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Thursday, 11 August 1921


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - The Minister (Senator Russell' has reminded the Committee of his promise to look into the matter of amending the phrase " as prescribed by departmental by-laws." He undertook to announce whether the Government could meet the views of honorable senators in the direction of so amending the phrase as to take out of the hands of the Minister for Customs and his Department, and to place within the control of Parliament, the right of imposing or remitting taxation. No honorable senator will deny that the imposition of taxation is solely the function of Parliament. I desire to state the position as viewed by the commercial community, and also from the stand-point of the law.


Senator Gardiner - I direct attention to the state of the Committee. There should be a full attendance of honorable senators to participate in this allimportant debate.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap).

T-Order ! There is exactly a quorum present. Will Senator Pratten please proceed?


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The enormous powers of the Minister for Trade and Customs are not generally realized. He lias authority to prohibit the importation of any article. He possesses the power to determine whether an article shall enter free or be dutiable^- at any rate, in very many cases. First, there is the power of prohibition, as provided in section 52 of the Customs Act, which sets forth what are prohibited imports. Then there is power under which goods may be prohibited from importation by proclamation. When the Minister takes upon himself the power of prohibition he entrenches on the rights of Parliament, and assumes the prerogatives of the National Legislature. Any layman, reading the sections of the Customs Act which hear upon the power of prohibition, would come to the conclusion that they must be read in conjunction with certain other sections, and that the goods prohibited by proclamation from importation must- be shown to be goods that might be harmful to" the community. The High Court has recently decided that the Minister for Customs undoubtedly has the powers which he claims under the Customs Act, and that he possesses a discretion, in the exercise of those powers, with respect to almost every commodity that can be imported or exported.


Senator Vardon - Surely Parliament never had any such intention as that?


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I agree that it had not.


Senator Keating - If the Minister exercises the power the Court will not consider the class of goods in connexion with which it is exercised.


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then the honorable senator agrees with my arguments.


Senator Pearce - What has this alteration to do with it? " Senator PRATTEN.- I am coming to the general powers given by Parliament to the Minister for Trade and Customs in connexion with imports and exports, and I desire to make the actual position quite clear. Senator Senior referred to the power of the Minister in determining which articles shall be free and which shall be dutiable, and the additional power, which is very far-reaching, of deciding whether articles placed on the free list by previous Ministers shall be removed to the "dutiable list. Recently there have been a number of cases in which this power, which Senator Senior desires to restrict, has been exercised. A previous debate showed what : occurred in connexion with certain brands of infants' and invalids' foods. Shovels were formerly free of duty if imported from the United Kingdom, and liable to a duty of 10 per cent, if imported from other countries.


Senator Pearce - -Shovels were not free of duty.


Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I can prove that what I am saying is correct.


Senator Pearce - Shovels imported from the United Kingdom were not free of duty.







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