit would be allowed to accrue to any of the workmen, and that the Ministry also voted against such a clause being introduced when some of us, prompted by a desire to seek to minimise the evils that must result from its operation, determined that at all events the manufacturer would not have altogether his own way. i know of no other country in which, when it has been sought to put down trusts, Parliament has not always determined that the Tariff should be lowered, and not increased. Under those circumstances, why do we not seek to provide for lowering the duty on an article whenever a local trust is likely to be formed ? I would remind honorable members that in any previous Bill it has always been sought to lower the duties. Surely the first Minister of Trade and Customs, the right honorable member for Adelaide, was a sincere opponent of trusts ! If there was a man who was strict and earnest in his endeavours to db away with trusts, it was he. In the first session of the first Parliament he introduced a Bill, but so far from seeking to make the duties prohibitive, as this Bill does, it contained a clause to the effect that Parliament might sweep them away. That was an attempt to grapple with the evil; and a recognition of what has caused trusts in America - the Tariff. I think that it was Mr. Havemeyer, the president of the Sugar Trust, who, when examined before the Tariff Commission, said - " The Tariff is the mother of trust's. It is the Government that plunders the people with the Tariff, and the trusts are merely the machinery which enables the people to be plundered." These were very wise and uncommonly true statements. Because we see that in every country where very high duties exist, especially where they have become practi cally prohibitive - and in this case they could become absolutely prohibitive - trusts always flourish to an extent unknown in other lands. It was a recognition of that fact which caused the right honorable member for Adelaide, when he brought in his Bill for prohibiting trusts, to adopt a policy exactly opposite to that suggested here. His policy was to lower the duties to vanishing point, so that competition could be brought- in, and it was reserved for the present Minister of Trade and Customs to bring in a Bill to make the duties absolutely prohibitive; in fact, to prohibit the importation of the goods, and then to turn round and say, " Still, my Bill is an Anti-Trust Bill." One or other of them must be absolutely wrong. The Minister of Trade and Customs has the boldness - I will not use a stronger word - to term this an anti-Trust Bill, but those who have studied it know that its effect will be to create trusts. That knowledge must be in the minds of most of the members of the Labour Party, because, with the exception of a few who are opposed to the measure, they have carefully absented themselves from these debates, so that they may not have to listen to speeches against provisions which, in their inmost hearts, they know to be opposed to the interests of the class which they represent. What I have said of that part of the Bill which deals with dumping applies equally to that part which deals with the repression of monopolies. The measure is really one to create monopolies, because its effect will be to destroy competition, and only in the absence of competition can there be monopolies. It is a wonderful thing that the House should agree to legislation of this kind, and pass a Bill, ostensibly to do one thing, which it is known will accomplish . the contrary. This is an age when there is a mania for legislating, it being, thought that everything can be done or remedied bv . the mere passing of Acts of Parliament. Itis time that a halt was called'. If we go on piling up Statute's, the people will insist upon an alteration of the Constitution, and we shall have imposed upon us a restriction similar to that in vogue in America, where the Parliaments of thirty-nine out of the forty-five States of the Union are allowed to sit once only every two \ ears thirty-seven of them being allowed a maximum session of ninety days, or about three months, the minimum session being forty days, or about six weeks.

Mr Poynton - They would not do much work if they had many members like the honorable and learned gentleman.

Mr CONROY - There would be fewer interfering measures on the statute-book - less legislative interference and less taxa-tion, two very good principles on which to appeal to the electors. I am sure that the honorable member would support at least the second. We should recognise the signs of the times, and cease from our continual interference. The effect of a meddlesome Act is that other meddlesome Acts have to be passed to remedy the evils which it creates. Every interfering measure leads, in the nature of things, to subsequent legislation of the same kind. It is only by ceasing from interference, and by trusting as much as possible to the spirit of freedom prevailing among our people, that we shall make true progress. The whole wisdom of the community is not embodied in its parliamentary representatives. Many members of Parliament, indeed, are not competent to manage properly their own affairs. Why, then, should the Legislature attempt to lay down rules for the conduct of every branch of business? The less we interfere in these matters the better it will be for the Commonwealth. We have too much the idea that we are heaven-born legislators. But even if we had the necessary knowledge - and the bulk of us have not - we have not the time to properly regulate all human transactions, and the people have not the inclination to comply with our conditions. By adding to the bulk of the Statutes we are creating a contempt for law. Every new Act increases the cost of administration, and subsequently leads to the imposition of fresh taxation. As we all know, the taxes are paid by the productive members of the community, because the unproductive members cannot contribute, and to the extent to which we decrease the wealth of the people we lessen their capacity to employ others. If we continue as we are doing, a section of the community will be taxed to support another section almost as large, engaged in supervision rendered necessary by our meddlesome legislation. We are coddling the people, and are preventing the growth of that spirit of independence which alone can create a nation. It is not by continual interference that we can make our people a nation worthy of the name. In private life it is often seen when a man of very strong character never allows his children to have a voice in the determination of affairs, that they grow to manhood not worth a rap. Their wills never having been called into play, they readily succumb to temptations which the children of less strong-willed and less interfering fathers often escape. Very often a man who is regarded as very wise has sons who turn out no good. The. man may be very big, but not wise enough, because he has prevented his children from exercising their will-power whilst in his presence, and has prevented the growth of that spirit of independence, the exercise of which alone can insure success in the battle of life. By .measures of this kind we are seeking to destroy that spirit. Above all things, we should aim at the formation of character, and we cannot build up character in the nation when by repeated acts of interference we seek to destroy it. The Bill has been assented to by a very unwilling House. I am sure that if the majority of honorable members had been free to express their views, and if time had permitted of the formation of another Ministry, without the fear of bringing about a dissolution, the Labour Party would have withheld their support from the Government. The measure has been pushed through solely owing to the tenacity of the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon whom all the blame attaching to such legislation should fall.

Mr DAVID THOMSON (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) - Does the honorable and learned member think that the Minister has hypnotized us?

Mr CONROY - I do not say that. Honorable members in the Labour corner are not alone in regarding it as very undesirable that there should be an immediate dissolution. In any case it would be very difficult to hold a general election before the middle of November, because the rolls are not prepared. Consequently; the Government must be permitted to carry on in some way or other. It is unfortunate, however, that Ministers should have taken advantage of the situation to force through a Bill of this kind!, because I do not think that it will redound to the credit of any of those who have supported it. I would ask honorable members to look at clause 2t, which members of the Opposition desired to have recommitted. Under that clause a man mav give information which mav cause the whole course of trade to be interrupted, and mav put a competitor to a great deal of expense, and yet, though he mav have made a wilfully false statement, no punishment beyond the infliction of a fine of £100 is to be meted out to him. The Minister seemed to be very anxious with regard to this matter, possibly because he may intend to act on the declaration of some manufacturer whom he knows. If a wilfully false statement were made by a manufacturer no penalty other than a fine of £100 would be inflicted merely because the statement had not been made on oath. Possibly, he would be willing to pay such an amount in order to put a rival to an expense of perhaps £1,000. The Minister evidently thinks that some one he knows may swear an information, and be able to protect himself under a provision of this kind by saying, " Even if I have sworn an information, what has that to do with it. The penalty provided for is £roo, and that is all the punishment that can be inflicted upon me." I thought at first that a mistake had been made, and that the Minister would have allowed the clause to 'be recommitted. But now that he has refused to adopt that course, honorable members are entitled te predict the very worse consequences from such legislation. If a mistake had been made it could easily have been corrected. If a man merely makes a false statement that is misleading in any particular, a penalty of ,£100 fine may be sufficient, but if he wilfully makes ai false statement he should be much more heavily punished. The fine of £100 would be a mere fleabite compared with the heavy expense to which the informant might put a competitor, and we are justified in saying that it appears very much as if some informant was likely to come forward who would be unwilling to make a statement on oath, and who would still be able to induce the Minister to exercise all the terrible powers granted to him by the Bill. No other measure that has been brought forward has proposed to intrust so much power to the Minister. When we were dealing with importers who might be trying to sell goods cheaply because they had bought them cheaply, we were told that a second offence should render the offender liable to a punishment of twelve months' imprisonment. Afterwards, however, when the case of manufacturers came before us, it was urged 'that, even though a man might make a wilfully false statement, he should not receive more than nominal punishment. The AttorneyGeneral actually told us that, so long as a man did not make a statement on oath, no matter how he might mislead the Minister or Comptroller, or how much expense and trouble he might cause. to others, or how much he might abuse the forms of the Court, he should not be treated as a guilty person. We ought to have insisted that the declarations of informants under clause 21 should be made on oath, and ought to , have made it clear that, if a manufacturer desired his information to be acted upon he should at least take the full responsibility attaching to a sworn declaration; This provision, in conjunction with others in the. Bill which are absolutely tyrannical, and are framed solely in the interests, of certain individuals, affords proof to me that this Parliament has practically outlived its usefulness. Whilst the electors send here such men as they do, we should do our best to insure that Parliament should not meet more than once in two years, and then only for five or six weeks at a time, so that its opportunities for working mischief to the community might be restricted. It is terrible to contemplate that the time may come when a measure of that sort will be regarded with approval by the large mass of our citizens. But we are steadily drifting in that direction by reason of our meddlesome legislation. We are destroying the confidence of all citizens in sound and honest administration by perpetually handing over, under Bills of this character, power to the Minister to do just what he pleases. By thus acting we must inevitably bring about, not only the corruption of the Minister to whom such powers are intrusted, but the corruption of Parliament itself. If proof of my statement be needed, it is only necessary to recollect that it was by reason of the extraordinary powers vested in the Minister of Lands in New South Wales that a corrupt Minister arose. The Department became corrupt, and it is asserted that a large section of the officials became corrupt. At any rate, it is manifest that there 'were some individuals who - whether they were corrupt or not - did not properly discharge their duties, and it is everywhere declared that the Ministers themselves became corrupt. As a matter of fact, before any charges were brought forward, one Minister absolutely resigned his office and left the' State, and there is another ex-Minister against whom charges are now pending. These charges would never have been made had it not been for the fact that the extensive powers vested in the hands of the Minister o'f the dai under various Acts enabled him to do corrupt things. Parliament placed him above the law, and, having done so, a Minister was soon found who was prepared to improperly exercise the power reposed in him. I maintain that by vesting in the Minister the extraordinary powers contained in this Bill, the temptation to do wrong will be too great. We are bound to see an evil result flow from our action in the near future. When I was glancing hurriedly through the Bill this afternoon, I did not notice that in clause11 a sub-clause has been inserted, which provides that no person shall be excused from answering any question upon the ground that the answer may criminate, or tend to criminate, him. That is a bad plan to adopt, and it is one which is contrary tothe law in regard to all other matters. The clausegoes further, and declares that his answer shall not be admissible against him in any criminal proceedings other than a prosecution for perjury. Let honorable members think of what the effect of that may be. In New South Wales the Legislature hastily passed a clause of the very same description, and, subsequently, because of evidence which was given before a Royal Commission, that very provision permitted a man who, upon this testimony, could have been proved guilty, to escape. That fact serves to illustrate the effect of hasty legislation. In this connexion, I specially refer to sub-clause 2 of clause 11, and to clause 21. No full or proper consideration has been given to the Bill, with the result that at the third-reading stage I am able to point out its absolutely imperfect nature. Even if the measure, in other respects, had been correctly drawn, even if it had been so framed that it would have accomplished the purpose which if has in view in its title, I should not have been able to support it. because of the provisions to which I have referred. But, seeing that those clauses constitute a danger, that they represent a departure from sound legislation, and that the Bill itself is an absolute travesty upon what it purports to be, it will be my dutv to vote against its third reading. I regret that the opponents of the measure have not sufficient numbers to accomplish their purpose, but I shall include the honorable member for Melbourne, amongst those who, in the near future, will realize the truth of my predictions.

Mr Maloney - I believe in Australia ; I am not against Australia.

Mr CONROY - But unfortunately the honorable member in voting for this Bill is for an individual. I am not aware that anybody has ever questioned thesincerity of the honorable member's motives.

Mr Maloney - Let the honorable and learned member insist upon a division, and we shall then see who are the antiAustralians.

Mr CONROY - Apparently the honorable member supposes that he is the only Australian, and that he represents all the wisdom of Australia. That is a matter upon which I so entirely differ from him that I do not intend to argue it. He must indeed be a very happy man if he is conscious of occupying that position. I must confess that when I was a boy of fifteen or sixteen years of age, I did think that i possessed all the wisdom of the world. Since then, however, I have learned a little more, and I regret that the honorable member has not similarly progressed.

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