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Thursday, 22 October 1931

The copy of letter and telegram attached, relating to the collection of customs duties at the rate of1d. per pound in the southern States and 3d. per pound in Brisbane on dates ex SS.Carignano, brings forcibly to mind the urgent need of legislative action to rectify an injustice of 28 years' standing.

Since 1901 importers in Australia have been liable to pay different duties, usually higher, in the separate States on the same goods out of the same ship, and it is contended that every importer in every State is equal before the customs law, and must receive equal treatment under the Constitution, but, as a matter of fact, he does not under the present Customs Act, and this, we contend, is ultra vires of the Constitution. This position has been thrashed out at several of the annual conferences of the Australasian Chambersof Commerce, at which strong recommendations have been carried, practically unanimously, asking that this manifest injustice should be remedied.

On presentation of the resolutions the Minister for Customs suggested that legal opinion should be obtained on the question, and accordingly the resolutions were submitted to Mr. T. S. O'Halloran, K.C., of Adelaide, who gave it. as his opinion that there was nothing in the Constitution to prevent an alteration of section132 of the Customs Act to give effect to the desire of the associated chambers. At our interview in Brisbane with the Minister for Customs, he stated that, on his return to Melbourne, he would refer the whole matter to the Crown Law authorities, and it was stated in the House of Representatives on the 5th December, 1927, in the tariff debate, and was not contradicted either by him or by the Minister for Customs, that the Federal Attorney-General agrees with Mr. O'Halloran's views, and has confirmed his opinion.

According to Hansard, of the 1st September, 1928, the member for Brisbane asked what action had been taken regarding this matter, and the Prime Minister replied, " That the matter had received consideration, and that an amendment of the Customs Act had been drafted to give effect to therequest of the associated chambers of Australia, and that the Government intended to proceed with the amendment as soon as possible."

During an address given by the Minister for Trade and Customs to the members of the Chamber of Manufactures and Chamber of Commerce on the 8th August this year, he was asked about the amending bill, and replied that it would be introduced shortly.

As this matter is not a party measure in the slightest degree, and the amending bill is to remedy an obvious injustice, and what is an illegal preference, and, further, is contrary to the Commonwealth Constitution, I venture to ask that it will have your favorable and prompt action.

Probably you are fully conversant with the position, but, in order to bring all the salient points used at the last conference under your notice, I am posting you under separate cover a copy of the annual report of the Associated Chambers of Commerce Conference, 1927-28, and on pages 80 to 91 will be found the debate on the question. (Sgd.) J. E. Plumridge.

I have quoted the opinions of those who are obviously thoroughly conversant with the subject, and they deserve the attention of the House. With the continual amendments of the tariff to which we are now accustomed, it becomes all the more necessary that these defects in the Customs Act should be remedied.

In reply to the further representations of the Brisbane Chamber of Commerce, the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Forde) wrote on the 23rd September, 1930, as follows: -

Your letter of the11th August on the subject of customs duties has received consideration. You refer to uniform customs duties, but I would point out that customs duties are at present uniform, and at any given moment the same duties apply all over Australia. As the proposal would alter this state of things, it does not seem to be a proposition for uniform customs duties, but for differential customs duties.

I would ako like to say that {lie commercial community is not, as you suggest, unanimous on this subject, as one of the Australian Chambers of Manufactures has made an emphatic protest against such an alteration as proposed. lt is thought that the attempt now being made to remove certain anomalies will only create other anomalies in their place. When tariff rates are altered there will always ho, for a time on any market, some goods that paid tho old rate and some that paid tho new rate, and whatever is done, this cannot bo entirely avoided.

Under the proposed amendment, the old duty would be payable on goods on a ship that arrived via Australian ports, and side by Hide there may be a ship that arrived direct, discharging similar goods liable to tho new duty. Two ships may leave Great Britain together. If one went to Fremantle for a few hours and the other did not, the first ship would secure certain rights for the cargo on that vessel, which may be denied to the other ship, which proceeds direct to a later port.

Another serious difficulty relates to goods entered for bond. Assuming that the alteration of duty was an increase, would it be fair that these goods should be sent to bond and bc allowed to come on the market at the lower duty, at any future time the owner thought fit? The conference, I think, saw this difficulty and suggested a modification to meet it, but you will remember that Mr. T. S. O'Halloran, of counsel, "raised a doubt iis to whether it would he constitutional to give goods in bund different treatment from other goods.

It must not be overlooked that such an alteration of the law must "cut both ways." If a duty were reduced the higher duty would have to bo paid on all goods in Australian waters at the time of reduction.

The Chambers of Commerce always recognized .and were willing to accept that.

Mr Forde - Do they anticipate any further increase in duties?

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