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Thursday, 27 May 1926

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - Measures designed to amend our tariff laws are no strangers in this chamber. They have so constantly made their reappearance here during the last 20 years, that I am afraid they are confirmed in the habit. Of course every amending measure is surrounded by a different set of conditions. The Government has not supplied "us with anything like as much information as we ought to have to enable us to deal intelligently with this by no means unimportant bill. On previous occasions when similar measures have been introduced, it has been the custom to supply honorable senators with printed matter giving, in concise form, something pf the history of the items under consideration. We have b°en told the volume of the imports, th? countries from which they come, the amount of revenue derived from them, and the extent to which the rate of duty on them has varied. Something like that would be invaluable to us. As things are, we have to do the best we can with the official documents, blue books, yearbooks, and other information that is within our range, whereas a few Customs department clerks, skilled in the matter, could easily prepare a concise statement, giving information that is really necessary for our guidance. I have already said that measures of this kind are not strangers here. They have a habit of appearing fairly frequently, and even when they do not actually appear we hear rumblings of their approach within the precincts of this chamber or read of them in the public journals of this country. If my recollection serves me aright, our tariff legislation has been amended on five occasions. The first tariff, which was introduced in 1901-2, was followed by amending tariff legislation in 1908, again in 1914, which was ratified later, and also in 1920. We now have the present amending measure, which makes in all five separate attempts to place our tariff laws on a satisfactory footing. It is suggested that our position is economically unsound, and that something which is unwholesome has crept into our industrial life. We are led to believe that a screw in the industrial mechanism needs tightening up, and that if adjustments are not made we shall be courting disaster. I propose to subject this schedule to a fairly close scrutiny, and in order to do so have gathered together a few notes, publications, and authorities to fortify me in case I may be questioned by some honorable senators concerning the opinions I hold on this most important subject. It is a very important matter to amend any law, and particularly so when the amendment involves, as this does, a radical and unprecedented attempt to raise certain tariff duties higher than they have ever been before. Those who are supporting this proposal must furnish chapter and verse for the faith that is in them, otherwise their efforts will be fruitless. In the first place, I do not support for a moment the views expressed by some unkind crities of the supplicants on the present occasion. Some say that the measure provides for higher and still higher duties, which are the natural outcome of requests made by a certain set of people. There are other critics who compare the actions of a certain section to the inebriate who calls for a reviver, in the form of an additional supply of a poisonous drink, in order to overcome his weakness. Certain persons in the community who have been receiving the benefit of high duties are still coming to the Government and asking for more. I do not see anything wrong with protection; I have no objection to it as a principle. As a matter of fact the first time I appeared on the floor of this chamber I was, as I am to-day, a protectionist. But, of course, when it comes to a definition of protection, and I have, in common with other honorable senators, the right to define my position, I trust I shall have sufficient latitude to state exactly where I stand. Senator Grant, who, by the way, delivered a very illuminating speech, left us in a state of uncertainty as to where he actually stands on fiscal questions. He gave a very clear exposition of his attitude on the importation of American films. He coquetted with the principle of protection, swung off to timber duties and licences in Queensland, and then on to land taxation, but left us in such doubt that the only effect of his speech was to stimulate our imagination. I wish to declare at the outset that I shall vote for some of the increased duties, for reasons which I shall give later.- Some I shall oppose with all the vigour and strength at my command. As regards others, I shall be guided by the explanations given by the Minister. The imposition of duties is of serious import in any community. Duties affect the section selling goods in order to earn a livelihood, as well as the section engaged in their manufacture, whom we are now asked to assist and who apparently are about to succeed. It is about time that we put on our considering caps and definitely decided whether the claims which the latter put forward with such persistency should be granted. If we artificially raise the cost of commodities, which, of course, this proposal, if adopted, will do, there will be a corresponding effect throughout the whole ramifications of industry. If we automatically raise the price of certain commodities, we alter the whole industrial relationship, and bring about changes that even honorable senators with their wisdom and experience cannot foretell or outline. I was not present when the Honorary Minister (Senator Crawford) moved the second reading of the bill, but I read the speech of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Pratten), in another place, who, by the way, informed us in a rather reassuring tone that there is nothing very much wrong with the proposals of the Government, that those seeking increased advantages are entitled to them, and that the increases will not have any ill effect upon any one else. We have been informed that increased duties are to be imposed on only 53 items, and that on 47 decreases are proposed. What are the facts? Increased duties are to be imposed on metals and machinery, and woollen and other fabrics, which will, of course, increase the cost, but the articles on which duties are to be decreased are of minor importance, including, for instance, shaving-set brushes and calves' rennet and fancy carpets. I do not intend to record my vote without examining the proposals most carefully, and ascertaining what justification there is for any increase. In view of what I have said, and the repeatedly successful demands which have been made to Parliament for increased duties, one naturally asks when this process is to cease.

Senator Grant - Never.

Senator LYNCH - Is it never likely to stop? Are the duties to be made higher and higher? We need, of course, a standard to guide us in this matter.

Those who went through the first Federal struggle will remember that Victoria was held up as the one State in which the policy of protection had been successfully tried out. It cannot be denied that protection in Victoria was of the approved order, and of a kind that made for the success and prosperity of the State. I have in my possession the Victorian tariff under which we were told that Victoria prospered when New South Wales languished, and, without unduly delaying honorable senators, I shall quote a few examples to show how duties have been increased. I am endeavouring to seek a standard for our guidance in fixing rates, and to hold the scales evenly between the rival sections. Under the old Victorian tariff tobacco was protected to the extent of1s. per lb., but under the Commonwealth tariff of 1917-18, which, by the way, has since been increased, tobacco was protected to the extent of 4s. per lb.

Senator Findley - What is the date of the Victorian tariff?

Senator LYNCH - It was in operation in pre-federation days.

Senator Findley - There were three or four different tariffs in operation prior to the inception of federation.

Senator LYNCH - If I state that I am quoting from the pre-federation Victorian tariff, as published in Mr. Ambrose Pratt's work, I am sure the honorable senator will be satisfied that I am not striving to falsify the position. The Commonwealth tariff of 4s., as against the old Victorian tariff of1s., has since been increased. Under the Victorian tariff fruits were free. Under the Commonwealth tariff the duty is1s. 6d. per cental. On potted and concentrated meats, including extracts of meat and meat jellies, the Victorian tariff was 20 per cent. The Commonwealth tariff of 1917-18 was 30 per cent., and it has since been increased. Under the Victorian tariff the duties on woollen goods ranged as high as 25 per cent. The Commonwealth tariff of 1917-18 imposed duties ranging up to 35 per cent., and to-day the range is up to 60 per cent. Victorian woollen mills prospered under a duty of 25 per cent.

Senator Findley - Has not everything altered since those days?

Senator LYNCH - I shall deal with that aspect later on, but all too soon for the honorable senator. Under that allsalutary Victorian tariff, productive of so much good to the colony, the duty on apparel was 35 per cent., as against 4.5 per cent. under the Commonwealth . 1917-18 tariff, which is still going higher. On certain hats and bonnets the Victorian duty was 20 per cent.; under the Commonwealth 1917-18 tariff it was 40 per cent., and it is still being made higher.

Senator Findley - Under the Victorian tariff the duty on apparel was 40 per cent.

Senator LYNCH - Under the Victorian tariff iron, plate and sheet, was free. Under the Commonwealth 1917-18 tariff it was 30s. per ton. Such important necessities in the development of the country as pipes, tubes, and rods of any metal were admitted free under the Victorian tariff. In 1917-18 the Commonwealth rate was 20 per cent., and it is still being made higher. Iron pipes, cast and wrought, and cast-iron fittings for pipes were charged a duty of £3 a ton under the Victorian tariff. The Commonwealth tariff under the present proposal is up to sky level; it is something in the neighbourhood of 40 or 45 per cent. Kails, fish-plates, and fishbolts, required for the development of Victoria, were admitted free. The Commonwealth duty under the 1917-18 tariff was 25 per cent., and it is also being increased. I could continue this comparison, but I would weary honorable senators. I come now to the agricultural section. Agricultural machines generally paid a duty not exceeding15 per cent. under the Victorian tariff. The Commonwealth tariff of 1917-18 was 30 per cent., and under the present proposals is still higher. Earth and rock-cutting machines and ore-dressing machines paid a duty of 25 per cent. under the Victorian tariff, as against 30 per cent. under the Commonwealth tariff. On the one hand we are told that protection was the means of making Victoria more self-reliant and more self-dependent than any other Australian colony, and the lesson to be derived from these figures is that it made its great progress under a tariff which very rarely exceeded 25 per cent. "What justification is there on the present occasion for asking for rates ranging up to 60 per cent? The only justification that Senator Findley can offer is that " times have changed." But will the honorable senator contend that the altered social conditions of Victoria, which now call for higher rates of duty, do not also obtain in those other countries of the world whose products Victoria sought to keep out in the days when a rate of duty not exceeding 25 per cent. was thought a sufficient protection for its industries? The honorable senator knows full well that the social conditions of every country have moved forward, just as they have in Australia. The kernel of the whole contention is that, if Victoria could make progress under a lower tariff, we ought not to be asked to adopt a tariff of 50 per cent. And we are only asked to do so because of the brazen effrontery of people who, ' having already been successful in asking an indulgent Parliament for increased duties are now asking for more, and still more. The result to Australia, as I shall presently show, is anything but favorable from an industrial and economic stand-point. So far I have been putting forward the opinion of a protectionist Parliament and a Victorian Government at a time when the late David Syme was lord of all he surveyed. As Senator Findley knows, David Syme politically at that time owned Victoria. There was not an office in the State that he could not fill if he chose. It was he who framed this Victorian tariff and made it the success it was, but not under duties of 30 or 40 per cent. He was quitesatisfied with duties of 25 per cent. or less. Now wo shall shift the scene from Victoria to the wider area of the Commonwealth, and ask what was the opinion held at a precise date as to the rates of duty that should obtain after federation became established. The means adopted by this Parliament to ascertain that opinion was the appointment in- 1906 of a royal commission on the tariff. It was comprised of members of different shades of political thought. There were on it freetraders, protectionists, and men of no pronounced views on either side. There was on it a solid protectionist element, which, under the chairmanship of Sir John Quick, made certain proposals to this Parliament as to the rates of duty that should be imposed; and I shall quote their recommendations to support, sustain, and buttress the opinion held in Victoria in pre-federation days as to what rates of duty were sufficient to protect the industries of this country at that time. It is just as well that we have these records to guide us, and that we are not called upon to look at the big imports and say almost in the words of the Book of Genesis, " Let there be a higher tariff, even up to 100 per cent., and lo, there will be prosperity throughout- the land." What perfect nonsense and hog-wash that is! It is time we asked ourselves whether we are sane men doing justice to our trust. To keep Senator Findley up to the scratch, I shall give the personnel of the protectionist element on the Tariff Commission. Is there any doubt about the fiscal faith of Sir John Quick, the chairman Mr. (then Senator) Higgs, or the late Senator MacGregor ? They were all protectionists to the backbone.

Senator Findley - And so was Senator Lynch in days gone by.

Senator LYNCH - I was not a protectionist with blinkers on.

Senator Findley - The honorable senator voted for every kind of protection introduced by the Labour Government in days gone by, but since joining the Nationalists the blinkers are well on him.

Senator LYNCH - Page 661 of the report of the Tariff Commission contains the recommendations of the protectionist section of the commission. On brasswork they recommended an import duty of 40 per cent. It is almost the highwater mark of their recommendations. On galvanized iron, plate and sheet, tanks, invaluable accessories to the men who take part in the development of this country, and who because of their isolation are not in a position to waylay honorable senators in the corridors, the protectionist section of the commission recommended a duty of 15 per cent. On engines - gas and oil - high-speed engines, turbines - water and steam - they considered that a duty of 12½ per cent. would be sufficient. They came to that conclusion after ransacking the Commonwealth for everything they could get in the shape of an opinion as to what would be a sufficient rate of duty to protect the manufacturers of these articles. These particulars, which can be found in the parliamentary papers for 1907-8, are more convincing than anything elseI can quote in support of my plea as to what should be sufficient rates of duty to maintain and encourage the industries of this country. The gentlemen who made these recommendations belonged to the Protectionist party, and they were well known to Senator Findley. They recommended a duty of 20 per cent. on camp ovens. The rate to-day is probably in the neighbourhood of 40 per cent. They thought that a duty of 25 per cent. would be sufficient on blankets. Every one recognizes that protectionists would leave an ample margin of protection on the manufacture of such a staple product as wool into blankets. To-day the rate is somewhere sky high, but seventeen years ago a rate of 25 per cent. was thought sufficient by the protectionist element on the Tariff Commission. On "piece goods, woollen and containing wool," the duty was 30 per cent. I have made a mistake, and I apologize to Senator Findley. I have found another instance of a 30 per cent. tariff. I believe the duty on woollens is now 60 per cent.

Senator Grant - It will be higher still.

Senator LYNCH - Of course it will. I hand this report of the Tariff Commission to Senator Findley with my compliments.

Senator Findley - And I shall have pleasure in handing to the honorable senator, with my compliments, the volumes of Hansard containing the views that he expressed some years ago.

Senator LYNCH - Since there are a few more matters to which I desire to refer, I ask leave to continue my remarks to-morrow.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

Senate adjourned at 10.2 p.m.

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