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Wednesday, 20 July 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I had no intention of speaking on the Bill, as I thought I would probably be the only senator to vote against it; and I have been rather surprised to hearsenator after senator denouncing it. I understood that the Senate was strongly Protectionist, but it appears to me that most of the arguments which I have heard against the Bill constitute an impeachment of the great principles of Protection. I have always been told by Protectionists that Protection makes things cheaper. We have been assured that agricultural machinery is much cheaper here than in Free Trade New Zealand, or in Free Trade Argentine. Iam against the Bill because if, under Protection, we can have things cheaper than under Free Trade, that is all that we can reasonably ask for. If Australia were absolutely Free Trade, I assume, from the arguments of Protectionists, that articles would be dearer here than they will be under this Protective Tariff. If things are made cheaper under Protection on account of internal competition, surely that is all we can reasonably expect. If Protection does make things cheaper, I do not see why we require a Board to go round to make them cheaper still. I am opposed to the creation of a Board because of its utter uselessness. I understand that it is to bc appointed to ascertain whether any one is taking undue advantage of the duties imposed by Parliament. If the Board discovers that any one is making higher profits than he ought to make, it has to report to Parliament ; and the natural consequence will be that the Minister will bring before Parliament a proposal to lower the duty, or, if necessary, to remove it. I take it that that is one of the main principles of the Bill. I asked Senator DrakeBrockman whether he ever heard of a Minister being courageous enough to come down to Parliament with a proposal to remove any specific item from a Tariff. I have never heard of such a case in the history of any nation since Protection was introduced.

Senator Russell - I have done it in connexion with a bounty in this Chamber.-

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That, is rather a different thing, because all the people pay bounties. I was a member of a Parliament that granted a bounty on peanuts, and it is quite possible that some Minister had the- courage, after a certain lapse of time, to propose its removal.

Senator Russell - Were you not one of a party that took the duties off kerosene and tea?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - In the first Federal Parliament no duties were imposed on kerosene and tea, although the Government of the day proposed them. It could hardly be said that tea was being produced in Australia at the time. I am referring more to duties which are put on to develop manufacturing industries. Even Protectionists will go so far as to say that if we do, not produce an article in the country we should put no duty on it. I have* heard of Parliament negativing a duty proposed by a Minister, but I have nover known of a Minister asking Parliament to remove a duty after it has been operating for the establishment of a local industry. I was a member of the New South Wales Parliament when a Free Trade Government practically removed every duty except those on sugar, narcotics, and spirits. The British Parliament, in the time of Cobden, Bright, and Peel, removed a tremendous number of duties.

Senator Russell - Yon are telling us of dozens of cases where it has been done.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister cannot tell me of any case where a duty imposed from a Protectionist stand-point to develop an industry has afterwards been lowered or removed on the motion of the Government.

Senator Russell - Take as an instance the Corn Laws, of England.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - In that case again a Free Trade Government came into power. I hesitate to believe that when once an industry is being supported by a duty, any Parliament will have the pluck to remove it. I was", a member of another place when Parliament imposed a duty on harvesters, on the distinct understanding that only certain prices were to be charged by the manufacturers. Every promise made by those people was broken, yet not a particle of that duty was ever removed. In fact, as subsequent Tariffs were introduced, the duties on harvesters were raised, and not lowered.

Senator Rowell - Did not the cost of labour and material increase?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - They increased very quickly. Immediately the duty was passed, a dozen reasons were found for' breaking the promises that had been given to Parliament. Parliament fulfilled its part of the contract, but every promise given by the manufacturers was deliberately broken. That was the end of it, and the farmer had to pay. No matter who the Minister is, he will find it very difficult to remove a duty after an industry has got going. I presume that every honorable senator has received a number of letters during the last few days from Footscray.'

Senator Duncan - It is outrageous that any firm should do a thing of that kind.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Whether the re-, presentations have been inspired by the firm or by anybody else, I have a great deal of sympathy with those who have written the letters., I believe a certain duty has been removed in another place. Naturally, the manufacturers and those employed in the factory are anxious that it should be restored, so that the industry may be kept going.

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