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Thursday, 11 June 1970

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) (Minister for Customs and Excise) (12:21 PM) - In concluding the second reading of this debate I would like to thank honourable members for the splendid contributions that they have made to this debate. Because of the importance of tariffs to the Parliament I believe that had the debate not been held at such a late hour and such a late stage in the session we might have had more speakers. Perhaps this is my fault. It is customary to leave this debate deliberately until late in the session so that the Bill before the House can incorporate all those tariff proposals which come before the House from time to time. I will in future try to encourage the debate which this subject deserves.

As Minister for Customs, who administers the policy laid down by the Government, I am pleased to see the increasing interest that other honourable members have shown concerning tariff policy. I pay a passing tribute to the increasing interest displayed by certain weekly and daily journals on this subject. 1 mention specifically the excellent references to tariff policy - some of which I agree with and some 1 do not - in the 'Financial Review' and Tariff Week' which spotlight and highlight the Government's tariff policy. 1 refer briefly to one or two points that have been made. I shall reserve my comments on the remarks made by the honourable member for Lalor (Dr J. F. Cairns) until schedule 13 is discussed. The honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) made 3 points to which I would like to refer. He reasserted his kindly charge that my Department could be pursuing its new bard, line on its application of by-law policy. All I can do is repeat what 1 said in answer to him last week, that my Department does not concern itself with policy making, lt is concerned purely with the implementation of policy laid down by Cabinet. If the honourable member has any specific - I was going to use the word 'accusations' but that might he too strong - cases which he would like to refer to me specifically then 1 would be delighted to investigate them and report to him in public from the floor of this House.

The honourable member for Wakefield mentioned the by-law procedure and he used the unfortunate expression that it operated under cover. He said that he was not suggesting anything sinister but he did suggest that there may be too many secret decisions and secret discussions about by-law policy. The honourable member is raising a most significant and fundamental point. If he does want these matters raised in public evidence before a Tariff Board inquiry or before some other kind of tribunal, he must consider the possible delays that would be consequent upon such a decision; so it is not as easy as he may well have asserted. 1 was concerned at his statement that export industries that relied on containing their products in cartons were not eligible for the drawback provisions of the tariff. If the honourable gentleman reads the naked words of his speech, it may well be construed that my Department, which is charged with applying the drawback provisions, may not be giving drawback where perhaps it should be.

Mr Kelly - I did not mean that.

Mr CHIPP - I know the honourable member did not mean it but. for the record, I just say that, as he would concede in the particular industry that he had in mind, there may well be other considerations than the difficulties facing my Department that preclude the drawback being given to potential exporters who deservedly need it. I. conclude with a reference to the statements made by members of the Opposition that my colleague, the Minister for Trade and Industry, is not present at these debates. My colleague recommends to Cabinet, on the basis of Tariff Board reports, tariff policy. Once Cabinet or the Government makes the decision, that is reported to this Parliament, and then it is my responsibility to implement that policy.

Mr Wallis - But it is the decision that is important.

Mr CHIPP - The decision is important, indeed.

Mr Wallis - And that is why we would like him here.

Mr CHIPP - 1 should have thought that the reasons for Government policy were amply described at the time of declaring or reporting that decision to Parliament. However, for the record, I make the following statement on behalf of and in the name of my colleague. Tariff policy is the responsibility of the Government, both in general and in relation to every single decision. The Government gives the Tariff Board the task of inquiring into, and giving the Government the benefit of its advice on, questions referred to it by the Government. The Tariff Board is an independent body, lt has developed on this basts for almost half a century. The Government has never tried to lay down for the Board the procedures it should follow in carrying out its responsibilities. The Board's task is simply to provide the Government with an adequate basis on which the Government can make its decision. The decision itself is the Government's responsibility and there can be no question of delegating this responsibility. The appropriate level of protection in any particular case can only be determined on the basis of a careful consideration of all the facts relevant to that particular industry. There can be no question of any predetermined upper limit to the level of protection that may be justified.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

First Schedule.

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