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Thursday, 24 November 1927

Mr GREGORY (Swan) (4:40 PM) .I can quite understand the desire of the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), when he urges that we should patronize our own manufactures, but the general tendency manifested by all people is to buy in the cheapest market.

Mr Makin - Does the honorable member think that is patriotic?

Mr GREGORY - If I can purchase satisfactory Australian articles I always do so; but I object to having rubbish foisted on to me simply because it is made in Australia. There was a scandalous example recently, connected with the purchase of locomotives for the Oodnadatta railway, which for generations will never pay axle grease. Day by day the Melbourne Age and Herald attacked the Government and demanded that the contract for these locomotives should be placed with an Australian company, involving an expenditure of £56,000 more than if the order were placed with Great Britain. That was done. At that time money was worth 6 per cent. If 1 per cent, of that £56,000 were placed to a sinking fund, it would redeem the amount in 35 years, so that with compound interest the placing of the order with an Australian firm represents a loss of £570,000 to the people of Australia. If a tariff is not adequate, the Government should impose additional duties and give further protection to our industries; hut it has no authority to hand over the people's money in this way at the dictates of an outside authority. The honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton) talked about the embargo on sugar. The other evening I stated that, although 100,000 tons less sugar was produced last year, the producers received more money than they did the previous year. Why was that duty imposed on sugar? To people our north?

Mr FORDE - Yes; and it has done so.

Mr GREGORY - There has been a big reduction of population in the north of Queensland. No sooner do honorable members from that State obtain an embargo on sugar than they demand an embargo on peanuts and bananas. I believe that the next item, which is receiving serious attention from the Minister, is to be sausage casings. 1 am not satisfied with the constitution of the Tariff Board, and I intend to move an amendment.

Dr Nott - The honorable member never has been satisfied with it.

Mr GREGORY - The honorable member for Herbert (Dr. Nott) was not here in 1920; but in that year a most extraordinary tariff was introduced. It must have made every early protectionist turn in his grave that Australians should have the impudence to ask for such protection. Not satisfied with that, a further protection was requested greater than could be given by any tariff. It was asked that special power should be placed in the hands of the Minister to grant such protection, and, to effect that, the Australian Industries Preservation, Act was introduced. It gave the most extraordinary powers to the Minister. In the early days we had the Interestate Commission consisting of three gentlemen who were well known in business circles. That body acted as a sort of Tariff Board, as an adviser to Parliament, but not to the Customs Department. When the Tariff Board was established it was made part of the Customs Department and to a great extent placed under its control. The chairman had to be an officer of the department, and reports had to be made to the Minister. I have heard honorable members on both sides complain bitterly about the reports npt being sent to this Parliament for consideration. The Tariff Board should be the creature of Parliament, showing fealty only to Parliament. The chairman should have no association with the Customs Department. He should be free from influence in every sense. The board's reports should be sent direct to this Parliament to enable honorable members to decide what action is essential in the best interests of Australia.

Mr Scullin - The danger is that the reports of the Tariff Board are very often an indication of projected increases in duty, and if they were published before the schedule was tabled, advantage would be taken of them.

Mr GREGORY - I object strongly to the Minister having power, except by vote of this Parliament, to make alterations in the tariff.

Mr Jackson - Actually the board advises Parliament.

Mr GREGORY - Only through the Minister. The board should be free from the Customs Department and there should be no more than three members on it. Some time ago the Country party advocated the .appointment to the board of a representative of the primary producers, and there is no doubt that we were " sold a pup." A great many members of the Country party at that time were stronger protectionists than even the members of the Opposition. The Interstate Commission was sound in its reports and that was a wonderful advantage, but I have never been satisfied with the Tariff Board. Up to three years ago, it was a star chamber board, and all evidence had to be taken in private. It was only after a long discussion in this Parliament that we were able to force an amendment in the Tariff Board Act to the effect that evidence had to be taken on oath and in public. I should have no objection to the Tariff Board's report being first sent to the Governor-General and then to Parliament in the ordinary course. There should be no occasion to suppress reports. The Minister, if he wished, could delay any reports of the Tariff with which he did not agree. I do not say that that has been done, but it can be done.

Mr PRATTEN (MARTIN, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Had most of the reports dealing with the new tariff been made available to the public, the revenue would have suffered considerably.

Mr GREGORY - Not necessarily. The reports could have been sent to the Governor-General and then to Parliament. A small schedule could have been tabled even if it were not discussed for a year or two. That has been done in the past.

Mr PRATTEN (MARTIN, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member will agree that protection of revenue is of paramount importance.

Mr GREGORY - I would point out to the Minister that revenue can be protected other than by imposing duties. It should not be within the province of any government to make concessions and to give preference tocertain companies and organizations, as has been done in the past. As I have pointed out previously, the Commonwealth lost £570,000, including compound interest, in connexion with the purchase of locomotives for the Oodnadatta railway. I move -

That the amount of salaries, Division 80, Tariff Board, £5,433, be reduced by £1.

I do that with a view to urge upon the Government an amendment of the Tariff Board Act to constitute a Tariff Board of three members, the chairman of which shall have no association with the Customs Department, and which shall report to the Governor-General.

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