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Thursday, 19 August 1920

Mr GREGORY (Dampier) .- This question has now been under consideration of the Minister for some time, and the mere fact that litigation in regard to the legality of the action of the Department is pending should not operate as an excuse for further delay in coming to a decision. If our taxation in respect of imports from certain countries tells against those countries as compared with others, then I believe the Minister should, at the earliest possible moment, bring down remedial legislation. When the French Mission visited Australia a little while back, they were met by the representative people of the Commonwealth, and the promise was made that we would do everything within our means to build up trade relations with the French, who had fought so nobly with us. The Customs Department, however, is being administered, so far as this matter is concerned, in a way that does not carry out the promises that were then made. We should provide for fair trade with France, Italy, and Belgium; but I find that we are giving a most decided preference to Japan and the United States. I have here a list - taken out in June last, and allowing for the exchange rates prevailing at that period - which shows that, assuming that the duty payable on certain goods coming from France, Italy, the United States and Japan, was 50 per cent., the duty actually payable on goods imported from France, owing to the exchange being so much against that country, would be 138 per cent. In the case of goods coining from Italy, it would be 167 per cent. ; only 39 per cent. in. respect of goods coming from the United States of America, and 40 per cent. in the case of Japanese goods. I am satisfied that it was not the intention of this Parliament that such an advantage should be given to the United States of America and Japan, as against Italy, Belgium, and France.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The honorable member's figures are on the assumption that in each case we get the same quantity of goods for£100.

Mr GREGORY - Let us assume that a citizen of the Commonwealth desires to purchase an Italian motor car at a cost of £200. He sends his £200 to Italy, and that in Italian exchange would be 17,000 lire.His bank would exchange that £200 for 17,000 lire, and when his car reached Australia the Minister, according to the presentpractice, would say to him, " This car cost you not £200; but 17,000 lire, or, on the basis of par mint values, approximately, £670, and we will charge duty on that amount.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - What would be the cost in England of a similar car of English manufacture?

Mr GREGORY - I assume that it would bpsomething like £200.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - That is where the honorable member is in error.

Mr GREGORY - When the Minister decided to collect duty, not on the £200 paid for the Italian car, but on the 17,000 lire, would he accept payment in lire?

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The duty has to be paid in the currencyof the country in which it is payable.

Mr GREGORY -- The whole system, to my mind, is fictitious. I am convinced that honorable members will not be content to allow imports from countries which fought with us throughout the war to labour underthis disadvantage. I have not one word to say against the United States of America or Japan. If the preference were small, the position would be different, but the figures given this afternoon by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce) also show that we are suffering an enormous loss by way of Customs revenue, and I fail to see why any advantage should be given to the United States of America and Japan, as against France, Italy, and Belgium.

I hope that there will be no further delay on the part of the Minister in dealing with this question. Over two months have elapsed since he promised to attend to it, and to come to a definite decision. If the honorable gentleman desires to continue this system of collecting duties, then the sooner the whole question is brought before the House in a way that will enable us to come to a determination the better for all concerned.

Mr Bruce - The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) promised on the 20th May last that the matter would be dealt with.

Mr GREGORY - We have had several promises. Any legislation that might be brought in to meet the difficulty would not be retrospective. No one would expect anything of the kind, and any proceedings that have Deen instituted against the Department will be dealt with on the basis of the law as it stands. That being so, if the Minister says he is satisfied with the present method, I think the House should take action to show its disapproval of undue preference being given to the United States of America and Japan, as against the other countries I have mentioned. I sincerely hope that the Minister in the very near future will announce a drastic change.

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