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Wednesday, 20 July 1921

Senator REID (Queensland) . - Some opponents of the Bill have suggested what they consider is a way out of the difficulty with regard to the proposed Board, by urging the appointment of departmental officers, while other honorable senators are .totally opposed to the proposal in any shape or form. I should like to know how the Department is going to get the information concerning the operation of the Tariff unless Parliament authorizes the appointment of some persons either inside or outside the Deparment to make the necessary inquiries.

Senator Fairbairn - What have we done in the past?

Senator REID - We have' had very, little knowledge, so far as I am aware; as to how the Customs Tariff has been operating in relation to our industries. I do not know that there is any particular place where satisfactory information can be obtained as to the effect of the Tariff in building up industries ; whether it is necessary that certain industries should' have protective duties still; whether duties are too: high as against the general public; or whether manufacturers are charging too much for their products. In my opinion, the appointment of the Board is absolutely necessary for the proper working of this Tariff.

Senator Wilson - The honorable senator must realize how difficult it will be to get evidence from the public.

Senator REID - The Board will have authority to summon manufacturers to give evidence.

Senator Drake-Brockman - Only the unfortunate manufacturers. What about the middlemen?

Senator REID - The manufacturer will be required to state what are his profits, and to give all other necessary information, except, of course, any trade secrets, which it is not desirable should be disclosed. The Minister has not power to order these inquiries at present. If he has, this Bill is not required, because the Minister could direct the Board to make the necessary investigations. I take it that the Bill represents an extension of authority in this direction. If we reject the Bill, as suggested by some honorable senators, what will be substituted for it, and how are we to obtain information as to the working of the Tariff?

Senator Elliott - The Inter-State Commission had the same authority to inquire.

Senator Drake-Brockman - That body made extensive investigations, and still the public did not know anything about the matter.

Senator REID - But this proposed Board will be authorized by Parliament to make inquiries for a specific purpose.

Senator Drake-Brockman - So was the Inter-State Commission.

Senator REID - I do not think so. The Board is to be appointed to inquire into certain specific matters. These would not be so numerous, as many honorable senators seem to think. But the creation of a Board is absolutely necessary for the purpose of gaining information as to the cost of production of cer tain articles and the prices at which those articles are being sold to the public. The Board should be empowered to deal, not merely with the remission of duties from a manufacturer's stand-point, but also with the prices that are charged by the distributer.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - What constitutional power have we to do that?

Senator REID - We have not the constitutional power.

Senator Drake-Brockman - The States tried to do it, and they failed.

Senator REID - Even if we possess the power to deal with the manufacturer, our power stops short there, and it is necessary that the proposed Board should be clothed with authority to deal with the distributer. It should be empowered to inquire into the cost of production, with a view to ascertaining whether the manufacturer or the distributer is to blame in cases where exorbitant prices are being charged to the consumer.

During this debate reference has been made to the establishments' in Flinderslane. Senator Guthrie mentioned that those establishments are charging too much for Australian woollen goods. I quite agree with him. But the honorable senator omitted to mention that the warehouses in Flinders-lane have to carry certain stocks, and that their customers can obtain supplies from them in allsorts of quantities. Those supplies are sold to shopkeepers either uponbills or upon monthly terms. Consequently, the Flinderslane warehouses fulfil a very useful purpose as between the public and the mills. We must not forget the large number of small shopkeepers who are kept going by these Flinders-lane establishments. But for them, thousands of small shopkeepers would not be able to carry on operations.

Senator Payne - Some years ago those shops used to get their supplies direct from the mills.

Senator REID - No manufacturer would care to be troubled with the small accounts which are dealt with . by the establishments in Flinders-lane. I agree with Senator Guthrie that the prices charged for woollen goods by these warehouses during the war were far too high. The mills were selling to them at from 5s. 6d. to 10s. 6d, per yard, and the same. quality of cloth, was -being retailed to the public at from 17s. 6d. to 37s. 6d. per yard.

Senator Drake-Brockman - But we have no constitutional power to deal with the distributer.

Senator Earle - We have the same power to deal with the distributer that we have to deal with the manufacturer.

Senator REID - The proposed Tariff Board would be able to supply the public with information . as to who is making Australian goods so dear. At the present time the people do not know who is robbing them. The power to inquire into this matter, and to obtain the desired information, would be of some value to Parliament.

Senator Elliott - It would not help us in dealing with the Tariff.

Senator REID - At any rate, we should then know how the Tariff was working.

I come now to the proposed composition of the Board. To my mind, the creation of such a body is a necessity.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator has a very poor opinion of Protection.

Senator REID - Perhaps that is so. But Protection does not make human nature either good or bad. Upon the other hand, when by means of Protective duties we give practically a monopoly to manufacturers in any particular line, Parliament has a right to step in and say that that power shall not be abused.

Senator Wilson - Does not the Bill say that the Minister " may " do certain things ?

Senator REID - But " may " means " shall." Consequently, it will be incumbent upon the Minister to bring down reports from the Board - reports for which he must accept responsibility. Parliament will then either indorse his action or censure him. If the proposed Board is to be constituted of 'a Customs officer and two outside business men, the Government will be wise to appoint business men who possess some knowledge of industries, and who are not concerned with the way in which the Tariff operates.

Senator Elliott - An outside business man could thus learn all about his rival's business.

Senator REID - Under the Bill the members of the Board will not be at liberty to divulge information which they gain in the performance of their duties.

I do not know that any business man would reap an advantage from inquiring into another man's business methods. But if we can find officers within the Customs Department who are qualified to fill these positions we should amend the Bill so as to permit of that course being followed.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Would the honorable senator be in favour of the amalgamation of two or three of the Boards already in existence, whose duties will overlap those of the proposed Board?

Senator REID - I am not in favour of creating more Boards.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The population will not stand it..

Senator REID - - We have not reached that stage yet. If we can amalgamate any of the existing Boards with the proposed Board, we ought certainly to do it. But if we do nob pass the Bill I fail to see how we can get the information that we desire in respect of certain matters.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the honorable senator read all the information that is . supplied to him at the present time?

Senator REID - During the past few weeks a good deal of correspondence has come to honorable senators in regard to the Tariff, and I am sure that none of us has attempted to get through the whole of it.

Senator Wilson - Has the honorable senator received any letters from young ladies-?

Senator REID - Yes. I have received correspondence from the girls who are employed in the Explosives Factory. Every honorable senator, I presume, including Senator Wilson, has been the recipient of similar letters. If the proposed Board be appointed, I think that it should be vested with power to inquire into the cost of production to the manufacturer, and also into the question of whether some of the awards of our Arbitration Courts accord with the services which particular industries are rendering to the community.

Senator Senior - How could the Board gauge that?

Senator REID - By ascertaining the cost of production and also theprices at which articles are being sold to the consumer. In many industries all charges are passed on.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Have we not already sufficient Courts to do that sort of work without double banking them ?

Senator REID - We should not be double banking them.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Why- are inquiries conducted into the minimum wage question, and for what purpose are Industrial Courts constituted ?

Senator REID - Presumably they are created to avoid industrial disputes. But an Arbitration Court is not concerned with the charges which an industry passes on to the public. It is concerned only in effecting a compromise between a particular union and the employers who are engaged in some industry. , .We have never been able to ascertain whether what the manufacturer and the employees' receive in a particular industry is given back to the public in value. The proposed Board might well be authorized to inquire into that phase of the question.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then the honorable senator wants an inquiry as to whether the workers as well as other people are profiteering ?

Senator REID - Of course the public have never had a- chance of finding that out. Both manufacturers and workers may be profiteers in their own way, and may not be returning the public sufficient value.

Senator Keating - What about the Basic Wage Commission?

Senator REID - I regard the Basic Wage Commission as a huge farce. They did not set about their inquiry in any definite way; but this Board would obtain the information in the usual course of inquiry into businesses. All that the Basic Wage Commission found was along one line - that is," upon evidence given by people who said they could not live for less. This Board would inquire into the profits of manufacturers, and could also inquire into the wages of the employees.

Senator Bakhap - The manufacturers cannot have any profits, or they would not want the Tariff raised.

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