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Tuesday, 9 August 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) .- Protectionists and Free Traders must agree with me that the words in sub-item a, "as prescribed by departmental by-laws," are objectionable.

It would be. a most iniquitous system to permit officers of a Department to prescribe what the Tariff should be. When I was a member of a Government, a nice-looking, proposal was submitted to- us that as glycerine, a by-product in the manufacture of soaps, was very necessary for the manufacture of explosives, we should not permit the importation of soaps, except from allied countries. At that time America was not allied to us in respect to actual participation in the war; but one would have imagined that, when that country did actually associate itself with us, it would be placed on the same footing as Prance or Italy.

Senator Russell - America did not use glycerine in the manufacture of munitions. I think that the honorable senator ought to add that this step was taken at the request of the British Government.

Senator GARDINER - I do not mind adding that, nor do I mind adding that this action was taken at the request of Lever Brothers, through the British Government, a fact which I found out afterwards. But did the British Government ask us to permit American soaps to come in?

Senator Russell - They requested us not to make any alteration.

Senator GARDINER - That is so; and there again the influence of Lever Brothers was at work. But Parliament ought not to put temptation in the- way of officers of our public Departments by giving them the power to prescribe a Tariff by departmental by-laws. Surely we are capable of fixing duties on any item?

Senator Russell - On the occasion, referred to by the honorable senator, what was done was by direct action of the Government, and not by officers of the Department.

Senator GARDINER - I thought I made that quite clear.

Senator GUTHRIE (VICTORIA) - In 1914, when the honorable senator's own party was in power, exactly the same provision appeared in the Tariff.

Senator GARDINER - That may be so, but I do not know that there is any inconsistency in that. I was as innocent then as most honorable senators are now; but when we see a company refusing to give up an advantage, and using departmental by-laws for its own purposes, it does not matter what was done in 1914, we ought not to permit the same thing to be done in 1921. However, the Government have large enough majorities in both Houses to fix duties, and the responsibility should not be thrown on the officers of the Department.

SenatorRussell. - In the case referred to every member of the Government supported what was done.

Senator GARDINER - I know, but every member of the Government was duped into supporting it. The request came from the British Government, and, personally, I thought it was a legitimate and honest request. But when America came into the war, the British Government not only did not request that America should be put on the same footing as the Allies, but because America was a competitor with. Lever Brothers, asked that the reverse should be done. Under suchcircumstances I had to use my own common sense, and I knew there was some power being used behind the British Government to bring that about. I object to a provision being placed in the Tariff which I regard as representing a rotten principle. It means handing over the taxation of the community to the officers of the Customs Department, and I cannot allow that to be done without entering my protest. I would never dream of questioning the honesty of the Minister (Senator Russell) or of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene) in handling the Tariff ; but I realize that combined interests can so place their case before Ministers and Governments as to make a fair deal to the rest of the people impossible. The general public no doubt have community of interests, but they have no organization, and they find themselves at the mercy of the organized few.

Senator Lynch - Are these departmental by-laws never laid before Parliament for veto or otherwise?

Senator GARDINER - No ; in the instance to which I have referred what was done was by by-law under the Customs Act, and such by-laws do not come bef ore Parliament.

Senator Russell - I think the honorable senator is misreading the item. The words " subject to departmental by-laws " refer to the words " and other substances." How do we know what new substance may be invented to-morrow ?

Senator GARDINER - I am making no mistake as to the principle of the thing.

Senator Russell - If a new industry were developed having as its basis some product of the coconut, which thus became the raw material of that industry, it. could be proclaimed free; that is what the words mean.

SenatorGARDINER.- The point is that Parliament proposes to hand over the power of taxation to the Customs Department. Let us suppose that one firm finds that another is Using a product of the coconut, and that that product, not being included in the Tariff, gives that firm a distinct advantage-

Senator Crawford - This item deals only with coconuts whole.

Senator GARDINER - It also deals with " other substances, as prescribed by departmental by-laws," which set out the extent to which the substance shall be taxed. If in the manufacture of soap, for instance, there is discovered some product of the coconut not provided for in the Tariff, it is the duty of the Government to introduce a Bill to amend the Tariff so that the matter may be decided by Parliament. I am not prepared to surrender one iota of my representative capacity to departmental officers and bylaws.

Senator Keating - The honorable senator did that when he supported Senator Pratten's request to-day in regard to the free admission of certain milk for the use of infants and invalids. Such a request could only have been carried into effect by a provision similar to that to which the honorable senator is now objecting.

Senator GARDINER - That was a distinct proposal that the duty should not be charged on invalids' and infants' foods.

Senator Keating - But these could not be severed from the general importation without some such provision.

Senator GARDINER - The purpose of Senator Pratten's request was quite definite and clear.

Senator Keating - But how could one lot of imports be severed from the others?

Senator GARDINER - Nothing could be more simple; the importer would sign a statement showing the purposes for which the imports would be used, and if a duty were then charged, it would have to be refunded.

Senator Earle - This item refers.- to the importation of coconuts, whole.

Senator Russell - The total importations were only £910 worth.

Senator GARDINER - The item not only covers coconuts whole, but " other substances."

Senator Crawford - The item is " coconuts, whole " for the manufacture of " other substances."

Senator GARDINER - Does the honorable senator wish me to read the item as meaning coconuts for the manufacture of oil and other substances?

Senator Crawford - Yes.

Senator GARDINER - Very well; if there are "other substances" for the manufacture of which coconuts, whole, can be used, why do we not say what those substances are? There is no need for the Government, with all the business advice at their disposal, to be in doubt as to the purposes for which any commodity may be used, or as to the duty which ought to be fixed. Here is an opportunity for Parliament to maintain its supreme right to impose taxation in face of the growing and unwise practice of leaving much to departmental by-laws and regulations. There was a period in English history when encroachments on the people's liberty might be carried out by force, but so complex has society become that no one would now dream of using force for such a purpose. Therefore, we ought to be more alert than ever, and refuse to allow proposals of this kind, however harmless in themselves they may appear, to form a precedent. I can see in this provision an encroachment on the rights and duties of Parliament. Taxation is the most sacred duty we have to perform, touching, as it does, so closely the whole life and business of the community. To permit a slight encroachment because it is convenient for the Government means to permit an interference with us in our representative capacity.

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