Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 14 July 1921

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) .- --In addressing myself to the Bill, I want to say at the outset that I agree very largely with the remarks made by my honorable friend Senator Drake-Brockman in connexion with another measure which has to come before the Senate. I regret it was not here before we entered upon the consideration of the Tariff. I cannot see the necessity for the great haste that is now exhibited by the Government in desiring to get the Tariff through, in view of the fact that it has been in operation for so long and that it has given to the Commonwealth all the Protection that is needed. "The Ministry might very well have consented ' to postpone the debate on this Bill until the other measure had been dealt with. I feel in some difficulty because of the situation that has been created. I am one of those mentioned by Senator DrakeBrockman who would not vote for many of the high duties in this Tariff without some means being given to the Government to control those who, because of the extreme measure of Protection given to them, will be able to impose their sweet will upon the people of Australia in regard to the cost of articles produced by them. I feel sure that the Government intend to do the right thing in giving to the people - I hope through the people's representatives and not as at present suggested - some measure of control overmanufacturers who will enjoy the benefits of this Protection.

With all due regard to those who havespoken during this debate, I do not think, the issue is Free Trade or Protection at all. Whether we like it or not, we cannot have Free Trade. Some honorable senators, as well as one or two members in another place, are ardent Free Traders, and believe, apparently, that Free Trade will give us everything that we can desire. They think, apparently, that if we could only abolish Tariffs altogether, the millennium would be at hand. I cannot accept that point of view. There are others who believe that Protection, .provided it is high enough, will give us everything that is desired..

Senator Gardiner - We have had this Tariff for fifteen months_now. and have not got much out of it.

Senator DUNCAN - I cannot accept that view either. However, this issue has been to a large extent decided for us. The deliberate and accepted policy of Australia is one of Protection, and. it looks as if it is going to be her permanent fiscal policy. When they entered Federation, the people of New South Wales knew that they would be called upon to sacrifice their fiscal principles. Prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth that State had a Tariff in operation which approached as closely to Free Trade conditions as was possible. Nevertheless, she maintained a Customs Tariff under which a considerable amount of revenue was collected.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Chiefly upon spirits and sugar.

Senator DUNCAN - There were revenue duties upon a good many other articles. I repeat that the" people of New South Wales knew, when they entered Federation, that they would have to forgo their long-cherished fiscal principles. But the fact that they then agreed to sacrifice those principles has not made them any the less fervent Free Traders. At the same time it must bo admitted that in New South Wales the policy of Protection has made great strides. Under Protection the manufacturing industries of that State progressed to an extent which was never anticipated. Consequently her people are prepared to accept just whatever duties this Parliament may think fit to impose upon them. There will be no outcry from the electors of New South Wales, no matter how high, may be the duties which we levy upon, the various Tariff items. That circumstance, however, will not prevent me from, endeavouring to truly reflect the views of my constituents. Feeling that there isa very large section of the people of New South Wales who are not in favour of. high duties, it is incumbent upon me togive expression to the beliefs which they hold. Consequently where I consider it will be in their best interests that dutiesshould be reduced, my vote will be cast for their redaction. Upon the other hand, where I think it will be in the best interests of Australia that higher duties should be imposed to assist, perhaps, in the building up of a key industry, I shall vote for those higher duties. Some of my friends may possibly twit me with being, inconsistent, because upon the one hand I am prepared to support reductions of duties, whilst upon the other hand I am willing to vote for increases of duties. ,

But before proceeding to discuss the general principles of the Bill, I desire to, offer a few observations upon certain remarks which were made by Senator Gardiner yesterday. For many years I have known that the honorable senator is a pronounced Free Trader, and that his fiscal opinions are not the fiscal opinions of the party with which he is associated. Nevertheless I was amazed at some of his utterances, especially inview of the fact that the arguments which he advanced were destructive of the argument which is constantly being put forward by his party that the present 'Government ought not to be in office. The honorable senator said -

Protection creates unemployment, and after twelve months of this Tariff ships are lying idle, because prices have so increased becauseof the Tariff.

In his opinion the chief cause of unemployment is the Tariff.

Senator Gardiner - And the sub-chief cause is the present Government.

Senator DUNCAN - Throughout the last election campaign Senator Gardiner and the members of his party declaimed from one end of the country to the other, not against Protection, but against themembers of the Government, who, they said, were creating unemployment,, quiteapart from the fiscal question.

Senator Gardiner - It is only .since the last election that this Tariff has been imposed, and I could not have anticipated such an atrocity as the schedule before us.

Senator DUNCAN - If it be true that the Tariff is the chief instrument in the creation of unemployment, most of those with whom Senator Gardiner is associated in the Labour party are untrue to the people they, represent, because they are sincere advocates, not merely of this Tariff, but of higher -duties than it imposes.

Senator Gardiner - Surely the honorable senator cannot hold them responsible for the Tariff.

Senator DUNCAN - They have indorsed it, and they have pleaded for even higher duties.

Senator Russell - And they have attended iri thousands upon deputations.

Senator DUNCAN - Exactly. They have worked for the imposition of higher duties. If Senator Gardiner's argument bc right, he is so much out of step with his party that he ought seriously to consider position. If it be his reasoned opinion that the imposition of Customs duties is responsible for unemployment, he ought to be denouncing this Tariff and its supporters. Consequently, he ought to be denouncing the party to which he belongs.

Senator Gardiner - -There is no occasion for that. I took the opportunity of putting the truth for Free Trade, which will spread all over the world.

Senator DUNCAN - Such modesty overcomes me.

Another argument used by Senator Gardiner which made me sit up and think was that Protection increases prices. I agree that it does. To my mind, that is one of the things which should give any man pause before he consents to increase a duty to any extent. Protection does increase prices. Unless it gives to the local manufacturer the power to sell his products at a higher price than he would be able to sell them at if he had to compete with products from abroad, it- is valueless. Protection does give the local manufacturer the power- to. sell- bis. goods at higher prices than, he; would otherwise, get for them.,

Senator Russell - I saw imported carbide from Japan being sold for £87 per ton. Yet in Tasmania carbide can be manufactured for £16 per ton!

Senator Gardiner - If Senator Duncan continues talking as he is doing, he will be up against his own party.

Senator DUNCAN - Not at all. My reply to the interjection of the VicePresident of the Executive Council is that if carbide was being imported at- £87 per ton, and a similar article was being locally manufactured for £16 per ton, there was no need to grant it protection. There are numbers of instances in which, to gain a temporary advantage, the price of the local article may be considerably below the price of the imported article. But if it were possible to manufacture a commodity in Australia at such a price as would enable the manufacturer to undersell tha imported article without the aid of a Tariff, there would be no request for protection to be extended to it. The reason underlying the imposition of all protective duties is a desire to give the local manufacturer protection against the exporter from some other country, without which the latter would undersell him.

Senator Vardon - And to give the local manufacturer a larger market, which will enable him to produce more cheaply.

Senator DUNCAN - The real object of any Tariff is to enable higher prices to be charged.

Senator Gardiner - That is a most candid statement, and I welcome it.

Senator DUNCAN - I am very glad that Senator Gardiner and I agree sometimes.

Senator Russell - How is it that agricultural machinery is cheaper in Victoria than it is in New Zealand?

Senator DUNCAN - Yet we find the agricultural implement manufacturers of the- Commonwealth asking for increased duties. A man like Mr. H. V. McKay can send thousands of harvesters out of this country each year, and can successfully compete with the manufacturers of the world. He- sells his harvesters cheaper in. other countries than he. sells them here.,

Senator Russell - In Argentine theprice of agricultural1 implements is- about: three times as- much as i't is here.

Senator DUNCAN - The statement of the Vice-President of the Executive Council may be quite true. But I know of numbers of instances in which articles of Australian manufacture are being sold much cheaper in other countries than they are being sold to our own consumers. I shall give one instance where Protection does increase prices. In another place additional protection was given to the local producers of picture films, and already the price of admission to many picture shows has been raised in consequence. The women and children, who chiefly go to picture shows, are- already paying more because of the increased duty that has been levied by this Parliament. When that' item comes before the Senate I shall have something pretty strong to say about it. I am what might be called, in Senator Gardiner's words, a discriminating Protectionist. I look on a Tariff and each item of it in this way: I ask myself, " Is the imposition of the duty in the best interests of the great majority of the people of Australia, or is it not?" If it is, .1 am prepared to vote for it; but if it is not, as in the case of one or two of the items I have mentioned, I shall vote against it.

Senator Crawford - Will the honorable senator obtain a guarantee from the picture-show men that they will reduce their prices of admission if he succeeds in lowering the duty on films ?

Senator Reid - I have obtained that guarantee already.

Senator DUNCAN - No doubt Senator Reid will satisfy Senator Crawford on that point.

This is a scientific Tariff, and I am what may be called a scientific Protectionist. One argument used by Senator Gardiner against the Tariff was that Protection establishes a master class. In delivering a .slashing attack on certain well-known members of his own party - particularly Mr. Anstey and Mr. Fenton - and holding them up to ridicule, he referred to them as " those lions of the Labour movement, who roar to establish a master class in order to give employment." What is a master class? Evidently there are members of the honorable senator's own party who believe it is a proper thing to establish a master class in tha community in order that the people may have employment. He differs so widely on this point from certain distinguished members of his party that it is his duty to seek to convert them., or they should seek to convert him. I do not- know that it can be said with any degree ".of honesty that there is a master class in this community. There is not a man in it. who, by the application of industry, energy, and ability, may not, in a few years, be in the position that almost any employer of labour in Australia occupies to-day. There is hardly an employer of labour from one end of the Commonwealth to the other who was born into his present position. Nearly every one of them has built up his business by his own industry and energy.

Senator Gardiner - And by. the taxes imposed upon the Australian people under Protective Tariffs.

Senator DUNCAN - Perhaps ; but there are men to-day in the Labour movement, to which Senator Gardiner belongs, who boast of their wealth. I know some of them in Sydney who employ thousands of hands. They belong to the master class, which Senator Gardiner holds up as anathema. These are the men whom the honorable senator seems to regard as being opposed to the best interests of Australia.

Senator Gardiner - You are missing the point. I object to the working people having to- find the money to establish them. I do not mind them establishing themselves.

Senator DUNCAN - I cannot agree that the establishment of a master class under such' conditions is such an awful thing. Senator Gardiner said that a Tariff cannot establish an industry. I believe that a Tariff can, and does do so. In the next breath he said that a. Tariff establishes a master class. There can. be no master class unless the industry has already been established. If .there are no industries, there are no masters. If there are no masters, there are no industries. We are prepared to accept the fact that there are masters and even a master class, in order that we may have strung from one end of the Commonwealth to the other industries that are building up Australia's greatness, giving employment to Australian men and1 Women, adding to our wealth, and mak-' ing our position in the world secure not only for ourselves, but for those who have to come after us. It is not only a Tariff that sets up master classes. Even political organizations may set them up. Senator Gardiner's own organization has set up one, and when it cracks the whip, he must come to heel, like every other minor light in his. organization. To my own knowledge, the greatest master class that we have in Australia to-day is the political one. It seeks to dominate us in the Parliaments of Australia, in the industrial organizations, and in almost every avenue of our daily life.

I believe many of the comparisons that are made between the virtues of Free Trade and the grandeurs of Protection are quite idle. No hard and fast rule from a fiscal stand-point can be laid down. "We cannot say thatFree Trade will ruin countries, or that Protection will make them great," or vice versa. We see Free Trade countries that are poor, and Protectionist countries that are wealthy. On the other hand, we see many Protectionist countries that are poor and mean, and we see in great Free Trade Britain one of the mightiest nations the world has ever seen. Altogether too much importance is attached to the fiscal consideration. Many other things enter into the question of what constitutes or helps to build up a nation's greatness. There are the personality of the people, and the energy and ability they put into their undertakings. These and other factors, altogether apart from fiscal considerations, contribute to the making of a nation's greatness. Germany and the United' States of America became great under Protection. They might have become just as great under Free Trade. Great Britain became great under Free Trade. She might have become great under Protection, or even greater. No one can say that she might not. It is certain that when the great war broke out, Great Britain would not have been in the unfortunate position in which she found herself, in connexion, for instance, with the dye industry, had she previously had a Protective Tariff.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That had nothing whatever to do with Protection, It was all science.

Senator DUNCAN - In industries of that kind, we must offer some pecuniary advantage, or science will not be applied to the solution of the problems that arise.

Senator Gardiner - Do you think that a scientific Tariff will give us the secret of making dyes?

Senator DUNCAN - It may. A scientific Tariff may offer an incentive to somebody to put up the money required for scientific research work and investigation, in order that an industry may be established which is so well protected that it offers handsome profits. There were other directions in which Germany led Great Britain, largely because of the incentive of her Tariff. When war came, we found that British scientists and manufacturers were able in three or four years to catch up almost entirely with Germany, when they had the incentive to dp so.

Senator Drake-Brockman - And when they were protected.

Senator DUNCAN - Yes. It was not due to the superiority of Germany's scientific men. When the pinch came, the British scientist proved himself just as good as the German in every direction. He always was so, and I hope he always will be. As I have pointed out, many of the comparisons that are made are quite idle. To use an old phrase, I might call myself a fiscal atheist, because it seems to me that it does not matter much. A country may be great either because of a Protective Tariff or in spite of it.

In my opinion, too much importance is attached to the issue of Free Trade or Protection as such, without giving proper consideration to the real needs of the community, and the real effect of Customs duties upon those who have to carry them. We have an illustration very near home. Before the inauguration of Federation, New South Wales was Free Trade and Victoria was Protectionist. Both these States were prosperous. In New South "Wales we used to like to make comparisons at the expense of Victoria, and the people of Victoria used to make all sorts of comparisons at our expense; but each State was prosperous in its own way. Since the imposition of Protection by the Federal Parliament, New South Wales has not become any less prosperous. Senator Gardiner painted an awful picture of what is likely to happen as the result of this Tariff, but the same picture was held up to the people of New South

Wales in. the early days of the Federation. They were told that if the same sort of Tariff as had been -impose on the people of Victoria for many years was applied to them, their industries would languish, their primary industries would wither away, and their State would fall from the proud position it had attained by its adherence" to Free Trade principles. But New South Wales is better off today than ever she was. She has been able to build up industries which she would never have succeeded in building up without the Tariff.

Senator Gardiner - Would you name one of them?

Senator DUNCAN - Yes, I could name quite a number of them. The honorable senator knows them as well as I do.

Senator Gardiner - I should like the honorable senator to name one that owes its existence to this Tariff.

Senator DUNCAN - I could name a. number, and when we reach the schedule of the Bill I shall be able to enlighten the honorable senator on the subject. New South Wales is prosperous to-day, -and she was prosperous before to-day. The fiscal question made no real difference to the prosperity of New South Wales. The harrowing picture the honorable senator has drawn as a warning against the adoption of this Tariff need not be seriously regarded. New S'outh Wales, and Australia generally, will prosper because of a Protectionist 'Tariff, or in spite of it. .

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Australia is rich enough to stand either Protection tor Free Trade.

Senator DUNCAN - That is so. Everything depends din the people of Australia, and not on fiscal issues.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why fritter our riches away for the benefit of foreigners?

Senator DUNCAN - I believe that it is essential to the establishment of certain industries that they should be given a measure of protection against unfair competition by outsiders, towhose advantage it would be to stifle our infant industries andcrush them out of existence.

Senator Seniorreferred to the oil industry, and it is pretty shrewdly suspected in many quarters in Australia thatone of the chief reasons why there isnot to-day a well-established industry for the production ofoil is that it is believed that the Standard Oil Trust is prepared to crush out of existence any industryestablished here, that would be likely to compete with it, as it has. done in other countries.

Senator Gardiner - Does thehonorable senator believe that the imposition of a duty on oil would assist us to discover it in Australia.

Senator DUNCAN - I do not know, but I do believe that the wealthy corporation to which I have referred is prepared to spend money freely to crush any oil industry established in Australia.

SenatorPratten. - I do toot see why we should not make oil from shale if we cannot discover it in natural wells.

Senator DUNCAN - There is no reason, but the fact remains that we are not doing so to any appreciable extent. .

Senator Gardiner - Thehonorable senator would impose; an unreasonable burden on Australian people in order to make the establishment of the industry here possible.

Senator DUNCAN - I would not if it can be shown that to do so would be against the best interests of the majority of our people.

There are industries, such as the iron and steel industries, which are key industries, and for some time, at any rate, we should be 'prepared to pay more for steel rails and the products of these industries manufactured here than we would have to pay for importations in order that, in the interests of Australia's future defence, we may secure the establishment of an industry so essential to our independence.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The same might be said of explosives.

Senator DUNCAN - I would say the same of explosives. But such industries are not on the same -plane as the banana industry. Bananas are not essential to the future greatness of this country and to enable us to reach nationhood. It is not with bananas that we defend ourselves.

SenatorCrawford. - Ihave heard of politicians who have had to defend themselvesfrom bananas.

Senator DUNCAN -I have heard of that also, and I have heardof a politician who in Queensland hadto defend himself from eggs.

SenatorGardiner has told us that we cannot expect prosperity under

Protection. In this connexion I wish to quote a few figures from a progress report of the recent census by the Commonwealth Statistician. In that progress report it is pointed out that the population of Sydney in 1911 was 629,503. We have had since then about ten years of a Protectionist Tariff, with all the accompanying disasters' so graphically described by Senator Gardiner, and yet during that time the population has increased to 897,640 persons, an increase of 4?. 60 per cent.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What about the rural districts?

Senator DUNCAN - Unfortunately, the population of the rural districts has not increased in the same proportion. The increase in the rural districts was only 13.11 per cent., and the increase of the provincial population only 24.47 per cent. I deplore the great increase in the population of Sydney whilst the rural population of New South Wales has been increasing at so slow a rate.

Senator Reid - How arc we to stop that?

Senator DUNCAN - We may not be able to stop it, but Parliament, in considering the imposition of a Tariff, can see to it that no more burdens are imposed on the farming community and primary producers than are absolutely essential. We can see to it that those who live in cities shall not be given any benefit under the Tariff at the expense of the primary producers. It is a wrong policy to build up even the agricultural implement industry by the imposition of heavy duties on agricultural implements which would force the farming community to pay more for those implements than they would be called upon to pay if no Tariff duties were imposed. When we come to consider that particular division of the Tariff it mil have to be shown to me very clearly that agricultural implements are not costing more than a fair thing under this Tariff. It would be unfair that the farmers of Australia should be prejudiced in any way whilst manufacturers of agricultural implements in the cities are enabled to make huge fortunes, and at the same time increase so largely the city populations.

Senator Reid - Are they making fortunes?

Senator DUNCAN - I believe they are.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Is the honorable senator in favour of reducing the duties proposed on agricultural implements ?

Senator DUNCAN - I am very strongly inclined in that direction. Very good reasons must be given for their retention before I shall consent to vote for them. I am out for the reduction of duties of agricultural implements in the interests of the farming community, and I shall look to Senator Wilson for assistance in this connexion. Before concluding, 1 would have liked to say something about the timber industry, because I consider it very important.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Before the honorable senator concludes we should like to know- Because we have not gathered it from his remarks - whether he is a Free Trader or a Protectionist.

Senator DUNCAN.I do not wonder at that.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator DUNCAN - When we adjourned for dinner Senator DrakeBrockman submitted a question, the answer to which is, I believe, exercising the- mind of the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen). I can, however, assure Senator Drake-Brockman and the Minister for Repatriation that my attitude towards the different items in the Tariff will be revealed when the schedule is under discussion. The duties imposed on some items will have my support, and others I shall seek to reduce. There are some, however, on which I am hoping to secure support in the direction of increases, more particularly in connexion with those which affect the iron and steel industry.

The Tariff imposes certain duties upon imported timber which are a charge upon the building industry of Australia, notwithstanding the fact that the present costs are exceedingly heavy.

Senator Bakhap - If there is any industry that requires protection, it is. the timber industry,' Because we have the raw material at hand.

Senator DUNCAN - When one mentions bananas the representatives of Queensland become perturbed, and when timber is discussed Tasmanian senators are immediately up in arms; but the fact remains that we are imposing duties upon timber which are being passed on to the consumers, with the result that building operations, and all industries in which timber is used, are severely handicapped.

Senator Bakhap - That applies to every duty.

Senator DUNCAN - Of course it does, and I am pleased to have that assurance. I have received information concerning the duty imposed on white pine timber used in the bee-keeping industry. Under the existing Tariff a duty of 6s. per 100 feet is placed upon the timber used in making beehives and beekeepers' appliances, and it is felt by those immediately concerned that the impost is unnecessarily adding to their cost and interfering with their industry. Representations have been made to me by the bee-keepers in New South Wales, who claim that the Queensland hoop pine is quite useless for this purpose in certain districts, as, in consequence of the varying climates in which the work is carried on, the timber splits. We have also found that the heavy duties imposed upon imported timber have increased the cost of constructing War Service Homes, and that those who are having houses built on their own account are being compelled to pay much more than would otherwise be the case.

Senator Sir Thomas Glasgow - If the duty is passed on, how much does it represent ?

Senator DUNCAN - It depends upon the size of the cottage. If it is only £20 per house it is too much.

Senator Sir Thomas Glasgow - It would not be that much.

Senator DUNCAN - I have been informed that it would.

Senator Reid - What quantity of timber do bee-keepers use?

Senator DUNCAN - Quite a lot, and some of them who use it may have a very good sting at election time. There are other anomalies in the Tariff that will require attention, and when the items in the schedule are under discussion I shall do my utmost to have them rectified.

Senator Crawford - Is not there a high Protective duty on honey?

Senator DUNCAN - As soon as one mentions bananas, or anything else produced in Queensland, the honorable senator appears to be agitated; but I can assure him that, in common with other honorable senators, a great majority of the Australian consumers feel that they should not be taxed as heavily as "they are at present.

Generally, the Tariff meets with my approval. I am not a Protectionist, and I am not a Free Trader. It is my intention to deal with each item on its merits in the interests of the great mass of people in this continent, in whose interests we are seeking to legislate.

Suggest corrections