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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr Bryant t asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -

1.   Did he recently announce that Cabinet had decided an altered base year for import quotas and had struck a new percentage of that base to operate from 1st July, 1956?

2.   Was it estimated that this would produce a further saving of £40,000,000 per annum overall?

3.   Were a few importers able to establish a quota, based on the year 1954-55, which was greater than that which they previously had?

4.   Has an administrative decision, taken on 8th August, deprived these importers of the full benefit of their base year imports and reduced thenquotas to what they were prior to the Cabinet decision which determined the new basis?

5.   If the position is as stated, was the administrative decision made after reference to Cabinet?

6.   If not, by whose authority was it made, and will it be allowed to stand, iri view of the Cabinet decision?

Mr McEwen (MURRAY, VICTORIA) (Minister for Trade) - The answer to the honorable member's questions is as follows: -

Cabinet decided, last June, that the rate of import licensing should be reduced by the equivalent of £40,000,000 f.o.b. per annum. To give effect to this reduction, it was decided to vary the principles applicable to quotas determined under category A and category B as from 1st July, 1956. Details of the changes were announced by the Acting Minister for Trade on 28th June. The opportunity was taken, at this time, to bring the licensing system up to date and to relate import quotas to a recent and more realistic trading period. For this reason, quotas for goods falling into category B were based on a percentage of imports during 1954-55. However, imports in 1954-55 resulted from licences issued at a time when the Government was relaxing the controls. Many special licences were issued then which could not be approved in the tight situation in which import licences are issued to-day. These special licences, together with the high rate of licensing operating in 1953-54, resulted in imports in 1954-55 being higher than they had been since the boom year of 1951-52. The decision to relate B category imports to the 1954-55 base year meant that the percentages at which quotas could be established had to be comparatively small ones in order that the required saving could be made. However, although this resulted in a reduction of quotas for most importers, a few individuals would have enjoyed increased quotas because of the special licences they had obtained previously. The Department of Trade, therefore, took steps to ensure that no individual should receive a quota in excess of that which he held prior to 1st July. In import licensing matters, as in all other government action, Cabinet lays down the policy to be followed, and the relevant department then takes administrative action to implement that policy. The action of the Department of Trade was in accordance with Cabinet's decision.

Mr Killen (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) n asked the Minister for Trade, upon notice -

1.   How many import licences are granted for the importation of literature from (a) the Soviet Union and (b) Communist China?

2.   What is the value of the quotas of these licences?

3.   Have any import licences been issued to the Australian Communist party or to any persons known to be acting as agents on behalf of that party; if so, what is the value of the quotas of the licences?

Mr McEwen - The answer to the honorable member's questions is as follows: -

Books and printed matter from countries other than the dollar area, which are imported for use by universities, public libraries, colleges, schools and other approved institutions, and books or printed matter of small value, are exempt from import licensing. All other books and printed matter from non-dollar countries are not subject to quota restrictions, and licences are issued on application to the Collector of Customs. When the licensing controls were brought down, for balance of payments reasons, it was decided that no control, other than that necessary to conserve dollars, should be exercised by the licensing authorities over books from particular countries or for particular organizations in Australia. For that reason, it is not possible to supply the specific information requested.

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