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Wednesday, 20 July 1921

Senator BENNY (South Australia) . - There are four leading features in this Bill. 1. We are to have a new Board. 2. It is going to be a very expensive Board. 3. It is to be quite powerless, except to inquire into and report upon certain matters. 4. After it has gone to the expense and trouble of inquiring and reporting, the Minister may, if he thinks fit, throw its report into the waste-paper basket. Those are the leading features of this measure. I do not object to the appointment of a Tariff Board. I think that a Board should be appointed to feel the pulse of industry and to regulate the protective incidence of the Tariff.

Senator Russell - If the Minister agrees with a report of the Board, why should it be sent on to Parliament?

Senator BENNY - So far as we unfortunate members of Parliament are concerned, a report from the Board under this Bill may be laid on the table, but we shall have no chance to deal with it. If the Minister prefers to ignore a report of the Board, he may lay it on the table, but honorable senators will have no opportunity to consider it.

Senator Russell - If John Brown appeals against his classification, and the Minister agrees with the report of the Board upon his appeal, why should that be brought before the notice of Parliament?

Senator BENNY - I do not say that it should, but if the Minister does not agree with a report of the proposed Board, he will put it in thewaste-paper basket, and that will be the end of it. It might lie on the table of the Senate for a month of Sundays, and we should have no opportunity to deal with it.

I think that we should have a Tariff Board of some kind, and I suggest that as members of this Parliament are paid £1,000 per year, and as the operation of the Tariff is a matter which should comeunder the purview of Parliament, just as we have already a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, and a Public Accounts Committee, so we might have a Customs Tariff Committee formed of members of both Houses of this Parliament.

I see that the chairman of the proposed Board is to be paid £1,400 per year, and that each member of the Board is to receive £5 5s. per sitting.

Senator Duncan - That might mean more than £1,400 a year.

Senator BENNY - It might mean a great deal more. I find that clause 17 provides that -

The Board may, on its own initiative, inquire into and report on any of the matters referred to in sub-section 2 of section 15 of this Act.

The Board may sit day and night. If the members are to earn £5 5s. per sitting, it may hold continuous sittings, and it is difficult to estimate what the expenditure involved would be.

I object to the Bill because I think that members of this Parliament should form the Tariff Board. The Board proposed by the Government will be power less, except to inquire and report. Under clause 15 the Minister is empoweredto refer to the Board for inquiry and report a number of very important matters. Senator Russell. - There was a proposal in another place for the appointment of a Committee of members of both Houses of the Parliament to deal with reports from the proposed Board.

Senator BENNY - Why, then, should this Board be appointed at all? Why should we duplicate the work? Why should not the proposed Joint Parliamentary Committee do the whole of the work ?

Senator Russell - Because of the immense scope of the inquiries. We need experts to do the " digging." No Parliamentary Committee would do it.

Senator BENNY - It will not be contended that the members of the proposed Board will be competent of themselves to decide the incidence of the Tariff in respect of every particular item. What they would do would be to collect evidence. Having satisfied themselves as to the weight of the evidence given to them upon a certain matter, they would come to a conclusion, and make a report. A Joint Committee of members of both Houses of this Parliament could do the same. It could examine the same witnesses, and, I hope, exercise equal sagacity and intelligence in arriving at a conclusion upon the evidence, and it could make a report.

The vital defect of the Bill is that, after the proposed Board has made a report, the Minister may, if he thinks fit, take no notice of it. I hope that the Vice-President of the Executive Council ('Senator Russell) will consider the objections I have urged against the Government proposal, and will see if he cannot devise some means by which members of both Houses of this Parliament may form a Tariff Board, make inquiries, and report. We should then make it compulsory upon the Minister to take a little more notice of the report than is provided for in this Bill.

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