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Wednesday, 7 March 1928

Senator THOMPSON (Queensland) . - Like Senator Duncan, I am in agreement, speaking generally, with the tariff proposals of the Government, but I reserve to myself the right, which should be that of every honorable senator, to move for their amendment where I think that is necessary. The great mining industry is in a languishing condition all over Australia; consequently I hoped to find in the tariff schedule a proposal to reduce the duty on mining machinery. When the increase in that duty was brought down in the last amending schedule, I opposed it in the Senate; and if some honorable senators who then agreed with me had been in their places when the vote was taken, the increase would not have been consented to. I am disappointed that there is to be no reduction, and that I shall not have the opportunity to move in that direction. The proposed timber duties may have an affect on the mining industry in Queensland. Two years ago at the instigation of, I think, Tasmania, there was a movement to increase the duty on Oregon pine.

Senator Ogden - All of the States joined in it.

Senator THOMPSON - Queensland certainly did not. I was particularly requested to oppose it, in the interest of the mining industry in that State. It was pointed out to me that, although Oregon was not used in the Queensland mines, if a duty were placed upon it, the price of hardwood would rise in sympathy and an extra straw would be added to those which had already been placed on the camel's back. The position has undergone a change; unfortunately the camel's back has been broken, and many mines are not now functioning. The question is, whether it is intended to destroy by the imposition of additional duties any chance the camel might have of recovering.

The position in regard to Oregon needs to be very carefully considered, and until I have heard the explanation of the Minister I shall not indicate the way in which my vote will be cast. I merely remind honorable senators that on a previous occasion I considered that it was wrong to impose a duty upon the Oregon which enters Australia.

There is one proposal of the Government with which I am not in sympathy. I refer to the preferential coffee duty. As honorable senators are aware, the duty has been removed from coffee which is imported from within the British Empire.

Senator Ogden - The Queensland coffee has not the necessary flavour.

Senator THOMPSON - I am afraid that my honorable friend does not understand the position. We are proposing to cut off our noses to spite our faces. I yield to no one in my desire to give preference to other portions of the British Empire. But we have to consider first the interests of our own people. We shall antagonize a customer in the Dutch East Indies with whom our trade is constantly expanding. At the present time we export to the Dutch East Indies considerable quantities of meat and butter. Queensland shares largely in that trade. There is also an appreciable trade in cattle and flour. I do not know that Queensland will be affected in regard to flour, although she has a large area under wheat. At all events, the disadvantages that are likely to accrue more than counter-balance the problematical benefit which will be derived by India and British East Africa.

I have received from Queensland two telegrams respecting the proposed duty on soya beans. Those who are interested in that commodity are so alarmed at the possible interference with the cotton and peanut industries, that they have sent two representatives to Canberra to express their views regarding the disadvantages that will result to Queensland. After I have heard their case I shall decide whether or not I should ask the Government to review this proposal.

A good deal of complaint is made with respect to the methods that are adopted in the department in the administration of the tariff. I am not now in business, therefore, I have no first-hand knowledge of the matter. Certain articles are not manufactured in this country, and there is no likelihood of their being manufactured here. In some instances they are protected by patents that are held in other countries. Importers of those articles are put to considerable trouble because the maximum duty is imposed, and all sorts of disabilities are placed in their way, when it ought to be possible for the department to come to an immediate decision to charge only the 10 per cent, duty. Although the matter is eventually settled to the satisfaction of the importer, the inconvenience and delay to which he is put are to be deprecated. I should like good feeling to prevail between the department and the importers. We do not want a reversion to the attitude which was adopted during the regime of the late Mr. Kingston, who considered that all importers were dishonest until their honesty was established. I contend that they should be regarded as honest men until the contrary is proved. Very few of them are shown to be dishonest. I take this opportunity to ask the department to exercise a reasonable discretion in dealing with these admittedly difficult matters.

The tariff is at last beginning to bear fruit in the shape of a reduction ir the amount collected by way of customs duties. I have previously voiced the opinion that that should be the result of a protective tariff. The more effective itbecomes, the more apparent should be the reduction. It is highly desirable that the Government should take note of the position and trim its expenditure accordingly. I feel reasonably certain that we shall not in the future obtain from tariff duties the abounding revenues that have poured into the coffers of the Treasury in past years. I shall reserve for the committee stage any additional remarks I have to make on individual items.

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