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Wednesday, 20 July 1921

Senator DUNCAN (New South Wales) . - This unfortunate political fledgling seems to be having a very rough passage. The hawks, have ripped and torn it until it has been left hardly a feather to fly with.

Senator Payne - To whom does the honorable senator refer as " hawks " %

Senator DUNCAN - Even its political friend, and I refer now to Senator Earle, who holds up his hands in holy horror whenever any honorable senator appears to be inclined to oppose the Government, could not refrain from throwing a stone or two at it as the fledgling passed him. This is not to be wondered at, in view of the debate which took place on the measure in another place. Honorable senators are justified in being a little doubtful whether5 this Bill is going to fulfil the wonderful promises made for it by the Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell). To listen to the honorable senator, in moving the second reading of the measure, one might imagine that it would serve to overcome all the great difficulties which since the inception of Federation we have hitherto attempted in vain to surmount.

Senator Russell - I did at least make a suggestion, but no honorable senator opposed to the Bill has done so. I do not now know on which side Senator Duncan is.

Senator DUNCAN - I shall tell the Minister on which side I am, but at present I am trying to explain how and why this little bantling has had such a rough spin.

Senator Russell - I do not think so. It has not been amended so far.

Senator DUNCAN - There has been no opportunity so far to amend it in the Senate. Since 1 have been a member of the Senate I know of no measure previously introduced which had such a rough handling from honorable senators as this Bill has had. This is not to be wondered at, in view of the very doubtful things said about it in another place, and even by the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr: Greene), in introducing the measure. He had no very high hope that it would fulfil what was expected of it. He did not believe that the difficulties it is designed to overcome would be met by it;' and, indeed, he put the, measure forward as in the nature of a political experiment.. I direct attention to one or two- sentences which fell from the honorable gentleman in introducing the measure. He said -

I hope that neither members of this House nor tlie public generally will expect too much from the Tariff Board.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That remark might be made of almost any Bill introduced.

Senator DUNCAN - " Blessed is he that expecteth nothing." The Minister for Trade and Customs also said -

It is inevitable that many of the benefits which are popularly expected to flow from a Tariff Board are likely to prove illusory.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Hear, hear! Again we agree with the Minister for Trade and Customs.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Well, then, pass this Bill.

Senator DUNCAN - Here we have a Minister in charge of a great Department introducing a measure intended to in some way regulate the business of that Department, and when he refers to it in such a Doubting Thomas kind of way it is not to be wondered at if some honorable senators find themselves entertaining just the same doubts about the measure as the Minister who introduced it had.

I feel that there is a very great necessity to in some way protect the interests of the consumer. Since the inception of Federation we have been endeavouring in Australia to produce a system of Protection that would satisfy all sections of the community. We tried the policy of New Protection.' We felt that it was a fair thing if we gave protection to the manufacturer that we should give protection also to the employees in protected industries. We attempted to do that by adopting the policy of New Protection'. That policy was defeated by a decision of the High Court. We are now making an attempt, and not for the first time, to give some kind of protection to the consumer. We are trying to evolve an all-round system of Protection which will protect every one and under which every one will be happy.

I have some doubts whether this Bill will fulfil the purpose for which it has been designed. I have explained that those doubts are shared by the Minister responsible for its introduction in another place. Senator Russell, who is in charge of the measure here, takes the view that it is all right. He seems to think that it will do all that it is designed to do. I wish to refer to one or two clauses of the Bill which have already been mentioned by the honorable senator, because I want to point out why I differ from the conclusion at which he has arrived concerning them. The new Department which is to be created, and to which so many honorable senators have taken exception because of the cost of running it, has been urged upon the acceptance of honorable senators by the Minister because, in his opinion, some of the Departments are too big for Ministers to administer, and he considers that they should be relieved of minor duties in connexion with them.

Sitting suspended from, 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Senator DUNCAN -The Minister suggested that the outside business members of the Board would be prepared to give their services for nothing, and said that the amount fixed for their remuneration would really be no inducement to them. I cannot conceive of any big business man in this or any other city, having the affairs of his own business to attend to, being prepared to give any small portion of his time to the affairs of this proposed new Department. The big business men of the Commonwealth have quite enough to do in looking after their own concerns without, being involved in an inquiry such as would be entailed by accepting one of these positions.

Senator Russell - I admit that is one of our difficulties.

Senator DUNCAN - It is so great a difficulty that I cannot see how the Government are going to overcome it. - I fear they will have to be content with the services of some fairly successful business man, or accept the services of some business man who has not been successful in his own buiness. or else fall back on some dead-beat professional man to nil the position. The Minister stated also that the Board would not need to meet more frequently than once a week or once a fortnight.

Senator Russell - Not after the first rush of work is over.

Senator DUNCAN - I am of opinion that they will need to meet very frequently indeed. But let me use the Minister's own . argument. In justifying the payment of a salary of £1,400 to the chairman, he pointed out that the proposed Board would deal with Customs duties amounting to millions of pounds per annum, and yet he expects two outside business members of the Board to handle all these" problems in a few hours per month, or a few days per year.

Senator Russell - Yes, because they will not be responsible for the administration.

Senator DUNCAN - Let me refer to another argument used by the Minister. He told honorable senators that the Minister for Trade and Customs is immersed practically all day and every day in the settlement of disputes about Customs duties. Now. if the Minister, with all the advice and assistance of his officers, with all the knowledge of the Department at his command, and without any of that clashing of opinion such as might be expected amongst members of this proposed Board, is immersed practically all day and every day in settling Customs disputes, how can we expect the proposed Board, with all the disadvantages attaching to a probable clashing of personal opinions, to settle these disputes in so short a time? Then, later in his speech, the Minister assured' us that the Bill would make no difference whatever to the responsibility of the Minister; that in spite of the appointment of the Board the Minister would still be the determining factor in administration, and that the Board would merely collect and tabulate evidence for the Minister's information and make suggestions.

Senator Russell - The other day the Minister was asked to sign a paper authorizing payment of the sum of 4s. Rubbish '

Senator DUNCAN - Of course it is. I can assure the Minister that I am endeavouring to assist the Government as far as possible in connexion with this Bill. I am only pointing out the difficulties in administration as I see them.

Although it contains some provisions which I do not like, I intend to vote for- the Bill, and in Committee to move for the repeal or amendment of certain clauses. For instance, I cannot accept sub-paragraph iv. of paragraph h, which imposes a penalty upon any manufacturer who refuses to sell to any person goods to the value of £50 at current market rates. What a pretty position would be created if some blackmailer, desiring to wreak his vengeance upon a manufacturer, made a complaint to the Board that he had been refused goods to the value of £50 at cur rent market rates. It is quite possible that some unscrupulous person might do serious injury to a manufacturer in this way ; for there is nothing in the. clause to indicate that the person demanding goods to the value of £50 should have credit to that amount, or pay cash.

Senator Wilson - That is implied, though.

Senator DUNCAN - There is altogether too much in the Bill that is implied. I am aware that this paragraph was not in the Bill originally, and that it was accepted by the Government in another place. In my opinion, they made a mistake in accepting it.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Even if a manufacturer has reasonable grounds for refusing to sell, he could still be prosecuted.

Senator DUNCAN - -Of course he could.

Senator Russell - The Government did not accept the proposal in .another place. It was forced upon them. You will have your chance in Committee.

Senator DUNCAN - I know I will; but I am quite in order at this stage in pointing cut that this clause, with other clauses, is most obnoxious to me, as I feel sure it is to the majority of honorable senators, so we shall alter it, I can assure the Minister.

Senator Russell - It is obnoxious to the Government, too.

Senator DUNCAN - I shall vote for the second reading in the hope that when we get the Bill into Committee we shall be able to knock it into something like reasonable shape. If we are unable to do that, I shall vote against the third reading.

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