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Wednesday, 20 July 1921

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have been here quite long enough.

Senator Wilson - The Minister need not be too severe on those honorable senators he had to listen to.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not severe at all. I do- not consider that I was being treated with severity in having had to listen to the speeches to which I have referred. However, this Bill is an attempt to redeem a pledge that was given to the electors of the Commonwealth. The Government pledged itself to bring in a Protectionist Tariff, and at the same time to accompany it with legislation to secure some measure of security for the consumers.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When was that pledge given?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - At Bendigo, by the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) .

Senator Benny - That pledge can be redeemed by appointing a Parliamentary Board.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I admit that it may. But this Bill is the Government's attempt to redeem the pledge. If, in the opinion of honorable senators, it is faulty, then there is an obligation upon them to substitute for it some workable proposition which will . have the same effect. Having redeemed the pledge with regard to theTariff, are honorable senators going to ignore the supplementary portion of the . pledge? Some exception was taken by Senator Bakhap and other honorable senators to the assumption that manufacturers are an extremely lawless section of the community, whose one desire is to ravage the purses of consumers of the Commonwealth. There is no need to assume that at all; but I never yet met any body of men amongst whom was not some one ready to serve his own personal advantage, regardless of the rights of the rest of the community.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Even among . the elect of the people.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Even among the elect of the people, as 'the honorable senator suggests. There is always one black sheep in every flock, and it is- a very small flock in which there is not more than one. I may add that the Senate is a small flock, and will leave it at that.

It is no' new theory that is being preached in this Bill. Almost from the inception of Federation the principle has been accepted by Protectionists that there is always a liability of Combines being so organized as to take unfair advantage of the consumers. But we should recognise that 99 per cent, of the manufacturers are always prepared to do the decent thing.

Senator Fairbairn - And we are going to penalize 99 per cent, of the manufacturers for the sins of one.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Only in the same sense that we penalize every honest man by appointing the policeman, because there is one man in ninety -nine who requires watching.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And 99 per cent, of the manufacturers are to be obliged to sell at higher prices because one man desires to do so?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The purpose is to make one man who may not be prepared to do the fair thing by theconsumers come into line with the ninety-nine.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If he sells at a higher price than the minety-nine manufacturers, may we not assume that the ninety-nine can very well look after themselves ?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If they were in the same trade, yes. There can be no doubt about the possibility ofCombines being created. It savours almost of hypocrisy to deny the existence of this evil. I had been associated with my Department only a few months before I was aware of it, and ' I dare say that if I were a manufacturer myself I. would declare that the circumstances of the business compelled me to do as others did. But we should be failing in our duty to the community if we neglected to take the -necessary precautions to protect the consumers. If no offence is being committed then this Bill, in its operation, will not interfere in any way with trade.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Theoretically, the Minister is right-; experience teaches us he is wrong.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Protectionists themselves have intimated to the Minister for Trade and Customs that they welcome this legislation.

Senator Fairbairn - They will say anything when they want a higher Tariff.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Now, that is Senator Fairbairn's verdict of the manufacturers ! He declares that they will say anything when they want a higher Tariff. If they are of that type, then we are quite justified in passing this Bill. The Protectionists,I repeat, approve of this measure as an evidence of some guarantee that the public interest is being protected. They realize that if, here and there, a combination of manufacturers is allowed to exploit the public, the cause of Protection will stink in the nostrils of the people. This Bill is an assurance that, while Australia with generous hand has taken all possible steps to give the manufacturers ample opportunities to develop their industries, it is at the same time a precautionary measure against the exploitation of the consumers. If honorable senators who are objecting to the method adopted by the Government can suggest a better, the Government will welcome any suggestion that may be made. The Government feels that it ought to redeem its pledges, and that there should be some provision in the laws of this country to safeguard the consumers. I base this view upon the remarks made by honorable senators to-day. I think that there has been a very fair balance of opinion. Many honorable senators have spoken upon this measure, but one-half of them have answered the other half. Hardly two objections to the Bill have been addressed to the same point. The majority of those objections were not aimed at the principle of the measure itself, but were such as might properly be dealt with in Committee. .

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will the Minister touch upon the question of the duplication of the activities of various Boards?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was coming to that. It was too tempting an opportunity for mc to pass. Perhaps I may be permitted to deal with it at once. It lias been said here - and the statement has been repeated apparently with great satisfaction - that this Bill seeks to create a new Department, and the most awful pictures have been drawn of the tremendous addition which will be made to our public expenditure. At the very moment that utterance was made, it was suggested that, instead of a Board of three members being created as is proposed in the Bill, wo should appoint to. t hese "positions officers of the Customs Department; and the gentlemen who expressed that view seemed to think that they were economists. But, if we are going to withdraw senior and responsible officers from the Customs Department to undertake this work, who will take their places ?

Senator Wilson - The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) said that there would be a meeting of the Board only about once a week.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I quite re- . cognised that when I put a definite question to the Senate, Senator Wilson would seek to avoid a definite answer being given to it.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That question was answered by Senator Payne, who pointed out that, on account of the heavier duties which have been imposed under the

Tariff, we shall not in future collect so much revenue, and consequently will not need so many officers.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If increased duties mean a reduction of staff, my argument will still hold good. Whether we have a staff or 100 or 1,000 officers, if a Board be appointed consisting of three of those officers, we shall still require to fill their places.

Senator Benny - Why not have members of Parliament upon the Board?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The objection to the Board seems to be an objection merely to a name. " A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," but to-day anything that is called a Board seems to be thoroughly objectionable. If the work of the proposed Board were intrusted to three officers, and if, in deference to the susceptibilities of honorable senators, we called those officers a Committee, would it make any real difference? We should still have three men the bulk of whose time would be devoted to this work.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then the Minister admits that they are going to do a lot of work?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I anticipate that they will have their hands full.

Senator Duncan - That is a different statement from that which was made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The VicePresident of the Executive Council and I belong to a party in which a broach is not created merely because we hold different views. Senator Russell is a much better authority than I am upon Customs matters, but for some time to come I- think that the proposed Board will have quite as much work to do as is healthy for any ordinary human beings. That disposes of the contention that the appointment of departmental officers would mean economy. In my opinion, one system would cost as much as would the other. I wish now to point out why the creation of a Board appears to be necessary. It is not proposed by this Bill to confer any additional power upon the Minister. As a matter of fact, every power that the Board will possess could be exercised by the Minister to-day.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Then why do we require this Bill?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I will tell the honorable senator if he will restrain his impatience. To-day many matters are dealt with by the Minister by means of departmental by-laws and under administrative authority. One of the principal complaints which have been voiced during recent years has been the growing disposition on the part of Ministers to grab power and to act autocratically. I have heard Ministers of Customs denounced because in some arbitrary way, behind closed doors, they have done something which affected the trade and industry of this country. "I must convey to the present Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) how great a compliment has been paid to him to-day, and I shall have pleasure in informing him of the infinite and touching faith which honorable senators have in his judgment and industry. The compliment was well deserved, I think, even if it was not intended. There are many important matters which the Minister has now to determine, if I may be permitted to use the phrase, " off his own bat." But that fact does not relieve him of responsibility. The Bill before us provides that before the Minister can take important action he must obtain the advice of the proposed Board. The things which he can do to-day without any advice he will not be entitled to do, if this measure becomes law, until he has secured the advice of this expert body! The reports of the Board must be laid before Parliament itself.

Senator Reid - Has the Minister the power to obtain information, which the Board will possess ?

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - No. In order to enable the Board to work satisfactorily, it is necessary that it should have access to information. It is a matter upon which Australia may congratulate herself that, whilst the Customs Department does open the door to' the suggestion of fraud, that Department has come through the ordeal without any suspicion of the kind. That is something of which we have reason to be proud. But with increased Customs duties, and -with our trade becoming a little more complex in consequence, it does seem to me somewhat unfair to call upon the Minister to decide all these matters himself. Under the Bill, whilst the responsibility for a,cting will be his, it will bc an assurance to the people generally to know that before he can act he must at least have the report of the Board. If he takes the responsibility of running counter to its recommendations, Parliament will at once have ite attention drawn to the matter, and that very circumstance will cause Parliament to scrutinize his action very carefully. When we consider the wide ramifications, of the Tariff, and the multiplicity of trade interests which are involved in it, honorable senators will see that the Minister is entitled to the advice which such a Board can give to him.

Reference has been made to the creation of a new Department. There seem to be times when certain terms become . bugbears. How will a new Department be created by the appointment of three men as a Tariff BoaTd any more than by pushing three officials into the positions? I recognise the tendency of Departments to grow; but the Minister for Trade and Customs could, if he chose, to-day appoint three officers to do this particular work. The Bill will give the Board a statutory place, and a statutory authority; and it will place upon the Minister the obligation to act, not upon his own volition, or his own prejudice, or upon ill-considered information which may be supplied to him, but upon the advice of three men who have been specially appointed to deal with certain matters, and who in a short time will become experts in regard to them.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And the passing of the Bill will also cause us to incur extra statutory expenditure.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am surprised at Senator Pratten taking up such an attitude, because he is known all over Australia as one of the high-water-mark Protectionists.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is only the Minister's description of me.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the honorable senator will allow me a minute or two, probably I shall be able to think of a more picturesque description of him. At any rate, I have never heard him accused of being a low Tariffist.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable gentleman will see exactly what I am when we come to deal with the Tariff schedule item by item, and I shall be judged by my votes.

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