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Wednesday, 10 May 1939

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) . - Whilst one naturally approaches the administration of such a vast department as that dealing with trade and customs with considerable diffidence, it is indeed a pleasant experience to be launched so buoyantly, as a Minister, upon such a sea of good advice and good wishes as has been my experience this afternoon. Although tariff-making can never be an exact science, the tariff system as we know it in Australia to-day is a very delicately adjusted instrument which not only has a vital bearing upon almost every phase of life in this country, but also affects our international relations. Tariffmaking has a more or less direct bearing upon every industry in this country. It is an instrument whereby we implement trade agreements with other countries, and to a great degree it determines our relations with them. When we regard a tariff and tariff-making in that light, I believe that we are better able to appreciate the great importance of the Trade and Customs Department to our national well-being. Much criticism against the administration of the department has been voiced this afternoon. I am perhaps fortunate that my history in the department has yet to be made. I realize that the criticism which has been offered has not been levelled against me personally, and I believe that no personal reflection on any of my predecessors was intended. It may be that Ministers have not always done what was strictly wise or correct, but, having regard to all the circumstances, they have done well, and have rendered good service to the country. That remark applies to all of my predecessors, regardless of their party allegiance.

I shall refer briefly to some of the statements that have been made, as well as to some of the fears that have 'been expressed by honorable members this afternoon. The honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Francis) expressed some dissatisfaction with the interpretation placed by a previous government on articles 9 to 13 of the Ottawa Agreement. Most honorable members are aware of the circumstances that arose following the visit of an Australian delegation to Great Britain last year. Its members discussed with representatives of the United Kingdom Government the interpretation of certain articles of that agreement, and the results of their discussion are embodied in a white paper which was issued in London on the 20th July, 1938. I regard the contents of that white paper as of such importance that I shall read from paragraph 7 -

Two possible methods of dealing with these articles presented themselves to Ministers. One was to endeavour to revise them so as to satisfy the requirements of both countries. This has so far proved impracticable. Thu other was to abolish the articles altogether and to substitute for them a schedule of maximum rates of duty which should operate during the currency of the agreement. The principle of making trade treaties on the basis of fixed rates of duty is one which has been common to most modern international arrangements; but there are special difficulties in applying it in the case of a young and developing country like Australia which also has a system of wage fixing tribunals and consequent fluctuations in industrial costs. Australian Ministers have, however, stated that the Australian Government will proceed forthwith to investigate the possibility of adopting such a system.

Paragraph 9 reads -

In the meantime, and pending the decision of the Australian Government on this matter, the present agreement will continue in force, though, in order to avoid some difficulties which have presented themselves in the past, the United Kingdom Ministers are prepared not to press their objection to the interpretations now placed by thu Australian Tariff Board upon article 10, while Australian Ministers have undertaken to make every effort to ensure that Tariff Board recommendations under article 11 are made effective.

The discussion which the motion of the right honorable member for Cowper- (Sir Earle Page) initiated has not yet taken place, but, as the honorable member for Moreton pointed out, the arrangement which has been arrived at permits a more liberal interpretation of article 11 'than that which was regarded as binding upon this Parliament prior to the visit of the trade delegation to Great Britain last year. In the circumstances, I think that -the honorable member for Moreton will realize that it is not an absolute undertaking that Parliament shall give effect to the recommendations of the Tariff Board. Australian Ministers, however, undertook to make every effort to ensure that Tariff Board recommendations under article 11 are made effective.

Mr Francis - Were it not for that arrangement, would we not be breaking the Ottawa Agreement?

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As I understood it, yes.

The honorable members for Balaclava (Mr. White) and Werriwa (Mr. Lazzarini) referred to charges of dumping of goods into Australia by foreign manufacturers. It is true that both individuals and organizations have alleged that dumping of foreign goods has taken place, but the Government has recently to be advised of specific instances of dumping in recent months.

Mr Jennings - What about the complaint by the Australian woollens industry?

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Although I have been Minister in charge of the department for only a short time, I have discussed this matter with officers of the department, and they have assured me that although allegations of dumping arc made from time to time, no specific instance of dumping has yet been brought under their notice. I remind honorable members that the Industries Preservation Act was specially designed to protect Australian industries. As we understand it, the term "dumping" implies t hat goods are being landed into Australia to the detriment of Australian industries.

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - One of the conditions that must be fulfilled if the Government is to take cognizance of the allegations of dumping of foreign goods in the Australian market is that the goods alleged to have been dumped enter into competition with similar commodities manufactured in Australia, and therefore their introduction is detrimental to Australian industry. I remind honorable members as well as people outside who make these allegations of dumping that it is incumbent upon them to produce evidence in support of the charges.

Mr Jennings - The woollen industry is a responsible organization.

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Customs Department is at all times prepared to investigate thoroughly any definite charge of dumping, and I repeat that for some considerable time past no specific case has been brought to its notice.

Mr Gregory - Does the Minister mean therehas been no specific case in recent years?

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - To be quite safe I would say that there have been few specific charges of dumping in recent months. If any definite charge is made the department will take adequate steps not only in Australia but also through its organization in London to investigate it.

Mr Jennings - Considerable difficulty arises in connexion with the costs of German goods.

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member for Balaclava and the honorable member for Werriwa spoke of the advisability of manufacturing the complete motor car in Australia. The Government's attitude on this matter was clearly stated by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) last week. The Government is anxious to see the industry established on a sound economic basis so that it may become a valuable national asset. If, however, it is not possible to get the industry going on a. truly economic basis the country would be better without it. With this end in view the Government has invited firms or persons interested in the manufacture of motor cars to submit proposals. A number have been received and they are now being examined. In due course, a recommendation will be made.

Mr Price - Will the Government consider the question of excise in connexion with this matter?

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That will be fully considered.

The honorable member for Werriwa spoke of excess profits in industry. When industries enjoy a considerable measure of protection there is always a risk that some manufacturers will take unfair advantage of the shelter that is afforded to them by the tariff, and in that way later show excess profits from the sale on their production. The Government is well aware of this fact and within recent weeks has taken action to inquire exhaustively into the affairs of certain companies which are suspected of making excess profits. When these investigations have been completed, certain action will be taken, if necessary.

The honorable member for Watson (Mr. Jennings) complained of delays in connexion with Tariff Board inquiries. I venture the opinion that some of the criticisms that have been levelled against the board should more properly be directed to instrumentalities which have no direct connexion with the board. In the short time that I have been administering the department, I have discussed with the chairman of the board suggestions to expedite the consideration of items that have been referred to it.

Mr White - Much of the delay occurs in the consideration of the reports by the Government.

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I agree with the honorable member. There is delay between the time when application is made and the granting of the application for an inquiry in respect of a particular item. If the reference to the board involves British manufacturers it is necessary by virtue of an arrangement which we have made with the British Government to give British manufacturers three months' notice before the inquiry can be commenced. After investigations have been made by the board, probably the longest delay of all takes place between the time when the recommendation is made to the Government and the submission to Parliament of the schedule embodying a duty variation.

Mr Price - How is it proposed to overcome that difficulty?

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It can only be overcome by dealing more expeditiously with the board's recommendations, and I remind honorable members' that it has been the custom in the past to include a large number of tariff items in the one schedule. I shall give careful consideration to any suggestion to minimize delays in future, but I would impress on honorable members that any attempt to hasten unduly consideration by the board of tariff items referred to it, may impair the value of its recommendations. If that body is unduly hurried in its investigations the possibility of erroneous recommendations in respect of particular industries will be very greatly increased.

Mr White - The Tariff Board arranges its own time-table for the consideration of items.

Mr JOHN LAWSON (MACQUARIE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - When an investigation involves the taking of evidence from a large number of manufacturers in widely separated centres, it is the practice to divide the board so that evidence may be taken simultaneously by two members in different centres. In this way it is possible to expedite the inquiry. I commend the schedule to honorable members.

The general debate being concluded,

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