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Wednesday, 29 August 1906

Mr JOHNSON (Lang) .- In the first place, I should like to congratulate the Committee on having the Minister of Trade and Customs present to-day. It is a refreshing change to see him at his post when a measure of which he has charge is before us.

Sir William Lyne - Where is the honorable member's leader and the honorable member for Macquarie?

Mr JOHNSON - Mv leader is not in charge of the Bill. Now that the Minister is here, I hope that he will give us the information to which we are entitled in regard to its proposals. If I had had any hesitation about opposing this infamous scheme of bounties, it would have vanished after the statement of the Prime Minister at Maryborough on Saturday last. He has confirmed me in my opposition by declaring that this bounty scheme is part and parcel of the protectionist proposals of the Ministry. When, on a previous occasion, I declared it to be so, some of the Ministerial supporters attempted to persuade me that it was not; but the Prime Minister, in the speech of which I allude, said -

We have before Parliament a Bounties Bill, which sets aside £500,000 to be spent over tenyears, at the rate of £50,000 a year, to encourage farmers, cultivators, producers, and fishermen. This proposal does not touch, except" in a remote degree, any town industry. When, we speak of encouraging rural industries we are1 not using a figure of speech. We are backing: it up with a Bill and half-a-million of money, and that by way of a beginning. This is outside the scope of Customs duties. It supplements them, but when we do these things we are flying the flag of protection all the time.

Mr Spence - Surely the honorable member is not frightened by mere words !

Mr JOHNSON - I take it that the Prime Minister was not joking, and his declaration plainly shows that free-traders are right in opposing the Bill. I am still further justified in mv opposition by the fact that no measure of the kind has been demanded by any section of the producers.

The CHAIRMAN - The policy of the Bill was affirmed when the second reading was carried, and the honorable member must now confine himself to giving reasons why the sum asked for should or should not be voted, without going into the fiscal question.

Mr JOHNSON - The clause provides for the appropriation of money for the payment of bounties, which involves a principle with which I am not in agreement. I do not wish to discuss the relative merits of free-trade and protection ; I merely wish to point out that I am justified, by the statement of the Prime Minister that the Bill is part of the protectionist policy of the Ministry, in voting against the proposed appropriation. By doing so, I shall correctly express the views of those who returned me as a free-trader, while I should be false to my principles if I did otherwise.

Mr Wilks - The honorable member does not require to be told bv the Prime Minister that the bounties system and protection are twin sisters.

Mr JOHNSON - No; but the justification for my opposition is further fortified by the statement to which I have referred. Ever, if I thought the granting of bounties justifiable, T should decline, on the eve of a general election, to place in the hands of the Minister a power for corruption and bribery which would enable the Government to say to the electors, " We have at our disposal the sum of £500,000, which we can disburse practically at our discretion during the next .ten years." That would allow them to improperly influence the electors. If this were the beginning of the first session of a Parliament, instead of the end of the last session, the position would be altogether different; but, under the circumstances, the suspicion that the Bill has, been brought forward in order to win for the Government by undue influence the favour of a certain section of voters is not without ample justification. Another reason for postponing the consideration of the measure is that its policy is one upon which the electors have a right to be afforded an opportunity to express an opinion, and an opportunity for doing so will be provided within a very short space of time. In my opinion, the money asked for would be better expended in establishing a Department of Agriculture, for the purpose of widening the sphere and scope of tech nical agricultural education, than in- the manner proposed. I congratulate the honorable member for Moreton upon the very informative speech which he has made. He, however, failed to prove that there is need for granting bounties for the encouragement of the production of the articles to which he referred, because, according to his own showing, they can now be profitably produced without State aid. The honorable and learned member for Bendigo pointed out a short time ago that olives have for some time past been grown successfully in South Australia, and that the olive oil industry is a very flourishing one; while the honorable member for Grey has informed us that no bounty has been paid by the South Australian State Government to foster it. The remarks of the honorable member for Darling, although intended to bolster up the Bill, also showed that there is no need for bounties for the encouragement of this and the other industries to which he referred. Where industries are now in existence, and likely to continue without the aid of bounties, it is altogether absurd to vote bounties Tor their assistance. I aim in favour of the proposal of the honorable member for Grey to refer the Bill to a Select Committee to inquire into the whole subject, and, if he does not press it, I shall be prepared, if I can do so under the Standing Orders, to move in that direction myself. I shall not be deterred by threats from the Minister as to the probable fate of the measure should such a step be taken. If the Government were to abandon the .Bill, the result would be that the country would save a very large amount of money which would otherwise be boodled away. In view of the grave financial problems which we shall have to solve in the near future, we have no- right to expend money in the manner proposed. I shall support the honorable member for Grey if he brings forward an amendment in favour of 'referring the Bill to a Select Committee. If he does not take action in that direction, I shall move in the matter myself.

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