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Tuesday, 6 December 1938

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) . - I am rather surprised that the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) should have raised the subject of general tariff duties on a bill in which no provision is made for the imposition of a duty or the reduction of a duty. I have always taken a great interest in this subject, and have been anxious to see the newsprint industry established in Australia. I had personal experience of the great difficulties with which those controlling small Australian newspapers had to contend when it was impossible to obtain newsprint at other than exorbitant prices. At that time Canada was not in a position to supply the Australian market, and Scandinavian manufacturers were willing to do so.

Mr Francis - I know that those are the facts.

Mr CURTIN - Another consideration is the technical difficulty of providing newsprint in Australia at the present time. It would be unfair to restrict the small independent newspaper proprietors to the choice between purchasing the Australian product at a higher price or paying a. higher duty' on newsprint which, at present, they can obtain duty free from Canada. Speaking as one who has had practical experience with the smaller indentors of newsprint over a period of years, I tell the honorable member for Moreton that, notwithstanding the figures which interested parties may have submitted to the Tariff Board, it would be cheaper for the proprietors of small newspapers in Australia to import from Canada free of duty than it would be to import newsprint from Scandinavia, even if the duty were reduced to the figure recommended by the Tariff Board, because the Scandinavian mills have never sold directly to the Australian user of newsprint. They have always sold through indent firms, acting as agents for British importers of Scandinavian newsprint. Indent houses in Australia under freetrade conditions were really monopolies for the purchase and distribution of newsprint from abroad.

Mr Gregory - Prices were lower under those conditions.

Mr CURTIN - So were world prices generally. That is an aspect which the honorable member for Swan appears to have overlooked.

This bill meets objections which . I might have had in view of the recommendation of the Tariff Board. I am sincerely glad that the Government has not given effect to the recommendation of the board, which was that an import duty be imposed. The honorable member for Moreton complains that the Government did not adopt the recommendations of the board with regard to the rate of duty to be imposed on foreign newsprint, but I understood him to say that he is pleased, that the Government lias not given effect, to the board's recommendation for an import duty, out of the proceeds of which the bounty would be paid, because it would add to the working costs of all newspaper organizations in Australia - those small competitive enterprises which the merchants exploit against the larger newspaper organizations. Under this proposal, the cost of establishing the newsprint industry in Australia, will be borne by the Consolidated Revenue Fund. If in future years it asks for a protective duty, we shall be able to deal with that application on its merits. Evidently the honorable member for Swan fears that once the industry is established, there will be a case for an import duty to protect it.

Mr Gregory - Yes.

Mr CURTIN - That fear may be justified, but the possibility is not, to me, more objectionable than is the absolute prohibition against the importation of potatoes from New Zealand.

All Australian industries get legislative action or - and this is not so good - administrative policy in terms of legislation, to help them meet competition from overseas, and members of the Country party must acknowledge, surely, that primary producers enjoy the larger measure of the incidence of the protectionist policy of the nation. There is no question about that. "When we take into account duties imposed on the impor tation of primary products, Commonwealth bounties, and the quarantining or prohibition measures, -including those imposed by State governments under health measures; I venture the opinion, with great respect and as one coming from a primary-producing State, that the primaryproducing industries of Australia are, at the present time, getting the greater share of the benefits of what I term the Australian settled policy, which is to use the fiscal power of the Commonwealth to encourage the establishment of industries in this country. I agree with that policy, because I believe that without industries this country would have no hope of increasing a population or of maintaining the safety of the present population. I support the- bill because it meets the problem in a way which I think is desirable, namely, it places the burden on the whole of the taxpayers and not upon the users. Furthermore, it meets the function of the smaller newspaper organizations which are at present carrying on a rather difficult struggle against their more powerful competitors.. They will still be able to get the Canadian newsprint free of duty a little cheaper in the long run than the cost to them of Scandinavian newsprint even at the reduced rate of duty suggested by the Tariff Board.

Mr Francis - They are all in the combine.

Mr CURTIN - That is the reason for my support of the bill, and it f ortifies my contention. I am glad, honestly glad, that the Government does not regard itself as merely a legislative register for the decisions of the Tariff Board.

Mr Francis - I agree with the honorable member.

Mr CURTIN - The Tariff Board was never intended to be a tariff-making instrumentality. The intention always was that the board should examine the evidence relating to existing or proposed new industries, and advise the Government as to the rates to be imposed, and that the Government should submit its. proposals to Parliament. Parliament should determine whether or not reports of the Tariff Board should be adopted.

Mr Francis - That has always been my view.

Mr CURTIN - Yet the honorable gentleman complained a few moments ago, that a recommendation of the Tariff Board, which is not relevant to this bill, had not been adopted by the Government. I rose merely to say that the fundamental recommendation of the board in connexion with this industry has not been carried out by the Government, and that that is my reason for supporting the measure.

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