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Thursday, 19 August 1920

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) . - We are making a mistake this afternoon in confining our attention to exceptional cases. If any concessions are granted to countries in respect of which the exchange rates are operating adversely, all sorts of demands will be made upon the Department, and many alterations in the present system will be necessary. I am not going into the merits of this case, but I certainly think the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) has made an exceptionally fair proposal. He has intimated that there is now pending in the Law Courts a case involving the determination of a question closely allied to that which has been brought before us by the, honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Bruce), and that being so, he ought not to bo asked to take immediate action. Ho should not be asked to come to a decision which might influence the Court. There are two sides to this case. I am always prepared to make an effort to remedy that which is unfair, but I have yet to learn of any legislation passed by this, or any other Parliament, under which an injustice has not been suffered by some person or persons in the community. We cannot legislate to meet special cases. The United States of America is a country so nearly akin to our own so far as the habits and aspirations of its people are concerned, that if any preference were to be granted, I " should give it to goods coming from that country rather than to imports from France, Italy, and Belgium, where some of the working conditions are very different from our own. Are we to expose our industries to such competition? My motto is, " Australia first, and a long way first." After we have done our best for Australia, let us do our best for other countries which, in their aspirations, their social and wages conditions, most closely approximate to our own.

As showing how sonic writers view this matter, I quote the following paragraph :- -

If the method of calculating duty were altered in the way desired by the importers, one of the most serious and insidious attacks upon our Protective Tariff would be crowned with success. The Australian manufacturer would be exposed to undercutting by foreign manufacturers, and Australian development would be retarded for the benefit of the foreigner, who is concerned only with the restoration of his own trade, and is not in the least interested in the progress of Australia.

Sir Robert Best - From what is the honorable member quoting?

Mr FENTON - From the Australian Mining Standard, some of the contributors to which have a grip of exchange and Customs questions equal to that of any honorable member of this House. I hope that the Minister will adhere to his present decision. A writ has been issued against the Department, and we should do nothing ' that might in any way influence the decision of the Court. The Minister has promised that when, so to speak, the clouds have rolled away, this House will have an opportunity to review the whole question, and to arrive at a decision in regard to it.

Mr Bruce - May there not be a further banking up of the clouds, with the result that the system complained of will go on indefinitely?

Mr FENTON - The position is not very serious, because the figures quoted by the honorable member himself show that our imports from France and Italy are comparatively small. Unless we are prepared, as the true protectors of Australian industry, to raise our Tariff sufficiently high, America will export to Australia more largely than she has ever done. She is making her plans accordingly, and, starting off with this advantage as against Italy, France, and Belgium, she is in a better position than ever to increase her exports to this country. To-day the English-speaking races are more closely in touch than ever before in their history, and if to keep them so preference must be given against Italy, France, or Belgium, it should, in my opinion, be given. I think that the Minister has been fair. I cannot conceive of Parliament being asked to discuss a question that is to all intents and purposes before the Courts.

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