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Wednesday, 7 March 1928

Senator CHAPMAN (South Australia) . - I wish to bring before the Government and honorable senators the fact that under the existing act the members of the Tariff Board have not been able to visit the distant States and take evidence to the extent that the residents in such States desire. Persons in South Australia have complained that they have had to come to Melbourne to give evidence, and when the interests of the States are in conflict, those in distant States are at a disadvantage. I understand this is due partly to the constitution of the board. One is almost staggered at the volume of evidence taken and upon which the reports are based.

I congratulate the hoard upon the exhaustive manner in which its investigations are conducted and the information contained in the valuable reports which it issues.

The Tariff Board, in its annual report for the year ended 30th June, 1927, dealt with the difficulty to which I have referred, and pointed out the necessity for amending the act, with a view to materially increasing the efficiency of the Board, particularly by way of expediting its operations. It points out that a sitting of the board has to be called for each occasion on which it is to meet, and that two members constitute a quorum. As honorable senators are aware the full board consists of four members. It has to be recognized that as Australia is a country of vast distances it is difficult to obtain evidence from interested persons in all States. This, indeed, has been found impossible and the board, in dealing with this phase of the question, says -

It is therefore suggested that the Act should be amended so as to make provision for the Board when, it is considered desirable, to be able to divide itself up and for two members, if necessary, to visit distant States and take evidence on oath with all the authority of the full Board. Incidental to this it would be necessary to provide that the members of the Board who remain behind and who would be reporting, and dealing with by-law applications, or preparing reports or inquiry cases already heard, should be able to be paid for their services.

At present the board can be remunerated only when an actual board meeting is held. The board recommends that two of its members should be allowed to take evidence, the other two members to undertake other work, and that they all be remunerated as if the full board had been sitting. As an amendment in this direction would be in the interests of the people resident in distant States, I trust the Government will give early attention to the Board's recommendation.

It is not my intention to deal at length with the tariff proposals of the Government, as I know there are other honorable senators who have had longer experience in tariff matters than I have had. I wish, however, to touch upon one phase which has not as yet been mentioned in this chamber. I refer to the opinions expressed by the representatives of other nations concerning our tariff. I shall quote from the report of the International Economic Conference held at Geneva, and from the report of the League of Nations, and, in doing so, shall confine myself strictly to the resolutions and the opinions which have a direct bearing upon the Australian tariff. As honorable members are aware, Sir David Gordon, a gentleman highly esteemed in South Australia, and possessing' extensive commercial, journalistic, and political experience, in company with Mr. Warren Kerr, who is well known to most honorable senators, attended the International Economic Conference in May, 1927, as one of Australia's delegates. These two gentlemen placed Australia's position before the conference, which was the greatest gathering of its kind ever held, and was attended by representatives of 50 countries, who were accompanied by 157 experts. There were also over 200 representatives of the world's press present. At the conference the tariffs of different countries .were discussed. It soon became evident that, apart from other considerations, an earnest appeal was being made to it in the interests of humanity, because it was stated that the unemployed in Europe, with their dependents, numbered nearly 20,000,000.

Senator Crawford - From what portion of the report is the. honorable senator quoting?

Senator CHAPMAN - From page 5. In opening the conference the President took an early opportunity of indicating that the task before the -delegates was "to conduct a general inquiry, a broad survey of the main aspects of the world's economic situation,, the economic causes of the present instability, and economic tendencies which may influence the peace of the world." As the discussion proceeded it was evident that the conference considered that tariffs were a disturbing element in the economic system which might lead to war. Central Europe, it was said, is the cockpit of the economic struggle, but it was soon evident that other nations were vitally interested and must co-operate -in bringing about improved conditions. This was so apparent that Sir David Gordon was forced to state Australia's viewpoint. It was possible that the League of Nations, as representing international opinion, might pass resolutions which would vitally affect our tariff. The discussion reached a stage at which Sir David Gordon found it necessary to state Australia's position, and he did so in these words -

During the discussion it lias been urged that many of the European tariffs arc too high, and that in order to encourage interchange it will be necessary not only to reduce them, but to interpret them with more clearness. Several declarations of fiscal faith have been made, and it becomes necessary for me to point out that Australia is committed to a protectionist tariff on at least two grounds - the building up of essential industries in a commercially young country, and for revenue purposes. Whatever may be the necessities of Europe, the requirements of Australia and the policy of that country must be left to

Australians themselves..... Something has been said during the debate about prohibitions, and it was suggested that the resolutions would seek to deal with the practicability of prohibiting imports and exports. The right of prohibition on inward and outward goods was exercised in Australia during the war period, but oven then very sparingly; while at the present time with trifling exceptions, there is no prohibition on imports, while exports are practically free. The tariff applies equally to all countries excepting only certain preferential duties in favour of Great Britain, Canada, and New Zealand (all within the Imperial family), and these are mostly reciprocal, and, in many cases, are designed to benefit repatriated soldiers. ... An appeal has been made for stability of tariffs, and while, no doubt, this is desirable, and would be a great advantage, it will always prove a. difficult matter to fix tariff rates for a period during which no alterations will take place. The last Australian general tariff was passed by Parliament in 1925, prior to which there had been a period of five years of stability, excepting in those cases where the Tariff Board had exercised its right of recommending alterations. Australia could not regard favourably any attempt at the limitation of its powers, either in respect of a tariff policy or the right to make periodical alterations.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Sir John Newlands). - Order! The honorable senator is not in order in reading extensively from the report of the Australian delegation to the League of Nations. That document does not deal directly with the Tariff Bill now under consideration. It is permissible for the honorable senator to quote from the report, but not. in extenso.

Senator CHAPMAN - Very well Mr. President, I shall obey your ruling. Despite the strong protest made by Sir

David Gordon, and his declaration that the imposition of customs duties in Australia was entirely a matter of domestic concern, the conference adopted resolutions expressing the contrary view.

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