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Wednesday, 27 July 1921

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) . - Honorable senators appear to be curiously divided upon the Bill. One section of the Committee argues that the

Board should be, in effect, a departmental committee and independent of control or influence by the Government. Another section prefers that the Government should accept full responsibility for alldecisions following upon recommendations, of the Board. This clause would be ofno use if the amendment . were agreed to Senator Wilson may achieve the same object as that which underlies his amendment if a majority of honorable senators vote against the clause as it: stands. I remind the Committeethatthe matters to bereferredtotheBoard, under clause 15, are distinctly divided. There; is; a series concerning' which the Minister " shall " refer to the Board, while there, are others which he " may " refer. With respect to the latter, if he does not refer them to the Board for inquiry and report, clause17 provides that the Board may take action upon its own initiative. It may be taken for granted that the Board: will not be composed of fools.

Senator Wilson - I have known a lot of fools to be selected by the Government for such appointments.

Senator RUSSELL - Senator Wilsonhas. succeeded, in placing a. limitation upon the expenditure which may be annually incurred by the Board, but it will not travel to another State at its own coat. Travelling expenses will be drawn, and these mustnecessarily,andin the ordinary course, be officially voted.

SenatorWilson. - The Minister admits that the Board must ask the permission of the Minister for Trade and Customs beforesettingout to makeinvestigations in anotherState,and,sincethatisso, why should there not be specific reference intheBill?

Senator RUSSELL - The Government have accepted a limitation of £4,000 per annum. Not more than that sum will be spent withoutthe approval of Parliament., If the travelling expenses of the Board carry the total expenditure far any one year above the limit, parliamentary authority will be sought for the additional outlay. I call attention to the precise matterswhich the Minister " may " refer to the Board,butwhich,ifhedoes not do so, the Board may inquire into upon its own initiative; and, in making this reference I remind honorable senators that the Board will be acting always in the capacity of a watchdog. It may, upon its own authority, keep in touch with -

(a)   the general effect of the working of the Customs Tariff and the ExciseTariff, in relation to the primaryand secondary industries of the Commonwealth ;

(b)   the fiscal and industrial effects of the Customs laws of the Commonwealth;

(c)   the incidence between the rates of duty, on raw materials; and on finished or. partly finished products; and

(d)   any other matter in any way affecting the encouragement of primary or secondary industries in. relation to the Tariff.

Senator Wilson - Is that not wide enough ?

Senator RUSSELL - The Board, no doubt, will keep in touch with matters: covered by those references throughout the whole of its activities.

Senator Wilson - And. the Government will be keeping the commercial community constantly "on the. jump."

Senator RUSSELL - Not so. The Government propose to co-operate with thecommercialandmanufacturing community;Weintendtoassistthemtohelp themselves. The matters into whichthe Board may inquire of its own initiative are not matters upon which a decision can be reached in five minutes.

Senator Wilson - But the honorable gentleman must admit that his argument is killed by the provision which is contained in paragraph d of sub-clause 2 of clause 15.

SenatorRUSSELL. - That paragraph provides that the Minister may refer to the Board for their inquiry and report -

Any other matter in any way affecting the encouragement of primary or secondary industries in relation to the Tariff.

That provision is merely intended to cover any primary industry. We cannot anticipate what will be the primary industries of Australia in ten or twenty years. Take, for example, the production of power alcohol. Recent tests have demonstrated that industrial alcohol which can be produced in Australia from a number of our natural grasses is more powerful than is petrol.

Senator Wilson -It will kill a man quicker.

Senator RUSSELL - I am talking of denatured alcoholfor power purposes, which is quite different from the alcohol that is produced for human consumption. Ifthis particular industry be established in Australia, we shall be able to produce alcohol which will be a third more powerful for the driving of internal combustion engines than is petrol. The production of this spirit would, therefore, become a primary industry in Australia, because we grow certain grasses from which it can be obtained. The provision in the Bill to which exception has been taken is of an all-embracing character, and is intended to cover any new industrial developments.

Senator Wilson - I take no exception to it, save that I hold that tha Minister should accept responsibility for the actions of the Board.

Senator RUSSELL - The Minister will do that. He may refer to the Board certain matters for their inquiry and report. If the members of the Board have any time upon their hands, I think that they should be required to inquire into the development of new industries in Australia.

Senator Wilson - Reasonable conditions couldbeimposed in connexion with!' such inquiries.

Senator RUSSELL - To say that the Board shall have no power to initiate inquiries upon their own account is simply to treat its members as perfect fools. A very effective check has already been imposed upon their actions by limiting the total annual expenditure of the Board to £4,000.

Senator Wilson - The Vice-President of the Executive Council will admit that there have been numerous Boards which have been allowed to run "upon their own."

Senator RUSSELL - This Board has already been shackled by the limitation to which I have referred, and the honorable senator now wishes to still further hamper its operations. I understand that he has agreed to the suggestion that the effect of anegative vote upon this particular question will be the omission of theclause in its entirety.

Senator Wilson - Yes.

Senator RUSSELL - I am prepared to accept the division upon the first part of the amendment as a test vote. I ask honorable senators to adhere to the clause as it stands, because we regard it as an essential portion cif the Bill.

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