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Tuesday, 23 October 1956

Mr OSBORNE (Evans) (Minister for Customs and Excise) . - in reply - When I introduced these tariff proposals on 30th August last, I explained that they were in pursuance of a decision by the Government to apply a duty of £7 each to both imported and locally produced cathode ray tubes used in television receiving sets, for the purpose of raising revenue to make a contribution to the cost of introducing television in Australia. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) made some nonsensical criticism of me because I had not explained anything about this measure. He overlooked, through either carelessness or ignorance, the fact that the explanation was made two months ago, when the measure was introduced. At the present time, cathode ray tubes are free of excise duty if made in Australia, and if imported, are dutiable at the rate of 12i per cent, ad valorem when they do not qualify for preferential treatment.

The Government has decided that a satisfactory way to raise additional revenue, in order to pay for a part of the heavy cost of introducing television, is to impose the proposed duty on cathode ray tubes. There is nothing unusual about a duty of this kind. An excise duty and a customs duty have been charged on radio valves for many years, and this is simply an application of the same principle. I do not propose to go into arguments, at this stage, about the advisability of introducing television. Thai whole matter was debated at great length when the Broadcasting and Television Bill: 1956 was before the Parliament. I think it safe to say that most Australians appreciate that it is not in the national interest to restrain for ever the use of technical: advances, such as television, despite thepassing problems that they may bring in their train. We cannot hamstring Australian industry indefinitely. However, I think that that matter was dealt with fully during the passage of the Broadcasting and1 Television Bill, in the last sessional period.

The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) complained about the imposition of a duty at the source.. He said that it would be subject to manufacturer's profit and retailer's profit, so that by the time it reached the consumer the cost would be greatly inflated. That argument, I believe, is completely incorrect. As the whole House knows - and so, too. does the world outside this place - the manufacture of television sets is already a very highly competitive business. The manufacturer of television sets will be compelled, by healthy competition, to be content with a reasonable return on his work and on the cost of materials supplied, and he will not. in fact, be able to charge inflated costs on the amount of duty imposed by this bill. If there were a single manufacturer living in protected isolation, there might be some point in the argument of the honorable member for Hindmarsh, but as it is, with the very good competition - almost cutthroat competition - which one observes in the sale of television sets, it is unreasonable to suggest that manufacturers will be able to charge duty ad lib on every element, and to charge increased costs on every amount of duty they pay.

I think that the honorable member raised' a more interesting argument when he suggested that there should be a differential rate of duty according to the various sizes of cathode ray tubes. This suggestion was put forward seriously, and it has been examined. The Government has decided not to make any differential charge in respect of tubes of different sizes, at any rate for the time being.


Mr OSBORNE - For the simple reason that this is, first, a revenue duty which sets out to raise a certain sum from every buyer of a television set as a contribution towards the cost of the introduction of television; and secondly, it is believed, at the present time, that the 17i-in. tube, the average-size tube and the one being manufactured in quantity in Australia, will be the tube used in the vast majority of sets, and that if a differential rate were introduced, although it might be possible to give a slight concession in respect of the smaller sets and to impose a much heavier duty on the relatively few larger tubes, the assessment of the amount of duty would be difficult. In any case, it is undesirable, at this stage, to try to guess the future choice of the public concerning the size of tubes they will use. But there is no reason why, at some time in the future, that matter should not be raised again.

The honorable member for Hindmarsh referred, in passing, to the difficulties of Australian manufacturers in contending with the costs of a 40-hour week, sick leave, and the other very good conditions which Australian workers enjoy. In doing so, he puts his finger on a prime difficulty of Australian manufacturers to-day. I do not believe, nor does the Government to which I belong, that there should be restriction of the conditions which Australian workers -enjoy. We are, as was the Opposition in its turn, justly proud of the excellent working conditions in this country; but there is the corollary, to-day, that if we are to hold our place in the world, to export goods and to keep our costs within limits, then we must, by means of efficiency and goodwill, produce more. It is only in that way, in the long run, that good working conditions can be maintained. We must produce more efficiently and more effectively if we are to preserve them.

The speech of the honorable member for Yarra was notable, I thought, only for the fact that, his deputy leader having said that the Opposition would support the bill, he immediately began to denounce it - another example, I suppose, of the cohesion of the Opposition which the House has observed during the last year or so! The honorable member for Melbourne (Mr. Calwell), who is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, approved of the imposition of a duty on television sets. He said that he wanted the duty to be higher. He wanted it multiplied by ten, or even by 100, to make it £70 or even £700, so that nobody should have a television set. The House is accustomed to his whimsical arguments and treats them in the proper spirit, but I am glad that he does support the principle of a duty in this respect. He then asked why was there not a differential rate between customs duty and excise duty. That is a perfectly serious argument, and I shall give it a serious answer. This is a revenue duty, and it was imposed only on 30th August last. I am in a position to inform the House that the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen) has referred the question of a protective duty on Australian cathode ray tubes to the Tariff Board. Honorable members opposite know, as well as do those on this side of the House, that the settled Australian policy, both of the Australian Labour party, when in office, and of the present Government, is not to impose protective duties without prior reference to the Tariff Board. There was some complaint about delay, but the duty was imposed only on 30th August. No reference to the Tariff Board could be made before then, and, indeed, I understand the reference has been made with commendable promptitude.

Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - How long will it take to settle?

Mr OSBORNE - That is another matter. The fact is that the Government has been criticized for not dealing with the question of protection, but this criticism falls to the ground because the question of protection has been dealt with. The other comment that I recall in the speech of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was an objection to the phraseology of the tariff schedule. He objected to the use of the word " wireless " which he said went out of date long ago and that the word now used is " radio ". We are accustomed to use oldfashioned and sometimes archaic terms in acts of Parliament, regulations, and standing orders. Indeed, frequent reference to Her Majesty's Opposition will be found in the reports of our proceedings, but the whole House knows that effective opposition in this chamber ceased months ago. Internecine warfare is conducted on the Opposition side of the chamber now. I do not think it is necessary to go into this matter any further. The duty proposed is a revenue duty, to raise an estimated amount of £210,000 per annum towards the cost of television, in its introductory stage, in Australia, and the measure deserves the support of the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time, and reported from committee without amendment or debate; report adopted.

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