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Wednesday, 20 July 1921

The PRESIDENT -(Senator the Hon.T. Givens). - Order! I ask the honorable senator to address the Chair.

Senator WILSON - No honorable senator should shirk his duty in this matter. We are imposing a Tariff, and it is our duty to see that no one makes use of it unjustly.

Senator Bennyhas suggested the appointment of a joint Committee of this Parliament to advise the Minister for Trade -and Customs in connexion with these matters. I believe that there are men in the Trade and Customs Department who could carry out this job. Under clause 7 it is proposed that the chairman of the proposed Tariff Board shall be selected from officers of the Trade and Customs Department. If there is a man in the Department eligible for the chairmanship of this Board, there is no reason why we .should not be able to secure the other two members of the Board from the officers of the same Department. Surely, there is more than- one " plum " in the* Department on whom the Minister can lay his hands. It looks as if we 'are to have another :huge Department of the Public Service built up. Honorable senators are aware that once a Department is started it is impossible to .say where it will end, and for this reason I am opposed to the creation of a new Department to deal with these matters arising out of the Tariff. The Trade and Customs Department is well represented in every one of the States, and in it we have all the machinery necessary to secure the information which the Minister for Trade and Customs requires to see that no undue advantage is taken of the Tariff.

There is nothing like envy, to create abuse. If a man is successfully carrying on any business in this country it is not difficult to find men ready and willing to abuse him. If a man carrying on an industry in Western Australia is suggested as a person whose business needs inquiry, we shall have the chairman and the other two members of the Board, I presume, a secretary, and also a typewriter, going across to Western Australia to inquire into this man's business.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The whole entourage.

Senator WILSON - Yes, out for a jaunt. They will go to Western Australia, make their inquiries there, and return to Melbourne to report. I say that we have in each of the States branches of the Trade and Customs Department which could carry out local inquiries of this kind in all the States. I have no objection to a man occupying so responsible a position as chairman of the proposed Board getting a salary of £1,400 a year.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Personally I do not think it is enough.

Senator WILSON - I am disposed to. agree with the honorable senator. I, however, disagree with the Vice-President of the Executive Council when he said that he could find 200 men ready and willing to do the work of this Board for nothing.

Senator Russell - I already have 111 of my 200, because Senator Bakhap has said that all the members of this Parliament are willing to act on the Board.

Senator WILSON - My answer to the Minister is to ask him why men draw fees as members of Royal Commissions?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - As the honorable senator was a member of the Cockatoo Dockyard Royal Commission he might be able to tell us.

Senator WILSON - I happen to be a member of the Joint House Committee, and I do not propose to draw any fees, even .if they are available.

Senator Pearce - Perhaps the honorable senator does not deserve any.

Senator WILSON - I regard that as a very ungenerous remark. I think some very useful work is done by the Joint House Committee in a quiet way.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon T Givens - That is not a proper subject of discussion on the second reading of the Bill before the Senate.

Senator WILSON - I quite agree with you, sir.

If the second reading of this Bill is passed it is my intention when it is under consideration in Committee to move that the -two members of -the proposed Board other than the chairman, who, perhaps, will not be required to sit more than once a week, shall be allowed £650 a year for sundry expenses, and I shall move the addition of a new subclause to clause 8 of the Bill limiting the amount which may be spent on the Board in any one year to £3,000.

Senator Duncan - The honorable senator wants to hamstring it- at once.

Senator WILSON - I want to curtail expenditure upon it. It is idle of public men to talk of economy unless they are prepared to practise it.

Senator Russell - I thought the honoi able senator went in for economy. The departmental estimate of the expenses of the Board is £1,000 a year. The honorable senator is prepared to offer £3,000 a year. I accept his offer.

Senator WILSON - I did not offer £3,000 a year, but I said that I would limit the expenditure upon the Board to that amount. Judging from my experience of departmental estimates, I am inclined to say that if the departmental estimate in - this case is £1,000 a year, before the proposed new Department is long in existence it will be a satisfaction to the country if the expenditure upon it is limited as I suggest to £3,000 a year.

Some honorable senators are evidently anxious to be guided by the reports of Boards and amongst them particularly' my honorable friends from Queensland who are supporting this Bill.. I take the. liberty of quoting something from a report by a Commission comprised of Mr. Swinburne, Mr. Piddington, and Mr. Lockyer, three men of unquestioned ability. Amongst their recommendations I find the following: -

The Commission is of opinion that the Tariff exercises little, if any, influence on the cultivation and marketing of bananas, and that any increase in the Tariff would merely increase the' price of a wholesome food without any compensating advantages.

Senator Sir Thomas Glasgow - What do those gentlemen say about currants?

Senator Crawford - What do they say about prunes?

Senator WILSON - One step is enough for me, thank you.

Senator Crawford - Anything against Queensland industries suits the honorable senator's book.

Senator WILSON - Not at all. I have not said that I agree with the quotation I have made. My point is that we are being asked to create another Board to call evidence and make report. Senator Reid is of opinion that these Boards do excellent work, and I ask him whether what I have quoted is the sort of finding that the honorable senator is prepared to accept ?

Senator Reid - I disagree with that finding. The honorable senator did not find it, anyhow. Some one put him up to it.

Senator WILSON - Having had six or seven weeks' experience of Senator Reid recently in connexion with a Commission, and knowing how little he does that he is not put up to, I can quite understand him charging me with failing on my own account to discover a little thing like this report, when it is left on my seat.

Senator de Largie - As a matter of fact, the honorable senator has been stealing my thunder. The pile of reports on the table belong to me.

Senator WILSON - I put it to the Government that they must realize how difficult it would be to secure two men from outside the Trade and Customs Department to act as members of this Board who will not be directly or indirectly interested in the Tariff. Any man who is capable of considering questions of profit and loss in a trading concern must have had some experience of business, and the Government will find themselves landed in considerable difficulties if members of the' Board are found to be interested in any shape or form in the Tariff. I am at a loss to understand how the Government are to secure men outside the Trade and Customs Department as members of the Board who will not be interested in some way or other with the commercial life of the country. When the proposed Board has conducted an inquiry under clause 15, the only thing it can do is to report.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is something.

Senator WILSON - I do not know that it will be anything in return for the money that will have to be spent oh the Board. Then it is provided that the Minister "may" - and not "shall" - refer the report to Parliament.

Senator Russell - It is provided that all reports shall be referred to Parliament.

Senator WILSON - When the Minister receives the report from the Board he can decide whether it shall come before Parliament or not. That being so, we shall have achieved nothing by the appointment of a Board. I am not going to consent to further public expenditure in order that members of this Parliament may be supplied with more reports than they. now. receive. I am one of those who believe that there is a great deal of public money wasted in connexion with the re-ports that are already furnished to us. They might be put on the table of the club-room instead of separate copies being sent to every member of this Parliament. I think I am justified in saying that 75 per cent, of the reports sent to members of this Parliament are not opened, but are thrown at once into the waste-paper ' basket.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Under clause 16 it is provided that a copy of every report shall be tabled.

Senator WILSON - Then I pass on to clause 17, which takes these inquiries entirely out of the hands of the Minister. It 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.

What does that mean? I agree with other honorable senators that members of the Board are not likely to sit merely for the purpose of earning their fee of £5 5s. per sitting. I think the- powers of the Board should be curtailed. Unless there is a reasonable suspicion in the mind of the Minister, inquiries by the Board should not be authorized, and full power should be retained in the hands of the Minister. If the Board is to have authority to travel north, south, east,and west, at its own sweet will, honorable senators may ask the Minister question after question without getting any satisfaction, because he will have no authority to prevent the Board touring Australia in the course of its inquiries.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And very likely on a fishing expedition.

Senator WILSON - I should not say that, because the .Minister has assured us that the 'personnel of the Board will be such that that body will not be subject to the temptations which he and I enjoy. I trust that when the Bill gets into Committee amendments will be made retaining full power to the Minister, who, of course, will be answerable to Parliament.

The penalties- for which the Bill provides, are, in my opinion, extreme. Where else do we read of a fine of £500 or imprisonment for one.- year as a penalty for a person refusing to come along to give evidence before a Board?

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And, perhaps, imprisonment without the option of a fine.

Senator WILSON - I can assure honorable senators that if I were ever in that position, I should feel obliged to take twelve months instead of paying the £500 cash. The thing is ridiculous in every respect.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - In some cases the imprisonment may be for a term of five years.

Senator WILSON - That only makes the Bill so much the worse. I am totally opposed to penalties of that sort.

I notice that in clause 34 an employer who dismisses an employee for having appeared as a witness before the Board will be guilty of an offence, and liable to the fine mentioned. I say unhesitatingly that the usual procedure is to throw the onus on the employees to show proof, and not to allow the employer to be placed, possibly, in a false position.

I acknowledge that the Government have made an attempt in the Bill to do something for the consumers of- this country. If we want to build up the industries of the Commonwealth we must have a Tariff wall sufficiently high to keep out imported com.modities that are likely to enter into competition with our own products, but at the same time we should see that Australian manufacturers are prepared to produce on reasonable lines, and sell at reasonable prices. In a country like Australia there are very few industries that can stand up in competition with- the pro- ducts of cheaper labour in foreign countries: As an Australian standing for Australia at all times,. I believe in the policy of doing everything possible to facilitate and encourage the development of our secondary industries, but it is my intention to oppose the creation of any new Board, because I consider that course will involve unnecessary expenditure at the present juncture.

Senator E.D. MILLEN (New South

Wales - Minister for Repatriation) [9.22]. - I have listened with very considerable interest and, may I say, with some amusement, to the debate upon this measure. My interest, I may add, has been tinged with this one regret : that, familiar as we are with the very forceful eloquence of Senator Bakhap, he did not inform honorable senators of the language he employed towards the university professor he referred to. Some honorable senators have expressed surprise at the introduction of the Bill. Mav I remind them that it is usual for a Government to attempt to redeem its pledges. This Bill is presented as a redemption of a very definite pledge which the Government gave to the Federal electors on the last appeal to the country, and I submit that those honorable gentlemen who won their seats in this Chamber as supporters of the Government, unless they specially exempted themselves from that pledge, are under some obligation to support the measure, which, as I have shown, is a redemption of the promise- then given. No criticism which has been made during this debate can in- my judgment be regarded as a sufficient reason for the rejection of the Bill on the plea that it does not redeem that pledge.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Minister has not been here all the time.

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